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Consciousness comes back to me slowly, almost unwillingly. Maybe the truth is I don’t want it to come back. I haven’t slept so well in years. But at the back of my still drowsy mind, the fact that it was a drugged sleep forced on me by my sister kind of ruins my appreciation for the deep, dreamless hours I’ve just had.

Kat. I don’t even know who she is, that much has just become abundantly clear. And I sure as hell don’t know what to do now, except maybe yell a lot. But I’m still so tired. I feel like weights have been tied around all my limbs- and my brain for that matter- and the ropes are being cut one tiny strand at a time. I really don’t want to get up, but I really don’t want to stay asleep. Therefore, this is one of the slowest awakenings I’ve ever had.

With the slow drip of consciousness come wisps of what happened yesterday, before being drugged. Finding Mr. Harken dead in his house, and the note in his hand. The way Kat reacted to being told. It all seems much more suspicious now than it did then. She was so calm.

There’s something else too, something I can just barely remember after closing my eyes to “sleep”. It was a voice. A voice so achingly familiar that it turns my stomach even now. The voice of my worst nightmare.

I’m innocent Hadley.” It had whispered. There was no face with the voice, but my mind provides me with one without a single problem. His face.

I saw you. I saw the blood.” I had insisted to the disembodied voice.

I was there that night, but I didn’t kill them. Liar. I tried to turn away from the voice, but it followed. “I promise you, I did not kill your family. I loved your parents, and your brother and sister. I would never hurt them.” My heart seemed to squeeze itself just thinking about them. Ann and Will, my older siblings. They never did anything wrong, but they still died. Only Kat and I survived. Kat.

Don’t take Kat too. She’s all I have.” Even if she was responsible for drugging me and who knows what else. I can’t lose her. A hand stroked my head.

I would never take her from you. I would never take any of them. I promise you I did not kill them.” He insisted again, but he was lying. “You’re so close to finding the truth. It’s at Rosemont, in the records. Everything you wanted to know and everything being kept from you. Please trust me.” He was pleading, but that didn’t make sense. Why would he ever need to plead? Especially from me?

Why should I believe you?” He was silent for a long moment, his hand falling still on the crown of my head.

I’m innocent Hadley. I just want to prove that.”

It had to have been a dream. I usually dream of John when I find another piece of the puzzle. I dream of that night, when I was a nine, and John came to our home. By the next morning four of my family members were dead, leaving Kat and I to live with our cousins until I turned sixteen. The moment I got my license I left and Kat came with me.

It wasn’t that I hated my cousins, but I couldn’t stay there. Back then Kat was only eleven, and she didn’t let me out of her sight, so she had to come too. Now I wish I’d left her.

My temples have begun to throb slowly, setting back my waking-up-progress exponentially. Maybe I won’t get out of bed, yelling at Kat can wait. Unless she got herself murdered in the night. If that’s not motivation to get up, nothing in the world is. I have to protect Kat. More importantly, I have to avoid drinking anything that she may have gotten her hands on.

I groan and force myself to sit up, though I can’t make my eyes open yet. The dull throb behind my eyes blossoms into a steady beat, almost forcing me back down to my pillow, but I push through it and crack my eyes open. Lucky for me the sun is just starting to rise and is in the perfect position to shine in my eyes. I curse and close my eyes again.

“Here, this’ll help.” I hear someone messing with the blinds on the window, and the room beyond my eyelids seems to get darker. Sure enough, when I attempt another peak, it’s much easier to bear opening my eyes. The boy from yesterday, Oliver, is standing next to my window, having closed the blinds. He offers me a smile, which I can’t even begin to reciprocate. I have no manners for this kind of morning.

“Where is she?” I demand, my voice a little rougher than usual. It should be intimidating, but he doesn’t look the slightest bit bothered. He rocks back and forth on his feet and when it starts to make me dizzy I redirect my eyes to my nice, stationary lap.

“Making final preparations. We should have left already, but she wanted you to get as much sleep as possible. Do you need water?” My feelings about accepting a glass of water from anybody must show plainly on my face, because he smiles again. “Thought so.” He whispers to himself.

“I’m going to strangle her.” I mutter more to myself than him.

“You can try I guess. No one’s been able to thus far.” He smirks to himself, looking happily reminiscent. I rub at my temples, trying to sooth my headache enough that I can listen to Oliver speak without wanting to punch him. At the back of my head I feel bad for hating him so much right now, but the majority of my brain is in torment and doesn’t give a care.

“What are you talking about?” I hiss.

“Nothing, if Kat asks. But I think it’s only fair to warn you that you’re about to receive pretty…interesting news. I can almost guarantee you that you won’t believe her at first, but it is true.” I glare at him, but it doesn’t seem to faze him one bit. He just goes on rocking back and forth on his feet. I must be off my game; or he’s used to such looks.

“Everything you say just makes me want to throw something at you.” I admit bitterly, and he has the gall to chuckle.

“You certainly are sisters; I defy anyone to think differently.” Oh good, more cryptic one-liners. I curse to myself again and refocus my attention on getting out of bed to find out what’s going on. Oliver sure isn’t being much of a help. “You should take it slow, here let me help you.”

“I am neither handicapped nor a child!” I snap before he can take a second step towards me. He hesitates for a moment but then continues closer to stand nearby. His actions speak louder than his words could. He doesn’t believe me, and he’s going to stand by ‘just in case’. I untangle my sheets from my body then take a few deep breaths before trying the whole standing thing. On the first try my legs buckle and I end up sitting in bed again. Oliver snickers.

“You sure you don’t-”

“Can you not?” I snarl, and he falls quiet with a smirk. I stand up, and as much as I want to collapse back again, I refuse to let myself. My pride is way more important than the fact that my legs are shaking beneath me. “Where is she?” I demand. He points to the hallway, and probably beyond, to where I can vaguely hear the sound of shuffling. I cast another glare at him before pushing my body into a walk.

I sway quite pathetically, but he seems to know better than to comment on it. Instead he just follows behind, a good distance behind, as I stumble down the hall. I glance in Kat’s room as I walk by, but it’s completely empty. There’s nothing but the mattress and bare dresser now. Soft chatter is coming from ahead in the kitchen so I follow it, ready to commence the yelling.

Kat looks up from the counter when she notices me slump against the wall in the doorway of the kitchen. Her eyes grow wide, but she manages to keep a straight face beyond that, and it makes me even angrier for some reason. How dare she look so composed when I can’t even stand properly! I open my mouth to start my rampage but the words never come. Instead my gaze is drawn to the numerous guns spread out on the counter in front of her, and then to the one in her hands.

“Mornin’!” My attention is miraculously pulled away from the guns by the cheery Scottish chirp that comes from across the room. A guy in black cargo pants, a green shirt, and combat boots is sitting at the table- leaned back with his feet up on the surface. He flicks his head so his chin length black hair falls away from his brown eyes, which twinkle with mischief. His cocky grin mirrors the twinkle.

It’s silent for a long moment as I realize they’re waiting for my reaction. To Kat. To the guns. To this random guy at my table. To being drugged. To everything. And for some reason, the first thing that makes it out of my mouth is,

“Get your feet off my table.” The guy raises his eyebrow, but does what I say, his grin turning into a smirk.

“Ye alright? Look a bit woozy.” He comments, and that allows me to redirect my fury to it’s rightful recipient at last.

“And who’s fault is that.” I snarl at Kat, who very calmly puts the gun in her hands down to face me. My glare does nothing to upset her, but she does look surprisingly contrite for someone who had no problem drugging their own sister.

“I’m sorry I had to drug you Hadley. But it was for your own good.” She begins, already off to a bad start. Before she can even attempt to go on, I pounce on her words with a snarl.

“How in any universe was drugging me ‘for my own good’?” I sway more than a little, my anger not helping my head at all. It doesn’t go unnoticed by any of them, but Oliver is the only one who dares to do anything about it.

He wanders towards the table, casting glances back at me in a not so subtle suggestion for me to sit down. I mutter but follow after him, swerving a bit as I go.

“I can’t even walk Kat.” I snarl, almost tripping in the last few feet to the table. One of the guys- I can’t even tell which- kicks a chair in my direction right before gravity can take me down, and I’m able to grip it in time to keep myself upright. I cautiously get my feet back under me and circle the chair to sit down.

“I know, and really I am sorry. But you were exhausted and frantic and I made the decision that you needed the reset. You were in no shape to drive hours upon hours, especially with night creeping up on us.” As she speaks I watch Oliver from the corner of my eye. He opens a bottle of water and pours it into a glass that he proceeds to drink from. The glass is then rather conspicuously put in front of me.

“Who are you?” I demand, temporarily distracted from Kat. He nudges the glass closer to me and I watch him carefully for signs of being doped before cautiously taking a drink. The first sip is like a pack of ice against a fevered forehead, and I quickly down two more mouthfuls. I’ve always believed water is a miracle worker, but I never appreciated it as much as I do right now.

“I’m Oliver.” He shrugs, and I narrow my eyes, demanding more.

“He’s my partner.” Kat sighs, and my head whips back towards her. No words come to me so I just stare at her until she starts talking again. “We work together.” Now I glower at her.

“No really? I thought you were a lesbian couple.” The black haired guy snorts a laugh and even Oliver grins a little. “I doubt you mean the work you do for an online review column, if that was ever true to begin with, so where exactly do you work Kat?” There’s another snort to the side of me and we all look at black haired guy- who now has propped his feet up on the chair next to him instead of on top of the table.

“An online review column? Really Kat?” He snickers, and she glares at him with more irritation than I’ve ever seen on her face. I really didn’t think she was capable of such intense negative emotion until now.

“Who are you?” I ask again, this time pointed at Mr. Scottish. Unlike Oliver though, he grins and sticks out a hand, almost hitting the boy between us is his zeal. Oliver reels back and scowls at the guy.

“Name’s Mitchel Brùn, I’m a hunter under the employ of-”

“Mitchel!” Both he and I immediately turn to Kat. “I was going to build up to that.” She hisses through clenched teeth. An awkward silence falls for a few moments which is broken by Oliver. He stands while clearing his throat, nodding towards the door. Mitchel takes the hint and mumbles something about ‘getting the plane ready’ before they both disappear outside. Based on the fast exit, I might be getting closer to answers.

Kat watches the door shut and stares at it for what feels like forever. But then she sighs and wanders forward to sit across from me, in the seat previously occupied by Mitchel’s feet. I watch her expectantly, not sure what to say, and obviously I’m not the only one. I can practically see her thoughts racing- her prepared words failing her and a thousand different thoughts trying to fall into their places. I take another pointed drink of my water and she sighs again.

“I don’t even know where to start.” She deflates in her seat, staring intently at the table. At least she’s honest enough to admit it. I watch her face for a good long moment, and decide that she’s genuinely struggling.

“Where did you get the drugs?” I ask, hoping it’s a good enough prompt. She scoffs a laugh and looks to the side.

“A friend I work with. She uses them when she hasn’t been able to sleep for more than thirty-six hours, so I thought they could come in handy. I never thought I’d use them on you.” I’d like to believe she’s telling the truth. I’d really like to. It’s just hard to accept at this particular moment. So I completely ignore the sentiment and steamroll onwards.

“A friend that you work with.” I state, and she nods, remaining silent. I purse my lips and wait for her to go on. She seems to sense that I’m not going to do all the work in this conversation and reluctantly opens her mouth.

“She’s in the same division as Oliver, Mitchel, and me, but she doesn’t have the same clearance. She has a lower profile, because she has a lower...I don’t know, tolerance? She doesn’t do the same things we do in any case, because she can’t really handle them. Thus the sleeping drugs.” I stare at her, hoping my blank expression tells her how much I actually gleaned from that information.

“Do you maybe want to elaborate on that jumble of meaningless words?” I suggest, and she actually flushes.

“I don’t know how to explain it to you Hadley. For starters, I don’t know if I’m even allowed to! If I say too much there will be consequences and I don’t want you to-”

“Forget the clearances and profiles and tolerances then! What is it you do Kat? Can’t you even tell me that? What do you do that involves guns and undercover neighbors? What have you been exposed to that makes it possible for you to have literally no reaction to finding out somebody a few houses away was murdered by the same man who killed your family?” She finally flinches, but it’s not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

“Do you want me to go chronologically or-”

“Just spit it out. Where do you work.” I bite in a way that’s almost an order. She looks like she wants to lead the conversation away, and she doesn’t speak for another long moment before her shoulders sag in defeat. She looks tired, and I feel my chest aching with the need to mother her, but I can’t let myself. I have to put my foot down.

She taps her fingers restlessly on the table, putting her words together with the utmost of care. Finally she stops her twittering, leans forwards, and meets my eyes with her own. She takes a deep breath in and without another moment of hesitation to second guess herself, she gives me the answer she’s clearly been dreading.

“I’m a Field Agent, with primary objectives to eliminate threats with minimal collateral damage. And I work for The Rosemont Institute Of Research and Defense.”

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