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And still be doing, never done

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It's with some nostalgia that Five finds himself back in East Berlin, and not even so many streets—or years—off from where his very first assignment for the Commission took place. You never forget your first kill, nor, for that matter, your first bowl of truly authentic borscht. The homecoming, if that's what you'd call it, is made all the sweeter when, with a pleased hum, Five notices they've pulled some years off his body this time. He takes stock. The familiar crescent scar is still on his wrist—Memphis, 1930—but he's relieved to notice the skin on his neck is smooth, unencumbered by the restrictive burn scar contracture that bedeviled from his mid-forties onward. His least favorite souvenir of the Balkan Wars. That puts him at around twenty-nine years old? Quite a nice surprise; the Handler must be pleased with him.

He turns that over in his mind while he gets his bearings. Making the Handler happy has definitely been one of his priorities, for the sake of his continued survival if nothing else, but making her happy enough to call in a favor on his behalf from the Metaphysics Division? That feels a bit like a liability.

Catching sight of the intersection ahead, Five quickens his pace: left onto Volkradstrasse, right onto Baikalstrasse, forward, left, left, right, oxfords snapping against the pavement, briefcase swaying with his stride. And there, up ahead, is the Intershop from his dossier, blinking red sign and chintzy GDR 'luxury goods' in the window.

Five ducks into the store, unholstering his side-arm with his free hand. The clerk at the till is a middle-aged man, balding and slightly overweight. He's perfectly ordinary looking, and certainly not a fighter. Sometimes the targets were like that, when he was lucky, anyway: small-time pamphleteers or saboteurs rather than fully trained operatives.

Before the man can even look up, Five puts a round in his forehead, quick as can be. And before the body's even finished slumping over the register, Five has flipped the sign on the door to CLOSED and killed the lights in the display. Holstering his pistol, he phases across the counter and catches the teetering body before it hits the floor. He lowers it ever-so-gently, and they look like nothing so much as Argentine lovers concluding a monstrous dance. It doesn't take long for Five to find the small, silver key he knows the clerk carries—the man was wearing it on a chain around his neck, how deliciously predictable—or, for that matter, the trapdoor that it opens. Backroom, under some crates of overstock... Who'd have thunk it?

Five is practically on autopilot now as he plants the explosives. For once, the Armory clerks aren't pinching pennies, and he's been given more than enough to take out the clandestine printing press as well as the Intershop above. Thirty-second fuse crackling merrily behind him, Five is off. He leaves the silver key on the counter and the body where it lies, though, on a last-minute whim, he tucks a case of imported cigarettes under his arm before kneeling to activate the briefcase.

The buzz of static fills the air and everything fades to a color that Five likes to call temporal blue, and CRACK— he's falling backwards onto the mercifully soft carpet in the Handler's office. And just like that: premature uprising averted. Timeline preserved. Or, as far as he's concerned, Wednesday morning.

"Oh, Five!" the Handler shrills gleefully. She's sitting primly on the edge of her desk, all the better to loom. "You didn't."

He pulls himself up—ah, youth, and its attendant lack of lower back pain—and tosses her the cigarettes with a crooked grin. "Don't say I never give you anything."

"Nor I you," the Handler replies, giving his younger body an unsubtle little once-over.

"And here I thought you liked the mustache," he says airily, casting his gaze around the room, down at his hands, anywhere but at her. He's gotten used to the killing, here at the Commission, but he'll never get used to her. "May I go? Only I've got plans for this afternoon."

She doesn't reply right away, letting the silence hang. If there's a power play too petty for the Handler, he certainly isn't familiar with it. He hides his discomfort with one of his toothiest, most unsettling smiles. That does it: she breaks the moment with an impatient sigh, gesturing at the door. "Fine. Off you go."

Behind his manic mask, something tight and fragile inside him unclenches, relieved. He wastes no time seeing himself out. "Give Dolores my best, won't you?" she calls after him, sardonic, and God, he can practically feel the leer. Pension and dental be damned, but this is a thankless job.

He tears through HQ as if he's being pursued, interns and desk jockeys shrinking out of his way as he storms past. If he's lucky, he'll have a few days before he's sent back into the field, and he needs every one of them.

His calculations aren't where they need to be. He isn't when he needs to be.

But Five keeps smiling, disconcerting as can be, nails pressing painfully into his palms.