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Midnighters

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“You think this is a good idea.”

It isn’t a question.

“I don’t -”

“So you don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I think - I think that he’s worth talking to.”

“You do think, then. Fucking poorly but you do fucking think.”

“Look, if you can’t stand him we’ll -”

“We’ll fucking what?” Nigel asks, hands curling around the arm of his chair.

“I don’t know,” the other man replies. “Fucking get rid of him. Not use him. I don’t know.”

“This is a fucking mistake,” Nigel informs his collaborator. “You are a fucking mistake, do you fucking hear me? You don’t bring in new fucking people to a new fucking job - you use people you can fucking trust, do you fucking hear me?”

“Yes,” comes the rough reply, a hard swallow. “I hear you. I can send him away if you wa-”

“Send him in,” decides Nigel. “Since you’ve already told him god-fucking-knows what, send him in, and if he so much as fucking takes a breath too fucking long to answer, you’re both dead.”

The man goes, shaking his head and ignoring the sound Nigel makes behind him before opening the door and leaning out to see if the man is still there, let alone already being untrustworthy. He wonders if the guy even could be, the way he looks. But he had been recommended, someone ‘trusted’ enough to listen to. And he’s a fucking kid, worst came to it, few people would miss him, if any.

“Oi.” The young man looks up from his book, eyes wide and blue and entirely too ridiculous to even come near a place like this. The guy gestures over his shoulder. “Nigel wants to see you.”

Without a word, the young man stands, takes his book with him, fingers between the pages - more than halfway through it, now, and he had only been starting it when he’d been told to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up - and follows. He’s closed off, hands and book held against his stomach, head ducked, eyes to the floor and walking carefully as though he’s scared he’ll trip.

In truth, he looks like quite literally the worst candidate to even be here. But ‘trusted’, ‘recommended’, what the fuck ever, so he’s here. He says nothing, but he does stop well enough away to be seen and hear well enough when he’s yelled at - inevitably. At least the kid’s obedient.

Nigel scarcely looks him over - dark hair and big eyes and hell if he looks a day out of secondary school and he’s wearing a fucking sweater - and blinks as the young man steps towards him.

“Hello, you must be Nigel,” he says quickly, hand thrust outward. “My name is Adam, it’s nice to meet you.”

A glance is spared withering towards his collaborator, before Nigel grudgingly shakes the kid’s hand. “Nigel’s the name he gave you? That’ll work for now.”

Adam blinks, eyes just to the side of where Nigel would hold his gaze, it’s strangely deliberate, adjusted in such a way as to appear entirely practiced, like trying to catch the eye of someone blind. Then he blinks again and shrugs, just one shoulder, lifts his eyes and looks to the side.

“Clem said you needed help with computers. I’m good with computers. Computers make sense and don’t talk back, and they give me the time I need to understand them without trying to speak instead.”

Nigel starts to return to his seat but as Adam stands, so does Nigel. Wariness, maybe - unfamiliarity but aware enough that there’s something off here. He’d be very bad at his job - and certainly dead long ago - if he weren’t a good read of people, and so he remains as Adam does, watching him. “What exactly did Clem tell you?”

A blink, and Adam tilts his head a little. “That you needed help with computers.”

“Security systems.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay,” repeats Adam.

Nigel’s eyes narrow. “Have you ever worked on security systems before?”

“No,” Adam answers, and Nigel’s lips twist against his teeth.

“No,” he echoes. He waits for more an explanation, anything else forthcoming, anything that might save this strange kid’s life and himself the trouble of having to end it, but Adam’s expression is lucid, and his voice quiet. Nigel reaches for his cigarettes from the table, patience enough to light it and sigh long before speaking again. “So if you don’t know what you’re doing, why the fuck are you here?”

Adam frowns, expression one of almost childish displeasure. “Because you need help with computers,” he repeats. “Security systems. They all speak the same language, Nigel, it doesn’t matter what the system is, I can talk to it. Can you talk to it?” Nigel starts to answer, perhaps just a profanity to fill the air and return the room to a semblance of its former displeased normalcy, but the kid interrupts him. “No, otherwise you wouldn’t need me to do that for you.”

All three men in the room are silent for a moment, Adam done with his explanation, looking for the world like he will genuinely roll his eyes if he is asked again ‘why’, Nigel balancing his cigarette against his bottom lip, as his jaw hangs slack at being interrupted, at being almost reprimanded by a kid that looks like he will snap in a breeze. His companion just looks pale, wondering if perhaps Clem had had it in for him in the end, put the kid into their path to mess up the team dynamic enough to fuck up.

“Sit,” Nigel tells him. There’s a pause, a little too long, as Adam scans the chairs and Nigel’s brow furrows. “Fucking that one. Sit.”

He points, to the one closest to Adam, and grunts past his cigarette in something vaguely akin to approval when he pulls out the chair and takes a seat. Nigel does the same, across from him, ashing his cigarette to the floor and watching. Just watching, for now, the nervous flickers of movement in Adam’s hands, the darting eyes that take in the small apartment where Nigel finds himself, for now. Easily acquired, easily paid for in unquestioned cash, and just as readily abandoned should the need present itself.

Nigel ignores the sigh of relief from the third man, who takes the opportunity to step back outside the apartment and shut the door quietly behind him. “You can disable them?”

“Disabling them is the easy part,” Adam retorts. “Making something not work is much simpler than making them work.”

“Without setting it off?” Nigel presses, leaning forward to rest his forearms against the table, cigarette balanced between his fingers.

Adam sits back in the same motion, not in disgust, but to keep their distance the same, Nigel notices. It’s becoming clearer that the kid isn’t your run of the mill back-street hacker. He might not even be a hacker. A savant or what the fuck ever. He watches as Adam’s eyes take in the smoke from his cigarette, trace the patterns it makes in the air before it dissipates as he thinks. Blinks. Parts his lips with a frown and closes them again.

“It is all a manner of communication,” he explains.

“And getting around the safety protocols.”

“And getting around the safety protocols,” Adam agrees with a nod. “A turn off without a set off, an adjustment in the system itself to allow for the access later, if you want to break it down again.”

“You ever done this before?”

Adam shrugs again, that same one-shoulder motion that repeats as though he has an ache, then it stops, as though he’d never done it.

“I’ve helped Clem with computers before,” he says, almost evasive if Nigel didn’t think the kid incapable of subtleties and evasion. “I have broken systems before.”

“But never security systems.”

“I’ve never broken a security system,” Adam replies, and there seems to be something in that answer almost beyond it, its own implication.

“Have you fixed one?”

Adam’s lips tilt in a smile that is so genuine it seems almost unreal, before it settles to something softer.

“I’ve fixed three.”

“Reset your neighbor’s beeping alarm?” snorts Nigel, rolling his eyes as Adam nods.

“Sure.”

“Is that it then?”

“No.”

“Tell me,” Nigel intones, pacing his words, “what you have fucking done, Adam.”

“Card-based access systems, intrusion detection systems, keycode panels which are very poor means of security,” Adam rattles off, brows raised high beneath his hair. “You can’t have a keycode system without a master code, and though it’s usually a four-digit code on a nine-digit pad, that’s only 495 possible permutations if you’re allowed to repeat numbers -”

“Four hundred,” repeats Nigel, “and ninety-five. Only.”

“Yes, so they’re very easy to resolve.”

“How the fuck is that easy to resolve?”

The corner of Adam’s mouth twitches upward. “Hardly anyone ever changes it from the default master code.”

“Tell me about the intrusion detection.”

Adam sighs. “That could be anything from glassbreak recognition to photoelectric beam devices -” Lifting a hand - in defeat, perhaps - Nigel presses the other against his eyes, balancing the last dregs of his cigarette as he does. It does nothing to stop the onslaught that word by fucking word is grinding into a vicious headache. “Do they have an access control system?”

“Do they fucking what? Do they have fucking what?”

“An access control system,” Adam repeats. “Do they use cards for entry?”

Nigel’s suspicions flare along with the cherry on his cigarette, before he flicks it into one of the empty bottles littering the table. “How the fuck do you know that?”

“If you’re in this area, it means you’re close to where you need to be. It wouldn’t make any sense to be far across town from it. There’s an industrial area close to here, and most warehouses use centralized access - a control system - if they’re at all updated on their security, which they must be, because otherwise you wouldn’t need me.” Adam pauses, just long enough to breathe. “And if they keep all of the security in one place, then all you need to reach is that one place.”

Finally, the barrage of words stop and he sits, still and silent, and Nigel wonders just how stupid Clem may or may not be. Nigel’s a good read of people but for all his information, Adam could be a plant or the real thing, and he finds himself at an infuriating loss as to determining which he is. “You’re like in that movie - you know, with Top Gun and the Graduate.”

It takes Adam a moment, eyes lifted towards the ceiling, before he grins, just a little. “Rain Man?”

Nigel hums, slouching back into his chair, hands spread across the table.

“Raymond is on an entirely different part of the spectrum from me,” Adam comments, and Nigel rolls his eyes to the ceiling. If anything, the kid sounds practiced, maybe just good with his memory, good with acting entirely out of it, but nothing more than that. All he has to go on, as proof that this kid can do anything, is that Clem recommended him, and he has never had trouble with Clem before.

Trust among thieves.

Or honor, whatever. Nigel doubts either really exists. He watches Adam. Adam does not watch him back, though occasionally his eyes skim over the man in quick motions before moving away. He still cannot seem to look at him, perhaps he doesn’t want to. Perhaps he genuinely can’t. Nigel supposes there’s little else for him to do but either send the kid away or use him. And if he’s as good as he sounds, he wants to fucking use him.

“So you can do it?”

“You ask pedantic questions for someone who wishes to lead a team into something like this, are you sure you’re capable?” Adam asks him, brows up again before he shifts in his seat and brings the book to his lap, hands still clasping it as though it’s keeping him grounded. “I am good with computers, I have worked on security systems before, and you need me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

A moment passes.

Another.

And the next sound is Nigel’s chair hitting the floor as he stands - fuck the distance, fuck the scale, and fuck the little know-it-all in front of him. “I am more than fucking capable and those are big fucking words for someone who needs the fucking work just as badly as I need it fucking done,” he snarls, voice only just kept beneath a shout. “Don’t act like you’re here out of the kindness of your fucking heart, Adam - you’re not here because I fucking need you, you’re here because you need fucking money.”

For a moment, Adam looks lost, the raised voice, the change of position enough to make him draw into himself, entirely tense, entirely uncomfortable, but still he doesn’t move, doesn’t get out of the way of Nigel’s wrath and outburst, he sits, and he waits, and then quietly, almost too quietly, he replies.

“I have money. I’m here because Clem said you needed the help, because right now he doesn’t need the help and if I sit idle I can’t bear it. Rooms too quiet and people too noisy and nothing to do -” Adam takes a breath, forcibly holds it until his cheeks start to redden before he lets it go in a rush of words. “I am here because I’m bored, I get bored and I need something to do, and computers make sense, they don’t ask anything or need anything, they just talk and I listen.”

Breathing gets shallower, harder, but still he sits, eyes closed now, gently rocking in his seat, fingers working a pattern over the cover of his book. He’s lost his page, now, both hands clasped atop it.

It’s a rare thing for Nigel to question himself.

Rarer still for him to feel any sort of regret for things he’s said or things he’s done.

And for a moment, as he watches the younger man stabilize himself, slowly, mind working in ways that Nigel can’t even begin to fucking fathom, it pulls at him. He sits. He does not seek out Adam’s eyes but instead averts his own to the tabletop, unable to shake the weight in his chest - unable to figure out how to make it better.

“Hey,” Nigel tries, glancing up, dropping his gaze again. “It’s fine - it’s a lot of fucking stress - but it’s fine. You sound like you know your shit,” he admits, reluctantly, unable still to stop himself from asking, “Are you sure you can keep it together out there? It’s gotta be fast and fucking perfect.”

Slow breaths, enough to ease down the tension, Adam’s fingers flexing gently before they clasp the book to hold it, not to hold himself together. He nods.

“You need me to see computers, you don’t need me to see people. I can see computers. I can do it fast and I can do it perfect.” It sounds almost like a mantra, when Adam repeats it to himself before shrugging his shoulder again, raising his head and taking a deliberate breath. “I can do it perfect if no one distracts me. People are noisy, they need things, and I can’t give them that, I can’t talk, I can’t laugh with them. My mind works quickly one way, not another way. I can do your computers. I can’t do your stealing.”

“Who says we’re stealing?” Nigel’s lips quirk and Adam narrows his own to a flat line.

“You want me to dismantle a major security network, you want it not to go off, you want me not to leave a trace, to let you get in and out at will afterwards. You don’t need this because you forgot a code or a keycard - you need it because you’re stealing something.” Adam tilts his head, leans forward a little. “My mind works differently than yours, Nigel, but I am not stupid.”

Nigel ducks his head a little more, smile curving beneath his eyes though it doesn’t reach his mouth. “No,” he answers, honestly. “You’re not.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine how this will work. The kid nearly pissed himself when Nigel raised his voice, so what happens if something goes wrong? Ideally it’s a quick in and out, facilitated by Adam’s security work, but there’s always a chance that there are more people than accounted for - a change in plans that has the warehouse full at night rather than near-empty. If there’s shouting then, gunfire, violence, what happens to the boy wonder then?

Nigel’s jaw works in thought, head tilting to allow him to watch Adam surreptitiously. “What do you need from me? Not just pay, fuck pay, once we’re done it’s whatever you want. What else do you need? You need me to make sure no one fucking disrupts you.”

Adam nods slowly, as though he’s still considering his position in all of this, still considering what he needs beyond the quiet of a single room and the time needed to work his way through the complex code and potential hardware.

“I would need a room for me, for the computer, time to do it,” Adam lists. “Something to drink, preferably soda so I can stay awake, and my sugar levels won’t drop if it takes longer than expected.” He sets the book to the table, cover down, and sets his arms against it, but doesn’t lean forward enough to rest his head against them. “And I need you not to swear.”

Nigel blinks. “Fucking what?”

Adam’s eyelids flicker, the barest movement of displeasure before he continues. “Those who frequently use expletives are considered to be more trustworthy and truthful, and statistically speaking that is not something I will argue against, but personally I find it entirely distasteful and you have used one nineteen times, another twice, with no real reason but to fill in the space between your sentences. Semantically, they are entirely useless, you would save a lot of breath.”

Nigel scoffs, laughing, and watches Adam wide-eyed, entirely unsure if he wants to knock the kid’s teeth in or allow that there is a certain, peculiar charm to his bravado. Stupidity might be another word for it, but Adam isn’t stupid. It’s more like fearlessness, that comes from not having sense enough to know when one should be afraid.

Equals then, in that at least, as Nigel ticks off on his fingers. “You need to get into the room with the - what the f- what did you call it?”

“Access control system.”

“That. You need the room with that. You need to be left alone and for me to fu-... trust you that you’ll do what needs to get done. You need soda.”

“And the swearing.”

Nigel lifts his finger and points, rather than ticks another fingertip on his other hand. “That isn’t something you fucking need, it’s something you want. Don’t worry about how the fuck much breath I spend or save, Adam, is that fucking clear?” A pause, and Nigel feels an uncharacteristic stumble as he lowers his hand, and quiets his voice. “I want to work with you, Adam. You seem like a smart fu-... smart kid who knows how to keep fu-... fuck this,” he snarls softly. “A smart kid who knows how to keep fucking quiet. I like that.”

Adam nods. “Good,” he seems to think a minute, consider the priority trees for responses in such situations and adds. “Thank you.”

The exchange is stilted, awkward, uneven. Something Nigel feels and is fairly sure Adam doesn’t notice. He’s calmed, enough that he can slide the book from the table to his lap again, turn his head to regard the apartment again. He is fascinating, like an exotic animal, in that he is entirely human but straddling uncanny valley. The opposite of a humanoid android, Adam is almost like a machine that doesn’t quite have the appropriate programming.

He fidgets, adjusts in his seat, frowns at something he can see and Nigel can’t, and turns to him again, eyes still deliberately away from Nigel’s own, but present, shifting and there.

“How much is my time worth?” Adam asks suddenly, and there is an oddly childish curiosity there that is almost endearing.

From anyone else, Nigel would think it a trick question. A lazy attempt at gauging trust and gullibility to haggle the price higher, and a sign of bad character. At the very least, fishing for compliments or looking for an argument. From Adam, however, Nigel finds that motive hard to imagine, and harder still to imagine that he’s asking out of genuine interest.

“How much did you get paid last time?” Nigel counters.

Adam, nose wrinkling, shakes his head. “Nothing.”

“Why didn’t you get paid anything?”

“Helping out a friend,” answers Adam. He pauses, tongue against the corner of his mouth, and his lips split into a wry smile. “But you’re not my friend.”

Nigel can’t help but laugh, spreading his hand down his face as the laugh becomes a groan. “Of course I’m fucking not. Although it’s not very nice at all to say so,” he observes, letting his hand fall into his lap. Nigel is many things to many people, but one thing he isn’t is dishonest. If anything he takes great pains - on himself, though usually on others - to impress upon people his honesty. If - no, he corrects himself, not fucking if, fucking when - when this is successful, it will be made so by the young man now watching him, waiting for his answer.

“Ten percent,” Nigel offers. “Whatever we take out of there.”

The math works quickly but the sums don’t add up, and Adam shakes his head a little. “What about the stuff you’re stealing?”

“What the fuck about it?”

“Is that considered part of ‘whatever we take out of there’?”

“You want ten percent of the cash, and ten percent of -” A pause, wetting his lips. “ - after market sales, let’s say. Messier that way. Less of a get-in and get-out,” Nigel advises, eyes twitching just slightly more narrow.

Adam shakes his head, another almost childish gesture in how determined he seems to have his point understood. “You are not stupid, you won’t sell it here, whatever it is. And you will not take it across the border, that is both unwise and unprofitable, so you will export it overseas. A typical increase in demand for such product exists within the Pacific region, developed Asia and most parts of Europe, because of their own laws and the relative stability of both their governments and economy. You probably know that.”

Adam shifts, in a way that suggests he has curled one leg beneath himself, though he has not let go of his book, again, eyes just above Nigel’s left shoulder as he continues, as Nigel reaches to light another cigarette, fairly certain the barrage of words will not stop until it just stops.

“You seek to gain six times more in profits from selling something like heroin, ten times more with cocaine. I would expect that were my skills enough to acquire the things you plan to later sell on, they would be worth the payment of the additional ten percent of weight worth.” Adam presses his lips together, relaxes them. “Initial price before sale would be fair, what happens to it after is not something either of us will know.”

Nigel laughs, a harsh sound, and takes a long drag of his cigarette. “You fucking said you had money.”

“It is not something I need,” Adam clarifies, allowing a smile. “It is something I want.”

“What the fuck for?”

“That isn’t pertinent.”

“When it’s money that I’m giving you, it is extremely fucking pertinent,” Nigel responds, though he is careful now to keep his voice low, not to let it raise beyond a conversational tone. Adam doesn’t seem inclined to provide any more information, though, and the careful - and distinctly honest - cant of his words doesn’t indicate that the younger man is in any sort of trouble. There’s a frantic edge to those who need money, desperation to take any offer made, eagerness to know when they’ll get paid so that they can pay off whatever other debts are looming over them.

Nigel ashes his cigarette and curls his tongue across the front of his teeth in thought. It’s less about the money or the drugs - isn’t about them at all, really, but as icing on the cake of fucking up a rival distributor. The repercussions of that go far deeper, resonate longer, and - for Nigel at least - are far more fucking satisfying than simply lining one’s pockets.

“Deal,” Nigel decides. “But you’re on my fucking timetable until we’re done and you’re paid out. If you do what the fuck I tell you to do, and you do as well as you say you can, there won’t need to be any collateral fucking damage, understand? I’ll take care of the security in the office. You show up when I tell you to show the fuck up, do whatever computer magic you have to do, and then we’re out.”

He doesn’t wait for another influx of words this time, standing and setting his cigarette between his lips. In the drawer of a bedroom dresser, he takes out a burner phone, starts it, and jots the number down on a piece of paper. Easier to dispose of than a phone that holds the information in it, no need to assign a name to the number. When he returns he slides the phone across the table to Adam.

“I’ll call you with more information when we’re ready to move. Any questions?” A dangerous offer, perhaps, but he watches Adam with a decided interest now, fascinated and irritated all at once.

Adam takes the phone up and regards it, a curious turn in his hand, and again, before settling it on the table once more, parallel to the edge.

“How do I charge it?” he asks. The question entirely innocent, entirely left-field. On some logical level it makes sense and yet...

“I’ll call you before you fucking need to charge it.”

The phone is regarded again, almost meditative, before Adam takes it to set into his pocket, returning both hands on his book and looking around the apartment again for a cue to go. It ends up being Nigel pressing the lit tip of his cigarette between his fingers to extinguish it before tossing the butt to the tabletop. Then Adam stands, sets the chair back where it was before he’d occupied it, and holds out his hand for Nigel to take again.

When he had averted his eyes before, Nigel now trains them on the younger man. His gaze isn’t met - he doesn’t expect it to be, noting with amusement how Adam looks just past his eyes, just beneath or above them - but he takes in the look and feel of the younger man, and shakes his hand firmly, once.

“About a week from now,” Nigel tells him, keeping Adam’s hand in his a moment more. He wets his lips and adds, voice softening just a hair, “Don’t get into any trouble.”

Adam looks towards their hands and up again, with a quick smile. “Why would I?”

“Fuck,” sighs Nigel. “Butter wouldn’t melt in your fucking mouth, would it?”

“It would,” answers Adam, and draws a breath to say more before Nigel releases his hand to point towards the door. And Adam goes, miraculously, without a word, politely closing the door behind him as he does.

Nigel reaches for another cigarette and finds himself wondering - against his own fucking will - if Adam had counted the rest of his fucking expletives after his initial comment and how many there ended up being.