Toronto, March, 2008
Blend into Mann Co’s shoddy system, that was all the Spy had to do. So long as he did not go noticed amongst the many other Spies, there was no way Mann Co could target him. As long as the contract existed, there was data about him, which was what Miss Pauling had assured them all of.
The more he laid in the hard bed thinking about this, the more he thought she might have tricked them all. Maybe she lucked out and missed the chance to catch the others. All she caught were spies.
He turned on his side and tried to ignore the snoring on the bunk above him. Nothing could aid his aching mind. Nothing made him feel any better about his situation.
When he decided to get up, he could not pull his gaze up from the floor. His entire body felt so heavy. He was not sure how to breathe anymore. Sure, his body understood it had to breathe, yet there was this innate feeling that he could not breathe anymore. It was a very painful sensation.
He forced himself onto his feet and stumbled to the shared bathroom. Since the eight Spies sharing this bathroom were all asleep, he figured he would not have much problem. All of them had to use it, and all of them wanted their privacy, after all.
When he dusted his face with cold water, he looked into the mirror. He looked so different than he remembered. Dark circles around his eyes that seemed to just blend into the mask normally. What used to look like laugh lines just looked like lines of failed years.
Pushing past the misery, he lumbered back into the shared barracks. Forget this, he figured. He needed a smoke at this very moment. That would probably wake one of the others though. This was a small room, anyways.
He pulled on a coat and grabbed a pack of cigarettes. Hopefully it would not be empty by the time he returned. He tried not to think about it on his way out. He lit up the first cigarette and took a deep inhale. It felt good to just feel that hot breath in his lungs, a relaxing sensation that came from psychological training of having smoked nicotine for a lifetime.
His eyes were closed most of the time as he walked. Mostly he was just trying to get away from the building. He wanted to be outside, where it was cool and the air was open. He could smoke in peace and the land itself was an easy ash tray. Granted, Canada air this time of year was pretty damn cold, but he was too tired to remember to stop walking.
“You a spook or a bloody ghost, mate?” a voice startled him.
He tried not to seem too startled when he stopped and turned. He had not realized that he was passing through what appeared to be a camping area for trailers and camper trucks. This was not a parking lot, given the amount of what was supposed to be wildlife and flora, but it was filled with living trailers and campers that haphazardly encircled ashy pits previously used for fire.
He raised his head to a figure perched upon a big trailer. His long legs dangled over the edge, dark boots sitting stark against white painted metal. The glow of a cigarette illuminated the man’s visage, giving the Spy a glimpse of the Sniper he had not noticed before.
Color was faded in this lighting, but he could make out shapes. A sharp nose, a shapely jaw, bushy sideburns and prominent eyebrows were easy enough to make out. Those eyes were hard to see, despite being lit up so well. They were sharp, like a monster staring into the soul. They just glared at him, like they knew everything within his mind. Still, he could not tell what color his irises were though.
“Ghastly ghoul then,” the Sniper flicked the cigarette away without bothering to put it out.
“Didn’t realize anybody else would be out here,” he countered, trying to seem calm and reasonable, “Sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Not at all mate,” the Sniper did not even miss a beat.
“Alright then,” he replied in relief. He was ready to move on when the Sniper raised a hand to gain his attention again.
“You the one that wears the funny hats? Or you the one with the awkward accent?” he asked, tilting his head in a way as if he could get a better look at the Spy.
Of course, for a moment he had forgotten. What a relief it was to see that the man was just as hindered by the faded light as he was. Given it was night time, the light would not be shining on him either, and as he pulled the cigarette from his mouth, so did the light leave his own face.
“Neither,” he assured him, “I’m not here to cause any trouble.”
“Been trying to figure them out, mate,” the Sniper leaned over the edge, trying to look at him better. It was a bit entertaining to see him strain to try and look at him. “That one with the hats is a bit of a flowery fella,” he explained, “And that one with the accent…he sounds like a faggot.”
“Excuse me?” that word lit him up like a flame. He needed to get out of here immediately.
“No worries, mate,” the Sniper chuckled, with a wry smirk around his cigarette, “I know the lot of you Frenchies are loose. I just want to know which of yous likes men like I like men.”
He felt like the hackles on the back of his neck were severely erect. This was not a good situation. This was a very weird situation. This was a very bizarre conversation that he could very well be having in a weird dream at this moment.
“Well then, I’ll just be moving along,” he started moving, hoping to breach the edge of this camping ground.
“Now wait a minute!” the man sounded insulted, “You don’t just leave in the middle of a conversation!”
“Um…” he scrunched his brow, “I didn’t ask for a conversation. I needed air. Now I think I need to go back to bed.” Part of him really wanted to believe that this was all some weird awkward dream.
“No wait,” the Sniper suddenly hopped down from his camper. He landed with a loud thump of his feet and a grunt. He took two steps to close the space between him.
There are unique kinds of fears that people can have. Each type of fear comes from different types of threats. Some of them are irrational and pointless, like fearing a tiny spider with nothing but fangs to bite. Other fears come from the realization that a man is bigger and possibly stronger than oneself, putting the odds of defense at a minimal level.
Normally, he would not feel threatened by another Mann Co affiliate. At least, not one of the mercenaries types. Snipers tended to keep to themselves, from his experience. They were the kind of men that came from lone living and keeping to their own personal space in portable living spaces.
This man was setting off so many alarms in his mind. Something deep down told him that if the man was going to do something, he was going to do it fast and without any warning. He was going to act of his own accord, the Spy would feel the effects of it, and Mann Co would either be none the wiser, or simply would not care.
Things were easier back when there were actual teammates. Things were almost predictable when one had people with loyalty to the team. It was just a label or a name, but loyalty to the team made people loyal to you as a teammate. Missing that label, he had nobody to count on. He was just another Mann Co employee, and he was not even sure who he could reach out to if he tried to get away from this man and seek safety in numbers.
“As riveting as this conversation is at the early hours of the morning, I need to be going,” he insisted, backpedaling in the way he came from.
“Ah come on! I was just joshing! A man’s got to lose his inhibitions sometimes!” the Sniper insisted, following him with a long step.
“And a man has to sleep sometimes,” he replied, turning to head back to the building, “Good night, Sniper.”
“Now hold on a minute!” the Sniper grabbed his shoulder, trying to turn him around.
He quickly shook the man’s hand off of his shoulder. It took a quick whip of his arm and a jab of his hand to knock the grip away. The fear was ebbing and growing, coming and going ever so slightly.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“Thought I made that clear before,” he continued walking.
There were a few moments of quiet walking, but he could hear the second set of footsteps. The man was following him? The long stride was shortened, keeping pace with him, but staying behind him. The man could have easily overwhelmed him if he was trying to race him.
“What are you doing?” he peered over his shoulder at the man following him.
“Not being the one leaving a conversation!” the Sniper growled.
“Stop following me,” he replied tartly.
“Why?” was the response.
He spotted the building ahead of him and felt his footsteps quicken. The feet behind him also quickened. He should not have done that. He should have kept a steady pace. The man was getting something from this. He probably enjoyed the idea of scaring a Spy.
“Why you running?” the Sniper asked.
He refused to respond. He was hardly running, though he was fleeing the scene. He was not about to stick around and find out what other opinions that Sniper had. He had had his fun scaring a Spy, now it was time to just get away from him and hope he forgot about all of this.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” the man grabbed his shoulder and whipped him around. The motion threw him off balance and he stumbled, barely catching himself on none other than the Sniper. “Huh…” was all the noise the Sniper made.
Spy blinked, trying to regain his wits. He was face to face with the Sniper. They were nose to nose, with their gazes locked. It was extremely awkward, given the current state of his balance.
He shoved off the Sniper hastily. He could only hope the man got the message through the aggression he put into the movement. He carefully brushed off his jacket, as if to say that the Sniper was dirty, without putting it into words.
The Sniper was pretty silent. Suddenly he did not have anything to say. What an odd turn of events, in the Spy’s mind.
“Good night,” he said firmly, before turning and heading into the base.
“W-wait!” the Sniper called after him.
There was something less aggressive in his voice this time. Still, the Spy was not inclined to service the man’s curiosities. He would rather be in bed than to dote on the blatantly aggressive Sniper. Given his behavior before, there was a good chance that he had a temper behind his visage.
He felt a hint of relief as he stepped into the hallway. Its slight familiarity welcomed him, as he walked straight towards the room housing the Spies. It was not a question of where the Spies were staying. Each separate building held a different set of mercenaries. In here, with this simple place, was where the Spies were staying. It just so happened to open up to where the Snipers stayed with their camper trucks and trailers.
One glance over his shoulder revealed that the Sniper had not been dissuaded. It was not common place for other mercenaries to cross over to other buildings. It had been set forth from the beginning, he figured it was especially drilled in for the Spies, that certain classes respected their own members, so they were to stay within their own space or face consequences.
The thought of that outside area being claimed by the Snipers gave him goose bumps. Of course, the Snipers could not claim the outside area. It was the campers themselves that they had claimed, being the only mercenaries who got to have their own spaces here.
Perhaps if he went and bought an RV, he could have his own space on the lot. Sure, it would be awfully close to the Snipers, but he would have his own room away from other people. Sharing his space was becoming more and more unpleasant as of late.
“S-spy?” the voice was almost soft as it called out for him.
He told himself that he would be firm. He would not even turn to entertain the idea tha the could be swayed by the man’s antics. He was certainly not going to direct his attention back to the Sniper, not when the bed was calling to him.
Before he forgot it, he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and threw it on the ground. He paused a moment to stomp on it. He quickly resumed walking, not wanting to wait for the Sniper to be upon him.
Much to his dismay, when he reached the bedroom door, he found that the Sniper was right behind him. The man had stayed a stride behind him, with a much faster pace than the Spy himself could manage. Now he was breathing down his neck as his hand reached for the handle.
“You’re just going to ignore me?” the Sniper asked, his breath causing chills down the Spy’s spine, despite wearing a balaclava.
“Yes,” he said, as he slowly opened the door and slipped inside.
He kept it as far closed as he could, not wanting to give him a good and easy look at the space inside. This was Spy territory. It was no place for the Sniper to be snooping around in. After all, if Spies had to respect the other classes’ spaces, then they had to respect the Spies’ space.
When he tried to close the door, he found it blocked. He turned his head to look and saw that the Sniper had his boot between the door and the frame. He had a deadpan look on his face, still staring at the Spy’s face as if he was stuck on him.
What a nightmare. A Sniper had already harassed him and scared him into retreating in humiliation back to his own space. Then he was stalked by said Sniper. Now he was being refused privacy by him?
He hoped that the anger showed on his face. He did not care if he should keep an aloof look, he was angry. For once, he just wanted to be angry.
“Wait, what’s your name?” the Sniper spoke softly, so as not to disturb other Spies who were asleep.
“None of your business,” the Spy whispered.
“I made it my business,” the Sniper said, “You made it my business when you came trotting into my domain and put your eyes in my heart.”
“What the- What does that even mean?” he was almost too loud, taken aback by what the Sniper was saying.
“I’m asking what your name is,” the Sniper said, in that low rumbly voice, “I’m just asking for a name.”
“Just a name?” he was suspicious that this might lead to more. He had to be sure that this ended the conversation with the Sniper. What if another Spy woke up and made assumptions about what was going on? “That’s all you want? Just a name? And then you’ll leave?”
The Sniper nodded slowly, “I’ll leave. So long as you give me that name of yours.”
He did not miss a beat when he said, “Jacques.”
He paused, studying the man’s face. At first, he did not seem to be buying the lie. Eventually, he gave a soft little smile. Whatever he was smiling about was beyond the Spy. Had he even considered that the Spy was lying? Or was the hesitation just a moment of thought?
“Jacques,” the Sniper repeated, pronouncing it carefully on his tongue, like some foreign word, “I’ll remember that. I’ll remember you, Jacques.”
Spy rolled his eyes, “Let’s forget this ever happened.”
The moment he saw the boot slip away from the door, he closed and locked it. It was usually not locked, since some of the Spies came and went, and nobody else came in here anyways. He did not want to give the Sniper the power to just open the door and initiate conversation again.
He took a breath and closed his eyes. At times like this, he wished he had his friends around. He thought back to his better days, when he would spend time with Glenn on top of his camper, and nights cuddled against Andrew in his own bed.
Hugh ran a hand up over his face. The despair settled in and it left him with a heavy and weary heart. It hurt so much that he wanted to let it out in tears.
“Something going on?” a whisper took him by surprise.
He turned, carefully gathering his wits about him, “Nothing. Just…couldn’t sleep.”
Whoever had asked was no longer bothered. He let his head drop and closed his eyes again to sleep. Hugh decided to copy that, removing his jacket and shoes so that he could climb into bed and try to sleep again.
Tomorrow would be different. He had to tell himself that. Take each day by itself and command it, before trying to conquer the next day. The next day he at least hoped would be better than the last. He just hit a little uncomfortable bump in the road to whatever was coming.
For now, he would rest. He found himself a semi-comfy spot on the too hard mattress to sleep on. Curled up, he tried to pretend it did not bother him. He even tried imagining that there was somebody right next to him, pressed against his back.
When the morning came, so did disappointment. His back and side felt so sore that he did not want to move. Even his jaw felt a little weird because of the mattress. With a tired groan, he peeled himself off of the bed and lumbered to the bathroom.
Locked stalls with ceiling high walls had faucets on from what he could hear. Each man was washing for the day and getting ready in his own little cubby space. A couple of them seemed to command a space as their very own, barring most others from using it, except for select people. He did not understand how it worked, only that those who had claimed a stall would get pissy and passive aggressive whenever somebody else went in their stall.
Hugh did not care. He just wanted to get his work done so that he did not have to think about this mess. It should be easy enough to put this all behind him in his mind.
Not caring at the mess that he was, and not wanting to look at a mirror anyways, he pulled a suit over his undershirt and boxer shorts. There was not too much to hide here. He had long since gotten over being around these other men. Besides, not many of them were around to see them, being either lazily asleep or already prepping in the stalls.
He stepped out of the door, heading down the hall to reach the cafeteria in the northern court. It was not really a cafeteria designed for mercenaries in any specific way. Rather, it was a set of stalls of food vendors allowed to sell their wares and goods to the mercenaries without the mercenaries having to go far. It made the vendors very uncomfortable, but they knew they could make good money off of men who either could not drive themselves to the next town east, or the next city north, or the village down south.
Hugh kept telling himself he would get his ass out of this area, get away from hooligans and go to the city to treat himself. He already missed going to cafes and trying local goods. There was always some sweet little lady who just wanted to share her home cooking.
Being as down as he was, he could not bring himself to drive anywhere. There was a car he was permitted to drive, according to Antoine, but he barely spared the time to think about going anywhere. Actually getting himself somewhere was a whole other battle entirely.
When he reached the food courts, he found that the people were just starting to roll in like himself. Other Spies would come later, to pick at whatever the other had not bought up. Much to Hugh’s enjoyment, he was here before the other classes rushed in and created huge lines to wait through, with no seats at the large tables to sit at.
A normal platter of an American breakfast was sold to him. Not that it was terrible, but it was not particularly interesting or unique in any way. It left him wanting something much better. He was constantly feeling like he had not had enough spice in his meal. Perhaps it was just the boredom of having near the same meal every morning. That should have been the thing to get him in the car and going to the city.
With a reserved sigh, he made his way around the court to an area that would have the least foot traffic once people starting rolling in. He wanted to finish quickly too though, as the other Spies would eventually be here, and they were a lot that he wanted to avoid. He was sick of being around them all the time.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where I can find-” his head whipped around at the Australian accent. For a moment, his mind had fooled him and the visage of Glenn appeared before his imaginary eye. To his surprise, it was some other Sniper, whose curiously tilted head was straightening and whose lips were curling into a smile.
“Find?” he quickly retorted, so as to save any awkwardness. He was still very tired, very sore and in need of his meal before the rest started filling up the court with their platters of food and their loud babbling.
“I did find you,” the man smiled with delight. He looked rather giddy, showing the Spy his sharp canines.
“Um…yes?” he felt confused and figured he should move along before any other problems came up, “I must be going now.” He started towards one of the tables to sit down and eat.
“Hold on! Wait up!” the Sniper called to him.
He set his tray down and glanced around. He was relieved to see that the Sniper was nowhere to be seen. He sighed, taking his seat on the bench, pushing the man out of his mind.
He began cutting the honey roasted ham slices. He was immediately disgusted as the syrup spilled and began soaking the meat. Sure, it tasted good on the eggs, but he did not like to over sweeten ham.
“I was worried I wouldn’t find you!” he was startled by the Sniper reappearing with a platter in his hands. He was sitting down beside him as if he had been invited. “Here I thought you would have gone off to the city for some fancy breakfast elsewhere! Glad you didn’t, so I could find you!”
Hugh sighed at being reminded of that terrible regret. Over sweetened ham, and now an annoyance to chase him off to the city. If this kept happening, then he was definitely going to drive off to the city for lunch.
“You something of a sweet tooth, mate?” the Sniper chuckled, cutting his sausage and stuffing his mouth. He was not one for manners, and certainly did not mind getting way too close to the Spy’s personal space. “Syrup and honey both? That’s something!”
He rolled his eyes in irritation, resigning himself to eating the eggs instead.
“Holy dooly,” the Sniper muttered.
He studied him from the corner of his eye, while the Sniper gave him the most incredulous look. What was he, a show for him? He just wanted to eat his eggs and get on with his day!
“Never met a Spy who wouldn’t talk,” the Sniper’s tonal pitch rose as he spoke, “I know you can talk though. I heard you last night! I know it was you.”
Hugh slammed his fork into the plate and turned to him, “What the hell do you want?!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the Sniper furrowed his brow in a look similar to worry, “Thought you Spy types were good at reading people!”
“Not obnoxious ones apparently,” he growled in response.
“I just wanna have a chat mate!” the Sniper said, smiling.
“Then go find a Scout, or a Soldier,” he turned back to his eggs, cutting them down to bite size, “Because I have nothing to say to you.”
“What? You’re just going to act like I did something wrong? The hell did I do? I’m only here trying to make friends with polite conversation,” the Sniper’s plea fell on deaf ears as Hugh’s irritation only got hotter.
“I don’t care for your small talk and chit chat,” Hugh spoke with heat in his voice, “And I would thank you to not comment on my every doing! Leave me alone!”
He grabbed his platter and got to his feet. He quickly surveyed the area, looking for a new table to sit at. He would have to move quickly, as other people were starting to crowd the court. He started to step away from the table, when a hand caught his elbow and pulled him off balance.