Brooke had met Anders during a training session.
(They had been shooting at moving targets, and his bullet had been so off course that it had hit her target.)
It was dangerous for an Agent-in-training to be anything other than perfect, especially when they were sixteen and nearly ready to be sent out into the world.
The bullet from her gun had struck nearly the same area that his had. She turned, looking for the person with the errant bullet, and her eyes had come to rest upon him almost immediately.
He had stringy blonde hair, a pale, freckly face, and pale blue eyes that looked like they couldn’t possibly hide any secrets. He smiled at her apologetically. “I’m getting used to using these right-handed guns,” he told her.
Brooke wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe that instead of being useless for having a bad aim, he had already mastered left-handed guns and was challenging himself. Her roommates and friends had always told her that she was too forgiving, too willing to trust, too kind. But she had smiled back, and told him that it was alright.
After that, Anders kept popping up in Brooke’s life. There he was, blonde hair flashing like a beacon across the lunchroom from her. There he was, in one of her classes, answering a question. And there he was, blue eyes flitting towards her, in another one of her combat classes.
(Brooke told herself that she was just worried that he was a bad Agent.)
But Brooke couldn’t shake the feeling that he noticed her, too. He would try to catch her eye, or smile at her from across the room, or fight with redoubled effort. And every time he did, her stomach would twist up, and she might turn her head and blush.
And she didn’t exactly welcome the feeling, but she didn’t hate it either.
Brooke had been feeling especially arrogant one day, and she had smiled at him in the lunch line.
“How’s the right-handed gun training going?” she asked.
(As if she hadn’t been watching him to make sure that he was succeeding.)
“Well, thanks,” he responded, smiling at her.
Brooke smiled back while trying to ignore her stomach’s attempts to murder her.
She had sat at her usual table, and was talking with her friends when Anders came up to them. Brooke’s friends had giggled a bit, but quieted down enough for Anders to smile at Brooke and ask her if she wanted to hang out sometime.
Their relationship had blossomed from that moment onward. They became friends and got to know each other, and got closer and closer. His favorite color was brown, and though he never said it, Brooke had a feeling that he was thinking about her eyes when he said that. For her part, her favorite color became light, pale blue.
He got better with a gun. He could now shoot with both hands nearly perfectly, and she like watching how his muscles tensed and then relaxed once he had shot.
Brooke was could shoot with her right hand, but like focusing on hand-to-hand martial arts. She didn’t like trusting the gun to do the work for her. The only thing she trusted in was her own mind and body, and she could be completely dependent in herself doing martial arts. The dependency on herself also turned into a certain independence from technology, and Brooke liked that idea.
(As if their world could survive without being completely dependent on technology.)
Watching Anders shoot, though—that was when Brooke could trust in the fact that different people had different styles. It was also when she realized that Anders liked being separated from the actual person that he was hurting from with the gun, with the distance, with the bullet.
It was a weakness, it should have been stomped out of him when he was young, and yet somehow, Brooke found it endearing.
They had been “just friends” for about six months, and Brooke was still unable to quell the flush that came to her cheeks anytime Anders looked at her intensely. She also couldn’t help but notice that he looked at other girls, that his smiles weren’t just for her.
They went out to the shooting range nearly every day. He was so confident with a gun in his hand. He shot straight and got cocky about it. It was almost annoying.
They were alone on the shooting range one day. He looked to make sure that she was watching, grinning, and shot at the target. It was a perfect try, of course, but she had shot her gun at the last second and shot his bullet out of the air.
She had knocked it completely askew and sent it careening into another target. And he had turned to her with an annoyed expression on his face, but there was laughter in his eyes, and she was smiling at him, and suddenly they were kissing.
That was the moment their relationship started.
Brooke had always wished that Anders would speak in a less complicated manner.
(But being complicated was better than riddles and lies, she supposed.)
There they would be, sitting on a couch together, and she would say something, and he would respond with ‘your smell is a rose that only my nose knows.’
She would turn to him, with a “What?”
He would smile back at her. “C’mon, Brooke. It just means that I like the way you smell.”
Standing in front of his cell, she couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that he always confused her, and would confuse her forever.
Brooke was sure that she loved him, of course. For a brief time, at least.
(But with all the death and loyalties and falls from grace and rises to power, there was a fine line between love and anything else.)
But for her, love meant that she would do anything for him and wanted him and defended him to anyone.
She could remember talking with her roommates on many a night. Them asking her why she was with him when he was so strange and she was so normal. And how their complaints seemed like they made sense.
And for her, love was when she thought about it, and then looked at her roommates and told them, “Why should it matter why I like him? I’m happy, and that’s all that matters.”
She couldn’t understand why he had left.
Even she didn’t know what had happened. That much had become apparent when they had called her in for questioning. As it turned out, he had been on a mission, and he had suddenly defected. The Agency authorities didn’t know if he had been killed or had joined the Omidella. Either way, he was dead to them, and had to be dead to her.
He had seemed so happy, though. Anders had friends and talent and a bright future and he had her. Why would he leave?
Looking into his eyes through the bars of the prison cell, Brooke recalled why she had found him so attractive. But she kept coming back to his eyes. Those placid blue eyes that seemed like a shallow pond. Brooke had always assumed that they reflected on the fact that he was a person with nothing to hide. Those eyes were so misleading, like a false bottom on a drawer hiding secrets that could change the course of a war. If Brooke looked harder, she could understand all of the emotion that he kept inside himself. She should have understood that he needed to talk about what he was feeling before he ran away. Then they wouldn’t have been in this position now.
Anders was brave. That was undeniable.
(Either brave or tragically stupid, that is.)
Why, oh why, had he returned to Agency headquarters on an Omidella raid?
He knew the layout, of course. That made him a good candidate. The Omidella might not have trusted him. (No one likes a traitor, even if they’re on your side.) He had taken out about five Agents before he had been stopped and detained in a third-story corridor. He had no blood on him, something that reflected on the fact that he preferred to let bullets do his dirty work.
All of the things that Brooke had found endearing about Anders came crashing down to the cold metal floor of reality.
But there was a part of her that remembered Old Anders, the one whom she had dated and loved and defended, and the one who was loyal to the Agency and loyal to her.
Goddamn those eyes.
It wasn’t long before Brooke noticed that she was being watched.
And Brooke might have loved Anders, and Anders might have been (sorry, definitely was) a traitor, but that didn’t necessarily mean that Brooke was waiting for the next opportunity to bring down the Agency from the inside. She was loyal to the thing that had been loyal to her.
And Brooke was smart, okay? She understood that being watched by the Agency leaders was for everyone’s safety. And she understood that Anders’ choice had reflected badly on her.
How could she have been tricked by him like that? How could she have trusted someone who had turned against her and everything that she stood for, and then left her to drown in the ocean of suspicions that naturally arose when someone betrayed the Agency?
That was what led her to this moment.
Face a mere inches away from the cold metal bars of the cell. Anders looking sickly in the dark light of the prison, with his pale, freckly skin and straw-like hair.
For his part, he managed a shaky smile at her, as if this was an afternoon doing target practice. She couldn’t go to the shooting range without being reminded of him and everything they shared. But she had managed to bury all of the warmth and comfort that she had drawn from his presence. Brooke no longer belonged to him. She had successfully disconnected the part of her heart that Anders had from herself.
Did he regret everything that had been lost?
She hoped that he did.
“Anders,” Brooke managed in a cold voice.
“Brooke,” he said.
His eyes were still defiant. Anger flared in her.
The Agency had given her an ultimatum: Destroy the traitor and prove your loyalty. Or don’t, and see what happens.
Was there ever a question of what she would do? Betray the Agency, which had been loyal to her, or join Anders on the road to death? Ha! As if she would ever leave the agency. He had never been loyal to her.
The gun at her side got heavier.
She drew the gun, loaded with bullets. He met her eyes, suddenly fearful. He understood. He wasn’t a total idiot.
She cocked the hammer.
“Brooke,” he said, suddenly pleading, “Don’t do this. You don’t know that the Agency is doing, you don’t understand—”
“I understand perfectly,” Brooke hissed. “You betrayed me. The Agency stayed loyal. Therefore, I am loyal to them. And they have given me a second chance, an opportunity to make up for the stains that your betrayal put on me. And I will take that chance.”
Anders recoiled as if her words had cut him.
Inside Brooke, hovering near the surface, there was a younger girl. She screamed out against this, reminded the current Brooke that they loved Anders, that he was their friend…
Brooke forced that entity down. She chose the Agency.
And as she pulled the trigger, and watched her perfectly aimed bullet streak through the bars of the cell and strike Anders in the head, her old self was screaming all the way.
Watch the dark flow of blood from his head.
Blows to herself.
But she had killed the old Brooke. She had arisen from those ashes, stronger and better. She would make a good Agency, the Agency had to see that.
But still, Brooke couldn’t help reflect on the fact that Anders had been partly right. There was some use to the detachment a bullet gave you.