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hello. may i speak to the villain, please?

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In the break room of the field office in Columbia, while they wait for Wymack to finish up with his meeting, Nicky takes advantage of the new kitchenette by whipping up a big batch of crepes. Neil stands over one of his shoulders, making sure he makes plain ones that aren’t too sweet while Andrew stands on his other side, throwing spoonfuls of sugar into the batter whenever Nicky’s distracted. Renee pours the batter and flips the crepes expertly and eventually, the right ratio of savoury to sweet crepes is achieved and summarily devoured.

They’re just about done eating when Wymack enters, tugging at his tie and looking harried. Kevin dumps their plates into the small sink and takes up position next to Wymack while the rest of them settle into various seats around the room. Wymack throws a glance at Andrew, who is still leisurely eating. He looks like he wants to say something but ultimately chooses to ignore Andrew.

“This is a simple but dangerous mission. Emphasis on dangerous. Do you all understand? We don’t want a repeat of last time.” Wymack looks pointedly at Kevin.

“Honestly, I’m fine. It didn’t even hurt that much.” Kevin shrugs, unconsciously flexing his hand but looking a little flustered. His two years undercover by Riko’s side had ended with him getting his hand broken when he refused to help Riko take his AI project, Evermore, into morally grey areas. Neil had been brought into the task force after that but they hadn’t dared go in in that deep again.

“You were on desk duty for two months,” Aaron scoffs, rolling his eyes.

“You were insufferable,” Nicky adds, shaking his head at the memory.

Renee leans across the table to inspect Kevin’s hand. “I can still see the scars.”

“Fuck off.” Kevin snatches it away, flipping her off as he does so.

Ignoring them, Wymack ploughs on. “The Moriyamas are no joke. Each one of them is surrounded by at least five bodyguards at all times. And that’s just in the immediate twenty feet radius.”

“Rich people,” Nicky shrugs.

“Rich, dirty people,” Kevin growls under his breath.

“Rich, dirty and stabby people,” Aaron adds unexpectedly. For a minute everyone stares at him. Then Kevin breaks the silence.

“I don’t understand how people can stab somebody. Guns, sure. Bullets are so clean and easy. But stabbing? Isn’t it – messy?”

“How would you understand?” Andrew drawls from his seat next to Neil. “You can barely put the straws in your juice boxes.”

Before Kevin can respond, Wymack interrupts them.

“Can we get back to our mission?” He reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a few files which he passes around. Andrew doesn’t bother touching his but everyone else picks theirs up with interest.

Neil opens his to see blueprints and pictures of the new art gallery that the Moriyamas had bought and furnished with various rare pieces over the course of the past year. Their task force had been surveilling the place since the Moriyamas had acquired it, but hadn’t turned up anything of interest apart from a few rare pieces of art surfacing.

“What’s our plan?” Nicky asks, squinting at a picture in his file. “Is this a front? It’s definitely a front, right? The Moriyamas aren’t actually interested in art.”

“Riko wouldn’t be able to tell a Picasso and a Dali apart even if they were labelled,” Aaron comments with a scoff. Neil is a little surprised at the outburst but then remembers reading in his file that he’d minored in art history.

“It’s most likely a front. We just don’t know for what yet. There’s a basement which they haven’t planned on opening to the public, but official records and inspections give it an all clear.” Wymack taps at the blueprint in his file, frowning.

“So are we going over to investigate?” Nicky looks up from his file, questioningly.

Wymack shakes his head. “That’s too dangerous. I’m not interested in the gallery itself, for now at least. What I am interested in is the people who’ll be attending the gala.”

Nicky perks up at the mention of a gala. Next to Neil, Andrew mimes retching. He’s not one for big crowds or parties.

“The gallery’s opening gala is this weekend and Renee received a tip that Moreau will be attending. He might not be the kingpin but with a sample of his voice, Reynolds in Digital can hack into the lower levels of Evermore, at least.” Wymack explains.

Neil has met Allison Reynolds only a couple times but he doesn’t like her a lot. Despite this, even he can admit that she’s a master hacker. If anyone can successfully breach the insanely protected AI Riko and Moreau have been building, it’s Allison. When Kevin left his undercover position, Riko had filled it by hiring Moreau. The young French engineer was rumoured to be the best his country had to offer and the task force had no doubt that he’d helped speed up the timeline for the AI. No doubt this opening gala had something to do with Evermore as well.

Nicky starts jumping up and down in his seat. “Oooh, are we doing Operation Seduction?” He turns to Renee and grins. “Renee, darling, time to break out that slinky black dress we bought last weekend.”

Wymack holds up a finger in a ‘not-so-fast’ way. “Ah, that’s where we have a problem.”

“Problem?” Kevin raises an eyebrow.

“Moreau’s tail reported that he frequents Eden’s Twilight a lot.”

An ‘ooh’ goes around the room as everyone takes in this information. Then Nicky turns to Neil and elbows him in the side.

“Do you think Neil will fit into the slinky black dress?” he grins as Aaron snickers at the image.

Neil makes a face at the prospect of having to seduce Moreau and turns to Wymack. “Why can’t Aaron or Nicky go? Or Andrew?” He dares to add.

“We need Nicky to monitor the cameras and make sure everything’s covered and Aaron might be great at DNA analysis and testing bio-evidence but he doesn’t have any field experience,” Wymack explains patiently. “And if you can get Andrew to go, I’ll eat my hat and give you a month’s paid leave,” he adds with a dry chuckle, knowing the task is an impossible one. Andrew Minyard only does things when and if he wants to.

Nicky leans closer to Neil and bats his eyelashes, “You’re the prettiest out of all of us anyway.”

Neil laughs mirthlessly. “Have you seen my face?” he asks, gesturing at his scars. Everybody looks away from him but Andrew turns to look at Neil with interest.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Wymack speaks up again. “It’s decided. Neil will go.” His tone has an air of finality. “Nicky, make sure he has a nice suit to wear. Use the agency’s card if you have to.”

Nicky accepts the credit card gleefully and drapes an arm around Neil’s shoulders. “You and I are gonna have a lot of fun.”

From Neil’s other side, Andrew shoots Nicky a dangerous look and Nicky drops his arm immediately, looking a little confused.

“I expect to see you in my office at 8 a.m. sharp tomorrow for the briefing,” Wymack points a finger at Neil. “And don’t give Nicky any pains, you got that? You will dress up smart, that’s an order.”

Neil lets out a defeated sigh.

“Are we done yet? I have another meeting,” Aaron asks impatiently, probably sensing they’d reached the end of their meeting and wanting to hurry it along.

Wymack rolls his eyes but dismisses everyone with a flick of his wrist. Aaron dashes off without another glance and Nicky and Kevin leave the room after him, arguing over whether Aaron wanted to go hook up with his girlfriend or if he actually had a work meeting. Neil remains seated and so does Andrew.

When Wymack has also left, Neil turns to Andrew with an annoyed look on his face. “Fat lot of contribution you made to the conversation."

Andrew grins, bright and brief. “What can I say? I’m curious to see you in something other than your ratty hoodies and awful jeans.” He cocks his head and drags his gaze down Neil’s body before finally getting up from his chair and walking to the sink to dump his plate in.

Neil sighs and leans back in his chair. “Et tu?”

“All the nice boys love a man in a suit,” Andrew puts two fingers to his temple in a mock salute.

“If you change the saying that much, it doesn't count,” Neil argues, but Andrew’s already left.