Moses and Pest are separated but it doesn’t matter – they both know better than to roll on each other. Moses stays quiet through fourteen exhausting hours of questioning. They bring him water and that’s all – no food, no bathroom breaks. Moses knows, or thinks he knows, what they’re trying to do and he holds firm. Some basic questions, the most unbelievable ones, he answers: What exactly did he kill? Aliens, you should know, you’ve got about a dozen of their deep-fried corpses. What happened to Jerome and Dennis? Eaten. What about Patrick O’Leary and Byron Dunlap, found shredded in an elevator, and Larry Tonks in the parking garage? Same .The police who arrested him? Surely he didn’t expect them to believe he escaped because his captors were conveniently eaten? Depends… did you see the corpses? You think a kid from the ends can do all that? At some point in his extended ‘interview’ one of the police lets slip that Samantha is dropping the charges. He clearly thinks this is a terrible idea but that’s her option and she’s been insistent – she doesn’t want Moses or any of the gang prosecuted. They still want him for killing the officers and hijacking the bully van, but Moses won’t admit to those things. He holds his silence even when the hours seem to wear on his interrogators and they get in his face, threatening him with the foster system, with juvie, with adult prison.
Then they leave and Moses sits there, handcuffed to his chair, steadfastly trying not to focus on how badly he has to take a piss.
It isn’t the bullies that return, though. It’s a man, white, not too tall, with a receding hairline and a very average frame. His suit is slick, pure MIB, but the way he looks at Moses isn’t like a Fed. He smiles for one thing, in a tired but understanding way that gives Moses hope until he reminds himself there’s no limit to the deception of the Feds and shuts that down. When he opens his mouth Moses gets another surprise… he’s AMERICAN, and his open drawl is as disarming as it is unexpected.
“You must be Moses,” he said simply, and sets a plain manila folder on the table between them. “You must have had a pretty rough night.”
Moses plays it like a game. Responding will lose him points. He stares at the table, stoic. Won’t admit to nothing.
“I’m Agent Phil Coulson,” the American says, and sets his open badge on the table – full disclosure, Moses sees it as a trap. “I work for the Strategic Homeland Intervention Espionage and Logistics Division. S.H.I.E.L.D. for short. You won’t have heard of us. The beings you encountered fall under our purview so it turns out I have jurisdiction over your case. Have you eaten anything?” Moses fixes him with a level stare. “Would you like to use the restroom?” He can’t tell if that’s a genuine offer or if the Fed is just playing Good Cop. Agent Coulson seems to understand that; he stands up and circles, unfastening Moses’ handcuffs. “Come on,” he urges, “it’s fine. There’s no line. We’ll take a walk and be right back here, let’s go.” He doesn’t lay a hand on Moses, so Moses goes quietly, ignoring the accusing stares of the lingering officers. Agent Coulson directs him to the bathroom and when he emerges, having finally washed some of the soot off his hands and face, Coulson has three different candy bars and a packet of plain crisps in his hand.
“I didn’t know what kind you liked,” is his explanation. Moses would refuse but he’s starving. He takes the crisps.
Their return to the Interrogation Room passes the waiting area and Moses is surprised to see Sam still there, looking like she slept in that chair in her clothes. She jolts to her feet when she sees him and practically climbs over the other waiting victims and perps. “Moses!” she calls, and Coulson obligingly stops, one hand resting very lightly on Moses’ shoulder. “Moses, are you okay?” She comes to a flustered halt in front of them and self-consciously tucks her hair behind her ear. “Agent Coulson.”
“Ms. Elway.” Agent Coulson is perfectly courteous and suspicious fear coils in Moses’ gut – they’ve met before. Coulson probably interviewed Sam before he came after Moses, and Moses wonders where Pest is, if he’s still stuck in an interrogation room, starving, sleepless, desperate to pee. “Moses and I were just about to have a conversation. I’m sure it won’t take long. We appreciate you waiting.”
Sam nods and Moses is disgusted by her obvious trust in the Feds. “Moses,” she said, fidgeting her hands together, “They’ve blocked off my flat and what’s left of yours. I’m staying with my mum till it’s all sorted. You’re to come with me, you know, until you or your uncle can figure something out… we’ve got plenty of room.”
Moses hadn’t given any thought to going back home, and Sam’s invitation surprises him. It’s nice of her to care, but…. “See to Pest,” he tells her, pitching his voice so she won’t question. “Make sure he gets home to his grandma. I’ll bunk up with him.”
“Are you sure? Well, fine,” Sam relents. “Then I suppose I’ll drive both of you. Any word when they’ll be releasing him, then?” This is directed at Coulson, who hedges.
“My understanding is they had probable cause for a drug test,” Agent Coulson confesses. “They want to keep him on unrelated charges. We’ll talk about it,” he tells Moses, and pats him on the shoulder, gesturing that he should keep walking. They leave Sam worrying, rubbing her palms against her jeans.
It’s just the two of them in the interrogation room. Agent Coulson doesn’t cuff Moses again. He sits quietly and sips bad precinct coffee while Moses devours the bag of crisps and two of the candy bars even though he doesn’t particularly like them.
“Feeling better?” he asks, and Moses is slow to nod, brushing greasy crumbs off his fingers. “Good. I want to make it clear to you that I’m not here about drugs or guns or vandalism. I don’t care about any of those things. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s job is to monitor potential threats not just to one nation but to the entire human race. You’ve just had direct experience with the kind of potential threat we’re interested in. That’s why I’m sitting here. Now we found the alien in the penthouse safe room. We think we’ve pieced together a lot of what happened last night but you were on the ground floor. I need your perspective; the whole story, from the beginning.”
Moses just stares. Agent Coulson seems content to wait.
A day ago Moses would have kept his mouth shut, but his entire world has changed in twenty-four hours and he knows he’s in over his head. Somebody has to handle this, somebody higher than him. He’s not sure whether the knowledge that S.H.I.E.L.D. exists is reassuring or terrifying.
“Pest goes home,” he said, finally. “Charges dropped. Nothing on the record,” he says, emphasizing the word so Agent Coulson will be sure to understand. “He goes home clean.”
“Well, I have no control over local authorities…”
“Don’t spin me that bullshit. You got bigger fish to worry about. Pest goes home, and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
Agent Coulson stares at him. Moses is the rock, unyielding, content to keep his mouth shut until fire rains down from the heavens. He hopes Coulson can see that in his eyes.
He does. “I’ll make a few calls.” Coulson leaves him alone and Moses sits, well aware that he’s being observed through the glass, unwilling to show weakness. If it comes down on him it comes down. As long as Pest is free and clear he doesn’t care – he’ll take the rap for every one of them. That’s love for Moses: bearing burdens. Always has been.
He expects Coulson to be gone longer, but he’s barely out five minutes before he walks back in and says, “Your friend is being transferred. He’s going to need reconstructive surgery on that leg. Interesting injury, I’m surprised he’s up and walking around. But I suppose enough weed will do that? So.” He sits, and Moses knows the time has come. “I held up my end of the bargain. It’s your turn.”
It’s Moses’ turn.
He takes a deep breath.
He tells Agent Coulson everything.
Sam is waiting for him when Coulson takes him out to processing and gets his release papers signed. Moses is still reeling. Coulson asked questions and took notes and even recorded portions of his interview, then thanked him for his time, and now… he’s going home?
“They took Pest to the hospital. I called his grandma, she’s going over now.” Sam is still waiting and Moses is grateful because she doesn’t owe him this. He held a knife to her and knocked her on her ass, took her stuff, then saved her life a couple times. They’re square. “You should come with me and get some sleep.”
“I’m going to the hospital.” Moses does stubborn very well, but Sam is fed up.
“You’ll go to the hospital AFTER you’ve had sleep and a shower and something to eat that isn’t sugar. I won’t quarrel with you about this, do you understand? You’ll see Pest tomorrow,” she promises. “He’ll be out of surgery by then. Come on. Agent Coulson… thank you.” Moses wonders if Sam is a little sweet on Coulson, the fluttery way she tries to force a smile. Coulson’s smile is wan in return.
“Just doing my job.” He turns to Moses. “You’ll be hearing from me.” Somehow he doesn’t make it sound like a threat. And then Sam’s hands are on him and she guides him to her car and he passes out before they make it to her mum’s house. She must have woken him up to get him inside, but he doesn’t remember – he’s toast.
Sam’s mum is nice. He can see Sam in her, in her nervous patterns and her erratic spells of assertiveness. She makes him sit down to breakfast and she seems a little uncomfortable with him in the house, a black boy, a thug from the ends, sitting in her kitchen as if he’s not at all dangerous. Like her daughter brought home a barely-tamed lion. Moses tries to cut her a break – at least she’s feeding him. Kippers of all things, but it’s fine, it’s nice, and the coffee she offers him boils in his belly and makes him feel almost human again. Sam’s gotten an excuse from work after everything that happened and she uses her day to take him to the hospital.
He sits with Pest’s grandma, who has clearly been crying for hours. She’s so desperate for company that she tells him everything the doctors have told her and spins wild conclusions from it, the most dire possibilities she can imagine, working herself into a tearful frenzy. Moses doesn’t begrudge her – she’s old. But he doubts Pest is in any serious trouble. After all, it’s just the leg and he was walking yesterday. More disturbing is her lament over how all this happened. Not the aliens of course – she’s quick to tell Moses she doesn’t believe that drivel because goodness people will make up anything these days. But her baby committing vandalism, being involved in such nasty business, people dying, and drugs, lord have mercy. Moses covers for Pest as best he can, tells her Pest didn’t hurt no one, didn’t vandalize nothing, was just trying to save his own skin. He tells her the weed was just for the pain because they had nothing else and didn’t know what to do. He tells her Pest was brave. He’s not sure if she believes him but it seems to mollify her slightly and that’s something.
The surgery is over mid-afternoon but they’re not allowed to see Pest that night. Moses winds up calling Sam to bring him back to her mum’s. She gives him an awkward hug and says she’s sorry he didn’t get to see Pest but she’s certain he’ll see him tomorrow, and once she goes back to work she can call and check up on him anytime. In the meantime isn’t he missing school?
Moses doesn’t care about school, doesn’t think he could focus even if he went.
The second day at the hospital, Agent Coulson shows up while Moses is in the waiting room. He sits quietly and plays Angry Birds on his phone while Moses stares at the wall, slouched, knees spread wide and arms folded across his chest. He feels naked without his hat but he hasn’t seen it since Ron’s Weed Room… it’s probably in evidence now. It’s after noon before a nurse comes and says Pest is asking for them. She doesn’t want to let them all in at once but Agent Coulson pulls rank – he’s not there just as a visitor after all. Moses hangs back with Coulson while Pests’ grandma makes an embarrassing fuss and Pest insists – no, really, honestly – that he doesn’t need her to stay with him. He says the pain is nothing major and he’s enjoying the painkillers and really she can go home and get some rest. All she does is trundle down to the cafeteria to buy him something better to eat than what they’ve offered.
“Bruv.” Pest reaches for him and Moses doesn’t bother hanging tough. He hooks his fingers around Pest’s, squeezes, then hugs him. “Ain’t seen none of the police. Is it true what they’re saying? They’re just letting us go?” He notices Coulson then, who’s doing his best to pretend he doesn’t see any of this male bonding going on, and is very interested in the ceiling tiles. “Who’s the fed?”
“No Fed.” Moses glances over his shoulder and tries to quantify Agent Coulson. “… Alien patrol, bruv.”
Pest’s eyes go wide. “Swear down?”
“Yeah. Already told him everything about the aliens,” Moses confesses. “He believes us. Made a deal for them to cut you loose.”
“Ain’t taking heat for me, Moses,” Pest insists, trying to sit up, and Coulson chooses this moment to intervene.
“There’s no… heat,” he says, holding his hands up. “The local police won’t be filing charges. It’d be unfortunate if you wound up in prison just for making the best of a bad situation and this was a very bad situation.”
“No shit,” Pest says, eying Coulson like a bug in his salad. “Where’ve you been then? Fucking aliens in London and you’re just here for clean-up? What if they’d killed us?” he accuses, and Coulson has the grace to look sheepish. “What if we hadn’t fucked them up ‘fore they could kill everyone in the block and breed like what Brewis was talking about? Could have been hundreds of them! What are you sitting around scratching? Can I sue you?” He flops back to the pillows, scandalized. “I want to sue.”
“We have monitoring systems in place,” Coulson says. “But these came in like asteroids – small, minimal cross-section, no energy readings. They didn’t send up any flags. Normally something that size would burn up in the atmosphere before ever reaching the ground. It’s a completely different sort of life form from anything we’ve ever dealt with.”
“Is it?” Pest’s eyes are narrow and Moses can see him working things out. “So you get a lot of extraterrestrials then?”
“Nothing I can talk about,” Coulson tells him. “That’s all classified.” Pest snorts. “But these… they break the pattern. And we’re very, very concerned about this incident and the likelihood of a repeat episode.”
“Brewis said they was like moths,” Moses says slowly. “Like insects. Not smart.”
“Well, we’re working on determining their exact taxonomy and the nature of their environmental awareness,” Coulson deflects. “Obviously that work could continue for decades but that’s not your concern.”
“Get off it,” Pest scoffs. “No, we only killed a couple dozen of them and watched two of our best mates get eaten. That’s no concern of ours.”
“Twenty-seven,” Coulson says idly, and when they both stare at him, he clarifies, “You killed twenty-seven. Over thirty landed. Several others were killed by local authorities but between your initial contact with the female and the explosion you engineered that killed most of the rest of the colony… twenty-seven.”
Pest digests that and offers Moses his fist and a slow, sly grin. “Hear that? Twenty-seven, bruv. Came to the wrong fucking block, you get me? But we showed them alien motherfuckers, trust.”
Moses manages a smile and bumps his fist against Pest’s.
“So, what?” Pest is saying. “Is there a reward or something? Key to the city?” At Coulson’s look, he says, “Well, we’re heroes, innit? Saviors of London!”
Coulson chuckles and folds his hands. “You just dodged about a dozen fairly serious criminal charges. That’s your reward.”
Pest thinks this is bullshit and says so. Moses just holds his hand – he has no more fight left in him for this. “We’ll sell our story to the guardian then,” he threatens, and Coulson shrugs.
“I can’t stop you. But I can tell you that gaining a reputation for indiscretion in these matters might have a serious effect on your future.”
“Oh, is that it?” Pest’s eyes gleam with righteous anger. “What, you own us now? Gonna keep watch to make sure we don’t squeal? Microphones in the wall sockets, that sort of thing? Fuck off.”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Agent Coulson reaches into his pocket and produces two cardstock rectangles, glossy white with silver embossing. He gives one to Moses and one to Pest, who eyes it with clear suspicion. “You boys found yourselves in an incredible situation last night. One none of you could have predicted. This threat was… beyond your experience. Beyond your knowledge.” He spread his hands. “But I think you handled it well. You kept your heads and you used them. You did everything in your power to protect the people around you. You demonstrated great leadership, I thought,” he said, speaking to Moses now while Pest fails to conceal his pride. “And a strong sense of social responsibility. Efficient use of resources combatting an unknown threat, I could go on. My point is… I know your records,” he said with a faint smirk. “All of you. I know the trouble you’ve been in. I have your school transcripts. I see a lot of potential there that isn’t being actualized.”
Pest makes a derisive sound. “Get off it.”
Coulson glances at Moses. Moses is listening. He goes on.
“That’s my business card. Keep your noses clean. Graduate on time. Stay away from the press. You do that… you can give me a call. Maybe the next time aliens come calling… you’ll be ready.”
“Che!” Pest pitches back against his pillows and makes a derisive gesture. Moses just flips the card idly between his fingers. Coulson sees him looking. He stands.
“I’ll be back when you’re feeling better to get your statement but I think we have most of what we need. Moses… I hope I’ll hear from you. I think you’ve got a lot to offer. I think you always have,” he muses. “Just, sometimes it takes an extraordinary situation to make other people see it.”
He leaves. Moses puts the card in his pocket. Pest flips his at the trash can.
“Fucking Feds,” he complains and Moses shakes his head.
“Don’t go telling no papers,” he says, and Pest heaves a put-upon sigh. “The Guardian or some shit. Leave it out.”
“I won’t! Swear!” The protest seems to exhaust him and he curls up in his pillows to sulk. Silence lingers, and then Pest flicks a sidelong glance in Moses’ direction. “Do you think that shiz was real? Fightin’ aliens for the government?”
“They’re real.” Moses spent hours in a small room with Agent Coulson. He believes, at the very least, in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s existence.
“What, you gonna take it? Gonna be a big bad Fed in a shit suit? Riight.” Pest laughs, but his laughter dies at the look on Moses’ face. “Bruv, for real?”
“You heard what he said.” Moses locks eyes with him, wills Pest to understand. “There’s more of them things. Different ones. Who knows if it’ll happen again. They’ll kill people if they come. Not just rich boys or bangers… they came to The Block. They’ll be back.”
“So you’re gonna be the Fed’s boy now? What the world is coming to,” Pest says. He sounds disgusted, but Moses knows he’s thinking underneath. “Keep your nose clean. You already skivved off half the year. How you gonna get your A Levels?” Moses just stares at him until Pest relents. “Fine. I’ll catch you up. It’s no big deal. I’m laid up till my leg heals anyway. You’ll owe me for this.”
When Pest’s grandma gets back, he leaves. Sam comes and takes him home.
Sam’s apartment ceases to be a crime scene nearly a week after the incident. She buys a secondhand twin and a bedding set on clearance and installs it in the second room. Moses doesn’t know what she threatened his uncle with or how she worked her way around the foster system, but when she asks him almost shyly if he would mind terribly living with her for a while, at least until he gets his A levels, Moses can’t say no. She makes a compelling argument – they know each other already, he can stay in his school near all his friends, and while she works long hours at the hospital she’s home often enough to take an interest in his education. Her mum thinks she’s a bit daft but they have an understanding now: Sam no longer has anything to fear from the young toughs in The Ends.
It’s two weeks after moving in that some wannabe from another building swings by and starts casing the street corners. Probs and Mayhem come straight to Moses. He doesn’t fear High Hat anymore. Nothing is stopping him from stepping up. Pest thinks it’s lame but it’s a rare opportunity, the gap created by High Hat’s death.
There don’t need to be drugs on the Block.
As long as Moses is here, they’ll stay out. Now that everyone knows what he did, no one’s got the stones to merc him. They don’t want to war with a boy who blew up his house to kill bloodthirsty aliens. The charred, gaping hole where his flat used to be stands mute testament to how far he’s willing to go. He couldn’t have built a stronger rep if he’d tried. They’ve still got some supply though, and he doesn’t really see anything wrong with working through it especially since Pest is still in pain. The nice doctors did the best they could, Pest’s grandma assures him, but they couldn’t replace the muscle that had been eaten or prevent scar tissue from filling the gap. Pest would limp the rest of his life.
Pest is down with it. He wears his scars like a badge of honor and no one can tell him otherwise.
There are funerals for Dennis and Jerome. They all go. Biggz is forbidden from hanging out with them from now until the apocalypse comes. Tia’s friends all want to be seen with the heroes of London but Tia is more level-headed about it, as Moses would expect her to be. She doesn’t approve of Moses living with Sam but she holds her peace because Moses’ uncle was a total waste and at least Sam works for a living. Sam’s spoken to Moses’ teachers and explained the situation. Somehow she convinced them to extend credit and now Moses has a pile of make-up work he MIGHT be able to work through in about a century aimed toward getting his grade up. Sam helps when she can – most often it’s Pest. They have a system: two hours hard work and a couple of tokes, rinse, repeat until they’ve exhausted themselves.
Sam works long hours. She doesn’t mind if Pest stays over… after all, he lives just a couple floors away.
The first time it happens they’re high.
It’s maths they’ve been doing. Moses was always good at maths so Pest screws around and plays his 3DS while Moses keeps his nose to the grindstone. It gets late and Pest, who’s just getting off crutches, throws some bagel bits in the oven to soothe the munchies they’re about to have.
Nothing’s on the telly. They sprawl together on the couch and Pest uses Moses as a pillow because he’s milking this injury for absolutely everything he’s got. Moses doesn’t feel like he can say it, but he doesn’t mind. Pest has been cuddling all over him since they were kids, but it’s been a long time since he’s been so open about it. Languid, they talk about everything and nothing and Pest is solid and warm tucked under his arm. He smells like himself, like the Block, like home. His hair is soft against Moses’ jaw. His hand rests heavy against Pest’s shoulder and Pest has claimed it, linked his fingers through it, rubbing his thumb over Moses’ knuckles. He keeps rubbing his mouth against it, and it’s driving Moses to distraction.
When he turns it’s so easy. He’s too high to feel anxious. His skin is soft and his nose bumps against Moses’ chin and he kisses the soft underside like it’s normal, like they do this every day. Moses doesn’t know what to do, but he knows what he wants to do. It’s hell to overthink everything all the time. He captures Pest’s mouth just to see what he’ll do; what he does is melt. They don’t go far, hands sliding down, pushing their hips together. Pest sprawls on top of him and breathes hot against his neck, voice cracking as he repeats Moses’ name like a prayer in the most amazing variations. He’s fractured and pleading, trusting and dazed, and the texture of his skin against Moses’ palm is utterly captivating. He cums first and decides Moses needs extra encouragement and by the time Moses catches up it’s too late to stop him because Pest is opening his pants, sliding down his body, taking him in his mouth and there’s never been anything like it for Moses and never will be again.
They use the throw blanket to clean up and Moses chucks it at the hamper on their way to pile in his bed where it’s warmer and there are enough covers for everyone. Not superhero sheets anymore – they’re plaid now, unassuming. Pest curls up at his side with his head on Moses’ shoulder and Moses wonders if this counts as ‘keeping his nose clean’.
Hours later, Sam stands in the doorway trying to interpret what she sees. Is this something she should care about? Is she really the best, most responsible adult to handle something like this? Well, she’s a nurse isn’t she? If Moses can count on anybody, he ought to be able to count on her.
So she doesn’t say anything. She buys what he needs at the pharmacy and leaves them in his dresser without a note, without comment. But she’s looking after him and she needs to know the risks he’s taking or it will haunt her. So over dinner she asks him.
“Moses, this thing with Pest.”
He doesn’t look up.
“Is it… you know… just one of those experimental things? Or is it… real?”
That takes him a while to answer. “It’s real,” he said finally, and Sam lets out a breath of relief.
“Oh. Well, good. Because… well, you know, that kind of… activity can be quite dangerous. There are still… problems. Infections. Promise me you’ll be careful. I can give you… god, I’m rubbish. What I mean is I’m a nurse and there’s really almost nothing I haven’t heard, so you’ll take precautions, right? You’ll use protection. Because you really don’t want to see the alternative and honestly neither do I. And you’ll let me know if there’s anything you need, because… well I know it’s embarrassing but I’m only trying to look out for you. You know that,” she prods as Moses pushes his food around with his fork.
Finally, he looks up and manages a hint of a smile. “I know.”
“Right.” She smiles back. “Good. Then… I’ve been an adult enough for one day. When you go out tonight, would you get eggs? The other ones are turning.”
He nods, and she’s not certain if she handled that properly or not, but Moses must have been paying attention because before long they aren’t even trying to hide it. Sam is relieved because seeing them curled up on her couch, kissing during commercial breaks, doesn’t actually make her feel awkward. She feels trusted, and no longer lonely, left behind in favor of humanitarian missions in Ghana. These are her boys. They went through hell together. If they’re safe and happy, that’s all she cares about… even if they do eat her out of house and home.
And go through condoms almost faster than she can buy them.
All the surviving teens get the offer when they graduate.
Agent Coulson tells them, "You kids dealt with an alien threat much better than the supposed authorities, put on a better showing than trained men and women twice your age. We're looking for people like you because there's more of them out there and we intend to meet them when they get here. With force if necessary."
Tia postpones and goes to into the RAF as a logistics and operations coordinator. It makes Moses feel like he ought to do something with his life. There's no money for college for him and he knows that, and there's something honest about Agent Coulson. Something different from the Fed he knows. So he takes the offer.
Everyone else stays well out of it except Pest, who throws his woolen tassel-hat in as soon as he finds out Moses took the offer. His deal is simple: he stays by Moses' side. They never could repair his leg well enough to get rid of the limp, but Pest gets around just fine for all that. Nobody else partners with his boy. Moses feels terrifyingly out of his depth and while he doesn't want to admit it, just having Pest there when he sets foot on S.H.I.E.L.D. ground, when he puts on the trainee uniform, when he gets handed his class assignment sheet for his basic quals, calms the clawing panic that threatens to rise up inside him. Dealing with aliens is easier somehow than dealing with such high expectations. But that's to be expected - no one's had expectations for Moses since his parents died.
He's well aware that Pest is just following him. Pest could take or leave this job. But lack of motivation doesn't hold Pest back - he's smart, smarter than Moses in some ways, a quick adapter. He makes friends easily with his cocky sense of humor and low-brow London accent and Moses just follows him in, quiet and steadfast, and lets him break the ice with the hard-asses who make up their class. A lot of them have military background, a lot of them were in law enforcement. He's just an orphaned black kid from The Ends, but at least he's not alone and while Pest may act like he gets on fine, Moses knows his true feelings: fuck the five-oh.
Things only really start to make sense when he walks into combat training. They start unarmed of course, but the set of Katanas hanging on the wall brings back memories. His instructor tells him they'll work on weapon handling after they've achieved sufficient mastery of unarmed combat and Moses uses that as motivation - if he does this right, they'll put a sword in his hand again and maybe then everything will fall into place.
As for Pest, he just can't believe they're teaching him how to make bombs.
All those clean-cut, former military, former law enforcement trainees look down on Moses. He knows that. He's a civilian who was caught in a fucked situation and did his best to come out of it still kicking. He lost friends to those aliens, guys he loved like brothers. Dennis. Jerome. The people he couldn't save. They don't understand and they put him down. Moses doesn't care. He works hard, he lets Pest help him, they spent evenings huddled over textbooks and nights tangled together in drying sweat and slow-settling heartbeats. One of their classmates accuses Pest of copping a feel on the mat, implies a relationship with Moses as proof of intent. Pest - skinny, fine-boned, almost a foot shorter - breaks his wrist on the take-down and bounces up smiling, swearing it was an accident. He narrowly avoids being sent home for that. The rest of the class studiously pretends they don't know nothing they shouldn't. Moses thinks that's good practice.
Better it came from Pest anyway. Better they earned their rep before his classmates saw him with a sword in his hand. His instructor's been told, or so Moses assumes, because he hands Moses the wooden practice sword with special significance. The weight isn't quite the same and neither is the speed but somehow the intent is enough. Suddenly Moses is performing. Suddenly he's a person to watch, a person to respect. Suddenly when he gets on the mat, he's scary.
He has no feeling for guns. He's had them waved in his face too many times to feel impressed by them anymore, and all he can remember is Dennis' dying words ("Shit, it IS a toy") and High Hat's accusations, his pointless, oblivious bravado in the face of a much more salient threat. Guns are too shiny for him, too nickle-plated, too chrome... objects of status that turn any idiot into a deadly weapon. Moses is done with them. He's been done with them since he was fifteen. Fortunately this is S.H.I.E.L.D. and thanks to one agent in particular, crossbow training is still in vogue. Specialized boltheads that range from smoke-bombs to explosives to fireworks and even tasers keep Pest plenty happy. Before Moses knows it, he's specializing in field tech and cluttering up their shared dorm room with piles of discard electronics, half-finished projects that all seem to pose a fire hazard. Their fourth year he builds liquid nitrogen boltheads and amuses himself and Moses by climbing onto the roof of the training center and selectively icing over the walkways, watching people slip and fall.
They graduate with full quals. Pest has been sending all his money home to his grandmother. What does he need with it anyway? Moses doesn't even know what to do with it. He entertains the notion of throwing a party or taking a trip once the ceremony's over, in whatever time they have before receiving their assignments.
He suspects he and Pest might finally be separated - they have many aptitudes in common, but Pest excels in technical fields beyond combat and leadership. He wants to steal as much time with him as he can have before that happens; take him somewhere, show him a good time, maybe act like the boyfriend he deserves. How did you say 'thank you' for years of unswerving loyalty? How do you talk about staying together when you might be deployed to opposite ends of the planet? These were questions Moses was ill-equipped to manage but he figured he'd do his best. When he put his mind to things, they usually got done.
He wants to go back to London, where it all started. There's a S.H.I.E.L.D. office there and he's heard they've got the remains of the aliens he killed locked down in cryogenic suspension. It's not the aliens he wants to see though; it's The Ends, The Block, the old neighborhood faces. They're living too, and he wonders what they'll think of what he's made of himself. He's grown into his muscle now; he's tall and handsome. Those three scars still mark his left eye. He wants to talk to Sam and Biggz. Probs and Mayhem will have graduated high school assuming they stayed with it - he hopes they stayed with it. They're a matched set too, as tight as he's ever seen even if Mayhem seems content to trundle along in Probs' shadow. Probs always had more brains and more guts than he knew what to do with. If he's interested, Moses will write him a recommendation. One for both of them if Mayhem follows Probs as dutifully as Pest followed Moses.
Pest doesn't spend the money he makes in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s training program. It's good money, but they don't pick their own home or their own cars. He's not interested in wealth but he does hoard like a pack rat, and that's probably why Moses should have seen this one coming.
His graduation gift is a hat. It's not much of a gift really, because the hat belonged to Moses in the first place. It's black with a red brim and the blood and pheromones of an extraterrestrial species have been cleaned from it. Small enough not to attract much notice, off-center over the left side of the cap, the S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem and acronym have been embroidered in matching red stitching. Pest didn't wrap it, just gave it over and smiled that sharp, dry smile of his and Moses holds it, turning it in his hands, remembering how everything started.
"Figure them tags is still proper?" Pest asks, and Moses knows what he means, the cluster of their names, brash, impetuous, teenagers trying to leave a permanent mark with spray paint and concrete.
"Been years, innit?" Moses fingers the brim. It's firm, not even a little floppy, crisp after all these years. Pest didn't just steal the hat and secret it away, he took care of it. Like a relic. Like a medal of honor. "They'll have scraped it all off by now if they ain't torn it down."
Pest nods, deflating a little. "Yeah. Hear they tore down the Westor. Ain't nothing left."
Moses slowly pulls the cap on. The brim sits right where it should, parallel to the top scar that crosses his temple. "Biggz and the fam. I was thinking we could go on holiday back home. Talk about old times."
Pest grins. "Sure you want to step to The Block? You're a Fed now. Got a badge and everything. We're our own worst nightmare, bruv, trust. Besides," he says almost too casually, stretching his lean frame across Moses' bunk like he owns it (and for all practical purposes, he does), "I hear Sam's boyfriend's back from Ghana. She says he's talking marriage. Oily wanker still hasn't got the stones to propose. I keep telling her to leave him," Pest says sagely, with the lazy confidence of a self-proclaimed expert. "What good is he then? Always off somewhere while she does the hard work. Girl needs a real man. I'd offer," he says, watching Moses through his eye lashes, tempting him with that cocksure grin. "But I'm involved these days. Shame, that; we could have done fair billings together."
"Shut it," Moses says fondly, and cuffs the backs of his knuckles against Pest's chin. It's an affectionate gesture. Moses is categorically incapable of raising a hand to anyone he cares about, even remotely. Pest likes to roughhouse, but Moses has always been hyper-aware of the height and weight advantages he carries and he reigns himself in without expecting Pest to do the same. "If I went...." His solemnity carries and Pest's smile melts. "You come with me. I know we ain't got time. No telling where they send us. We knew they was gonna split us sooner or later."
"Oy." Pest sits up. "That don't mean nothing. Bruv." He reaches out and crimps his fingers around Moses' collar. "It's nothing, you get me? We got videophones now, innit? We got the company plan. There's nobody else for me," he says, eyes glittering with cold intensity, nails digging into Moses' collarbone. "Not ever, man. They can't take me apart from you." He's speaking casually, like an observation, like an obvious truth. "I'll kill my way back if I have to. Believe."
Moses believes. Killing is something Pest can do now, with an efficiency that's a little scary when all is said and done. Moses is equally proficient but he likes to think he considers it a little harder, puts a little more thought into the morality of the act. He leans over, presses his forehead against Pest's, and breathes his air. Pest can never let that sort of thing slide. He presses his mouth against Moses', and Moses surrenders it. If he belongs anywhere, it's here.
The future can go a lot of ways after all. Someday they'll kill aliens together. Maybe they'll even go into space and meet some of the friendly ones for themselves. Moses is lucky - he only has one 'home', and it's determined to follow him wherever he goes.