Tossing a small, squishy ball from one hand to the other, Félix absently looked around the room. Liber had set its base in an abandoned white building. If Félix remembered correctly they used to call these ‘hospitals,’ a place where people went to whenever they were feeling ill or had physical problems. He’d always wondered why all the walls were either white or light blue.
Looking down, Félix turned the squishy ball in his fingers. They didn’t have those in Nandanavana, and he couldn’t understand why. It was relaxing to fiddle with it. It gave his hands something to do while he waited. So much about the Old World was still a mystery, making him think of just what was normal back then.
He was snapped from his thoughts when Brandon entered the small room, looking more than pleased. “It’s been a while, darling.”
Félix smiled. “Good to see you too, Brandon.”
“Honestly, I thought they had eaten you alive when you didn’t show up for a whole month,” he said, clicking his tongue as he laid out his supplies. “But, I understand. It was too risky to disappear so soon after the first body revealed.”
Brandon pulled down Félix hood, gasping. “I know, I know, just do what you have to do.”
“Can’t you at least wash it?” he said, smacking Félix on the backside of his head. He flinched, rubbing the spot that had been hit as he half-heartedly glared at Brandon.
“I was busy.”
“Busy my ass.” Brandon grabbed a pair of scissors, snipping them in front of Félix face. “Now keep still and let me do my magic.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Félix rolled his eyes, turning back to face the dirty white wall. “What’s the word? Any good rumors?”
“Nothing too notable,” Brandon said, combing and snipping away parts of Félix hair in fluid motions. “Boss was angry with Phantom for getting caught, though he let her off easily because she’s his favorite, nothing new there.” He scoffed. “Then there is the incident of Hella thinking she was pregnant, turned out she was overreacting and simply had her period a few days late.”
“Is there anyone left she hasn’t fucked?”
“You and I, Buddy.” Brandon sighed. “But only because you’re never around and I have different preferences.”
“Perhaps we should spread a rumor about us hooking up to tick her off,” Félix suggested, chuckling.
Brandon slapped his shoulder. “Don’t be like that, you know how badly she wants that body of yours.”
Félix smile faltered, an uneasiness settling in his stomach. He swallowed, his hand clenching and unclenching around the squish ball. His body. If only she knew, if anyone knew. There was a reason he covered it up constantly, not only at Paradisum but also back at Liber. Only Phantom and Boss knew. If Hella knew she wouldn’t want him, which wasn’t the reason he wanted her to give up on him for.
“I’d doubt she want a shrimp like me,” he joked, hoping to make his shift go unnoticed.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Darling.” Brandon’s tone was playful, yet also softer than before. Nothing went past him that easily. “That work you do as a Nox builds muscles, I bet you’re ripped under those clothes. Any man or woman would melt at the sight of you shirtless. I know I would.”
“You heard about Luca?” he asked in an attempt to change the subject. Lucky for him, Brandon let it go for now.
“I heard a thing or two, but I bet you’ve seen the whole thing.”
Félix hummed. “They publicly blinded one of his eyes, then took him inside. Hop was devastated.”
“Monsters, I’m telling you.”
“If he’s smart he will play along.” He swallowed again. “All we can hope for is that he sees through the facade that witch has set up and figures out what the truth is.”
Brandon paused, taking a seat on his stool. “They’re close, aren’t they?”
He nodded. “Only a few experiments away, Luca might be the key if he doesn’t escape soon.”
“Are you going to break him out?”
“Boss is working on it as we speak.”
Humming, Brandon started to put away his tools. “I’m all done, you’re decent enough to face the world once more.”
Félix pulled his hood back up, covering his hair more out of habit than any other reason. He stood while placing the squishy ball on the table, then tugged his hands away in his pockets. “Thanks Bran, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait,” Brandon said, surprised by Félix sudden hurry. “Where are you going?”
Smiling bittersweetly, Félix leaned against the doorframe. “My shift will start soon, can’t be late.”
“Ah, tell Hop I said hi.”
He looked down, sighing as he thought of little Hopper. Guilt was already eating at him for not going to her sooner, but he simply didn’t have the time.
“She doesn’t even know you,” Félix said, “but I’ll tell her, maybe it’ll cheer her up.”
Brandon smiled sadly at him before Félix walked from the room. He wasn’t looking forward to tonight shift. Too many thoughts roamed his mind, keeping him from focusing on the task at hand. How much longer until Paradisum succeeded? It could be tomorrow or a week from now. There was no way of knowing. If they were to finish the virus earlier than they anticipated hell would break loose for sure, and there was no stopping it.
Félix combed his hand through his freshly cut hair under his hood, his fingers lingering where Liber’s crest was shaved onto his head. He could still remember the first time he met Boss, the man who had saved his life. Back then he was undercover at Paradisum just like Félix was now. Boss had found him at the body dump, barely hanging onto life. He couldn’t remember much of what they did to him, only that he had been scarred and abused enough for them to not recognize him at a later age. Convenient in a way, but also painful to know how little they actually cared.
In the end, all Félix could really do was hope things would work out.
Just this once Hop was glad to be wearing her mask. Her exposed eye she could hide behind the shadow of her hood. Red rimmed and puffy, it was a look she didn’t want to showcase. She kept her head low, the speech of General Maas hearable faintly in the background. Her chest was heavy, every breath just a bit harder to take in.
She looked up when a hand landed on her shoulder, a shaky sigh of relief escaping her lips when she saw Félix, his mask still dangling from his neck. He looked down at her, an apologetic smile on his lips as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. For a brief second, she closed her eyes, finally being able to relax a bit. She didn’t care he hadn’t come to her sooner, she needed him too much to be mad at him.
“How are you holding up?” he asked, his voice a gentle whisper.
Hop shrugged, removing her mask. “Okay, I guess.”
“Everything’s going to be alright.” Félix kissed the top of her head, rubbing his hand up and down her arm. She smiled, resting her head against his shoulder. She really wanted to believe that too, but something told her things would never be alright again. It seemed too big to blow over. Life had shifted, gone past an unreversible moment. Like it had saved the current event and there was no way to redo or go back to go down a different path.
“…don’t forget to keep your eyes open, good luck tonight,” General Maas said before turning and leaving the gathering room.
“Let’s get this over with,” Hop sighed as she pulled her mask back on. Félix let go of her and did the same. She immediately missed his warmth and comfort, more than she expected. Taking a steadying breath, she took a few steps forward. Her list and location started to load and soon appeared.
“Hope, was it?” a familiar voice said behind her. Hop turned to find the guy who was assigned to Luca’s room. “The name is Jake, looks like we’re partners.”
A glare was the only respond he got as she turned back to face the doors that would open any second now. She knew she was being petty but she couldn’t be friendly with the guy who was to replace Luca. No one could replace Luca. Perhaps being angry with Jake was her way of coping with Luca’s leave. She couldn’t be angry at Luca, he was wrongly accused, she was sure of it. He would never betray Paradisum like that. He would never betray her like that.
The Sawarga Region appeared before her left eye, the thought of visiting home more than welcoming. Perhaps she could see her mom for a bit, that would be nice. It had been a while after all.
“Oh look, we’re heading for your home town,” Jake said through the communication system, snapping Hop from her thoughts. Annoyed, she sighed while her brow drew together.
“Just shut up for tonight, will you?” she said. Before he could answer the doors finally opened and Hop ran out as fast as she could. Falling had never been this relieving. The cold air, the silent brewing of thunder in the distance, the bit of rain wetting her face, all of it combined was the perfect distraction.
Turning so her back was facing the ground, she slid closer to the building and put her feet against the golden side to give herself a boost in the direction she needed to go in. Twisting and turning, she leaped her way across the city, nothing stopping her from making speed. Her hood flung off, her orange curls dancing behind her, either catching or dodging away from the drops of rain.
Hop loved rainy nights, it made collecting more challenging, not to mention how much Luca hated it because it only slowed his already slow ass down. Jumping over the wall and into the tries, she couldn’t help but smile at the memory. She really missed him, but he wouldn’t want that for him. Luca loved her smile, loved her laugh. It would break him knowing she hadn’t laughed for so long.
For a brief second, she stopped on a high branch. In the distance, she could make out the tiny silhouette of The Jannah Region. That boy, if only he hadn’t become so important to her.
“Alright then, Luca,” she said, “I’ll come and get you, one way or another, I’ll come find you and bring you home.”
The rain seemed to wash away most of her clouded thoughts, clearing her head. Glancing at the large building in the middle of Paradisum, something ominous washed over her. The lights emerging from the many rooms seemed odd for the first time. As if out of place in this pitch black land.
For once Paradisum wasn’t as bright as it should be.