Actions

Work Header

a house down the road from real love

Work Text:

Fancy can't imagine that anyone on the Arcturus is worth killing.

It's full of scum, of course, but they're everyday kind of scum. Level three kind of scum, four at most. Bail-jumpers, thieves, the desperate, the hopeless, and that's just the people watching. The fighters are something else on top of it—the “something else” mostly being “pathetic,” as far as Fancy is concerned.

Killing Kobee Andras will be a mercy kill, with all that in mind, and the joy is good on top of it. Company kill warrants are rare and pay well, and Fancy can deal with an unpleasant afternoon for that kind of payment, even if he has no idea why the hells Andras is getting killed instead of locked and served, brought back to the Quad for hard labor or payment of another debt besides the one that has him fighting on a slaver ship. For the Company to be paying to get rid of him instead of extracting payment from him, he has to have pissed someone off.

He's in the ring when Fancy gets there, easy to recognize from the face, even if it's a little bloodier than it is in his warrant picture, which makes him look like a stalwart upstanding citizen. He hasn't had much time to go to seed on the Arcturus, but there are some bruises no one's bothered to patch up, and his mouth is bloody from the current fight.

Fancy settles a level off the fighting floor, where he's got a vantage point, and waits for Andras to give him a sightline. There's an old man who keeps getting in the way, a better class of person than Fancy really expects on a slaver ship, and Fancy keeps one eye on him. It looks like he's eyeing Andras up, and if he's there to get in Fancy's way or steal his kill, he's going to have to be dealt with.

Andras is good, Fancy discovers in five minutes of watching. The crowd is cheering for him, but they could be cheering for him because he's got muscles or because he's pretty or just because the other guy is a shitty fighter, which he is. No, he's good. He's trained. He's a brawler, but he's a brawler who knows exactly what spots to go for, who's more than a little brutal, maybe because he knows it makes for a good show.

Fancy could almost regret that he's not going to go out honorably. Almost. He deserves to go out fighting, and he will, but he won't go out fighting the person who kills him. It might be unfair, but the RAC doesn't care what's fair and what's not. They just care that the warrant gets done.

The old man, maybe finally deciding where to place his bets (smart money is on Andras, but Fancy placed a little wager on his opponent, knowing a little more than everyone else about how this fight is going to go), finally gets out of Fancy's sightline, taking out his PDD to type a few commands.

Fancy is just aiming, waiting for an opening in the fight, when his own PDD beeps. Since it's set to alert him only in case of a message from his broker or a change to his warrant, he lets an opportunity pass to check it, and is rewarded by the sight of the warrant flashing red, the words “Level 6—Classified, Red 17” appearing just before the whole thing disappears completely, Fancy's screen showing that he has no active warrants.

Andras is still alive, but the warrant wasn't canceled. It was moved out of sight, and Fancy only knows it wasn't canceled because he did a few against-the-rules modifications to his database access. As for the Level 6, that's someone's idea of a joke, the myth just getting used for administrative access, but classified … Fancy just lost a lot of joy on this warrant, and he's Level 5. There shouldn't be any warrants that are classified from him unless he loses dibs on them, which he didn't in this case.

Fancy assesses Andras again. He won while Fancy was distracted by his PDD. Looks like he's going to lose those ten joy he bet.

He's fought the last few, so he'll be off for a while. The slavers may be assholes, but they know how to deal with their merchandise, and Andras will make them money for quite a while, so they'll give him a few fights. And if Fancy pays a little money, maybe he'll find out what the hells is so important about a washed-up fighter.

*

“I'm not a sexer,” Andras yells after the man in charge when he leads Fancy in, leers, tells him not to leave marks on the merchandise, and walks out.

Fancy doesn't bother getting offended about that. “And I'm not a patron. I'm a reclamation agent.”

Andras frowns. “Killjoy? Nobody should be looking for me.”

“Someone was trying to kill you, actually.” Fancy shrugs. “Well, I was trying to kill you.”

“Ah, shit. Why not just do it? Honestly, I don't want the explanation if it means you stand there being smug, you just try to kill me and I'll fight back, and—”

“Don't flatter yourself, Andras.” Not much of a hit from that name. Might be a fake one. He wouldn't be the first one to get on a ship like the Arcturus under an assumed name. “I had sights on you, and projectiles count as laying hands. If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead. But someone changed the warrant, so it's your lucky day.”

Andras crosses his arms. “So, what? I'm locked and served? Great, you get to explain to the bosses that my debt isn't getting paid off, then they'll just put a warrant out on me and you'll end up escorting me right back.”

“I'd get paid either way, so I'd be fine with that. I want to know what's so interesting about you.”

“Why someone would try to kill me?” Andras looks stricken. “I don't really want to talk about it.”

“People take kill warrants out on boring people sometimes. An accountant who's stealing from the books, a scientist whose research is a little too dangerous to continue but not useful enough to put to the government's use—sure. So I don't really care why someone's trying to kill you. You pissed them off, or they're scared of you. Boring.”

“So what do you want to know?”

“I want to know why someone at the RAC canceled the kill on you and changed the warrant to something classified.”

Andras scowls. “How should I know? If I don't know who wants to kill me, I sure don't know who would stop it from happening.”

Fancy knows the RAC. He's worked his way up to Level 5, succeeded at more kill warrants than any other agent still active, invented plenty of tech to make his life easier that make him, without any boasting at all, one of the best agents operating, even though he's a solo act. He knows how the RAC works. He's won black warrants, he's taken assignments from the Nine, gone out to black ops sites to clean them up. Nobody likes him, but the RAC trusts him. If the warrant changed, they should have sent him the information about the change. But classified, Level 6—that's enough to make him curious. “Do you want to know who wanted to kill you?”

Andras crosses his arms. “What's in it for you? Hells, what's in it for me? Your warrant got canceled, so you have no authority to get me off this ship unless you pay my fee.”

“And that is substantial,” says Fancy, because he knows how this kind of place works. If Andras's debt wasn't huge when he boarded, it is now. “No, if someone saved your life, they want you off this ship. I'm just waiting for the escort warrant to come through, I already have an alert on your name so I can get it.”

“I don't think I want to go anywhere you're going to escort me. Especially not on some kind of killjoy warrant.”

“You don't really get a choice. It's the only way you get off this ship in this system, considering you don't have papers, and I'm guessing you want to be in this system.”

Andras scowls at him for a few more seconds and finally nods. “So I get where I need to go and you … what? Get some answers? Because I don't have any.”

“I see who takes the bait of you being around, and figure out what my bosses aren't letting me in on.”

“Great. Sounds fun.”

Fancy could almost like Kobee Andras, or whoever he actually is. He'll still kill him, if the warrant changes back, but in the meantime, he'll stick around him and get some answers.

*

“Hey, where do you think you're going?” the boss says when Fancy starts leading Andras to the airlock where he's still docked. “Andras, you're on in twenty, you had plenty of time with your boy here, but you've got a debt to pay, and some stupid-ass new kid requested to fight you and he looks like he'll bleed pretty, so you're on.”

“He's locked and served,” says Fancy, raising his PDD with the warrant showing. Escort mission to Leith, to rendezvous with someone down there. The question is just who. “Sorry, you'll have to wait on your fight.”

“Yeah? And who's gonna pay off his debt? He's still got one of those, killjoy.”

“I don't really care. I've got a valid warrant for his escort, so you can shove your debt up your ass, if it will fit there with your head already taking up so much real estate.”

Andras snorts, and Fancy pushes him until he starts walking again. The faster they get off the Arcturus, the better. He wants this solved, and he wants the joy he should have for the warrant he took. None of that is getting done until he's somewhere on solid ground with a broker he can ask a few questions of.

“He still owes me!” the boss shouts after them, and Fancy doesn't bother turning around and saying anything else to him.

*

The escort directions lead Fancy to a confused and stiff Company grunt who scowls at them both before acknowledging the warrant and giving Andras permission to be on Leith and Westerley temporarily in order to look for work. “Hey,” Fancy says when the grunt starts walking away. “Who signed off on this?”

“Company,” says the grunt, like he thinks he's smart.

“The Company is giving temporary papers to an ex-military brawler who didn't even go through customs?”

“The Company doesn't have to answer to a killjoy,” says the grunt, and sniffs his way off to whatever hole he crawled out of. There's a Westerlyn trying to forget that's where he came from.

Fancy is going to get paid for the warrant he ended up with, which is more joy than the average escort warrant. Maybe the Company realized canceling a kill warrant could ruffle some feathers. He could walk away now, leave Andras to whatever trouble he's getting into, and make it clear to his broker that he doesn't like the idea of warrants getting classified on him when he's in the middle of them. He could turn around and walk away right now, no obligations. Sure, he wants answers, but Kobee Andras is trouble.

Kobee Andras is, he realizes three steps down the hall, not following him. Fancy turns around. “What?”

“How did you know I'm ex-military?”

If Fancy were the kind of person to get headaches, he would have a headache for sure. “No one fights like you unless they've had training, and people who get private training don't end up on slaver ships fighting, which means military.”

“Oh.”

Fancy starts walking again, and stops when Andras stays where he is. “Are you coming? I told you, you're the best shot I've got at answers, so when I'm not on a warrant, I'm going to be keeping an eye on you. And you need work before those papers run out, or I'm going to end up with another warrant on you.” Fancy smiles at him. “I wouldn't count on getting lucky twice.”

“I don't even know why I was lucky once! And I have no idea how to get work here, that's not what I came for.”

“So why did you come here? Seems to me that despite being someone who doesn't know anyone and had no plans for getting papers to be in this system, you've got some kind of goal, and some friends or enemies in high places. Tell me what you want. I get answers, you might get answers too.”

Andras looks around the unfriendly hallways of the Company building Fancy brought him to. “Uh, not here. Thanks.”

Fancy doesn't bring anyone back to his bolthole, ever. Being a RAC agent is dangerous, and if he ever ends up on the wrong side of someone after a warrant and can't deal with them, he wants somewhere to go. And Kobee Andras is trouble, the kind of trouble that's going to get brought back to Fancy's door. But he's also the kind of trouble that can't be discussed in public. “Fine. You give me interesting answers, I make sure you don't get killed until there's a warrant for it again.”

“Gee, always nice to be welcomed by a friendly face,” says Andras, but this time when Fancy starts walking, he follows along.

*

“Nice place,” Andras says doubtfully when the door shuts behind them. “Really welcoming.”

Fancy rolls his eyes and starts his security checks. The Badlands are big, and his bunker blends in well, but there are always scavengers and nomads, and he likes knowing that he hasn't been found yet. His security system doesn't report any break-ins, so it's a beginning. “There's food and a roof over your head, I don't care how welcoming it is. Sit.”

“Just bowled over by the hospitality.”

“You picked the stupidest possible way of getting to the Quad and almost got yourself killed.”

“Are you telling me that's why you're a shitty host, or are you just insulting me?”

Fancy considers that. “I'm just insulting you. I'm being a shitty host because I'm not one. You're an informant. I want to know what the RAC isn't telling me, and you're the only lead I've got.”

“Maybe this is a bad idea.”

“You had the whole ride from Leith to Westerley to think about that. You're here, you want help. Who would want to kill you?”

Andras shuffles around a little, and finally sits down in one of Fancy's kitchen chairs, staring down at the table. “I can't think of anyone in the Quad who would. Maybe some people … some people outside of it might have reason, if they found out, but I don't think they could afford whatever a kill warrant costs at the RAC.”

“You think you're being mysterious but it's just annoying.”

“Maybe it's none of your business.”

“And maybe you're afraid I'll hurt your feelings.” Fancy assesses him. “I don't think you're a deserter, you're not the kind to hold your head high after that, so it's not your squad coming after you for that. Maybe a dishonorable discharge, for some friendly fire.” Andras flinches. Right track, then. “But you're right. Army grunts probably couldn't afford a warrant to kill you, and that wouldn't explain why it got classified.”

“Great, now someone classified is coming to kill me.”

This is a stupid idea. Andras has nothing he can use. “No,” Fancy says as patiently as he can, “if they still wanted you dead, you'd be dead, because they would have just let me kill you. They classify your warrant? It's because they still want something from you. I want to know what, and who high up in the RAC or the Company would want it.”

“I'm … I came to the Quad looking for someone. Tracked her traces this far.”

Andras may be kind of an idiot, but he's not the sort to be chasing after an ex who would want to kill him. That doesn't shed light on who this woman actually is, though. “If you came here hunting for someone, chances are she didn't want to be hunted, so she's the reason behind the kill warrant. Probably if you'd never come, this wouldn't have happened.”

“I don't get why she'd want me dead, though. For one thing, she doesn't even know this—uh.”

“This name,” Fancy finishes, and sighs. “I don't care, Andras. As long as you answer when I call you, that's the least important thing about you. The name of the person you're tracking, though—that, I need.”

Andras crosses his arms. “Like I said, she shouldn't have any reason to kill me. She's a doctor! Doctors aren't supposed to kill people, I think they take vows about that.”

He's disgustingly optimistic. “Great, a doctor. A military doctor, I'm assuming, possibly with some black ops connections and classified secrets that the United Republic wants her to keep. Name, Andras. I'm a RAC agent. I can find anyone.”

“Pim Jaegar, and I'm looking for her so I can ask her to help me, I don't want her locked and served. I don't … there are some things I don't remember, but I remember her being around, and I think she was helping me, so maybe she can help me now.”

Nobody in this system is going to help Kobee Andras. Definitely not some black ops military doctor who he thinks maybe helped him once. “Sure. I'll see if I can find her for you, especially if she's got friends in high enough places to go changing warrants around.” Unless she's the one who wants him dead, but he doesn't seem to want to believe that yet. Poor bastard. “But it's a warrant.”

“What? I don't have any joy for you. I don't have a job, I spent anything I had from the army trying to get out from under my debt on the Arcturus, I've got nothing.”

“And I'm not going to get into shit for you. No sides, no bribes, the warrant is all. I'm not going on a crusade for charity. So you pay me back somehow. Even if you can't pay the right way.”

He watches Andras think about it, think his way through his washed-up self, what he's got to offer. “Still not a sexer,” he finally says, but he doesn't really mean it. He's got something else, and Fancy waits to hear it. “I don't know how this works, this RAC shit,” he says when Fancy doesn't give him anything. “But it seems to me like you work alone, and like maybe some jobs would be easier with more people. Especially the lucrative ones.”

“So?”

“I can shoot. I can fight. I know tactics, I know weapons, and I get my team … I can help. You'd keep all the payment for it all.”

Now that's an interesting offer. It's not orthodox—Turin won't like it, Fancy's broker won't like it, but he wants his nest egg as big as he can get it. Something's coming their way, rumbling across the J. Fancy can read the news and see what's missing, and he can read the air and feel all the people in the know ducking for cover. As long as the warrant stays his priority, as long as he doesn't put this unofficial business in front of the RAC, as long as nobody finds out, it shouldn't be a problem. “I'm not going to spend any favors for you, and any consequences that come down come down on you.”

“Wouldn't expect anything less.” Andras offers his hand, and Fancy shakes it. “Guess that makes me a killjoy, then.”

Fancy rolls his eyes. “You've got a lot to learn before you can say that.”

*

Andras wakes him up screaming, and Fancy thinks about ignoring it. A man's nightmares are his own business. Fancy wouldn't want to talk about his, if he was ever stupid enough to scream about them.

Fancy also wants to sleep, though, and he can't really do that while Andras is on his couch doing a great impression of being murdered. Fancy should have just shot through the old man and called it collateral damage and killed him before the warrant changed.

He sighs and gets out of bed and stands in his living room doorway and throws a shoe at Andras. He's not going to touch an ex-soldier in the middle of a nightmare, so Andras doesn't get a nice gentle awakening.

He wakes up gasping and reaching for a gun, like Fancy would be stupid enough to part with any of his arsenal to a competent fighter he might have to kill. “What the hells?” he asks nobody in particular, and lays eyes on the shoe that hit the ground when he sat up.

“You're on Westerley in the Quad,” says Fancy, already yawning and thinking longingly of sleep. “You're in my bunker, and you're keeping me awake. Save your flashbacks for your own time.”

“Shit. It's not like I can actually help it, you know.”

“So sleep with a gag in, I don't care. This warrant isn't going to last if you keep me from resting.”

“Oh right, of course, don't want to keep you from your beauty sleep.” Andras scrubs his face with his hand. “Sorry. I can't really help what I'm dreaming about, but I can sleep while you're working and I'm not or something. Or if you've got somewhere else I can throw a few blankets with a few more doors between us.”

“I still like the gag idea.”

Andras makes a face at him. “Kinky. Seriously, I'll try to stop. If I wear myself out enough in a day usually I can keep quiet. I was on some meds to help me sleep, but I ran out on the Arcturus and I wasn't going to add onto the debt for that.”

Fancy groans. “You're no good to me if you're not sleeping. Write down the name for me, there's a doctor on-planet, I'll see if I can get it.”

“What, and add it onto my debt? I'll be stuck with you as long as I was stuck on the Arcturus.”

“That's assuming I want you around that long. Just get me the name, or I'll bring home whatever I can find. Might be poison.”

Andras bends and throws the shoe back at him. He misses, so maybe this barter for his military prowess isn't going to do Fancy any good at all. “Good luck getting answers then.”

“Might be worth the mystery for some uninterrupted sleep,” says Fancy, and picks up the shoe before he goes back to his room. This time, he turns on a fan. Maybe the white noise will keep out any more screaming.

There's no more screaming, but Andras looks tired over breakfast, like maybe he didn't go back to sleep. Fancy tells him he's going to Old Town and to stay in the bunker until Fancy can find him some work and goes. Maybe he'll get some sleep in that way. At least he hands Fancy the name of the drug before he goes.

*

Fancy doesn't go to Pawter Simms, not once he's looked up the drug Andras says he's on. She's not going to give him a prescription for a sleep drug that's really a neuro-blocker, not without asking a lot of questions, and Fancy would rather be asking those questions of Andras, who's too stupid to live if he didn't even do his own research on the drugs his doctor prescribed before he got discharged.

He goes to Old Town's streets instead, and finds Alvis Akari. He seeks Alvis out rarely enough that it only takes a glimpse of him for Alvis to slip away from his prayers and follow Fancy down an alley where they can have something like a private conversation.

“Fancy. Haven't seen you in a while,” says Alvis when they're alone, tilting his head, waiting to hear why Fancy is there.

“A blessing, uncle?” Fancy says, leaning against the alley wall. “Your pain, my redemption, right?”

“Are you telling me you want to be redeemed?”

Fancy nods, acknowledging the hit. “I'm looking for someone who's apparently disappeared.”

“And you think I can find them?”

Fancy shrugs. “You might know. Or you might know someone who knows. I'm looking for a doctor.”

“Not the doc in the Royale, I assume.”

“You'd be right about that. Dr. Pim Jaegar. She's not from the Quad, but her trail leads to Qresh, and if she were on Qresh, we'd know about it. There's no spare land to stash anyone there.”

Alvis stares at him for a few seconds. Fancy lets him. Alvis has always done that, and it's best just to let him, and not get unnerved about what he might be seeing. “This isn't for a warrant.”

“It's always for a warrant.”

Alvis gestures, open-handed. “Then show it to me.” Fancy lifts his chin, and Alvis just nods. “So this matters to you. Okay. I'll see what my Scarbacks can find, but they have no reason to look out for her that I can tell.” He mirrors Fancy, leans against the wall on the other side of the alley. “Killjoys are asking me all kinds of favors, these past few days. Dutch and John were here, trying to trade a Company favor, and when that only half worked, they asked me to keep an eye out for someone.”

“Is that so?” Interesting timing, to be a coincidence. It could be that the warrant was double-booked, or someone wanted to be very sure Andras was dead, but he doesn't think Dutch goes for kill warrants, even if she's been Level 5 since the beginning. The warrant was canceled, though. No reason they should be putting out the call for Andras.

Unless Dutch somehow got the classified warrant.

“But I haven't seen anyone, of course.”

“Of course.” Fancy wonders how much he wants to give away, but Alvis knows how to keep his counsel. He likes Dutch, but he and Fancy have history. He won't betray their secrets to each other. “Why are they looking for this person, out of curiosity? For a warrant?”

“They didn't tell me,” says Alvis, which mostly means he isn't going to tell Fancy. “I don't get involved in territory disputes between killjoys. There are more important things to concentrate on.”

Like the revolution that's going to get his whole order killed. Then again, they don't mind pain or martyrdom. “Good to know.”

“Maybe you should talk with her when she's back in Old Town.”

“With Dutch? Why would I?” And then, because she might be on the Andras warrant and trying to track down his home right now: “Where is she? Leith, maybe?”

Alvis frowns at him, assessing. “Sugar Point,” he finally says, and Fancy stills himself, mind and body. “She should be back in a day or two. I won't tell her to look for you, but it couldn't hurt to talk to her sometime.”

“I don't need her help. I just want to make sure we're out of each other's way.” Fancy pushes himself off the alley wall. “I should go. Business to take care of.”

“Always. I'll look forward to seeing what comes of this. And I'll let you know if we find your doctor.”

“I can pay for the information,” Fancy says, against his instincts.

Alvis just shakes his head. “I'll say a prayer for you, that you win whatever fight you're in.”

“No sides,” Fancy reminds him, and leaves the alley before he has to hear Alvis's response to that.

*

“Neuro-blockers?” Andras asks when Fancy explains. He's groggy again, but it's the well-rested kind of tired, so he probably got some sleep in Fancy's absence. Maybe he had nightmares, but they didn't wake Fancy, so he doesn't really care. “Why would she prescribe me neuro-blockers to help me sleep?”

“Probably because they're not actually to help you sleep,” Fancy says as patiently as he can. “They're usually used to suppress some kind of process in your brain, so we have to figure out what she wanted to suppress.”

Andras swallows. “Maybe she thought suppressing my memory access would give me less nightmares. It just makes me wonder more about—”

“Don't care,” Fancy warns, and goes to the locked cabinets where he keeps all the tech he's invented or modified over his years with the RAC, the ones that got him to level five. “Neuro-blockers are also most often used in combination with something, so we're going to scan you, and see if the combination is something we can find.”

“And how does that help us?”

“Why do you want to find her? You think she can help. What do you want her to help with?”

Andras gestures around in a way that just implies that his whole self needs fixing. Fancy doesn't disagree. “I don't remember things that I should, and I want to. Need to. She was my trauma doctor. She should be able to help me.”

“You ever think maybe she's the reason you can't remember?” Fancy finds the right cabinet, with a standard medical scanner that can send information to his PDD. He rarely uses it because he has no idea what to do with the medical information, but he can at least see if there's something in Andras's head that shouldn't be there. “Neuro-blockers are kind of suggesting that. She could have hypnotized you, ordered surgery, something else. Still sure you want to find her?”

“She knows things about me that I don't. I want answers.”

“Well, you're getting some. Hold still.” Fancy clamps his free hand down on Andras's shoulder to keep him in place and moves the scanner over his head.

Andras scowls, but he doesn't try to struggle, which is probably the military in him. If any of Fancy's colleagues at the RAC trusted him near their brains with a piece of machinery they still wouldn't be standing still, especially for medical treatment. “What does it say?”

“It's still scanning,” Fancy says, just in time to finish up at Andras's brain stem and hear his PDD beep with the scan. “The answer we get might just be that it looks like a brain. I'm not a doctor.”

“Which is why I want to find Dr. Jaegar. Even if she did keep secrets from me.”

Fancy fishes his PDD out of his pocket and frowns at the picture it brings up. He's not a doctor, but there are some things he can tell aren't right, and that includes fucking implants. He shoves his screen in Andras's face. “Secrets like brain surgery? Did you consent to that?”

Andras stares, and finally takes the PDD and stares some more, zooming in on whatever is in his brain. “I don't think I did. But I told you, my memories are fuzzy.”

“Your memories are fuzzy because some doctor made them fuzzy. Some doctor like Dr. Jaegar. If she's the one that did that, she's not going to be happy to see you.”

“I don't care. Now I really need to see her. Whatever she put in there, I want it out.”

“Sure, more brain surgery, that's going to fix this.” Fancy sighs and takes his PDD back. “I might know somewhere we can find out more about this without dealing with Dr. Jaegar, who I don't really want to meet, after all this.”

Andras crosses his arms. “No hospitals.”

Fancy rolls his eyes. “No shit, soldier boy. Your fake identity won't stand up to a medical records search, and if Jaegar is around, that will just alert her that you're trying to undo her hard work. If she wasn't the one behind the warrant in the first place, that will get her wanting you locked and served sooner rather than later.”

“And you're not hoping for that?”

“Doesn't matter to me either way, but I don't think you're going to like whatever happens at the end of a warrant that puts you on her operating table.” Fancy saves the brain scan and puts his PDD back in his pocket. “I'm going to talk to some contacts. You start figuring out work, and I'll let you know the next time I might want backup on a warrant.”

Fancy isn't used to having someone in his space. Normally, he'd cook himself something to eat, work on his latest project, send a message to his broker looking for a warrant to pick up, but with Andras camped out in his living room that's not really an option, at least not in the way it usually is. Andras is standing in the middle of the room looking kind of lost and still exhausted, and none of this is Fancy's problem except that apparently he's been making it his problem ever since the warrant got canceled in service of answers he might not get.

“You don't seem like the kind of person who asks for backup,” Andras finally says.

Fancy raises his eyebrows. “I'm not the kind of person who usually needs backup. But on the rare occasions, I know when I'm in over my head. Which is more than I can say for you.”

“Yeah,” says Andras, and frowns at the medical scanner as Fancy puts it back in his cabinet. “I guess so.”

*

It takes Andras two days to find a job unloading cargo at a Badlands watering hole close enough that he can share Fancy's on-planet vehicle.

It takes Fancy three days to confirm that Dr. Bliss on Utopia is performing some procedures that seem pretty familiar, even if they don't seem to come with the brain hardware.

“They know me there,” Fancy warns Andras when he's briefing him on the situation, “so you can't mess anything up for me. You shut up and let me do the talking.”

Andras mostly just looks confused. That bodes well. “Why do you know people in some kind of tech station?”

Fancy sighs and gestures at the cabinets on the wall. “Who do you think builds all of that? Most people aren't making cutting-edge tech for killjoys, so that's my job.”

“Huh.” Andras stares at the cabinets for a few seconds. “You should show me what all you've made sometime. My brother used to do shit like that sometimes. More fixing up than inventing, but I bet he'd like that.”

According to the public records Fancy accessed, Kobee Andras is an only child. It's really not worth bringing that up, because if he asked, Andras would probably tell Fancy exactly who he is, and then Fancy would have to deal with the consequences. “So, are you sure you want to go?”

“To get my memories back, or at least find Dr. Jaegar? Why do you think I've been hanging around here?”

Fancy rolls his eyes and goes to start making dinner. Andras, he discovered last night, can't cook for shit. Not too surprising from a military man, but inconvenient. “I think you haven't thought it through. Whatever happened to you, you've already got nightmares about it, and you don't even remember all of it. You really want that burden, whatever it is? Or do you want to move forward with whatever you can build from here?”

“If it was something that had happened to me, maybe you'd be right. But it's something I did. And I know what I did, but I don't know why. That's the part that matters.”

“We can find out why. We can change the warrant. Just think about it before you invite the bad memories back in.” Fancy puts a knife and some vegetables down on the table. “Chop those, freeloader.”

“I worked the whole day today while you sat around and tinkered with whatever you're inventing,” Andras complains, but he comes over to the table and takes the knife. “Thanks,” he says a few minutes later. “We'll see what this Dr. Bliss says, and I'll think about it.”

Andras wakes them both up again that night screaming, and Fancy doesn't bother waking him up this time, just starts up some white noise and tries to go back to sleep. Whatever decisions he has to make, Fancy can't make them for him, and asking questions just because he's curious won't lead anywhere good.

*

A warrant comes through before they can make it to Utopia, and Fancy doesn't turn down warrants. “It's a Level 4,” he says when Andras asks. “Dead or alive. You help, tactical support, but if he needs to be dead, you don't take the shot. That will get us both in trouble.”

“What did he do?”

“Nothing good, but it doesn't matter, because that's the warrant, and I accepted the warrant. Once I do that, it doesn't matter if he's a good man or a bad one. It just matters that the Company wants him brought in, so I'm going to do it.”

“But you want me to help.”

Fancy shrugs. “He's holed up with some allies. Like I told you—I know when I need help. I could do it without this time, but you need to pay a debt, and I could use a relaxing warrant.”

He thinks Andras will refuse, but he finally nods, and Fancy starts packing up his gear to go, finding a gun for Andras as he goes and showing him the non-lethal ammunition options. “Let's do this,” says Andras when it's done. “I could use a mission too.”

The warrant goes fast, with two people doing it. Fancy gets in and gets the warrant done, and Andras covers him on his way out and then drives them away as fast as the vehicle will take them.

“You can't come to finish off the warrant with me,” Fancy says when they're getting close to the bunker. “I'll drop you off, be back when it's over.”

“Sure, you go get all the glory and leave me home to cook dinner.”

“You try to cook dinner in my kitchen, I'll put you right back where I found you, with a few extra holes in you.” Fancy gives him a sidelong look. Andras is grinning. “So, be honest: more fun than a mission where you have to follow orders, right?”

“Who's to say I wasn't giving the orders?” The smile falls off Andras's face, but he thinks about it for a minute, changing directions to head for the bunker. “I don't know. Sure, it's fun, but does it ever bother you that it's not for a cause?”

“That's not what the RAC is. No sides, no bribes. The warrant is the closest thing to a cause we have, so we don't have to fool ourselves that we're always being white knights like you do. As long as the warrant gets done, it doesn't matter how. No trying to be a hero. Just a job.”

“I don't know if I could do that.”

“You did today,” Fancy points out.

Andras doesn't look to the back of the vehicle where the body of today's warrant is zipped up neatly in a bag, and he doesn't have an answer to that. He just waves Fancy off when they get back to his bolthole and goes inside, leaving Fancy to get the warrant finished and verified.

*

Andras hates Utopia in a way that Fancy finds deeply satisfying. Every time Fancy stops to inspect something or talk to an acquaintance, he huffs and taps his foot and looms until Fancy moves on. “You're going to make everyone suspicious,” Fancy finally says, well on his way to annoyed after a third person tells him they don't have anything new because Andras looks like he's there for law-keeping business.

“I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, this isn't exactly my usual scene.”

“Really? I couldn't tell. Just shut up, look friendly, and let me find the doctor. And don't take anything anyone offers you, you're an easy mark.”

That gets Andras starting off on an offended rant, but it makes him stop walking around looking like he's about to start barking orders on a battleground, so Fancy can deal with tuning out the rant. He talks to a few more people and gets directions to Dr. Bliss's office, where she seems to be having a quiet night.

“I hear you know something about memories,” Fancy says when she invites them in, already sizing them up to see if they can afford whatever she's selling.

She gives them a professional smile. “I know everything about memories. I can take them away, I can find you new ones—anything you want to have experienced, I can get you that. Some things take a little more time than others, though, and some are a little pricier. What can I do for you?”

“Did you work with Dr. Pim Jaegar?” Andras asks, because he's got nothing like subtlety.

Dr. Bliss's smile disappears. “Where'd you get that name?”

“I'm an old patient,” says Andras, like an idiot. “You know her? Do you know where she is?”

Bliss rolls her eyes. “No, I don't. Sure, I worked with her for a while, but the memories were only a secondary objective for her, she never took it as far as she could have. Implanting memories? She never even thought of that. It was all erasing, and clumsy at best. So I left. Figured some new things out, and started my own practice.”

“What was her primary objective?” Fancy asks before Andras can use up more of her limited patience on stupid questions.

“Classified-level military shit that it's not worth my life to talk about,” Bliss says, and frowns at Andras. “You're a former patient? For which experiments?”

“Definitely the memory. Maybe … maybe the other shit. I'm not sure about that because of the memory shit, though. I want it undone.” Andras crosses his arms. “I was hoping Dr. Jaegar would do it. But maybe you can.”

“You're hoping I'll give you back memories that probably got taken because they're classified too?”

He looks like he's ready to haul off and punch her, but Fancy stays out of it. This isn't a conversation he needs to be involved in, apparently, not unless it looks like Andras is going to get them both thrown off Utopia. It takes a long time for Andras to answer, but he sounds calmer than he looks when he does. “Nobody gets to classify what's in my head. Or what should be in my head. I'll go to her, if you don't want that on your conscience. But I want to know why I … I know what happened. I don't know why.”

Bliss lights up a little, and Fancy shifts, ready to get in the way if he needs to. “What happened?” Andras shakes his head, but she picks up a PDD. “There's your price. You want me to see if I can undo the blocking procedure? You tell me what happened, and I'll copy the memories.”

“Nobody wants these memories.”

Bliss snorts. “The more fucked up the better. People want what their lives are too boring to get them. Sure, some people want to be a princess for a day. Other people want torture. Whatever it is you've got in there, I want it. You'll have it too, and I'll have it in case I need it.”

“Even if it's classified?” Fancy asks.

She smiles at them. “Especially if it's classified. Wherever Jaegar is, she's being sheltered. You'll never get at her. You want those memories? You need me.”

Andras is scowling in a way that says he's probably about to refuse, and Fancy elbows him in the side. He can't say he likes Bliss, or thinks her business is ethical, but he knows what it means to do whatever he needs to do to finish a warrant. Sure, Andras may not get the closure he wants with this Jaegar woman, but he might get answers. “We'll think about it,” he says, and grips Andras's shoulder tight. “We'll be back in a few minutes. Andras, let's take a walk.”

“Nobody should go through what I went through,” Andras says the second they're somewhere even a little bit private. “Even if they think they want to, my memories aren't some kind of tourist attraction.”

“They are if you want them back,” Fancy says, brutal the way Andras needs if he's going to hear it. “Do you want your memories, or do you want Jaegar? Because right now, it looks like you only get one.”

“She can give them back to—”

“You heard Bliss. Maybe she can, but we can't get to her. If she's being sheltered by the Company, if she's one of their pet researchers, I've got no access. No warrant that's going to get me past her security. And I'm not going to break in for you, not when there's another solution staring us straight in the face.” Andras looks away, still scowling, and Fancy sighs. “Look, a person like Jaegar—information that classified, research important enough that she's not in a public research facility? Looking into memories, and whatever other shit she's looking into? She's going to end up on the wrong end of my gun someday, just like you almost did. She'll finish her research and they won't like the thought of her retiring and getting used against them, so either she dies working or she dies because of someone like me. If she's the one that did something to you, she's going down someday. I'll take that warrant.”

“I'm not asking for her death. I'm asking for answers.”

Fancy nods in the direction of Dr. Bliss's door. “Then let's go get them for you.”

“Fuck you,” says Andras, but he sounds more tired than mad. “Would you do that? Put your memories up for sale?”

“I don't think I care about anything that much,” says Fancy. “Are we going?”

“We're going.”

Andras starts walking back to the thick of things and Bliss's office, and Fancy falls into step with him before he asks the question. “Before you have to tell her, you can tell me. What happened to you?”

“I killed my whole squad,” Andras says, miserable and quiet, and speeds up to walk ahead while Fancy follows him back.

*

He's not a necessary part of the proceedings, but Fancy finds himself staying for the surgery anyway. Bliss talks about taking slices of the cerebral cortex and scanning the experience, reinserting it, taking out the old tech Dr. Jaegar used, since she's found more elegant methods, and she seems bright-eyed and excited when Andras tells her, flat and emotionless, what kind of memory she's getting.

Fancy sits in a corner while she puts Andras under. He sits in a corner while she plays around inside his skull, and he can even feel some academic interest. Maybe he should look up some more information about medical supplies, learn something new. If nothing else, it could give him some new ideas.

It takes hours, and he nods off for a while before Bliss finally steps back from the table. “He'll wake up in an hour or two and then you two can clear out. I took out the blockers around the memory, so once he wakes up, he should have that back. Thanks for talking him into it, I definitely have some buyers who would be interested.”

“We're not friends just because I decided you were the lesser of two evils,” says Fancy, keeping his eye on the table. “And if we had another option, we wouldn't be here.”

“I have to make a living.”

Fancy just rolls his eyes, and wishes he had an excuse to lock and serve her. None of what she's doing is quite illegal, if her medical license is up to date, but it's wrong. Fancy doesn't hold many things sacred, not the Mother Tree, not a cause, but memories are important. They're history, they're self, they're a preservation of something that might not exist anymore. Messing with them isn't something to do lightly. “If Jaegar is under Company protection,” he says, “I'd recommend finding a different way to make a living before she makes that choice for you.”

“Like I said, she doesn't really care about this part.” She jerks her chin at the table. “He's wired in for vitals, I'll get paged if he destabilizes but he shouldn't. I'm going to go scrub off.”

She does, and soon after that, out in the main room of her office, he hears her talking to another customer. Fancy stays where he is, keeping an eye on Andras.

After a while, he winces in his sleep, then groans, head tossing from side to side, and Fancy is thinking about finding Dr. Bliss to ask her what's going on, but then he wakes up all at once: eyes open one second, jackknifed up to sitting the next. “You're on Utopia,” Fancy says. “Give the memories a second to settle, you just had brain surgery.”

Andras looks at him, and there's nothing like recognition in his eyes. One second he's sitting there, and the next he's moving like he's on a mission, taking Fancy by surprise, and Fancy can barely get to his feet in time to meet the blow and counter. Andras just comes back like he doesn't care he just had brain surgery, and he's fighting like he did on the Arcturus but even more—this time he's not fighting for a show, he's fighting to kill.

It suddenly makes sense that he could kill a whole squad of military men, probably armed ones. Fancy fights him off, throwing obstacles in his way, and reaches for a weapon that will put him down but not kill him, finding his wasp dart gun. It's close range for it, but it should take Andras by surprise, and it should put him down. Fancy barely has time to click it to non-lethal measures before Andras is coming at him and he has to shoot it.

The five seconds before it hits and the two before the dart takes effect are a desperate fight for the upper hand, and Fancy is scowling about it even before Andras drops, wondering when he can fit in some practice for hand-to-hand. He doesn't want to rely on his tech too much.

Dr. Bliss appears in the room, staring at the mess, at Andras, bleeding on the floor, and Fancy, bleeding upright. “What the hells happened in here?”

Nobody's attacking him now. Fancy has plenty of time to get out another weapon. A lethal one. “You said you took all the neuro-dampeners out of his head. What else was in there that you left, and how fast can you take it out?”

*

“Dr. Jaegar called it Project Chrysalis,” Bliss says while she works, cutting into Andras's brain again, this time while Fancy sits by with a gun on his lap. “I still don't know much about it, but I know it does this. Turns soldiers against their own people, just takes them over. I must have triggered it taking the memory blocks out.”

“That's why he killed his squad? Some kind of experiment?”

“I haven't had time to watch his memory yet, but probably.” She shrugs. “This should remove the trigger completely, though.”

“Why was it in there in the first place? What's the point of getting someone to turn on their own people?”

“All I ever heard is that it was orders.” She looks at him sidelong. “You're a killjoy, right? You should get that.”

Fancy crosses his arms. “Those aren't orders. They're a contract. I have to agree to all the rules, or I don't take the warrant.”

“But you don't take sides, I know that's in the oath. So you can't afford moralizing.”

Fancy has killed a Company officer one day and a career criminal the next, friendly fire from both sides, and not really cared whether they deserved it or not. But every single time, he chooses it. He doesn't wiggle out, doesn't blame what he does on someone else's orders. And he's never forced. “Is it worse to do something because you chose to, or because you were too weak to stand up and say no?” he asks, and then nods at the table. “He didn't get that choice at all, sounds like.”

Dr. Bliss looks at him, looks at the gun he's had leveled at her for this whole surgery. Looks at Andras on the table.

Whatever she sees, at least it shuts her up.

*

Andras wakes up slower this time, groaning and turning on his side. “What did you use to put me out? I'm going to be tasting it for a week.”

“So you remember that. Good. Saves me having to explain it. I think Bliss wants us out of here as soon as possible, so let me know when you can walk.”

“I just had brain surgery, Fancy, give me a minute.” Andras rolls enough to look at Fancy. “And I remember it. Everything.”

Whatever he did when he was killing his squad, then. “Looks like I fulfilled my warrant, then. Got you what you wanted.”

“Even if you couldn't get me to Jaegar. So does that mean you're leaving me here?”

If he leaves Andras on Utopia, they'll eat him alive, and he'll miss work and lose his papers and end up a face on Fancy's PDD again. “You still owe me for services rendered,” he says. “Come on, get up. I'm bored.”

When Andras stumbles, Fancy goes and gives him a shoulder to brace on, and they limp through Utopia together. Andras sleeps the whole way back to Westerley, and only wakes up long enough to stumble the couch.

He hasn't woken up by the time Fancy heads out to do a warrant, and Fancy leaves him. As far he knows, work doesn't need him for another day, and it's the deepest he's seen him sleep yet.

*

“You should have gotten me up if you were going for a warrant,” Andras says when he gets back that night. “I would have helped. Still owe you, right?”

“Didn't need your help. Just an escort warrant.” Fancy eyes the table and inhales, wary. “Did you cook?”

“I'm not completely incompetent. I used to cook for my brother sometimes. Breakfast foods and shit.” Andras is sitting at the table, and he looks nervous in a way that makes Fancy sigh and start putting his gear away, waiting for the words he knows are coming next. “We need to talk.”

There they are. “Your brain is your business, Andras.”

“And Dr. Bliss's. Shit, I hope she doesn't actually sell that memory, it's really not good.” He frowns. “And it's not Andras. I guess I should say.”

Fancy turns away from putting away his weapons to raise his eyebrows. “Yeah, I know that. What, you think I have some claim to your name just because I watched you get brain surgery?”

Andras pauses, caught by that. “Actually, maybe? That seems like the kind of thing that would get us on first name basis. But no. Mostly … mostly I trust you, and I really miss getting called D'avin at least sometimes.”

“Don't trust me,” Fancy warns, like he has since the start. “I'm still waiting to see what I can find out about the warrant on you that disappeared, and if your name shows up again ...”

“I know, I know, you'll kill me in a heartbeat. If you can.”

“I put you down in less than ten seconds—”

“When I'd just had brain surgery!” He looks more relaxed now, like maybe the dinner and the nervousness really was all about the name, like that matters to Fancy. So he'll call him D'avin now, and if he's not sure if it's the first or the last name, that doesn't really matter either.

Although with a name comes service records, other records, information Fancy could use to find out why he's interesting to someone far up in the Company or in the RAC. It's probably about the brain surgery, though, and that he already knows about. The next question, maybe, is if he's still interesting now that everything Dr. Bliss could find and could take out without hurting him got taken out of his brain, even if she admits there's still something on his brain stem that she had to settle for switching off. “I could kick your ass any day, surgery or no surgery,” he says. That's something he needs to think about, not talk about.

“Sure, keep telling yourself that,” says Andras—D'avin. “Now come over here before dinner gets cold.”

“Didn't realize I'd hired a live-in nanny,” Fancy says, but he finishes up with his weapons and goes to eat the dinner.

It's not half bad, actually.

*

The next job he takes D'avin on is a Level 4 on Leith, bringing in a farmer who annexed someone else's land claim, and they go all the way to delivery with the farmer trussed up and cursing in the back of their vehicle before Fancy stops in at the bazaar to see his broker and get his eye on any long-term warrants.

“I hear you have a friend hanging around on some of your warrants,” she says, eyebrows raised. “Fancy Lee, part of a team? Remember, he needs to pass the tests and get sworn in if you want to keep him.”

“It's a work agreement.”

“I remember your warrants, Lee. So do other people. Word gets around you're getting friendly with a former Level 5 warrant, even if it got canceled … well, people won't take kindly to it.”

“Upgraded, not canceled,” Fancy corrects. “His warrant got changed and classified. I want to know why, because if there's more to the RAC I want in on it.”

She rolls her eyes. “Didn't think you'd be one for ghost stories and superstitions. There's no Level 6, nothing we're keeping from you. The warrant got canceled but had to go through some approval first, and you're making something out of nothing.”

“I just want to know for sure, not to be told.”

“Your funeral,” she says, and gestures at the door. “Nothing for you today, especially when you just finished your last one, so go back to your boy and remember the code. Fuck whoever you want on your own time, but the second it comes in conflict with the RAC—”

“The RAC wins. Always.”

“Just as long as you remember it.”

That ringing in his ears, Fancy finds D'avin haggling over some kind of comic book in the bazaar and has to wait for him to finish before he drags him away. “Comics? Can't read a real book?”

“I couldn't resist,” D'avin says, waving it around. “Captain Apex, Issue 41. I stole it from my brother when we were still kids, and he was pissed at me forever.”

“So you're going to … what? Mail it to him?”

His smile drops. “No, I … I don't know if he's still at home, or anything. Been a while since we talked.”

“You're a free man once this warrant is paid off,” Fancy points out. “You could track him down, give him your weird nostalgic gift. You've mentioned him a few times now.”

“Huh. Guess I have. Mostly I don't talk about him much. But he's the best of my shitty family.”

“Good for him. Go show up on his doorstep, then.”

D'avin rolls his eyes. “Probably he'd be nicer to me.” He keeps clutching the comic book. “But he's probably got a shop of his own fixing ships by now, something like that. He was always good with tech. He doesn't need me showing up with all my baggage. And it's not like I want to go home anyway.”

“You don't have any baggage, you're wearing my clothes right now and I'm not letting you take them with you when you go.”

D'avin laughs and changes the subject to why Fancy doesn't live on Leith, where there's grass and less smog, and Fancy lets him, even if he refuses to answer, as they go all the way back to his bolthole together.

D'avin can't stay forever. Fancy doesn't want him to, even if he decides to be a killjoy. But he also doesn't know if he's going to know when it's the right time to send him away.

*

The black warrant comes through when he's arguing with D'avin over breakfast about whether some of his inventions are useful. D'avin complains that the hyper-specificity of some of them makes them useless, but Fancy argues that they're effective and proves it a time or two, before his PDD starts making noise and he picks it up and starts smiling.

D'avin perks up. “Warrant? I don't have to be at work till late, I can help out if you think it's going to be short.”

Fancy shakes his head, already grinning and going for some of his better tech, including the wasp dart that took D'avin out. “Invitation only, the best teams in the Quad competing to get a warrant done first. No outside contractors. You'll just have to see me when I win.”

D'avin raises his eyebrows. “Oh? You're so sure about that?”

“I may be a solo act, but I'm the best one in this region of space. I'll do it.”

That gets him a laugh, but Fancy has what he needs packed, and gets going as soon as he can. They're meeting at the Royale, so whatever's happening, it probably at least starts on Westerley.

The Royale is full of boasts and shit-talking when Fancy arrives, and he's happy to join in. There's Level 6 talk, but he ignores that, and finds himself shuffled over near Dutch and John Jaqobis, who were in Sugar Point, last he heard. They're looking tired, less sharp than usual, but then again, they've never been as sharp as him. “As I'm remembering it,” he tells Dutch, “we've never gone head to head before. It should be interesting.”

“When I hand you your own ass, you mean?” She grins at him. “You're not getting past us.”

“Technically it would be head to head to head,” says Jaqobis, mirroring her grin. “Care to wager on it?”

“I think the bounty is the wager.” Fancy crosses his arms. Alvis thinks they might have something he wants, or that he might have something they do, with the mystery of the favor they did for the Company and the person they're looking for. “Or maybe you two need some help. You're looking pretty run-down.” He looks around the room. He's the only one solo, and he knows he can do whatever this job is on his own, but they don't. “My tech, your fast ship? We'd get this done sooner than everybody. What do you say? Split the bounty three ways? More for me if my tech gets us there, more for you if whatever skills you have do the job.”

“Worried about getting it done on your own?” Dutch asks, smirk on her face spreading as she opens her mouth to continue.

Before she can say whatever's next, though, Turin comes in with the mission brief, and tells them they're looking for one of their own. One of their best, gone bad, and they need to restore order. Restore neutrality. If the Company finds out, the RAC's place in the Quad, where it's got the most power, the highest recruitment, is threatened. They all know Joe. They all like Joe.

But the warrant is all.

Dutch is a goddamn bleeding heart, always has been, just like her partner, and when her PDD beeps she leaves with a mumbled excuse, tells them not to wait for her. Anyone's guess if she shows up again this warrant or if she tries to go off and warn Joe. Turin was stupid to invite her along, knowing he was the one who sponsored her and Jaqobis into the RAC in the first place.

“No way she's coming back,” he tells Jaqobis when everyone goes running off and he's stuck cuffed to a chair because he was stupid enough to mouth off about Level 6 to a bunch of killjoys running high on adrenaline. “She left you.”

“She doesn't do that.”

“No? Then where is she?” Jaqobis scowls at him and works on getting himself free. Fancy watches. “She's gone and you're Level 3. You want a prayer? Let's do this.”

“Hey, screw you, I could do this on my own if I wanted to.”

“But you wouldn't be allowed. Tough break.” Fancy offers a hand. “Truce. I want this as much as you do, which means I'm willing to share a bounty. If Dutch doesn't come along, we split it two ways. Tell me you couldn't use that much joy just for yourself.”

After a few seconds, Jaqobis shakes it. “Fine. When she comes back, she won't be happy, but she can deal.”

Fancy starts walking, since Jaqobis has freed himself from the chair. “Trouble in paradise?”

“Ha ha. We're fine. What about you? Nobody's seen much of you lately. Got something new going on?”

“Nothing you'd be interested in. Why? Been missing me?”

Jaqobis is still making a series of offended noises when they get to the ship. Sure enough, Dutch isn't there, and Fancy doesn't bother to say anything about that, just says they should go.

*

The job turns into a shitshow, but going after one of their own was always going to be like that. They find Joe, and they find Dutch with them, and find the two of them wrapped up in some Leithian farmers ready to kill any Westerlyn who comes near them. Fancy makes a note to tell D'avin that apparently Leithian farmers are all going batshit with the first few seventh-generation Westerlyns talking about moving to Leith.

Jaqobis is itching to storm the place, with Dutch in there, so Fancy sits back and covers him, uses the wasp dart and then just shoots, until there's a blast and a ripple and all the people outside are only so much dust.

Fancy knows tech. He knows that something that can vaporize people like this is nothing he wants to be involved in. But there are killjoys in there, and someone needs to lay hands on Big Joe, and he needs to see if the weapon ended them too.

They're all looking desperate and bruised up, and there's only one farmer left. John is bending over some kind of tech like he's afraid it's going to explode if he touches it. “What is it?”

“Some kind of genetic bomb. I've never seen tech like this.”

Something about the shape of it looks a little familiar, but it's nothing Fancy can place, and he shakes his head. “I'm betting the Company wants this back, or I'd have a look at it. You can tell me how it works on our way back.” He looks at Big Joe. “Are you locked and served?”

He nods at Dutch. “She's got me.”

“Then let's go. I'll call Turin so he can call off the rest of the hounds.”

*

At the Royale, everyone's even more keyed up, full of all the instincts from a warrant that don't just shut off when someone else gets it. They're all ready to taunt Big Joe, ready to make him the problem so they don't have to admit that killjoys don't always keep to the oath, and that once they retire they don't always honor their past.

Dutch is a bundle of fury and pain, and Fancy keeps an eye on her but he lets John handle her, and Joe too. Hills bursts in, calls Turin into the back room for a pissing contest, and Fancy keeps his eye on his PDD, because Joe took from the Company, took a weapon they don't want anyone knowing about from the Company, and the only reason he and John and Dutch don't have bullets in their brains is because the Company still trusts the RAC far enough for discretion.

Joe knows it's coming too. Fancy can see it in his eyes, and in the way he acts instead of reacts, when the warrant changes.

Dutch is his friend. Fancy wants the bounty, but he's willing to let her have the chance, if she'll take it. Joe deserves the death he wants, and if he wants it to come at the hands of a friend, Fancy isn't going to gainsay that. But Dutch just cries, too soft for the RAC. The vultures are circling, ready to take the kill and laugh about it, make it into a drinking story instead of a job. Looking for glory.

Fancy is the best marksman in the RAC, and he takes the shot, watches Dutch gasp and John wince.

“The warrant is all,” he says. “Joe would have wanted it that way.”

The Royale is quiet, resentment and pain already brewing, and Fancy thinks about his conversation with John, how surprised John was when Fancy was honest about being an asshole on purpose because someone needs to be. John thought it was annoying. Funny at best. Maybe now he gets some of it. Doesn't really matter, because he's coming forward to get Dutch, and Fancy lets them have their grief, lets the rest of the high-level RAC agents let off their pressure valves, ready for Pree to come back once they've cleaned up their mess and serve them drinks. He turns his back on the room and waits for them all to have whatever reaction they're going to have. It doesn't really matter. He did what he needed to do.

Turin comes back in eventually, and just sighs out a “Shit” when he sees the body. “Who was it?”

“Fancy,” says Dutch, struggling around the word. “Fancy gets the kill.”

Fancy doesn't turn around, doesn't see what kind of look Turin is giving him, what he's doing. Probably already bringing up his PDD to document the death and start the clean-up. “Yeah, I'll bet,” he says, and then: “Come on, killjoys, it's a wake now. First round's on the RAC.”

Fancy stays for the first round, and the second, to prove that nothing they say is going to bother him, and then he leaves, heads back to his bolthole and D'avin, who's working the late shift and won't be back yet, but who will have some stupid shit to say at some point that might ease the bitter taste of this warrant.

*

Fancy is at the kitchen table when D'avin gets back, cleaning his guns, and D'avin comes in grinning. “Hey, wondered if you'd be off hunting for a couple days, I'd never heard of a black warrant before. Want to tell me all about it, and who beat the pants off you?”

“I got the kill.”

“Oh.” D'avin frowns at him, and sits down at the table across from him. “Well, I can tell you about the stupid shit my manager got up to today, or you can tell me who you murdered.”

Fancy isn't sure he likes the prospect of explaining that Joe's life wasn't worth living the second he took black tech from the Company, that Fancy had liked and respected and killed him. D'avin won't get that. Or hell, maybe he'll get it too well. He's the one who killed his squad, even if he was being controlled while he did it. “Another killjoy. He took some bribes, and took some tech that he shouldn't have, and now he's dead.”

“That sucks.” D'avin's face shutters, because of course he's thinking about killing compatriots, what that means. “Want to talk about it? Did you know him well?”

“Want to do anything but, really.” Fancy sighs. “Not that well. But he's old guard. Well-known. But the old guard, if they don't stay in the RAC till they die, they disappear, or they get as far away from this life as possible, or they go like him. Break the oath and get in too deep.”

“Oh yeah? Which do you plan to do?”

“Stay in the RAC till I die, of course.”

D'avin frowns down at Fancy's guns, which are already clean but only going to get cleaner. “I've been thinking about joining. I've got the skills for the right kind of warrants. It would be something to do, right?”

Fancy sighs and puts down the gun he's cleaning. “We're not a team. You know this, right?”

“Nah, I know. I'm gonna hand you your own ass on a regular basis, if I do it.” D'avin stands up. “You eat yet?”

“Yes. You?”

“They fed us some kind of slop at work, so either I've got worms or I'm good on nutrients for the next week, hard to tell. If you were hungry I would have made a snack but if you're not I'll just deal with the worms.” D'avin frowns at him. “You okay?”

“I'm fine. It was the warrant, and the warrant is all.” Fancy stands up and starts packing his kit up. Cleaning his guns is less satisfying with D'avin around to distract him.

“That's bullshit. Sure, you do the warrant while you've got the warrant, you don't take sides, you don't take bribes, you do the job without worrying about the context … I get that. You do the mission in front of you because it's not going to change whether you think about the morals or not. But when it's done? Then you get to feel whatever you want to about it.”

“And then you end up like Dutch, who couldn't pull the trigger because she couldn't tune the context out.”

“So you were there to pull the trigger. You're probably better at that than most people, but that doesn't mean you can't think about it now, and whatever comes of it.”

“Nothing comes of it. Just the next warrant, and some extra joy in the account.”

D'avin shakes his head. “Are you ever happy?”

Fancy finishes putting his kit away in the right cabinet and turns around to find D'avin lurking behind him. “Happiness isn't the goal. Was it for you in the army?”

“No, and look where that got me.” D'avin tilts his head. “At least let yourself feel something good once in a while.”

Fancy snorts. “What, you offering?”

There's silence, and then D'avin reaches out and puts his hand on Fancy's arm. “You want me to?”

What the hells. Fancy's got nothing to lose, and he's still keyed up and frustrated and playing back Dutch crying over a warrant after going off on her own to do anything but finish it from the start. That's what caring too much gets her, and it's a warning, but even so, Fancy doesn't want to be alone.

He pulls D'avin in.

*

It's been a long time since Fancy fucked anyone he comes close to trusting. Mostly it's sexers when he's got the urge, not even the too-familiar ones at the Royale, and he's never been the kind that pretends there's something more to that than what there is. He's not used to anything else.

There's no pretending that D'avin is a stranger. D'avin talks at him the whole time they're getting naked, complaining about his sore back from moving crates at work, leering when Fancy takes his shirt off and then complaining that he's wearing layers and he can't get them off fast enough. Fancy kisses him just to shut him up, and then D'avin gets handsy, lets Fancy's hair down and wraps a lock around his hand, not pulling so much as holding it taut, letting Fancy know he's there, maps him out with his other hand.

Fancy pushes him at the bed, gets him horizontal as soon as he can, and gets his lube out of the drawer under the bed, elbowing D'avin when he makes a stupid comment about only ever using it on his right hand. It might be true, but Fancy doesn't have to put up with that shit in his own bed.

“What do you want to do?” D'avin asks once the lube is out, the fact that they're having sex there between them, like it wasn't already obvious with the way they're both getting hard fast and all over each other on a bed not quite big enough for two men who like taking up space.

“Have sex. What, they only let you use a sock before morning drill in the army?”

D'avin grins at him. “Nah, mouths in the showers, if we were in the mood. Come on. I'm cheering you up. Just tell me: you want a blowjob? Something else?”

“I want you to shut up,” Fancy grumbles, and makes him, rolling him over until they nearly go off the bed so he can end up on top and press him down against the mattress, just moving against him. It's easier than going through a bunch of prep for one of them to fuck the other, and he doesn't want to move around enough to get blown, so he's fine with this, fine with slinging his leg over D'avin's hip to get better leverage to grind them together, dripping lube down between them until it hits the right place, makes everything slicker and easier and better.

D'avin's noisy even when Fancy is keeping his mouth occupied, moaning into Fancy's mouth and hitching his hips up, looking for control or speed or something else. Fancy presses him down into the bed, doesn't give him the control he wants because Fancy needs it, after the day he had. D'avin can turn the tables on him later, if he wants, or at least he can try.

“You're so bossy,” D'avin observes when Fancy changes positions and it jars their mouths apart.

Fancy bites his shoulder, and D'avin shudders. That's interesting. He lifts his head. “Are you complaining?”

One of D'avin's hands tangles in his hair again, and D'avin stares at him, dazed and smiling. “No, I'm really not.”

“Then shut up.”

“See, bossy,” says D'avin, still grinning at him like an idiot, and Fancy kisses him again, grabs his hips to get the angle between them better.

Maybe if he'd thought about having sex with D'avin before, he would have thought he'd want to be in charge, a military man with a past, but D'avin can't stop smiling up at Fancy, so clearly he doesn't mind being bossed around. That's interesting to know.

For now, Fancy doesn't bother bossing that much. He just moves his hips and D'avin's, and lets that do the bossing for him. D'avin keeps moaning into his mouth, hand clutching tight in Fancy's hair, just enough to pull, a note of pain in the middle of the sweat and the rising tightness.

Fancy comes first, but he doesn't bother stopping or backing away when he does, even when it starts hurting. D'avin's tilting his head back, the kiss broken again, but this time he's just panting, thrusting up, gone, and Fancy wants him to come too, wants him wrecked. It feels like the only win he's really getting after his day, even if he did win the black warrant.

Coming shuts D'avin up, seems like. He arches, goes quiet, buries his other hand in Fancy's hair too and pulls him in for another kiss, long and intense, fucking with tongues while their hips slow down and stop, the mess between them a problem for later. Fancy's already thinking about the next round, about finding a cloth to clean them up and then pushing D'avin's head down to clean him up again, just soon enough that he's still sensitive from the first round.

D'avin grins at him. “Hey. Did you feel a feeling besides smugness and annoyance?”

“Fuck you,” says Fancy, but doesn't bother going anywhere, just moves enough that he's not collapsing right on top of D'avin when he lets his weight go.

“We'll work up to that.” D'avin rolls his shoulders, jostling Fancy's head while he's at it. “That took the tension out of my muscles, that's for sure. Why haven't we been doing this for a couple weeks? Are you going to knock some off my debt for that one?”

Fancy pinches him and he yelps. “I'm not paying you for that. Asshole.”

“Right. Too good to pay for, I get that,” says D'avin, and then groans and pushes Fancy until he can sit up. “I'll be back with something to clean up with, I do not want to let this mess dry.” He frowns at the bed when he gets up. “We should wash the sheets too, ugh. The traditional military sock has its advantages.”

Fancy props himself up on his elbows. “We're not cleaning them till after the next round.”

D'avin grins. “Point taken,” he says, and wanders naked into the next room, comfortable and pleased and familiar with the space, after his time there. He's part of Fancy's house, part of his routine. That's dangerous.

Fancy will worry about it in the morning.

*

Fancy wakes up to D'avin snoring, and pushes him until he's on his side and quiets down before he gets up and gets dressed enough to work on some breakfast.

He checks his PDD on the way, and there's the joy from the black warrant, enough to invest in an invention or put away to make it easier to disappear and retire if he ever decides to do that. He'll have to decide what to do about that later. There's a message from the RAC too, asking him to come in for a meeting the next evening. Could be some questions about the warrant, or a reminder to keep his mouth shut, like he needs it. Or could be someone calling him to accounts for D'avin, or his curiosity about the warrant on him changing.

He thinks about Dutch and Jaqobis while he cooks, and Jaqobis's help tracking Joe down and the way he left them both pretty badly off in the Royale. He doesn't regret killing Joe—it was the warrant, and there's no room for regret in that—but the RAC is the closest thing to a home he's got, and the other killjoys deserve his respect and consideration.

He earmarks two thousand of the joy from the job and goes looking for John's account information so he can transfer some over for services rendered during the first part of the warrant.

It's no trouble to find it, but the name on the account gives him pause.

John Andras Jaqobis.

John Jaqobis, who likes to fix up tech, who would absolutely be the kind of dumbass to get upset over his brother stealing a stupid comic book, who's not from the Quad and who's looking for someone and has been about since the time Fancy got the warrant for Kobee Andras.

And D'avin, who would be just stupid enough to make up an alias out of the last two syllables of his last name and his brother's middle name.

Fancy opens up a message for John. Come to the Royale tomorrow afternoon. You alone, or you and her, but I think there's something I have that you want.

D'avin shows up not much later, shirtless and bleary and grinning a truly annoying grin. “Why'd you get out of bed? I was hoping to give you a really good wake-up call.”

Fancy rolls his eyes. “Put a shirt on, I'm frying something for breakfast and you're going to end up getting burned.”

*

“I don't know why we're going to this bar all of a sudden,” D'avin complains the next day as they walk through Old Town's streets, and then raises his eyebrows at Fancy. “Are we going on a date? If you exiled me from bed last night because you want to woo me, let me just tell you, I do not need wooing.”

“This isn't a date.” There hasn't been an answer to his message, but Fancy keeps his word. If Jaqobis doesn't come, he'll tell D'avin what's going on.

“Is it a present? Because that I'll take. It's my birthday soon.”

“You are the present.”

“Are you saying I'm a gift? Fancy Lee, you flatterer.”

Fancy has the feeling that D'avin's good mood is going to desert him pretty quickly once he realizes what's going on, but for the moment he lets it wash over him as they reach the Royale and he looks inside. There's John, at the bar talking to Pree, looking around warily, and there's Dutch at his shoulder. She's the one who catches sight of Fancy and taps John on the shoulder so he turns around.

“Your alias is really shitty,” Fancy tells D'avin, which is all the warning he really knows how to give before he pulls him through the door.

It's been a while, that's pretty clear. John gets it first, frown clearing after he stares at D'avin for a minute, suspicion leaving his face, replaced with plain shock. Not happy, not upset, just surprised. Not the worst reaction. “D'av?” he asks, taking a faltering step forward, and Dutch's attention laser focuses on what's happening. So does Pree's, but without the same knowledge that John and Dutch have.

D'avin looks at Fancy and then at John and then back, mouth hanging open a little. “Fancy? Where the shit did you find my little brother?”

Fancy leans against the doorway and shoves him a step forward, since now they're both staring. “Funny story. We're colleagues in the RAC.”

“Of course you took his warrant,” says Dutch, and frowns. “But it was a kill warrant. We tried to stop it, but we heard the warrant had been canceled.”

“Canceled, not fulfilled,” says Fancy. They all look at him, and he shrugs. “I was about to take the shot and the warrant got changed and classified. I wanted to know why.”

John takes another step forward. “So you were coming to the Quad? Had you tracked me down, or something?”

D'avin winces. “Shit, John, I wish I could say I had. I had no idea where you were, or even if you were still at home. I was looking for someone else. Long story.”

“Long story?” John's voice gets louder on every syllable. Fancy motions at Pree for some hokk for all of them. “You disappear to the army and never visit for eight years, and all you have to say for yourself is long story?”

D'avin tries out a smile. “I mean, I'll tell it if you want.”

John hauls off and punches him, which Fancy can't blame him for at all. D'avin staggers back a few steps until he hits the wall, and Fancy steps around them, heading for the bar and tossing “He just had brain surgery recently, try not to rattle his skull around too much” over his shoulder as he goes.

“You sure shake things up, Fancy Lee,” says Pree, and pours him a glass of hokk. “Is that really John's long-lost brother, and where have you been keeping him?”

“Sure seems like it, and none of your business.” Fancy sits down at the bar. There's a lot of yelling going on from D'avin and John's area of the bar, about the army and their mother and who knows what else. Fancy lets them have their privacy as much as he can when they're having this out in Pree's bar in the middle of the day.

It doesn't take long for Dutch to come over, leaning on her elbows on the bar. “Thanks,” she says after a second.

Fancy rolls his eyes. “For what? Not killing him? The warrant changed, and I wanted to know why.”

“For Joe, I mean. Someone had to.”

“Shit, how did you end up a Level 5? You don't have the balls for kill warrants.”

Dutch laughs. She doesn't sound like she thinks it's very funny. “Maybe not. But it seems like maybe murder is in my blood.” She tilts her head at the Jaqobis brothers, who have stopped yelling but still don't look too happy about anything. “So you wanted to know about one warrant, and took him in? That's a thin excuse. Also, what do you mean brain surgery?”

“His story, not mine. And it's not an excuse. The warrant got classified. The edit, before it disappeared, said Level 6, and something about Red 17.”

“About what?” she says, going pale. “Red 17? You're sure?”

“Completely. It's one of the only details I've got.” He raises an eyebrow. “I figured you'd be more interested in the mention of Level 6.”

“That's probably some kind of admin code, for Turin's level or above. Just means someone important wanted the warrant canceled.”

“Or changed,” says Fancy. “They could have just canceled it. Classifying it? Makes me wonder what it got changed to, and whether it's still going on.”

She crosses his arms. “Who did he piss off, Fancy? Are they coming for him?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. He's a little better equipped to deal with anything that's coming than he was a few weeks ago.” Fancy looks over his shoulder. D'avin's saying something earnest and probably stupid, hand on John's shoulder. “He's ex-military. Good with weapons, not bad with tactics. Superfluous for me, but if you two were looking to fill out the team …”

“You like him,” she accuses, sounding amused. “Why not keep him? Look over there, it looks like he and Johnny might not have the warmest of sibling relationships. A bit of a rivalry might do them good.”

Fancy shakes his head. “I work alone.”

“I know that you do. I did too, once. But do you want to?”

“Not the time. Tell me about this Red 17 thing. I still want to know what happened with his warrant. There's something in that.”

Dutch taps her fingers against the bar a few times, but then she tells him, talks in a low voice about a scavenge ship and about what she and John found out about it, how they barely made it out alive and sane, about the phrase “Red 17” popping up over and over again while they were there. Some kind of military shit, maybe. Maybe even the same project where Dr. Pim Jaegar works. No knowing why a military code would be used on a RAC classification, though. That's a question Fancy can answer for himself, maybe, especially after his meeting at the RAC.

“I have to go,” he says when she's done. “Meeting on the RAC in a few hours and I need to get flying.”

“So what? He's our problem now?”

“He's got work tomorrow unless he decides to quit and join your team, and he knows how to get into my place, but yeah. He's your problem.”

Her smile twists. “Nice, Fancy. You're going to have to admit that you care about something sometime.”

“I care about plenty of things. I care about the RAC, and about everything I do there. That's got to be enough.”

“It's really, really not.”

“Maybe not for you. But it is for me.” Fancy stands up, transfers some joy to pay off his tab when Pree gives him a look from down the bar where he's been cleaning glasses and pretending not to eavesdrop. “Don't let them kill each other.”

Dutch shakes her head. “Don't be a dickhead. And don't push him away, even if he does join our team. Apparently you've been helping him. Don't just disappear.”

“I should have known he was a Jaqobis. They're so clingy,” Fancy says, and leaves.

*

D'avin catches up to him at the port. “Hey, where are you going? Sorry I got distracted with Johnny, we had … kind of a lot to catch me up on, and apparently there's some doctor who works upstairs who I need to see because he doesn't trust whoever did brain surgery on me, which, I mean, at least Bliss's place was clean. The Royale is kind of dingy.”

“I have a meeting tonight at the RAC. You can't come.”

“Okay. So I'll … meet you at home?”

Fancy rolls his eyes. “You were wondering what comes next. It's this. Figure shit out with your brother. Join their team if you want. And maybe I'll see you around the RAC sometimes, if that's what you want to do.”

For a second, he thinks D'avin's going to try to convince him otherwise, or get pissed off and walk away, or even get all hurt about it. Eventually, though, he just shakes his head. “I'll see you around somewhere. I still owe you. I mean, I owe you even more now. You're not going to get rid of me while I still owe you.”

Fancy honestly isn't sure if D'avin is offering reassurance or asking for it. “Yeah, yeah. Go back to your brother and sweet-talk him into letting you play hero, I really do have a meeting about the RAC.”

“I thought being a killjoy wasn't about heroics.”

“It's not. But if it was, those two would be a decent team to settle in with. I'm too cynical for you.”

D'avin laughs at him. “I'll call you in a few days, Fancy. Like I said, you aren't getting rid of me.”

Fancy waits until he's in his ship before he smiles about that.

*

“Fancy,” says Turin, and stares at him like he doesn't know what to do with him. “You came.”

“The RAC called,” Fancy says, with a roll of his eyes. Turin rolls his right back. They don't like each other much, the two of them, but they get each other. “What for? Questions about the black warrant?”

“No, that was all pretty clear. You did a good thing. Better dead than the company making an example of him.” Turin scowls at him. “But I didn't call you in. I'm supposed to pass you on upstairs. Someone higher up wants to talk to you, and I know you're on a list for …” He leans back in his chair. “The words Red 17 mean anything to you?”

Fancy keeps himself still and calm. It's not about the warrant. It's about the answers he wants, but now that they're coming, he's not sure he's ready for them. Not with the way Turin looks. “Should they?”

“I don't know. Maybe. I'm hoping, anyway. Because my people, my best people, they tend to get called up to talk to one of the higher-ups about Red 17, and they don't come back.” Whatever reaction Turin is hoping for, Fancy doesn't give him, and he makes a disgusted noise. “Look: the RAC here needs you. Turn it down. Keep working warrants till you're old and gray, kill me and take my job in a couple decades, whatever. You don't need whatever they're offering you.”

“But I still want to know what it is.” Fancy stands up. “Thanks. Where am I going?”

“71.” Higher than most killjoys ever get to go, and Fancy wants to ask about that, but Turin is hitting a buzzer and the door is opening to let in a woman with blue hair, who smiles coolly and offers her hand for Fancy to shake.

“Hello. I'm here to escort you upstairs, Mr. Lee. He's been looking forward to meeting you.”

Fancy goes after her, and she gets him in the elevator and up and up through the station to the 71st level, where she has to put in three kinds of identification before it will let them in. She doesn't bother talking anymore, just leads him down the hall before she knocks on the door of an office, to get invited in a second later.

The man behind the desk looks familiar, and it takes Fancy a second to place him as the man who was watching D'avin fight, who kept getting in Fancy's sightlines, who typed on his PDD right before the notification came through. “You changed the warrant,” he says. There's one answer already, but it doesn't help him put anything together, and it only reminds him of Turin's concern when Turin pretends he's never any such thing.

“I do have to thank you for keeping Jaqobis safe and occupied these last few weeks, Mr. Lee,” he says, with a professional smile. “You've made it easy to keep an eye on him, and I wanted to do that very much. He's … interesting, after those experiments he was involved in. I arrived earlier than I'd intended to on the Arcturus, and I'm glad I did it in time to see Mr. Jaqobis and change that warrant. It would have been a waste to kill him.”

That's not reassuring, and Fancy is going to have to call D'avin up after all and tell him about that. On the surface, though, he just smirks. “I had ulterior motives for keeping an eye on him. I was hoping someone like you might call me up for a meeting and tell me what I don't know about the RAC. I'd say I'm trustworthy.”

“Yes, your work on the black warrant. Very admirable. And yes, you're here so I can tell you what it is about the RAC that you don't know.” He shuffles a few things around on his desk, looks up, smiles. Fancy thinks about Turin saying his people get called up and don't come back, and thinks maybe he's not going to get a chance to warn D'avin after all. “Let me tell you about Level 6.”