I seen a lot of things in my day.
I know that makes me sound old, and in all honesty I feel old (though I'm really not), but its true: not a lot can surprise me.
The story that Nikki's brother related, however, did. And as he talked, instinct told me that every word he uttered was the truth.
I had felt his strength as we had fought, and the fact that not many men are stronger than me, at least in fighting areas, gave me another kick of adrenaline. However, when I speedily learned that strength was not his only strong suit, as his tactical way of fighting and simply the fact that he could disarm me in the first place showed that, the thrill of adrenaline was quickly coupled with a pang of fear. Fear that this man was as good, if not better, than I am, and that he would finally be my undoing.
Assassins don't feel fear, you say? Well you're wrong. Of course we feel fear, we're human just like you.
We feel fear every time we enter a building, knowing that when we leave it, someone will have died—maybe even us. We feel fear every time we round a corner, knowing that death could lie at the other end. We feel fear every time we wake up in the morning after suffering another nightmare filled night, wondering if this will be the day when all of your past sins finally catch up to you. We feel fear every time we draw a breath, hoping that it wont be your last, while at the same time morbidly wishing that it would. Our lives are fear.
We just hide it under a show of false bravado, cold confidence, a change of tactics, or a practiced stony mask.
I only wanted to protect Nikki, first.
But then, as quickly as the fight started, it was over.
The woman, who I had initially threatened with my gun as I had seen her first, had jumped in front of Aaron, both protecting him with her body and prohibiting Aaron from shooting me, while at the same time she pleaded with him with her eyes.
The tables turned so drastically after that, that I was rather dazed at what to do.
Nikki, however, with her gentle fingers brushing up with mine, her hand radiating heat where it rested on my shoulder, and her face inches away, tried to remind me.
It was her eyes that made me finally release the gun and submit to her.
They looked like......Marie's.
They told me that they were here for my help. My help.
Did they know who I was? Did they know what I have done? Of course they did, one look at Nikki's brother told me that. Chances were he was in the same business as I am.
As I was.
The woman, however, was a mystery. Why would she stick around with the likes of him? What was her connection? For there obviously was one. Heck, they were holding hands, she had jumped in front of the crosshairs to save his life, right after he had started a fight to save hers.
What could they possibly need my help for?
Slowly, as Aaron talked, all of my questions were answered as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and I found that, like always, it was all my fault. It was my actions that almost got them killed, that set off this chain of events. Aaron had said that there were six "program participants" in Outcome alone—might as well add five more to the rapidly growing list of people that I have killed. A list that I thought I had closed forever when I became "dead".
"All we need from you is your story, and any information you might have on Treadstone, Blackbrier, even past ops you've run—all preferably by a recording device." Aaron was watching me closely.
I thought over how alike we were: our past lives, our training, our situation, how he was now trying to walk out on Outcome just like how I had walked out on Treadstone and Blackbrier—only he was doing it in a way that would settle for good the outcome of more than one life.
He was still holding the doctor's hand, almost in a covert manner, their intertwined fingers partly hidden by their bodies, and I thought I could read something in the possessive, protective way he clasped hers.
You stuck a gun in my face! If Aaron had pulled his on Nikki, what would you do?
What would I do? Exactly what he had, only I would have had no qualms about finishing the job.
I confess that ever since I had swum to safety out of that river I supposedly died in, I set about tracking down Nikki. I had long ago sworn that no matter how many lies I told others, no matter how many masks I adopted, I would always stay honest to myself; and it was with that same reasoning that I knew, no matter how much I wanted to refute the fact, that I definitely felt something for Nikki.
I don't want to call it love—it wasn't that yet—but instinct told me that whatever life, whatever future I had beyond Blackbrier, it would somehow involve her.
She wasn't that hard to find, still in Tangier, the final destination of the train I had left her on in Marrakech, and soon I had tracked her movements and found out where she was staying, her habits, how she was living.
I even watched her from afar for a while, using a scope from the vantage points of rooftops, or following her in crowds. A few times I felt that she might have suspected, a thought that gave me a thrill of something I didn't want to overanalyze. Yet through all of this, through all that we had been through, I never approached her. No matter what my thoughts and feelings might have been, when faced with her before me, it seemed an almost selfish thing of me to do—to intrude into the life she was building for herself after I had destroyed her old one.
Besides, I wasn't sure if I was even wanted.
It gave me pause when she suddenly disappeared for six days, vanishing with a skill that I both admired her for, and worried about. No matter what I did, I couldn't find a clue to where she had gone.
Something that I thought at the time was probably for the best.
So I let her go. I stopped looking, and hunkered down in Tangier wondering what on earth I should do with my life now.
Well, that's not entirely true. I say that I let her go, but I never really did. I would still, against my better judgment, keep tabs on the cafe she had frequented—holding on to some piece of her, hoping that one day she would turn up again.
Imagine my surprise when she finally did, and with a note before her saying that she needed to talk.
Yes, Aaron and I were very much alike. We were both operatives, trying to undo all of the havoc we had created and begin afresh. We were both operatives, compromised in ways we could never hope to repair, by the two people in our lives who we never thought were a threat.
"Together, with your statement, the Chems and blood sample from the agent in Manila, and a blood sample from Aaron combined with his statement," Marta says, filling in the silence after Aaron's words as I thought, "we thought that it would be enough to go public."
I nodded. The pieces in my mind were now complete, forming a complex and dangerous picture.
"You said," I began, speaking to Aaron, "that you suspect the man from Manila to be from a separate program."
Aaron nodded. "Him and the other guy who I fought in the house; they both had the same advanced enhancement; both were stronger than me, had a higher pain tolerance, and didn't seem to be…..present, to say the least."
I shifted in my stance against the wall. "Okay. Do you know the name of that program?"
For an answer Aaron turned to Marta, mumbling to her a few words that I didn't catch. She bent from her seat on the windowsill beside him, to fumble through their backpack on the floor, producing something and passing it to Aaron.
"Everyone in Outcome were given one of these to store their Chems," Aaron spoke, displaying for me to see a necklace that looked like a dog tag. "On the back of mine, the words Outcome 05 were inscribed, and I later learned from Marta that I was known as Number 5 to the people in the lab and beyond. Look what's on the back of the Manila agent's." And Aaron passed the necklace to me.
I took it, turning it over to read the inscription as he directed.
LARX 03, it read.
"LARX......" I mumbled. "So that's the name of the program?"
"We believe so," Aaron confirmed, before sighing slightly and turning to Marta. "I should have gotten the necklace off of the man at the house." he muttered with a frown. "I should've—"
"You didn't." Marta cut him off, laying her hand on his arm. "You were worried about us, and you didn't. There's no use kicking yourself over something you cant change."
Aaron was silent, but he laid a hand over the one on his arm, giving it a small squeeze before turning back to me.
"So," he said, "will you help us?"
I looked towards Nikki who was sitting cross-legged on the floor and waiting for my answer.
Our eyes met.
"The question is: do you have a recorder?"