Toting a severed hand around while disguised in a murdered agent’s uniform really wasn’t my idea of a nice evening, but it was the only way I knew to save my daughter. So, there I was, creeping through the corridors of the Ring’s HQ, with the hand and the uniform, heading toward the only location they could possibly be holding Blaine.
In the facility, there were only three cells that provided maximum security. I’d been in one of them, which narrowed the options down to two. Between the two of them, I picked the cell closest to mine. After all, they’d placed Blaine close enough for me to pick up on her emotions and listen to her screams. It was unlikely they’d put her all the way at the other end of the building, which was a stupid mistake on their part.
I pressed the severed hand to the scanner and the door slid open as the walkie on my hip crackled.
“All units--Foster is out of his cell. Remain vigilant; HQ lockdown process has been initiated.”
It didn’t take them long to figure it out. I was almost impressed. Sliding into the cell, I saw Blaine at the back of it, sitting with her back to the wall, huddled against it with her little knees pulled up to her chest. Her eyes were red and puffy, tear stains flushing her cheeks. Taking the pen and pad from the agent’s pocket, I penned a hasty note.
The Ring captured Blaine. Take her to a safe house along with Seb and Maggie. All four of you stay there until I send word.
I will not allow this to happen again.
Without taking off my mask to risk alerting any cameras, I walked straight up to Blaine, pinned the note to her shirt, and teleported her out of the facility. She would go straight to Aurora--wherever she was, and Aurora would have instructions from there. Thankfully, she knew numerous safe houses to protect those we loved. Until I could resolve the threat the Ring posed to my daughter’s safety, I knew she would be safe with Aurora.
It would also allow me plenty of space to work without the concern that someone I cared about would get dragged into the squabble and end up murdered because of me. After all, it was my fault the Ring was allowed to grow into the monster it’d become. It was only right that I be the one to slay the beast. Once the syndicate had been dismantled, I could return to my previous life. I didn’t know if Seb would want me after that, but I would have Blaine and Aurora. I’d made do so far with only the two of them, and if that was all I ever received, I could handle that.
But, I would much rather have Seb and Maggie in the picture as well. The were lovely, and Seb… Seb made everything a little brighter.
I ran out of the cell. A few moments later, I ran back in, right before the doors slid shut. I jerked the walkie out of the holster.
“The girl is gone,” I said, sending the signal out to all of the other agents.
As the message radioed out, I stepped back out of the cell, tucked the severed hand into my coat, and slid back around the corridor in the shadows to wait until a large group of agents came running to the cell to check it out. I’d join with the crowd, figure out what they knew, and then--
I gasped, whirling around as I made contact with someone. I went to jerk the gun out of its holster when the agent next to me ripped his face mask off.
He held his hands up defensively. “Plato, it’s me!”
I put the gun away and pushed him farther back down the hallway. “What the hell are you doing here?” I hissed.
“I came to save you and Blaine.”
“I already sent Blaine to Aurora. Where’s Maggie?”
Seb snorted. “With Aurora.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Why didn’t you leave with Blaine?”
“I’m here to protect Blaine from all future threats regarding the Ring. Apparently, all my earlier efforts meant nothing, which means I’m actually going to have to work.” I tugged off my mask as I chewed my lower lip. “You should probably get out of here while you still have the chance, Seb. Get back to the girls and Aurora and stay safe, wait until I send word that its safe again.”
Seb frowned. “It’s dangerous, Plato.”
“So am I.”
The frown deepened as he tilted his head at me. “I don’t think you understand--”
“Trust me, I understand better than you do. I want you to stay safe, and the only way I can guarantee that is for you to get out of here and go stay with Aurora. I know what I’m getting myself into.”
“I’m the one that chased this fucking syndicate down for years, you were just manipulated by them. You’re going to need backup.”
I shook my head, leaning against the wall as I turned to look at agents hustling down the hallway, toward Blaine’s cell. If Seb wanted to stick around and help, I wouldn’t stop him. An extra set of hands could make some of the work easier. Of course, by the end of it, he would know every last dirty little secret I had. Between exposing myself and keeping my daughter safe, however, I knew the best option.
“All right, fine,” I said. “You can do whatever you want to do. You’re a big kid.”
Seb nodded. “Good. So, what’s your plan?”
“You won’t like it.”
He cocked a brow. “What is it, Plato?”
“We’re getting caught.”
Seb’s eyes went wide as he blinked. “Uh, what?”
I pulled my mask back on and spun around on my heel. “You have exactly five seconds to decide whether you actually want to go through with this. If you do, your safety isn’t guaranteed, and you will be captured by the Ring. If you don’t, you can teleport out now and protect the girls with Aurora. It’s your call, but you’ve got to choose now.”
I started walking back down the corridor slowly. A horde of agents were coming judging by the sound of the footsteps and the sudden influx of emotions--rage, anxiety, confusion, irritation. Negativity abounded in hot, smothering waves.
As I reached the mouth of the corridor, I felt Seb’s presence at my side. And sure enough, he followed me as I stepped out, directly into the path of the swarm of agents. He’d left his mask off, exposing himself immediately, while I waited until they were almost on top of us to pull my mask off. I tossed it to the side, along with the severed hand in my coat.
Extending my arms, I held up my hands in surrender. The agents were all over us within seconds. Satisfaction thrummed through them at their success in capturing us, despite the obvious surrender. Some of the agents broke off to finish the task of searching Blaine’s cell, while I heard a few guards talking, most likely to Director Jameson about mine and Seb’s capture.
Agents jerked me up to my feet and dragged me down the hallway. Another set of agents forced Seb along behind me. We were led down the corridor in silence and transferred into my previous cell, but that time, they left me with Seb. It was a peculiar move, but I assumed it wasn’t under Director Jameson’s orders. She would’ve have wanted me isolated, to maximize the psychological hardship.
Once the remainder of the agents trickled out and reset the alarm, Seb and I glanced at one another. I chuckled softly, and strangely enough, he joined in.
I shook my head and ran a hand through my hair. “What a day…”
“You’re telling me,” Seb snorted. “I knew you used to be an agent, but I’m pretty surprised.”
“What? That I know how to get myself captured? Anyone can do that.”
“No, that you actually wanted to get captured and seem pretty damn confident in some bigger plan. It’s pretty crazy.”
I shrugged. “Sometimes you have to think outside of the box. Just so happens that I specialize in that.”
“What’s the plan from here then?”
Glancing around at the cameras, I shook my head. “Best not to talk about that, given the situation. While it’s highly unlikely Jameson is bothering to monitor me, on the off chance that’s she’s learned from her mistake, I would hate to have to come up with new plans after I’m already so attached to the one I have.”
Seb nodded, folding his arms over his chest. “Makes sense… Wanna kill some time?”
“Okay, first of all, how the hell are you this calm?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“True,” I conceded. “But, we both know that I’m here for a purpose. You’re here to help me, but it’s been a while since you were last in the field trying to dismantle the Ring. Surely you have a few reservations about the whole thing.”
“Seeing the future gives me a certain element of peace. Even if I know it’s bad, I know that any number of small things could alter it. I also know that it could play out exactly as it happens. Either way, I know the possibilities and what may or may not come of certain events. It keeps me sane and calm, making this infinitely easier.”
“I see,” I said. “Well, I’m calm, because I have a plan, and I know it’s going to work, because I’m that good.”
Seb chuckled. “Oh, now you’re an awkward, arrogant duckling.”
“There are only two things I’m good at--art and assassination. If you can’t be a little smug about your talents, then really, what’s the point in being talented?”
“I don’t recall you being smug about your art.”
“Assassination is better for braggery.” I shrugged, sitting down with my back to the wall. “And anyway, getting back into this makes me feel like I did when I was younger and did this sort of thing regularly. I’ve had an attitude shift since then that managed to knock me down a few pegs.”
“It was the Ring, wasn’t it?”
I cocked my head, keeping my face blank. “Yes, but I’d really rather not delve into the messy subjects right now if at all possible. Tell me about how you and Maggie’s mother met.”
Seb slid down the wall and took a seat next to me. He ended up so close our shoulders were pressed together and our knees touched. “You really want to listen to a story about my ex that passed away?”
“Of course.” I tipped my head back against the wall, lulling it to the side just enough to look at him. “I like the way you feel when you talk about her.”
“Things like that make most people jealous.”
“I know how you feel about me and how you feel when you talk about me. I have no reason to be jealous.” I smiled.
Seb shook his head, his calm being replaced with an overwhelming warmth and giddiness as he leaned over and kissed me. Running a hand through my hair, he took a breath, and started telling me about a time several years ago when he bumped into a beautiful soldier that’d just returned home from duty. He told me about how she requested private dance lessons to keep her fit, as well as accompany her physical therapy for her arm. Each lesson, he fell a little more in love. By the end of the first quarter, they’d gone on their first date. It was during that very date he took her hand on the table and had a premonition of her pregnant with their baby girl. While he’d already known he’d loved her, that was when he’d known that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
Of course, that hadn’t panned out. Remnants of sadness were there, but then he started talking about me, about the day he walked into my studio and had the same feeling, like he already knew everything about me, like he already knew he loved me. And sure as shit, we’d clicked and gotten along easily, despite my backwards manners and inability to carry conversation.
As we’d gotten closer, it’d all just become more and more clear. And as we sat in that cell, Seb’s emotions almost making me choke with their intensity, I could help but to say it.
“I love you.”
Seb beamed brighter than the sun, his entire being lighting up with love and happiness despite being sat in the Ring’s HQ. “I love you too.”
I glanced toward the front of the cell as the light of the elevator turned green and the doors parted. And so concluded the happy intermission of my plan.