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Operation Leap of Faith

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

The wind carried the ghost of music with it, a disruptive whisper in the otherwise silent night. The woods were eerily quiet; a predator was on the loose. An outcrop of rocks crowned the gentle slope of the hill. It was the perfect vantage point. Glaz adjusted his scope again, his movements slow and silent.

The modern house would better be labelled a chalet than a cabin, all polished wood and luxurious windows that made Glaz’s job so much easier. There was no one outside, but he had counted at least three people inside. He knew there were supposed to be five, yet just four of them were targets. A cold wind ruffled the leaves in the ground, some sticking to his face. He made no move to wipe them out of the way. He wished he could have better camouflage than the rather bulky winter jacket he wore, but at least he wasn’t shivering from the cold after spending so much time prone on the ground, looking through the scope of his rifle.

From what he could see, his targets had all gathered in a single room. Glaz flipped on the thermal scope, focused all his attention on the sight of his targets and took a deep breath. The first shot was clean and perfect, shattering the window’s glass and distracting his targets. The first guy dropped dead before the rest had time to process what had happened. The second shot pierced another man’s chest as he tried to hide, who then stumbled and collapsed. By now, his remaining target was fully aware of what was going on and had run out of sight. Glaz calculated a possible path of movement and waited. The exterior walls wouldn’t be easy to perforate at this distance, and he’d rather not waste bullets blindly. He waited.

Not one but two guys came out through the front door. The first one went down in a spray of blood and gore, the bullet going through his forehead. The last man standing retreated back inside, having deduced it was much safer than staying in plain view of an unknown shooter. Glaz could only imagine his panic, yet he felt no remorse. He’d been tasked to kill them all, and he would. It was an inherent risk in their line of work, they should have known there would be consequences for what they had done.

After what Glaz considered a long enough wait, it was clear the remaining man wasn’t coming out any time soon. Glaz would have to go in to finish the job. He got up with a resigned sigh; Glaz disliked fighting in close quarters. He un-holstered the pistol, knowing it was better suited for a closer range shootout than the sniper rifle. Sticking to the shadows and corners, he approached the house, the main door still ajar and jerking with the wind gusts. In moments like this Glaz missed not having rappelling equipment to climb to the roof and surprise the enemy from above. His only entrance points were the main door or one of the windows. He chose the main door.

The inside of the house was as empty as the outside. The music blasting from the living room made it difficult to know if someone else was moving around. Quickly surveying the area, Glaz moved forward. The bodies of his victims lay on the floor, their blood mixing in an already congealing pool on the carpet. One of them had knocked a glass coffee table, small shards of glass crunching underfoot with every step he took.

The hostage was hiding behind the couch, trembling in fear but without making noise. A barely noticeable movement by the corner of his eye was all the warning he got before the remaining man emerged from behind the bar counter, aiming his gun at him. Glaz ducked out of the way and shot his own pistol. Luckily, his reflexes were good and his aim even better. A bullet sailed dangerously close to his ear, but the other man made a gurgling noise, blood pouring out of his mouth and running down his chest before he fell down dead. Mission accomplished. Well, mostly.

Taking his phone from the pocket of his jacket, Glaz sent a simple text message to his contact, a person called Shrike.

“It’s done.”

He didn’t have to wait much for an answer from them.

“Drop the package at this location.” The message came with a link to a map, indicating a warehouse at the edge of town as the drop point.

Well, Glaz hoped the package was cooperative. Otherwise, he’d have to render it unconscious before picking it up. He strode to the hostage and roughly yanked him up. The young man trembled and made desperate noises, pleading for something it wasn’t in Glaz’s grasp to concede.

“Follow me, we’re taking a walk.”

The hostage nodded vigorously, and Glaz felt a pang of pity for the poor man. He looked so young and frightened, and while Glaz would not harm him, he was delivering him to someone who would. He gritted his teeth. Empathy was something he couldn’t afford in this job if he wanted not only to succeed but to survive. Young and scared or not, Shrike wanted him. Glaz had no idea of what the guy could have done, but he would ask no questions either. Questions were dangerous, a slippery slope to acting out of character, depending on the answers given.

He gave a last look to the house before leaving, dragging the hostage with him. The walk back to the main road was long and uneven, their path little more than a dirt road. The lack of light except for a waning moon made the journey difficult. Glaz’s keen eyes didn’t save him from stumbling on a wayward rock or two. At least it was much safer than going across the woods, as he did on his way up when the sun was still out. Once on the main road, the car waited for him where he had parked it. The vehicle was compact, worn and in a dull silvery colour; the perfectly forgettable car you could see anywhere.

Putting the guy on the car’s trunk made Glaz feel like a stereotypical movie villain, the type who twirl their moustaches and laughed derangedly, but it was the safest way to transport the asset without anyone seeing him. The man whimpered, trying to implore, and Glaz had to pretend it didn’t affect him in the slightest. He had never before treated a hostage with such complete disregard, but this wasn’t a normal job after all.

At these hours the roads were deserted. People were usually in their homes already, and the nearest town wasn’t important enough to warrant high affluence of traffic at all times. Glaz liked it better like this, no people to worry about, just him and the road. And maybe the occasional animal that would cross in front of him. The sun had vanished entirely, only the faintest hints of an angry red line low on the horizon remained, the sky quickly acquiring a dark ink colour. There was about an hour’s drive until he reached his destination. An hour’s worth of being alone with his thoughts. Glaz hoped this test was enough to get admitted into the organisation, as patient as he was, Glaz wanted to be done with this mission as fast as he could. Pretending to be someone he wasn’t was tiresome. He was itching to let out the tension, but he had nobody to spar with and picking up fights in bars was something he didn’t do even when he was drunk and angry. Glaz sighed. At least he had reasons to believe the operation so far was going swimmingly.

The rendezvous point was at the edge of the city, an abandoned warehouse, next to a factory that closed business a long time ago. Perfect place for an ambush, or to conduct an operation of dubious legality. He didn’t like this one bit, but there was no alternative.

Glaz parked the car in front of the gate. Getting the hostage out of the car’s trunk required some effort since the man took a look at the surroundings and refused to move on his own. Despite the guy’s muffled noises of protest, Glaz dragged him by force. He didn’t have to knock on the door more than once, since it immediately opened, revealing a woman wearing a butcher’s apron. This had to be the mysterious Shrike with whom he’d only had contact through the phone before.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in!” Shrike ushered them in and closed the door after them. She reminded Glaz somewhat of Twitch, at least physically. Character-wise, he suspected they couldn’t be more different. “Leave him on that chair, sweetcheeks. He has an appointment with the doctor.”

She laughed at her own joke, while Glaz set the hostage on the indicated chair. He secured the terrified and struggling guy with the handcuffs attached to the chair’s legs and arms. As soon as he clicked shut the first handcuff, the hostage started to cry, huge shuddering sobs that made Glaz doubt for a moment before snapping the other cuff around his ankle. Everything about this situation was fucked up. Even if the hostage was also a terrorist, handing him out to be tortured didn’t seem very ethical to Glaz, but he couldn’t falter now. A wrong move and he’d be the one handcuffed to that chair.

“You did well, russkie,” she commented with a smirk, putting on latex gloves as a surgeon would. “Did you trash the house or are you the tidy sort?”

Glaz shrugged. “I broke a window. The corpses left some blood too.”

“Look at that, you do talk after all.” Shrike barely paid attention to him as she spoke, selecting a knife from an extensive collection of blades, scalpels, and other sharp implements she had spread on top of a crate. “There’s a meeting this Wednesday, the boss wants to meet you face to face. Eight pm in the house you just assaulted. Now shoo, I have a date with Johnny boy back there.”

Her smile showed all her perfect teeth, the effect unsettling when coupled with her darkened eyes and the protective goggles she donned. Glaz was actually sorry for the hostage, Johnny. Shrike didn’t look like she had a shred of compassion or sympathy for her victim. No, she was all gleeful anticipation barely hidden under the surface, and sharp blades. Glaz left in silence, just as he had come, the weight of everything he didn’t say or do heavy on his shoulders. Being on a first response team was more comfortable than this. He had no idea how Bandit endured for so long undercover and with his sanity more or less in one piece. Glaz’s respect for Bandit grew as much as his apprehension for what still awaited him.

Outside, the night was quiet, deceptively peaceful. However, Glaz knew what kind of dangers lurked in the shadows in this remote place. Glaz hopped into the car but didn’t drive away yet, setting his arms on the wheel and looking at the dark shape of the warehouse. Wednesday night, that was in two days. And just in time for his scheduled meeting with Kapkan. God, how he missed seeing a known and friendly face. Glaz sighed. He should drive home and go to sleep if the cramped apartment where he’d lived these last weeks could be called home. He didn’t even know what was home for him. His parent’s house in Vladivostok was just a blurry memory at this point.

When Glaz arrived, the apartment was dark and cold, offering a silent welcome. It did not bring Glaz any comfort to be within those walls. He eyed the empty easel longingly, but as tempting as it was, he needed to sleep, his body screamed for it.

The bedroom had a wonderful double bed, the only good feature of the otherwise bland room. He undressed down to his boxers, leaving the clothes strewn around the floor, and flopped down on the bed. Glaz was tired and fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, yet he slept fitfully. His night was plagued by dreams where delivered the hostage to Shrike, only the man he took out of the car’s trunk was Kapkan, looking at Glaz with shock and hurt in his eyes.

_ _ _

Two weeks earlier - Hereford

 

The brush glided smoothly across the canvas, blue and green mixing into a new unique hue that contrasted nicely with the brown motives crisscrossing the canvas. The painting wasn’t finished yet, he could feel it. It needed an extra touch of colour.

Glaz still wasn’t sure if the final result would be worth the effort, but painting abstract ideas was always a gamble. Or, as Fuze had once said, they were random splotches of colour that sometimes combined nicely. It was one of the best compliment the Uzbek has ever done about his works.

Speaking of the devil, Glaz could hear him arguing with Kapkan about who ate all the remaining halva overnight. Both were righteously angry about the accusations, and while the idea hadn’t occurred to them yet, Glaz was sure they are both innocent and the culprit was none other than Tachanka. Wouldn’t be the first time it happened. As entertaining as it was hearing them argue, he contemplated pointing that to them, and maybe then they’d stop arguing and Glaz could concentrate on his painting again. While he was still pondering that option, Ash poked her head over the door, whistling to get their attention.

“Has no one informed you yet? Urgent debrief in ten, stop yapping and move!”

The argument stopped, although judging by the dirty stare Fuze threw at Kapkan the issue was far from settled. They followed Ash like scolded children while Glaz carefully put away his paint and brushes, making sure everything was tidy before he trotted after them. Kapkan walked before him,  hands on his pockets and seemingly at ease. However, Glaz could see he was tense, almost ready to fight. Kapkan often resembled a caged animal, trying to make himself look smaller than he was and yet also ready to strike. It sometimes seemed as if Kapkan expected to be attacked at any moment. Glaz had imagined more than once how it would be to see the hunter truly relaxed. However, since he had never found the occasion or the courage to offer Kapkan a massage, the knowledge would have to remain out of his reach.

The debrief room, on the ground floor, was a glorified classroom of sorts. At least that’s the impression it gave people upon first glance. A whiteboard and a couple of screens on one wall, with rows of chairs on the opposite end. Tachanka was waiting for them there, talking to Montagne, but he soon ditched the Frenchman to gravitate towards the rest of the Spetsnaz. While everyone was friendly with each other, teams still tended to cluster together most of the time. The Spetsnaz were a tightly knit group who usually kept to themselves, more so than any of other CTUs assembled. Even Finka, the youngest and most outgoing of them, came to sit next to Fuze, who wasted no time to complain about the missing halva while Kapkan defended himself from the slander. She shared an exasperated look with Glaz.

A man known as Harry, Six’s right hand, came into the room and turned off the lights and then on again, the signal Six was about to enter. Everyone still standing hurried to take a seat, the muttering of conversations and gossip quickly dying down. Despite not being a combatant herself, Six had an imposing presence that commanded respect. She strode into the room seemingly out of nowhere, loading the image of a United States’ map in the huge screen behind her.

“We have a latent situation that must be dealt with carefully.” No empty pleasantries, just efficiently straight to the point. That was something Glaz and the rest of the Spetsnaz admired. “We have information of a White Mask cell established in American soil, close the Canadian border, that is recruiting new members. Our intel is limited, but we know they’re planning a new attack, bigger even than the one leading to the reactivation of Rainbow.”

Glaz frowned hearing this, the horrors of the Bartlett siege popping in his memory even after all this time. Hushed murmurs arose amongst the operators, quickly rising in volume until Six raised a hand to make them stop. It worked, since everyone shut up like scolded children.

“The nature and scope of their plans are yet unknown,  but we know they’re looking for a sharpshooter. Therefore Glaz will be deployed, with a fabricated identity that will allow him to gain their trust.” A sepulchral silence fell upon the room, all eyes suddenly on Glaz. He would not argue with Six, he'd do his job as he always did, but he was surprised by that decision. Their expert on undercover operations was Bandit, not him. Six continued, before anyone could interject, looking at him. “You will not go alone. As support and observator of the situation, Kapkan will be deployed too. We will discuss your cover story later, in my office.”

After that, Six carried on to review the training performances, but Glaz wasn’t paying much attention to it, still mulling over his new mission. Glaz had gone on missions alone before, they all did; however, going undercover was a whole different business. He hoped Six knew what she was doing.

_ _ _

Six’s office was best defined as austere. The walls displayed a select few framed photos, the immaculate desk and chairs looked taken out of some decoration magazine, and the closed cabinets spoke of hidden secrets and confidential information that few had the privilege to see. Everything combined to give the impression you were not welcome there, only tolerated. The only person who seemed at ease here, aside from Six herself, was Harry. As always, he sat on a corner of the table, fiddling with a stack of folders he carried around. Those seemed to almost be a permanent fixture of him.

“Gentlemen,” Six indicated them to sit on the chairs in front of her desk, and both Glaz and Kapkan obeyed her silent order. “You need to know I selected you both, not only for your aptitudes, but also because you’re the only ones with active ties with the Brotherhood.”

A dense, sepulchral silence fell over the office. Glaz had no idea how to react, or what to say, and most importantly, how to articulate the myriad of questions going through his mind. He took a peek at Kapkan, to see how he was reacting to that bombshell of a statement. The hunter looked tense and still as a statue, while Six patiently waited for them to say something. Harry kept scribbling in one of the reports, unfazed by the situation.

“The Brotherhood?” Glaz asked breezily, ignoring the way his heart hammered in his chest and the panic rising in him.

“Yes, the Assassin Order.” Six looked calm and composed, not particularly inclined for murder. Glaz dared to rule out she was working for the Templars, but it was still a possibility, he supposed. “I was under the impression you were aware of your family history, Mr. Glazkov.”

Kapkan laughed humorlessly. “He obviously doesn’t-”

“I do, I know it very well,” Glaz interrupted him, irked by the hunter’s condescending tone. Of course Glaz knew, his parents never shut up about it, he’d learnt about his heritage since he was a little kid. As he had learnt to lie and hide that part of his life.

He felt Kapkan’s gaze on him, surprised and calculating. The surprise was obviously mutual since Glaz would have never suspected Kapkan was also part of the Brotherhood. In hindsight, it made sense, those fighting moves he used for close quarters combat were oddly familiar. Perhaps that was why Glaz had picked them up with relative ease when they sparred together.

“The question here isn’t if we know about the Brotherhood, is how you know about it.” Kapkan’s question was vaguely accusing, but Six looked faintly amused.

“William Miles and Gavin Banks are not the only leaders, obviously,” she took out one of her rings and put it on the table. Kapkan snatched it first, inspecting it thoroughly before passing it to Glaz, his scowl softening into just a frown. Glaz saw it immediately, of course. He recognised the symbol, the same stylised letter A than the one he traced as a kid on his mother’s necklace. Not exactly a big surprise at this point, although he would have never in his life pegged Six for someone belonging to the Brotherhood, she was too much of a politician compared to the usual profiles. Six extended her hand and he gave the ring back. “Be it as members of the Brotherhood, as Rainbow operators, or both, this information is highly confidential: we believe the White Masks are funded by the Templar Order. Most of their attacks have been in some way an attack to the assassins and our projects. This cell you will infiltrate, we know the recruiter is someone called Shrike, and that they’re in contact with a high position from Abstergo Industries. Find as much as you can and report regularly to your observer. And above all, don't get caught.”

Impressive speech and worrying information, but it didn't help Glaz feel better about his upcoming mission.

“What's my role in the operation?” Kapkan asked, voice still dripping with repressed anger.

“You observe Glaz's progress, send me reports of whatever he finds, and remain ready to act in case your intervention is necessary.” Kapkan nodded, but Six did not fail to detect his sour expression. “Do you have any objection?”

“One of the reasons we selected you two is that we know you work well together,” Harry interjected, “as you showed during the operation in New Mexico. But if you’d prefer another partner…?”

“That’s fine. I just don't like being lied to,” Kapkan grumbled, “but I understand the logic behind it.”

“Subterfuge has always been the key to our survival,” Six answered. “And I needed to be sure of everyone’s allegiance before acting. Much depends on how we act and which information we reveal.”

The rest of the meeting was much less world tilting, and it consisted mainly of Harry and him discussing the identity Glaz would have to take for the next weeks: Ruslan Idrisov, ex-military with a grudge against the world. Slightly based on him, pretty easy to remember, and above all, with all the necessary fake paperwork forged. The only part Glaz needed to work on was to make his character believable, the whole operation depended on it.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

The idea that the pass of time was constant seemed like a scam in Glaz’s opinion. The last two days certainly didn’t feel like just two days, he was sure they lasted the equivalent of a couple of weeks minimum. In that time, Glaz fretted about the upcoming meeting, revised his cover story and made sure he had answers to any possible question. He also went running, because he needed a physical outlet, painted almost obsessively, and generally did his best to distract himself from that nagging anxiety that followed him everywhere.

He was nearly out of paint, and the living room looked like a tiny and cramped art gallery, but it was worth it. In order to not look like a paint smudged hobo, Glaz took a shower and chose an outfit that reminded him of what he thought in his early teens that a gangster would wear. If he was supposed to be a thug, he might as well look the part. The final result was not as terrible as one might have imagined. In fact, the thing that looked the weirdest to him was the beard. Glaz hadn’t let his beard grown like that before, he usually was clean shaved or with just some stubble under his tactical gear. Although he had to admit he liked how the beard looked on him. Time to go out and see what a terrorist cell was like.

Glaz drove in complete silence, trees flanking both sides of the familiar road. He tried to find a radio station with decent music to fill the void around him, but the noise actually irritated him. The concealed pistol he carried dug sometimes into his arm, depending on how he moved. He might not be able to take his trademark rifle, but he wasn’t going unarmed into that meeting. It would be folly to do so, not to mention out of character for a hitman like he was supposed to be.

This time he didn’t leave the car by the main road, choosing to drive to the chalet’s front entrance. It was odd going back to the same place he assaulted a few days ago. Once he arrived, he almost expected to see the door batting on the wind and the broken window like the last time he was here. However, it looked like nobody had broken into the house, the window repaired, the door in its place, not a single potted plant out of place or knocked down. Glaz would bet the interior looked pristine too, no trace of blood anywhere. Whoever owned this house was obviously in the know of what happened, and had thrown money to cover it up.

As soon as he stepped out of the car, his phone beeped, with a message from Shrike: “Main sitting room, you know where it is.”

Acutely aware they were waiting for him, Glaz opened the door and stepped into the vipers’ nest. The image that greeted him on the aforementioned living room was picturesque enough to make him stop at the entrance and take in the scene. A group of at least ten people sitting on the couches, all with delicate looking cups in their hands and sipping at their tea or coffee, talking between them like this was a book club meeting. Glaz wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t this.

His arrival merited a sudden hush in the conversations, and Glaz used the fact he had all of their attention on him to take a good look at them as well. Most of the people here were young, just two of them looked older than forty or forty-five. He didn’t recognise anyone, which was to be expected. Nobody was wearing the trademark white masks. For some reason, that struck him as odd. One of the guys got up and approached him, and everyone else returned to whatever they had been doing before. Glaz silently stared at the approaching man, studying him. Slightly taller than him but beefy enough to almost rival Tachanka, brown hair and dark eyes, no striking features aside of how massive he was.

“You must be the surprise we were told to expect,” he offered Glaz a handshake. “I’d offer you a cup, but the tea tastes like boiled water and the coffee like dirt. Name’s Damien.”

“Idrisov,” Glaz took Damien’s hand. He seemed eager to talk. That could be useful, he could be a good source of information.

“Ah, you’re the one who brought our wayward friend to Layla!” So that was Shrike’s real name, interesting. “I supervised the clean up of this place, and I have to admit I’m impressed Idri. Can I call you Idri? I noticed you only fired a few shots, a clean and quick job, it was-”

“You always talk too much Damien, try not to bore the new guy before he’s officially in.” Shrike silently appeared by their side, arms crossed and looking mildly irritated. Her small figure was dwarfed by Damien’s bulk, and yet she still looked more dangerous than him. “The boss wants to meet you. Come with me.”

Glaz nodded to Shrike and then turned to Damien, “we’ll talk later, da ?”

While the meeting with the cell’s leader was important, he also wanted to cultivate a good relationship with other members. The more liked Glaz was, the less likely it was they would suspect of him if he made any misstep. He followed Shrike upstairs, deeper into the house than he’d been last time. First door on the left, she knocked once and immediately opened, ushering Glaz inside before her.

The study was small, the bookshelves lining the walls only adding to the impression of a crowded place. An ornate oak desk occupied most of the space, its old appearance contrasting wildly with the shiny and sleek laptop and the man sitting behind the desk. The goatee and his suit gave him an air of a wanna be  blonde Tony Stark. He oozed pretentiousness and self-assurance. Glaz didn’t fail to notice the logo in the laptop’s case, resembling a Penrose triangle formed by three white lines. Interesting. The man gestured for Glaz to sit in one of the chairs, looking vaguely like a benevolent but strict university teacher. It would have been more convincing if his smile wasn’t so sharp, more fitting for a dangerous beast eyeing a potential prey. Glaz calmly sat down; Shrike remained standing right behind him.

“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you lately, Idirisov,” the man said. Glaz nodded once, more comfortable keeping his silence for now. “I can see you’re efficient and discreet, and those are excellent qualities in this line of work. The question is if you are ready to commit to our cause.”

Another test looming in the horizon then. “Yes, I am ready.”

“Excellent! I had my doubts at first, despite her assurances you’d be a good fit for us,” the man gestured at Shrike, who was still standing behind Glaz like a coiled viper ready to strike if the man gave the order. “You’re a freelance artist and could also have a brilliant career as a PMC again, and yet-”

“I want vengeance,” Glaz cut him. When Harry had poured over the details of his new identity with Glaz, he’d emphasized this would be the selling point to make them believe him. “My country never respected me, never wanted me. They should have never… I want to make them pay.”

The man peered at him from over his clasped hands, and Glaz held his gaze, hoping his acting was good enough. Luckily channeling anger wasn’t overly difficult. Eventually, the man leaned back into his chair. “I can’t imagine how it must be having the government you’re working for kill your family, not even as an accident. If you join us, you’ll help us make them pay for everything; them and others who wronged other people in the group. But you have to be discreet, keep a low profile and carry on as normal. And show us you’re completely committed.”

Glaz didn’t flinch, he looked straight up at the other man and growled, “What do you need me to do?”

It would have been so easy to miss the satisfied smirk, if Glaz hadn’t been attentively looking at him, of course. “You’ve demonstrated your proficiency, I’m sure you’ll be able to take on this one easily.”

Just like Six had done, the man slid a dossier across the table. Glaz made a quick read of it and felt sick to his stomach. This wouldn’t be like the last time, where he killed other terrorists or drug lords, or whatever the hell they were. This one seemed such a heartless and pointless death. Glaz had never hated his mission before so much as he did now.

“No problem,” Glaz forced himself to speak evenly, betraying no hint of his inner conflict. “When has this to happen?”

“Within two weeks. I am aware you will have to prepare everything and travel to another state, but it has to be done before the month is over.”

Two weeks. Alright, he had expected to be given less time, that was actually good. Glaz made a gesture to return the folder but the man refused to take it. “Keep it, you’ll need to study your mark.”

For the first time since they’d entered into the study room, Shrike piped up, “Damien will go too, since he was so eager to talk with you.”

An additional incentive for Glaz to make nice with Damien. He seemed friendly enough, but if Shrike was selecting him that meant he wasn’t so nice, probably. Still a better alternative than for example going with Shrike herself. Something about her put Glaz on guard every time he saw her.

“Sure, as you see fit,” the man said. Glaz needed to find his name or surname, that kind of information would be invaluable. “We’ll talk again when the deed is done.”

That was a clear dismissal, so Glaz got up and followed Shrike out of the study. Damien was still waiting for them downstairs, looking quite cheerful. Shrike calmly walked next to Glaz, directing a smirk to Damien.

“I hope you like playing nanny, I have a mission for you.”

Despite the condescending tone of Shrike, Damien looked stoked to know he’d be the one accompanying Glaz in his mission. At least someone was happy about the whole situation.

_ _ _

Two weeks earlier - Hereford

 

It was a magnificent sunset, and on any other occasion, Glaz would be attempting to capture its beauty on canvas. However, he couldn’t concentrate long enough to do anything worthwhile today. Not since the debrief in Six’s office. He was shaken and full of nervous energy. People had noticed Glaz’s odd state and kept asking him if he was alright, so he had voluntarily withdrawn, camping on the upper balcony alone with his forgotten sketchbook.

“I imagined you would be here.” Kapkan emerged into the balcony too, sitting down next to Glaz. For a while, they contemplated the sky and the bustle of the base down below in silence.

The awkward tension was still there, as it had been since they realised both had been hiding their affiliation to the Brotherhood, but at least Kapkan wasn’t actively avoiding him anymore. Sunlight caught on the hunter’s dark hair, making it look shiny and soft. When he tilted his head to look at Glaz, his profile was highlighted by the rays of the dying sun. Glaz was overcome with the urge to paint him like that, even if it would be a poor imitation of reality.

“So how deep in it are you?” Kapkan asked, making Glaz blink as he tried to make head or tails out of the question. “You know, with the assassins.”

“Not much, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Glaz shrugged, studying Kapkan’s reaction to gauge if he was disappointed. So far he only looked curious. “My mother is a historian, but I guess she knows some parts of history that don’t appear in the books. You?”

“My uncle was the one who taught me hunting and fighting, and how to recognise a templar hitman. My father didn’t like that. They had a huge fight over it, then there were no more visits. Last I heard from my uncle, he was going to Protvino, but that was years ago. Then I left at eighteen to enrol.”

“And we’re the ones with ‘active ties into the Brotherhood’, imagine that!” Glaz laughed humorlessly.

“It’s just a fancy way of saying our family is still alive, unlike others.” Seen like that it was pretty depressing. Perhaps another way to remind them what was at the stake with this undercover operation. A silent and gloomy mood fell over them as they observed the recruits train. “Who else do you think knows about the whole assassins and templars thing?”

Kapkan’s question took him by surprise, but Glaz was curious to know the hunter’s opinion on that as well. “I’m pretty sure Shuhrat and Lera know nothing.”

“As we were sure of each other not knowing?” They both chuckled, it was the best they could do about it. And it was sort of funny when you thought about it. “I think Sasha knows, he just doesn’t care.”

That would fit well with Tachanka. It was a sad kind of irony that the secret they all were keeping from each other was the same, keeping each other’s at arm’s length because of that. At least Glaz could hope he’d do well undercover since he already had experience in lying and hiding information.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

The unidentified liquor burned slightly on his tongue, a soft tingling in his mouth. However, after many Spetsnaz drinking nights, this shot was like gulping spicy water. Tachanka would probably drink the whole bottle in one go and say it tasted bland. He’d be right though.

“Finally someone that can keep up with me!” Damien took his drink and slapped Glaz on the back. This was the fourth shot they had, and if nobody else had been able to reach this point before, they were all lightweights when it came to alcohol. “So this trip of ours, how and when do we…?”

That was an excellent question for which he had no answer yet. “I have to read the file, make a plan. I’ll tell you soon.”

“Great, great! Not that you need much planning since you’re good at what you do. Only one shot for each, man how do you do it?”

“What can I say, I have good aim,” Glaz smirked and ordered another refill of that drink Damien seemed to like so much.

“I still can’t believe a man of your talents is a fucking artist,” Damien shook his head and tried to grab his glass, failing in his calculation and bumping his hand into it. The liquid sloshed inside the glass, some of it spilling. Perhaps they both were slightly tipsier than they thought, since Glaz found Damien’s fumble with the glass quite funny.

“Do you know what an artist and a sniper have in common? Details.” Glaz had prepared a very nice discourse about the similarities of sniper work and being an artist, but he couldn’t remember the rest. To cover up, he drank down his newly filled glass.

“And how good are your details? Good enough for a little bet?”

Oh, if Glaz had learnt something thanks to his team was to never take a bet under the influences of alcohol, that’s how Fuze once ended having to wear one of Zofia’s dresses for a day. However, he was confident in his abilities, so why not take a friendly bet from a guy Glaz needed to win his trust?

“Sure, tell me what you’ve thought.”

Half an hour later, Glaz found himself in a poorly lit and empty parking lot, right by the warehouse where he delivered Johnny a few days ago. The lack of people and traffic was crucial since Glaz had his sniper rifle on his hands while Damien searched for something Glaz would have to shoot. It wasn’t the worst idea in the world, and the stakes of their bet weren’t catastrophic either, just paying the bar tab the next time they went drinking.

So far Damien had presented him with one of the trademark smooth and white masks Glaz had seen the terrorists wearing, and after that a tennis ball. Glaz had hit both targets mid-air on the first try, and Damien was now trying to find something even smaller than the ball.

“Aha, got it!” Damien announced, throwing a shiny piece at him. Glaz caught it and saw it was some sort of coin, not a legal course one, or perhaps foreign currency.

Attempting to hit a coin in the air would be difficult enough in normal circumstance for anyone, but in semi-darkness and being slightly tipsy? It would be a nice challenge. Glaz had an uncanny sixth sense to know where his objective was or was going to be, and this was fun, so he accepted.

Glaz flipped the coin high in the air and swiftly took his shot. Seconds later, the coin fell to the ground with a clinking sound. Damien rushed to find where it had landed, picking something up and wordlessly yelling in disbelief. Seems like Glaz hit his target after all. Keeping a smug smile from his face was impossible after this.

“I can’t fucking believe it!”

“Was that enough or do you want to find something smaller?”

After looking at Glaz with his mouth open like a fish out of water, Damien laughed. “Don’t get too cocky now, Idri! Drinks are on me next time, but you gotta tell me how you even saw that coin in the air.”

Glaz  shrugged, opening the trunk of the car to stash the rifle. “I just have sharp eyes.”

“Yeah, fucking eagle eyes, unbelievable. Can’t wait to see you in action for real.”

The reminder of their upcoming mission sat like a stone in Glaz’s stomach. He never had a problem with his job, when the job was dealing swiftly with criminals, terrorists, or otherwise people who wanted to kill him. Going after a civilian, a university student in this case, didn’t quite feel the same. He managed to answer with a vague grunt, and thankfully that was enough for Damien.

Despite being nearly one past midnight, Damien wanted to go back to the bar, insisting on a celebration round for Glaz’s miraculous shooting abilities. He declined, insinuating he wanted to prepare the details of their mission as soon as possible. It did the trick of convincing Damien, and they drove back to town before going their separate ways.

Just as a precaution, Glaz parked the car far from his intended destination. It would be easier to spot if someone followed him on foot, although probably he was just being extremely paranoid. Nevertheless, it was better to be safe than sorry in this case. After all, he wasn’t going back to his apartment.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Never before had Kapkan known boredom so all-encompassing like this. As a hunter, he prided on being patient, knowing how to lie low before striking. However, he’d had nothing to do for two whole weeks, and he was going crazy from the lack of action. Working over intel and reports wasn’t his favourite activity, and yet it was preferable to doing literally nothing. It was getting late though, and his eyes were tired of focusing on the laptop’s screen for so long. Perhaps he could call it a day and go to sleep, to prepare for another equally dull and restless day.

The knock on the door was heaven sent, finally something different to break the ennui that had taken over his life! Still, he wasn’t reckless enough to open the door just like that. Kapkan grabbed one of his knives and looked through the spyhole before opening. It took him a second to realise the person standing in front of his door was Glaz. He looked so different from what Kapkan was used to, like he’d gone out of his way to announce he was a gopnik dealing with shady business. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a bad look for Glaz; especially the beard.

“Bit late for a visit, don’t you think?” Kapkan opened the door enough to let him in and closed it again.

Glaz saw the knife Kapkan still held in the other hand, the corners of the sniper’s mouth quirking up. “I have more information, and a new mission.”

Well, things were about to get interesting then. He went to grab a couple of beers and came back to find Glaz sitting on the worn couch, rubbing his eyes as if he was tired. He probably was. Kapkan put one of the beers on the coffee table, in front of Glaz, and took the dossier the sniper had left there. He leafed through it, making a quick read of the information. Young man, about to graduate from the University of Vermont, blah blah blah personal stuff, family and girlfriend... Poor sod had been under heavy surveillance if the White Masks knew that much about him.

“Let me guess. You have to kill him?”

Glaz nodded, playing with the beer bottle. He always fidgeted with whatever he had in his hands when he was nervous, Kapkan had seen it happen thousands of times before. “They said it needs to be done before the month ends.”

Something about his reply immediately clued Kapkan that this was weighing heavily on Glaz. He was such a bleeding heart; it was both one of Glaz’s best traits and one of his weaknesses. It was clear as day the sniper was conflicted about this assignment.

“What are you going to do?”

As all answer, Glaz avoided looking directly at him and took another gulp of his beer. Fuck, he didn’t envy the sniper’s position right now. While Kapkan wanted to remind him he had to do whatever was necessary to carry on with the undercover operation, the words died on his throat before the hunter could say anything. Killing innocents was something neither Rainbow nor the Brotherhood condoned. And even after all this time Kapkan still remembered the Bartlett siege. Or worse, Beslan. So many senseless deaths. That’s what they were supposed to stop, not contribute to it, no matter how small the scale. No, he couldn’t tell Glaz to square up and do it for the greater good, not when Kapkan wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do it if he was in the sniper’s place.

“We have time to come up with a way to fake the murder. Six would have our hides if she thought we did nothing to prevent it.” Glaz’s grateful smile was subdued, but no less blinding. Kapkan averted his eyes, unable to handle that radiant look for long. “Tell me what else you have.”

It turned out it wasn’t much, but it was more than they had to begin with, so it was an improvement. Without surnames, it would prove difficult to find more information and police records on Layla, alias Shrike, and Damien, but that didn’t mean it was impossible. The location and description of the chalet made Kapkan think it was an operations’ base for the cell, and he made a mental note to investigate who was the legal owner. Glaz’s information about the supposed boss was interesting, albeit too vague to be able to do anything with it.

The sniper doodled on a napkin the symbol he’d seen on the computer, which Kapkan quickly recognised as the Abstergo logo. He’d heard rumours about the company, but there was no solid proof about their deeds or link with the Templars, and a quick sketch in a beer smelling napkin definitely didn’t count as proof. Six probably knew more, so he’d just send her everything and wait to see what she could tell him. Lately, there was a lot of waiting, Kapkan had thought taking part in an undercover mission would entail more action.

While he organized all the tidbits of information into a coherent report for Six, Glaz found a piece of paper and started to sketch something furiously. Kapkan observed him. It was magical seeing Glaz so concentrated and slowly bringing to life an image with just a few lines. And he looked so concentrated, a slight frown appearing on his face as he worked. Glaz stopped working on it and handed the finished sketch to Kapkan, who didn’t have time to pretend he hadn’t been looking at the sniper with rapt attention.

“It’s shoddy work, but that’s a quick identikit image of the supposed leader of the cell.”

Glaz’s so-called shoddy work was actually damn good in Kapkan’s opinion. He was sure that with this he’d be able to recognise this guy if he appeared in some photography during Kapkan’s investigation.

“Shoddy my ass, it’s better than some professional identikits. Remember the Chelyabinsk fiasco?”

“It was so bad, I swear a five-year-old could have done better!” Glaz’s laughter was a welcome change from his tired demeanour, a happy and infectious sound. Kapkan joined in, remembering the absolutely appalling image they received to help them identify their target.

“Could you draw the others too?”

“Yes, but I think I’ll be able to give you photos of them. At least from Damien sure, he’s the friendly sort. We already went drinking, and he seems the type to open up easily.”

“Hm, I see.” Kapkan didn’t know from where had that bitterness come. He decided it maybe was a mix of feeling protective of his friend, and jealous of Glaz getting to do things, unlike him. Whatever the reason, Kapkan already hated Damien’s guts.

“You’ll never guess what we betted about,” Glaz teased Kapkan. He brought his hand to the jacket’s pocket and tossed something to the hunter. It was a coin, with a hole in the middle distorting its shape. It took him a second to realise what could have perforated it.

“Now you’re just bragging!” Kapkan said, laughing at Glaz’s proud grin. He had to admit it was an impressive feat, although he already knew the sniper was the best at what he did.

“I guess I never miss, huh?”

Trying his best not to laugh, Kapkan shook his head. “Shut up and finish your drink.”

Kapkan focused on typing the report he’d send to Six, organising all the information while Glaz silently drank what remained of his beer and doodled idly on a scrap of paper. After a while, Kapkan stopped giving Glaz side glances, getting absorbed into his work until he noticed a warmth against his side and a weight on his shoulder.

The sniper had fallen asleep literally on top of him.  Kapkan hit enter to send the report and contemplated what to do. He could wake up Glaz; then the sniper would apologise and go back to his apartment. It was the rational thing to do, but Kapkan couldn’t bring himself to shake Glaz awake. After all, his face looked so peaceful right now, and he’d seemed so tired and stressed since he arrived. No, this was fine. It was like taking a post-mission nap in the helicopter, right? He’d let Glaz sleep a little longer, and meanwhile, he could investigate more about all those people. Especially Damien and Shrike.

Not even an hour later, Kapkan was fighting to keep his eyes open, the text on the screen wavering strangely when he tried to read it. He was clearly losing the battle against sleep. With a sigh, he turned off the laptop and pushed it on the coffee table. Perhaps it was time to go to bed. Yes, he’d wake up Glaz or let him sleep on the couch and he… he rested his head against Glaz’s, his hair tickling Kapkan’s face. It was softer than he imagined. Surely running his hands through it would feel great, but moving his hands required too much effort right now. In a matter of minutes, Kapkan was also fast asleep, reclined on the couch and slowly falling sideways, thanks to the weight of Glaz on his other side falling on him.

They awoke to a high pitched and repetitive sound, the default ringtone of Glaz’s phone looping insistently. Kapkan groaned, trying to shield his eyes from the daylight streaming into the apartment. His neck and back were in knots from sleeping in such uncomfortable position, with Glaz laying partially on top of him. Speaking of which, Glaz hadn’t moved yet.

“Answer your fucking phone,” Kapkan shoved Glaz, causing the sniper to groan regretfully and rub his face against Kapkan’s side like he was a giant cat.

Glaz eventually sat up, blindly reaching for the still ringing cellphone he left on the coffee table last night. His voice was rough from sleep when he answered, “Yes?”

“Hey, where the fuck are you Idri? I went to your apartment, but there’s no one here.” Ugh, how fucking loud was the phone that Kapkan could hear everything? Whoever it was, they knew where Glaz lived, and that meant they were controlling his movements. Damn it.

“Damien,” Glaz stopped to yawn. “I didn’t sleep home.”

“Ooh, you got some action last night?” Glaz answered with a vague mh-hm noise, directing a fleeting and worried look at Kapkan. It was a convenient excuse and it made sense Glaz would go with it. “Alright, Casanova, see you in an hour then? In the small park near your apartment, and be ready to tell me the best bits!”

Glaz finished the call with a curt goodbye and leaned back into the couch. “Do you have coffee? Anything edible on the fridge?”

“Even if I’m your fake one-night stand, I’m not making you breakfast,” Kapkan said, observing with fascination how a small blush spread over Glaz’s face.

“I’m not an animal, Maxim. I always prepare breakfast for my dates the morning after.” The cheeky wink at the end caught Kapkan by surprise.

Then, true to his word, Glaz went to rummage through his kitchen to make something to eat. The sniper seemed to be in a much better mood than when he knocked on his door last night. In fact, Glaz almost looked like a different person today, whistling cheerily as he picked the eggs from the fridge and a frying pan.

Kapkan had to admit he was in a better mood too. It was unbelievable how a few hours of decent human interaction and new developments on their mission could lift their spirits so much. Although in his case, perhaps it was just the delicious smell of coffee, toast and scrambled eggs coming from the kitchen.

_ _ _

One week ago - Hereford

 

“It’s a disaster Aurelia, the GIGN and the SAS are at each other’s throats since the incident! Team composition has turned into a nightmare, and-”

“Calm down, Harry,” Six calmly replied while reading over the reports he handed her. “They’re all adults and professionals. You needn’t coddle them that much with particular team composition. It’s just training. If they can’t get over it, a few failures in a controlled environment might be the wake-up call they need.”

“You propose to stick them together on purpose? Like a metaphorical get along shirt?”

Sometimes Harry wasn’t sure if Six was joking or proposing something seriously, but despite her wry smile, he suspected she wasn’t kidding this time. What she proposed sounded counterintuitive to what Harry usually did, and after crafting all the psychological profiles as she asked, he felt like he knew the operatives better than anyone else on base. However, she had been leading Rainbow from success to success, even when she disregarded his advice.

“I know you disagree with this choice, but we need to be bold. Now more than ever. There’s no time for playing nice.”

“Are they still trying to shut us down?”

“All the damn time,” Six sighed. “The Senate is full of Templars and their supporters. They keep suggesting a partnership with Abstergo so they can supply our tech.”

“As my wife would say, yikes.”

Harry could think of few fates worse than be at the mercy of Abstergo, which would be the same than being controlled by the Templars directly. And since they already suspected the Templars were the ones moving the strings behind the White Masks, Rainbow would soon be shut down. Or worse, all the operatives would start suffering unfortunate accidents and tech malfunctions on the field.

“I am going to send Sledge to Italy,” Six announced out of the blue. Or perhaps not so much, now that Harry recalled one of the potential additions whose files he’d reviewed recently.

“Martello?”

Six nodded. “We need him, and De Luca. They are active members of the Brotherhood.”

The ‘unlike any of our operatives’ hung heavy on the air, unsaid but ringing loudly in their minds. Some of Rainbow’s current operatives had family in the Brotherhood, some knew of it but abandoned it, and most of them didn't even know about any of that. So many assassins fled for their lives after the Great Purge, hiding, keeping that part of their lives in the past and a secret to their families. It was no wonder the Brotherhood was dying. And recruiting people into it wasn't easy either.

Harry understood Six’s need to incorporate the Italians into the team. “I'll prepare everything. The debriefing for this one will be entertaining.”

“Last one went well enough, and Sledge is less hostile than the Russians. I have faith this will go over smoothly.”

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Vermont

 

The university campus was big and picturesque; it looked like someone had taken it out of a movie. However, all Kapkan could think of was how uncannily similar it was to Bartlett University. He looked at the green expanses surrounding the building and the students milling around in groups and joking with their friends, and all he could see was clouds of yellowish and dense gas, bodies strewn on the ground. That had been Rainbow’s first big-scale operation, and the one that the five original teams would never forget.

Kapkan shook these thoughts from his head, instead focusing on observing the people coming out of the main building. According to the information the White Masks had shared with Glaz, the unfortunate soul Kapkan was waiting for would walk through that door any moment now. Morgan Hayes Jr., such a pompous name for such a young man. Kapkan had researched his family and friends extensively and found no sign of him being even tangentially connected to the brotherhood. Nothing about him singled Morgan out as someone who the Templars might want to get rid of, and yet here they were. There was a small chance he’d just been randomly selected, but it seemed unlikely. The emails Six, or more likely Harry, had sent had shed no light on the matter.

The investigation of Glaz’s new companions hadn’t been fruitful either. At first, Kapkan saw an Abstergo employee called Layla and dared to hope he’d found who Shrike was, but the employee turned out to be Layla Hassan, and Six had confirmed she was under assassin custody now. Not the same Layla then. At least he found some information on Damien, namely that he had a younger brother and a couple of old police records from his younger years. Aside from that, no trace of any other legal documents about him. Whoever was covering the cell’s tracks was good, better than Kapkan definitely. Although if they could get Dokkaebi on it, she’d have mountains of information about these people in less than a day. Such a shame Six didn’t want to involve anyone else in this operation.

Someone matching Morgan’s description got out of the building, walking next to a young woman who fit the description of his girlfriend. Kapkan tugged at the strings of his hoodie while he watched them kiss before going separate ways. Walking slightly hunched to go unnoticed amongst the crowd, Kapkan followed him from a distance.  The target went towards the parking lot, a mostly empty place and probably the best moment to grab him.

“Morgan Hayes?” Kapkan put a hand on his shoulders, trying to get a firm hold of him. However, the man elbowed him in the ribs and ran like the devil was after him, getting into the parking lot at an amazing speed.

Muttering a string of curses, Kapkan went in hot pursuit, vaulting over a half wall to not lose sight of him. Morgan was standing next to a car, fiddling with the key but his nerves made him keep failing in what supposedly was an easy task. Eventually, he did it, and the poor guy was trying to start the car when Kapkan caught up with him, getting into the passenger’s seat as he belonged there.

“Please don’t hurt me! I don’t have money, the car’s old but you can have it if you want, just don’t hurt me!”

Being scared shitless was an appropriate reaction, but he was scared of the wrong person. “We need to talk.”

“Oh my god, are you with the Russian mafia?”

Either Morgan was involved in some shady stuff, or he had quite an overactive imagination. Kapkan threw him a withering glare and took out of his pocket a folded piece of paper, which he tossed in his direction. The paper landed on Morgan’s lap, but he only looked at it, then back to Kapkan like he was following a tennis match.

“These people are trying to kill you; I’m here to ensure you make it to the end of the day.”

Instead of unfolding the piece of paper, Morgan played with it and looked up at Kapkan, blinking with his mouth open. “Is this a prank? A hidden camera thing? Oh man, I nearly pissed myself! Who put you up to this? Brad, it has to be Brad, he always-”

“Look at the damn paper and tell me if you recognise anyone,” Kapkan barked at him, weighing the pros and cons of knocking him out. After all, a quiet and unmoving asset was a cooperative asset.

With trembling hands, Morgan unfolded the paper and looked at it blankly, telltale signs of panic slowly creeping in. “I don’t know any of these people! Sh-should I? I mean, is it good or bad that I don’t know the people who want to kill me? On the one hand, it means none of my friends and family are behind this, that’s good. But-”

“What projects are you working on?” Kapkan cut off his ramblings, desperately trying to find a link between Morgan and their mission. “Joined any gangs or groups recently?”

“No, no! And how do I know you aren’t going to kill me after I answer all your questions, hmm?”

There was no time to waste, but he had to calm Morgan down somehow, the last thing he needed was a hysterical target to protect, that would complicate his job unnecessarily. Kapkan searched for his dog tags, the one he got from Rainbow. Aside from the usual information, it also had the symbol of the NATO engraved, plus the Rainbow one. That would have to suffice as accreditation. Judging by Morgan’s reaction when Kapkan reluctantly passed him the tag, he knew what those symbols meant. It wasn’t surprising; Rainbow had been on the news more than once.

“Holy fucking shit,” Morgan repeatedly blinked, opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water while he handed the tag back to Kapkan. “Okay, okay… to answer your questions: I study translation and interpretation, the only group I’m in is the basketball team, and I spend most of my time with Kelly.”

Perhaps he was just a random hit, someone they had picked blindly for Glaz’s test of loyalty. Kapkan doubted it, but it was a possibility.

“Do you have any connection with Abstergo Industries?” Kapkan attempted to use a gentler tone this time.

It worked, more or less, since Morgan took a deep breath before answering instead of launching into one of his panicked tirades. “They made a donation to the department last semester, but that’s all. Why?”

Well, that was interesting. Morgan said he studied translation, didn’t he? Kapkan wondered what the university translated that could be important enough for Abstergo to fund them. He needed to get the manto talk, but time was working against them, and he also needed to prepare everything to make Morgan’s supposed death credible.

_ _ _

The plane had landed with about an hour of delay, which suited Glaz’s plans perfectly but annoyed Damien to no end. He’d been ranting non-stop about the terrible service, the lack of flight snacks and how hungry he was. So when Glaz treated him to some food, a simple hot dog to eat on the way, Damien’s mood lifted considerably.

“Okay, how long will it take you to find a spot to set up your thing?” Damien asked, licking the mustard from his fingers.

“No idea,” Glaz shrugged, “depends on a few things. I mostly need a vantage point. Why?”

“You aren’t the only one with a mission, Idri.”

Damn, he had assumed this was only a murder run. An additional objective hadn’t factored in the plans Glaz made with Kapkan, he hoped it wouldn’t become an unexpected hindrance. Glaz trusted Kapkan completely to pull off his part, although he was concerned about how Damien’s mission might interfere with their strategy.

“What do you have to do?” Damien stopped to look at him, and now Glaz was sure Damien wasn’t supposed to tell him. However, he considered Glaz a friend already, and the sniper hoped that would work in his favour. “Do you have a plan or are you improvising?”

“Hey, I might not be as thorough with my plans as you, but that doesn’t mean I’m winging it! Besides, grabbing a bunch of papers should be easy.”

Information theft. Whatever Shrike and Abstergo wanted, it must be important. “Should we take a detour to his apartment?”

Glaz hoped the answer was no, because he had no idea if Kapkan and Morgan were there at the moment, and that would ruin the whole operation. Not to mention he wasn’t sure if it would be better to help Damien acquire the information, and thus cement his position in the organisation, or thwart the theft somehow. Whatever those documents were, Glaz was certain the world would be better off if they didn’t fall into Templar hands.

“Nah, it’s on the campus. I’ll go during the chaos after you… do your thing.”

It was a reasonable plan, he’d give Damien that much. No matter how much he wanted to know more, prodding further into the issue would be unwise. Therefore, he shut up and let Damien talk, the man never ran out of steam and filled any silences like it was his job. Glaz was also paying attention to the path Damien was taking since they would pick up the weapons in one of the organisation’s safe houses. It might not be the primary objective of his mission, but Glaz would bet it was invaluable information for Six all the same.

He followed Damien into what could only be qualified as a seedy dive, a mostly empty local except for a resident early drinker already nodding off on a corner on the counter. The barman didn’t even look at them as they went into the staff area. He must also be part of the organisation or a supporter. It was worrisome to think about how many supporters a terrorist group could have, aside from being funded and directed by one of the most influential corporations on the planet. Okay, better to not worry about that right now.

Damien handed him a discreet bag. Glaz opened it and saw a disassembled sniper rifle. Not the best, but it would do wonders. And he wouldn’t even shoot at the target for real, although Damien didn’t know that. There was another item on the bag too, and that one sent a shiver of revulsion through Glaz. A smooth and blank mask. Rationally, he’d known he would have to wear one of those at some point, but the idea made his skin prickle in acute distaste. With the hood of his coat on and that mask, he’d be indistinguishable from them.

Swallowing the bile rising in his throat, he turned to Damien and nodded. He was as ready as he would ever be for this.

_ _ _

Six’s contacts were late. Only by five minutes so far, but Kapkan was used to military punctuality and depending on strangers that didn’t bother to arrive on time irritated him. He resisted the urge to tap his fingers impatiently on the car dash. Not much else to do in this empty road. Morgan was pretty subdued, looking morosely at the refrigerated bag on the backseat now and then. Buying all the products and making a convincing batch of fake blood had been laughably easy, but Morgan seemed disturbed by the result. Kapkan would take it as a sign that the fake blood was realistic enough.

It had been a struggle to convince Morgan he couldn’t contact his friends or family. He hadn’t taken well the rule of no goodbye texts or suspicious messages, but ultimately he realised that might put them at risk too. Still, Kapkan had taken his phone as a precaution. You never knew with civilians; they tended to be more unpredictable than anyone else. To distract him, Kapkan had been prodding him to talk about what he’d been working on in his translation project for the department, but he only got monosyllabic answers and vague noises. Fine, he’d just go in, look through Morgan’s files and take anything that looked promising. If Abstergo was willing to kill over it, Six would surely be interested in keeping it out of their hands.

The sound of a car made both of them sit straight, looking attentively at the approaching van, the sun glinting on the windows as it came closer. Old and dirty, mostly forgettable, the kind of nondescript vehicles the Brotherhood would favour. Still, Kapkan wished he had more than just his knife with him, who knew how many people could be inside the van and if they were friendly or White Masks. The vehicle stopped on the side of the road, near them.

“Stay here and don’t move,” Kapkan told Morgan. It would be difficult for him to go anywhere without the car keys, but he still felt the need to warn him.

Kapkan approached the parked van, ready to grab his knife at the barest hint of sensing it was a trap. One window rolled down, and a woman with short and dark hair waved at him. It was too dark to see the driver properly, but Kapkan was certain it was a man.

“Hello! The cavalry’s here!”

“Really, Becky? Two people count as the cavalry?” The driver’s voice had an unmistakable British accent, the sarcasm so heavy Kapkan could see the air quotes around the word cavalry. “Go on, give them more false expectations.”

They were not what Kapkan had been expecting when Six said she’d send two of the best agents of the Brotherhood, but as long as they followed the plan, it was reasonable to assume things would go well. He motioned at Morgan to come out of the car.  

The woman, Becky, waited until Morgan was next to Kapkan, then she lowered the headset she wore. “Do you have a plan or...”

“Yes,” Kapkan immediately took control of the situation. “Morgan has to be in front of the campus’ gym at eight thirty. Once I give the signal, he will fall down and pretend he’s been shot. Then you two will have to extract him safely.”

“Medical services,” she said with a grin. “I can hack their communications to make sure they dispatch no real ambulance.”

“Simplistic and crude, but it might work. Now we only have to steal an ambulance to make it minimally credible.”

Kapkan shrugged, unimpressed by the brit’s complaint. “You do your job, and I’ll do mine.”

Right now, Kapkan’s job was to make sure Morgan knew how to fall down convincingly and act like he was dead. And prepare the squibs necessary to simulate the bullet hit and make the fake blood spray out. Creating such small scale explosives shouldn’t be difficult, he’d just modify the base idea of his EDDs. Still, there was no time to lose.

_ _ _

The mask was suffocating him. Damien had said it was just a matter of time to get used to it, but Glaz didn’t want to get used to the mask. He wanted to take it out and stomp it, or maybe throw it away like a frisbee and shoot it.

He took a deep breath, willing himself to forget the smooth white plastic covering him, devouring him. At least it didn’t hinder his ability to look through the scope. He checked the time - just four more minutes. The plan he and Kapkan came up with left no room for delays, not even small ones: at eight thirty Morgan Hayes would arrive in front of the campus’ gym and die. As soon as he turned around to face away from the gym’s doors, Glaz would make his shot. Everything had to be carefully timed to make it believable.

Glaz surveyed the area through his scope. There weren’t many people around, as expected. Once he made the shot, panic would ensue. Especially taking into account the sniper rifle they provided didn’t come with a suppressor. The shot would be heard, there was no doubt of that. Damien was somewhere nearby, Glaz could hear him moving, fidgeting after being too long in the same position. It was a shock looking back at Damien and seeing the hated white mask staring back at him. Glaz’s first instinct was always to shoot at the masked bastards. Instead, he gave Damien a thumbs up and went to look through the scope.

A group of people came into view, one guy walking towards the gym. Glaz quickly confirmed it was Morgan, who arrived in front of the building and stopped. Once Morgan turned around Glaz mentally counted to five, just as he and Kapkan had planned. Synchronization was of vital importance. He pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening and Glaz was sure Damien must have winced at the sudden and loud noise. It took years of training to avoid giving in into that instinct.

On the small square below, Morgan stumbled as bright red bloomed on his shirt. He fell face first to the ground as people ran in all directions screaming. If Glaz didn’t know he’d been aiming far away from Morgan, he’d believe he is dead for real.

“Hell yeah, a flawless shot!” Damien bought it, hook line and sinker. Thank goodness. “Meet you in twenty behind the parking lot. Don’t get caught!”

Damien sprinted away, and Glaz realised he had no way to stop him from completing his mission. Fuck. He couldn’t resist looking through the scope again. A man with a hoodie was kneeling next to Morgan, phone in hand. It could be Kapkan, but Glaz couldn’t get a glimpse of the man’s face. He looked away and started to disassemble the rifle again. Leaving it here was not an option, and he’d rather not have an unwanted clash with the campus’ security guards.

He left just as he heard the siren of an ambulance coming over to the scene of the supposed crime. Glaz hurried down the fire escape staircase, only to find a dead security guard as he went around the corner, another one checking on his fallen coworker until he noticed Glaz was there. Before he could react, Glaz had already struck, his fist connecting against the guard’s jaw, below the ear. The man stumbled back disoriented, legs buckling and falling to the ground, and Glaz used the opportunity to run like hell.

He went through the darkest areas, winding around the buildings and avoiding people. The chaos was slowly dying down, and Glaz wanted to avoid getting spotted. The back of the parking lot was unlit and empty, the perfect place to wait. Despite patience being one of the basic requirements for his job, Glaz paced up and down in circles, looking at his phone every few minutes. He made the shot just ten minutes ago, even if it seemed like a lifetime had passed. No message from Kapkan either, it was reasonable to assume everything went according to the plan. And yet he couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was wrong. The crunching of gravel and hurried footsteps alerted Glaz, who turned around to see who was coming.

“We made it!” It was only Damien. Glaz put his hand away from the gun.

“Got everything?”

“Yeah, it was easy. Someone else was nosing around, but I dealt with it.” Those words felt like a slap. What if that person was Kapkan? After all, who else could have known about this? “C’mon Idri, let’s go celebrate!”

Ignoring the growing worry in the pit of his stomach, Glaz forced himself to walk by Damien’s side. He was too quiet during the whole time, but Damien talked enough for them both. Glaz could only nod along and make vague noises at the appropriate moment, his mind tangled in a knot of what ifs, silently praying for Kapkan to be alright.

 

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Tiredness was now a perpetual state of being, as far as Glaz was concerned. The last days were exhausting, and to top it off he hadn’t even taken a short nap in the last twenty-four hours, more or less. Although he felt awake and alert, Glaz knew he was only running on adrenaline and anxiety.

After leaving the campus, he followed Damien into the seedy dive where they had taken their weapons from and returned everything. At Damien’s insistence and against his better judgement, they celebrated the supposed murder with copious alcohol. The radio in the bar was tuned to a local station, and they heard the first-hand experience of a witness to Morgan’s murder. That prompted another toast from Damien and more drinking.

Then, somewhat tipsy but still able to coordinate their movements, they went to catch their flight. Glaz spent the entire trip back analyzing Damien’s words, trying to determine what did he exactly mean by having taken care of them , and who that person could have been. Remembering the dead security guard, Glaz could only assume Damien had tried to kill the mysterious stranger. And if it had been Kapkan, as the sniper suspected, he better be alive and in one piece or Glaz would kill him.

Now here they were, waiting for Shrike, and Glaz disguised his restlessness as boredom, inspecting the assorted knick-knacks lining the room. Like in the rest of the house, the decoration was an odd mix of modern and minimalist with antique pieces. He idly wondered if Shrike also had a study here in the chalet, although she extracted information on the abandoned warehouse; presumably because it was difficult to wash out blood stains from the upholstery.

Damien was sprawled on an armchair, head falling back as he fought to keep awake. The house looked completely empty, except for the cleaning lady who opened the door for them and was now vacuuming downstairs. Part of Glaz screamed at him to investigate around the house and to see if he found anything of interest; another part of him wanted to bolt out and contact with Kapkan, and yet another part of Glaz only wanted to sit on the other armchair and succumb to sleep like Damien did. In the end, he took none of those options and just stood where he was, looking at the carefully arranged but impersonal decoration he’d been pretending to admire. The door of one of the rooms opened and Shrike strode out, a newspaper in hand. She threw it at Glaz, who showed his quick reflexes by catching it mid air.

“I guess congratulations are in order. Your success is all over the news.”

Glaz gave a quick glance to the paper and shrugged at her. “You said the more witnesses, the better.”

“Aren’t you the people pleaser,” she drawled. “Well, what the boss told you is true: now that you’re part of the team, you help us, and we help you get the revenge you want.”

Glaz nodded at her gratefully, as expected, although her smile was as welcoming and sincere as a frozen pond. Shrike turned to look at Damien, who started to snore lightly, head lolling against the back of the armchair.  She kicked him in the shins none too gently, making Damien wake up with a yelp of pain.

“Fuck, shit! Layla? What…?”

“Do you have something for me or did you go on a leisure trip?”

Damien brought his hand to his jacket’s pocket and took out a pen drive, which he shook in front of Shrike’s face. Seeing her expression go stormy due to his teasing, Damien quickly stood up. “I have it, and there’s also something you need to know. Someone else was after this.”

“You can go, we’re done for now,” Shrike said to Glaz, then she directed all her attention to Damien. “You, follow me.”

There was a glimpse of an orderly room, and a bed with a lovely yellow bedspread as Shrike opened the door for Damien, before she quickly shut it after them. This was a golden opportunity to investigate the house as he wanted earlier, although Glaz soon learned the walls were thin enough for him to catch snippets of their conversation.

“... dead, I suppose?”

“... parkouring bastard you told... Pushed… window…”

It was easier to hear Damien, perhaps because he always spoke loudly. In any case, this was quite interesting. Shrike’s reply was incomprehensible gibberish to him, little more than a garbled whisper from this side of the wall, despite the silence.

“I didn’t… no time to check… deleted...”

At this point, there were some faint footsteps and the sound of a chair being moved. Downstairs, the cleaning lady turned on the vacuum on once again, drowning any traces of conversation going on behind the door.

Since the first time he came here to kill a bunch of people and grab their hostage for Shrike, he’d known there was no security system nor camera feeds on the house. Aside from being told that, Glaz had checked both times he’d been here, and could confirm with almost total certainty it was true. Therefore, he felt quite safe to roam around the upper floor. In fact, he was searching for the studio where he talked with the Abstergo guy the other time. It was this door, he recognized it.

To his surprise, the door wasn’t locked. Just as he was turning the handle, he thought there could be someone inside. Too late now, he was already opening the door, no going back at this point. No one was inside, thank goodness. He had no idea what he’d have said if there was someone in the study; claiming he’d been searching the bathroom was probably not very credible. The laptop wasn’t there, of course, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t find anything else, right?

Glaz tried to open several drawers on the old oak desk, but those were all locked. No papers or notes on sight either. A quick glance over the bookshelves revealed nothing of interest, and he didn’t have time to check all those books to see if there was something hidden in one of them. This proved to be a complete waste of time, damn it.

He quietly slipped away, closing the door behind him without making noise, and went back to the spot where they’d waited for Shrike. He nearly collided with Damien when turning around a corner in the corridor.

“Idri, what are you still doing here?”

“We came with the same car, but I could go by myself and leave you here if you want.”

Damien looked surprised for about a second before he laughed. “Man, are you always that much of a smartass? Let’s go. We’re free until new orders.”

_ _ _

Three days ago - Rome

 

“None of this is normal, something weird is going on, and you better be careful, lad.”

At first, Sledge had thought Thatcher was grossly exaggerating the issue. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to send operatives on solo missions; the old man should know this better than anyone. However, after the briefing in Six’s office, he’d reconsidered that opinion. Something was indeed going on, and it was nothing like Sledge could have ever imagined. Assassins, Templars, terrorists… he’d been tempted to ask if they were pulling a prank on him, except both Six and Harry looked absolutely serious, a little afraid even.

Now Sledge had a weighty secret to keep and a new mission. It was hard to wrap his head around the idea that Adriano was part of a secret organization of sorts. Who in their right mind would call themselves assassins but insist that they were the good guys? Christ, it was all kinds of messed up. He had no idea how he’d ever breach the subject once he was in front of Maestro.

Sledge had Thatcher’s warning ringing on his head for the last hours, and yet the moment Sledge stepped out of the car all wariness vanished. Being here filled him with a wistful sense of nostalgia. Not all his memories of the time spent in Italy were good; he knew that, but the mind always chose to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses and all he remembered were the good moments. Those had been more than just good he’d say.

Sledge was kind of cheating, going to the family house rather than trying to contact Adriano, no, Maestro, through official means. However, Six had been clear enough that he was picked for this precisely because of his personal ties with the Italian operative. So here he was. At least he let Maestro know beforehand he was coming over, more or less.

He rang the doorbell and barely had to wait until the door was opened. Sledge found himself tangled in a tight hug while at the same time Maestro planted a kiss on each of his cheeks. “Seamus! When you said you were in Italy I didn’t imagine you were knocking on my door!”

Sledge smiled awkwardly, guilt gnawing at the edges of his mind. He and Maestro were friends, had been more than friends in the past, and yet it had been years since they’d seen each other face to face. He didn’t have time to offer any apology before an old woman came running to the door.

“Ho sentito bene? È quel Seamus?” The years had been kind to Francesca, only her paused gait betrayed her real age.

For the second time in less than a minute, Sledge was engulfed in a tight hug by a member of the Martello family, Maestro’s mother grabbing his hand and leading Sledge inside already. Maestro himself was beaming at them both, always amused to see how his mum coddled Sledge and insisted on feeding him. It was like he had never left, like those years of absence since the last time he’d been here were nothing but a blink of the eye.

He would enjoy the moment, pretend for a while he hadn’t actually come here for business and not to visit an old friend. After all, it had been years since he tasted Francesca’s homemade lasagna, and Maestro was always more agreeable with a full stomach. Yes, his decision was selfish as it was a tactical one.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

The smell of spray paint permeated everything, but to Glaz it wasn’t so unpleasant. In fact, it brought back some memories. He hadn’t done this, painting idly on a building wall, since he was a teen, but he’d been bored and with nothing to do and this seemed a choice as good as any other.

To be completely honest, he had an ulterior motive to be where he was, far from his apartment and vandalizing a building with his art. From here he could observe Kapkan’s apartment, trying to determine if he was home or not. The possibility that Kapkan never returned because Damien killed him was something Glaz wasn’t keen on contemplating, yet he couldn’t get that idea out of his head, nagging at him like an unwelcome guest. Perhaps it was the exhaustion and paranoia talking, and Glaz should have taken a nap instead, but the more he thought about it, the more possible it seemed that something had gone awry. Damien was adamant he got rid of someone, aside from the security guard.

He picked up the spray can again, added a few final touches on his piece. Yes, this was done. He could either start another one or leave. Glaz looked at the apartment’s windows once more, thinking of what he should do. At that moment, someone collided against him and sent the spray can on to the ground, rolling around.

“Hey, watch it!” A very familiar voice said, then in a much lower tone, “What the fuck are you doing here? Anyone could see you stalking around!”

Sharp relief cut through him, making Glaz’s knees waver. Kapkan was fine. He looked unharmed and as fine as ever, aside from his scowl.

“Hey.”  Glaz wanted to kick himself for such a lousy answer. Kapkan sounded tired and rightfully worried. Or angry. Right now Glaz had a bit of difficulty reading him; in fact, he had trouble just thinking clearly, his thoughts scattered and unfocused. He should give the hunter and explanation, but Glaz was tongue-tied. He’d never been the best with words anyway.

“Is everything fine?” Kapkan asked, crouching down to pick the can of spray paint.

“Yeah, yeah. I just… I didn’t know of Damien’s plans until it was too late. About the information theft. Did you...?”

“Morgan told me enough to figure out he worked on something important. I didn’t make it in time, but I crossed paths with your friend Damien. He pushed me out of a window.”

Glaz winced, his hand automatically darting to Kapkan and helping him up. The hunter hissed in pain when Glaz yanked on his arm to get him on his feet. “How bad does it hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Kapkan took a step back, “It was just a two-story fall, and I think I didn’t break any bones.”

He knew the hunter was prone to downplaying his injuries, and it was obvious Kapkan had hurt himself during the fall. The impulse to touch him and check the extent of his injuries overrode Glaz’s common sense for a second, and his hand hovered uncertainly in the air. In the end, he salvaged the situation by gently patting Kapkan’s arm. The hunter looked at him, and Glaz looked back, trying to think of what to say that didn’t make him sound like an awkward idiot. However, he got sidetracked pondering whether Kapkan’s eyes were green or blue. Or were they greyish instead? He wasn’t sure he’d ever get the correct shade if he tried to replicate the colour in his paintings. Kapkan cleared his throat to get his attention.

“Are you drunk? Just go home and…” Kapkan stopped talking when a woman walked around the corner, passing right next to them. The hunter acknowledged her with a tiny nod when she looked at him. “And we’ll talk when you’re normal again.”

Glaz didn’t like one bit what he saw. Despite her gentle appearance, her face brought vague memories of a crowd of inquisitive eyes, cup of tea in hand. He supposed it was a coincidence, but believing in coincidences could be deadly in a mission like this.

He got one step closer to Kapkan, and whispered, “Did Damien see your face?”

Kapkan’s frown deepened. “No, I kept my face hidden, and I barely saw his face either.”

“Good. Because that woman is part of the cell I’m in.”

The hunter let out a colourful string of curses, all in Russian and hissed between clenched teeth. Most impressive, and the perfect way to express what Glaz also thought of the situation. They looked at each other, silently weighing their options.

The sniper hoped she wasn’t the gossiping type. However, nothing would remedy the fact she, and by extension Shrike and Damien, potentially knew about Kapkan and how he looked like.

“For now, I’ll continue with the affair cover. I think it might be the best.” Glaz proposed, getting a nod from the hunter.

“It’s convenient,” Kapkan agreed, “especially if they see you coming here again in the future. Just… be careful.”

That might be easier said than done, and Glaz was sure he wasn’t the only one who needed to be careful.

_ _ _

Three days ago - Rome

 

One delicious meal later, Sledge was back at square one, trying to decide how to breach the real issue that brought him here. They were sitting on the terrace, him and Maestro alone, basking in the sun and admiring the view of the city. They had spent so many nights in that same spot, sitting close together, immersed in their own little bubble. Now, Sledge felt the distance between them more than ever before.

He wasn’t the sort to side-step around what he wanted to say, but never before he had to approach someone to tell them he knew about the secret organisation they were in. Most relationships had secrets people kept from each other, but none like this one, surely.

“I recently got an offer to join a new division,” Maestro broke the silence first. “It would mean moving to England, you know? And now you appear on my doorstep. I’m not stupid, Seamus.”

Of course he wasn’t. “Let’s say I’m here to provide additional information about Rainbow and our allies.”

“I know it’s a worldwide thing, allies all over the globe, as well as enemies. Incredible opportunity and all that. Why are you really here?”

He scooted closer to Maestro, grabbing one of his hands between his own. It was now or never. “I know about the Brotherhood.”

Maestro’s surprised face was priceless, although it lasted only for a brief moment before he regained the composure. Sledge didn’t expect him to laugh.

“All that time living surrounded by assassins and you never suspected anything,” Maestro howled in laughter, tears of mirth prickling at the sides of his eyes. “Aria kept scolding me for being too carefree! And now you finally realised. How did that happen, by the way?”

“Six is part of the Brotherhood apparently, and thinks it’s a need to know only information. And I needed to know if I was to come here and convince you to join.”

“Six? That’s the young man? He could have told me when he called.”

“That was probably Harry, her right hand.” Now that Sledge thought about it, he had no idea whether Harry was part of the Brotherhood too. He supposed the answer was yes. “She believed direct communication was safer than any technology.”

“She’s probably right,” Maestro looked unusually pensive, mulling over who knew what. “Do you know what’s the real reason she wants me and Aria on the team?”

“You mean, aside from you both being the best on your fields of expertise?” Sledge’s words made Maestro puff up with pride. He’d always been a vain man, although the vanity was warranted. The Italian was smart, competent, and incredibly attractive.

“Flattery will not work, cuore mio ,” Maestro slipped one of the endearments he used back when they were, well, not together but more than friends with benefits. “But I’ll consider your offer if you allow me to take you out to dinner.”

It would probably take some time to explain everything, especially if Maestro was playing hard to get in regards to accepting Rainbow’s invite. Sledge supposed going out once would not hurt.

“Fine. Just this once.”

“You will not regret it!” Maestro’s wink was a sure sign of trouble.

Sledge felt himself getting hotter. Perhaps he’d been under the sun for far too long.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

It had been three days since he returned from his mission Three days that Glaz spent in relative calm, keeping his head low and waiting. Three days of nerve-wracking silence from the rest of the cell. Shrike’s last orders were to wait, but Damien hadn’t called him once in all that time, and that wasn’t like him. Did they know about Kapkan yet? Perhaps they investigated them in depth, and some part of their fake profiles didn’t hold to their scrutiny. Or maybe they had discovered that Morgan Hayes wasn’t dead. Perhaps they knew about who Glaz really was. It was doubtful this was the case; otherwise, he probably wouldn’t still be breathing.

However, after stewing in doubt for three days, Glaz was nervous walking into the viper’s nest again. The atmosphere in the chalet was charged with expectation, people forming small circles talking in hushed whispers to each other. Damien was nowhere to be seen, and Glaz felt oddly uneasy without him; the man was a good company if you didn’t count the fact he was a terrorist. Leaning against the fireplace, Glaz observed the movement of people going from one small group to another. He caught someone staring at him, only to look away quickly when caught doing so. It was the woman that had seen him talking with Kapkan. A heavy hand fell on his shoulder, and Glaz nearly jumped in surprise. Either he’d been to absorbed in his thoughts, or Damien could move silently when he wanted.

“Where the fuck have you been?”

“Ah, I missed you too Idri!” Damien chuckled. “I was away from the city. Shrike had me playing delivery boy for Vaas’ group, but I couldn’t say no; my brother works with them.”

“I understand. I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to see my brother if I could.” Glaz had no siblings, but Idrisov supposedly had had a younger brother. Damien patted his shoulder in support, and Glaz felt a pang of regret for lying to him, which was stupid, but he honestly thought Damien could make a good friend if the circumstances were different. To distract himself from that, he pointed at a certain person and said, “She won’t stop staring at me.”

“Of course,” Damien sounded amused, gleeful even. “Gia has the hots for you, she’s been heartbroken since she saw you talking to, and I quote, ‘that dark-haired hottie’.  But she says you looked so cute with your… what is he? Your boyfriend? Your fling?”

So gossip spread fast, as he imagined. Glaz answered with a noncommittal noise, avoiding a direct answer. He had no idea of what he would say. Damien pressed the issue.

“Is that why you were so secretive about your booty call the other day? Nobody here will care you’re into men. Except maybe Gia, but if you offer us details about your love life she won’t mind.”

“I’m not the type to kiss and tell.”

Damien’s reply was forestalled by the deathly silence that took hold over the room when Shrike appeared. She carried something in her hands, a collection of shards and splinters of something that might one had been white or dark grey. She left it on the table, arranging the pieces in a certain order, and Glaz realised it was the remains of one of their plastic white masks. The man Glaz knew as the boss came into the room, suited to the nines like the other time he’d seen him. Looking at them all from the other side of the long table, he looked like a priest about to launch into a sermon.

“We will strike soon, and the boss wants all of us in it. Tomorrow morning there’s a program being filmed in this little town. A history documentary of sorts. One of the interviewed guests has something they stole, a piece of technology in the form of a ring. We have to take it back and make our message be heard.” The man paused, pointing at the broken pieces of plastic. “This is all we could find of Johan and the reason we avoid using bomb vests. But this ring is a special prototype and a bomber will be the only chance.”

The silence grew even tenser, everyone looking at the broken mask with apprehension. Nobody wanted to be a bomber. Glaz felt his blood pressure climbing higher. There was no way he could prepare a counter-offensive or thwart their plans as with Morgan’s assassination, not with so little time left.

“You said none of us would have to be a bomber ever again!” One of the older looking guys spoke up, his words garnering some mumbled support and worried looks.

Shrike turned around to face him. She was grinning, eyes shining in excitement. “And you won’t. We’re getting some help from our friends in Paris. You’ll see.”

She then looked at the leader, who nodded at her and took a step back. Shrike took over, explaining how they would meet at the abandoned factory around eight sharp, and from there they would receive orders for the assault. It was a familiar pattern, more or less; Rainbow also had on-field debriefs to determine their strategy, but mostly because they didn’t know what they were dealing with until they arrived at the site. Here Shrike was purposefully keeping them in the dark, and Glaz wasn’t sure why that was necessary. Shrike went to talk with the leader, and everyone else quietly scattered away.

“All this fuss for a ring?” Glaz whispered to Damien, who looked unfazed by the plan.

“The boss wants that ring, and I say it’s a small price to pay in exchange of funds and opportunities to spread our message.”

It wasn’t a bad reasoning, but who’s message were they spreading? Glaz could ask, but he wasn’t sure Damien knew, nor would he appreciate the question. Besides, he had a hunch that the ring wasn’t a stolen Abstergo prototype. A vague memory tickled the edges of his mind, yet every time Glaz tried to focus on it, it slipped out of his grasp. He needed to report all this immediately, but he was approached by another two guys, who introduced themselves as Klaus and Jacob, wanting to talk with him and Damien. He hadn’t expected they would congratulate him for his mission, but it seemed Damien had been telling everyone about his amazing shot that downed Morgan and all the ensuing chaos. Glaz hoped his face wouldn’t betray how uncomfortable he was as the object of so much praise.

“We’ll soon get the chance to see you in action, eh?” Klaus’ gleeful excitement could be considered cute, although he was talking about seeing how he’d love to watch Glaz kill people.

“We still don’t know what we’ll do, maybe I won’t be using my sniper skills.”

“It would be a waste if you didn’t! But I suppose you’re also good with other weapons too.” He wasn’t wrong, but Glaz wasn’t keen on taking part in the upcoming massacre. Not that he could actually say so.

Jacob, who’d been mostly quiet, had a question for Damien. “Do you know what’s the help coming from France? You were the one who brought the information she sent them.”

So whatever or whoever was coming from Paris was related to the translation Damien stole from Morgan. Damn, Glaz was getting a headache from trying to assemble all the information into something coherent, so many bits and pieces missing. He zoned out for a moment and came back to Klaus asking him something he hadn’t heard.

“Sorry, what?”

Damien elbowed him, “Head in the clouds thinking about your love?”

Glaz’s first instinct was to deny it, but the alternative would be to make up a different lie that was convincing enough. So instead he played along. It turned out that making them believe he had a date was the best excuse he could have used. The only downside was that Damien would pester him for details, but he was already doing that either way. On his way out of the house, he noticed Klaus coming up to talk with Shrike, aside from everyone else. He tried to act casual, like he hadn’t seen them, or as if he wasn’t worried about anything.

The drive back to town was uneventful, the road so familiar to him he barely paid attention to it. His mind kept circling around the same issue, and the more he thought about it, the more nervous he was about what would happen tomorrow. Just in a few hours. Fuck. It was too late to intercept whatever help was coming from France since it probably already arrived or would do so during the night, and Glaz didn’t know where or how it would happen. What was the point of him being infiltrated if he was such a lousy spy? He could have punched the steering wheel in frustration. The surrounding landscape slowly became fewer fields and trees and more buildings, until he was driving through the city proper. Ideally, Glaz would leave the car near his apartment and go walking, just like the other time, since it was easier to lose anyone potentially following him. However, time was of the essence, so he drove directly to Kapkan’s.

From the moment he stepped out of the car, Glaz felt a prickly sensation on the back of his neck, as if someone was observing him, or the same he felt when someone was hiding nearby during training sessions. The street looked empty, just him standing under the orange glow of a streetlight and a stray cat scratching a wooden bank. If the stress didn’t end with him, then the paranoia would; although he was a firm believer that it wasn’t paranoia if you were right. This didn’t seem to be the case, though. Resisting the urge to look around furtively, Glaz walked up to the building and went upstairs. It wasn’t worth it to use the lift to go to the third floor. A few floors up a door opened, and Glaz heard the unmistakable sound of someone going down the stairs. It was the first time he heard any of the neighbours. According to Kapkan, he rarely heard anything either. Glaz knocked on the door.

After a short wait, the door opened, and Kapkan looked at him with a dash of confusion written all over his face. The sound of footsteps came closer, and the hunter’s expression changed into alarm. Next thing Glaz knew, Kapkan grabbed him by the jacket and pressed their lips together. Time stopped existing, measured only by Glaz’s frantic heartbeat. Someone behind them scoffed, and Kapkan broke the kiss. It was just an old man, carrying a trash bag and muttering something about faggots with the utmost disdain. Avoiding to look at each other, they went inside the apartment.

“That was…” Kapkan looked uncomfortable, scratching the back of his neck and still not meeting Glaz’s eyes. “Just in case we were being watched, you know? To maintain your cover.”

“Yes, yes. That was very… convincing. Well done,” Glaz agreed, willing himself to not think of how amazing the hunter’s lips had felt against his own. He amended his earlier thought: it would be this affair cover that would end with him, not the stress or the paranoia.

An awkward silence filled the apartment until Kapkan eventually asked him why he was there. The whole story spilled out of Glaz in fragments, haphazardly pieced together as he exposed the facts interwoven with his ideas and impressions, like a braid he tried to untangle to explain where each strand was coming from. Once he was done, he didn’t feel better, but at least he got everything out. He couldn’t shake the feeling he only burdened Kapkan unnecessarily with all this, even if his job in this mission was to hear Glaz’s reports and pass them along to Six and Harry. Which it was what he was doing now, sending a message to them.

Being early night here meant that it was early morning in Hereford, so most surely they would be sleeping by now. Glaz felt a slight pang of guilt for waking them up, yet Harry picked up the call almost immediately. The conversation was remarkably short, and out of Glaz’s earshot, Kapkan going into the kitchen while he talked. One of the protocols for this mission was that Glaz couldn’t have direct contact with anyone from Rainbow, except for Kapkan who played middleman. Supposedly it was to help him during the undercover process, because it would be easier for him that way. There was nothing easy about being undercover, with or without contact to his colleagues.

“Harry promised to do everything he can to help,” Kapkan told him, coming back to where Glaz was, still standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. “But he warned me there’s not much he and Six can do in so little time.”

Glaz nodded mutely, lost in his thoughts. He wasn’t so naïve to think he could get through all this without getting his hands dirty, but theory and reality were wildly different. Whatever happened, tomorrow would change it, or kill him if he failed.

“Whatever happens, you won’t be alone, I-”

“Absolutely not,” Glaz cut Kapkan off. “You remain here and don’t’ get close to it or any of us.”

“I think I’m more than capable of doing my job and take care of myself!”

Kapkan’s scowl didn’t impress Glaz at all; in fact, it only irritated him. He had enough things to worry about already; Glaz couldn’t afford to worry about Kapkan while he also had to worry about maintaining his character and cover and having to take part in a terrorist assault.

“Exactly, do your damn job and observe! That’s all you have to do in this operation.” Glaz’s outburst didn’t have the intended effect. Instead, Kapkan clenched his jaw like he always did when the stubborn ass was planning to do something he shouldn’t. The sniper sighed, slumping his shoulder in defeat. “It’s too risky, for both of us. You are still hurt, and at least one of the cell members knows your face, and I might hesitate to act if I know you’re around. Just… trust I’ll do what I have to do and stay away. Please.”

“I’m not injured,” Kapkan’s rebuttal lacked conviction, face contorting into a pained grimace when Glaz put his hand on Kapkan’s shoulder, applying just the lightest pressure. Like hell he wasn’t hurt.

“I am asking you, not as a teammate but as a friend.”

They held each other’s gaze for a moment, until Kapkan looked away first, muttering curses with a strained expression. It was a victory, but it was a bitter one. And yet Glaz was filled with memories of how the light touch of the hunter’s lips had felt, perhaps that would make it sweeter... Fuck, he needed to get out of here, have some space before he did something monumentally stupid.

He had a long night ahead, and an even longer morning. Glaz would prefer if he didn’t kick off this nerve-wracking wait by shattering their friendship with some ill-thought and rash actions. He had lots of practice ignoring these stupid feelings, hopefully they would soon pass, but he had to go.

_ _ _

Present day - Hereford

 

Harry looked at the improvised board he and Six had organised on his study. His wife wasn’t thrilled to have been woken at these ungodly hours, as she said, but she was wonderful and understanding and decided to make coffee instead of complaining. He didn’t know what he’d done to deserve her.

The door of the study opened and Aurelia came in, looking as fresh and poised as ever. Harry wondered if it was a learned skill after being Six for so long, or just some kind of superpower Aurelia had.

“I’ve weighed our options on the way here,” Six said without preamble, looking at the pieces of paper Harry had attached to the board. “We won’t send a team unless we’re called, let the local SWAT handle it.”

That wasn’t what he had expected to hear. Rainbow usually stayed on top of the chain whenever there was a White Mask attack, and they knew there would be one in a few hours. Staying out of it was an odd choice.

“Care to explain your reasoning, please?”

“The endgame of this operation is to gather intel and ultimately destroy the infrastructure of both the White Masks and their Templar supporters. If we send a team, they’ll know someone has been leaking information. It would complicate Glaz’s mission and our goals.”

Harry pushed his glasses down and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I hate that you are right.” Six’s answer was a strained smile. At least they had some insight on what Abstergo was after with this imminent strike. “I have been consulting several sources, and I’m pretty sure the ring device they’re after is, in fact, a Piece of Eden.”

“Like the one William Kidd had,” Six supplied. As always, she was correct. “That would explain much. I have identified the Abstergo employee leading the cell. James Morse. He has worked with a lot of important people, including Vidic and Gramática.”

Two of the most obsessed Abstergo employees and leaders in the search of pieces of Eden. The implications were troubling. “Do you think he’s continuing their projects somehow?”

“Doubtful, he never worked for long with any of them. But it’s worth keeping an eye on him.” Six paused when Harry’s wife came into the room, bearing a tray of coffee cups. “Any news about the location of the Parisian cell?”

Harry gathered his notes and rubbed his eyes. He had only a few clues about that one, and even less on what they could have sent to the cell in Minnesota. Glaz would have to be the one to update them on that one, later.

It would be a long night and an even longer day.

Chapter Text

One day ago - Rome

 

“So now you know . Took you long enough to figure it out,” Alibi commented, taking a sip of her coffee.

It was a lovely cafe in the center of the city, one they had gone before, all those years ago when Sledge was newly arrived in Italy and was easily enchanted by everything around him. Maestro insisted on bringing him here, saying this was the best coffee in the whole city. Now, here they were again.

He looked at Alibi, taking note of how different she looked from the last time he’d seen her. She seemed even colder and quieter, not to mention she wore her hair longer. In comparison, Maestro looked almost the same, just a few more lines on his handsome face and more grey peppering his hair.

“I didn’t exactly figure it out on my own,” Sledge admitted with a bashful smile; no shame in admitting the truth. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“Adriano already filled me in, don’t worry.”

That was Maestro’s style, yes. He was a big gossip and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Although this simplified Sledge’s work, no need to have the same conversation twice.

“Very well. Do you have any questions or can we move into the part where I have to convince you to join?”

Alibi’s little smile came and went in a flash, but if Sledge didn’t know better, he’d say she looked almost fond. Could she have missed him too? They were never that close, but they’d got along well.

“There’s something Rainbow could help me with, if I was to join, I mean.”

Was this a negotiation or a condition? Sledge turned to look at Maestro since his silence was pretty telling of his involvement in this idea. “You support her conditions, I presume. Or did you plan this together?”

“It will be good for both Rainbow and the Brotherhood, caramellino .”

It was as good as an admission of Sledge’s suspicions. He drank from his own cup to hide his smile when he heard Maestro falling back on the cutesy nicknames. He always did that when he wanted Sledge to agree with him on something.

“I can’t make any promises, but I want to hear it,” Sledge said. Best case scenario, it would be a sensible request that he could pass along to Six or Harry.

“For a time I posed as an arms dealer to get closer to the Vinciguerra family,” Alibi explained, “but the whole operation failed rather spectacularly. The GIS gave up on finding them again, but the Brotherhood didn’t.”

Sledge didn’t understand how her undercover mission was related to the whole assassin business. His confusion must have shown clearly on his face, for Maestro impatiently took over Alibi’s explanation.

“The Vinciguerra family bought a villa in Toscana. That house is essential for the Brotherhood.”

“I thought the Vinciguerras had gone underground, leaving most of their possessions behind?” Sledge asked, still not seeing the whole picture.

“There has been too much traffic in that area lately, for being an abandoned one,” Alibi answered him. “Some of the vans coming and going had the Abstergo logo painted on them.”

Right, the tech company that Six didn’t want to deal with. Because they were enemies of the assassins. Goodness, this was bringing Sledge a headache. “So you want us to go visit this Villa, that’s it?”

“If the visit trend continues as it is, it won’t be empty when we go,” Alibi put her cup down, looking directly at Sledge. “Adriano and I know how to hold down and resist, but we’ll need specialists in breaking down defenses and entering. Like you.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable request, for the most part. Sledge had no idea of what was so important about that Villa, but Six and Harry would know. Maestro sooner or later would explain it to him. He loved sharing all manner of anecdotes with people, and Sledge had to admit that he was curious about the Brotherhood and its history.

“I’ll pass your request to Six, that’s all I can do.” The reaction of the Italians couldn’t be more different. Alibi nodded solemnly, while Maestro beamed at him. “What’s so special about that Villa, by the way?”

As predicted, Maestro’s eyes shone in delight at the prospect of regaling him with the history of the Villa and how it related to the Brotherhood. By the end of it, Sledge couldn’t help but think that Ezio reminded him of a certain other person: a natural leader, stubborn, loved to seduce people, and with an uncanny ability to find trouble. Yes, in his mind Sledge saw him as a historical version of Maestro, not that he said so to him. Maestro’s ego didn’t need any additional stroking.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Morning came all too soon. Glaz moved on autopilot, going through the motions of getting dressed without truly paying attention to what he was doing. He was caught in the duality of being still half asleep, and not having slept enough. Glaz had thought he would never be as nervous as he had been before his first deployment, but he was wrong.

Once he was in front of the door, he hesitated for a second. Today was the day. He wasn’t ready for it, but there was no other choice. Glaz stepped out of the apartment, mind oddly blank and covering him with a sense of superficial tranquility. This detachment wasn’t unlike what he felt before pulling the trigger of his sniper rifle most of the times. This would work in his favour though, Glaz only needed to focus on this feeling and everything would be fine. Above all, he couldn’t afford to break character at any moment.

At this early hour of the morning, the town was already full of life, people too busy living their lives to pay attention to anything that didn’t concern them. When Glaz arrived at the abandoned warehouse, he saw the cars lined up in front of it, people clustering together in groups. Everyone followed his arrival attentively, and Glaz saw some familiar faces in the crowd: Gia, Klaus, Jacob. No trace of Damien yet, nor Shrike. Nobody said a word, uncertainty flickering in their faces. He joined the silent group, listening to the birds singing up in the trees. It was a beautiful morning.

Another car arrived, and Glaz observed the newcomer as everyone else did. He was slightly unsettled by the total synchronization of the group, almost as if they were a hive mind. The guy that stepped out of the car was someone Glaz vaguely remembered from previous reunions, nobody important. He made a quick count of all the people gathered. Except for Damien, and obviously Shrike and the one they called The Boss, everyone was here. At least the wait would be over soon. As if hearing his thoughts, the door of the warehouse opened, and Shrike came out dragging a heavy crate.

“Gather ‘round!” She called, like a teacher asking an unruly group of kids to approach her. “Grab one of each and wait, our transport will arrive soon.”

Shrike opened the crate with a kick and went back inside the warehouse. Glaz waited until the people in front of him moved to the side, then he approached the crate too. The first thing he saw was the logo of the Vinciguerra family painted on it. At least now he knew who was arming them; surely Six would be interested to know.

The content of the crate was easy to predict: weapons. Glaz took one step forward and saw he was right; there were dozens of identical assault rifles, and also dozens of featureless white masks. The first time he had to wear one of those, everything in him rebelled against the idea. Now he only felt numb to it all. He picked a weapon and a mask, and stepped aside to let Gia get one of each too.

Without nothing better to do, he observed the people around him, noting that expectation slowly replaced the tension from before, their expressions no longer worried. Shrike came back outside, carrying a small briefcase and smirking in satisfaction. Someone made a joke about making the morning news ratings blow up, laughter erupting from the group. Glaz concentrated on keeping calm.

“We’ll get on the move soon,” Shrike announced, right as an old and dirty white van drove right up to the warehouse.

The driver was Damien, but Glaz didn’t recognise who was on the passenger’s seat. It was an old man with an untidy look and worn clothes. How did a homeless man fit with the plan? Glaz couldn’t fathom why Damien brought him here, or why he was dragging the obviously scared man towards Shrike. On her part, Shrike had opened the briefcase and picked up a curious object. From this distance, Glaz saw something that looked like a golden orb, which only heightened his confusion. What the hell was going on? Feeling a chill go down his spine, Glaz watched the orb glow in Shrike’s hand while she said something to the homeless man. The alarmed expression on the man’s face dissolved as the glow intensified. Fear transformed into blankness, his eyes looking dull, almost lifeless. He stopped struggling, standing tall and oddly lax at the same time. Everything about this felt wrong and ignited Glaz’s fight or flight response, but he grit his teeth and stood in place, watching.

It was over as quickly as it started, Shrike pocketing the orb and not taking her hand out of the pocket yet. Damien gave the old man a bulky vest he immediately put on, still expressionless while he covered it with his coat. Blood seemed to freeze in Glaz’s veins. That was a bomber vest, he’d seen enough of those to recognise one. Was the orb the help that the Parisian cell had sent? He knew it sounded crazy and far-fetched, even to him, yet Glaz was quite sure that strange artifact was somehow controlling the poor man. It was the only explanation for what he had seen.

“See? None of us shall ever again be a bomber,” Shrike said, grinning and looking damn pleased with the situation. “We can just get someone nobody will miss to do that for us.”

Everyone cheered, and even Damien seemed fine with this. Glaz felt the bile burning his throat, yet forced himself to cheer with the rest. He couldn’t give himself away.

“Okay, everyone into the van, time to move!”

_

The inside of the van was cramped and stuffy, Glaz was suffocating. The blasted mask didn’t help either, nor did the dread he felt. He couldn’t stop thinking about the golden orb, trying to figure what it was and what did it exactly do. Somehow he doubted it was an Abstergo creation, just like the ring there were sent to retrieve. He’d been so absorbed in his gloomy theories he only noticed they arrived at their destination when the vehicle stopped.

A knock on the side, and everyone hopped down. It was a good thing the alley where the van parked was deserted; otherwise, there was no way such a big group of masked people wouldn’t draw attention. Someone patted his arm; Glaz was sure it was Damien. The masks were supposed to conceal their identities, but Damien’s height made him easily recognizable.

“Our objective is inside that antiques shop,” Shrike’s voice was slightly muffled by her mask, but just in case that hadn’t been clear enough she pointed at the building in question. She still had the other hand inside her jacket’s pocket, presumably holding the mysterious orb. “We’ll go in after the explosion. Jacob, get the ring and any other souvenir you want to take from the victim. The rest of you, create mayhem. We take no hostages this time.”

She turned to look at the old man, the only one of them without a mask, and indicated with a head movement that it was time for him to go. Glaz clutched the assault rifle tightly, observing the poor man walking towards his end. Exactly like a lamb to the slaughter. Did he know what was going to happen? Glaz had his doubts about it. Perhaps it was better this way; it would be terrifying knowing deep down what was going on, being aware that your were meekly walking to certain death, and yet being unable to react in any way. It was chilling to think of Shrike -or anyone for that matter- having the means of controlling someone’s will like that. He had to keep calm and carry on. Do anything necessary, for the mission’s sake.

The door of the antiques’ shop closed and Glaz mentally counted the seconds, holding his breath. He reached to twelve when the explosion rocked the building, immediately followed by a characteristic whooshing sound and shards of glass from the shop’s window flying in all directions.

“Go, now!” Shrike finally got her hand out of the pocket, grabbing her own weapon.

They moved all together, yet lacked the coordination of a true team. Even recruits knew how to act as a team most of the time. Glaz was thrown off by the chaotic way in which the group in front of him entered the shop, so different from the organised coordination he was used to in Rainbow. He was about to go in when curious onlookers started to flock to the scene. A delivery guy took out his phone, presumably to call for help, and was unceremoniously shot down by one of Glaz’s companions. Chaos and panic spread like virus. Someone opened fire on the running bystanders, screams and crying rising in volume before they were silenced. Glaz didn’t know how to react. He should have expected this could happen, but he hadn’t been prepared for it. A short White Mask pushed him inside the shop and he let himself be led, fearing he would snap if he allowed himself to dwell on what was happening. Anything for the mission.

The inside of the shop reeked of smoke and burnt flesh. Glaz walked around taking in the macabre details while he heard the whimpers and cries of the victims that hadn’t died with the explosion. Splinters of wood, glass and debris crunched beneath his feet. Gunshots rang loudly, silencing whoever had been whimpering. It was both merciful and needlessly cruel. Right in front of the now pulverized cameras lay a gory scene, the remains of both bomber and victim no more than scattered chunks of meat and splatters of blood. A White Mask passed by, holding a whole severed hand and used it to wave at him. The hand carried a ring; was that what they had come for? He would bet it was, and his guess was confirmed when the White Mask carrying the hand offered it to Shrike.

“The SWAT is here!” Damien yelled from the blown window, making everyone stop whatever they were doing.

Sirens could be heard in the distance, getting louder and louder. Shrike slipped the ring into her own index finger and threw the severed hand to the floor. “Disperse! Let’s ambush those motherfuckers!”

Shrike’s order had them all running in small groups, scattering across the destroyed spaces and hiding wherever they could. Glaz found himself running alongside another three White Masks, retreating deeper into the back of the shop. They crouched behind broken old furniture and ashes, smoke still clouding the air. Gunshots rang loud in the destroyed shop, but Glaz couldn’t tell if there was any casualty from it.

“How the fuck are they here so quickly?” Damien whispered next to him.

It was an appropriate question, no first response unit was so fast unless they were already waiting for something to happen… Oh. Had Rainbow warned them or did Rainbow send their own SWAT team? In any case, it was not good news for Glaz right now. Footsteps came closer and Glaz took a deep breath. Anything for the mission.

A red laser sight swept right in front of them, and Damien sprung up. Heart beating madly against his ribs, Glaz leaned out of cover. He heard the gunshots and saw a figure with a SWAT vest go down, another one behind and ready to shoot at Damien. A million thoughts went through his mind, about the importance of his mission, or how he hated having to pretend everything they were doing was okay, watching innocent people die without moving a finger. Anything for the mission , right? Glaz pulled the trigger.

Time seemed to slow down as he saw the other SWAT fall down. Only then, when the body had hit the ground and a pool of blood started forming beneath it, Glaz noticed the braid of striking red hair. Panic and nausea gripped Glaz as Damien thanked him for his quick reaction; he was haunted by that detail, the familiar red braid. He flashed Damien a quick smile, before remembering the mask was covering his whole face, so he gave a curt nod.

Glaz couldn’t avoid staring at the corpse, he needed to know. The hair was the wrong shade of red, he saw it now; the face also different from what he had feared to see. It wasn’t Ash, thank goodness. His momentary relief was quickly marred by the realisation he still had killed a fellow counter-terrorist, a woman who had been doing her job and the right thing, someone with a family that would never see her again. However, Glaz couldn’t afford to dwell on it now.

Another White Mask approached them, one of the women judging by the build. “Jacob got to the van and he’s coming, move your asses!”

Shrike’s command spurred everyone into action again. On their sprint towards the exit, Glaz saw a few of the dead wore white masks. He elected to ignore the conflicting emotions and kept running. The van arrived in that moment, bullets ricocheting off its surface. They all rushed inside, more people coming behind them. One of the stragglers died right before reaching the safety of the van, the SWAT still firing at them continuously.

“Hit the gas, go!” Shrike urged Jacob to drive away, while he handed her a grenade. Shrike poked her head out of the still open door as she lobbed a grenade at the SWAT. She slid the door close with a manic cackle.

The flashbang went off and the van sped away, gaining a few precious seconds of advantage for the inevitable chase that was about to happen. Glaz noticed that despite being on the line of fire, none of the bullets hit Shrike. Some might have called it a miracle, but Glaz knew better. She carried the shielding ring and also had the orb that could control people. He didn’t like the picture it painted, not one bit. When had his life become a science-fiction movie? Glaz missed the simplicity of previous operations, before the Chimera virus. Everything had gone downhill since then.

“Are they following us?” The driver, Jacob, asked while looking at the rear-view mirror every few seconds.

“Not yet, but soon.” Shrike climbed to the empty passenger’s seat. “Turn left and get into the tunnel, we’re leaving this van and picking a new car. Courtesy of Abstergo.”

Of course, it was, without Abstergo’s help this cell would be nothing. However, seeing the kind of objects they wanted in exchange of their help, Glaz wasn’t sure who was getting the best side of the deal.

“We made it, Idri! I owe you man, as soon as we’re out I’m inviting you for drinks!”

Damien hugged him and Glaz tried to imitate his cheer, trying not to dwell on what he had done. Anything for the mission .

 _ _ _

 The phone rang and rang, but nobody answered. Kapkan cut the call with an impatient grunt, resisting the urge to throw the phone away. It was the twelfth time he tried to call Glaz, and the sniper still hadn’t had the decency to let him know if he was well and alive.

Watching the situation unfold, sitting in front of the television and doing nothing, had been a miserable experience for Kapkan. Everything in him screamed and clamored to take action, do something about it. Hell, his job precisely consisted of flinging himself in situations exactly like that. However, Glaz had begged him to stay aside, and later Harry reminded him too that his job was to observe and not intervene. So Kapkan did exactly that, like a good soldier, even if it left a bitter taste in his mouth. What was the use of him being Glaz’s support in this damned mission if he couldn’t actually do anything?

Never before had he experienced how confusing and nerve-wracking was to sit at the edge of his seat, eyes glued to the TV screen, while the reporters speculated wildly while trying to avoid confessing how little information they really had. He caught glimpses of the masked attackers, of the massacre they did, and couldn’t stop wondering if one of them was Glaz. God dammit, why wasn’t he picking up his calls? Even Fuze, who wasn’t as gentle as the sniper, had felt wretched after causing accidental civilian deaths. Kapkan didn’t want to imagine how Glaz was feeling right now. After all, one could only keep up a façade of calmness for so long; eventually, even the strongest would crack. And Glaz had been withstanding enough pressure to make a mountain crack. He’d seen the stress in him during the sniper’s last visit, and his evident lack of sleep in all the occasions he had come to see Kapkan.

Kapkan checked the time on his phone, the screen flaring to life and displaying a huge 20:32 on it. The assault had been this morning, and the chase had been called off at some point during the afternoon. Glaz should be in his apartment, or at least somewhere safe enough to answer the phone. Well, Kapkan was done sitting on his ass, waiting, this time he was going to act, he decided. Kapkan grabbed his jacket, tugged the hood as far down as it would go, and went out. He wasn’t supposed to go to Glaz’s apartment unless it was an emergency. Kapkan considered this was a justified emergency, although he knew he would have a hard time convincing Six of it. He didn’t care. He couldn't care.

The streets were mostly empty, just some people walking by, all minding their business and no doubt in a hurry to get to their own homes. And yet Kapkan was sure he was being observed, a cold prickle in his spine he couldn’t shake off. Another person would have written it off as a byproduct of his imagination, but Kapkan was a seasoned hunter and knew to trust in his instincts. In any other moment, he would try to lure out whoever was observing him, and turn the tables on them, silence them permanently if necessary. However, right now he had different priorities. Acting natural and unbothered, he kept walking, sticking to the main streets instead of trying to lose whoever was following him in the alleys. However, as soon as he saw the bus coming to the nearest stop, he rushed to take it.

The feeling of being observed disappeared when the bus drove away from the stop, and Kapkan allowed himself to relax slightly. Nothing he had done could be read as suspicious, that was a bonus too. Ten minutes later, he got down and walked briskly towards a certain building. Kapkan tried his luck with the doorbell. No answer, just as he imagined. If Glaz wasn’t picking up the phone, Kapkan had no hopes of him answering to the doorbell either. His apartment was on the third floor, and Kapkan looked up. There was light coming out from all the third-floor windows, so he had to be home.

Kapkan walked along the building until he saw a gutter downpipe that went all the way down from the top of the building. Perfect. Looking around surreptitiously to make sure nobody was watching him, Kapkan tested how solid it was. It moved a bit, but looked like it would hold his weight. He hadn’t attempted parkour since he was a teenager, with his uncle and before he enrolled, but it was like riding a bike. Some skills you never really forget, he just needed some practice to get really good at it again. It would be easier if his shoulder didn’t burn from the effort of climbing up the pipe, but Kapkan would gladly endure some pain in exchange for surviving such fall without any broken bone. He reached the ledge of the first-floor windows. Only two more storeys to go. He mentally cursed Glaz, for living in the third floor, and for not answering his calls. Kapkan also cursed his own inability to stay objective and calm when it came to the sniper; otherwise, he wouldn’t be climbing up an unstable pipe just to make sure Glaz was fine.

Muscles aching and his shoulder bothering him more than just a bit, Kapkan nearly slipped while reaching the final ledge. He kicked wildly, trying to find his footing again. Slowly, he calmed down and remembered what he was supposed to do in these cases. In the end, he managed to successfully get to the ledge without breaking his neck in the process. Walking along the ledge, Kapkan found a window that was partially open. He pushed it completely to the side and awkwardly flung himself inside. He landed on the hard floor in a sprawl of limbs, nearly hitting his head on the toilet. That answered his question of where he was.

The corridor was dark, but the living room was properly lit. First thing Kapkan noticed was the freshly painted canvas, an abstract piece all in red splotches and jagged black lines as if fracturing the image. Not exactly subtle, but effective. Then he saw him. The sniper lay on the couch, unmoving, his hands caked in dried blood. Panic sized Kapkan. Was Glaz wounded? His heartbeat became erratic and he didn’t know what to do. Had Glaz passed out due to blood loss? Then he realized Glaz was snoring lightly, and the dark red on his hands was just paint.

“Fucking drama queen,” Kapkan muttered, willing his heart rhythm to go back to normal.

The hunter approached the sleeping sniper and saw an empty vodka bottle next to the couch. Ah, so not only was Glaz sleeping, he was also drunk. Great. Sighing, he shook him awake.

“Wake up, you idiot,” at least, since he was already here, he’d make sure the sniper was going to sleep properly in bed.

Glaz opened his eyes, those impossibly blue eyes, and blinked in confusion. “Maxim? What… how…?”

It was not a good sign that his first movement was to try grabbing the empty vodka bottle. He failed and knocked it down instead. Ripping him a new one for not contacting with Kapkan could wait until Glaz was sober again.

“Been drinking a bit too much?” Kapkan tried to help him up, but Glaz pushed him away. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

The sniper refused his help and got up on his own, taking an unsteady step towards him. “How did you get in? No, why? Why are you here?”

“I was- I came to check how you were doing,” Kapkan sidestepped the question of how he got into the apartment, and covered his fumble as best as he could. He was worried, yes, but this was still work. Maybe. He wasn’t sure anymore.

“How I’m doing?” Glaz repeated Kapkan’s words, followed by a humourless laugh. “I participated in a massacre, shot down a SWAT operator to protect a terrorist. For a moment I thought I had killed Ash, you know? But the hair was wrong, the face too. And now I’m feeling guilty about not feeling guilty anymore. How do you think I’m doing?”

“It’s normal that you’ve grown attached to-”

“Well, I didn’t want to get attached! What’s the use of you being here if you can’t help with that?” Glaz interrupted him, grabbing Kapkan by the collar of his hoodie. The sniper looked ready to fight, but after staring at Kapkan for a few seconds, his anger deflated like a balloon. “Maxim, I…”

“Let’s get you to bed,” Kapkan repeated through clenched teeth, reminding himself that Glaz was drunk and he really didn’t want to fight with him. That had been a close call.

Kapkan helped a stumbling Glaz to reach his bedroom, in a reversal of that pub night when Kapkan had come back to the base too tipsy to climb the stairs alone. Certainly the experience was funnier when you were the drunk one. Making Glaz change into his pajamas seemed like an impossible task, same with cleaning the dried paint from his hands, Kapkan’s only goal was to drop him into bed. However, once they reached the bed, Glaz turned around to face him instead of flopping down onto the mattress as Kapkan had expected. Bracing himself for a possible fight, since drunk Glaz was more aggressive than his normal self, he threw an icy look at the sniper. Glaz seemed totally oblivious to it, bringing one hand up to cup the side of the hunter’s face.

“I lied,” Glaz whispered, thumb caressing Kapkan’s jaw. “I’m glad you’re here. I would have gone crazy without you.”

Glaz’s eyes were fixed on him, infinitely soft and warm, and Kapkan couldn’t handle it. He felt dizzy and choked up, too vulnerable. The sniper’s face was closer to him, Kapkan could smell his alcohol breath, and for a second he considered keeping still to see what Glaz would do. However, at the last moment, he turned his face aside to break the contact.

“Go to sleep, we’ll talk tomorrow.”

Before he could walk away, two hands latched onto his hoodie, bringing him down onto the bed with Glaz. In fact, Glaz was sprawled on top of him, head against his chest, pinning Kapkan down. He tried to wiggle free, but Glaz didn’t budge. He was about to tell the sniper to fuck off and let him go when he heard him snoring again.

Kapkan resigned himself to a sleepless night under Glaz’s weight, and pointedly avoided thinking how that could sound out of context. Glaz needed to sleep it off, and it wasn’t the first time they shared a bed. Back in New Mexico, a solid and warm presence by their side was the only way any of them managed to get some sleep without too many nightmares about that hellish mission. However, this was vastly different from sleeping back against back.

He lay in the dimly lit room, tense and crushed by a sleeping Glaz, looking at the ceiling and battling the sudden urge to play with the sniper’s hair. Kapkan sighed; it was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

The Apple felt weird under her touch, always warm despite being made of gold. Shrike had no idea why James had called it the Apple of Eden though; the orb looked nothing like the fruit it was named after.

She played with it, making the orb twirl under her fingers, while she thought about the events of the day. It had been a horrible clusterfuck. Shrike scowled, as if the Apple was at fault. No, the artifact probably had been the most useful piece in that disaster. She still had no idea how it worked, but she knew she wasn’t looking forward to returning it.

“Hello? Layla?”

Not bothering to get up from the crate where she was sitting, she just yelled “Here!” and waited for Damien to find his way among the empty shelves. It didn’t take him long, and she got to see how he stumbled on one of the crates and nearly fell down. The way the man looked at her when he saw what Shrike was playing with was priceless. So Damien was afraid of the little orb, that was smart of him.

“Couldn’t have we met at the house?”

She ignored Damien’s bitching, fixing him with her best steely glare. The chalet was just a fancy place to meet, while this warehouse was her turf. Nobody came here without her express permission. Not that she needed to explain her motives to anyone. “Did you do what I asked for?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t reach neither Idri, Gia and Klaus, but the rest are all accounted for.”

Well, this potentially reduced her list of suspects, although not by much. She hummed absentmindedly, still playing with the Apple. Perhaps she should go back to considering everyone a suspect and just use this thing on them. If it could be used to control someone, it could also be used to make them tell the truth. It somewhat spoiled the fun of traditional interrogations, but she was opting for efficiency right now.

“Why do you look so gloomy? We got what the Boss wanted, and you have your new toy.”

“Three of our men died,” Shrike reminded him, more contemplative than concerned or angry. “We keep losing people, and recruiting is such a fucking hassle.”

“It’s always been like that,” Damien shrugged. “In fact, we used to have more casualties than we’ve had lately.”

“Yeah, because we had a snitch.” Shrike looked at Damien, waiting to see if he would connect the dots himself, but it seemed like it was asking too much. “Think for once in your goddamn life! How do you think the SWAT found us so quickly? This boring hellhole barely has any police presence, that’s why we chose it! And suddenly the fucking SWAT appear out of nowhere, even before than the normal police arrive to the scene?”

“But we already dealt with Johnny,” Damien was trying, bless him, but he kept missing the mark. “Did he mention any accomplices?”

“Nah, he didn’t.” Shrike tapped her foot on the ground, smirking at the solid sound it made. She had done a good job filling up the hole, it looked smooth as always, and nobody would ever suspect where Johnny was. “When I was done with him he had told me every little detail of his sad life, and he didn’t have any sidekicks.”

“Then it’s just bad luck?” Damien asked confused, trying to keep up with Shrike’s line of thought and failing.

She made a frustrated sound, her nails scratching over the surface of the Apple instead of doing so on Damien’s face. She knew there was a traitor in the group, it was the only explanation, and she always trusted her gut feelings in these cases. Logically speaking, it could be anyone, except for Damien. He was loyal to a fault, and his brother was also working for the cause, he would never do anything that could potentially endanger him.

“I’m almost sure our new snitch is one of the three you haven’t been able to locate.”

The idea seemed to offend Damien, who looked at her as if she had grown a second head. “Klaus and Gia have been with us since the beginning! I trust Idri, he killed a SWAT officer for me! And our mission in Vermont was a success, wasn’t it?”

Those were all decent points, even if it pained her to admit it. Although seniority in the organization didn’t necessarily mean commitment to the cause. Damien and Idri’s mission had been the best success they had in months, that was true, but still, there was that pesky hooded assassin Damien had supposedly killed. Which wasn’t true, since Shrike had poured over all the news she could find about the shooting, and the only casualties mentioned were Morgan and the security guard Damien had killed. Not a single mention to any other death. And there also was the lack of paperwork regarding the burial. Morgan Hayes had been declared dead, but she hadn't been able to find what happened with the body.

Shrike tossed the Apple up in the air and caught it again while she thought about all the variables on the traitor issue. Maybe it wasn’t someone from their group directly. Perhaps that assassin was spying on them somehow… She was aware it was probably just wishful thinking, but it was an alternative to explore.

“Alright, I’ll trust your instinct for once. We’ll investigate all the contacts of everyone in our group, see if there’s anyone new or suspicious amongst them. But once we’ve ruled out-”

“You mean like Idri’s new boyfriend?” Damien interrupted her, a troubled expression clouding his face.

Well, would you look at that, perhaps exploring this option wouldn’t be so useless after all. This new boyfriend did sound like a good candidate to investigate.

“You’re close to Idri, right? Try to find everything you can about this boyfriend of his.”

On her part, Shrike would investigate if anyone else had new acquaintances or relationships. And everyone’s backgrounds again, just to ensure she hadn’t missed any vital information or clue. Once they had a suspect, she would have some fun, just like with Johnny. Shrike always made people talk, even the most reticent ones. Those were always interesting.

_ _ _

The mattress felt harder than he remembered; warmer too. That was odd. A familiar scent seemed to envelop him and Glaz felt safe like he hadn’t in the last few weeks. Such a nice change. There was a hand softly massaging his scalp and playing with his hair, almost like a ghostly caress. Glaz let out a happy sigh and nuzzled the soft surface he was laying on. This had the disappointing effect to make the hand disappear from his hair, and a fast heartbeat seemed to thrum directly below him. Was he still dreaming? Vodka always made him have weird dreams, and last night he drank quite a lot, perhaps that was why… Fuck.

Everything came back at him in that moment: why he had been drinking, the furious painting spree, Kapkan suddenly coming to tell him to go to bed. Glaz rose his head slowly, knowing what he would see and praying to any god that would listen to not make it too awkward. He found himself face to face with Kapkan, the hunter looking like he hadn’t slept much. The mussed hair looked adorable on him though.

“Get off, you’re crushing me,” Kapkan wheezed, grimacing as he tried to wiggle free.

Red-faced and avoiding to look at him, Glaz scrambled to get up. He had been lying on top of Kapkan the whole night apparently, using his chest as a pillow and drooling on him. Embarrassing, sure, but it could have been worse. At least he hadn’t woken up with morning wood, thank goodness for small mercies.

Free at last, Kapkan sat up on the bed and stretched his arms, grimacing as he moved his shoulder. Glaz felt a pang of guilt, since most probably he had been applying pressure all night on Kapkan’s injured shoulder. In other circumstances, Glaz might have gathered the courage to offer the hunter a massage, but looking at each other from opposing sides of the bed was awkward enough.

“About last night…” Kapkan pursed his lips together, as if he was reticent to continue talking, and it sent Glaz into panic mode.

He quickly went over everything he remembered from last night, hoping he hadn’t done something monumentally stupid while being drunk. Glaz could hazard a couple of guesses about what Kapkan wanted to talk about, but he would prefer not to.

“I’m sorry for what I said, I was angry and spoiling for a fight.”

A shadow of disappointment seemed to flash on Kapkan’s face, before he settled on a neutral expression. “It’s no secret you become a jerk when you drink too much.”

The unexpected answer made Glaz chuckle, and the awkwardness from before seemed to dissipate. A dull headache started to manifest the longer Glaz was awake, and while he would rather go back to sleep, he knew it wasn’t a wise choice.

“C’mon, help me prepare breakfast.”

“Am I not your guest?” Kapkan’s outrage was spoiled by the smirk he couldn’t hide.

“A guest I don’t remember inviting in,” Glaz quipped back, laughing again. Although, now that Glaz thought about it, that was an excellent question. “How did you get into the apartment?”

“Through the bathroom window,” Kapkan answered as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

He wasn’t sure if Kapkan was joking or not, although he was inclined to think the hunter was serious. The only way he could have reached a third floor window would be climbing the building, and Glaz was already sweating in worry just from imagining Kapkan precariously clinging to a ledge on his way up. He shook his head slowly, in silent amazement of his friend’s recklessness, but Glaz knew better than to say anything. In fact, deep down he had expected such answer.

Glaz walked out of the bedroom and Kapkan closely followed him, no doubt lured by the promise of food and coffee, even if he had to help Glaz prepare it all. When reaching the small living room, Glaz stopped dead in his tracks. Under the bright daylight, the room looked like a murder scene. Droplets of dry red paint covered the floor, but the couch was worse. In his drunken stupor, Glaz had left red handprints on the armrests, and the knocked bottle by the couch’s side also sported red fingerprints all over it.

“Do you want to know how this looked last night, when I found you passed out on the couch?” Kapkan asked from his side.

If their roles were reversed, Glaz was sure what he would have imagined upon seeing such scene, and it wasn’t pleasant. Unsure of what to say, he darted a quick look at his hands instead. As he had expected, the palms were still covered in a layer of dry paint. A fitting punishment for acting like an idiot. Rubbing this off would be hell. With a sigh, he grabbed a mostly clean rag he used to dry the brushes, and one of the bottles from the pile of stuff next to the finished canvas. After dousing the cloth in rubbing alcohol, Glaz started to scrub one of his hands with it, hoping the paint would come off easily. After a moment it became clear it wouldn’t be that easy though.

“Give me that,” Kapkan sighed and extended his hand, waiting for Glaz to comply. However, Glaz looked at him in confusion. Why would Kapkan want to hold a piece of fabric doused in alcohol and matted with faint stains of paint?

Making a frustrated hmph , Kapkan picked up the bottle of rubbing alcohol, took off the rag from Glaz’s hand and squirted a generous amount of the liquid on the sniper’s hand before starting to rub energetically. He was basically holding Glaz’s hand with one of his, the other trying to clean the paint off. The contact made Glaz feel warm, although it could have been from the rough friction on his palm, which was at last making the specks of red disappear from his skin. He wondered if Kapkan was able to tell how loud his heart was beating.

“I can do that myself, you know?” Glaz felt obliged to point out, breaking the silence that had fallen over them.

“Yes, but you were too slow. And you promised me food.”

They looked at each other, both of them trying to appear serious and failing. Glaz’s mind decided it was the best moment to remind him of when he had caressed Kapkan’s face last night, of how they both had held their breaths for a second. Just like they were doing now. A loud beeping noise broke the moment. Mentally, Glaz cursed his phone to hell and back, and went to retrieve it from the pocket in his jacket. He was pleased to notice there wasn’t a single red stain on it, despite being carelessly thrown on the couch. Glaz loved that jacket.

“Answer my messages dude! :( I’m coming over to your house, you better be there”

It was from Damien, unsurprisingly. Glaz quickly checked; he had half a dozen unanswered messages, plus at least fifteen missed calls from last night, both from Damien and Kapkan. Shit. The sniper sent a quick reply.

“I was busy doing stuff. I forgot about the phone. Bring coffee?”

He pocketed his phone and turned to Kapkan. “You have to go.”

“If this is how you treat your dates, no wonder you’re still single.” Kapkan’s weak attempt at humour fell flat, Glaz ignoring the jab.

“Damien’s coming over, and he’ll never stop with the questions if he sees you. He’s been trying to get me to talk about my ‘ mysterious hook-up ’ for days.”

The hunter frowned, and Glaz could tell he was on the verge of arguing to stay. Glaz had a full array of reasons of why Kapkan should go, starting with the lack of a fake identity for him, or the fact neither of them had ever bothered to get a background story about their false relationship. However, in the end Kapkan just sighed in defeat without uttering a complaint.

“Fine. But you owe me a breakfast! And I’m still waiting to hear about what happened yesterday.”

True, he still hadn’t reported the details of yesterday’s attack, that was why Kapkan had initially come here, wasn’t it? Glaz wasn’t looking forward to that talk. In fact he’d been studiously avoiding to think about yesterday’s events, but work was work. “Tomorrow?”

The hunter nodded, already on his way towards the door. Glaz would make it up to him and deliver the promised breakfast too. Talking about dreadful matters was less depressing if there was food, right? At least, he was sure that was Kapkan’s outlook on it. Glaz opened the door and the hunter left, tugging on his hood while he walked. Why Kapkan insisted on always covering himself, Glaz would never understand. Glaz saw him bump against a bulky man coming up the stairs as Kapkan went down, not even stopping to apologize. Damien saw Glaz, still standing on the doorstep, and then looked back at the retreating and hooded silhouette.

“Was that…?” Damien asked him, looking almost gleeful. With a small sigh, Glaz confirmed Damien’s question. He would have preferred to not have a rehash of this same issue again, but it seemed inevitable now. “And you were doing stuff , you said? With him, I presume?”

Only in his wildest dreams, but that answer, while truthful, would only lead to more questions. So Glaz forced himself to smile smugly. “Did you bring me a coffee?”

Handing him a Starbucks knockoff cup, Damien snatched it out of Glaz’s reach when he was about to grab it. “C’mon Idri, if you don’t wanna share the juicy details, at least tell me his name! Or how you met.”

“Hmm, a coffee would help me refresh my memory,” Glaz replied, playing the familiar game of sidestepping questions.

Only this time, instead of whining about it playfully, Damien’s cheerful expression seem duller than usual, the smile too tight to be natural. Something was going on that had Damien acting like this, different from his usual self. Taking note to be extra careful with his answers -or lack of them- Glaz invited him to come inside.

_ _ _

Present day - Hereford

 

“You’ve got to be fookin’ kidding me.”

Thatcher was nothing but direct, that was for sure. Harry had known this would be difficult, but still wished that Six had picked a different team for this operation. With Aurelia on a meeting with the Secretary of State and several NATO charges, Harry was left acting as Six for now. And he wouldn’t let any of the operators intimidate him, even if said operators were a very furious looking Thatcher and Lion.

“Your presence was personally requested by Sledge. He said he needed someone with experience and that he could trust blindly,” Harry explained calmly, hoping Thatcher would listen to reason. “And madam Six picked Lion for this operation since his gadget allows him to gather intel quickly-”

“I don’t have an issue with this buffoon being part of the mission,” Thatcher barked, his words making Lion bristle and puff up like a cat about to hiss. “I have a problem with all that templar and assassin trash! The Brotherhood cost me one of my brothers and my marriage. I didn’t cut ties with it only to be dragged in again!”

Surprising everyone present, Lion spoke up. “I agree.”

Thatcher did a double take, taking in how serious and deadly clam Lion looked for a change. “You do? Do you even know what we’re talking about?”

“After I returned to the Catholic faith, my family stopped shunning me. I was rejoiced to have them again, but I declined to follow father’s footsteps in the Order. I chose to carve my own path.”

“Ah great, so you already have left the enemy in, good job.” Thatcher’s reply had the magical effect to anger Lion again, who got up from his seat with an offended expression as if he had been slapped.

A shouting match developed in a few seconds, Harry looking from one operator to the other as if it was a tennis match. Fascinating, the real reason these two didn’t get along was their incredibly similar tempers. However, the situation was snowballing out of his control, more so after Lion called Thatcher senile. Harry saw Thatcher take a step towards Lion, fists balled tightly by his sides, and decided to intervene before the situation was hopeless.

“Enough! You have been assigned to an operation,” Harry reminded them, omitting the part about it being a secret one. “Do I have to report that you refuse to do your job?”

Those were the magic words to have both men stop looking at each other with murderous intentions. Instead, they stood straighter; acting like soldiers again, not like two troublemakers about to get into a brawl. No further complaints either, and Harry allowed himself to breathe in relief.

“Good. Solve your differences and learn to work together, because you depart in twenty-four hours. I’ll brief you on the details once Sledge sends a new report. You’re dismissed.” Harry channelled his best Six voice for this little speech, instead of using his trademark casual approach. It wouldn’t work with such stubborn men as them.

Harry watched both Thatcher and Lion go, so obviously displeased but not willing to challenge him or Six further. The promise of facing the woman’s anger and displeasure tended to cool down even the most hotheaded of operators. Now that this was more or less taken care of, Harry could worry about the other ongoing operation. Still no message from Kapkan, but a certain delay was to be expected. In the meantime, Harry would go over the files of all the casualties from the attack, both SWAT and White Masks. And once he was done with that, he still had to read the reports he requested about specialists Thorn and Evans. Work never ended in Rainbow.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

He was being observed; he was sure of that.

After literally bumping into Damien while leaving Glaz’s apartment, Kapkan had to fight his impulse to stay around and eavesdrop on their conversation. However, the lack of places to hide made him reconsider that idea, not to mention how angry and anxious Glaz would be if Damien discovered him loitering around. So Kapkan quickened his pace, went outside to the street, and lost himself in the crowd while he walked back to his own apartment.

For a while, it was just him and his thoughts. He couldn’t stop thinking about Glaz and how miserable and tired the sniper looked. Kapkan had almost felt guilty to wake him up, it hadn’t even been intentional. Although, for a few seconds after being roused, Glaz seemed happy until he realised their position and what Kapkan had been doing with his hair. Then it turned awkward. He was also adamantly not thinking about the strange tension he felt when he helped Glaz clean the paint from his hands, or that later he had been staring at his lips. There was no good answer for why he’d done that, and Kapkan had the impression the less he thought about it, the better it would be for his own sanity.

It was then, ten minutes away from his apartment, that he noticed the prickling feeling on the back of his neck again. He felt the same when he was in the wilds and another predator followed him or his prey, that strange sensation of being stalked. It was unnerving to know you were being followed, but Kapkan kept his bearings and continued acting as calm as before.

At least he could rule out Damien as his stalker; unless he could be in two places at once, Damien was with Glaz right now. Which meant someone else was also interested in Kapkan’s whereabouts. That didn’t bode well; he was attracting the attention of too many people when he was supposed to stay in the shadows, unseen. Perhaps he’d been contacting with Glaz too much, but how could he stay away from the sniper when he clearly needed the support? It might have been a selfish decision, but last night he truly felt the need to check on Glaz and make sure he was alright. And despite everything, it seemed like Glaz also appreciated his presence, so Kapkan couldn’t bring himself to regret climbing up the building to see him.

Slowing down, he went to cross to the other side of the street, discreetly looking at both sides of the road and taking a quick peek at the people down the street. He saw the expected throngs of people walking around, minding their own business and not sparing a second glance to him. Yet there was also a vaguely familiar face in the crowd. A woman, talking on the phone. Kapkan was sure he’d seen her before. It could be the same woman that had seen him talking with Glaz days ago, the one the sniper said that was part of the terrorist cell. However, Kapkan hadn’t seen her well enough to know for sure, it had only been a fleeting glimpse.

He remained calm all the time since it was crucial he didn’t give his hypothetical stalker any motives to suspect he wasn’t just an ordinary citizen. They shouldn’t have seen him ever in the first place, since Kapkan’s orders were just to observe, but it wasn’t surprising he fucked up. Neither he nor Glaz had previous experience training as undercover ops. And Kapkan only had been picked for this operation because they showed to work well together during Operation Chimera.  Kapkan never thought he would say this, but he missed the simplicity of their mission in Truth or Consequences. In that regard, it had been much easier than their current situation.

Remaining remarkably calm, he kept walking and resisted the urge to turn his head around and see if that woman was still following him. Damn, knowing you were the potential prey of a terrorist cell was so more nerve-wracking than facing off against a feral wolf or a bear, that was for sure.

_

His day was extremely unproductive. Typing the report took half of his day, scraping and rewriting it since he wasn’t sure how to address everything he had to say. For every line he wrote, he spent five minutes contemplating how to continue. He included what little information Glaz had given him about the other day’s attack, and how it affected the sniper. This was the part he struggled the most with. First, it sounded too emotional, not professional enough. Then on the second rewriting it was too vague and impersonal, as if he hadn’t been doing his job properly and didn’t care about the mission. Kapkan was tempted to throw the laptop on the floor. It wouldn’t actually help with the report, but it might ease some of his frustration. He hated paperwork.

Once he deemed the report was decent enough to send, Kapkan suddenly found himself with nothing to do. In less than ten minutes, he was back to being bored. In any other situation, he would drive to the nearest forest and go hunting, it was the perfect way to work out his frustrations and distract himself from anything that wasn’t the stakes of the hunt. However, he had no hunting gear or suitable weapons for that. Not to mention he was supposed to stay out of sight.

The apartment felt small and confining, and the more Kapkan paced around it, the smaller it seemed to become. No matter what he tried, nothing held his attention for long. Reading was a lost cause after ten minutes; he couldn’t concentrate on it, his thoughts scattered like dust in the wind. The laptop was strictly for work; he didn’t dare try browsing anything risky on it. Cleaning kept his mind focused for a short time, until the apartment was spotless and he had nothing else to do. Again.

Turning on the television, he came upon a news report of the local terror attack, and then he was thinking about Glaz once more. Damn it, why was his mind always looping back to the same thing? He switched channels, pressing the button on the remote viciously, and settled for some mind-numbing documentary about fishing. It was boring as all hell, and the people in it had no idea how to fish efficiently, but better than any alternative so far.

Night came, and with it the seemingly endless hours during which he attempted to sleep but failed. He checked his phone and saw it was only midnight. Ugh, the minutes were crawling unbearably slow, he thought it was much later. He turned to the side and tried to relax and think about something nice, like his last hunting trip in the Russian wilderness. That had been truly relaxing, just him and nature for days. A bit lonely, but Kapkan was used to it. Although he promised Glaz he would bring him to the next hunting trip, and they would have a competition to see who shot furthest. The sniper was good with weapons, but so was Kapkan and he’d been hunting nearly all his life. Oh damn, he was back again thinking of Glaz!

Huffing in anger at his inability to clear his mind and sleep, Kapkan turned to the other side. He could hear the water in the pipes, the faint noises of urban life outside despite the late hour. Traffic never stopped. He moved again, this time settling face up and looking at the ceiling. The paint was starting to peel off, but that wasn’t his problem. This wasn’t his real home, after all. Kapkan checked his phone again. One and a half in the morning. Deciding the problem was that it was too hot, he kicked the covers away. After a few minutes, he realised he couldn’t sleep without the weight of the covers over him.

An eternity passed and yet when he checked again, the phone said it was only nearly three in the morning. Accepting sleep wouldn’t come anytime soon, Kapkan thought about what to do. He could get up and be restless and bored out of the bed. Or he could tire himself out in hopes of falling asleep at last. It wasn’t an approach he favoured usually, but Kapkan was out of ideas and desperate. Lowering his sweatpants just enough to be able to touch himself, he closed his eyes and let his imagination help with the task at hand. Recalling any memories of his last sexual encounters, he tried to make it as quick as possible, but it wasn’t working. In all honesty, he didn’t have many memories to pick from, and didn’t find those especially arousing.

The best one was the one about that time he got drunk and hooked up with a guy, even if the morning after had been the most embarrassing moment of his life. However, thinking about it was much more satisfying than the other memories, so he decided just to let go and feel guilty later. Moving his hand faster, Kapkan tried to recall how the guy had looked on his knees. He couldn’t remember much, so his mind filled in the blanks freely as Kapkan got more into the fantasy, feeling pleasure build up alarmingly fast. Fuck, he was so close. Kapkan imagined he yanked the guy’s dark hair to look at his face, and to his horror, the guy in his fantasy looked exactly like Glaz, beard included. Glaz on his knees, servicing him with enthusiasm and looking up at him with those wonderful blue eyes.

Kapkan climaxed with a stifled groan, pleasure and shame washing over him. This had been a mistake, but he had to admit he felt somewhat more relaxed, at least physically. Mentally, the turmoil was worse than before. He cleaned himself almost mechanically, avoiding to think about what just happened, and went back to bed. Right. Maybe the best would be to pretend he never did that . Nobody would ever know, and he would do his best to forget it ever happened, yes. Kapkan turned to his side to stare at the wall and eventually dozed off.

He woke up a few hours later from a nightmare, when the sun was already shyly peeking on the horizon. He wasn’t a stranger to bad dreams, nothing he hadn’t dealt with before, but it had always been easier to feel at ease again when he wasn’t alone. Maybe he got too used to having his team around and had grown soft, but he missed their company. Ignoring the jolt of guilt he now felt when thinking about his friend, his thoughts went back to Glaz. Kapkan wondered how the sniper was doing, if he was sleeping peacefully or if he had turned to drinking himself into a stupor again. Kapkan sighed and turned in the bed. Last night hadn’t been the comfiest for him, but neither of them had any nightmares at least. His last thought before he fell asleep again, was about the softness of Glaz’s hair between his fingers.

He awoke again in the morning, the buzzing of his phone as unwelcome as the sun rays landing squarely on his eyes. Checking the hour, he noticed it was still early. Ugh, he slept for about five hours maximum. That should have been enough, but it wasn’t. There was also a message from Glaz, and then a sharp knock on the main door. Damn, he couldn’t deal with so many things at once right after waking up. Message first.

“Be there in 5. You better be awake.”

That had been sent six minutes ago. Trusting it was Glaz, Kapkan got up from bed and went directly to open the door, not bothering to take any of his weapons. His brain was still too fuzzy from sleep to be properly paranoid.

It was indeed Glaz, who had a lopsided grin on his face when he saw him. Oh right, Kapkan was wearing only sweatpants and his hair was a mess from sleeping. The sniper probably found his appearance amusing, but it was good to see him smile again. He let the sniper come inside.

“Couldn’t you come at a more decent hour?” Glaz’s smile was off, not as bright as Kapkan remembered, not as blinding. He still looked tired, almost as tired as he’d been yesterday.

“It’s almost nine fifteen, Maxim. I thought you always woke around eight, even in your days off.”

Not questioning how Glaz knew that, Kapkan just left him after muttering he would get dressed. He splashed water on his face and put on a shirt and shoes because he felt too exposed next to the completely dressed sniper. Who by the way still looked like a mobster, and it was worrying how well he was rocking that image. He found Glaz in the kitchen,  preparing something to eat and looking so at ease that it seemed like they were living together.

“I’m making grenki ,” Glaz informed him while dipping the bread slices into the egg and sugar mixture. “There wasn’t much else I could do with what you had.”

“So you woke me up just to complain about the lack of food in my fridge?”

“I owed you a breakfast, didn’t I? And a… debrief.” Glaz’s voice got quieter towards the end, barely above a whisper.

“Food first,” Kapkan declared, earning a chuckle from Glaz. “I’ll make coffee. Or do you prefer tea?”

Glaz had already started to fry the bread and was not paying much attention to him. “Hmm? Oh, whatever you want!”

Coffee it was then, Kapkan needed the caffeine to chase away the fog in his brain. In the meantime, he watched Glaz cook, efficient and graceful as always, even if he was handling only a spatula instead of his rifle. Five minutes later, they were sitting at the table like civilised people, enjoying a delicious breakfast.

The conversation, on the other hand, wasn’t so pleasant. Glaz remained composed and calm through all of it, but Kapkan could tell he was still highly upset by everything that happened. Remaining idle in the middle of that senseless attack would have been bad enough for him, but killing a SWAT member and even thinking for a moment he killed one of their Rainbow teammates? No wonder Glaz had got roaring drunk, Kapkan would have done the same, probably. Not to mention the strange artifacts Shrike had collected. The ring that protected the wearer from bullets was bad news, and yet it paled in comparison to the orb. An object that allowed them to control people at will was downright terrifying. Knowing Abstergo, and by extension the White Masks, had access to such power, how could they ever trust again that everyone they fought was truly a terrorist and not a brainwashed innocent? Hopefully, there were no other orbs like that, but one was still enough to create countless trouble.

A tense silence fell over them, Kapkan unsure of whether he should say anything. He wouldn’t know what to tell him either, and his fleeting knowledge of psychology was grossly inadequate to help him in this particular case. The silence stretched, and in the end, Kapkan settled for picking up the dishes and bringing them to the sink, just to do something. He always hated feeling useless.

“Thank you.” Glaz had followed him and was leaning against the doorway, blocking it.

“What for?” Kapkan walked towards him, waiting for Glaz to move, but he didn’t budge.

“Being there,” the sniper replied, and despite how sincere he sounded Kapkan huffed in disbelief. He did nothing at all. “I’m serious, Maxim. I would have gone crazy without a friendly face around. Without you.”

He had no idea how to react, so he just stood in place, looking at Glaz. The sniper took one step forward, getting closer to him. Kapkan could see the dark bags under Glaz’s startling blue eyes and almost reached out to grab his shoulder and ask him how much he slept. Bad choice of words on his part, since it reminded Kapkan of what he had done instead of sleeping. Fuck, why couldn't he just forget about it. He licked his lips before opening his mouth to say something, anything , to break the weird tension that settled over them.

“I think one of your new friends is following all my movements,” he blurted out. Glaz immediately looked worried.

“Have you seen them? Who is following you?”

“How the fuck would I know? I’ve only met Damien!”

Glaz cursed in Russian, then walked back to the table, sat on a chair and sighed. “Damien was asking a lot of questions yesterday, more than usual I mean, all about our fake relationship thing. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

“Do they suspect you?” Kapkan sat back as well, suddenly suspecting they should have had something stronger than coffee for this conversation.

“Maybe, I don’t know. They definitely suspect you, if they are observing and following you.” No shit, Sherlock. If it were up to Kapkan, he would set and ambush for them and discreetly eliminate the problem, but on the long term that would only make the rest of the cell more suspicious about him. Glaz coughed to get his attention. “We should spend the day together.”

“Why?” Not that Kapkan didn’t enjoy having company for once, but he was under the impression their problem was that they had been spending too much time together already.

Glaz looked at him with exasperation. “Because couples are supposed to spend time together and do, I don’t know, couple-y stuff!"

Kapkan grimaced, wanting to avoid all mentions and ideas about him and Glaz together in such a way. Liar , his brain reminded him. Kapkan resolutely ignored those insidious whispers. Unfortunately, it was a rather unavoidable issue in their current situation. If the sniper noticed his expression of distaste and panic, he didn’t point it out. He probably hated this as much as Kapkan.

“Okay, that makes sense I guess… I’ve never been in a relationship with a guy, what do we do?”

They looked at each other, both desperately trying to not point the obvious. Couples had sex, but that was out of the question. Kapkan ruthlessly squashed a wince when his mind flashed once more a reminder of his mistake from last night. Eventually, Glaz saved them from the growing awkwardness. “Going out somewhere? Cuddling on the couch and watching a movie? Sleeping together? In the same bed, I mean!”

“Going out sounds fine. I need to go buy food since someone used everything I had to make breakfast.”

Amusement flashed on the sniper’s face, making him look less tired than a second ago. “Grocery shopping doesn’t count as a date, you know?”

A date. Alright, they could do that later, perhaps. In the meantime, grocery shopping was a start; he really needed to fill the fridge. And spending time with his friend wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

_

As soon as they stepped out in the street, the feeling of being observed came back with a vengeance. Kapkan wondered if Glaz felt it too. Judging by how tense he looked, he did. Thank goodness it was a short walk to the store, although that kind of defeated the purpose of letting themselves be seen together. He nearly jumped in surprise when Glaz put his arm around the hunter’s waist, holding him close.

“What the hell?” Kapkan leant against the sniper to hiss on his ear.

“See that woman over there, talking to the jogger? That’s Gia. And I think the jogger is Jacob. Or Klaus, I’m not sure. They look similar.” So there was more than one white mask stalking him, wonderful. “Remember to call me Ruslan or Idri when we’re in public.”

True, he couldn’t slip up and call him Timur. However, there was no way calling him either of those options would sound natural, or that Kapkan wouldn’t need to stop for a second before remembering those names.

“I think I’ll just call you babe.”

“Alright, pumpkin,” Glaz replied in a fake sweet voice. Kapkan immediately hated it and vowed to get back at him later.

Thankfully they were already in front of the store, so their war of silly pet names didn’t have time to snowball out of control. Once inside, they efficiently worked together to pick everything needed in record time. The cashier didn’t spare a second glance to them, and yet Kapkan was still nervous the whole time. Being in public and pretending to be in a relationship with another man was nerve-wracking. He had the feeling that, at any moment, one of their higher up from the Spetsnaz would jump from behind a corner and demote them for moral indecency. A stupid notion in more than one sense, and Kapkan blamed it on the lack of decent sleep and knowing they were under surveillance.

The walk back to the apartment was somewhat calmer, each of them carrying a bag and holding hands because Gia was still on the same spot, now talking on the phone or pretending to. And the jogger was a bit further away, doing stretching exercises. Glaz masterfully pretended not to notice either of them, instead suddenly explaining to Kapkan the difference between painting techniques.

Holding hands with Glaz talking about canvas quality and different types of paints had been torture. He hadn’t been able to concentrate much on the, thankfully one-sided, conversation, and instead, all his senses had been focused on how strange it was to have Glaz’s fingers intertwined with his. It left Kapkan feeling strangely hot all over and with his stomach in knots. He hated that feeling. And yet he’d been lowkey disappointed when they reached the apartment and Glaz let go of his hand. He was putting away the groceries when a stray thought made him pause.

“Do you think they can see what we do inside the apartment?”

“I very much doubt there’s any hidden camera, but there are a lot of windows and we’re surrounded by other buildings,” Glaz pointed out.

Right, someone could be observing them from anywhere. This was a shitty situation. The idea of someone spying on him while he was home was even worse than knowing he was being followed everywhere he went.

“I suppose closing all the blinds would be suspicious, yes?” Kapkan half-heartedly joked. It didn’t make Glaz smile, so he counted it as a failed attempt at humour. “What’s next on the list of mushy stuff to do?”

“I hope you don’t approach your normal relationships like it’s a checklist too,” Glaz teased him.

“Yes, but it is a checklist in this case.”

“I’m just saying we have to make it believable, okay? So next time we go out, try not to glare at me when I hold your hand.”

“Fine, babe.” Glaz flipped him off for saying that, but at least didn’t call him pumpkin again. Kapkan detested that one. “No, really, what’s next?”

The sniper shrugged, looking lost and tired. “Movie and cuddling?”

That one didn’t sound too bad. They only had to sit close together and that was it, right? He could manage that. They chose an old movie, The Hunt for Red October, and hoped it was decent enough.  The truth was, Glaz’s presence was too distracting to pay much attention to the movie. Kapkan had his head on the sniper’s shoulder, who in turn put his arm around Kapkan. It was surprisingly comfortable; it would even be nice if they weren’t so tense.

“This is bullshit,” he complained aloud.

“The movie isn’t so bad.”

“Not the movie, idiot. This . Do you think they’re watching us right now? Should we act more lovey-dovey?” Kapkan scrunched his face in distaste. He never liked much any public displays of affection, and performing fake ones for an invisible audience would be even worse.

“Relax, making out is not on the checklist yet.” Glaz rubbed his arm as he spoke, as if he was trying to calm a spooked animal. Despite the sniper’s solemn tone of voice, Kapkan saw the corners of his mouth quirking up.

“Look who’s sticking to the checklist now! Where has the romance gone,” he tsked, shaking his head in mock despair as much as he could in his current position.

“Please, you’re as romantic as a brick wall.”

“I’m wounded! That’s no way to talk to your boyfriend.”

This was easier, throwing quips back and forth. It was comfortingly familiar, even if Glaz’s hand was still rubbing his arm, and Kapkan’s head was still on the sniper’s shoulder. Maybe the situation wasn’t as terrible as Kapkan thought. He could get used to this.

_ _ _

Present day - Hereford

 

Sitting in the kitchen, alone, Thatcher was doing his best to drown his sorrows. He knew it wasn’t the healthiest of habits, and something he only resorted to when he was feeling hopeless. Like after his divorce. Although to be honest, Thatcher didn’t truly drink to forget. He drank to smother his anger: slowly and with a permanent scowl on his face, pondering about his problems and how to solve them.

In this case, he had no idea what to do. He thought he was done with the Brotherhood and its secrets, but he had been wrong. All those years, and he still had been tied to it, despite his best efforts. Thatcher wouldn’t deny the Brotherhood’s aims were good, but he wasn’t sure they were worth his parents’ lives and his marriage. Hell, even his relationship with his own daughter had been strangled by the secrets he kept for the Brotherhood. Serving Queen and country was a heavy enough task on its own, and he never regretted walking away from his fellow assassins. In fact, judging by certain things he’d heard, leaving probably saved his and his family’s life.

A shadow fell by his side, blocking the light. So far, Thatcher’s scowl had kept everyone away, just as he wanted. Until he entered the kitchen with his haughty stare and a grimace of distaste upon seeing him. Damn, just looking at Lion Thatcher remembered why punching his face had seemed like such a great idea.

“Do you want one?” Thatcher raised his beer bottle, looking at Lion and rejoicing in his blink of confusion. The bastard probably didn’t expect that, did he?

“I don’t drink. Not anymore.”

“Good for you.” Thatcher nodded, he could respect that. Lion stared at him like he had grown a second head, suddenly looking unsure. Thatcher wouldn’t blame him, it was the first time they talked so civilly to each other for so long. “How does it feel knowing you’re working for the enemy?”

“My father’s enemy, not mine,” Lion said, voice colder than ice.

“It’s a relief knowing both sides make up for lousy fathers apparently,” Thatcher chuckled humourless before taking a sip of his beer.

The fact that Lion didn’t jump to argue that point only proved that his suspicion was right; Lion’s relationship with his family was strained. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be taking so calmly the news about Rainbow being in league with the Brotherhood. Or however that worked.

“It’s a relief knowing both sides hide information and lie,” Lion shot back.

Thatcher’s bark of laughter seemed to startle Lion, which only made him laugh harder. “Well, you’re not wrong there. I walked away for a reason, you see. And now it turns out they never truly let me go, that my choice didn’t matter. You would think the Brotherhood would respect free will more than that.”

“How much free will do we really have in this line of work?” Lion’s question was surprisingly on point, but going down that path would only give Thatcher a headache.

“I haven’t drunk enough to get into that kind of questions. Too philosophical.” He was almost convinced Lion would say some religious rubbish, the bloody catholic, but he kept quiet. Maybe he wasn’t as insufferable as Thatcher initially thought. At least not all the time. He still preferred to drink alone, though. “Did you actually want something or just came here to chat?”

“Yes. The transport will arrive earlier, we leave in an hour.” Lion delivered his message and left, lingering at the door for a second before going away.

Well, that had been odd. At least, now he knew it didn’t seem likely Lion would betray them. Probably. Thatcher hadn’t lived to his age in this line of work by blindly trusting people’s intentions and loyalties. He would keep an eye on Lion, that was for sure. Although if the Frenchman did something stupid, he could count that Sledge’s Italian friends would gladly back Thatcher over a possible Templar spy. Bloody hell, he was already thinking like an assassin.

He still hadn’t decided how he felt about working with the Brotherhood again, though. Thatcher finished his drink, contemplating his options. As long as he just went on operations as he’d been doing all this time, he supposed he was fine with it.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Having a proper date wasn’t the worst idea ever, but Kapkan would have preferred to stay home. Of course, that defeated the purpose of this whole charade, which was to be seen acting as a proper couple with Glaz, and hopefully that would make the White Masks following him back down. So here they were, strolling downtown while holding hands and deciding on a restaurant.

“I’m not eating at a greasy burger joint,” Glaz scrunched up his nose at the idea.”Americans don't know how to properly cook meat.”

Thermite would call them Soviet heathens and argue that American burgers were the best thing ever, but Kapkan was inclined to agree with Glaz. Not to mention real couples probably would choose another option when going on a date.

“Italian?” Kapkan suggested, pointing with his head at a small place down the street.

Grinning at his suggestion, Glaz happily dragged him to the restaurant.  It looked cozy but not overly romantic, which was a bonus because Kapkan would prefer to pretend that this was just a normal outing between friends. A smiling waitress led them to a secluded table and took their order, all the while batting her eyelashes at Glaz whenever he looked at her. She even bent down seductively when serving their plates, exposing as much of her cleavage as the uniform would allow. When Glaz thanked her, Kapkan almost expected her to faint, but she only blushed deep red before going to take someone else’s order.

“Looks like you have an admirer,” he smirked as he dug into his lasagna. “With a little luck you could even turn this into a proper date.”

“Don’t worry, darling. I only have eyes for you.”

Glaz’s words were spoken softly, accompanied by the sniper grabbing his hand over the table, and it looked so earnest and real that Kapkan choked on his food. He took a gulp of his drink, the dry wine grounding him back to reality. If Glaz wanted to play, he would play. Taking a portion of his lasagna, he raised the fork up to the sniper.

“You have to taste this, babe.”

After a second of hesitation, Glaz accepted the forkful of food. His face went slightly pink as his lips wrapped around the metal and Kapkan considered he might have made a terrible mistake, it felt too suggestive. For the rest of the meal they abstained from teasing each other in such manner, and instead just talked about their friends and family, studiously avoiding to mention any names or topics related to their true jobs or their current mission. They couldn’t be sure there wasn’t someone spying on them.

All things considered, it turned out to be a pleasant dinner. Glaz insisted on paying for both, and no amount of arguing could convince him otherwise. Kapkan decided that next time he would pay then, and didn’t truly realise how he was already anticipating the next date. They slowly walked back to the apartment, and it was surprising how holding hands was becoming increasingly easier and second nature for them. This time Kapkan didn’t bat an eye when Glaz’s hand found his, interlacing their fingers before he could even process what he had done.

It was peaceful, or at least as peaceful as a night in this city could be. Despite being almost sure they weren’t being followed at the moment, neither of them suggested to let go of each other’s hand. The illusion of normalcy was broken as soon as they arrived near Kapkan’s apartment, where he could swear it was as if the shadows were attentively watching them. Annoying, but not unexpected. Who knew, maybe after a time he would get used to knowing he had people stalking him at all times, although he hoped this operation would be over before that happened.

“I should head back home,” Glaz said, letting go of Kapkan’s hand. Something eerily similar to disappointment took hold of Kapkan.

The sniper then surprised him by clasping a hand on his shoulder and claiming his lips. The kiss lasted just a few seconds, but it was enough to make Kapkan forget how to breathe. Reminding himself it was a fake kiss for the sake of their alibi -no matter how real it seemed- Kapkan schooled his face into a calm mask and said what he’d been thinking about for the last few minutes.

“Normal couples would have sex after a date like this, right?” Kapkan whispered, mindful of who might be listening, then continued in a louder voice. “I think you should spend the night here.”

It was astounding to see how Glaz went from looking confident to surprised and flustered. Kapkan was in awe of how well he acted, it all looked so believable. Glaz was an artist in more than one sense apparently; he had a natural talent for acting. Eventually, he nodded in agreement and put his arm around Kapkan’s waist, telling him to lead the way. Even if the odds of someone watching them while they went up the stairs was astronomically low, they didn’t let go of each other until they went inside the apartment.

It wouldn’t be the first time they shared sleeping space, and the bed was big enough for them so that they wouldn't unintentionally touch each other while sleeping. They got changed and ready to sleep, all the while ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. It wasn’t until they were in bed already, with the lights off, that Glaz broke the dense silence.

“Shouldn’t we… simulate the sex somehow?”

The universe was mocking him, there was no other explanation. Not after his terrible mistake last night. Kapkan closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten, to make sure his voice wouldn’t be uneven when he spoke.

“Do you want to roll around in the bed or what?” His curt answer made Glaz laugh, and yes, okay, he had to admit it was a funny thing to imagine.

“I was thinking of more subtle details.” Glaz paused, and when Kapkan didn’t answer in any way, he continued. “Like bite marks or hickeys, you know?”

Shit, that would be so awkward, but at least it would be over soon. Not the worst idea, and Kapkan was sure he could do that, especially with the lights out as they were right now. He felt better knowing they wouldn’t be able to see each other’s faces much in the dim moonlight.

“Okay, come here,” he sighed in defeat, wanting to get done with it as quickly as possible,

Glaz scooted closer to him, their legs colliding under the bedsheets, and focusing on something else was difficult. They were almost tangled together now, and it only got worse when he dragged Glaz even closer to access his neck. Kapkan started sucking and nipping at the skin, intent on leaving a bruise right on the sniper’s collarbone. He got really into it, only stopping when he heard Glaz groan in what he assumed was discomfort.

“I didn’t know you were a vampire,” Glaz joked, his breath tickling Kapkan’s skin.

Before he could reply, the sniper attacked his neck. Kapkan hadn’t counted on that, but it made tactical sense to leave marks on each other, it made the whole charade more believable. Glaz was more gentle than he had been, sucking softly on his neck, but higher than what any shirt would cover. The beard tickled against his neck, but it wasn’t too unpleasant, just a constant reminder of who was doing this to him. Glaz’s arms tightened over the hunter and then he bit him hard. Kapkan let out a gasp, a needy sound he never imagined himself capable of uttering, and his whole body seemed to thrum with lust. Utterly mortifying.

“Are you okay? Did I hurt you?” Glaz immediately stopped, thumb rubbing soothingly over the bite. That did the opposite of calming him.

“Just surprised you bit me like a rabid animal,” Kapkan answered while pushing him away. He needed to get some space between them before he landed himself in an even more awkward situation. “But this will leave a mark for sure. Good night.”

Kapkan turned his back on Glaz, closing his eyes and willing his own body to stop betraying him like this. The sniper sighed and turned to the other side, thankfully leaving Kapkan be. It looked like another sleepless night awaited him, there was no way he would be able to fall asleep in this state. He cursed the day he agreed to a fake relationship as a cover. His life had been much easier when he was sure he considered Glaz just one of his friends; now he wasn’t so sure anymore of what his feelings were.

Chapter Text

 Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Glaz awoke with the pleasant sensation of feeling well rested for once, a bone-deep mix of satisfaction and relaxation that he hadn’t felt since he set foot in the States. He was vaguely aware that his head was resting against someone’s arm, while he was hugging the person below him. Kapkan, yes, the hunter was the one acting as Glaz’s personal pillow, an arm around him and fingers lightly caressing Glaz’s back. Drowsily, he tightened his hold on the man below him. It was a lovely way to wake up; he wouldn’t have trouble getting used to it. However, as soon as his actions gave away that he was awake, Kapkan tensed up. Then something collided harshly against the sniper’s shin.

“Ow, don’t kick!” Glaz whined.

“You are so clingy,” Kapkan tried to push him away with little success. Glaz really didn’t feel like moving. “Couldn’t turn without having you plastered against my back or putting me in a chokehold.”

Convinced that Kapkan was vastly exaggerating, Glaz rolled away from the hunter with a sigh of regret. “It’s called cuddling; it won’t kill you.”

“I’m not so sure,” Kapkan muttered, getting out of bed and out of Glaz’s sight. 

Such a shame, he wouldn’t have minded lazing in bed a few more minutes. In fact, Glaz had slept so peacefully that he was tempted to find an excuse to do this more often. Moments later, he heard the water running in the bathroom, and his mind helpfully supplied images of how Kapkan would look showering, glimpses he had caught in the open bay showers at the base. He better stop that now, before he got himself in an awkward situation. Besides, it was obvious Kapkan had been uncomfortable waking up with Glaz wrapped over him, indulging in silly fantasies would get him nowhere. 

He waited in bed until Kapkan got out of the shower, and allowed himself a moment of weakness when the hunter came into the room still dripping water and with a towel wrapped around his waist. When Kapkan stared at him, eyebrow quirked in a silent answer, Glaz nearly vaulted out of the bed and ran into the shower. 

Right, a cold shower would help him clear his mind. And it would be good to start the day feeling refreshed. It was the least he could do, since he would have to wear yesterday’s clothes. It took him a grand total of five minutes to shower and get dressed, and when he came out of the room, he found Kapkan sitting at the table and reading something on his laptop.

“Any news from Six or the team?” Glaz asked, missing all of his dear friends and teammates from Rainbow. He hoped he could see them all soon.

“Six answered a few of my questions,” Kapkan said, looking up at Glaz. “Have you heard before about the ‘Pieces of Eden’?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Glaz’s mind was working at maximum speed suddenly, going over every time his mother had mentioned something about the Pieces of Eden. He always thought that was just a fanciful story, part of the Brotherhood’s mythology; not real. The concept of objects that could manipulate humanity like that was ludicrous. And horrifying. “The sphere. Shirke has a Piece of Eden?!”

“Two, according to this. A ring and… an Apple?” Kapkan frowned, reading more of the message. “What the fuck is this all about? What are these Pieces?”

Right, from what the hunter had told him, his uncle seemed more preoccupied teaching Kapkan practical skills than the history of the Brotherhood. Still, Glaz had no idea how to explain something he didn’t understand that well either. 

“From what I remember, some sort of mythical objects that can control people, mostly.”

No wonder both the Templars and the Assassins were always fighting over those. In truth, Glaz would feel better if the Pieces were destroyed. However, between having Abstergo freely giving them out to the White Masks, or having them locked away as the Brotherhood supposedly did, he would opt for the second option any day.

“This mission gets shittier by the day,” Kapkan closed the laptop, glaring at it as if it was the source of all his troubles. “How many of those things are there?”

Glaz grimaced, looking at Kapkan with an apologetic little shrug. He didn’t know the exact number, but remembering his mother’s stories, he could tell there were a lot more he would like to acknowledge. Kapkan interpreted Glaz’s gesture correctly and buried his face in his hands while groaning.

“Great, just great.” A gloomy silence filled the room, until Kapkan asked, “Do you think we should spend the day together too? You know, for the cover...”

A wild change of direction in their conversation, but anything was better than thinking about the huge problem they couldn’t control. 

“Maybe,” Glaz tempered his reaction, going for a tentative answer instead of jumping to say yes as he wanted to do. “At least for a few hours, I think.”

“Oh. Yes, that makes sense… like a date?” 

If Glaz didn’t know better, he would say Kapkan sounded almost hopeful. “Yeah.”

“Good, because I think our checklist was empty for today,” the hunter’s cheeky answer made Glaz chuckle. “Now, let me prepare breakfast for once. My pancakes are to die for.”

“They aren’t that bad,” Glaz snorted, already following Kapkan into the kitchen and colliding with him when Kapkan stopped in his track.

“Well, if you don’t appreciate my cooking, you can go now,” Kapkan said, clutching his chest in a mocking gesture. “Having all the pancakes for myself will heal my broken heart, don’t worry.”

They kept arguing lightheartedly about who was the better cook, Glaz helping Kapkan prepare everything and playfully flicking flour at him. Of course, Kapkan retaliated, and soon it escalated into a real fight. The hunter upped the ante by dipping his fingertip in the batter and trying to smudge Glaz’s face, but instead of smacking his hand away, Glaz licked it clean. Time seemed to slow down, both looking at each other with wide eyes as the sniper’s lips brushed over Kapkan’s finger. Glaz hadn’t intended for the gesture to be so suggestive, he had just acted without thinking, but he would gladly do it again if he could. This time, on purpose. 

Except Kapkan took a step back and chastised Glaz for distracting him from flipping the pancakes. Guided by a deeply selfish impulse, he wrapped his arms around the hunter, who nearly dropped the frying pan to the floor.

“What the fuck, Timur. Do you want me to drop this boiling oil over us?”  

“We have to act like a couple, remember? If I were with my partner, I’d hug them.” 

“While they cook?” Kapkan asked in disbelief. “You have a death wish, I swear.”

Despite his grumbling, Kapkan didn’t ask Glaz to step away from him. The sniper closed his eyes, taking in the smell of Kapkan’s soap and how nicely his body fit between his arms, and allowed himself to pretend for a few seconds that this was all true, instead of an elaborate lie. It just felt so right, and having to pretend he didn’t feel like that for real was slowly killing him inside.

_ _ _

Present day - Rome

 

Waiting under the midday sun hadn’t been their brightest idea. However, it was worth pointing out there wasn’t any shade either, and their options were to wait by the helipad or go back inside the tiny building. The lone guard posted at the entry of this old military airport had looked at them with more apathy than curiosity, barely checking their credentials before letting them in. So now it was just the three of them here, waiting.

“I can’t believe I will finally meet Baker!” 

Sledge bore Maestro’s enthusiasm with patience, refraining himself from pointing out this was the fourth time he had said so. Besides, seeing the usually confident -bordering on cocky- man nervous like a teen about to meet their pop idol was strangely endearing. Alibi rolled her eyes and leaned against the wall; Sledge couldn’t tell if she was bored or just fed up of hearing Maestro broadcast his excitement every five minutes.

“I have never seen you so giddy before,” Sledge pointed out. 

It wasn’t the first time Thatcher had come up in conversation between them, Sledge often talked about his teammates. And he was sure they must have met at least in passing during the SAS operation in Iraq, when Sledge first met the insufferably charming Italian man.

“It’s not the same, cuore ,” Maestro waved his hand dismissively. “That was ‘barely knowing each other’ excited. But this is, ‘I’m going to work next to him for real, with a living legend of the Brotherhood’ excited!”

Sledge could swear his brain made a record scratch sound before processing again that last sentence to make sure he didn’t imagine that.  “Sorry, what?”

“He hasn’t told you about his missions for the Brotherhood? That’s a crime, a crime, I tell you,” Maestro looked surprised, and Sledge was about to point out he just discovered this whole Assassins versus Templars business when Six debriefed him a few days ago, but then Maestro kept talking, back to his bubbly excitement from moments ago. “And it’s said he wields the knife as well as Ezio himself! Seamus, what-”

“It’s here,” Alibi interrupted him, looking up at the sky.

It was impressive how Six had arranged everything so quickly, and Sledge couldn’t help but wonder how many strings she had to pull, all for an unofficial operation that Six herself didn’t know the complete details yet. She truly wanted Maestro and Alibi in Rainbow, more than Sledge had imagined; or concurred with her fellow Assassins in their assessment of the situation. 

The aircraft landed, and a disgruntled Thatcher hopped down, rucksack slung over his shoulder and shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. “I’m impressed you haven’t got your head sunburnt yet.”

Typical of Thatcher, not even two minutes in one place and he had already found something to complain about, even if he did so indirectly. Someone else jumped down after Thatcher, and it surprised Sledge to see it was none other than Lion. That was definitely unexpected, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was some sort of test or punishment for them, or if Six had a strange sense of humour. Although, he would admit Lion’s drone would be useful during their assault on the villa.

“Right, Mike this is…”

"Piacere di conoscerti!” Amazing how meeting Thatcher could make Maestro forget he spoke perfect English. If Sledge was honest, he had to admit Maestro’s enthusiasm only added to his natural charm.

The Italian laughed at his own mistake, clasped Thatcher’s hand and introduced himself, this time in English. Then he babbled something in Italian again before telling Thatcher he was honoured to be working with him, all that while talking at the speed of light and still shaking the Brit’s hand. Thatcher looked like a hurricane had hit him, and Sledge let him fend off Maestro’s rapid-fire chatter on his own. He couldn’t deny he was having fun seeing them interact. 

Meanwhile, Alibi had gone to greet Lion, both of them the pure image of professionalism. Sledge hoped they would get along, it would be nice to have people who liked him, and Alibi’s cool head could help temper Lion’s impulsiveness. He was also relieved to find there was no lingering animosity between Lion and Thatcher, at least not that he could see. That was good, perhaps their little group would work well together after all.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

After spending all afternoon painting, Glaz was currently scrubbing himself clean, trimming his beard and generally making sure he wouldn’t look like a paint-stained hobo for the date. Then he chose a shirt to combine with his favourite pinstripe trousers. He accidentally ended up selecting a button-up shirt that went well with his eyes. That was actually a good choice. Even if it was just a fake date, he wanted to look nice. Not only to make it believable but also because he wanted to impress Kapkan. Sometimes he was sure the hunter was also interested in him, and other times Glaz thought he was just deluding himself, but in any case, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

The knock on his door came at 7 p.m. sharp, because Kapkan was nothing but fastidious about always being on time. Glaz went to open the door, and the hunter stared at him. He gave Glaz a once-over, blinking slowly before his expression shifted minutely into alarm. 

Hoping he hadn’t overdressed for the occasion, Glaz just carried on as normal. “Ready?”

Kapkan gave a sharp nod and frowned at Glaz. “You look very nice.”

Amazing how Kapkan managed to make a compliment sound like he was accusing Glaz of doing something heinous. Honestly, Glaz had expected a brusque reaction like that, so instead of taking it as an attack, he focused on how Kapkan apparently liked how he was dressed. 

“Thanks, you too,” Glaz answered, hoping he wasn’t blushing. He hadn’t been this nervous about going on a date since he asked out his first crush back in high school. “Let’s go?”

Startled by his words, as if Glaz had cursed him instead of complimenting him back, Kapkan turned around and led the way downstairs. Glaz couldn’t help noticing how the hunter’s clothes weren’t as baggy as the usual ones he wore, especially the jeans, which clung to his backside in a really enticing way. He had made an effort to dress up nicely as well, within the possibilities of his hoodie dominated wardrobe.

On the street, Glaz put his arm around Kapkan’s waist as he did yesterday. And just like yesterday, Kapkan immediately tensed up. Although, this time he relaxed much faster, putting his arm around Glaz too. Unable to tamper down the bubbling gross amount of content he felt, Glaz leaned closer to Kapkan, clinging to him. 

To keep a semblance of normalcy, he asked, “Did someone follow you?”

“I’m not sure. Didn’t see anyone, but I felt observed.”

“It’s okay, pumpkin ,” Glaz told him with a teasing little smile. 

However, instead of prompting an eye roll or a sarcastic comment, Kapkan just turned his head to look away. Following his movement to see what had caught his attention, Glaz saw nothing of interest or suspicious. However, he noticed that Kapkan’s face was unusually flushed. What the hell was up with him? Glaz was about to ask him if he was okay, when Kapkan took a deep breath and clung tighter to him.

“Have you decided where you want to go?”

Not really, but Glaz had a couple of ideas. There was a nice place nearby, probably a bit too intimate for Kapkan’s taste, but the alternative was too fancy. They could also search for some other place, but Glaz felt like pushing his luck tonight. 

The cozy restaurant, with candles on every table, garnered a side glance from Kapkan, but no comment whatsoever. The waiter led them to their table and Kapkan surprised Glaz by pulling his chair for him, which he never imagined the hunter would do, ever. Although it lent credibility to their cover, made it seem more natural. After taking their orders, the waiter silently went away, and Glaz was relieved this time there was no awkward flirting.

“We’re getting rather good at this, don’t you think?” He grabbed Kapkan’s hand, giving a light squeeze when the hunter looked at him like he had gone mad. “I wonder if we could fool some of our friends, just to see their reactions. Or if one of us had to go to an ex’s wedding, that could be priceless too.”

Kapkan snorted, a small smile appearing on his face. “I’m not sure if our friends would buy this, but my family would have a heart attack if I went back with a trophy boyfriend clinging to my arm. My ex too. It would be a fine chaos for sure.”

“A trophy boyfriend?” They were looking directly at each other’s eyes, and Glaz was acutely aware that they were still holding hands over the table.

“Well, it’s a fact, babe . You are younger, handsome, and an artist. Probably only dating me for the money.”

That got a genuine laugh from Glaz, “What if you’re my muse? Since I’m an artist, I need a muse for my paintings.” 

Kapkan looked oddly at him and was about to reply with something when the waiter arrived with their food. That also meant their hand holding had come to an end, which was a damn shame, but Glaz supposed he should be grateful Kapkan tolerated it for so long. This time there was no playful gestures, although the hunter snagged a piece from his plate, grinning unrepentantly at him; but mostly they just ate slowly and talked, sharing old anecdotes from before they met.

When the desserts arrived, Glaz offered a spoonful of his ice cream to Kapkan. Revenge was indeed sweet and served cold. He enjoyed watching the hunter glaring at the spoon before looking straight into his eyes and aggressively taking the bite. There was something about Kapkan’s defiant attitude that sparked Glaz’s imagination in a frankly indecent fashion, and he nearly kissed him right then and there. Utter foolishness, Glaz knew it, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want it. He took a long sip from his wine, barely listening to whatever Kapkan was saying since he was too busy staring at the hunter’s mouth.

As soon as they stepped out of the restaurant, the familiar feeling of being observed settled over them. A mere glance between them was enough to confirm the other also felt it. Time to continue with the show then. Kapkan proposed to have a drink, and it was an idea as good as any other. However, they hadn’t walked for more than ten minutes when it started raining. At first, it was just some droplets, easy enough to ignore, so they continued as they were, just walking quicker. Then it started to rain harder, a veritable curtain of water coming down on them. They ran to take shelter in an empty bus stop, Kapkan reaching to hold Glaz’s hand and dragging him faster towards safety. The little plastic roof didn’t offer much cover, so they ended up pressed tightly together.

“How fucking persistent can they be?” Kapkan grumbled while looking at the other bus stop on the other side of the road. A lone figure sat on the small bench, hunched over and with a book covering their face. Definitely suspicious, especially taking into account that, aside from them, the street was completely deserted. 

“I take solace thinking how much of a miserable and boring job it must be for them,” Glaz whispered, turning slightly to the side to look at Kapkan. “Do you want to make him uncomfortable?” 

“If you put it like that…”

It was just slightly awkward looking expectantly at each other while being so close. Glaz moved slightly forward, testing Kapkan’s reaction. The hunter looked at something over Glaz’s shoulder, presumably their stalker on the other side of the road, and slowly brought his hand up to Glaz’s face. The initial brush of their lips was soft and gentle, hesitant. However, it slowly got less timid and more intense, the rest of the world fading from Glaz’s mind when Kapkan grabbed his beard to pull him closer. However, the rest of the world didn’t stop existing. A car passed by their side, splashing water on them and breaking the moment. Glaz started cursing a blue streak in Russian, and Kapkan laughed until he was doubled over, wheezing.

“You look like a drowned rat,” the hunter pointed out, still grinning like an idiot and looking utterly irresistible.

“Look who’s talking!” Glaz gestured at him, who was equally drenched. “Come, my apartment is just two streets away.”

Since they were already wet, they might as well go home under the rain than wait in this tiny bus stop. Kapkan half-heartedly protested the idea, saying he should head back to his own apartment; but he quickly accepted once Glaz pointed out his apartment was closer, and he had vodka , so they could have a drink after all. Neither of them remembered to check if the mysterious figure on the other side of the road was following them or not.

By the time they arrived at the flat, Glaz was sure even his socks were drenched. He went in search of towels, chucking his shirt into the laundry basket before drying himself. The shoes went off and the socks too, so Glaz emerged from the bathroom shirtless and barefoot, a towel hanging around his neck and another on his hand. Kapkan was in the living room, sitting in the couch and opening the vodka bottle. Obviously he’d been rummaging around the kitchen until he found it.

“Nothing like this to get warmed up,” Kapkan said without looking at Glaz, pouring two glass shots and drinking his immediately. 

“Catch!” Despite Glaz’s warning as he threw the spare towel at him, Kapkan did not react on time and it hit him square in the face. When he turned around, presumably to bitch about his timing, he instead stared at Glaz, eyes going dark with what the sniper hoped it was interest. 

With his mouth suddenly dry, Glaz sat on the couch and drank his shot of vodka instead, letting Kapkan get out of his wet clothes as he had already done. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen the hunter shirtless, but it wasn't the same as when they were changing in the locker room for a training match. This time, Glaz allowed himself to greedily take in all the details: his thick and muscled chest, the trail of dark hair going down his abs and disappearing beneath his trousers, and a scar on the side. Fuck, this image of Kapkan half-naked would haunt his nights for months. He suspected that no matter how much he tried painting it, he would never capture this moment in all its glory, but he still wanted to try.

Throwing the towel over the back of a nearby chair, Kapkan sat on the couch too, refilling their glasses. They drank in silence, avoiding to look at each other. Nevertheless, two vodka shots later, they had shuffled closer to each other, Kapkan playing with the small glass and looking pensive. Unable to repress his curiosity any longer, and emboldened by the alcohol, Glaz pointed at Kapkan’s scar, close enough to touch it but without doing so.

“Where did you get that one? Hunting trip?”

Kapkan stretched on the couch, showing off the scar in all its glory, a thin and jagged line that started near the belt and curved up towards his belly. “This? It’s from that solo mission in Hannover. A masked bastard got too close and tried to gut me like a fish.”

Wincing in sympathy, Glaz traced the scar with his fingertips, a ghostly caress that made Kapkan shiver. He repeated the same motion again, this time pressing more firmly against the skin, loving the way Kapkan’s body responded to his touch.

“Timur…”

Glaz slowly took his gaze away from the expanse of naked skin to look at Kapkan in the eye, his hand still on the hunter’s waist. He wasn’t sure who moved first, he only knew that suddenly they were kissing as if their lives depended on it. It was the best feeling in the world, Kapkan’s hands cupping his face, tongue against tongue, urgent and feverish. Their kisses tasted like the vodka they were drinking moments ago, and Glaz had the fleeting thought they maybe shouldn’t be doing this. Such an idea quickly evaporated from his mind when Kapkan bit his lower lip, sighing prettily when Glaz bit back. 

He pulled the hunter up onto his lap, having the urge to be even closer than they were, and ran his hands down the curve of his back. Glaz’s hand grabbed Kapkan’s ass, kneading the flesh as he had longed to do since he saw him in these jeans. The reaction he got from Kapkan was amazing, the hunter pressing down on his lap and grinding his hips into the sniper. It made Glaz’s head spin, feeling Kapkan move desperately against him while their breathing mixed in the little space that was between them. The hunter let out a shaky sigh, tangling his fingers in Glaz’s hair and kissing him deeply. This was better than whatever dream Glaz might have had, but he still craved more.

“Do you want me to help you with this?” Glaz asked while his hand palmed his partner’s crotch, feeling the hardness beneath the denim.

Kapkan growled low in his throat, like a wild animal, before getting up and dragging Glaz with him to the bedroom. He would take that as a yes. They undressed each other, Glaz fumbling with the button of Kapkan’s jeans, while he savagely yanked the sniper’s belt out of the way. As soon as they were naked, Kapkan pushed him onto the bed and sat on his thighs. However, despite his bold actions up until now, Kapkan hesitated. Perhaps he was having second thoughts, or perhaps he had never before been in this situation with another man, Glaz didn’t know. What he knew was that he wanted to help Kapkan relax.

“Shh, let me take care of this,” Glaz sat up on the bed, kissing Kapkan’s face before he stretched his arm to grab the lube from his nightstand. Just a small dollop of it would be enough. His hand wrapped around the hunter’s raging erection, stroking it. Kapkan dug his nails in Glaz’s thighs, eyes closed and bucking his hips up into the sniper’s fist. “Fuck, you look amazing” Glaz removed his hand from Kapkan long enough to pull him closer, then he wrapped his hand around both of their cocks, his hand gliding smoothly up and down as their erections rubbed against each other.

Kapkan pressed his forehead against Glaz’s shoulder, his breath coming out in short gasps. The sniper stroked them together at a steady pace, enjoying the soft moans the hunter couldn’t hide. Thrusting wildly into Glaz’s tight grip, Kapkan sucked and bit on his neck, slowly regaining his earlier confidence until he wrapped a hand around their cocks too, taking over Glaz’s task. He was rougher than the sniper, and it felt really good.

Since Kapkan was already taking care of them, that left Glaz’s hands free to try something else. Holding onto Kapkan’s ass with one hand, he used the other to rub one of his still slicked fingers against Kapkan’s entrance. The hunter groaned as the finger slid inside him, stopping to stroke their cocks for a few seconds, and when Glaz found the right spot and teased it mercilessly, his uncertain expression changed into one of surprised bliss.

“Oh… oh fuck! More…” That growled command set Glaz’s blood boiling, he wanted to know how much it would take to have Kapkan screaming in pleasure. He added a second finger, and the hunter’s cock twitched against his, dripping precum. “Mmm… more .”

If there were condoms anywhere around the house, Glaz knew he wouldn’t hesitate to settle between Kapkan’s legs and make sure he was ready to take what he was asking for. Regrettably, that wasn’t the case.

“Next time,” Glaz told him, kissing the hunter while he thrust his fingers in and out of him. “Next time.”

“Tsk, promises, promises…” Kapkan groaned, stroking them faster than before. He was close, and so was Glaz.

The hunter continued riding on Glaz’s lap, rutting against the fingers inside him and bucking up to where their cocks were pressed together, moaning quietly until he climaxed. He rode the wave of pleasure burying his face on the crook of Glaz’s neck, biting him. It was such a heady feeling, knowing he was the one causing Kapkan to react like that. Combined with the feeling of Kapkan’s thumb spreading his own release over the head of his cock, Glaz tumbled down the edge moaning his partner’s name, his release mixing with Kapkan’s as the hunter kept slowly pumping his fist.

He withdrew the fingers from inside his lover to wrap both arms around the hunter’s waist, keeping him close. They were a mess, sticky semen coating their stomachs while they panted against each other’s lips, kissing lazily. Glaz couldn’t believe this was real; it was too good to be real. However, the weight of Kapkan sitting on his lap seemed solid and real enough. He just never imagined the hunter would allow this to happen, nor welcome the soft kisses Glaz was leaving on his collarbone.

“That was so much better than jacking off,” Kapkan sounded so surprised, awed even, that it was both endearing and hilarious. 

“I hope so,” Glaz chuckled, out of breath between kisses. 

Perhaps the morning would bring a hangover and regrets, but right now he felt like he was high, and happier than he had been in months. It was uncertain if there would be a next time, if tomorrow they would declare this a mistake, but right Glaz was sure of two things: One, he wanted to uphold the promise he made to Kapkan; and two, he was irredeemably smitten with him.

_ _ _

Video calls were one of Shrike’s most hated ways of communicating. All the cons of both telephone calls and face-to-face conversations, with none of their pros. Which meant the image lagged, and the sound was awful, and she had to control her non-verbal reactions as well. Awful.

She sat straight on her chair, leg bouncing madly under the table as James droned on and on about the importance of keeping tight control of the cell. As if she didn’t know that. He wasn’t the one keeping tabs on all their members and their comings and goings. In fact, if it weren’t because she shared that information, he wouldn’t even know there was a possible mole in the group.

“I don’t care how you do it, just sort this mess out,” he ordered her, the image freezing a moment and a second later he was sitting instead of standing up. “I let you have the Apple for the attack, but I want it back. And the ring too.”

“They’re safe with me, waiting for you to come back,” Shrike assured him, even if the idea to part with those items made her want to scream in rage.

“No, I need them sooner than that. There will be a meeting here in Italy, you and your cell will come to deliver my Pieces of Eden and guard the villa.” So whoever was coming to this meeting was someone he didn’t trust. Or someone he planned to have discreetly removed. Shrike was ready for both scenarios, and having some action would be much better than being a glorified bodyguard. “I’ll send a private jet, I need you all here in a day.”

With that, he finished the video call, the screen going black. So little time to prepare everything, did he think she did miracles? But Shrike would do it; she loved a good challenge, anyway. 

One day. There was no time to lose, sleep could wait. She took out her phone and twirled it in her hands, thinking. The time to play the slow game was over, she had to be bold. Shrike dialed a number, and after a considerable wait, Damien finally picked up the phone.

“I have a job for you. Yes, I know what time it is, and it can’t wait, so stop whining. Take Idri with you. I’ll send a message with the details of your mission.”

Taking into account Damien would take his sweet time getting ready and going to fetch Idri, Shrike had ample time to send him everything. She was honestly amazed with herself for coming with all that plan is such a short time; her genius was wasted in her current position.

After that, she sent an additional message to another number: “Plan B is a go. Urgent.”

With all her bases covered, for now, Shrike went to prepare her workspace in the abandoned warehouse. She liked to sharpen all her blades before an interrogation, having everything polished and gleaming and ready to slice flesh like it was butter. It helped put fear into the subjects’ faces, and she loved seeing the change in demeanour the moment they realised they were fucked. Besides, her little preparation ritual helped her endure the wait until her package was delivered.

Chapter Text

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

At some point, he supposed it would finally sink in, but for now, the idea still had an unreal quality when Kapkan thought about it: he had sex with his teammate. With Glaz. And it had been so fucking good .

After getting cleaned up, Glaz had dragged them back to bed. The sniper had one knee settled in between both of Kapkan’s, his hand stroking slow circles over Kapkan’s naked side, head tucked beneath the hunter’s chin. This was everything Kapkan had always been too afraid to even dream about, and now that it was real he didn’t know what to do. Was this a one-time thing, something they could blame on the vodka and the stress and then forget it ever happened? Glaz had mentioned a next time, and although that had been in the heat of the moment, Kapkan realised he actually wanted that so very much. It was mildly terrifying too.

Throwing all his second guessing to the back of his mind, he put his arm around Glaz, thumb stroking the soft skin of the sniper’s hips. The happy sound Glaz made was enough to melt away any lingering doubts, and his heart.

“Keep this up, and I can’t promise I won’t go for a second round,” Glaz told him, his voice heated enough for the warning to be believable.

“Hmm, this ?” Kapkan pressed harder against Glaz’s skin, making sure he would feel it, his thumb going further on its path than before and closer to the groin. 

As all answer, Glaz buried his face on Kapkan’s neck to kiss and suck at it, leaving Kapkan increasingly flustered. If Glaz hadn’t known before this was his weak spot, he definitely knew now. The loud buzzing from one of their phones popped their little world like it was a soap bubble. Glaz ignored it in favour to keep kissing Kapkan’s neck, but whoever was calling was insistent. Eventually, the sniper groaned in defeat and went to check whose phone was ringing. Unsurprisingly, it was his.

Kapkan watched from the bed how Glaz rummaged through the pile of clothes on the floor until he picked up his phone. The conversation itself was quick and rather one-sided, with him just grunting his assent twice, then muttering a “Yeah, okay.” before finishing the call. He looked troubled, a frown crossing his face as he stared at the phone’s screen.

“Bad news?” Kapkan asked, propping himself up on his elbows.

“Work,” Glaz answered, putting on his underwear. “Damien said we have to meet with a friend of Shrike, or an informant, or something like that. He wasn’t very coherent.”

The little growl Kapkan made when he heard Damien’s name must have been louder than intended since Glaz stopped dressing to look at him. Once he finished getting dressed, in that outfit that made him look like a mobster, Glaz sat on the bed next to Kapkan, pressing a kiss to his temple.

“You can stay if you want, I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

Glaz didn’t wait for a reply and left the room. Kapkan could hear him walking around the living room, doing who knew what, and then the sound of the main door opening and closing. Alone in bed, Kapkan stretched out like a lazy cat, contemplating the possibility of staying here as Glaz offered. The image of the sniper coming back and finding Kapkan asleep on his bed, only to wake him up with kisses and maybe even some naughty caresses, was incredibly compelling. However, Kapkan was starting to realise this pretty little dream wasn’t sustainable. 

They weren’t really boyfriends; it was just a convenient cover story. Could they even be more than teammates and friends? Even if Rainbow had no non-fraternization rules -which Kapkan didn’t know- if their superiors in the Spetsnaz got wind of it, they were doomed. Perhaps it would be better to cut it off now, before they got too attached, before it was too late. He wasn’t prepared for that notion to hurt as much as it did. Glaz would understand, eventually; at least, he hoped so. 

It was ironic how a few days ago Kapkan wasn’t sure of what he felt, and now he wasn’t ready to break up a relationship that wasn’t even real. Or could it be…? A knock on the main door made him come back to reality. Who the hell could it be at these hours? Kapkan could only imagine it was Glaz, who realised he forgot something important, like his keys, for example. The sniper had left not five minutes ago, so it was within the realm of possibilities and the only explanation that made sense to him. Getting out of bed, Kapkan grabbed his boxers from the floor and put them on, before walking across the empty living room to open the door.

Behind the door was someone that definitely wasn’t Glaz, all dressed in black and with a face that Kapkan was sure he’d seen somewhere else before. Overall, the situation screamed danger. While his instinctual reaction would be to punch the man square in the face and close the door, Kapkan was playing the role of a civilian, supposedly. A non-suspicious boyfriend. So he stepped behind the door, to throw his weight against it if necessary, and stared at the man, waiting for him to say something.

“Is Idri here?”

Narrowing his eyes in suspicion, Kapkan answered, “He went to-”

The man kicked the door, sending him stumbling back. The bastard was fast, going for Kapkan while he was down, but luckily Kapkan was faster. He got out of the way and up, ready and alert. The next strike: he saw it coming, straight for his face. Deflecting the blow with one hand, Kapkan punched him in the stomach with the other; then swiftly moved it to grab his chin, forcing it up, and smashed his elbow on the guy’s clavicle. Instead of going down as most people would, the guy wheezed in pain but stood his ground, trying to grapple out of Kapkan’s hold. 

The hunter put him in a chokehold, but his wannabe assaulter wasn’t giving up yet. The man wheezed something he didn’t quite understand. However, a second figure came in through the door. Smaller than the first guy, probably a woman, and wielding a knife. Kapkan slammed the guy he was restraining against the floor, and went to deal with the newcomer. The woman lunged at him, the knife going dangerously close to his naked chest. Kapkan sidestepped, grabbed the wrist and hit the hand holding the knife with his elbow. The blade went flying to the ground, and he threw his assailant to the ground, knee pressing against the back to keep her there. 

Just as Kapkan realised the other guy wasn’t on the floor anymore, something hard impacted against the back of his head. He felt pain spreading in his skull and his eyes went blurry all of a sudden. The last thing he heard was the shattering of glass, like a bottle had been broken. Then the world went black.

_ _ _

Glaz checked the time again. Two hours. Two fucking hours waiting in the car and still no trace of Shrike’s contact. He could have been in bed, with Kapkan, but no, he was here. Taking a deep and calming breath didn't work to ease his irritation. 

“How much longer should we wait?” He asked through tightly clenched teeth. 

“I don't know,” Damien answered tiredly. “Shrike’s not answering my messages and calls, but she said this was important. We’ll wait for some more time.”

“Yes, yes. But how much more?” 

“Where has your sniper patience gone, Idri?” 

Damien’s tone was teasing, and Glaz knew he felt the strain of the wait too, but it was a small consolation. “I must have left it in my bed, right beside my very naked boyfriend.”

Perking up as a kid that had been promised ice-cream, Damien turned to look at Glaz. “Did this job interrupt your fun times? Or were you sleeping together and the call woke you up?”

“A mix of both, you could say.” Glaz smiled fondly, thinking of the hunter in his bed and hoping Kapkan would be there when he finally got back to the apartment.

“C’mon man, we’re friends, you can tell me more than that! Is he good in bed? Did you go out or was it a Netflix and chill date? Or... what’s his name? I could settle for that even!”

Despite the cheery voice and chuckle at the end, Glaz had the feeling Damien was rather desperate for him to answer that last question. Which he wouldn’t do, mainly because he and Kapkan had never discussed a cover story and background for the hunter. They would have to correct that misstep soon.

“You ask a lot, but share nothing,” Glaz pointed out, yawning and stretching in the car’s seat. “Do you have someone? No, let me guess: you’re sleeping with Shrike.”

“Layla?! Are you nuts? She’s…” Damien’s expression of surprise was hilarious, and Glaz was biting his lips to not laugh in his face. “No way!”

He understood Damien’s agitation perfectly, though. While moderately friendly, when you talked with Shrike, it always felt like she was thinking of new ways to dispose of your corpse, should the need arise. However, Glaz just hummed noncommittally, which only led Damien to believe there were rumours about him and Shrike. There weren’t any, but Damien’s increasing worry until he caught up that Glaz was just messing with him was quite entertaining. As a diversion from having Damien grill him with questions about his supposed boyfriend, this was the best one so far. Speaking of diversions, Glaz suspected this job was that or a test of some sort. In the end, even Damien got tired of waiting for someone who never appeared. He seemed worried and kept uncharacteristically silent during the drive back. 

The sun was rising already when Glaz got back home. He went up the stairs thinking about lying in bed next to Kapkan and sleep, although he wouldn't be opposed to some cuddling either. The first thing he noticed upon entering the apartment, was the absence of Kapkan’s hoodie hanging from the chair, where he had left it to dry last night. With a sinking feeling in his chest, he went to check the bedroom.

It was disappointingly empty, bedsheets rumpled but nobody sleeping there. So Kapkan ran away in the middle of the night, without saying a word. He could have expected such a reaction a few weeks ago, but after these last days, Glaz had hoped they could… it didn’t matter what he thought, apparently he was a fool. He threw himself on the bed with a sigh, burying his face on the pillow. Kapkan's smell still clung to the sheets. 

The most frustrating part was that Glaz knew they could work as a couple, a real one. All the fake stuff had felt so authentic, he thought Kapkan had felt the same, especially after last night. Glaz only hoped this wouldn’t impact their friendship, although some awkwardness was to be expected, he supposed.

Glaz tried to relax, let himself slip into a hopefully dreamless sleep, but his mind wouldn’t stop going over the same issue again and again. Eventually, Glaz realised he would end this sooner if he did something, so he reached for his phone. Then he spent the next five minutes stressing over what should the message say, until he settled for a professional approach:

“Hey, this job with Damien was a bust. Do you want me to come over for a report or nah?”

He hoped Kapkan would appreciate he didn’t directly ask about why he left, since he supposed the hunter wouldn’t want to talk about it. As soon as he pressed the send button, Glaz heard a faint chime under the bed. What the…

Scooting closer to the edge, Glaz used the light coming from his phone’s screen to look under the bed. Something white and rectangular lay there, almost out of reach, and when he picked it up he realised it was Kapkan’s phone. It must had slipped under the bed last night, when Glaz hastily threw the hunter’s clothes on the floor. He held both phones in his hands, looking at them while debating what to do. This was the perfect excuse to go see Kapkan, but he didn’t want to appear overly clingy, damn it. 

On the other hand, he didn’t feel like sleeping anymore. Staying in bed would just be a miserable experience where Glaz would just overthink the situation with Kapkan, and fret about his mission, and in the end he’d be more stressed than before. Yes, it was better if he got up and went to return Kapkan’s phone.

_ _ _

Present day - Hereford

 

“What?” Harry looked at Six as if she had grown a second head.

She didn’t stop typing for a second while she replied. “I said-”

“I know what you said, Aurelia. I just…” He struggled to voice his discomfort, looking around the austere office as if the right words were hiding behind one of the few framed pictures on the wall. “Rainbow has always been your project, I can’t believe you’d leave.”

Now she stopped working to look at him with a perfect poker face, the same one Harry had seen her use when officially scolding someone. It was an intimidating expression that clearly signaled she meant business, and now he knew why it worked on people even like Thatcher or Tachanka. Utterly fascinating, Harry wondered if he could learn to copy and wield the same expression one day, it would make his job much easier too. Eventually, and far sooner than it seemed, Six broke the silence.

“Do you know why the Templars have been dealing us blow after blow? They got into politics, and now they have the power, the funding and have infiltrated almost all governments. Meanwhile, most assassins just lie low and hide.”

She was right, of course. In fact, that was a point they had discussed before, at the beginning of Rainbow, when they were struggling to get more funding, despite the project having been approved. Harry still remembered the moment, the late-night conversation after Aurelia and he had revised the profiles of all the operators, and decided which ones to approach first. She looked tired, and Harry had joked about how they still could pack their things and move back to the usual Brotherhood business. To be honest, nobody at the Brotherhood would have been surprised if they did, since nobody thought really cared about this project. Except for Aurelia; and him. He hadn’t forgotten her answer.

“Now it’s not the time to stagnate, but to adapt and form new strategies,” Harry recited, earning a surprised stare and a sharp nod from Six. He had to ask the question burning on his mind. “Was this your goal all along?”

It seemed like a long shot, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be her. With his help, of course, but Harry would readily admit he couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

“That would be ambitious, even for me,” Six didn’t exactly laugh, but she had what Harry’s wife would call a twinkle of amusement in her voice. “When we started, I wouldn’t even dream I’d be offered the position of Secretary of State.”

Looking at the situation rationally, it was a great opportunity. For everyone. Aurelia deserved the promotion, and having an actual member of the Brotherhood in that position would be of immense help. Not to mention, it was a first step towards introducing more of their people into the higher spheres, eventually. Miles and Banks were always skeptical of Aurelia’s ideas, but this was proof that her plan worked flawlessly up to date. Yes, having Aurelia as the US’ Secretary of State would only work in Rainbow’s favour. Still, Harry was already mourning the future loss of not only an extraordinary boss but also a friend.

“It will be weird, calling someone else Six,” Harry said in a much lighter tone. “Hopefully, it will be someone who piles less work on my hands, so I can have more free time or even vacations.”

Six laughed now, a small chuckle that was quickly contained. At least she didn’t point out that Harry was as much of a workaholic as she was.

“Harry, I’m not leaving anytime soon. Especially if one of the ongoing operations backfires. Any reports?”

He shook his head, since there had been no new reports from either Sledge nor Kapkan. Not since they got confirmation of Thatcher and Lion’s arrival in Italy. Harry interpreted the silence as good news, it meant there was nothing yet to report, which meant there was no impending disaster about to unfold. That made for a nice change.

_ _ _

Present day - USA, Minnesota

 

Shrike observed her victim with curiosity. When Jacob delivered him, she had expected a quick interrogation, but this guy was more than he told he was. She was used to people crumbling like wet paper bags just from seeing her tools, but they had been doing this the whole night, and he didn’t flinch once, not even when she picked up the scalpel. He was too calm and collected. There was hatred instead of fear in his pretty eyes when she dragged the blade over his skin, blood trailing down his handsome face. It was a small wound, merely a warm-up, but there were so many small veins under the skin there that it bled a lot, especially the forehead and eyebrows.

“Let’s try again. Name? Your real one.”

“Fuck you,” he spat on Shrike’s boots. She wasn’t bothered by the blood, but that was a rather rude gesture. Shrike turned to look at Jacob, and tilted her head towards the prisoner. Jacob took a step forward to punch him. Barely a pained gasp and Jacob definitely wasn’t holding back. “I already told you my name is Alexsandr!”

It was as believable as that bullshit about him being a temporarily unemployed factory worker. This dude wasn’t a civilian, Shrike was sure. 

“Okay sweetcheeks, we’ll do this the hard way then,” she said, with a fake sigh before grinning with ghoulish delight. “I was hoping for it, actually.”

A knock on the warehouse’s door stopped her from grabbing a dented blade from her arsenal. To say the interruption irritated her would fall short. Shrike wasn’t expecting anyone to come here for a visit. In fact, no one should know she was here.

“I’m going to check who it is. Keep an eye on him, soften him up if you want,” Shrike instructed  Jacob, hurriedly walking between the small maze of metal shelves.

Outside, she found Damien, who was pacing up and down in front of the door; the gravel and broken cement crunching beneath his boots. As soon as he saw her, Damien pushed her back inside and started talking at the speed of light.

“Thank fuck, I finally find you! That contact of yours we had to meet, the one with the important information he couldn’t share by message? Never showed up! Do you think the assassins are on our trail? Or-?”

Shrike held up her hands in the hair, halting Damien’s torrent of words. “I know. I made it all up.”

It was comical seeing how Damien opened his mouth as if he was about to reply but then fell silent. He looked so hurt by her deceit that Shrike almost felt bad for it.

“You were too slow getting any information, and Jacob had a new plan. I only needed you and Idri out of the way,” Shrike explained, and yet Damien’s frown of confusion stayed in place.

She supposed cluing Damien into her real plan could have been an option, but this way his reactions had been more genuine. He wasn’t the best at acting, and the last thing Shrike wanted was for Idri to get suspicious of them. Despite Damien’s assurances, Idri wasn’t still in the clear. His story held up to the revision she did, but there was so little information about him, at least when compared to all the stuff she found when investigating other members of the cell. In that moment, a grunt of pain echoed further back in the empty warehouse. Damien looked at her with suspicion.

“Layla? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, I’m here talking to you, not back there,” she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say Jacob is trying to persuade our friend to talk.”

Realization dawned on Damien, who looked equal parts impressed and wary. “You kidnapped Idri’s boyfriend?!”

“Technically, Jacob did it, with Gia’s help.” However, it was obvious she was the one who gave the order. Nothing happened in this cell that Shrike or the Boss hadn’t approved. And in the latter case, half the time he relayed his orders only to Shrike. “Think about it; if Idri truly is loyal to us and this guy is a mole, then he ought to be grateful we flushed him out!”

“And what if he’s just a normal dude?” Damien asked, not completely convinced yet. His loyalty was both Damien’s greatest asset and a hindrance at the same time.

Shrike shrugged, unconcerned. “From what you said, they hadn’t been together for long. He’ll get over him, plenty more fish in the sea and all that.”

It was all so simple, and Shrike was getting irritated by Damien’s questions. She was short on time, and interrogations couldn’t be rushed, or you risked getting the subject too damaged to speak. ‘ Alexsandr’ seemed like he would be a hard one to crack, and usually Shrike would relish that idea, except she also had to get everyone into the jet as soon as it landed on a private airport nearby. Unless… well, Jacob needn’t stay here with her, and Damien would be of more use occupied. That gave her some extra time. 

“Make sure everyone is ready to leave, we’re going on a trip to Italy in less than two hours.”

“For real? Or do you want to gather everyone just to say you made up about the trip?”

Would you look at that, Damien was showing his teeth! He must be really pissed she lied to him, which was hilarious since Shrike lied to everyone almost constantly. The only difference is that they never knew. She smiled at him, not in a friendly way but more in a showing-him-her-teeth way, when Damien’s phone rang. 

He looked at the screen, then at her. “It’s Idri.”

Shrike shrugged, unconcerned of why was Idri calling. She would sort out the mole issue soon enough, that’s what mattered. “Answer and don’t fuck it up. I’ll send Jacob to help you round up everyone.”

She turned around, walking through the maze of metal shelves with a hand in her pocket. She needed more time, but if she was running out of it, she’d have to speed up the process. She had one last attempt to make ‘Alexsandr’ talk, and if it didn’t work, she would use more unconventional means to get what she wanted. The metal ball felt oddly warm against her fingers, and Shrike was pretty sure the mind control would also work to interrogate people. She had the feeling she would have the opportunity to find that out soon.

Chapter Text

Present day - Italy

 

The scenery around him was picturesque, as if Glaz had stepped into the painting of an idealized version of Tuscany’s countryside. The villa in front of him was impressive and decadent, almost something out of a movie. Surrounding the house, there were endless fields of green pastures, sheep and cows grazing contentedly. Further away, an olive orchard partially obscured the outline of a small village, the church’s tower being the tallest structure on the skyline. And yet, despite all the beauty surrounding him, Glaz wasn’t itching to paint it. In fact, he was barely paying attention to where he was going, he just followed Damien blindly.

Being shipped to the other side of the Atlantic in this short period of time spoke of immense resources, and while his mission was only to investigate and gather as much information as he could, Glaz wasn’t at ease in the slightest. He was alone amongst terrorists and Templars, and nobody knew who was on his side knew he was in Italy of all places. He hadn’t been able to get in touch with Kapkan; if something went wrong, nobody would ever know what happened to him. Speaking of the hunter, there was a flash of anger in his gut when Glaz thought about him.

He had gone to Kapkan’s apartment, to return the phone. The hunter didn’t come to open the door, no matter how much Glaz knocked on it or used the doorbell. The sniper even loudly explained he had Kapkan’s phone, and still no answer. Really mature of him, ignoring Glaz just because he regretted sleeping together. What was he, a huffy teenager? Glaz knew the blooming anger was just a cover for how hurt he was by Kapkan’s reaction, but honestly, it wouldn’t kill the hunter to act like a real adult and open the damn door.

For a moment, he considered that maybe Kapkan wasn’t even at home, but then his own phone rang. It was Damien, telling him about this new mission and how he needed to be ready to leave for Italy in less than an hour. There had been no time, not for going to hunt down the hunter, not for breaking down the door to enter the apartment, not for anything. He started to feel like an idiot, but he wanted to return the damn thing. He even thought about sliding the phone under the door, but he knew it wouldn’t fit. Glaz had to make a decision, and between keeping the phone or leaving it in Kapkan’s mailbox, he decided it was best to keep it. The phone was locked, and he wasn’t the spying type anyway, but he knew Kapkan probably hadn’t checked his supposed mailbox since they arrived. Besides, keeping the phone from him gave Glaz a small amount of petty satisfaction, and since apparently Kapkan didn’t want to talk to him at all, it seemed like the perfect irony. 

However, once he was on board of that private jet, Glaz regretted not having been able to leave any message for Kapkan. Would the hunter worry about his sudden disappearance or wouldn’t he even notice? Glaz sighed and looked ahead vacantly. All he had wanted was to come back to his bed and spoon his teammate-turned-lover-turned-idiot, and yet here he was. This was shaping up to be a fucking awful day and it wasn’t even midday. Curiously enough, Damien seemed as nervous as Glaz was feeling, although he liked to think he masked better his restlessness. He had barely made an attempt to talk, neither with Glaz nor anyone else, and that was definitely odd. When Glaz asked him, Damien said he was just tired from not sleeping, and while that could have been true, Glaz also had the hunch there was something else Damien wasn’t telling him.

Once they landed, the tension in the air thickened until it felt suffocating. Shrike kept throwing strange looks at him, and Glaz didn’t know what to make of it. Perhaps Glaz was just on edge for personal reasons, but he could have sworn everyone was acting slightly off. Nothing big, but enough to be noticeable. 

“Damien, bring everyone to the basement and get ready,” Shrike said, her left hand inside her jacket’s pocket as it had been through all the flight. She did the same back that day, before the assault, when she had used the Apple for the first time. Good grief, was she carrying that thing in her pocket? “Except you, Jacob. Stay and help me with the cargo.”

Everyone dutifully followed her orders, and Glaz had no choice than to go with the rest of the group, despite his curiosity for that cargo Shrike mentioned. Cypress trees lined the path to the villa, regal and majestic, probably as old as the manor itself. It was a beautiful sight, and Glaz felt that familiar itching in his fingers, urging him to capture the scene on a canvas. Painting always helped him to relax and clear his mind, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Unfortunately, he wasn’t here on a vacation.

He wasn’t surprised to see the vans and cars lined up in the garage entrance, all having the Vinciguerra logo on the side or plain white and almost featureless. Similar to the getaway vehicle Abstergo had procured for their escape after the attack. Glaz tried to not dwell on those memories, he still had trouble accepting the things he did that day, it was one of the many reasons he had trouble sleeping. So instead he focused on the illustrious people meeting here today. The Vinciguerras were a notorious crime family, not to mention they had supplied the weapons for Shrike’s group during last week’s attack. Then there were the Abstergo guys. Gun traffickers and Templars; it made Glaz’s skin itch with the urge to whip out his gun and do his job. The real one where he killed terrorists, not this undercover operation that was eroding his sanity.

The Boss, who Glaz had only seen in passing once or twice, was waiting for Damien inside. “About time you arrived. Where’s Layla?”

Damien answered something Glaz didn’t hear, despite his best efforts to eavesdrop. The man distractedly gestured to the next room and then went away, disappearing upstairs. He had looked surprised, and not in a good way. Glaz was getting increasingly worried about what the hell was happening here. So many questions and yet he barely had any answers.

However, he couldn’t demand answers, he had to gleam those himself. It was frustrating, and he was so tired. The group filed into the next room, some sort of art storage, judging by the statues and piles of paintings and crates. Not all crates were for art though. The ones with the Vinciguerra logo were, predictably, full of weapons. Glaz grabbed a pistol and fiddled with the pile of white masks on the other box, until he picked one at random. He still felt a twinge of distaste when he had to wear the mask, but nowhere as much as the first time. He was getting used to it, he realised, and that was a worrying thought.

_ _ _

Strategy planning was both indispensable and fucking pointless most of the time. In Thatcher’s experience, the plan would always go sideways within the first minute, and everyone would need to improvise. He had to admit, Alibi’s intel seemed solid enough, much better than what Thatcher had expected. Their plan was fairly simple, but that was good. It meant it had a greater chance of working as intended. 

There were flaws in their plan too, like not knowing beforehand how many hostiles they could expect to find, or how many of them could be armed. They could make an estimate, but Thatcher preferred to call it by its name: a wild guess. Nonetheless, he participated in operations with worse plans and odds, so he wasn’t overly worried. He had plenty of experience fighting both terrorists and Templars, and the element of surprise was on their side. It would go well, he was almost sure of it.

The car ride from Rome to Monteriggioni was long and tedious, since fitting five grown adults into a single car for about three hours was not a pleasant experience for the three who had to go in the backseat. Alibi looked uncomfortable, squished between Thatcher and Lion, and the latter seemed to be trying to fold himself in half to fit in the tiny space available. Nobody was in the mood to talk much this early in the morning, so the trip passed mostly in silence. At least until Maestro turned on the radio. 

It would have been way more efficient to go to the Villa in helicopter, but secrecy and having the element of surprise were key to catch them all unaware before they could flee. So instead they picked this old car nobody would look twice at. Eventually, when all around them were wheat fields, Alibi started directing Maestro on what dust roads he had to take, until the magnificent villa was finally in front of them. They parked the car and got their gear from the trunk, it was time to go into action. The first bit was simple enough, climbing the garden’s wall until they were inside the property. 

They were putting on their rappelling gear when Maestro told Sledge, “Your look magnificent in that harness, caramellino ! But are you sure it isn’t too tight?”

Thatcher pretended to not see how the Italian fiddled with Sledge’s harness, or Sledge’s pleased expression. Maestro might be checking that the gear wasn’t restricting Sledge’s movements, but Thatcher suspected it was also a ploy to grope his arse. What he wasn’t sure of was if that was Maestro flirting specifically with Sledge, or if the Italian was just like that. He suspected it was the first option. Lion turned around for a moment, and yet Thatcher still saw him roll his eyes at such display. A completely understandable reaction, and it pleased Thatcher that someone thought like him, even if it was Lion of all people.

Alibi had insisted that this was the best spot to get in without being seen, and Thatcher realised why as soon as they went up the wall and stepped into the garden. A fountain blocked the view of this part of the terrain. He hadn’t expected to see the Brotherhood’s emblem carved as a decorative motif on the fountain, though. Only a moron would proclaim their allegiances so boldly.

“Follow me,” Alibi commanded.

They sneaked across the garden, the tiered levels and abundance of statues working in their favour hiding them from anyone patrolling outside. It didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, if they hadn’t seen from afar the black vans parked in front of the house, Thatcher would be tempted to say the place was deserted. Birds chirped happily above them in the trees, leaves rustled and swayed in the gentle breeze; an endless stream of peace and quiet. It wouldn’t last for long.

“Help me with this,” Alibi asked, pointing at the heavy metal door, and Lion dashed to her aid.

The inside was a cavernous room, rock walls lined with stone coffins. A family mausoleum. The owners of the Villa had been either filthy rich or lived there for thousands of years. Maybe both.

“Are we going to disturb the dead?” Lion asked, looking uncomfortable as he eyed the old coffins.

Maestro said “No” at the same time Alibi answered “They wouldn’t mind us being here” , and Lion relaxed slightly, even if his expression still looked troubled. Sledge was more concerned trying to read the names on the plaques in front of each tomb, and Thatcher was of the opinion that dead didn’t give a damn about the affairs of the living. They went deeper into the mausoleum, until they found a wall that had been taken down, leaving a narrow tunnel visible. The walls were crumbling down in certain spots, bricks and mortar coming loose had formed a small pile on the ground. Nevertheless, the tunnel didn’t look like it would collapse anytime soon. 

Eventually they reached a dead end, a wooden wall -that was startlingly out of place-  sealed the end of the tunnel. Alibi turned to nod at Lion, who started fiddling with his wrist device. Thatcher had only a vague idea of how Lion’s drone worked, or where it was at the moment, but he still felt compelled to look at the screen, trying to discern if Lion was doing his job properly or not. It would be damn inconvenient if the Frenchman decided now that he couldn’t betray the Templars, even if he insisted he wasn’t one.

“I’ve got movement,” Lion declared. “They all seem to be on the upper floors.”

The display of red dots on the screen was rather chaotic, but as far as Thatcher could interpret them, Lion was right. Nobody would detect them here in the basement. Sledge unslung his caber.

“Alright lads, move over. Time to breach!”

The sound of the hammer smashing the wood panel reverberated in the cramped tunnel, and the glare of artificial light streamed through an opening big enough to let them pass through.

The basement of the manor was apparently a wine storage. The racks of bottles and wine casks left no doubt of it. Thatcher surveyed the surroundings in search of any potential danger, but there was none he could see. Once again, he let Alibi lead them, since she was the only one who had been in this house before.

They explored room after room to secure the area, although there was no one down here. All empty. Upstairs, they found a lone White Mask in the kitchen. The terrorist was leaning against a counter, fiddling with a lighter and completely oblivious of the fact that he wasn’t alone anymore. A lifetime of reflexes kicked in, and Thatcher raised his handgun faster than anyone else. The sound of the body falling down was louder than the suppressed shots, and they all waited to see if that had alerted anyone else of their presence. 

“Klaus, we need to-” Another White Mask came into the kitchen, stopping to stare at splatters of blood on the wall and the dead terrorist.

This one reacted fast as lightning, barely aiming the shotgun and shooting blindly in their direction, no doubt hoping the spread would work in his favour to at least injure someone. Everyone ducked  behind the counter for cover, except Thatcher, who was yanked backwards into the pantry. One of the pellets hit the doorframe, and if he had been standing there for another second, that would have gone through him. Thatcher turned around and was only mildly surprised to see it was Lion who helped him. Perhaps the guy wasn’t as bad as Thatcher had feared, even if it was better to be cautious than sorry. He thanked Lion, and pretended not to notice how the Frenchman’s face lit with pride at such small gesture.

Maestro gunned down the White Mask, and after this, they had to assume their presence was known. Soon more roamers would come to investigate and to deal with them. They had to move quickly, remaining in the same position all the time was the perfect way to get overrun and killed.

“There’s a lot of terrain to cover, maybe we should go separate ways,” Alibi suggested. That was probably the wisest choice, and Thatcher had no reasons to doubt Alibi’s judgement. 

“There’s a concentration of people upstairs,” Lion informed, fiddling with his wrist display. 

As leader of this operation, Thatcher took a decision. “Alibi and Sledge, with me. We’ll deal with the upper floor. You two clean this floor, use that drone of yours to make sure you aren’t walking into an ambush.”

Lion looked like he was going to complain, but in the end he just nodded stiffly. The team split, Thatcher and Sledge following Alibi to the nearest staircase, while Lion and Maestro ventured into the dining room and whatever lay beyond. They all trained to be swift and act decisively, the assault wouldn’t last more than around three minutes at most, and yet so much could happen in such a short span of time.

_ _ _

Many would consider the position of glorified guard to be tedious, but the small and repetitive patrol suited Glaz just fine. Walking helped him think.

After a few minutes he would have been able to perfectly describe both the library and main corridor with his eyes closed, and yet he had no idea who the White Mask patrolling with him was. He could see it wasn’t one of the women, and it wasn’t Damien nor Jacob, but aside from that, it was difficult to tell with the mask on. Besides, nothing of interest was happening down here.

The reunion was upstairs, and while Glaz knew he needed to get there and find any and all scraps of information possible, he still didn’t know how he could get closer without raising anyone’s suspicions. The whole reason for this undercover operation was to gather this kind of intel, it would be an abysmal failure to walk away without anything to send to Six. He was pacing around the library under the bored gaze of the other White Mask, when someone else strode in.

“You, Idri, come with me.”

Glaz followed Damien, curious about what he could want. He had been acting weird, ignoring Glaz through the whole flight, and then avoiding to even look at him once they landed. Whatever it was, it had to be important. It was a hassle too, sneaking away under Damien’s nose would be harder. They went through a lovely room with a piano, which reminded Glaz of their own piano room at Hereford’s base. Obviously, this one was leagues better and classier than the battered old instrument at home, but it still made Glaz think of the friends and comrades he hadn’t seen in so long. However, this was not the time to get nostalgic.

Damien led him to a room that was almost bare, just a couple of couches covered in white sheets and some old paintings piling on the floor. Shrike stood in the middle of the room, unmasked and with her hands clasped behind her back like she was a statue. The smile she gave when she saw them coming instantly pushed Glaz on edge. It was an expression like the one she had when he delivered Johnny to her.

“My russkie friend, we have so much to talk about!”

That was news to him. As far as Glaz knew, they didn’t have anything to talk about, unless… well, he always had to be prepared for the worst case scenario. However, he doubted they would be having this chat if they found out his true identity. Glaz stood where he was, waiting for her to continue.

“We might be considered criminals by society, but this group is like a family for many, you know? And as the person in charge of this family, I’m always on the lookout for threats, to protect us all. Since you are part of our family now, I feel the need to protect you too!” Shrike’s words confused him. What the hell was this about? The image of Shrike as a caring pseudo-parental figure was laughable. If she had to kill any of her men, she would not only do it but probably also enjoy it. “So imagine my surprise when I make a routine check on everyone and find something… odd.”

Glaz definitely didn’t like where this conversation was heading. He restrained himself from casually putting his hand on his pistol, ready to unholster it in a second if the situation turned against him. Instead, he crossed his arms.

“Did you find something worrying? Need my services to solve a problem?” He kept a neutral tone when speaking with her, managing to sound almost pleased at the idea.

“Oh, definitely,” Shrike smirked at him and pointed with her head at a small room adjacent to the one they were in. “I caught a little rat, a dirty spying mole, and I even got him to sing for the boss. It’s now time to get rid of the vermin.”

Still wondering why they had called him to deal with a spy, Glaz stepped into the small room. There was a metal fence closing off what could only be called a cell, door wide open to allow access. A man was tied to a chair, head bent down; he was avoiding to look at them.

Glaz took in the details: the bindings anchoring his raw wrists to the armrests and the ones on the man’s ankles, immobilising him; the hoodie and trousers he was wearing seemed like the one usually worn by White Masks, but it looked like they didn’t fit him perfectly. Dark short hair, matted with blood in some spots, as if someone had whacked him on the head. He could almost count the wounds, the man had plenty.

“What do you want me to do with this rat?” Upon hearing his voice, the prisoner looked up. Glaz felt like he had been punched in the gut, wheezing like he was in physical pain. A cold feeling crept up his spine, wrapping around his chest. Unable to look away from Kapkan’s face, trying to convince himself this couldn’t be real, he turned around to face Shrike. “What’s the meaning of this?”

His voice was weaker than he had wanted, not enough anger and too much of his real emotions. He was grateful for the mask for the first time, because it was covering the devastated expression he surely had. Shrike sauntered up to Kapkan, soothing his bloody face with feather touches first, then yanking his hair roughly as she made him look at her. The hunter scowled at her, a typical reaction, but Glaz couldn’t tear his eyes away from the red slash going over Kapkan’s brow and skirting dangerously close to his eye. He was bruised and sported other cuts, dried blood clinging to his skin. Glaz had never wanted to strangle someone with his bare hands as much as he wanted to kill Shrike in that moment.

“He was a tough one to crack, could have been a fine challenge. But I was on a tight schedule, and in the end nobody can resist the Apple for long, right sweetcheeks?”

“He’s my boyfriend, not a spy!” Glaz hissed. He went to slap Shrike’s hands away from Kapkan, but her withering glare stopped him.

“Perhaps you need some proof , hmm?” Stepping aside, she produced the Apple from her pocket. It glowed intensely and Kapkan jerked as if he had been slapped. Glaz watched helplessly, a ball of icy dread weighing him down, immobilising him. Shrike asked in a sing-song voice, “Real name?”

Kapkan blinked once, twice, opening his mouth but not speaking. He was fighting with himself. The glow of the Apple intensified and he grunted, the defiance in his eyes dulling down. He lost the fight.

“Maxim Basuda, Spetsnaz specialist. May 14th, 1979.”

Fuck. Shrike looked at him, and Glaz wanted to shoot his way out of this, yet he was paralysed. He could barely breathe. The mask was suffocating him. This was his fault, he had dragged Kapkan into this mess, and the worst was that he saw absolutely no way out. 

“Why are you here?” Shrike asked.

“You kidnapped me.” Kapkan was still fighting the Apple’s control, but Shrike jerked it closer to him and Kapkan groaned as if in pain.

“Let’s try again. What do you want from Idri, what are your orders?”

Interrupting Shrike now would make them suspect of Glaz, so he kept silent, hating every second of it. He dug his nails on his palms while listening Kapkan’s monotone answer.

“Keep an eye on him, compile information.”

Shrike looked at Glaz, tilting her head like she was daring him to deny the truth. Damien stood right behind her, arms crossed and deadly silent. Glaz’s mind was working at full speed, trying to understand when and how did things go south like this. There had to be a way out, there was always a way out, right? Shrike came closer and pressed something into his hands. Glaz had to look down, not comprehending what it was. All metal, a strange shape… oh. A butterfly knife . Shrike patted his arm.

“I take care of the group, and you are one of us. He’s not the man he said he was, is he? Time to show where your true loyalties lie, Idri,” she whispered, yet the words barely registered in his brain.

A numbing sensation starting on the tip of his fingers that expanded over his skin like tiny bugs were crawling over him. He tried to grasp the knife properly, but his hands trembled and it nearly slipped to the floor. Anything for the mission . Anyone with undercover experience would tell him that his goal was the most important thing here. Glaz took a desperate gasp for air, heart thumping madly against his ribs. 

He had already done things he would rather forget, all for the sake of the mission. He had to… His vision wavered as if he was looking through someone else’s eyes. This couldn’t be happening. Glaz was ready to die for the mission, as any other Rainbow operative. But he wasn’t ready to kill one of his teammates for it. Much less him . The idea of killing Kapkan filled him with nausea and the sensation of something crushing his ribs, chest tight as he fought to suck in a shuddering breath.

“I can’t,” he admitted in a defeated whisper, eyes screwed shut. “I can’t do it. I-I love him.”

Damien yelled at him, probably berating Glaz for his choice, his voice angry and harsh. However, all Glaz heard was the blood pounding in his ears. Something warm and slippery touched his fingers, and it was then he realised he had been holding the knife so tightly he cut himself. He hadn’t noticed the pain.

“I’m gonna help you with this, and later we’ll have a long talk about loyalties” Shrike said. 

The Apple flashed brightly, and a sudden wave of calmness took over him. There was nothing to worry about. In fact, Glaz couldn’t remember why he had been worried in the first place! Kapkan smiled at him, warm and confident, except… that wasn’t right, was it? 

Frowning, Glaz tried to remember, he was sure that whatever worried him had been important, but the warm feeling enveloping him made it difficult to focus. He moved forward, except he didn’t really want to. His movements were jerky, but he couldn’t stop them. Why would he, though? Better to just bask in the warm feeling... Glaz tried to resist, but the more he struggled, the harder the Apple fought to keep him under control. His thoughts were scattered, it was difficult to even know what was going on. Kapkan beckoned him to come closer. Yes, he wanted that...

His hand rose against his will, but Glaz didn’t realise what was happening until the knife sunk on Kapkan’s chest. It was sickeningly easy, and Kapkan’s pained grunt wasn’t even that loud.

The Apple’s control relented, and Glaz had the opportunity to take in the scene. The blade was still embedded on Kapkan’s chest, and Glaz panicked. Dear God, what had he done? He was sure he hadn’t stabbed him in the heart, thank goodness, but he could have nicked some important artery still! He locked eyes with Kapkan. There was a million things he wanted to say, starting with an “I’m sorry” , but he couldn’t speak. Blood started to leak around the blade, a small dark stain appearing on the hoodie. If he took the knife out, chances were Kapkan would bleed out, and Glaz wasn’t about to risk it.

The muzzle of a gun was suddenly pressed against his back, and Shrike said. “Now, I’d like to have my knife back, Idri. Or should I say, Glazkov instead?”

He barely had any time to process her words before the slippery warmth of the Apple took over his consciousness again. It turned out that taking the knife out was even easier than plunging it in.

Chapter Text

 Present day - Italy

 

At first, there was barely any pain. Being stabbed felt pretty much like getting punched hard. Kapkan had instinctively looked up, staring at Glaz in shock. In truth, it hurt more to see Glaz wearing that white mask than the uncomfortable sensation of the blade embedded between his ribs. 

His heart ached when he saw the confusion and anguish in Glaz’s eyes when the Apple’s control was momentarily gone. Kapkan knew that felt like taking a sledgehammer to the head, and he was also familiar with the burning regret it usually left in when the spell was eventually lifted , but he couldn’t even begin to imagine how it would be to realise he had stabbed his friend; his- his lover. Kapkan wanted to tell him everything would be okay, that he wasn’t mad at him, but when he tried to speak, there was only a wheezing sound and the metallic tang of blood on the back of his throat.

Then Shrike said, “Now, I’d like to have my knife back, Idri. Or should I say, Glazkov instead?” , and the Apple took over Glaz again. Kapkan saw as his friend’s eye went blank yet again. He winced, a reminder of how Kapkan himself had been unable to resist the Apple’s power filled him with shame. If he hadn’t been so weak and endured the interrogation, this wouldn’t be happening. 

A wave of hot pain speared him as Glaz withdrew the knife. This was bad, very bad. Without the knife plugging the wound, his chances of survival dwindled considerably. Shrike took her knife from Glaz’s hands and shook her head, making tsk sounds.

“You don’t even kill him and don’t clean my knife either, I expected better from you, Idri .” She wiped the blade on Glaz’s jacket, leaving a bloody stain on it, then turned to face Kapkan.

She regarded him with an amused expression, as if this was the greatest entertainment ever, and hatred flooded Kapkan. He would make a thousand gory threats, but he knew his chances of fulfilling any of those were slim at the moment. The sound of gunshots coming from the other room surprised them all. 

“We have to go up,” she hissed, urging the other two to follow her. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t part of Shrike’s plans, that much was clear. 

Kapkan watched how Glaz obediently marched after them, just like a puppet, indistinguishable from any other random White Mask. It made his heart ache, knowing Glaz was at their mercy because he had been weak. He had to fix this.

Kapkan squirmed against his bindings, desperately trying to pick at them. Objectively, he knew he was fucked since he awoke in that warehouse tied up to a chair, yet he refused to give up and sit there waiting for death. His efforts were rewarded by a flash of pain spreading through his right side, knocking the air out of him. In fact, the harder he struggled to take a deep breath, the more intense the pain seemed to become.

The barricade was torn down, and two men strode into the room. They weren’t White Masks; far from it in fact. Kapkan wondered if he was losing too much blood already and he had started to hallucinate , because one of them was Lion. For a second, Kapkan thought this was another of Shrike’s games; it wouldn’t be the first time she used the Apple’s illusions to torture him. However, in those cases, it had always been Glaz coming to save him, only to disappear into thin air before Kapkan could touch him.

“...-kan. Kapkan!” He snapped back to reality with Lion’s yelling while he shook his arm. So it was real. “What’s going on? Why are you here? Why are you bleeding?! What happened?”

He looked at Lion, not comprehending the situation fully. He didn’t even know where ‘ here ’ was. The other man seemed equally confused.

“Is he one of yours?”

Kapkan didn’t hear Lion’s answer, nor did he bother to give one himself. He just realised he was free of his bindings. There was only a single thought rising in his mind: he had to find Glaz. Getting up from the chair brought another jab of pain in his chest, and he stumbled, gasping for air. 

“Sit down, you’re going nowhere until I take a look at this,” Lion helped him to sit again, giving a concerned look to the dark red stain on his hoodie.

Lion pushed the hoodie up to inspect the bleeding area, asking Kapkan to hold it in place. The small movement made him grunt in pain, the muscles on the wounded side cramping up at the otherwise insignificant effort.

“You might have a collapsed lung,” the Frenchman sounded nervous, poking uncertainly around his wound with a clean gauze. “You, come here, press this in place.”

Giving orders and bossing people around was something that came quite naturally to Lion, no doubt about it. The burly man did as requested, and Kapkan gritted his teeth not to scream. The pressure on the wound felt worse than unpleasant. Why was he sitting here when Glaz was being used as a puppet by Shrike? He doubted a bit of gauze or bandages would actually improve his condition in the least.

“We’re losing time,” Kapkan’s voice had a wheezing quality to it, no matter how much he tried to make it sound commanding and steady. It was difficult when he was still struggling to breathe normally. “I need to-”

“You’re going nowhere,” Lion roared exactly like his namesake would, holding him back. “Sit down!”

In truth, Kapkan found he didn’t have enough strength to resist Lion’s attempts to make him hold still. He relented, letting the Frenchman replace the now blood-soaked gauze with a new one, then taping the plastic packaging of the dressings over it. Every touch and press over the wound was pure agony, yet he refused to complain. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Lion took the hem of the hoodie from his hands and lowered it slowly, presumably to not upset the wound further. “It’s shoddy work, but there’s not much else I can do...”

“Listen,” Kapkan hissed, grabbing the front of Lion’s jacket and bringing him close, to make sure he was paying attention. “They have Glaz, I… He’s not himself, the Apple is impossible to resist, we have to… Timur, they’re controlling him...”

It was difficult to talk much when Kapkan constantly felt short of breath, his explanation cut by a violent cough. His mouth tasted like iron and he spat a glob of blood.

“An Apple? As in Apple of Eden?” The burly man that accompanied Lion asked, and Kapkan only had the strength to nod. He was winded and his chest hurt worse than before, almost as if someone was repeatedly punching the wound. Lion and his companion shared a concerned look, and at last they seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. 

“We have an unexpected problem,” the guy with the Italian accent said, tapping his earpiece. 

_ _ _

The ascent up the stairs was tense and silent, all three of them trying to discern if there would be anyone waiting for them on the next floor. Sledge was almost certain he had heard no shuffling nor footsteps; and effectively, the room where they arrived was empty. 

It seemed like some sort of office, only astronomy themed. There was an antique telescope suspended from the ceiling, and the projected image of planets and galaxies on the wall, giving the whole room a bluish tint. A pointed look from Thatcher was enough for Sledge to get on the move, checking behind the first door they found. It was a spacious bathroom, as equally deserted as the other room.

Moving fast and quiet, Alibi led them to the next room. It was evident that without her help, they would have been wandering aimlessly around the premises since the start, and it was no different in the maze of rooms that was the upper floor. The manor was beautiful, though, and Sledge was sure Maestro would consider buying the place if he could.

Hunting trophies lined this next room, and at first none of them saw the person leaning against a stuffed deer. It wasn’t until the terrorist heard them that he shifted from his original position, and found himself face to face with Sledge. Instinct took over. Those blank masks always ignited a fight response in all Rainbow operators, and Sledge swung his hammer without a second thought. The mask broke with a crackling sound, white splinters exploding upon the hit. Only Sledge was close enough to hear the sickening wet sound of the terrorist’s head splitting like a rotten melon.

Another masked bastard came running from the corridor. “Hey, did you hear-”

Alibi was faster than anyone else and shot the newcomer with her revolver. The single shot rang loud in the oddly silent manor, yet nobody came to investigate, thank goodness. Perhaps all the White Masks were fortifying themselves in a well-protected room upon hearing the shots, or they ran away like cowards, who knew. 

At that moment, their comms came alive, Maestro’s voice right on Sledge’s ear. “We have an unexpected problem.”

Worrying, but also unsurprising. As Thatcher was fond of saying, sooner or later, all plans went wrong and then you had to improvise. Speaking of him, Thatcher gave a weary sigh before asking what the problem was.

“We found a hostage. Lion says he’s one of yours.”

Sledge and Thatcher shared a look, and even Alibi blinked in confusion. What the hell was going on? Thatcher asked what they were all thinking, “What do you mean one of us?”

“It’s Kapkan,” Lion took over, his voice betraying his impatience. “He’s been stabbed in the chest and needs urgent medical attention.” 

“Keep him stable then,” Thatcher answered without hesitation. “The mission comes first. And the sooner we’re done, the sooner we can bring him to a hospital.”

It was the correct answer, what the protocols stated, and yet Sledge was glad he wasn’t the one making this kind of decisions. That couldn’t be an easy order to give.

“Merde, I’m trying, but I’m not a doctor!” Lion snapped back at Thatcher. Some things never changed it seemed, like their propensity to get each other angry. Although it was normal that tempers were running hot in a situation like this. “That’s not all. He says Glaz is with the terrorists, that they’re controlling him somehow.”

Sledge knew the two Russians were on an undercover mission, so perhaps Glaz was just pretending? However, something was wrong with this whole situation; Sledge could feel it. He noticed he had zoned out when Maestro’s voice brought him back to reality.

“... Apple of Eden. It can control people and create illusions to confuse the mind, be careful.”

Judging by Thatcher and Alibi’s reaction, or lack thereof in her case, both knew what an Apple of Eden was. It would be wonderful to not be so out of the loop all the time when it came to the Brotherhood’s business. At least he thought this Apple was that, an Assassin issue; couldn’t be anything else with such a mystical name.

“Alright, from now on only shoot to disable, not to kill,” Thatcher commanded, passing a hand over his face as he did when he was frustrated. “Let’s finish this operation before Kapkan bleeds out.”

“One second,” Sledge asked. 

Driven by a morbid curiosity, he lifted the remnants of the mask from the man he had smashed. His face was a mess, but Sledge was quite sure it wasn’t Glaz. It was a relief, but there was still another body to check. He knelt by the side of the corpse, and upon closer inspection, the dead terrorist turned out to be a woman. 

Sledge jumped to his feet, and a bullet passed uncomfortably close to him. There was a quick burning sensation on his left upper arm, and his ears were ringing, but aside from that Sledge was fine. Still a close call. Too close. 

Barely able to hear a thing, he dropped to the ground and sought cover. He saw Alibi and Thatcher doing the same, then realised someone was shooting at them from the other side, across the skylight.

When the shots stopped, presumably while the terrorists reloaded, Sledge dared to take a peek. Two White Masks. No, three. And one of them hadn’t even bothered to take cover. Sledge seized the opportunity and shot, mindful to not aim to any vital point. Not that it would have made any difference if he did, as he was about to discover.

While fascinating, it was also deeply unnerving to witness how the bullets bounced against an invisible barrier, leaving his target unharmed. Was this one of those illusions Maestro had mentioned? Sledge had never seen anything like this, and he could confidently say he did not like it one bit. Dirty terrorists with dirty tricks it seemed.  He had emptied the whole magazine and all he managed was to waste those bullets.

“What the hell is that?!” Thatcher’s cry of outrage summed up Sledge’s feelings perfectly. 

However, once he was done reloading the weapon and peeked out of cover again, he realised the source of Thatcher’s indignation was far worse than he thought. Where before stood three White Masks, now Sledge counted about a dozen. None of them was shooting, or even aiming their weapons at them, which for some reason made the sight even more disturbing. 

“Those have to be illusions,” Alibi said. Thatcher mumbled a string of curses, from which Sledge understood ‘bloody fucking Apple’ , plus a slew of unflattering stuff about both Templars and the Brotherhood. If this was a normal occurrence when you worked for the Brotherhood, no wonder Thatcher had wanted out of it.

“How can we tell which ones are real?” Sledge asked.

Thatcher suggested shooting at them, but Alibi claimed to have a more efficient idea. She took out two impact grenades from her backpack.

_ _ _

Everything went swimmingly, better even than what Shrike had hoped. Damien had been furious when he learnt about the true identity of his so-called friend, but at least that made him snap out of his stupidly moral stance. Shrike always got what she wanted, sooner or later. And now she had Damien’s loyalty secured once more, this time even firmer. Truly, if Idri hadn’t turned out to be a mole, the situation could have slipped out of control quickly. Of course, Shrike had been prepared to deal with that scenario too, always spinning plans within plans, but she was happy that hadn’t come to pass.

Instead, she got not one, but two Rainbow operatives to toy with. Well, she had two for a little while, what a shame. Now there was only Idri left. At least for a while, until it was time to present the boss with the information acquired and the traitor in their midst. However, her playtime was rudely interrupted by the sound of not-so-distant shots.

She rushed upstairs, closely followed by Damien. It was satisfying to have him following her without a glimmer of doubt. Exactly as it should be. Like Idri, except unlike Damien, he didn’t have much choice, did he? Shrike could feel the weight of the Apple in her pocket, similar to the weight on the back of her mind. Small but always present, faintly radiating confusion and discontent, at least as long as she controlled Idri. 

One of the men guarding the entrance to the study came running to her. “We heard gunshots. What’s going on?”

There were many possible options: mutiny, an attack, some other guy at the meeting having his own hidden agenda. However, Shrike couldn’t admit her ignorance on the matter.

“Emergency protocol. Get the boss and his Abstergo pals inside the vault, and secure both rooms with entrance to it,” she instructed. “I’ll deal with the issue.”

A tilt of her head was all it took to have Damien and Idri trotting after her. If there was something she could count on, was that Jacob would do as told, ask no questions, and shoot first if anyone unmasked tried to poke their heads into the secured room. In fact, that last part was an excellent idea.

“If any of you see someone without a white mask gallivanting around, kill them. We do not take hostages.”

Her order was received with a chorus of ‘yes’ , and yet she felt a twinge of doubt coming from her connexion to the Apple, as if someone had struck the chord of a guitar but she was only receiving an echo of it. That echo grew from a feeling of doubt to a nebulous sense of discomfort. Aww, it seemed Idri wasn’t on board with the idea, how sweet. Shrike put her hand in the pocket and gripped the Apple hard, ruthlessly squashing any hint of consciousness from him. She still found it amusing that he tried to escape her control, but it was useless.

The search across the upper floor was fast and methodical. It wasn’t until they had almost reached the master bedroom that they found something. On the other side, across the skylight, she finally got a glimpse of the intruders. Three Rainbow operatives, most likely. And three of them too, how fitting. Shrike opened fire, gleeful at the idea of bringing the boss the bodies of those three, aside from Idri, of course.

The tall guy she had targeted suddenly moved to the side, and unknowingly evaded a bullet to his heart. The ensuing fight was chaotic, and Shrike thrived in adding more fuel to the madness. She let them fire at her all they wanted, since the ring protected her from any harm. The looks on their faces surely had to be priceless, Shrike wished she could have seen it. However, as amusing as this was, it was time to put an end to this.

“I’ll distract them and you kill them,” Shrike said, looking at her companions. Damien was a decent enough shooter, but Glazkov was a sniper, and she relished the idea of making him kill his friends. Perhaps she would even let him come back to his senses later, so he could gaze upon the bodies and know what he had done.

It wasn’t the first time Shrike had used the Apple’s illusions against someone, but her tests before had been against a drugged prisoner. This would be different, the real deal. She took the Apple out of her pocket, gave the order and copies of herself started bubbling out of thin air, all identical to her down to the smallest detail. The lack of shots coming from the other side was proof enough of how disconcerted they were. Still, the expected attack didn’t take long to come.

Shrike observed with satisfaction how one of them rose from behind cover, and Idri shot. And yet he managed to throw what he had been holding. The grenade’s impact made some of her copies vanish, but Shrike wasn’t worried. Even if they somehow managed to dispel all the illusions she could conjure up, what would they do, shoot her? She was invincible! However, she was not very observant.

With the smoke from the last grenade still clouding the air, Shrike failed to see the other grenade, this one flying directly towards her. The impact itself didn’t harm her, although the blast threw her to the ground. The wooden floor exploded under her feet, splinters of flying like big pieces of shrapnel. And while the ring protected the wearer against metal projectiles, nobody had anticipated the need to protect against wooden ones, or her own mask shattering due to the blast. Pieces of white plastic scraped her face, just as wood splinters got embedded in her limbs. She screamed in both pain and surprise. 

However, that wasn’t the worst. No, the one thing that truly unsettled her was that the Apple got knocked out of her hand when she fell.

_ _ _

A soothing veil shrouded Glaz’s mind, its golden aura keeping at bay the turbulent emotions that swirled right beneath the surface. It dictated his every move, not leaving room for doubt or disobedience. He had no fears and no worries, just a clear objective: kill the intruders.

When he saw one of them get out of cover, Glaz aimed to kill. And yet, something made him hesitate. He didn’t really want to do this, did he? The compulsion to shoot and kill got stronger, and he couldn’t hold back. Hand trembling, he aimed lower than before, then he shot. Glaz wasn’t sure why he did that. It was nice to kill the enemy, wasn't it?

The man stumbled, Glaz’s shot piercing his thigh, but he still threw something at them. Glaz saw the grenade impact on the wall, but he made no move to hide. That wasn’t part of his orders. Damien yanked him back as another grenade hit the ground and exploded, shrapnel and wood splinters flying around. His companion started cursing, but Glaz only felt the mind-numbing tranquility that the Apple provided. 

“Come, we’ll flank them,” Damien said, running into the main bedroom.

There was another explosion, then the veil smothering Glaz’s mind was lifted. The storm raging beneath the surface broke free. It all came back at once: the memories, the guilt and the anger. All these feelings were filling his heart all at once. In the end, a single thought prevailed over the rest: revenge. 

Glaz wanted revenge. 

He roughly pressed the muzzle of his gun against Damien’s back, which made him still as if his feet suddenly were glued to the floor. Another explosion made the floor tremble while Glaz took Damien’s gun away.

“Did you know what Shrike planned to do with Maxim?” Glaz asked, his own voice sounding unnaturally calm to his own ears. “Answer me.”

“Traitor,” Damien hissed. “I thought we were friends, but you were just a conniving and spying rat!”

“Answer me!” When no answer came, Glaz pushed the gun more insistently against Damien, pressing on his spine.

“I should have helped her,” Damien answered at last, vitriol dripping from his words. “Had I known who you and your boyfriend really were, you two would be lying in a ditch already!”

Glaz took the gun away from Damien’s back, he aimed down and pulled the trigger. 

Damien wobbled and fell to the ground, yelling in pain as he tried to stem the bleeding wound on his thigh. By all rights, Glaz should have killed him, he knew that. However, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. He killed more than enough for this mission already. Also, in a twisted way, he had considered Damien his friend. The bulk of his anger wasn’t directed at him. He knew that Damien was only here because of his brother.

“Don’t get in my way, next time I won’t be so kind,” Glaz warned him. He smashed the butt of the pistol against Damien’s head, rendering him unconscious. It was better to not take any chances, for both their sakes. Then, not sparing a second glance at the only White Mask he had considered a friend, Glaz ran out to the corridor.

The small corridor where they had been standing before had been nearly obliterated. The walls were singed and smoked by the explosions, the wooden floor sporting holes where the grenades had impacted. Most satisfying of all, Shrike lay on the ground, her mask broken, white splinters embedded in her face and neck. She was bleeding, but that wasn’t enough. Not when she was still moving, crawling on the floor and trying to reach the Apple. 

It was just a few centimeters away from her grasp, and Glaz took great delight in punting the orb further away, same as her pistol. Then he kicked her in the ribs, rolling her around like the worm she was. Even then, Shrike looked up at him as if she was watching nothing but an insect, a mere nuisance. That wouldn’t do. Glaz stomped on her hand, grinding his heels against the fragile bones of her fingers. Something cracked, and a satisfaction bloomed briefly in his heart. 

She screamed, but then started to laugh maniacally.

“Why are you so angry, Idri ? It wasn’t me who killed your precious Maxim.” She had the gall to smirk at him, and Glaz saw red. He was dimly aware of footsteps coming closer and closer, but he didn’t care.

Glaz pressed his gun against her stomach, right below the center of the ribcage. Only her shirt separated the muzzle from her skin. “Do you think your ring would deflect a bullet at this distance? Only one way to find out.” 

Someone called Glaz’s name, a vaguely familiar voice. Shrike laughed, “You could have been one of my best men. If you had the guts to follow through with your threats, that is.” 

Everything happened at once. The voice calling his name said, “Stop!” , and someone tried to pull him away from Shrike. Glaz wouldn’t budge, though. Nothing would save this woman from his wrath; Shrike had signed her own death sentence when she laid her hands on Kapkan. He yanked the ring from Shrike’s finger and shot. Unlike all the other kills he had under his belt as a sniper, this one wasn’t impersonal or shielded by notions of justice and protection. 

No, this time pulling the trigger filled him with a dark satisfaction. Glaz wondered if this is how the White Masks felt, they certainly seemed to enjoy themselves during the attacks. It didn’t matter, perhaps he was a horrible person deep down, but nothing could make him change his mind: Shrike deserved it. She deserved to die.

Several people were shouting at him, shaking him, yet Glaz felt strangely detached from the whole situation. Finally, he registered those people were Sledge, Thatcher and a woman he didn’t know. He ought to have felt more than a twinge of guilt when he saw the haphazard bandaging on Thatcher’s thigh, he remembered shooting him not even five minutes ago, but it barely registered. What was a bullet wound on someone who still could walk, compared to sticking a knife in Maxim’s chest?

“Glaz!” Sledge shook him by the arm, and only stopped when Glaz looked directly at him. “Are you with us, lad?”

He nodded absentmindedly. Yes, he was with them, but his thoughts were far away. Shrike, the Apple, Damien, all the White Masks in general… he wanted to make them pay.

“I know where they are,” Glaz said. This caught the woman’s attention, since Sledge and Thatcher were too busy arguing whether the old man should sit this one out, since he was injured. He recalled Shrike ordering everyone around, calling it the emergency protocol. “The hunting vault, next to the study.”

The woman’s satisfied grin was downright predatory, and Glaz rejoiced in their shared thirst for blood. He was itching to kill them all, ruin them. He barely noticed Thatcher was done arguing with Sledge, and was now talking to him.

“... in no fit state to fight,” Thatcher said. “Go down, wait with Kapkan. We’ll be done soon, then we can take him to a hospital.”

Glaz nodded dumbly, then the words sunk in for real and his eyes rounded a bit. Kapkan wasn’t dead. He felt like crying, relief and guilt waging war inside him. The need for revenge abated slowly. With Shrike dead, all he wanted now was to find Kapkan and check that he was indeed still alive.

_ _ _

As a hunter, Kapkan supposed that he should have had more patience, but waiting for a prey to appear wasn’t the same as waiting for his friends to be done fighting. He hated feeling useless.

An explosion upstairs seemed to shook the whole room, and Kapkan decided he’d been waiting long enough. Lion had patched him up as best as he could, but they both knew it was insufficient. It would have to do, though. Kapkan tried getting up from the chair, which turned out to be a titanic effort. He was winded, gasping for air and nearly doubling over at the stabs of pain in his chest. But he was too stubborn to give up.

Taking a moment so the pain would die down some, he patted the jacket’s pocket to make sure he still had the gun. Lion had been so kind to lend him a pistol, after Kapkan insisted on it. It would come handy if some roamer came into this room while Lion and the other guy, Maestro, cleaned the rest of the floor. That’s what he told Lion, but his plans had changed.

Each step he took was a small torture on its own, his body refusing to cooperate. Kapkan grit his teeth and carried on, disregarding the urge to collapse and the wild beating of his heartbeat at the normally insignificant task of walking. It seemed like the corridor was a never ending stretch he would never cover, but that was only because he was slow. The tightness in his chest was becoming unbearable, and he stopped midway, leaning against the nearest wall to catch his breath. What had been Lion’s instructions about the wound? It was getting hard for Kapkan to remember, everything was too jumbled.

He was about to give up on trying to remember and just carry on, never mind the pain, when it came back to him. If the feeling of pressure became too much or his heartbeat increased, he had to take out the dressing. Something about air not escaping the chest cavity and life-threatening danger. Yeah, as if getting stabbed wasn’t a life-threatening situation; Kapkan would have laughed if he wasn’t struggling to breathe. At least ripping out the dressing was easy enough.

It took a lot of determination, but Kapkan finally reached the staircase. Now he only had to go up. The mere idea made him groan in despair. He was too tired to feel ashamed at the thought, but he doubted he would be able to climb the stairs. The corners of his vision were getting darker, and Kapkan didn’t notice someone coming down until he was nearly face to face with a White Mask.

Kapkan fumbled with the jacket to take out the gun, but he was too sluggish. He heard a shot, loud and unmistakable, but there was no pain. The White Mask toppled over and rolled down the stairs like a broken mannequin, almost knocking him too. 

Looking up, he saw him

Glaz, without the hateful blank mask covering his face, pistol still in his hand. Was it real, or was this just a delusion brought on by the blood loss? Or another trick of the Apple? He stood in place, looking at his lover and not knowing how to react. He was terrified to find it wasn’t real, that it would all crumble like sand between his fingers if he reached out.

However, when Glaz dashed toward him and curled a hand around the back of his neck, the touch was gentle but real. Relief swept through him and he collapsed against the sniper, who didn’t hesitate to catch him. Up this close, Kapkan noticed how different Glaz looked without the Apple controlling him; his pale skin, the worried wrinkles on his forehead, the curve of his lips and his tired eyes. The sniper looked like he had gone to hell and back, yet to Kapkan he was a heavenly vision. 

“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” 

Glaz kept repeating it over and over, still holding him. Kapkan wanted to tell him it was alright, that he didn’t blame him, but the world was quickly fading to black. He squeezed Glaz’s arm, hoping that would suffice as his eyes started to close slowly. Lacking as it was, he could do nothing else.

“C’mon, stay awake. Please”

Regrettably, he knew he would fail Glaz on this account. Perhaps he would awake later on, in a hospital, or perhaps he wouldn’t. He could only hope, but hope could be a double edged knife. At least the sniper was safe and free of the mental control. That was all Kapkan could have asked for. And yet, when the sweet embrace of unconsciousness took him, he dared to hope about a future once more. 

For Glaz. 

He needed to tell him something very important.

Chapter Text

 Present day - Italy

 

Hospitals were always the same, in every corner of the world. Walls painted in ugly and unwelcoming colours, the waiting rooms too crowded and yet too silent at the same time. There was this awkwardness, a strange tension in the air, as people waited for good news. Some would never get them, and Glaz was terrified that would be their case.

The car ride to the hospital was a blur in Glaz’s memory. He knew the Italian guy, Maestro, was the one driving, and Thatcher had been there too. However, all he could remember was sitting on the backseat, holding an unconscious Kapkan and actually praying for the first time in years. Glaz wasn’t sure he believed in God, but in that moment, with the hunter’s blood all over his jacket, he fervently asked God or whoever was listening to please not let Kapkan die. There wasn’t any evidence that his prayers had been heard, but no confirmation of the worst either.

Both Kapkan and Thatcher had been rushed away immediately, leaving Glaz and Maestro to sit in uncomfortable silence while they were waiting. Well, Maestro had tried to fill the silence, but Glaz didn’t feel like humoring his attempts at a conversation. A nurse stayed with them, asking all manner of questions about what happened, and Glaz let Maestro do the talking. After all, he didn’t know a lick of Italian, so he couldn’t have answered even if he wanted to. Noticing the wide-eyed looks he was garnering, both from the nurse and other people, Glaz realised he was still wearing the bloodied jacket. He felt somewhat better after taking it off, but then he had the problem he didn’t know what to do with it. In the end he just chucked it in the nearest trash bin. He had liked that jacket, but he couldn’t keep it. Even if he took it to get cleaned, he would look at it and always remember the helplessness of feeling Kapkan’s blood seeping through his fingers. It was a horrible feeling, one of total hopelessness, and Glaz was sure he wouldn’t forget that sensation of despair for as long as he lived.

He left Maestro talking with the nurse and went to the bathroom, to scrub his hands clean. It was thankfully empty, and Glaz furiously lathered his hand with soap, watching how the dried blood gave a pink tint to the resulting bubbles. He kept scrubbing, stopping only when his skin stung from the abuse, then left his hands under the stream of cold water until they felt numb. His fingers barely responded as he turned off the faucet then dried his hands with a paper towel. It ached, in a dull and prickly way, but that feeling helped him get centered again instead of getting carried away by awful what-ifs. It was time to keep his head cool, not to give into a blind panic. Glaz came out feeling more like himself, ready to endure the nerve-wracking wait until someone informed them about Kapkan’s state. 

Soon after he sat back next to Maestro, Thatcher returned too, still limping and chased by a nurse who kept yelling at him.

“I need you to act as a translator,” Thatcher told Maestro, gesturing to the nurse with a scowl.

From what Glaz understood, the doctors weren’t too happy about Thatcher’s decision to forego an overnight stay. Still, the old man was stubborn and there was no way to convince him to change his mind, so they brought him the necessary documents to sign his early discharge. Privately, Glaz agreed with Thatcher. It was a well-known fact none of the Spetsnaz liked to set foot in Doc’s office. 

It was awkward to sit next to Thatcher at the moment, the glaring white of the bandages around his thigh an uncomfortable reminder of what Glaz had done. He single-handedly managed to injure and send two of the best Rainbow operators to hospital, not to mention that poor SWAT member he killed. Shrike was right, he would have been a better terrorist than other from her merry band of misfits. It was sickening and darkly hilarious at the same time. 

He rubbed his right eye as he considered this unsettling revelation and caught Thatcher side-eying him. Perhaps Glaz should apologise for shooting him.

“I…”

“It’s okay,” Thatcher cut him. He looked more uncomfortable than Glaz had ever seen him before. The old man surprised him by patting his shoulder in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Lion did his best, and we arrived here in record time. Besides, you, damn Russians are a tough bunch.”

Well, that was unexpected. Usually Glaz was good at keeping a poker face, but it was obvious this time that he was doing a pretty poor job. Seeing as Thatcher didn’t seem inclined to talk either, Glaz kept silent. 

Time stretched endlessly, minutes lasting as long as hours would, and looking at the clock again and again became an exercise in masochism. Maestro attempted to distract them, talking about how he met and befriended Sledge years ago, and slowly drew Thatcher into a conversation. Glaz didn’t speak up even once, but still listened to them. It was better than staring vacantly ahead, waiting.

When a doctor finally approached them, Glaz jumped out of his seat, trying to understand what was being said. He looked at Maestro expectantly, waiting for a translation as he held his breath in anticipation. Going by the doctor’s body language and Maestro’s expression, it wasn’t bad news. However, it wasn’t until he heard the confirmation that Kapkan was out of danger that he felt the tension leaving his body. The doctor left soon after, and Glaz started bombarding Maestro with questions.

“In which room is he? Can he receive visitors yet?”

“We need to go back to the villa,” Thatcher interrupted. Glaz gave him his best unimpressed glare: he was going nowhere. “I left Sledge in charge once the hostiles were reduced, but this was a very important mission and-”

“Your mission, not mine,” Glaz coldly reminded them.

There was no way he would leave Kapkan alone, not now. His mission was to collect information and remain undetected, and that had gone down the drain in a rather spectacular way. No, Glaz was done; he finished with his mission when he killed Shrike. Right now, his only objective was to remain by Kapkan’s side until he woke up. He owed the hunter that much. And if Thatcher, or Six, or anyone else had a problem with that, they could go to hell.

_ _ _

Silent and frowning, Thatcher weathered Maestro’s loud singing with as much grace as he could. In truth, the Italian was a decent singer, and on another occasion, Thatcher might even have commented on it. However, right now he was still fuming over Glaz’s flat refusal to help them and his insistence that he had already finished his mission. Damn stubborn Russians! And to think he once considered Glaz the most reasonable of the bunch.

He could understand being worried for a teammate, but Thatcher had a hunch there was more to this story, and he would bet it had something to do with the White Mask the sniper had killed. In all the time he had known the Russian, he had never seen Glaz act so savagely. No, everyone knew Glaz was efficient and detached, preferring to work from a distance. Yet this time he literally kicked around a wounded enemy, taunted them, and then shoot them at point blank range. It was useless to dwell on this, no way to know what happened unless Glaz talked. However, when Thatcher was irritated, he liked to gnaw on his annoyance constantly, chipping it away piece by small piece, unraveling it slowly. By the time the car arrived to the villa’s main access, he was much calmer and focused, less likely to snap at someone just because they looked at him for more than two seconds.

Maestro parked the car and went to help Thatcher get out, but he just glared at the Italian and got out on his own. Bloody hell, he just had a wounded thigh, he wasn’t invalid. He wasn't a grandpa yet! Thatcher hobbled into the house and nearly collided against Sledge, who rushed to the entrance as soon as he heard the car. He was swept into a brief but crushing hug, Sledge letting him go only when Thatcher made a strangled sound of protest. Thatcher walked into the hallway, muttering fondly about giant scottish oafs and their bone breaking hugs.

“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Sledge asked, frowning in worry when he saw Thatcher limping, Maestro coming right behind him. “Where’s Glaz? I could use his help to identify the White Masks.”

“You’ll have to do it without him,” Thatcher grunted, stopping to casually lean against the main stairs’ railing and disguise the need to give his leg a respite.

“Why? Did something happen? Bloody hell, is Kapkan…?”

“They’re both fine,” Thatcher reassured him, “Our sniper friend is just stubborn like a mule and wouldn’t leave Kapkan alone.”

Maestro put his arm around Sledge’s waist, winking at him. “Ah, nothing can stand in the way of love! Right, caramellino ?”

The comment earned him twin looks of confusion, and Thatcher shook his head. What a ludicrous idea. Sledge seemed to find the notion more believable, judging by his contemplative expression, but he was sure they were just projecting their own feelings on others. However, Thatcher didn’t come back to sit around and gossip. 

“Did you contact with Six yet?” It was a stupid question, he knew, and Sledge’s eye-roll was more than justified; but it was also the quickest way to redirect the conversation. 

“Yes. She’s arranging transportation for everyone we arrested. Harry is coming too.” So Six didn’t trust just anyone with the prisoners. Smart, considering they all worked for Abstergo, and probably were part of the Templar order. “The Apple thing and the ring are under Alibi’s custody until Harry arrives.”

“Good. Then we wait.” Thatcher would have preferred to have something to do, but it seemed Sledge had everything under control already.

The happy couple left, Maestro saying he needed to speak with Alibi, but Thatcher imagined that  he just really wanted to gawk at the Apple. He didn’t blame him, if he hadn’t seen firsthand what that thing could do, Thatcher would probably be curious about the artifact too. And Sledge went wherever Maestro went, of course. Once he was left alone, Thatcher allowed himself to show how much his wound was bothering him, and sat in the nearest chair he found. Perhaps he had strained himself a bit more than he should have. Damn, he hated being wounded.

His peace didn’t last long. Lion bounded down the stairs, approaching Thatcher like a brewing storm about to unleash its fury. Thatcher really didn’t want to deal with whatever had the Frenchman so worked up, but Lion was in front of him before he could even get up from the chair.

“The Apple, what are your plans with it?” Lion asked, mouth set in a thin line and arms crossed before his chest.

He couldn’t contain a snort, because really, Lion vastly overestimated Thatcher’s involvement in any decision making. “Damned if I know. Ask Six or Harry.”

The Frenchman’s anger deflated slightly, but not much. He still looked like a cat about to hiss at him. Thatcher had no idea Lion felt so strongly about the Apple, perhaps it was the Templar upbringing coming out.

“Alibi told me what it can do, that thing needs to be destroyed or contained before it does any more damage.”

Alright, this was unexpected. Thatcher agreed, it came nothing good from messing with a so-called Piece of Eden, but he thought Lion would want to use or study the supposedly divine artifacts. He was pleasantly surprised.

“I don’t know what your… what the other side does with the Pieces they steal, but the Brotherhood usually keeps them locked away somewhere,” -to study them. Which in turn led to the Templars to eventually find its location and raid the place to get the Pieces of Eden, and then the Brotherhood sent operatives to retrieve them, and it all was an endless cycle. Over and over again. Lion either knew that too or suspected it, hence the unimpressed scowl on his face. “Look, the fookin’ decision is out of my hands. What do you want me to do, throw an EMP grenade at it and see what happens?”

Lion’s frown turned into a sneer, displeased with Thatcher’s cavalier attitude about the Apple, no doubt. “Humanity shouldn’t have access to those relics.”

“Then it’s a damn good thing it most probably will end up stashed in a box lord knows where!”

They regarded each other like two snakes about to strike, and eventually Lion backed down, shaking his head and going away in a huff. It wasn’t until Thatcher was alone that he realised the look on Lion’s eyes hadn’t been contempt, but disappointment. Goddamn it, he never asked nor wanted to live up to anyone’s expectations, much less Lion’s. He had punched the bloody idiot in the face, for fuck’s sake. Yet he took his job and mission seriously, and while they might not become friends anytime soon, somehow along the way they found a grudging respect for each other.

Thatcher sighed and blamed his decision on the painkillers he took, but he would bring up the Apple issue with Harry. Preferably within earshot of Lion. Just because it would stop his whining and that would make Thatcher’s life easier.

_ _ _

Navigating the hallways of the hospital had been harder than Glaz would like to admit; between his nerves and having all the signs in Italian, he got lost and ended up in the wrong place. Everyone around him seemed busy, and instead of trying to ask someone for directions, Glaz carefully backtracked his steps until he found where he went wrong.

Once he was in front of the correct room, Glaz found himself rooted to the spot. Whatever awaited him behind that door, it couldn’t be worse than those agonizing moments in the car, when he had been sure Kapkan would bleed out in his arms. And yet, he was hesitant to go inside. Damn, he was not a coward, and he wanted, no, needed to see Kapkan. With those thoughts in mind, he stepped into the room and shut the door softly behind him.

It wasn’t the first time he saw the hunter sleeping, but those other times the setting had been vastly different. Kapkan had never looked so pale either, nor had he been hooked up to all types of IV’s and machines. He had cuts and bruises littering his face, the one on his brow looking deeper and longer than the others. However, Glaz knew the worst cut of all was the one Shrike hadn’t inflicted, the only one covered by the bandages. 

Glaz felt a knot in the back of his throat. He did this. The stab wound had been so close to the middle of the chest, it was a miracle he hadn’t nicked anything important, anything fatal. He had been so close to killing Kapkan for real. His vision blurred and Glaz knew he needed to sit down.

He sat down almost blindly, making himself as comfortable as possible in the small hospital chair. There were some magazines on a nearby table, but Glaz’s attention was firmly set on the figure in the bed. He stared at Kapkan for a long time before he reached out almost shyly to grab his hand. The contact elicited no response from the hunter, not that Glaz expected any different, but still he rubbed his thumb over the back of Kapkan’s hand. It just felt right to do so. 

The silence was only broken by the beeping of the heart monitor, which along with an ever-present antiseptic smell, made it impossible for Glaz to forget where he was even if he closed his eyes. Despite the tension and guilt keeping him stiff in the chair, exhaustion from the day’s events slowly caught up on him. Eventually Glaz fell asleep on the chair, head dropping forward in a position he would surely regret later, still clutching Kapkan’s hand like a lifeline.

Hours later, Glaz awoke to a terrible crick in his neck and a headache. A cup of coffee would work wonders, he needed something that would lift the fog from his brain. Not wanting to go too far from Kapkan, he just went to the vending machine down the corridor, next to the visitor’s waiting room. It was then he realised he only carried American money at the moment, which evidently wasn’t working on the machine. Was it too much to ask for just one thing to go right? Glaz kicked the machine, gaining nothing but a sore foot.

He went back to the room, and he barely sat down when he finally heard the hunter calling out to him. “Timur.”

Kapkan’s voice was raspy, and he sounded dazed and sleepy, still under the effects of the anaesthesia most certainly. However, his dopey smile was enough to make Glaz’s heart try to beat out of his chest. He didn’t know what to say, so he just grasped Kapkan’s hand again.

“I was worried about you,” Kapkan said, and Glaz couldn’t help laughing, a wet sound that was too close to a sob.

You were worried about me ?” Glaz shook his head, sitting on his chair again without letting go of the hunter’s hand. “You’re fucking unbelievable.”

“That’s why you love me.”

Glaz wasn’t sure if it was just a joke or the medication loosening his tongue, but Kapkan was right. He whispered “Yeah” , his answer too soft and quiet to be mistaken for anything else than the truth. Kapkan smiled drowsily before closing his eyes again.

It was like a weight had been lifted from Glaz’s shoulders, he could even breathe more freely. Not only was the hunter alright, he seemed to accept Glaz’s feelings. Maybe Glaz was reading too much from such a brief exchange, but relief and hope were a welcome change from the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that had accompanied him for hours. Realising Kapkan would be out for a while, he grabbed one of the magazines he ignored before. It was some sort of gossip rag, all in Italian of course, but Glaz had nothing else to keep himself occupied.

He finished paging through all the magazines, skimming the text in search of any words he might recognize. Then he decided that ripping off a few pages from the most outdated of the magazines wouldn’t be too bad. Glaz started making simple paper constructions: a boat, a plane, a butterfly. The small figurines were left on Kapkan’s bedside table, as decoration. 

Glaz was on his third attempt folding the paper to make a rabbit, when he heard the telltale sounds of someone shuffling in bed and then a hiss of pain. Turning around, he saw how Kapkan was trying to sit up. The hunter gave up after hissing again, face screwing up in a grimace but looking much more alert than he had been before. 

“It wasn’t a dream, you’re here.”

Forgetting about his origami failures, the sniper smiled at him and suppressed the sudden urge to ask Kapkan if he dreamt about him often. “Of course I’m here.”

It was slightly heartbreaking to see how stunned the hunter was. Did he really think Glaz would leave him alone after what happened? There were so many things Glaz wanted to say, like apologize again for what he did, or tell Kapkan he loved him, or even make some awful joke about how sticking a knife in him wasn’t the kind of penetration he preferred. But none of the words were coming to him, so Glaz just stared at Kapkan, hoping to convey an ounce of what he felt. He knew something was wrong when Kapkan looked away and started playing with the sheets, bunching the fabric and then smoothing it out. 

“That night, I was about to leave, you know? Before they came,” Kapkan told him, looking directly at Glaz. He wasn’t slurring the words anymore, but he still spoke slowly. “I had so many reasons why it was better to cut it off and pretend that night never happened.”

It hurt to hear that, but Glaz had expected this reaction. When he thought Kapkan was avoiding him, this was exactly the scenario he had feared. So no, Glaz couldn’t say it surprised him much. He had been a fool to hope otherwise.

“I was an idiot. The biggest idiot,” Kapkan sucked in a breath, harshly. “I can’t believe it took me nearly dying to admit the truth.”

“And what is that truth?” Glaz leaned forward, holding his breath expectantly. It might be selfish of him, but he wanted to hear it. No more guessing and hanging on half-hopes. 

“These last weeks you were all I thought about. Constantly. I love spending time with you, and pretending to be your boyfriend was so easy and fun that I... I didn’t even have to act.”

He was grinning like an idiot, Glaz was sure, but he couldn’t have stopped even if he wanted. Glaz got up only to sit on the edge of Kapkan’s bed. “Are you saying you want to be my real boyfriend, not a fake one?”

“I’m saying this, we , could have been a product of the stress, but,” Kapkan sought his hand and laced their fingers together. “I’d love to give us a real chance.”

While not the most romantic declaration, it was honest and heartfelt, and that was all Glaz asked for. He brought up their intertwined hands to kiss Kapkan’s fingers, and was amused to hear the heart monitor beeping at a slightly increased rate. Apparently, Kapkan could remain calm through emotionally fraught conversations, but the gentlest bit of physical affection got him flustered. It was good to know, Glaz always preferred to let actions speak louder than words. Still, he couldn’t help teasing the hunter a little bit.

“Does that mean I can keep calling you pumpkin?”

The question made Kapkan laugh, although the laughter soon became a groan of pain. Glaz apologized, and Kapkan let his head rest against the sniper’s arm. He would rather lie down to snuggle with the hunter, but the narrow hospital bed wouldn’t fit both of them. Not to mention Glaz feared unintentionally hurting Kapkan again. So this would have to suffice. For now.

_ _ _

Harry walked down the hospital corridor with purpose, tired and wanting to go back to Hereford as soon as possible. Who would have thought two operations as wildly different would end up merging in such a way. He now had to deal with an injured operator, dead terrorists, two pieces of Eden, and a handful of Templars arrested for terrorist cooperation. All things considered, it was a quite favorable outcome.

He’d been told Glaz had stayed in the hospital with Kapkan, which meant this visit would serve to check on the injured operator and remind Glaz that even if the undercover operation was over, Six would still need a full debrief and his help to identify all the members of the now defunct terrorist cell. Work was never over.

Arriving in front of the room, Harry was about to go inside when he abruptly stopped in front of the open door. Well, that was an unexpected sight. Glaz sat on the bed with the hunter, holding his left hand while he used the right one to gently trace a line over Kapkan’s brow. Harry stared at them in surprise.

It seemed he owed Aurelia an apology; she had been right when she said the undercover mission wouldn’t affect their friendship negatively. Harry hadn’t been so sure, stress of that caliber could do awful things to even the closest friends, but he was glad to see he had been wrong. Although neither he nor Aurelia expected this kind of closeness he had just witnessed. Harry would keep an eye on them, out of professional curiosity. He couldn’t believe he missed the clues here, and such blindness on his part rankled. Harry’s job was to know the operators better than they knew themselves.

Since the two lovebirds didn’t notice his presence, Harry quietly stepped away from the door to give them some privacy. Talking to them could wait a little longer, he really didn’t want to break their peaceful moment. Not yet at least. Besides, he still had to talk with the doctors, to know the extent of Kapkan’s injuries and organise his transport back to Hereford. Six wanted everyone back at the base during the next two or three days at most, including their two newest additions if possible, and Harry would ensure it happened. They were all going home.

Chapter Text

Two months later - Hereford

 

The painting was far from finished, but Glaz was already happy with how it was coming together. After a month of having only a little time to invest in his hobby, he was quickly reconnecting with his passion for making colourful scenes. He was mostly painting from memory, the house in the background probably didn’t resemble his aunt’s cottage - where he spent so many summer vacations - that much, but to him it was just as perfect as he remembered it.

He took a break to stretch his arms and neck and observed the familiar scene unfolding around him, the Spetsnaz being back together finally. He watched with a smile as Fuze was complaining yet again about someone eating most of the halva his grandma had sent. Finka listened to him, only interrupting Fuze’s rant to ask why he was so sure the halva thief was Kapkan and not Tachanka, or Glaz, or even her. She laughed at his confusion and promised to help him catch the culprit red-handed if she could have part of the remaining treat. It seemed everyone loved the food Fuze’s grandma sent. He was about to answer Finka when Ash poked her head into the room.

“Meeting in five minutes guys, so move your asses!”

Mildly annoyed by the interruption, Glaz put away his brushes and resigned himself to continue painting later. He doubted that Six would deploy Kapkan again, even if the hunter was making good progress in the healing process. He didn’t have stitches anymore and he was training again - Glaz couldn’t have been more glad or proud. However, the sniper selfishly wished that whatever the issue at hand was, he wouldn’t have to get involved either. He was fine with short missions, but a longer operation was something he wanted to avoid. After his undercover mission, Glaz could confidently say he had his fill of drama for a while. He was still dealing with the aftermath of it all: he was still exhausted, both physically and mentally. He was dealing with sleepless nights, anxiety and remorse. The later two always came hand in hand, especially when he saw Kapkan gently touch the scar he gave the hunter. Sometimes, when he closed his eyes, he saw it again. That surprised, scared expression - maybe even disappointment. To calm his remorseful thoughts, he wanted to stay back and just help the hunter get back to normal. That was his number one priority for now.

His friends didn’t wait for him to finish putting away his painting gear, so Glaz made his way downstairs alone. The briefing room was plunged into darkness, which was odd. He looked around. Where was everyone? He turned on the lights, blinking at the harsh and sudden glare of the fluorescents. The chairs had been neatly organised in orderly rows, all facing the big box on the other side of the room. Glaz felt his stomach drop as he realised it was a casket. He saw an all too familiar body lying there. He wanted to reach out, to step closer and check, but he couldn’t move. He was frozen to his place, filled with more and more terrible thoughts. His hands started to shake.

There was a light sniffling by his side, and Glaz spotted Finka wiping away the tears from her eyes. She regarded him with a sneer. “How could you?! You traitor!”

He stood stunned as she ran away from him and towards Fuze, who put an arm around her shoulders as she sniffled again. He wanted to say something, anything, but he just couldn’t open his mouth as if his lips were frozen together as well. He spotted Tachanka by their side, shaking his head. Someone clapped his shoulder, and Glaz turned around to a face he had hoped to never see again.

“Like it or not, but you’re ours now. Once you are in, there is no way out!” Damien was snarling at him, just as the last time Glaz had seen him. 

Glaz wanted to scream that it wasn’t true, but he couldn’t speak. He had always known that sparing Damien would eventually come to bite him in the ass; it had just been a question of time. But how did a terrorist get into the base?

He suddenly noticed that Sledge, Maestro and Lion were there as well, keeping close to the other Spetsnaz and giving him dirty looks. There was a trail of blood leading from the casket to them, Lion’s hands still dripping red. The Frenchman looked pale and broken, his eyes were blank. Dread gripped his heart, whatever was going on he had a bad feeling about it.

He had the sudden urge to see what - who - was in the casket; however, Damien’s grasp was stronger than Glaz remembered, anchoring him with a painful grip. After struggling uselessly to get away from him, the sniper punched Damien, channelling all his rage and frustration. It worked, and the man let him go, yelling at Glaz that he was nothing but a traitor.

When he got there, the casket was empty, the satin padding inside drenched in blood. Not even the flower crowns could cover the metallic stench of it, there was just too much! From behind the floral arrangements, Shrike was grinning at him, white mask broken, bleeding from the stomach, right where Glaz shot her. She looked even more insane now, bloody eyes open wide, madness sparkling in them. He heard the Apple caused such thing to weak people, but Shrike had never always appeared to be in control. He should be glad to see her brought low, but Glaz couldn’t miss the way Shrike laughed at him.

“Why do you blame me for the things you did?” Her mocking expression sent Glaz into an uncontrollable rage. Looking at the woman, he reached for the knife in his pocket. Gritting his teeth, he took it out and and vowed that his time, he wouldn’t fail. The cold metal dug into his palm as he clenched his fist in fury.

Glaz vaulted over the casket, kicking the flower crowns down, and sunk the knife in Shrike’s neck with one precise and swift motion. He pulled the blade out, then, he stabbed it back again, then again, and again, until he was sure Shrike couldn’t run away. His mind was blurry, he felt blood pouring out of the wound, making his fingers sticky. He remembered this sensation. He remembered it too well. The body fell limp on Glaz’s arms as he wanted to throw it down, but when he looked down on it it- it wasn’t Shrike anymore. He collapsed to the ground, hugging Kapkan’s lifeless body against him. The hunter’s head lolled back, his skin pale and cold, glassy eyes open in eternal surprise. In pure panic, Glaz touched his face, bloody fingers leaving shaking stains on his comrade’s skin. He felt hot tears falling down his face.

No. No, no, this couldn’t be happening. He tried to shake Kapkan awake, even if deep down, he knew it was hopeless. Glaz still tried, clutching the hunter’s body and pleading for him to wake up. He buried his face in Kapkan’s chest, begging for mercy, begging for a miracle, but yet again, it was hopeless. His fingers were drenched in blood, slippery, clinging to him as a reminder of what he had done. Meanwhile, their friends and teammates circled closer and closer, cursing and blaming him for Kapkan’s death. When he looked up, everybody was standing around him, towering over him, their pitch black shadows swallowing him into the darkness. Even falling, he heard their voices whisper in his ear:

Traitor.

Murderer.

How could you, Timur?

_

Glaz opened his eyes to the near darkness of his room, heart beating irregularly in his chest as if trying to break his ribs. The weak moonlight painted the familiar surroundings in shadows, making it look almost like a different place and increasing his agitation. He gasped for air, planting his face into his shaking hands. He remembered them being bloody, but when he looked at them, they were perfectly clean. Clarity cut through his momentary confusion after a few excruciating seconds. When he realized that it was only a nightmare, Glaz relaxed marginally, sighing as the remains of the dream faded away, and he became fully aware of where he was. Especially when he saw the familiar figure lying next to him.

The bed was just big enough for two people to fit in if they were pressed close together, and the weight and warmth of Kapkan sleeping next to him was a blessing, a calming and grounding sensation to dispel his dark thoughts. As much as he would love to turn around and snuggle closer to the hunter, he didn’t want to wake Kapkan up. Both of them had been struggling with nightmares, and if his lover was sleeping peacefully for once, the last thing he would do was disturb his rest. He shuffled in bed, slowly and quietly, trying to get comfortable.

“Stop squirming and come here,” Kapkan mumbled, hand reaching out to grab Glaz’s shoulder.

He couldn’t hold back a smile, because honestly, how could he resist such an invitation? He didn’t. Glaz let Kapkan pull him closer, shifting in the narrow space available until he was lying nearly on top of the hunter, head resting on his chest. Kapkan put one hand on his head and the other over his back, holding the sniper in a tight embrace. This was one of Glaz’s favorite ways to cuddle, the steady beating of the hunter’s heart making Glaz relax and reassuring him that Kapkan was still alive and well. It was the easiest way to forget the nightmares.

“Did I wake you?” Glaz asked, still whispering, unwilling to break the calm bubble that settled over them.

“I was already awake,” Kapkan replied, playing with Glaz’s hair and caressing his back, and the sniper melted. All his leftover worries and stress disappeared, magicked away by Kapkan’s touch. Still, the implication of the hunter’s words didn’t escape him.

“You should have woken me,” Glaz whispered, tightening his hold on Kapkan. “You don’t have to go through it alone.”

“Like you woke me after your nightmare, hmm?” Kapkan snorted, and although he wouldn’t be able to see it, Glaz smiled sheepishly against his lover’s chest. It seemed they were equally stubborn. “I know you struggle with nightmares too, I didn’t want to…” Kapkan paused, searching for the right words. “You being here helps, even if you’re sleeping.”

“The same is true for me,” Glaz said, thumb tracing soothing circles on Kapkan’s shoulder. “Just knowing you’re here and alive is enough for me.”

The hunter rubbed Glaz’s shoulders, connecting the beauty marks on his skin in some elaborate pattern, and his nails raked lightly over the sniper’s scalp, making Glaz groan contentedly. Yes, laying together like this was perfection.

However, as much as he loved letting his partner pamper him, the sniper felt the pressing need to leave a kiss on Kapkan's neck. Being able to shower Kapkan in little gestures of affection was something he loved, and Glaz felt like he wasn’t truly taking all the available opportunities to do so. It was just a quick contact, lips pressing against the warm skin, but Kapkan relax under him as well, and that spoke volumes of how much the hunter liked that.

His hand was resting on the hunter’s shoulder, so Glaz started tracing his muscles, finger dancing over the skin and rubbing the small scars that littered it too. A quick stab of regret went through him when he went over the knife scar on Kapkan’s chest.

“I can feel the guilt radiating from you, so stop,” Kapkan commanded him, tightening his arms around the sniper. If only it was that easy.

Glaz reacted by pressing another kiss on his skin, hoping to convey all he felt with that simple gesture. Kapkan might not blame him for what happened, but Glaz surely blamed himself. It was difficult to forget how he nearly killed the man he loved. And although he couldn’t take away the pain he had caused, he could make them forget about it, drown the memories with new ones. Pleasurable ones. On the next kiss, he licked the skin as if he was tasting it, before he sucked a mark on the spot. He then moved a few inches to the side, alternating between kissing and nibbling the hunter’s neck.

“Mmm, I take it you don’t feel like going back to sleep?” Kapkan asked, laughing quietly. The sniper’s answer didn’t come in the form of words. Instead, Glaz kissed his neck tenderly, before biting down harder than before. 

Kapkan made a strangled sound that made Glaz’s dick twitch in interest. Drawing noises out of his usually stoic partner was one of the things he loved the most. Same with the bites and bruises they left on each other during their makeout sessions. No doubt Kapkan would retaliate and leave a fair share of marks on him if the position allowed it, but right now Glaz’s plans didn’t include letting Kapkan move. 

Hands on the hunter’s shoulders and pressing him down, Glaz’s mouth slowly moved south, leaving a wet trail of kisses in his path down the sculpted chest. He didn’t hesitate for a second when he reached the hunter’s newest scar. The skin was warm under his lips, and he could feel the hitch in Kapkan’s breathing when his lips reverently brushed the edges of the thankfully healed wound. 

While that reaction was extremely satisfying, it was nothing compared to what Kapkan did when Glaz’s mouth reached his next mark. He licked the hunter’s nipple, teasing the dusky and sensitive skin before sucking the now hardened nub. Kapkan moaned, hips bucking up in search of more friction as Glaz lavished attention on his nipple. He repeated the same process for the other one, making sure both received equal attention. 

However, as Glaz had learnt during the last months, patience wasn’t one of Kapkan’s virtues unless he was on a hunt. So it didn’t come as a surprise when Kapkan yanked at his hair, urging him to go further down. Pining his hands down on the bed, Glaz complied, pressing a line of kisses on his taut stomach and the old scar Kapkan had there, only stopping when he reached the waistband of the boxers.

Despite the ever increasing need burning through him, Glaz would be happy just to lie there, making out with his now boyfriend, holding each other until the sun came up and they inevitably would have to carry on with their normal routine. He released Kapkan’s hands to cup his face and tenderly brush their lips together, but the moment the hunter was free, he grabbed Glaz’s ass and pushed him closer. Kapkan bucked his hips, grinding his bulge against Glaz’s and kissing him with urgency. And yet, as delightful as the friction was, the playful bite on his lower lip was what made Glaz spring into action.

He backed away from Kapkan, blindly reaching for something until he turned the light on. The hunter was a feast for the eyes, laying in bed not totally naked but almost, underwear barely concealing his erection. Unable to resist, Glaz massaged his lover’s cock, tracing its outline through the fabric and making Kapkan moan.

“I’ve barely touched you yet and look at you...” It was far from a complaint; in fact, it filled Glaz with satisfaction that he had this effect on Kapkan. 

He yanked the hunter’s underwear out of the way, admiring the way his cock jutted out, begging to be touched. Glaz did so, loving its weight in his hand and the way it jumped when he rubbed his thumb under the crown. He knew how wonderful it felt to have it sliding against his own straining cock, but Glaz craved more than just that now.

“I want you,” Glaz confessed in a heated whisper.

“I want you too,” Kapkan moaned again, licking his lips and wrapping his hand around Glaz’s wrist, trying to yank him closer. “So let’s get on with it.”

Hearing Kapkan sound so needy already brought a rush of both affection and arousal coursing through Glaz. They hadn’t had many occasions to be intimate, Kapkan’s recovery had been slow and harrowing, and only recently they had started to fool around in bed again. 

“Are you sure?” Glaz asked, desperately trying to not sound too hopeful. 

While Kapkan had assured Glaz this wasn’t his first experience with another man, Glaz had preferred to err on the side of caution and take it slow, since he didn’t know how much Kapkan had actually done before or how long ago it had been. However, at the moment, his body was screaming at him to do this, and Kapkan himself seemed to be in agreement.

“I’m not made of fucking glass, you know?” Kapkan huffed, shifting his hips upwards and fucking into the hold of Glaz’s fist, which was still wrapped around his cock. “Stop being such a softie and fuck me already, or I’ll take charge and do it myself.”

It was the opposite of a threat, and Glaz was already imagining how magnificent Kapkan would look sitting astride him, bouncing on his cock. However, Glaz also knew that the hunter would need quite a bit of preparation, especially if he hadn’t done this in quite some time. Or ever. Fuck, that last thought was as arousing as it was terrifying.

Glaz swiftly shucked off his underwear and settled on the bed. “I want you to kneel over me.”

He marveled at how swiftly the hunter complied, and how he let Glaz manhandle him into proper position. Who could have imagined that a man who was usually so stubborn could become so obedient in such a short time? Only for him, because he trusted Glaz completely, and that was a dizzying thought.

In this position he had Kapkan’s cock brushing against his cheek, the tip deliciously close to his lips and already leaking pre-come. Glaz only had to do was open his mouth and lick the droplets, before sucking at the head. The hunter tried to push himself further down his throat, but he also licked a strip from tip to his balls and Glaz threw his head back against the mattress.

He kissed Kapkan’s thighs a little, sucking a deep bruise into one, causing the hunter to moan as he licked his length. Glaz squeezed tightly on Kapkan’s ass cheeks, loving how they felt under his hands, and kissed up Kapkan’s thighs to suck another mark into his cheek. He made sure the hunter would feel that when he sat down later. Lost in the pleasure of having a warm mouth around his dick, Glaz became bolder and left a kiss on his perineum, right before licking over it, feeling Kapkan’s body jerk. He was so sensitive, Glaz loved playing with him. 

Kapkan tried to keep working on his lover’s cock, taking in the head and not much further before he had to pull back again, but Glaz made it harder for him to concentrate on his task. The sniper sucked him with ease, taking him far deeper than Kapkan dared to do. At the same time, he ran a spit-slick finger over Kapkan’s hole, teasing him but not pushing in yet. The hunter would try to subtly push back to make him go in, forgetting about his lover’s erection in favor of chasing that elusive promise of relief.

“Timur…” His growl was both a plea and a warning, and Glaz decided he too had had enough of teasing games.

Retrieving the lube and a condom from the nightstand took only a moment, and Glaz left them on the bed while he knelt behind Kapkan. “If you want me to stop at any moment-”

“Do you think I’m afraid of a dick?” Kapkan interrupted him, turning his head to look at him with a sly smirk, a mix between mocking and impatient. 

A myriad of smartass comments swam in his mind, but in the end, Glaz just rolled his eyes and slapped Kapkan’s ass, watching a reddened mark bloom on the pale skin. It drew out a shocked gasp from his lover, but he could see Kapkan was far from displeased. Glaz filed away that tidbit of information for future consideration, right now he had more pressing matters to take care of.

Pouring a generous amount of lube on his hand, Glaz kissed Kapkan’s shoulder before sliding a finger inside him. There was barely any resistance, and considering the excess of lube dripping around, Glaz pushed in and out just a couple of times before adding a second digit. A tiny gasp escaped Kapkan, who rocked back on the intrusion, and Glaz felt his cock throbbing in need again. 

That other time, months ago, Kapkan had taken so well being fingered, even expressed his wish to go further. This time it was no different. The sniper worked him open, slowly and carefully, making sure to press his fingers against the right spots often enough to keep Kapkan mewling and pushing back, eager for more. His cock hung heavy between his legs, and Glaz played with it, giving it some teasing tugs when he wasn’t stroking his own erection. 

“I’m ready,” Kapkan panted, grabbing the condom and looking at Glaz over his shoulder. “Hurry up!”

“Patience,” Glaz chuckled. Hurrying wasn’t part of his plans, and although he took the condom from Kapkan, he still made sure the hunter was properly stretched and ready. Every little moan from him made Glaz burn with desire until he couldn’t take it anymore. “Lie on your side.”

Anticipation consumed Glaz as he rolled the condom down his shaft, lubing it up with quick strokes that were both divine and not nearly enough. Settling behind Kapkan, he lifted up one of the hunter’s legs while lining the tip of his cock with his entrance. He pushed in, slow and gentle, and the sensation when the head breached the hunter was indescribable. 

“Mmm, fuck,” Kapkan groaned, and he couldn’t tell if it was a good sign or a bad one.

Worried, Glaz tentatively slid back out then in again, going further bit by slow bit, until his whole length was inside that glorious tight heat. Giving Kapkan time to adjust to the sensation, Glaz shifted him carefully to be able to kiss him, slow and gentle. The fact that Kapkan turned his head to the side to kiss back, lips hungrily clashing against his, made Glaz lightheaded.

“Good?” He asked, briefly kissing Kapkan again. The hunter moaned, grinding back and encouraging Glaz to move. That was definitely a yes.

He pulled away far enough to almost slip out, before sliding back in as slowly as before. Kapkan gasped in a mixture of slight pain and intense pleasure, biting his lip and growling deep in the back of his throat for more. Glaz granted his request, withdrawing and pushing back slowly, a languid and endless slide that couldn’t be truthfully called thrusting. It was a leisurely and deliberate pace, and Kapkan seemed to love it and hate it equally. 

“Oh, yesss… right there, faster .”

Ignoring his pleas, Glaz kept his tortuous rhythm, feeling Kapkan tighten around him every time his cock rubbed over the hunter’s prostate. His eyes were closed and needy gasps escaped from his lips every time Glaz sank back into him. It was too much and not enough at once. It was the most beautiful thing the sniper ever seen. He wouldn’t even be able to paint it more perfect. As much as Glaz wanted to keep it unhurried, this was torture for him too. Part of him just wanted to fuck Kapkan until he could only scream his name. Maybe he could try to give his lover what he wanted, go just a little harder.

He pulled out slowly, waited a couple of heartbeats before sliding in again, smooth and even but with more force. And obviously he did good, because Kapkan whimpered and tightened around him, sinking his short nails on Glaz’s arm at the sudden surge of pleasure. Ignoring the slight pain on his arm, Glaz kept thrusting gently into him, until the hunter was trembling in his arms, and Glaz felt like the king of the world for putting that blissed out expression on Kapkan.

“You feel amazing,” Glaz told him, biting his lip as he felt his own climax looming closer and closer. Kapkan just whined and pushed back, making Glaz’s cock go deeper into him. “Touch yourself, love.”

Kapkan either didn’t hear him or couldn’t understand him at the moment, so Glaz took care of it for him. Pushing the hunter even closer, he held Kapkan’s leg with his arm while his hand reached lower take hold of his cock, slippery with precome, and stroked it slowly. That finally got the message through, and Kapkan wrapped his fingers around Glaz’s, both of them working on his impossibly hard cock at the same time.

“Ah, fuck… harder! Don’t.. Stop…”

Not even the end of the world could have stopped Glaz then, he was wholly focused on Kapkan’s pleasure, reveling in the way the hunter called out his name when he snapped his hips a little faster, feeling as he was about to explode as they both neared the point of no return.

In the end, it was his wrecked moaning against Kapkan’s neck what sent the hunter over the edge. Glaz felt Kapkan’s whole body tensing, back arched and his whimpers reaching a new high as his hole clenched almost violently around Glaz’s length. Overjoyed from getting to watch the person he loved completely lost to ecstasy, Glaz only noticed his own orgasm when his vision went white around the edges. He gasped, trying to fill his lungs with air, sweet relief coursing through him as his cock twitched deep inside Kapkan.

There was cum all over both their hands, and also on Kapkan’s thighs and belly, but that didn’t matter right now. Instead of the abrupt sobering that usually followed after orgasm, there was a lingering warmth inside his chest. Probably it had something to do with the person in his arms, Kapkan sighing satisfied and looking at him softly, a small smile on his lips. Holy shit, he was so gone for this man.

With as much care as he was able to muster, Glaz lowered Kapkan’s leg and slid out of him, pressing a quick kiss on his temple when he winced. Telling him to wait for a second, Glaz went to get a clean towel and dispose of the condom. Once they were both passably clean, Glaz lay down next to his boyfriend, wrapping his arms around Kapkan and kissing him on the lips again.

“See? I knew you were a softie,” Kapkan sighed dramatically, as if he hadn’t hummed contentedly at the kiss, or wasn’t currently resting his head on the crook of Glaz’s neck.

Glaz chuckled, letting the warm glow of the moment wash over him. It was peaceful, he was happy, and he was pretty sure Kapkan was too, despite his supposed complaint. That was all that mattered, they were together and satisfied. He rested his head atop Kapkan’s, and let go of any lingering thoughts.

The sun wouldn’t still rise for a couple of hours, and until then, they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. Kapkan would eventually slip away, back to his room, even if their relationship was the worst kept secret of the Spetsnaz team. But for now Kapkan was there, in his arms, breath evening out as sleep claimed them both.
_ _ _

Breakfast was always a raucous affair. Even early risers would eventually find themselves surrounded by more and more people, and the ensuing noise and chaos of having so many people in the same room.

Sipping his tea, Thatcher tried to read the newspaper while the rest of his table did their best to disrupt his concentration every few seconds. Maestro was distributing pieces of some sweet bread he had prepared, intent on becoming the resident mom and feeding everyone. The fact that he gave him food was probably the only reason Mute tolerated the Italian’s incessant chatter. Everyone knew Mute wasn’t approachable until he had at least his third cup of coffee.

Once he sat down again, Maestro barely touched his own portion of the bread, since he was more focused on reenacting a dramatic chase of some kind, while Sledge and Clash looked at him with interest. In truth, the newest additions to their group didn’t bother Thatcher much, except for when Clash insisted on contradicting and arguing against every single one of his opinions. And Maestro, well, the man was charming in his own way; but most importantly, he made Sledge happy. 

One just had to look at them, Sledge barely touching his own food because he was too engrossed making plans with Maestro for the holidays already, and the Italian was looking back at Sledge like he was the sun of his life. Ugh, they were so disgustingly cute and domestic, it made Thatcher’s teeth ache from all that sweetness. Moving his gaze away from them, he locked eyes with Smoke. Oh no.

“How did your date go, Maggie?” 

Suppressing a weary sigh, Thatcher gave him the same answer he’d been giving since yesterday. “How many times do I have to tell you, it wasn’t a date.”

“Sure, you just took a bloke out to have dinner, but it wasn’t a date, right.” Smoke grinned smugly at him over the rim of his own cup of tea, and Thatcher scowled.

“For the last time: It. Wasn’t. A. Date. I went to the pub, met Olivier on my way back to the barracks, and invited him to fish and chips since he commented he hadn’t tried that yet. End of the story.”

“You? Inviting Olivier, or anyone for the matter, to food out of the goodness of your heart?” Smoke sounded highly skeptical. “Who are you and what have you done with the real Maggie.”

Thatcher decided to ignore Smoke, for the greater good. There was no easy way to explain how much Lion had been helping him with the paperwork from their last operation. And inviting him had seemed right, a way to repay the favour. Not to mention how priceless his face had been when he declared the food was horrible, yet continued to eat while asking Thatcher how could he honestly think that was good cuisine. Thatcher freely admitted it: he had misjudged him, Lion wasn’t as terrible as he thought he would be. Of course, it didn’t change the fact that Lion could be a nuisance, but he could be interesting too. 

“That’s a lousy date,” Clash spoke up, surprising everyone at the table. “I don’t understand how he still talks to you.”

Smoke howled in laughter, raising a hand close to her and waiting for the inevitable high five from Clash. These two were always teaming up to make his life more difficult. At least he could take solace in Mute being too grumpy during the mornings to talk much, otherwise Thatcher was pretty sure he would take their side too.

“Speaking of happy couples,” Smoke tilted his head towards the entrance, right as Glaz and Kapkan came in. “Those are some really obvious ‘I just got laid’ faces. Do you think they’re fooling anyone?”

Curiosity got the best of him, and Thatcher took a quick peek at them. Both Russians seemed to be in a pretty good mood, Kapkan looked relaxed even, which was a rare sight. Still, that wasn’t conclusive evidence. Although they were always together lately, it was nearly impossible to see one without the other being nearby, and occasionally gave each other heated stares from across the room. In any case, it wasn’t Thatcher’s business if the Russians were together or not. And if it was true, at least they were a lot more discreet and subdued than the two lovebirds sitting next to him.

“Who cares what those two are doing in their free time, let them be.” Thatcher folded the newspaper and set it down on the table. The local news was pretty dull, but he liked having a real paper on his hands each morning. 

“You don’t get it Mike, Maxim is smiling . That’s freaky.”

Seeing as Smoke was intent on following with that line of conversation, Thatcher got up from his seat. He had better things to do than listening to Smoke prattle about the supposed love life of other operators. Gossip had never been to his taste.

“Aw, come back Maggie!” Smoke pouted at him, while Clash finished his sentence.

“Yeah, we can talk about Olivier again if you prefer!”

Damn them both, they really were having fun with that. Perhaps they wouldn’t have time to gossip if their training was more intensive. Yes, Thatcher decided he was going to prepare an improved work out session for them, a truly grueling one. See if they could keep teasing him if they were out of breath.

On his way out of the mess hall, he nodded to Lion, which brought an unmistakable hoot from the SAS table. Goddammit, it was like working with children! He only made that gesture for politeness sake. Although, that argument would probably hold more weight if he had acknowledged anyone else besides Lion.

Of course, there was a pretty simple explanation for that. The rest of the GIGN table had been deep in conversation, and Lion was the only one who had looked at him when Thatcher passed by. It wasn’t favoritism of any kind, that was a ridiculous idea. And the tiny smile he got in return was just mere courtesy, of course.

Thatcher wondered if Lion had the evening free. He knew of a place where they made the best Shepherd’s pie, and treating the Frenchman’s to proper British food seemed like a good idea. Only because it amused Thatcher greatly to see Lion disparage the food but eat it anyway, and his laugh when Thatcher argued back was quite nice too. But it would be an outing between colleagues, nothing else. Not a second date.

_ _ _

Amelia was staring off into nothing again. It was most curious to see her this distracted, it was the second time this morning. Six was always the perfect picture of efficiency, keeping her head cool even during a crisis. It was obvious something was bothering her.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked, reviewing the two newest file cases on his pile. The search for new operators never stopped, and determining if they would be a good fit for Rainbow, both for their abilities and ideologies, was of the utmost importance.

“I am going to miss this. And you.”

It wasn’t unexpected, yet Harry believed they had more time. He didn’t feel remotely ready to take control of Rainbow. And he would need to find someone to work with like he did with Amelia. Fuck, they made a great team, finding someone else would prove difficult.

“How soon?”

“A month. This will be my last operation as director of Rainbow,” Six answered with a fleeting smile. “Who do you think we should send?”

A test or a show of how she saw him as an equal, since he would be in her position in a few weeks? Anyway, it was a question that merited to think about. They wanted to sway the Commander of the Fortress, impress El Fassi enough so he would accept to leave the Assassin Fortress for Rainbow. So they needed both a display of force, cunning, and discipline.

“The first choice would be specialist El Maktoub, seeing his former protegée with us should help sway him. Valkyrie and Lesion get along with nearly everyone, they are good candidates too. Maverick could use some action, he’s feeling restless. And for a demonstration of discipline and experience, either Capitao or Thatcher.”

Six nodded, and Harry hoped the impressed look wasn’t just wishful thinking on his part. “You’re more than ready for this, Harry. You’ve been doing this job alongside me for a long time.”

Perhaps she was right, but Amelia surely left some big shoes to step into. She would be a formidable Secretary of State, he had no doubt, and most of all, Harry didn’t envy her new position, since she would be surrounded by snakes. Speaking of which, “How’s it going with our imprisoned Abstergo friends?”

“They’re trying to find a way out of prison, as they have been doing all these months. The evidence against them is solid, barring bribery or a breakout, they’ll spend their life behind bars.”

“And the Pieces of Eden? Are those still…?”

“Safely locked away, yes,” Six confirmed. 

In Harry’s opinion, it was a waste to keep those artifacts locked away in a vault, studying it would be much more beneficial in the long term. However, it was true that such a project was impracticable until they could guarantee the safety of everyone involved. They wouldn’t have wild experiments running unchecked and people killing each other for the Pieces of Eden, they weren’t Abstergo.

“So, team composition.”

Harry threw himself into planning, arguing with Six the pros and cons of each decision as they always did. When he was a kid, Harry fancied he could create a mathematical system to map his dreams. Utter foolishness, if he learnt something, it was that mapping the future was much more important. Rainbow’s future seemed bright right now, but it was essential to keep an eye out for unexpected trouble. And to check on all the operators, those brewing relationships could throw the delicate balance of the team into chaos if things went wrong. For their happiness, and for everyone’s sake, Harry hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

_ _ _

Abstergo, I+D Department

Project Styx Status Report

 

Following the research plan of Dr. [REDACTED], our specialists have been able to replicate a fully functioning Piece of Eden. The effectiveness of the artificial Shroud was tested on a subject with a gunshot wound to the leg and multiple contusions. The subject was completely healed in a matter of seconds.

For further details about subject Damien, see attached file nº 3, concerning his background and relocation to [REDACTED].

In regards to the second subject brought along with Damien, Dr. [REDACTED] declared subject Shrike clinically dead on arrival. Despite the use of our tested Shroud, it was impossible to wake her up. As per your request, the body was immediately prepared and sent to [REDACTED], for testing purposes. 

As the leader of the project, [REDACTED] approved the use of the Ankh, to map how the artifact works, and hopefully be able to replicate it. So far, we got positive results in waking up the test subject for short periods of time, although she remained unresponsive to verbal cues. Extensive use of the synthetic Shroud could prove useful in restoring her strength and hopefully her mind, unless recommended otherwise.

 

Awaiting further instructions.

_

Damien re-read the email a third time, wishing he could see those attached files about himself. He was curious to know what kind of reports Abstergo had about him. But that wasn’t possible. Bribing his brother’s friend to let him read any emails were his name was mentioned had been hard enough. In the end the other guy gave in, but only showed him redacted versions of those reports and emails. 

Fine, Damien still owed him big time for this, and he could understand being scared shitless of being caught doing something as suspicious as copying and distributing secret information. The people running Abstergo didn’t kid around, and they always needed new subjects for testing God knew what. These emails were good news for Damien, though. Once his fears of being used as a scapegoat for the Italy fiasco abated, Damien carefully considered his future. 

He wanted revenge, and it was personal. Idri, Glazkov, whatever he was called, lied to him, made him believe they were friends and then betrayed not only him, but the whole group. During his recovery, Damien had dreamed of a thousand ways to exact his revenge, but most of those were impractical or  would leave his brother vulnerable. So for now, Damien would lay low and start making contacts, building his own group, just in case. Besides, he never imagined they could bring back Shrike. After all, he had been sure she was dead. 

This changed everything. If there was one thing he knew for sure was that Shrike always got her way, and if she remembered anything at all, she would want vengeance as much as Damien did. Besides, Abstergo wouldn’t be using that kind of technology to resurrect her -or whatever it was they did- if they didn’t have plans for her.