Achilles Heel

33. Astar - Aftermath

Not even twenty minutes have passed and Harry’s already spewing profanities in my direction.

We got back from the very targeted motorcycle ride about fifteen minutes ago. My bike was well and truly shit. We ended up rolling it behind a dumpster for Oliver to come by and pick it up once he has the time. Harry was bleeding from multiple places and so was I but Harry was worse. I could see multiple spots that were missing flesh down his arms, there were even spots that had the material of his shirt embedded into the flesh. Some of his tattoos were unrecognizable, the skin having been ripped off of his arms by the harsh, hot cement. Road rash is no joke.

His forehead is bleeding, there’s a big gash under his chin that won’t stop bleeding and for minor injuries, there’s a lot of blood to share between the two of us.

And now I’m sitting here in a dingy, rundown motel that is halfway between the hotel Liam works at and Harry’s place. There’s some mysterious stain on the second bed and I refuse to sit on it, forcing Liam and me to sit on the other bed whilst Harry paces back and forth, ranting yet no one is replying to him.

“Who the fuck was following us?” He spits, coming to a complete stop near the end of the bed as he faces me.

I fish-mouth for a few seconds, unable to find the words to answer but even if I did have an answer ready, I wouldn’t have had enough time to speak before he’s shouting profanities at me once more.

“You know,” he begins, letting out a laugh that I can only describe as hysterical like he can’t believe the words that are about to roll off of his tongue. “Liam tried to tell me he thinks you’re an insider for some government agency but that seems far-fetched now. Firstly, you’re a woman and secondly, you didn’t even know you were being followed? Fucking pathetic,” he spat. His words are charged, wanting to hit me where it hurts and I can feel the dread as it sinks into my bones and causes rocks to become lodged in my throat.

I can’t believe the words that are falling from his lips.

There is ice flowing through my veins as I stare right through him, my brain trying to process everything that just fell from his lips that are now tainted with dry blood.

Anything that is falling from his lips now is going in one ear and out the other as white noise fills them, drowning him out as my heart rate seems to pick up. Is he just angry or does he genuinely believe women can’t work in the government? I can’t fault Liam for being suspicious but I’m curious as to what misstep I took to make his mind go right towards me working for the government? Where did I fuck up that he felt confident to come to that conclusion?

I can feel my eyes burn hot with tears, something that I know I can blame on the pain that I feel from the road rash. Yet, there isn’t a greater pain than the words that slip from Harry’s lips. We were doing so well, where did it all go wrong? It’s like we just took an entire season’s worth backwards.

Any argument that I have ready just seems redundant now as my hands shake with anger, biting down on my lower lip to stop it from wobbling. The pain that I’m feeling from his words eventually turn into anger, red hot anger.

So, I stay quiet. Might as well live up to whatever image he has of women inside of his head at this moment. Is it for us to sit pretty and be quiet? To lead redundant lives? To serve men?

Liam is who breaks me from my reverie, his finger coming up to brush under my eye. I didn’t even realise that a tear almost fell, but he caught it before it could and then proceeded to whisper small apologies whenever I would wince. Cleaning gravel out of wounds wasn’t how I imagined spending my day. Or having insults thrown my way.

Eventually, it seems as though Liam has had enough. His hand comes to roughly place the gauze back into the little kit he had, blowing air out of his nose before opening his mouth to address Harry.

“Go outside and have a smoke with Louis for the love of fucking all things that exist. I’m so close to leaving you to deal with all your injuries on your own if you keep this up,”

The entire room just goes completely silent. I can hear the clock hand as it ticks on the wall, the time dragging by. Harry’s huffing and puffing, pushing his chest out to try and assert dominance over the situation but his eyes find me and something seems to switch. One look and he’s shaking his head, grumbling something incoherent under his breath before he slams the door behind him as he exits.

The silence that drapes over the room once he’s gone is enough to drown in. To become lost in one’s thoughts, which is exactly what I do.

Even the feeling of Liam pulling the stitches through my skin isn’t enough to tear me out of my thoughts. They just run rampant as I stare at the gaudy blue and orange curtains, finding the colours atrocious but I wouldn’t be surprised if Harry had a suit with the mixture of those exact colours hidden somewhere in his closet.

What feels like hours seems to fly by, the clock on the wall moving slowly. Yet, it wasn’t hours. It was more like thirty minutes but thirty minutes in my mind is akin to four hours, especially when it’s as dark as it is now.

Louis steps inside of the little motel room, shrugging off his leather jacket and walking over to me to drape it over my shoulders, making sure he’s gentle as to not hurt any of my new wounds or the gunshot wound on my shoulder, which ended up ripping open once again whenever my bike gave way and I crashed.

Having stitches put in again was a pain I never wanted to experience again. The amount of dry blood on my body started to smell. I smelt like a mixture of blood, sweat and body odour but I didn’t care. I’m sure both Louis and Liam have seen and smelt worse.

They were being respectful though, their eyes staying on my face instead of the black matching lingerie set that I had on. Especially Liam. He would look anywhere but there. His eyes stayed on mine the entire time.

“He left,” Louis breaks the silence, moving to place a cigarette behind his ear as he shoves his hands into the pockets on his pants.

“Excuse me?” Liam questions, sitting up a bit straighter on the bed as he nervously glances at me and then back to Louis. “What do you mean he left?”

Louis lifts his shoulders up into a shrug before bringing them back down, his eyes finding me as he slowly kneels down so that he’s below me, not wanting to be standing over me.

“How are you feeling?” he questions, before holding his finger up. “Mentally. Not physically. A lot has happened in the past hour. Oliver should be here any minute to take you back to your place,”

How do I tell them that I don’t feel safe going back to my apartment? Is it even worth mentioning? I used to feel so safe there, now it’s the last place I want to be. My mind is crowded with questions that will never receive answers or just simply don’t deserve answers.

I haven’t felt this low in a while.

My mouth gives a completely different answer as to how my mind feels.

“I’m fine,” I smile, moving to tuck a piece of my matted hair behind my ear. I just know that my shower is going to be stained crimson red for a while once I shower.

“No, really. I’m fine. I think we all just need a little break from each other. This was all just a bit much, yeah?” I rush out whenever I see Louis open his mouth to speak after my initial answer.

Two honks sound out from outside, letting us know that Oliver is here and waiting to take me back to my apartment. This conversation was over and I couldn’t be happier about that.

“Thank you so much, Liam,” I breathe, giving him a soft smile as I stand up from the bed, not giving either of them a second look before I’m exiting the room and climbing into the back of Oliver’s SUV.

The man looks at me from the rearview mirror, backing out of the spot that he had pulled into as I rest my forehead on the cool window.

“Hey kid,” Rodney grins, moving to tussle my hair around a bit. “Are you ready for today? Wait...you know better than this,” he huffs, giving me a bored look as he turns me to face him. His eyes do a once over of me before he places two fingers between one of the straps on my bulletproof vest and tugs. “How many times do I have to have this conversation with you? Have you got a death wish?”

He brings his other hand up to tighten the strap, making sure that the vest isn’t lop-sided before a smile takes over his features. “I heard about that little prank you pulled on Jesse you know? One day he’s gonna make you sit out longer than a week if you keep it up,” he chuckles.

My cheeks heat up a bit as I look down at my shoes. I was one of the youngest recruits in MI6 history at just twenty years old. I’ve only been here for about six months and every other week I play a prank on our boss, Jesse. Some of the ideas even come from Rodney himself. The man who watches my six.

I bring both of my hands up to pull my hair into a tight ponytail, not wanting there to be any flyaways or loose parts. The last thing I need is to get into a fistfight and have them grab my hair. That’s happened more than once.

“What? He should look before he sits down.” I grin. I had attached a blow horn to the bottom of his chair so that when he sits down and it sinks, the horn sounds off. The security footage from him sitting down definitely made my week.

I follow Rodney down to the training area where there’s a makeshift torture chamber, one where I had been undergoing rigorous training for a possible abduction and torture scenario which seems to happen in this line of work sometimes. Especially since I’ll be put undercover with some of the world’s most dangerous criminals that officials seem to be unable to catch.

“You know the drill, starshine.” he smiles, gesturing to the chair with the chains on it. If everything goes to plan, this will be my last training session for this scenario.

I find myself being chained to the chair, the chains tight enough to cut off my circulation and the look on Rodney’s face tells me it pains him to cause me pain. We both know this has to be done though.

“Name?” and so it begins.

“Agent #0724.” I grit out, right as the taser is applied directly to the wet spot on my neck, forcing myself to dissociate from the situation completely with ease. The pain stops. My mouth supplies the answers but my mind is no longer in that torture chamber. Instead, I’m in a happy place. In a field of dandelions with Kaia by my side, she’s got the brightest of smiles and she’s picking the dandelions. Every now and then she’ll sneeze and I’ll say bless you and we’ll both laugh. She’s my happy place.

“What is your mission?”

The answers are automatic. I don’t even hear the taser or the way the joules are turned up so it’s stronger.

“Agent #0724,” I repeat in a monotone voice, giving zero answers but just repeating my agent number over and over again.

-

“Astar! Duck!” Rodney screams, the vein in his neck protruding from how he projected his voice. I don’t even think twice before trusting him blindly as I duck, the sound of a blast going off, immediately setting the building in flames. Everything is falling around me. A bookshelf has fallen over with a bunch of glass jars right in front of me.

Mission failed. This just turned into a rescue mission.

The smell of kerosene fills my nostrils. I can see a figure running in all black out of the corner of my eye but the smoke makes it hard to see. Everything is happening too fucking fast and the flames are claiming everything in its wake. I can feel the heat on my skin as they grow closer and closer. Where was the point of ignition? What was the reason? Who knew we were here?

“Rodney?” I ask, not hearing anyone. No breathing. No footsteps. No crying. Nothing.

This sparks panic inside of me as I do a quick three-sixty, trying to see through the thick smoke and flames. Before I know it though, there’s a pair of strong arms around me and they’re lifting me over their shoulder.

“I’ve got you, kid. As long as I’m alive, I’m making sure you live to see another day,”

Before I can reply, he’s shushing me and placing his shirt over my face so that the smoke is being filtered out and isn’t damaging my lungs. Also to protect my face from the growing flames that are causing the building that we’re fleeing to become unstable. There’s a crash not far behind us, the ceiling has given out is my best guess.

-

“Hey,” Rodney chuckles, moving to nudge my shoulder with his as he uncovers not one but two lunches. “My wife Amelia, she made lunch for the two of us. She was so excited to hear that you loved her adobo so last night she made both of us some breakfast,”

Ever since he saw me sit alone in the cafeteria, he’s been bringing me food nearly every day. Each time he tells me the ingredients to make sure there isn’t anything that’s in it that I can’t handle or I simply don’t like. His wife Amelia is Filipino and a chef. She’s a stay at home mom for their two kids, Isabel and Nathanial. They’re fraternal twins, Isabel being exactly four minutes older than her brother. Isabel being born at exactly 23:56 and Nathanial being born at 00:00. I just know that when they get older, that’s going to be one hot topic for an argument.

“Amelia should open her own restaurant,” I sigh as I open up the Tupperware, moving to smell the food that always smells heaven sent.

“Actually, you know how we had a talk about that a few months ago?” He questions, scooping some of the food up and starting to eat it. I let out a noncommittal hum so that he knew I was listening, knowing he would swallow before finishing up anyhow.

“We actually put a down payment on a place today. She thought it was the best idea she’d ever heard. Wants to thank you for the little shove,” he grins. My mouth falls open upon hearing this, making sure to quickly swallow any food that I had in my mouth before washing it down with some water.

“Really?” I bring the napkin up to wipe my lips.

Rodney nods in response, taking a sip from his water before he speaks, “yeah, we want you to come by to see the place before you head off on this big fancy mission of yours. The Devils’ Tribe, isn’t it?” he smirks, moving to take another bite of his food.

The next hour passes by with us chatting shit and talking about my upcoming mission, one that had a timeline of me possibly being undercover for months. It’ll be my longest and most important undercover mission to date but I’m one of the most qualified agents, right under Rodney and Wren.

-

Rodney moves to squeeze my shoulders as we stare down at her grave which is freshly cleaned and has her favourite flowers on it. I made sure to arrange them so they form her favourite constellation. I still remember how she rambled on and on about it. Perseus the Hero constellation. It was the one she was rambling about the night she met her demise.

The one that should’ve been me rather than her. She had so much more to live for. So much to see and do. She would’ve made it out. She should’ve made it out. Is she proud? I can only hope she’s proud and then some.

Rodney moves to rest his chin atop my head, his hand continuing to rub up and down my arm in an attempt to soothe me. We have done this every year, on Kaia’s birthday and the anniversary. The amount of time’s he’s come to just sit here in silence with me when I’ve had a bad day is too many to count. He just sits and comforts me, lets me sit for hours and hours on end. If it’s chilly, he’ll bring a blanket and drape it over my arms. Sometimes it’ll be his own jacket because he’s forgetful and forgets the blanket. If it’s a particularly bad day he’ll go down to the corner shoppe and pick out my favourite snacks, he’ll also grab some of Kaia’s favourite snacks and leave them on her grave so we all have a snack to eat.

Rodney is the father figure I never got the pleasure of having. I celebrated my first Christmas with him. My first birthday. My first easter. He showed me that there was kindness in this world and not everyone is a monster. His kids are lucky to be loved by someone like him. I hope they never have to experience the darkness that the world harbours. I hope they never have to lose him.

“Let’s just sit here for a minute, c’mon,” he whispers, hands falling from my shoulders as he sits down on the grass beside her headstone. Eventually, I’m moving to sit down next to him and lay my head on his shoulder. We sit there in silence, watching as the sun slowly but surely disappears and the moon takes its place.

-

“Merry Christmas, kid!” Rodney grins, placing a perfectly wrapped gift in my lap as the sound of his kid’s shrieking fills my ears. They look so happy upon seeing the Christmas tree, a tree that takes me by surprise. I’ve only ever seen such things in movies.

There on my lap is a gift with my name on the name tag.

“I didn’t get you anything,” I frown, looking from the gift up to Rodney. Rodney just shakes his head as he places down a mug full of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows on top.

“No need to, poppet. Just having you here is a gift in itself. Thank you,” he smiles, one that reaches the ends of his eyes and is contagious. I’m careful as I unwrap the gift, not wanting to rip the paper so he’s able to use it next year. Completely different from his kids who are throwing their ripped paper in every direction, just wanting to see what new toys they got from Santa Claus. Their happiness is infectious. I love their shrieks, the giggles, the ooohs. Today is perfect.

It’s a picture of all of us. Rodney, Amelia, Nathaniel, Isabel and I. We look like a family. However, the more I inspect the photo, I realise that a picture of Kaia has been added into the sky right in the middle of a constellation. Perseus. She is right in the centre of Perseus the hero. I’m unable to stop the tears as they fall from my eyes, hugging the picture close to my chest. All of my favourite people are in one picture. What more could I ask for?

For once, I feel as if I know how it feels to be loved.

-

I never got to visit Amelia’s restaurant. There’s a lot of things I never got to do and probably never will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amelia blames me for Rodney’s death.

I won’t even be able to attend his funeral. Will there even be one? Will they know that he’s passed away? Will Harry simply make his body disappear? Amelia deserves closure as do the little ones.

The tears stain my cheeks as Oliver pulls up outside of my apartment. Sapphire is waiting at the entrance to the apartment building, her arms crossed over her chest as she waits patiently for me. Either she somehow heard about the wreck or one of the boys called her. I’m assuming it’s the latter and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The second I exit the vehicle, I’m running right to Sapphire’s now open arms and collapse in them. She uses her weight to hold onto me, tightening her grip so I’m able to ground myself.

“C’mon, my love. I’ve just put the kettle on and grabbed a tub of your favourite ice cream. Let’s rest now, yes?”

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