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In Alio Loco

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            In your defense, you never meant to join Blackwatch.  You didn't know what the hell that was and if you had at the time, you probably would have run in the other direction and thrown yourself in front of the nearest speeding train. 

            You didn't survive the worst of the Omnic Crisis by being a hero.  You got by doing a little of this and little of that and a whole lot of ducking and running.  But you survived, which was more than anyone else in your hometown could say.  Smuggling, couriering, and occasionally a good old-fashioned heist: your work wasn't exactly legal, but there wasn't enough government around to care.

            You could have gone on like that, scraping by, except you couldn't mind your own business.  Midway through a courier job, you found a couple of guys in blue versus a scrapton of rogue humanoid omnics on an abandoned stretch of highway.   Luckily, you came up behind the omnics.  That gave you the perfect opportunity to turn around and go back the way you came. 

            You hesitated.  You remembered what was left of your hometown. 

            "Hold formation!  Can't let'em pass here.  Too late to evacuate the town!" The squad leader had a voice like a hammer striking iron.  She stood at the head of the group, she fired a fancy-looking assault rifle, all shine and circuits.  There were others behind her.  But she was the one that left the impression.  She fired and bullets arced across the battlefield, dropping her target where it stood. She kept up the barrage, the firefight drowning out her actual words. 

            Her soldiers worked in tight formation.  Two shooting prone, two shooting upright, and one manning the barriers. 

             She wasn't tall, her skin was very brown, and her head was shaved.  She turned and half her face was puckered with burn scars.  When she looked across the battlefield, you didn't see a lick of fear on her face, just cold determination.  Even sustaining heavy fire, she made you believe they had a chance. 

            You counted at least a dozen robots left.  Then you shouldered your 30-06 bolt-action rifle and began shooting.  The CZ 557 was old, not a great firing rate, but those big old bullets were meant for elephants and tore through armor-plating like a dream.  You had to move fast, because once those robots got a bead on you, they shot back with shinier more explosive firepower.  One hit and the concrete highway barriers were powder on your shoulders.  You slid across the ground, trying to aim on your back.  You had limited ammo and a long-range weapon.  A couple times, the smarter ones aimed above you, almost pancaking you with bits of overpass. 

            But that gave the people in blue a chance to regroup.   They had discipline and more importantly shielding.  They could do this all night.  You wouldn't last much longer. 

            Already you were soaked in sweat and covered in dirt.  Only a few minutes had passed, but they felt like an eternity.  You knew what you were carrying.  And you also knew what would happen if you got hit carrying it.

            "Fire in the hole!" 

            You threw the frag grenades, illegal mods and all, into the mix.  Then you backed up a bit, but not quite far enough.  The resulting explosion left you with no cargo, no eyebrows, and a bad case of tinnitus.  But the omnics were scrapped.  Little fires licked at the metal and you idly wondered how much you get for the salvage. 

            It took you a moment to realize what you'd done.  You hadn't gotten all the omnics by yourself, but you'd thrown yourself into the middle of a firefight you had no business being near.  You sat down and lit a cigarette.   You didn't normally smoke - cigarettes were better currency than luxury - but blowing up a dozen omnics on a whim called for some kind of celebration. 

            The squad leader stalked up to you.  Up close, you realized she was even smaller than you thought, and easily over fifty.  But she stood like she had a bar of steel in her spine, and she walked like she was just in time for the execution.  Somewhere in the back of your head, you felt the urge to stand and salute.  But you quashed it and settled for a casual nod of acknowledgement. 

            "Are you insane?"  Her voice was rough with dust.  She didn't actually sound angry.  She seemed genuinely curious.

            You shrugged.  You had had a lot of smart ass retorts.  None of them seemed appropriate. 

            She stared hard at your rifle.  The flames and smoke gave her scars a hellish cast. 

            "What are you doing out here?"

            "I was delivering a package."  You wave a hand at the smoking remnants of robot pieces.  "But it got damaged in transit."

            She studied you, dark eyes sharp in the dusk light.  "Thank you for the assist."

            "You're welcome."  Her uniform, with its Overwatch insignia, told you everything you needed to know.  Professional.  Hardass.  Big damn hero. 

            Her gaze went back to your gun.   After your cigarette was gone, she finally sighed.  "That belongs in a museum."

            You shrugged.  She wasn't wrong, but it was the best gun you had. 

            "Lieutenant Sato," she snapped.  A tall slim man appeared beside her.  His skin glowed golden in the twilight.  He had sharp cheekbones and a playful mouth, and he moved like a shadow through the smoke.  His black hair was slicked back. But it was the excitement in his eyes that really caught you off guard. 

            "Yes, Captain Patel?"  His voice was lightly accented, and smooth.    

            "Gather the others.  Looks like we're heading back out tonight."  Captain Patel turned to look at the smoldering wreckage.  "Do I want to ask where you got those?"

            "Probably not," you said, wondering what you were going to tell your employers.  "They weren't mine.  I was holding them for...people I don't actually know."

            Lieutenant Sato's mouth curved in a grin.  You liked the line of his jaw, the brightness in his eyes.  He really was pretty, especially in uniform.  

            "What exactly do you do, Ms-?"  Captain Patel did not look nearly as amused.

            "I'm an import-export specialist." 

            Captain Patel looked you over once more.  "That is the fanciest term for "smuggler" that I've heard in this country.  Look, I'll be blunt.  You're an idiot, but a lucky one.  I don't know how else you'd survive on your own.  But you obviously have some combat experience and more balls than brains.  Join up: I can offer you better money, better guns, and health insurance."

            You blinked.  Maybe a few times.  Overwatch?  You?  Was this some kind of joke?  Or were things really that desperate?  You looked around the desolate landscape that used to be a thriving city.  Well, things did look kind of desperate.

            "What she's saying is she's impressed, Lucky Strike.  You have potential." Lieutenant Sato regarded your gun with laughing eyes.  You squinted at him.  It wasn't mockery, you realized, but genuine delight.   

            If you want to be honest with yourself, it's Sato that cinched the deal.  Health insurance and salaries were pipe dreams, things you weren't sure really existed.  But fancier weapons and sexy men? You weren't a big damn hero, but you knew a good deal when you saw one.   

            "Guess I'll have to learn to salute."

            Captain Patel rolled her eyes and walked off to check on her squad, muttering about how the gods favored idiots.

            Lieutenant Sato lingered. 

            "I'm Shin," he said. 

            You gave him your name.

            "Nah, you're Lucky Strike," he said, smirking.  You saw a very unprofessional hunger in his eyes and you shivered.  That look stayed with you for weeks; the nickname has lasted much longer.   



         

            You got in their transport, filled out the forms, and got shipped off to basic. 

That was a trip in itself: a haircut, some new clothes, and a crash course in how to be a soldier.  To be honest, you weren't a great soldier, too underhanded and disrespectful of the command structure.  But desperate times called for lower standards. 

            Captain Patel requisitioned you, as it was her recommendation that got you in this mess. Then her unit was seconded to Blackwatch.  Ten weeks later, you were transferred to a miserable little listening post in the Yukon as a "probationary" Blackwatch agent.  No one seemed sure what "probationary" status meant for a Blackwatch agent.  Captain Patel joked that it meant if you washed out, they'd have to take you out back with a shovel.  At least you were pretty sure she was joking, but her delivery was so deadpan, you couldn't be sure. 

            Captain Patel wasn't just a tough little old lady.  She was faster, stronger, and had better endurance than you.  In fact, you'd seen her arm wrestle Agent Valdez and win.  You heard rumors of "SEP," and you believed them.  But you'd believe it if they told you she was an omnic wearing old-lady skin.  That kind of toughness didn't happen organically. 

            Sergeant Nwazue was from Numbani and specialized in demolitions.  Almost monk-like in her focus, it was hard to tell if she was working or asleep.  She wasn't too impressed that you had no idea what kind of modded grenades you were carrying around.  Middle-aged and rail thin, she had most of her fingers and all of her limbs, a testament to her skill.   

            Dr. Razafindrandriatsimaniry, thankfully, just went by Simon.  He wasn't out of his twenties yet, but drank a lot of tea and complained about the weather.  It didn't matter where you were, the weather was never good enough.  He was the medic, and you were careful not to step on his toes, because he was fussy and you were accident-prone.

            Agent Valdez didn't talk.  You weren't sure if it was because he wouldn't or he couldn't.  But there were rope scars on his throat, and his fists were the size of your head.  So you didn't push it.  Probably in his mid-thirties, he kept his black hair close-cropped.  It looked a little silly, because he was so massive. You reached the hip of his power armor, while wearing shoes.  He was smart though, spending most his time on the upkeep his armor.  He had some basic hacking skills too.  It was always fascinating to see him at a keyboard.

            Agent Lao didn't shut up.  The youngest in the unit and not yet out of her teens, she liked to blast dubstep during combat.  She rigged the energy barriers to resonate certain tones when hit.  Under automatic fire, you could have a dance party.  It was ingenious, if amazingly annoying.  Lao was also a hacker; she moved at twice the speed of everyone else and that was before the coffee.

            And of course, there was Lieutenant Shin Sato, Captain Patel's second-in-command.  He was the stealthy one, a little too good at turning up in the shadows.  He was as deadly with a sniper rifle as he was in hand to hand combat.  The air rippled when he moved.  You had to remind yourself not to stare, because half the time, he would pop up directly behind you.

            He had everyone but the captain calling you "Lucky Strike" by the time you'd come to Canada. 

            Besides the fact you were in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't so bad.  Three meals a day, a roof over your head, and all the beatings you could take.  Captain Patel's unit was one of two stationed here for guard duty and patrol.  There was plenty of time for other activities.  You started a nice side business in "acquisitions" for base personnel.  Nothing illegal, because you still weren't sure about the shovel, but hard to get stuff: organic macadamia nuts, real ouzo, Moldovan porn mags, etc.  If Captain Patel wasn't making you study strategy, Agent Lao harangued you about cyber security and stole your beer.  Sergeant Nwazue mostly gave you safety lectures on how to properly handle incendiary devices, and it was obvious she thought you were an idiot.  Agent Valdez showed you how to mod energy weapons after you smuggled him some nice scotch.  And Shin liked to throw you around the practice mat. 

            You could kick Agent Lao's ass and that was about it.  She was fast, but you fought dirty.  Captain Patel threw you across the room more than once and looked disgusted if you couldn't get back up.  You tapped out any time Agent Valdez got you on the ground.  Even Simon knew some archaic martial art with nerve pinches, and one time it took you a day to regain feeling in your arms.  Shin just played with you.  Whether he was throwing you onto the mat or pinning you under his hips, he made a game out of it.  He didn't let you win, but he took the time to show you what you'd done wrong.  And if he held you against the mat for half a second longer than was decent, you didn't complain. 

 



            "Where do you get this stuff?" Shin laughed, sipping the whiskey.  Everyone was in his room for the weekly poker game, sans Captain Patel.  Dance music you didn't recognize drifted through the speakers. 

            "I traded an entire carton of cigarettes for that, so don't drink it all."  You stole the bottle back, but couldn't muster enough anger to glare.  Blush streaked his cheeks and his eyes were bright.  His hair black hair fluffed up without gel.  It was much longer than regulation and you wanted to run your fingers through it.  It was worth a bottle of good booze to see him like this. 

            "Where are you getting cartons of cigarettes?" Shin shook his head.  "Someone check the armory to make sure she isn't selling the base out from under us."

            "I would never," you said, indignant.  "I traded fresh rabbit for the cigarettes.  One of the techs really likes rabbit, but he's no good at hunting and he..." 

            "Oi, pay attention to the game," Lao smacked her cards against the table.  She was losing.

            Nwazue had the most chips.  She eyed the whiskey and you handed it to her.  She poured herself a few fingers.  "Damn.  It looks like you are good for something, Lucky Strike, cuz it sure as hell ain't cards."  She passed the bottle to Valdez who passed it to Simon.  Simon was losing too and he took a swig straight from the bottle. 

            "Fuck!"  Simon glared at his hand.  "This is ridiculous."  He took another drink.  "Good liquor though."

            "Give!" Lao tried to grab the bottle out of Simon's hand but he passed it back to you.  You poured yourself another drink, watching Shin out of the corner of your eye.  He nibbled on his lower lip and concentrated on his cards.  He looked so serious that you struggled not to laugh.

            Unsurprisingly, Nwazue won the next three rounds.  You were pretty sure she cheated, but you could never figure out how.  It didn't matter.  She collected her winnings and sauntered off to the rec room for more booze.  Valdez nodded at you and helped Lao up.  You slipped them both chocolate bars - her to go away, and him to take her away.  You weren't sure if they were sleeping together, but that wasn't any of your business.  Simon staggered to his feet, looking warily between you and Shin.

            "Don't do anything to end up in the infirmary, because I'm not going to be there," he said.  "And I doubt you want to explain anything to Georgie."  Georgie, the base doctor, wasn't know for his sympathetic bedside manner. 

            "Don't know what you're talking about," you said.

            "Not a clue," Shin chimed in.

            "Pfft," Simon snorted and stumbled out.  "Idiots," he muttered and shut the door a little too hard. 

            You sipped your whiskey, very aware of Shin's warmth beside you.  His room was bigger than yours with its own bathroom. 

            "Should I-"  You looked up to see Shin studying your face.  The tipsy ease was gone from his stance.  He focused on you, an almost predatory light in his eyes. 

            "If you want to go, Lucky Strike, now's the time," his voice was rough.  "Otherwise you're spending the night here."

            "Oh," was all you managed to say.  You stared at Shin.  He was really too pretty to be a soldier.  His face was angular and elegant with sculpted cheekbones and striking cat eyes.  Give him some hair gel and tight pants and he could have passed for a Japanese pop star.   Somewhere in the back of your mind, you remembered there were rules about fraternization.  But if you didn't get caught...

            You carefully got out of your chair and pushed it in.  Shin stiffened and backed away, averting his eyes.  The tension in his shoulders made your neck ache.   You licked your lips, went to the door, and locked it.  No sooner than it clicked, and you were pushed against the cold wall.  Groaning, Shin turned you around, fingers tangled in your hair.  His mouth pressed against yours and a muscled thigh spread your legs. 

            He tasted like whiskey and smelled like leather.  You moaned softly as he broke the kiss and went for your neck.  You squirmed against him as he sucked. 

            "Goddamnit, Lucky Strike, you really had me worried there." 

            "Just wondering if you were ever gonna make a move, or just sit there and eyefuck me for the rest of the year."

            He exhaled slowly.  "I'm higher ranked than you.  Gotta make sure you really wanted it and I'm not...abusing my power."

            The thought warmed you.  This kind of decency was not something you took for granted.  You weren't just attracted to him, you genuinely liked him.  "You don't scare me, Shin." 

            "Good," he murmured, and nipped your shoulder.  "Because that means you don't know what you're getting into."  He peeled your shirt off, kissing a trail down your breasts.  You felt the lightest touch on your back and suddenly your bra was on the floor. 

            Shin smirked up at you flicking a nipple with his tongue. 

            You groaned and tugged at his shirt.  "Off."

            "You've seen me shirtless."

            "Yeah, every time we were on the mat, showoff.  Even Lao was starting to notice."

            "I can't help that you're dense."  Shin kissed your jaw.  "Soft," he murmured, rolling your breasts in his hands.  "I planned to take my time, but now I just want to be inside you." 

            He pulled his shirt off, exposing a lean muscled torso.  A long faded scar trailed up his side, the skin rough under your fingers.   Already barefoot, you worked your pants off. 

            "Damnit, do you normally go commando?" He groaned.

            "Guess you'll have to find out," you said, smirking at him.

            His fingers rubbed your slit.  You sighed as one dipped inside.  He paused and grit his teeth.

            "You're already so wet," he dropped to his knees and his tongue flicked across your clit.  You whined then, as he began to finger fuck you, his tongue still working you over. 

            'Shin," you moaned.

            "I love how you say my name, so needy.  And you taste so good.  Fuck, I'm going to eat you later, Lucky.  I want you now."

            "What's stopping you?"  

            Shin unfastened his pants.  You licked your lips at the sight of his cock.  It was pretty to look at, long, well-formed, and uncircumcised.  He stroked himself a few times preening under your admiration.  Then he reached into his pocket and opened a foil packet.  Deftly he rolled the condom down his length.  You were slightly disappointed, but even if you had a birth control implant, you wouldn't complain about him being responsible. 

            He pressed you against the wall, lifting one of your legs against his hip.  You wrapped it around his waist instinctively.  He sighed and you cried out as he slid the head inside.  "Damn you're tight."  He rocked his hips, easing in inch by inch.  It wasn't fast enough. 

            You rested your head in the crook his neck.  "You don't have to go slow."

            "Don't want to be too rough with you, baby.  Not yet." 

            You bit him. 

            He growled and slammed his hips into yours.  Whining, you felt his length bottom out.  He stretched you nicely, hitting that sensitive spot inside you.  Pinned against the wall you squirmed on his cock.   

            "I was trying to be nice, Lucky Strike," Shin hissed.

            "Don't call me that in bed."    

            He growled your name.  "We're not in bed, baby.  I've got you against the wall, and you're making it real clear that you want me to go rough."

            "Put up or shut up, Shin." 

            "You say that, but next time I'll tie you up and fuck you senseless."  The threat had you clenching.  He narrowed his eyes and pulled out leaving you empty and needy.  Then he snapped his hips upward and filled you to the brim.    

            "Fuck!" You snarled. 

            Shin leaned in.  "Safe word?"

            "Rabbit," you said, belatedly realizing that goading Shin into rough sex without a clue as to what he considered rough was unwise.

            He lifted your other leg and suddenly you were bent in half, pinned against the wall, with no leverage.  His hard thrusts went deep and you clung to him, panting.  "Look at that tight little pussy taking me." He sped up, pounding you as you began to wail.  "Love those cute little noises you're making.  Bet you want the whole base to hear me fucking you." 

            "Shin," you whined. 

            He kissed you hard.

            "What do you want, baby?  You want it harder? You feel that?" He purred, driving deeper into you, his cockhead bumping your cervix.  "Not enough for your slutty little pussy?  Don't worry, Lucky.  I'm not one of those punks you used to run with.  I'll have you begging long before I'm tired." 

            It had been while.  You couldn't remember the last time someone got you this hot.  You were right on the edge and you clawed his back, trying to get him to push you over. 

            "What do you want, Lucky?" He chuckled.  "You want to me to make you cum?"

            "Fucking hell, you talk too much Shin," you gritted your teeth. 

            "Mmm, but I feel you clench every time I say something filthy."  He reached down, fingers circling your clit.  He captured your mouth as he rubbed, his thrusts getting faster, but still controlled.  Shin wasn't sloppy. 

            You whined, then, legs tensing as he drove into you, giving you precisely what you wanted, his fingers stroking your clit with just the right amount of friction.  The pressure built.  Caught between Shin and the wall, you writhed as he fucked you over the edge, your eyes rolling back.  He just kept thrusting through your orgasm. 

            "I can feel you milking my cock," he groaned.  "How the hell are you still so tight?" You moaned into the crook of his neck and sunk your teeth into his shoulder.  He grunted but held you. 

           Shin waited for the tremors to stop before lowering you to the ground.  You sat there, trying to catch your breath, eyes widening at Shin's still-erect cock, now shiny from your juices.   

            "Come on," he helped you up on shaky legs and pushed you onto the bed.  You landed on your stomach. Shin came up behind you and pushed your ass up in the air and spread your legs.  One hand fisted your hair and pushed your head down into the mattress.  He didn't warn you, he just grabbed your hips hard enough to bruise and thrust back inside.  You moaned, eyes rolling back in your head at the sensation of being filled again.  Your walls were still sensitive, and Shin started at a hard pace, his hips slapping against your ass with each stroke.

            "Not so mouthy now, are you?" He smacked your ass and you squeaked in protest. 

           "Fuck," you panted, your whimpers muffled by his mattress.  You gripped the sheets, trying to push your hips back onto him.  His breathing was rough and the bed squeaked, but what really got you was the wet sound of flesh on flesh.  Your thighs were soaked with your own juices and you could hear his cock sliding in and out of you. 

            The hand in your hair released and suddenly he was stroking your overly sensitive clit.  You raised you head and looked back over your shoulder.  Shin's jaw tensed in concentration, his eyes met yours and he grinned wryly, the fingers on your clit speeding up. 

            "I didn't say you could get up."  He leaned forward and nipped your shoulder.  His teeth worried the side of your neck and you clenched around him in response.  He laughed roughly and pinched your clit.  "You look hot like this and you feel so good around me, Lucky.  Love watching those cute tits bounce while I'm pushing against this tight ass." He paused, running his fingers down your spine.  "You're practically gushing around my cock.  Enjoying yourself?" 

            "You're stretching me out," your voice came out hoarser than you expected.  He began to thrust again.  "I'm going to be so sore tomorrow."

            "Mmm," he said.  "That's too bad.  Not going to stop now.  I like watching you cum." 

            "Don't want you to stop." You gripped the sheets and pressed back against him, taking him to the hilt.  "I want to feel your cock twitching inside me when you cum.  I want to hear you come undone." 

            At that he groaned your name, his hips jerking.  He rubbed your clit faster.  A second wave of pleasure hit you, sharper than before and almost painful to your inflamed nerves.  Bucking your hips, you rode it out, high-pitched whines coming from the back of your throat.

            "Shin," you panted his name as your second orgasm subsided.  "Come on baby."

            He snarled and his strokes grew frantic.  Swearing, he ground against you, fingers digging into your hips.  

            You flipped your hair out of your face and grinned over your shoulder at him.  He finally pushed in deep and you could feel his thighs trembling against you as he came.  Taut and dripping with sweat, he was beautiful.   His eyes were half-closed and he slowed his strokes before pulling out.  He leaned over and kissed you hungrily.

            "Tsk, you made such a mess," he sighed.

            "Sorry?"  There was wet spot toward the foot of the bed. 

            He kissed you again.  "I'm not."  He got up and took care of the condom before tucking himself back in his pants.  He stretched, and you blatantly ogled him, his golden skin gleaming with the sheen of sweat.  When your brain finally caught up to your hormones, you realized he was doing this on purpose.

            There was a comfortable silence as he climbed into the bed beside you.  One arm tentatively draped around your shoulders. 

             You weren't sure what to do next.  "Do you want me to go?"

            "You can stay," he said.  "I'm not that much of a bastard."  He kissed your forehead. 

            "Yes, you are," you said, nuzzling his neck.  "Seriously, I can go."

            "Stay."

            You nestled against him.  He was warm and still managed to smell nice, a pleasant musk mingled with leather and whiskey. 

            "Been wanting to do that since I saw you playing chicken with those omnics."

            "I was that impressive, huh?"

            He laughed.   "Nwazue was sure you wouldn't last a minute.  Lao was screaming incoherently.  The captain was speaking directly to her gods, and you almost got flattened by falling asphalt.  It was stupid as hell.  Ballsy though."

            "So is it stupid or ballsy that turns you on?"

            "Same thing in the end," he said.  "The best part was how you got all shy around the captain.  It was adorable."

            You punched him in the arm.  He let you. 

            "You're such a cocky bastard.  Thought you were going to have me begging," you taunted. 

            Shin pulled you against him.   You felt him twitch against your thigh and you blinked at him.  "I still have the rest of the night," he said smugly.

 



            The next day, Captain Patel gave you both the eye, but said nothing.  She'd nail you both if you fucked up, but Shin was on good behavior outside his bedroom.  You'd made it a month alongside him before falling into his bed, and you were pretty sure everyone knew what had happened.  You were bruised, sore, and had no complaints about it.  Shin had his share of bite marks, scratches, and hickies, but seemed ridiculously proud of them. 

            Everything fell into place with Shin.  You didn't talk about the future.  You didn't know how, you'd never had one before.  But you ate together, fought side-by-side, and fucked like rabbits.  You were now certain Lao and Valdez were sleeping together, but you weren't sure if it was an exclusive thing.  You didn't ask.  You and Shin were the unit's worst kept secret, but it didn't interfere with work, so no one said anything. 

            It was the happiest you'd been in a long time.



            You knew you were the rookie, the lowest on the totem pole.  And while Blackwatch was very different from being a freelance import-export specialist, you made the extra effort to be useful.  Maybe it wasn't necessary, but you went out of your way to get to know the other three dozen people stuck in the Yukon wilderness with you.  Black Base Delta was the official name.  Everyone else called it the 9th Circle, a name the would prove to be painfully apt.  The only person you really avoided was Major Gleeson; he was in charge of your little slice of heaven.  You didn't like to attract the attention of authority figures, and Captain Patel never looked happy after her meetings with him.  She was annoyed about practically everything that man did.    

            When not on patrol or in training, you visited various techs and comm specialists at their unrestricted stations.  There were plenty of places you couldn't access and you weren't about to push that boundary just yet.  Rivka and Lavalle were some of the friendlier techs - IT specialists that handled the databases.  You still weren't sure what exactly the point of the 9th Circle was, but it was a listening post, collecting shit tons of signals intelligence then storing and deciphering select portions. 

            You dropped in on the server room, trying to figure out exactly how some of the terminals worked.  The holoscreens graphed all sorts of data, but you didn't know what anything meant.  "Rivka?  Lavalle?"

            "That you, Lucky Strike?"  Rivka asked, she popped up from the center of a hexagonal terminal.  The blue light gave her skin an eerie cast, bluing her white curls.  The lights reflected off her square rimmed glasses.  She was old enough to be everyone's grandmother and had the voice of a chainsmoker. 

            Fucking Shin.  Everyone called you "Lucky Strike" now.  You shook your head.  "I have a real name."

            "Nonsense, everyone wants to be Lucky," she said.  "What do you have for me?"

            You roll your eyes and tossed her a package. 

            "This is the organic stuff, yes?  Not that plastic shit they serve in the cafeteria?"

            "It's tahini.  The jar said organic.  It's the best I could get in under a week."

            Rivka opened the package.  "Overwatch had better food."

            "I wouldn't know."

            She popped the jar open, stuck her finger in, then licked it.  "Adequate.  You have good instincts."

            You smiled modestly. 

            "Quit pretending to be humble.  You are like my rotten grandchildren.  But smarter.  And more useful.  I would introduce you to my grandson, but that foxy Lieutenant Sato might object."

            You rolled your eyes upward.  "Is that all, Rivka?"

            She snorted again and hesitated.  "You have good instincts, Lucky.  I have recently come across some...troubling data.  It could be nothing.  It could be dangerous.  Our servers have a...vulnerability.  It would be easy and convenient to lose things..."

            You furrowed your brow.  You understood technology, but you weren't a hacker.  "I thought we had a remote backup server."

            "...We did.  It's down.  I...I might have a fix for that.  But it's not by the book."

            You laugh.  "Nothing we do is.  I'm not your boss, Rivka.  But I'd say better safe than sorry.  All that shit is above my pay grade."    

            Rivka paused, made up her mind, then scrawled something on a real piece of paper and handed it to you.  "Bring me these things," she said. 

            You raised a brow.  You weren't entirely sure what some of the items were.   But you could probably get them.

 



            You gave Captain Patel your old rifle.  It didn't have any value outside sentiment and age.  The quartermaster stocked much better equipment, but the captain had been so irritated by your gun, that you had to gift her with it.  It was the right thing to do.

            "Really?"  She asked, when she opened the box.  But she didn't look displeased.

            "It kicks like a mule," you admitted. 

            "Of course it does. It's a goddamn elephant gun, Agent.  It's bolt action.  I don't even know where to start."

            "I'm better with knives," you confessed.  "But omnics don't have the decency to be squishy."  You grinned at her. 

            She rolled her eyes, but Captain Patel kept the gun. 

 



            "Finally!"  You stood over Shin pumping your fists.  He sat on the ground, holding his throat.  "Two hundred thirty-six bouts later, I finally win!" 

            He smiled up at you, eyes shining with pride.  And then he kicked, sweeping you off your feet and flat onto your back.

            The wind knocked out of you, you laid there for a moment, dazedly contemplating the pride before the fall.  Shin straddled you, still massaging his neck.      "Good job, Lucky," he said, voice coming out strangled.  "But you can't let your guard down just because you think you've won."  He ground his hips against yours, and you glared at him. 

            He reached for your throat and you smacked away his hand, your fingers shooting for his neck.  You almost had him, but he rolled backward, laughing.  You picked yourself off the mat. 

            "Let's get cleaned up," he said softly.  "I want to celebrate your victory."

            You showered in his bathroom and when you came out, there was a prettily wrapped box on his table. 

            "What's this?"

            Shin sat on the bed.  "Open it."

            You took a second to admire the wrapping - Shin seemed to take pride in presentation.  Then you tore it off, because that was the point of wrapping paper.  The box was about a foot long.  You pulled the lid off and inside was a tanto, a Japanese-style dagger.  The blade was ten inches and the hilt another four.  It was a monochrome matte black - no glare or shine to catch the light.  The sheath hooked snuggly to your belt.  You slid the blade along the wrapping paper, watching it slice through evenly.  The weight of the dagger felt right in your hand. 

            "This is impressive," you said.  "Thank you." 

            "You deserved a reward.  Thought I'd be able to give it to you sooner, but...you're just so slow."  Shin favored you with a shit-eating grin.

            You sheathed the dagger and gently placed it on the table.  It was one of the nicest gifts you'd received.  Shin's words didn't even sting.

            "Thank you," you breathed, leaning in to kiss him.  Shin met you halfway and pulled you down onto the bed.

 



            Captain Patel swore no one was in trouble, but you could sense her unease.  Commander Reyes was making a surprise stop at the 9th Circle.  It was already nine months into your tenure as a probationary agent.  That hadn't changed yet - bureaucratic snafu- and you got the feeling Captain Patel was getting annoyed.  The fact no one knew the reason why Blackwatch Commander, and former acting commander of Overwatch, was visiting bumfuck nowhere, had everyone nervous.  Valdez and Lao were holed up in armory modifying shotguns.  Nwazue hadn't spoken to anyone in days.  And Simon had taken to muttering passive-aggressive comments to the snow.  While indoors.  Shin didn't seem bothered, but neither of you had slept alone for the past week.

            Patrol done, you delivered Rivka some parts, and she'd disappeared back into the server rooms muttering something guttural.  You lingered in the doorway, but Rivka didn't surface.  You weren't too worried, Rivka was good for it.  It wasn't like there were a lot of people coming and going out of the 9th Circle.

            "I don't like it Aishani.  Who the hell is this guy?  I didn't put him in charge and I certainly didn't order this place constructed."   You froze, not recognizing the voice. 

            "I told you my thoughts, Gabriel.  I did this as a favor to you.  We are not staying.   I do not wish for my unit to be part of this Blackwatch.  I do not do black ops any more.  I care not for espionage.  And if you remember, playing politics really made me lose face."  That was Captain Patel. 

            The man, Gabriel, gave a bark of laughter.  It wasn't happy.  "Goddamnit Aishani, I'm building this from the ground up.  I need good people."

            "You have and always will have Jack."

            There was an awkward silence. 

            You recognized Captain Patel's distinct exasperated sigh.  You'd been on the receiving end of that enough times to know she was very irritated.  "I'm not stupid, Gabriel."

            "Didn't realize it was that obvious, Aishani."

             Their voices faded and you peeked out, in time to see the back of the man.  Black beanie, massive muscled frame, "Gabriel" was Commander Reyes.  And apparently Captain Patel knew him.  Which made sense if she was SEP.  Well, there went your theories about grandma-wearing omnics.  You sighed.

            "Still there, Lucky?"  Rivka popped out from behind a terminal nearly making you shit yourself.  You revived the theory about grandma-wearing omnics as you stared at your reflection in Rivka's glasses. 

            "Yeah, does the stuff work?  If you can give it another week, my contact can get some of the other stuff."

            "It will hold for now," Rivka said. 

            "What?"

            She looked at you sharply.  "It is above your pay grade, Lucky."

            "I'm just asking if you want me to get the other stuff on your list."

            She hesitated.  "Yes.  I think that would be wise."  She ran her fingers through her white hair.  "I don't like this Lucky.  We don't have rules about this yet, but when I approached Gleeson, he didn't seem to care that our backups weren't running properly.  I get that a lot of our data is noise.  But from the base commander?"

            You thought about what you'd just overheard Commander Reyes tell Captain Patel.  "Commander Reyes was just saying he didn't authorize any of this.  I'm guessing he meant the 9th Circle."

            Rivka huffed.  "Well maybe he'll shut it down and I can see my ungrateful grandchildren this year."  She fiddled with a stray wire.  "Listening at keyholes, Lucky?"

            You shrugged. 

           "Hmm.  Well, if we're shutting down, then this is all moot."  She clucked her tongue.  "Well, if we have to wipe everything, make sure we have someone in Greenland redo their backups."

            "I heard nothing," you sighed, wondering how Rivka pulled that off.  You could ask Lao later. 

            "Come by tomorrow, Lucky.  I will bring you some hummus.  I made it myself."

            "Sure thing, Rivka."

             



            "So, Captain Patel knows Commander Reyes," you dropped casually into dinner conversation. 

            Valdez sat up straighter.  Lao fell silent, only for a moment.  Then the questions began.  "How do you know?  Like everyone knows who the commander is!  But-"

            Simon just sipped his tea.  But as a doctor, he would have been aware of Captain's Patel's SEP status.  Nwazue didn't blink either, but she might not have cared.

            Shin nudged you with his elbow.  "Don't go spilling the captain's secrets," he said softly.

            Lao groaned.

            "It's more like something is wrong and both of them are upset about it."  You didn't mention Rivka's remote backup issues.  "I guess I was wondering how everyone felt about getting seconded to "Blackwatch."  I mean, I thought I joined "Overwatch" because it was cushier than civilian life.  That's probably not a very high bar."

            Valdez shook his head.  You took that to mean he wasn't crazy about the idea but it could have meant "no comment."  He caught your confusion and made a thumbs down sign.   

            "Theoretically, it's exciting," Lao said.  "But we're stuck in here most of the time.  Blast an omnic or two and see if any of them are from Siberia...  But I wanted adventure."

            "It's work," Nwazue said unenthusiastically.  To be fair, that's how she always sounded. 

            "Doesn't matter much to me," Simon said.  "I just wish they'd post us somewhere more hospitable."

            "I don't mind," Shin murmured. 

            "Yeah, but you're the shadow ninja assassin type," Lao blurted out. 

            Shin inclined his head back.  "If I remember correctly, you were recruited wearing an ankle bracelet because you couldn't stay out of big corporate data networks."

            "That's different," Lao pouted.  "They were doing suspicious things."

            "And you were breaking the law," Shin laughed.  "Sometimes you have to break the rules to get things done, and I trust you to do it right, Lao.  Blackwatch is a good place for you."

            Lao perked up at that.  "Aww, thanks Shin."

            You ate your food, wondering if Blackwatch was a good place for you.