I had scrubbed at my skin until it was throbbing to the touch. If I were to grab my arm, it would leave white indentions in its wake. I had sat in the tub until the water had gone cold and the pads of my fingers started to prune but I didn’t care. I just wanted to distract myself from the pain that was currently weighing heavy on my heart. To distract myself from the heavy survivor’s guilt that I felt every year on the anniversary. The guilt of not being able to visit her grave today, to leave her favourite flowers or have a conversation with her.
Eventually, I was able to pick myself up out of the tub, watching as the water created a little tornado before swiftly going down the drain. I’d focus on the smallest of things to distract myself from my mind. The way the water disappeared. The little leak the tap had because it wasn’t tight enough. The way the condensation slipped down the mirror because it had been too hot in here at one point.
Once the water had disappeared down the drain, I stepped out onto the fluffy rug and pulled on my robe, wincing slightly whenever it touched my reddened, raw skin. It stung but it was another small thing that distracted me from just how loud my mind was at that moment. Thankfully, it was slightly chilly today in London as it was cloudy. I was able to hide my arms from society.
I had received a text from Harry a little less than an hour ago with the name of his driver and a time frame. That left me with more than enough time to stop at a cafe and run a little errand since it’s been a while since I checked in with the secret service.
Once I was dry—along with my hair, I slipped on a black turtleneck with black dress pants and a thin Gucci belt. Simple. No one would think twice or look my way. I then pulled on a tan, long coat just in case it was a little colder than I initially thought before pulling my hair up into a bun.
Before I walked out of my room, I pulled my phone off of my charger, making sure my debit card was in the back of my clear case before I spritzed on some perfume. Once I had made it to the living room, I slipped on the black pumas that sat by the door before leaving, popping my AirPods in once I was out the door. I made sure to only put the right one in, leaving the left one out so that I was also able to focus on my surroundings.
The cafe that a fellow agent was meeting me at was a good fifteen-minute walk from my studio apartment. Not too far but far enough that I’d probably end up complaining on the way back. However, I do understand why they wanted it to be a little further away. We couldn’t be caught. I moved to put my hands in the pockets of my coat as the voice of Muna filled my right ear.
I Promise was the perfect song for such a cloudy, gloomy day. I could ignore the world around me as I walked, get lost with my thoughts and the possible upcoming test that I had to endure. Considering I thought I had to burn my fingerprints off for the first one, I could only imagine what Harry was going to put me through next. The first one left me with more questions than answers. I know Niall mentioned that only members of the gang remove their fingerprints but was it just the five of them or all of them? I know there are more members than the ones that I have met.
I know that they have politicians, police, security guards and more in their pocket. There’s a reason why so much of the terror they cause flies under the radar and no one bats an eye at it. They could pull a successful heist and no one in London would hear about it. They have pulled a successful heist. It’s like their ghosts but everyone knows better than to mess with them.
I’ve witnessed darkness before. I’ve been at the hands of darkness. Yet, I don’t think anything will compare to unearthing the darkness that surrounds Harry Styles.
“Take the next left,” I had completely forgotten that I turned my GPS on to give me directions to the cafe. I will never understand why Apple made it to where if you had your AirPods in they read out your texts or GPS directions. I just wanted to listen to my music.
Alas, I took the next left anyways, a little pip in my step as the song shifted to Good Grief by Bastille. I could tell I was arriving towards the trendier side of London. There were large, black planter pots lining the sides of the street with plants in them. Lights strung up above the canopies that hung over the outside dining area of some of the restaurants.
It was looking more and more like Wren wanted us to be spotted. If they were sending Wren. I hope they were.
My Airpods let me know I was about seven minutes away from my destination, however, I had become increasingly aware of my surroundings. The person that I had originally stepped to the side to pass me was still a few feet behind me. They turned the exact same left as I did. I’m not a firm believer in coincidences but I’d let this one slide for now. There were a lot of little shoppes and restaurants that lined the sidewalk of where I was going.
Out of habit, I did turn down my music, lowering it to the point that all I could hear was the slight beat of whatever song that it had changed to since Good Grief had faded off. I didn’t slow down. I didn’t step to the side. I didn’t do anything that would alert the other person that I believed they were following me. I kept the same pace as before.
Eventually, the burnt orange coloured awnings came into view, meaning I was close to my destination so I picked up my pace a little bit. The place picked for our meeting was lively. There was music playing from the inside, people standing outside having a smoke and sharing what I could only assume was alcoholic beverages. Drinking before ten am? My kind of people. It was such a shame that I couldn’t drink now.
I brought my head up to look at the name of the place, my tongue darting out to wet my lips as I entered the cafe. I felt like I had travelled straight back to the seventies with how the place was set up. This was definitely wren’s doing and I could feel myself becoming giddy.
The tables that sat around the place were black and white zig-zagged. The bar had neon lights underneath them that lit up the design printed down the side of it.
I could already see Wren in one of the booths, scrolling through her phone with her AirPods in so I made my way over to the booth that was directly behind her and took a seat. Her bright red hair was hard to miss. I brought out my AirPod case, popping in my second one so that everyone thought I was talking to someone on the phone rather than the person behind me.
Before I opened my mouth to speak, the person that I had been sure was following me passed right by the window of the cafe. He turned his head to look directly into the cafe, seeming to make direct eye contact with me but that couldn’t have been. He was dressed in all black. Black trench coat. Black pants. Black boots. Black sunglasses hid his eyes despite the fact that it was a cloudy day in London. The uneasy feeling from earlier re-entered my gut.
He eventually moved to hug someone that was standing outside of the cafe, a bright smile gracing his lips. I was quick to curse myself for having such an overactive imagination and let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding initially.
“Good Morning, Astar. It’s been a while since we touched base. Hope you haven’t forgotten me.” Wren spoke, her voice filling up my entire being. She was the first person I really bonded with whenever I first joined the Secret Service. If it weren’t for her I definitely would’ve wound up somewhere dead in a ditch by now. She has taught me everything I know. Almost.
“As If I could forget about you. It’s just been a bit hard to make progress. Styles’ is a hard nut to crack.” I mentioned solemnly, picking up the menu so that I could look over it. For once I would actually order something on one of these brief meetings. I usually never did but it smelt so good in here that I couldn’t resist.
“Have you visited--”
“Have I visited Kaia? Not yet. I promise I’ll lay flowers down for you the moment I leave here, A. I’m sorry that he won’t allow you leniency to see her.” Her voice was soft, cautious like she didn’t want to overstep or hurt me. I was grateful for her beyond words.
“Thank you, Wren. You have no idea how much this means to me.” I let out a soft breath of air, looking up at the waitress that came by to take my order.
“I’ll have the Buttermilk Chicken Curry and a Cappuccino. Thank you.” I moved to hand over my menu, watching as the waitress walked off before I continued the conversation with Wren.
The rest of the conversation flowed easily through breakfast, going over everything that has happened between Harry and I regarding his gang. Although, there are a few things that I thought were best to leave out.
I didn’t mention the fact that the pads of Harry’s fingers felt rougher than Zayn’s. I didn’t mention the location that I brought to. I didn’t mention that somehow Harry had found out my phone number and my address. I didn’t need them pulling me from this when I had only just gotten started. I felt like I could really get somewhere.
I also didn’t mention everything that has happened in the Red Room. What happens in the Red Room stays in the Red Room.
“Well. I think you’re making amazing progress Astar. We expected this operation to go slowly. You are our best bet at taking The Devil’s Tribe down. And hey,” She made the ballsy move of standing up, making direct eye contact with me.
“I don’t give a fuck what Jessie said was off-limits. You do whatever you think you have to finish this mission.” And with that, she pulled her stark black sunglasses out of the bag and left the cafe. It was almost as if she was never here. No one blinked an eye or noticed that she had left.
I left about fifteen minutes after she did, turning up the volume on my AirPods once more as the glass door to the cafe shut behind me. Dua Lipa’s voice filled my ears as I walked, heading in the direction of my studio apartment once more. The walk back was surprisingly going by a lot faster than the walk to the cafe. Usually, it was the other way around.
It had gotten significantly darker from the time I entered the cafe to now. I could tell it was about to rain from the petrichor that was permeating around the air. The smell of grass and water mixing together to form an earthy scent.
I picked up my step, wanting to make it home in time before the rain started. For once, I hadn’t grabbed my umbrella before leaving. Most people in London usually always had an umbrella on them when they knew it would rain. Or at least a jacket with a hood on it. I had neither and I didn’t fancy getting soaked.
The tranquillity of this moment was something I loved. The infectious laughter of a baby from passing by a restaurant. The sound of my feet hitting the pavement as I walked. The way the bushes swished as the wind tore through them and ruffled the leaves.
The closer I got to my studio apartment, I noticed a much taller person make a sudden left as I headed to cross the street. Black coat. Black boots. Black hat. Black sunglasses. There’s no way it could’ve been the same person considering they were walking in the opposite direction.
Nonetheless, the tranquillity of the moment was broken as I approached the door, sticking the key into the hole and pushing it open with a small sigh. I made sure to kick my black pumas off to the side, not caring where they fell off, just not wanting them in the walkway or on the hardwood flooring.
Once I had my shoes off, I swiftly turned and made sure the alarm wasn’t going off before heading to my bedroom for a change of clothes. I wanted to be a bit more comfortable for whatever test Harry was going to put me through later today.
Upon entering my bedroom, something immediately caught my eye but I didn’t think too much of it at first. I hung my coat up in the closet, deciding to keep the black turtle neck on but I changed the black dress pants out for a pair of regular black distressed jeans.
That’s when it caught my eye. The photo of my mum was slightly sticking out of the false bottom on my desk which struck me as odd but I didn’t think anything of it. I must’ve not put the photo back in completely before shutting it the other day. I moved the card over the false bottom, pushing the photo further in before shutting it.
With that, I made my way back downstairs, taking a seat on the couch and running the card over the false bottom on the coffee table to pull out my journal.
I’m ready for you this time, Styles.