I had it all planned out in my head. How it would go when Michael finally decided to grace me with his presence. But now, looking at him while he holds my gaze, it’s so much harder. The man is utterly gorgeous, and his eyes, the way he looks at me is like he can see into my soul. I seriously think he knows exactly how he makes me feel. I have to swallow a few times before I can get the gumption to get angry at him, again. This is ridiculous.
“I’ve been lying here in this bed for a while now, Michael, and ever since they stopped pumping me full of morphine, I’ve been able to think clearly. It’s occurred to me that you used me to get to my partner, but what I can’t figure out is, why?” He seems taken aback at my calmness.
“Your partner was a terrorist,” he answers, nonchalantly. “I was ordered to capture him, and you were the perfect in. My orders were to get close to you so you would take me to him, which you did.”
This can’t be right. I couldn’t have heard him right. What am I supposed to do with what he just told me? He used me, called my partner a terrorist, but John is no terrorist. Michael doesn’t even know him. I decide to go with the latter. I will tear into him about using me after. I want to be good and mad before I broach the subject with him.
“First of all, I don’t know where you got your ‘intel,’” I say, using air quotes around the word. “But you couldn’t be further from the truth. John is no terrorist. You don’t know him like I know him. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. He’s an FBI agent for crying out loud,” I protest.
“Yes, Shyira, he was. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your partner was dirty. Being in law enforcement doesn’t make you a good person, Shy. In fact, they can be some of the dirtiest and most corrupt people on the planet.”
“I don’t believe you. I want to see him, where is he?” I ask, sitting up a little straighter in bed. “And why do you keep saying was like he’s no longer?”
“Because he is no longer,” Michael replies.
“No longer what? An FBI agent?” I ask, concerned. I hope they aren’t keeping him here like me. According to them, I’m also no longer an FBI agent.
“Living, so in turn, yes, no longer an FBI agent.”
Michael’s answers are so loose, I wouldn’t believe we were having a conversation about someone’s life if I wasn’t a part of it. I narrow my eyes at him. “Michael, what did you do?”
“I killed him.”
And just like that my faith in him crumbles. Yeah, he used me, but I figured he would be able to explain himself. Murder, though, there is no coming back from that. I desperately want to slide over that huge elephant in the room by blaming it on the residual effects of the morphine. Maybe I didn’t hear him right.
“You killed him?” I whisper in disbelief. “You didn’t even know him. If he were a terrorist I would’ve known. Did you even bother to ask him, or did you just kill him?”
He doesn’t answer, only holds my gaze. It’s good he doesn’t answer. There’s nothing he can say at this moment that will console me.
“Who the hell died and made you judge, jury, and executioner?” I seethe.
He stands, looking down at me. “You’ll understand soon enough. Your training starts tomorrow. Five A.M. sharp.”
He’s almost to the door when I grab one of my pillows and chuck it at his head. Gracefully, he sides steps, dodging the pillow with ease. I curse him under her breath for so many things. Before the door closes, he reiterates, “Five A.M. sharp, Shyira.”
Closing my eyes, I rest my head back against the one remaining pillow I have. As my eyes close all I can see is Michael. I hate him. Mainly for being this beautiful predator that makes me feel things, I desperately wish I could ignore. My mind flashes back to the bar in L.A. He’s so close to me. I can feel the warmth of his breath on my face. His eyes are penetrating. I wanted desperately to feel his mouth on mine. Still do, if I’m being honest with myself. I’m so close to getting what I want when I hear John’s voice.
I sigh, “Oh, John. I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve what he did to you,” I say aloud.
Looking back, I try to think. Maybe I missed something. Did John say, or do something I should’ve picked up on? That night in the bar there had been obvious tension between he and Michael. Had Michael said something to him? John was an easy-going guy, most times. What did Michael say to rattle him? Maybe Michael told him he knew the truth about who he was, or maybe John got pissed because Michael accused him of treason. The fact of the matter is, I will never know because Michael killed him. John isn’t here to defend himself, and that pisses me off. What really has my blood boiling is he has me doubting a man I’ve been partners with since I entered the Bureau. Who does Michael think he is? Lying here in the dark with no idea of what time it is only makes me angrier. There’s neither clock nor window to see if the sun will be rising soon. All I know is it’s been hours, and my mind continues to spin out of control, trying to make sense of all this. I’m angry at myself for feeling anxious about seeing Michael in just a few hours. How can I feel this way about a man who just blatantly admitted to murdering my partner? Oh, I know. I’m mentally ill, that’s how.
Finally, after lying here long enough to feel the twilight sleep creep in, I hear those metal doors open, causing the lights to flicker on as Michael walks into the room, momentarily blinding me.
“It’s time,” he says, making his way to my bedside.
He extends his hand as if to try and help me out of bed. I think not! I pull the blanket back, staring at his hand.
“I can manage, thank you.” I’m surprisingly polite.
“Have it your way,” he says, stepping back giving me the room I need to swing my legs over. Never having been shot before, I don’t know what to expect. I’m sure being bedridden for two weeks doesn’t help either. I try to stand. Putting weight on my injured leg for the first time, it gives way, and embarrassingly, I stumble. Michael is there before I know it, holding me up. There’s a moment of déjà vu, except the tables are turned. This time Michael is the one helping me. I look up at him as he stares down at me. In this moment, I would give anything to know what he’s thinking. Just a glimpse. Never have I met anyone so damn hard to read. I do so reluctantly, but I take my arm back.
“I got it from here,” I say, straightening slowly.
I regain my balance before looking down at my exquisite attire, and smirk. “I know you don’t expect me to train in this lovely hospital gown, do you?”
Michael walks past me. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to your new living quarters. This will be where you’ll stay for the duration of your training.”
He doesn’t wait for me as he heads out the door. He leads me down a long narrow corridor until we reach the end, and yet, another metal door. Limping, I finally catch up with him as he punches in a code and the door slides open. I peek in, and to my surprise the circular shaped room is quite spacious. The bed is to the right of the entrance with one lonely black loveseat on the opposite wall. What looks to be the closet is straight ahead. Nothing else furnishes the space. Slowly, I stepped into the room then look behind me.
“Can I have some privacy, please?”
Michael pushes the button, and the door closes. In no hurry, I take a moment to look around. Opening all the drawers and scouring the closet, I hope to find something I can use as a weapon. There’s nothing. All I find are drawers filled with panties, bras, socks and tank tops. I pick up a dainty panty and bra set. Eyeing it, I shake my head.
“I wonder who picked this out.”
The black and red lace undergarment is beautiful, but I certainly can’t use it to escape this place. I peer at the tag. “Holy shit, it’s my size!”
I feel as if they’ve been waiting on my arrival. Everything here is my exact size, right down to the shoes. I’m officially creeped out. There’s no T.V. or computer in this room. I figure it’s because they don’t want me to see what’s going on in the outside world. Computers I understand, the internet can be a dangerous thing for a prisoner to have, and yes, I’m a prisoner. Hopefully most of my time will be spent elsewhere because if I have to sit in this room, staring at these blank walls I think I’ll go mad, or maybe that’s their plan. Make their operatives crazy then unleash them on society. That would explain how Michael got to be the way he is. I refuse to end up like him. Accepting the inevitable, I head for the closet grabbing a navy cotton sweat suit and a white tank for under the jacket.
Done dressing, I open the door. I stand off to the side, forcing Michael to enter the room. As he steps over the threshold, I make my move. I go right for his throat just as I was trained to do. My plan then, was to go for his kidneys, incapacitating him. What I didn’t count on is how fucking fast he is. The minute I raise my hand in his direction, I find myself on my knees with my arm twisted, and wrenched up my back.
I cry out in pain, from both the pain in my leg and the pain in my wrist and shoulder. Michael bends over, whispering in my ear, “That was very fucking stupid, Shy.”
I continue to breathe heavily, trying to control the pain. He abruptly let’s go of my arm. I glare up at him, while rubbing my wrist. “You can’t blame a girl for trying,” I say, curtly.
“You’re too slow, too weak, and ineffective. Don’t fight this, Shy. I promise, you will lose.”
He’s an ass, and my anger rises at the fact that I still notice how his black suit fits him perfectly. Obviously, tailor made. His hair falls freely with a natural part down the center. It’s slightly longer than when I first met him in L.A., and I find myself liking it. It makes him look rugged, and even more dangerous. How that’s a good thing is beyond me, especially after he so clearly kicked my ass. I think the bullet quite possibly may have traveled from my leg to my head. Is it too early in my abduction to claim Stockholm syndrome?
That’s the only reasoning I can come up with as to why I feel this need to connect with a sociopath. As I continue to glare up at him, I half expect his ocean eyes to soften his features, making him less threatening. To my surprise they don’t. They make him look empty, cold, and again, I wish I knew what he was thinking. I must look just as crazy to him with all the micro-expressions I’m giving off as I study him, trying to figure out what his angle is. He’s an enigma. I will never stop trying to figure him out. It’s what I was trained to do.
Michael grabs me by my shoulders, lifting me up off the ground. He studies me a minute before turning around, and walking out the door. I guess I’m supposed to follow. This is my chance to get the lay of the land, so I follow, like a good little girl. It takes me a few steps, but I’m walking a little better now. I have a point to prove. I’m strong, and my F.B.I. training will be substantiated.
“While you’re here you’ll be trained in surveillance, weapons, hand to hand combat, infiltration, and extraction. For now, you’ll start with Vivian in communications. She’ll teach you everything you need to know about computers.”
Michael wastes no time explaining as we walk down the corridor. I don’t speak, only nod. I take this opportunity to become aware of my surroundings. The place has a very cold and sterile feel to it. However, I’m far from cold. The temperature is regulated perfectly. The walls are sharp and jagged with natural earth tones, like it’s carved straight from the mountain itself. There are no windows anywhere, and I can’t feel any kind of breeze. I surmise we’re underground, somewhere in London. The only highlight to this whole thing is I’ve never been to Europe, and I would kill to go sightseeing. Ugh, I shouldn’t think such things. Knowing that’s exactly what I’ll have to do in order to ever leave these walls. The corridor opens up into a vast room that’s sectioned off into different working quarters. Straight ahead is the Communications area. There are so many computers, and the setup is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“The F.B.I. and C.I.A. would kill to have a Comm setup like this.”
I admire more to myself than anyone in particular, even though I say it aloud. Michael looks at me, and his eyes soften for a split second. I think he’s pleased. But just as quickly they’re back to their steely ocean blue. A woman greets us as we walk up the one and only step that puts us in Comm.
“Vivian, this is Shyira,” Michael introduces us.
Vivian extends her hand to me, and I accept it graciously. It’s nice to see another woman here, perhaps we’ll be friends. My eyes drift up, landing on a huge room with a glass wall. The room is about ten to twelve feet above our heads. Looking down on all of us, a man is standing there, staring down. He’s tall, about 6’1”, with salt and peppered hair. He has gray eyes, the color of a perfect storm. There’s a scar on the left side of his face, traveling from his brow, stopping just shy of his chin. For some reason, I can’t take my eyes off him. Not many people intimidate me, but I can honestly say . . . this man does.
“Shyira,” Michael’s tone is sharp, bringing me out of my trance. “Are you paying attention?”
Embarrassed, I apologize because I haven’t heard a word Vivian said, and admit as much.
“I’m sorry, Vivian. Can you repeat that? I got distracted,” I speak honestly, and she nods.
Michael looks less than pleased.
“You might want to pay attention. Distractions will get you killed here. If you don’t know this stuff you won’t survive here for long.” Michael looks up towards the big glass room, and the man standing there. “They don’t tolerate mistakes here.”
“Who is he?” I ask, returning my gaze to the man.
“The one who decides whether you live or die. If I were you I’d worry less about who’s who and pay attention to what’s right in front of you. I’ll be back in two hours to get you.”
Michael walks away, and not realizing it my eyes track him until he’s no longer visible. I can feel Vivian looking at me. I turn my gaze to her, clearing my throat. She smiles briefly before averting her eyes back to the huge room, and the man. He’s still staring at me, but as soon as I locked eyes with him his window goes black, and he’s no longer visible. Even though I can’t see inside, I have the distinct feeling he’s still watching me.
“That’s Olympus. That’s what the recruits called the General’s office the first year the Collective went into effect,” she shrugs. “The name stuck.”
He must be the General. My eyes remain fixed on the huge dark window. Vivian watches me for a few more moments before speaking again, “I don’t know if anything is going on with you and Michael, and it’s none of my business, but you need to be careful.” Vivian looks toward Olympus.
“They don’t allow personal relationships here. Especially, between handler and material,” she explains.
I look at her. “There is nothing going on between Michael and me. That, I promise you.” I’m stern, only to make sure there’s nothing to misconstrue. Vivian nods and smiles at me before starting her instruction from the beginning.
Two hours later my eyes are burning, and I have a headache the size of Mount Everest. There’s entirely too much information for any one person to remember. Taking a deep breath, I try to relax, but to no avail. I still feel a huge boulder in my gut, weighing me down. I’m never going to make it. Michael walks up just in time to reaffirm my self-doubt.
“What did you learn?”
He’s all business. I do my best to describe bits and pieces of what I can remember, but most of it is out of sequence.
“Michael, this is impossible. You guys don’t really expect people to learn this stuff in such a short amount of time, do you?” I ask, looking up at him from my computer.
Holding my gaze, he answers, “I did.”
“That’s because you’re a robot,” I say quietly under my breath. If he heard me, he ignores me.
“Come on. The next two hours you may find more . . . enjoyable,” he says, curtly.
Michael leads me to the area where they house their weapons. He introduces me to a man named Godfrey. Vivian told me a bit about Godfrey. He’s been with the Collective for fifteen years. Five years longer than Michael. He was supposedly the best bomb expert the bomb squad had ever seen. He was said to have been killed in a car accident on his way to defuse a bomb, but instead ended up here. She wasn’t clear on the particulars, but apparently, like everyone who is inducted into the Collective, their cover of being killed in one fashion or another would’ve been a more favorable outcome.
Godfrey’s an attractive man who looks to be in his early forties. He’s sporting thin silky dreads down to his shoulders, with a goatee that frames his perfect mouth. His eyes are a chestnut brown, matching the tone of his skin. Vivian referred to him as the “ladies’ man” around the Collective because he flirts with all the women relentlessly. Basically, she was telling me to watch out for him. As we walk up to Weapons, Godfrey’s already looking me up and down.
“Heeello, chocolate dipped strawberry,” he draws out as he greets me, wagging his eyebrows. I look at Michael skeptically.
“He’s joking, right?”
“Shyira this is Godfrey. He’s our resident weapons specialist.” Michael introduces, eyeing Godfrey. “She’s yours for the next two hours.”
Michael is completely unmoved by Godfrey’s reaction to me. I guess he’s used to these kinds of remarks from him. Godfrey shakes his head as Michael walks away.
“All work and no play, that one.”
I have to laugh because, I totally agree. Working with Godfrey for the last two hours has been the most fun I’ve had in a while. These two hours seem more like two minutes, rather than two years, like in Comm. I love all the different kinds of guns and knives, and can’t wait to try out each and every one. Getting to know Godfrey hasn’t been bad, either. His personality is a breath of fresh air in a place that’s so suffocating, and uncompromising. Godfrey has me laughing from the time Michael leaves until the time he returns. Seeing all the guns has me longing for the firing range. It was my outlet when the job got to be too much. I have the distinct feeling this place will be too much all the time. I don’t think I’ll get much of a chance to let off steam, so I’ll have to get creative.
Looking up, I spot Michael as he walks up to collect me from Godfrey. He’s changed. Dressed differently from the monochrome outfit he usually wears. The black slacks are sleek and perfectly fitted, as usual, but his shirt is a powder blue button up that he wears loosely, and un-tucked. It hangs from his body like the material is a live organism, hugging and clinging to him in all the right places. Like it knows how lucky it is to be touching his skin, and it doesn’t take it for granted. I take a deep breath, gathering my thoughts. Get a grip, Shy. It’s a freaking shirt for crying out loud. Although, no one has ever made a shirt look quite like that. In that color his eyes look so clear, so blue, and I find myself staring at him for the second time today. Godfrey audibly clears his throat, snapping me out of my trance. To say I’m embarrassed would be a complete understatement. I’m not even sure how long I’ve been staring at him.