[A Talon safehouse, some kilometres west of Trondheim, Norway]( Because the remaining chapters are the story climax and coda, I'm cutting for spoilers )
There are only three more chapters. Two are complete. The third is complete enough that I could post it as-is, but I'll expand it, I know, before doing so. But posting Chapter 29 really locks it down, because at this point there's really no changing course. The ending will work, or it won't. People will buy it, or not.
annathepiper has read it. She thinks it works. I hope it works for other people.
I wish this was a thing I could do more regularly, more intentionally. At roughly 35,000 words, it's more words of fiction than I've written, combined, my entire existence. I've never had fiction just flow out of me like this before, and I don't know that I ever will again. It's almost painfully close to a novel, but there aren't really other parts that should be part of it so I suppose I must live with that.
( Spoilers, thematic, and possibly otherwise )
Video from the Humanity First strike in Naples rolled on the large screen, as the analyst section scribbled notes. Key sections were framed and elements highlighted from the incident which took place the week before.
"Now, until this moment, in minute 44," said the presenter, "the attack appeared to be going as we think they'd planned. They were moving through the arcade, here, in a sweep formation, when their progress forward suddenly fell out of good order. You can see the confusion, particularly these two figures, reacting to... something. We don't know what. Local police rapidly found themselves doing cleanup duty."
"A good thing, too, with the payload they were carrying," said the head of the table. "This sort of sudden breakdown - is it just me, or is it becoming a pattern?"
"The best kind of pattern to my mind, ma'am," said the woman in front of the large display.
"Yes, but only if we know why. Do we?"
"Generally? No. In this case, we think they lost comms, and fell out of sync. But we've no idea why that would've happened. And they certainly won't be telling us."
At the far end of the table, the less annoying American analyst flipped through photograph after photograph. She'd seen something, in a still photo. What was it, she thought, what was it, something faint...
More photos and video, now from minute 44, as the room discussed comms failures, a discussion she largely ignored. It's in here, somewhere, I saw it... there. What am I seeing here? She wasn't even sure herself.
"Excuse me, but... could we have item 59 from minute 43 on the large screen?" she asked, breaking into the room's conversation.
The collection of specialists present looked over, "Sorry, Agent...?" The presenter fished for the American's name, but she couldn't bring it up. "Um... certainly. Minute 43, item 59... here..." she put it on the large screen. "It's... the side of a building."
"How far in can we zoom on that second window from the left?"
The image enlarged to show the entire window frame.
"Lower half, please? Contrast enhance, gamut expansion?"
The presenter flicked controls. "Now... oh! Now I see... what the hell? Is that... someone's... back and head?"
"Someone aiming a rifle, looks like," said the tactics desk. "Someone not in our accounting."
"Is that colour correct?" asked her second. "Verify against reference." The tint shifted, brickwork used as a standard, and the Talon desk erupted in shouts as the presenter continued, oblivious to the noise, "That's... is that hair? Is it blue?"
"That, that, that that can't be her," the Talon desk second broke in, as the lead followed with, "We need that photograph and every picture of that window, and we need it right now. Do we have the other side of the building?"
"Someone verify the colour of the glass in that pane. Get someone out there to look at it, in person, we need a hard reference."
"Who is she shooting? Can we get any kind of interpolation on that?"
Systems brought up a three-dimensional rendering of the scene at that moment, and added a series of possible locations for the new actor, and possible targets, based on the one image obtained.
A small square device with a collection of protrusions hung off a nearby rooftop, at minute 41, visible, and intact, and at minute 46, visible, and destroyed.
"That," said electronics, "would be a tactical comms relay. Probably one of two. We should look for a second."
"What bet it's also smashed?" asked the tactics desk, excitedly.
As the room as a whole proceeded to tear through every photo and video segment with renewed intensity, the two reps from the Talon desk just stared at each other. "My god," said the lead. "What else did we miss? What the hell have we found? "
Kate checked her position and counted heads. Everyone who's supposed to be here, is here, in place. This'll show those fucking species-traitors. "Ready one!" she shouted, as as her team ducked behind columns and walls, and she pressed the outer ring detonator. Her team braced, ready for the impact of the explosions.
She pressed it again. Nothing continued to happen. No. No. Goddammit, Len screwed up the detonators.
"Ozzy, round one bad! Fire round two!"
"Len and Charla aren't out yet!"
"DO IT OR THIS WHOLE THING FAILS. DO IT, NOW!"
"Give them five more seconds!"
Kate would've shot Ozzy, and frankly wanted to, but he was too far away to make up the lost time. "DO IT OR I WILL SHOOT YOU MYSELF," she shouted anyway, aiming her pistol.
Ozzy was on comms, trying to raise Charla. "Shut up, I'm trying to ... god dammit! Now comms are out?!"
"NOW! THEY'RE MOVING ON US! DAMM YOU TO HELL, NOW!"
Ozzy swore, and thought, sorry, guys, and pressed the second ring detonator.
Nothing happened, a third time.
"DO IT!" shouted the team leader, enraged.
Ozzy pressed the trigger again, and again, useless. "I AM! IT ISN'T WORKING!"
Kate shrieked. It's those damned Aussies, they sold us shit goods, she thought. Shouting again, "Ozzy, try to keep the team moving forward, get the fourth ring set up. I'm going back to the second, try to reset the charges. Blow them in two minutes whether I'm here or not!"
"God speed!" shouted Ozzy.
Kate retreated around the corner back out of the arcade. Three steps out of sight of the rest of her team, there was a flash of light, a single round of automatic fire, a second flash, and she was gone.
They found some blood, a bit of flesh - more than enough DNA to identify the team leader - but they never found her body.
"Woah, what a mess," Lena said, looking at the latest eruption of violence - this time, in Korea.
"I know," Amélie said sadly, "Even acting as quickly as we can, everywhere we can, we can only do so much."
"You know we could step in more often," said the junior assassin.
"Certainly, in retrospect," agreed the senior assassin. "It's not so simple, in the moment."
"C'mon, love, maybe for most people," Venom countered. "Not for us."
"But that's not the difficult part," insisted the Widowmaker. "Getting there, creating a plan, executing it in real time - that is not so easy."
"Sure. We can't always act. But when we can, I want to try."
Amélie smiled. "You want to become a sort of... International Rescue, but of assassins?"
Lena laughed at the thought, and said, "Aye aye!" enthusiastically.
"But it will not change history," said the assassin, reluctantly, "at least, not often, if ever. Not as we've always measured it."
"It'll save lives," said her apprentice. "Isn't that enough?"
"Lives that do not change history," insisted the spider.
"Lives nonetheless," said her lover. "Besides, fewer deaths mean fewer relatives vowing revenge and voting for demagogues. It's got to help."
"At the margins, perhaps," the spider calculated. "It is a risk. Each time, a possibly fatal risk. Stepping in improvisationally to complex situations with live fire is not a step to be taken lightly."
"I'm good at risk," retorted the test pilot. "Won't be a problem if we're careful."
After a year and a half together, Amélie Lacroix had learned when Lena Oxton's mind was made up, and turned to face the inevitable. "You're going to do this whether I help or not, aren't you?"
The inevitable replied, "I'd much rather not have to decide 'bout that, love."
"I have two counter-conditions," said the woman of blue.
The pilot smiled. She'd won, and knew it. "Name 'em."
"First, our primary mission is always paramount. Nothing may affect or endanger that."
Well, that's easy, Oxton thought. "Goes without saying," she said. "Didn't even consider it on the table..."
"Second," the spider had started, when Lena interrupted. "No, no, love, wait. I need to make that clear: I will not risk this project. I just won't. I might argue..."
"...might and have done..." noted Amélie.
"...yeh, and likely will again. But once it's sorted? Never. I swear."
Amélie smiled, relieved in spite of herself, and reached out to touch her her partner's face, gently. "I did not think you would, but I do not leave such things unstated. Particularly not with you."
"Fair enough," Lena answered, warmly, nuzzling Widowmaker's hand, and taking it into her own. How did I get so lucky as to fall into you? she asked herself, as she did every time they fought. "Hoo. What else?"
"Second, we move only if I think it is safe and practical. I will not endanger our organisation, or myself, or you." In this, she was an anchored stone, an unmovable object.
Venom laughed again, playing the river, splashing around the rock. "I'm never in danger, love."
Widowmaker gave her a most sharply pointed look. "We are always in danger, ma chérie - do not forget that."
"Sorry, sweet," she said in reply. "Not the time to be flippant." A small surrender, wrapped in affection. "I don't forget."
"Then that is all," said the Widowmaker, lightly, relaxing. "It is acceptable?"
"More than that," said Venom. "It's a deal."
"I see you've been racking up quite the kill list," said Winston, a second and a half before.
Venom frowned. "Ah, c'mon, luv, do we have to talk about work?"
"It's just a job to you, now?" asked the scientist on the moon.
"No," replied the assassin, "but we're just gonna have another fight." The last one had been a real row; they hadn't talked for a month, and Winston seemed intent on picking up where they'd left off. "Let's not do that again."
Winston shook his head, no. "I'm sorry, Lena, but - fifteen kills in five months?"
"Only twelve," Lena retorted. "Six by us, six by other agents, some of which never made the news. Anyone else wasn't us at all."
"Six, then," he conceded. Like that isn't enough.
Fine, she thought. Let's not pretend. "Yep! All good ones. Clean. Fast. Sharp. We've never been tighter, and it's exhilarating." She put on her best wicked smile, the one she knew sent a bit of a shiver down Winston's spine. "Each one moved the war another step back. We might not be getting ahead of that curve, but we're doin' the best we can. No regrets here."
"All on Amélie's word," he said, stiffly. "Just whatever's in her head."
"Nah," said Venom. "It's not that simple, mate. Even she doesn't trust herself that much. There's a consensus system - won't describe it, sorry, secret - and a lot of deep analytics. And..."
"Just please tell me Katus Varga wasn't one of yours," he broke in, expecting the worst. "Please tell me you aren't starting into world leaders, are you?"
Venom blinked at the unexpected question. "It's got bad enough we might have to. And I wouldn't hesitate, if that's what was needed. But... if it makes you feel any better, Katus Varga? That wasn't us."
"With her politics and that M.O.?" he asked, "It screamed Talon."
"Really! Not us." She affirmed, holding up her hands. "See? All clean. We think it was domestic. Someone who wanted to make it look like us."
"I'm a little surprised," he said. Also a little relieved, he thought. Something about the timing had felt almost sadistic, and for all Widowmaker and Talon were, they did not appear to be sadists. He did not want to see them becoming such.
"We were looking at taking out her Omnics advisor, though. Lower profile, more actual impact."
"I... don't know who you mean, offhand..." the scientist said, punching up a search on the panel to his right.
"Sándor Farkas. An academic - I think he's a crackpot, really - with some wicked nasty supremacist ideas. Also, daily access to power. He needed to go."
"Mmm," said the gorilla, having pulled him - and his troubling history - up on his own displays.
"But not her. She was too popular! Whoever did it created a martyr. Made things worse. If we find them, we will kill them."
"For killing her?" he questioned distractedly, still reading.
"For making it look like we killed her," she explained.
"Ah," he said, glancing sideways as her while reading.
"Don't like imitators in this business, luv. Can't have it."
"I see," Winston said, unhappily. "Business."
An uncomfortable nothing was said for several seconds.
Venom decided to break the silence. "We were in Naples the other day."
Winston scowled. "Taking advantage of the attack?"
"C'mon, luv," said Lena. "That's mean."
"What, then?" asked the scientist.
Lena Oxton rocked back and forth in her chair. "Can't talk about what, exactly. Not even with you. But..." she struggled with it, trying to figure out how much she could but should not say, "go give what happened a good look-over. Carefully. Watch all of it, but... focus about... 40 minutes in. Or so."
Winston hunched forward, just a little. "Ten minutes before the police suddenly cleared them all out?"
"'Bout that," agreed Venom.
"...what did you do?" he asked.
"Didn't say we did anything," said the assassin. "Can't. But..." the assassin tilted her head left and right with a tight little mostly-repressed smile, "give it a careful look. You're good at thinking, so... think about it."
"I seem to recall they had a lot of explosives they did use, didn't they," he proffered.
"Explosives... " Venom tilted her head, pointedly, "that didn't explode. There's a difference."
"Yes," agreed the scientist. "There most certainly is."
"Funny how that happened, innit?" she asked, "subtle" not being her middle name.
"Perhaps even strange," said the gorilla.
"Plans like that, they're goin' wrong a lot lately," she said, looking at her fingernails, then back at her friend.
"Are they?" he asked.
"Sure looks like it."
"Fascinating," said the scientist, remembering a promise made months before.
"Not sayin' anything past that, big guy. Maybe I'm guessing. Maybe they're just gettin' sloppy."
He nodded, understanding - not the specifics, not yet, but most certainly the message. "Maybe they are."
With a small sly smile let free, Venom said, "It's a funny old world, innit?"
A moment passed, a somewhat less uncomfortable silence, before Winston nodded again, this time, in agreement. "That," he said, "it truly is."
"None of these are nice people," said Widowmaker.
"Goes without sayin', don't it?" said Lena, popping a bit of handmade picture candy into her mouth, flavoured hard candies with an image running throughout, looking like little round slices of pomegranate, pips and all, made entirely by pulling sugar. "These came out great, love. I thought you couldn't cook."
Amélie raised an eyebrow and smiled. "I have some talents beyond shooting people. But this is confectionary, not cooking, it is different."
"How's that then?"
"Because I am French and know better than English barbarians about food."
Venom laughed. "Oh, right. Of course."
"But - yes, that these are bad people does go without saying. Still, moreso, even than usual, these are not good people." She threw Venom a file from her padd. "Here is a dossier on everyone I expect to attend - you should memorise it."
"Gotcha." Venom slid aside news of the latest anti-Omnic violence in North America - and the latest retaliation from Null Sector - to flip through the pages she'd just received. "Huh... Most of these... they're just ordinary criminals. Bad ones, but just criminals."
"Yes," Widowmaker agreed. "They are suppliers and sellers, not movers of history. They are without ideals," she frowned. "But we need to deal with them, occasionally, and that means dealing with their, um... muscle? Yes. Muscle. Bodyguards. I had to make an example of one, a few years ago."
"That's too bad."
The elder assassin shrugged. "Yes, I'm sure he was an adorable child with a mother, once."
Venom laughed. "And probably killed her."
"I do not have room to talk," said Amélie, pointedly. "But I do not wish to make any further examples. Bringing you, I hope, will help make that less likely."
"Really?" asked Tracer, wondering if Amélie could make these candies with maltose. Chocolate's great, but variety's good too. "Why?"
Widowmaker smiled. "Your reputation in certain circles precedes you."
Venom licked her lips. "Fantastic."
"But behave," said the blue assassin. "I'm bringing you to prevent problems, not cause them."
"'Course, love," said the teleporting assassin, cockily. "Don't I always?"
"Honestly?" asked the spider.
"Never but," said the striped assassin.
"Yes," the blue woman smiled, "You do."
"Aw," the younger assassin pouted, "You're no fun today."
"Should I start lying to you, then?" asked Amélie, amusement in her voice.
"Fiiiiiiine," Venom said, with greatly exaggerated exasperation, "I'll be good."
Over comms, the cowboy replied, "Widowmaker, McCree - I hear ya. All clear. C'mon down whenever when you're ready."
"McCree, thank you. We'll keep you looped in, but otherwise, we'll take over from here. Switching to monitor mode."
"McCree switching to radio silence and out."
The meeting had been scheduled for a large conference room on the second floor of a older, nondescript, and otherwise-empty metal building in Caracas, hosted by a trusted neutral party specialising in such arrangements. "Why are these things always in warehouses?" Venom asked, as she landed their stealthed light flyer on a rooftop two blocks away.
"Because warehouses are boring," replied Widowmaker. "Clients rotate in and out of light industrial facilities like these constantly, as companies build and fail, and so strangers are not..."
Venom broke in, "Rhetorical, love," as she unstrapped from the pilot's seat.
"Ah, of course," the spider said, opening the side hatch. "I will punish you later."
"Ooooh, goodie," said Venom.
The two assassins executed their own secondary recon of the facility before approaching, and a second facilities check before entering. "Looks clean," said Venom, from atop a building on one block; her partner agreed, from atop a building the block opposite, and they fell in together.
Most of the expected buyers and sellers had arrived already, a few early, some just entering from the lower level as the Talon pair entered from the balcony entrance above. Widowmaker spotted the Menger Group's muscle as soon as she walked in, but not Javier Menger himself. She leaned to Venom as the two descended the stairwell and said, "Menger Group, on the opposite wall, but no Javier. I am concerned. He does not miss these meetings."
Venom nodded affirmatively, a subtle gesture. Texans, she remembered from the dossier. SIG Sauer specialists and neo-fundamentalist survivalists. "One of the muscle has a much better suit than in the photos," she said quietly to Widowmaker. "Something's changed."
Widowmaker agreed. "Caleb. I've seen him - and his bodyguard - before. Javier kept them both on tight reins."
As the senior assassin side-eyed that new suit, Caleb caught her glance and bristled. "I see you brought your new guard dog," he called from across the room, a bit of extra sneer in his heavy Texan accent. "She better be well-trained."
The room instantly grew very quiet. Other groups subtly edged away from the Menger representatives.
Oh, thought the spider, how tiring. The new boss feels he must establish himself, and has chosen me. "Javier, are you here?" she called, scanning the room for the older Menger. "Is this the kind of help you've resorted to hiring these days?"
"Javier's out," said Caleb. "You aren't dealing with the old man anymore. I'm running the show now."
"That is unfortunate," said the Widowmaker, wondering how recently it'd happened. Enculer, she thought. Bizarre religion or not, he would keep his promises. Aloud, she continued, "Javier was reliable, and often pleasant. I will hope his successors decide to continue that tradition."
"That right?" said the woman with him, Haley, the bodyguard, possibly a new lieutenant, judging from the swagger. "We all thought it was time for some fresh blood. People who won't let themselves get led 'round by a pretty blue face."
The Widowmaker frowned.
Turning to Venom, Haley gazed down at the much smaller woman. "But we ain't the only fresh blood, are we? Careful, little bitch," she mocked, "don't want to get hurt playin' with the big dogs." She pronounced it like "dawgs."
They do not deserve artistic deaths, thought the Widowmaker. But examples must sometimes be made.
"Venom?" asked Widowmaker.
"Yes, love?" asked Venom.
"Sting." said Widowmaker.
"Yes, love." said Venom.
She never even appeared to move. There was a flash of light, which was actually three, and what sounded like a single shot, but was actually two. Both offenders dropped to the ground, dead, individual bullets placed precisely into the centres of their forebrains.
Instant, perfect death. Not as elegant as some, perhaps, but strong lines, and good design, a clean, modernist improvisation. Widowmaker approved. "Nicely done."
Shouts of shock echoed around the room as the bodies hit the floor, not all of those dead. Venom smiled, sweetly, and looked up to her spider. "Anyone else, love?"
"Thank you, no," said the Widowmaker. "I think that should do." She turned her gaze slowly across the room. "Unless, of course, anyone else has additional commentary to bring to the conversation?"
The room became quiet, and still.
"Then shall we get to the tasks at hand?" asked the Widowmaker. Looking past the table, she said, "I'm sure our hosts can handle the mess, can't you?"
A couple of agents in matching grey suits nodded. "Just waiting for your permission to move, ma'am," said the smarter of them.
Widowmaker chuckled. "Excellent. Please do." Turning back to the room, she said, "Why don't we get down to business?"
"aaaaAaAAAaAAAAA NO" Lena shot upwards, blurring blue and red, teleporting right and up, across the room, almost into the wall, knocking over a lamp which crashed to the floor before she even knew she'd done any of it.
Amélie, startled in her sleep, leapt out of bed and had her rifle out and scoped before she, too, could fully awaken. But after a moment, she calmed herself, and looked to Lena, climbing down from her terror. She put the Widow's Kiss aside and calmly walked over to her partner. "You're here, ma chérie, not in the airplane, not on fire, you're with me, not in the airplane, not on fire, you're with me..."
Lena's gaze darted randomly, until she locked onto Amélie, eyes still wide, still hyperventilating.
Amélie put her arms around her beloved. "Now, I have you..."
Breathe, Lena thought, breathe, as her lover took embraced her. Breathe. This can't happen. Breathe. What can't happen? Breathe. She put her head on Amélie's shoulder. That felt right. Breathe. She put her arms around Amélie, pressing against her, that too felt right, and wonderful, breathe, like it felt when... what? Like it felt when what?
Amélie knew these nights well. They were not common, not exactly, but came often enough to have a routine. Doctor Mariani had, at Amélie's insistence, examined her beloved three times now; she'd assured her there was no physical issue either with her or her web, said that while she was not a psychiatrist, it looked to her like classic trauma reaction.
But the spider was not so sure. Something poked at her mind, something vibrated the web, just a little, like an echo of something large, long ago, or something yet to come, far away. "You're with me, you are not on fire, I have you, you are safe, it is over," she kept repeating. It always seemed to help.
"This. Can't. Happen." Venom said, quietly.
Amélie tilted her head, confused. This was new. "What cannot happen?" she asked. "Should I... should I not be doing this? Should I let go?"
"NO!" shouted Lena. Breathe. "No. Hold me. Never let go. But..." What can't happen?
She almost has something, Amélie thought. Something different. Not more of the empty echoes of things that never were. Something more. Perhaps. She held her lover tightly against her, manoeuvring them both back over to the bed, and stroking her hair.
Venom slumped. It was gone. Breathe. Whatever it was, it was gone. "Damn. I... I almost had it, that time. I think. I thought."
"You said," Amélie prompted, "'this cannot happen' ... no, that's not quite right, it's 'This. Can't. Happen.' with little pauses, like that." Amélie thought she could almost smell the scent of burning jet fuel. "The Slipstream disintegrating around you, again?"
Lena shook her head, negatively. "No. Well... not really. But sort of. That, too." And not for the first time, she did not need to say. Breathe. "But... no. The order's wrong, it's back to front. Something else."
"Could it have been triggered by the mission?" she spider worried. "Your first night out, we were successful, but it was new and explosive..."
Lena laughed. "Nah, love. That was great." She smiled, genuinely, the fear and dread quickly dispelling. "Ho, that's funny," she said, relief in her voice. "Just thinking about it, I feel better." Hugging her partner close, as the last of the terror slipped away, she continued, "...yeah. I think about being on mission with you, working together, and it's - the dread, I mean - it's just gone."
Amélie closed her eyes for a moment, and thought, if there is a god, I thank them for that. Opening her eyes, she asked, "You are sure?"
Lena nodded, eyes clear, if all too awake for the middle of the night. "fffft," she said, "I'm not complicated, love. I know how I feel. I'm sure." She looked at the clock. "Great. 3am. I've ruined both our sleeps. I'm sorry."
"Do not let it concern you, I am just glad you are feeling better." She squeezed her partner tightly, and they crawled back under the covers.
"I wish we were back on Alicudi," Lena said, wistfully, curled up with her blue lover. "I'd go listen to the waves 'til I got sleepy again."
"I know," Amélie sighed. " I miss it as well. I would come with you. We could stay out all night and fall asleep under the stars, as far as I am concerned." She frowned. "Sombra's fake listing was a little too inviting."
Lena chuckled. "Booked through August. She thinks the whole thing's hilarious."
"Of course she does," Amélie said, crossly.
"'Look! We have real vacation reviews! Ooh, they're very good!'" Venom liked the hacker, but her sense of humour could be inconvenient at times. There really was no need for registration functionality. Not that actually worked.
"At least tourist season will be over soon," Amélie said, resignedly.
"She wants a commission, y'know."
"Fine. I will charge it back to her later," said the spider. "Perhaps, 'inconvenience fees.'"
Lena laughed. "Nice."
"Roll over," Amélie said. "I'll rub your back until you fall asleep."
"...does that work?" asked the younger assassin, obeying.
The elder assassin nodded, though her partner could not see her do so. "Every time."
The first thing Winston said, upon seeing Lena appear on his screen, was, "So, you're part of the Talon team, now. I can't say I'm happy to hear it."
Lena let out a little "heh," before answering, "It's that obvious?"
"Seriously? After London? Yes. It is. I presumed explaining that was what prompted getting me and Widow... me and Amélie to talk, yesterday."
"Yeh," Lena nodded. "I wanted you to know - really know - that she wasn't..." she waved her hands around, "whatever you thought she was. An automaton. A mind-controlled slave. Whatever," she shrugged. "And neither am I. I need to be somewhere I can make a difference. This is what I've got; I'm takin' it."
The scientist on screen nodded, three seconds later. In a thoughtful tone, he replied, "I think I believe her now. In some ways, it's harder to accept than the old neural reconditioning story. I never would have imagined who she really was, back then. The same, I guess," he added, "goes for Gérard."
Lena nodded. "She's real, all right. She always has been. And Talon is doing something, Winston, when nobody else is, not really." She beamed, despite everything. "The girlfriend part, well - that's a bonus!"
"Theoretical goals - and girlfriend - aside, they're doing things in ways I can't support."
"I know," she accepted. "I think I can help them. I think I can improve them. Maybe make Talon something you could support. I do have unique access to the top, after all."
Winston frowned. "I don't see that ever happening."
"Don't count me out, luv," she said, with her half-grin. "I've budged you on Amélie, I doubt you saw that one coming."
She had a point, and even if he didn't want to admit it, his body language did. So he huffed, and said, "You should've radioed me more often. I have some access to resources. Angela could've tried to get you out."
"I couldn't get up in the air. Or, I guess, I mean, I couldn't get isolated enough. Once I started noticing the surveillance, I started seeing it everywhere."
"It couldn't've been that bad," he grumbled.
"It was that bad. I think. They'd been grinding me down for a while, it's hard to be sure. And I wasn't gonna let myself get searched. Any chance they'd take the retrieval beacon was..." she shuddered. "No. I couldn't risk that."
"You didn't seem to have a hard time contacting me from on top of Big Ben, maybe something like that could've..."
She smirked - Elizabeth Tower, you twit, she thought, somewhat crossly - but let it slide. "Sure! When I had my grapple. I couldn't bring that back from the dead with me, now could I?" She bent over and pulled the kit up off its shelf, holding it before the camera and smiling. "Have it back now, though." She slapped it onto her left forearm, all form-fitting black and violet. "Secure. Super light. It matches hers, I like that." She twisted her wrist, completely unimpeded. "Feels nice."
"Still," he insisted, "you should've gone back to Brighton, at least, or..."
"No." Anger flashed into her eyes, hard and quick, a line crossed. "You don't understand. They'd done me in, big guy - I was falling apart."
"No. You want to know how I spent Thursday - Thursday last? I spent Thursday last in bed. I couldn't. even. get. out. of. bed," she said, hands in angry fists. "Brighton? Seriously? "
"NO," she demanded, "I can take anything but nothing, turns out. There, now you know too, everybody else does, why not you? They figured that out. They figured it out, and my own Forces used it against me. Then when they'd tipped me over, they brought me in and brought down the hammer, hoping to finish me, and I am not fucking kidding when I say it was either bring in the cavalry or blow up their fucking building, mate, and it was a fucking close call."
"I've never seen you like this, ever," he said, taken aback, "Lena, what's..."
"Aren't you even listening!?" Lena shouted at her friend, rising and slamming her hands down onto the table. "She saved me, Winston. Twice now. Not you, not Overwatch, not the RAF, she did. She caught me when I was falling, both times, not..." Lena vibrated in place, blue and red, and stripes shining through her clothes. "No. No. No," she said, to herself. She put her fists together, at her waist, and closed her eyes, and sat. "Breathe. Breathe. Breathe." she repeated, as the colours faded.
After a couple of minutes of long, silent, deep breaths, she opened her eyes again. "I'm... really sorry about that, big guy. That wasn't just misdirected, that was wrong. I'm not..." breathe "mad at you. At all. You've always been there as best you could," breathe "and without you, Amélie couldn't've brought me back." Another breath. "I had no business saying what I did just now, none at all, and I'm sorry for it..." breathe "I just get so angry, so quickly, right now." Another long, deep breath. "Amélie's trying to help me with it. I'm back to Shambali-school meditation, too." Another breath. "It's always helped me get things worked out. Helped get me under control."
Winston just stared, sadly, and then, carefully, leaned back forward, and said, "I... I didn't understand how badly they'd hurt you. I shouldn't've pushed. I'm sorry too."
The teleporter nodded, and breathed. "Not your fault, luv. They'd've had my psych profiles, Forces and Overwatch both. They," she breathed, "they probably put a team on it. Must've focused right in."
"I didn't think they'd do that," he quietly said.
A little bit of an experienced smile. "Neither did I, luv." A deep breath, and she closed her eyes again. "Guess I was a bit naive."
She exhaled, long and slow, and shook her head, blinking her eyes open. There, she thought. Centred. Much better. "I will kill them for it, someday," she said, cheerfully matter-of-fact.
"I'm sorry for that, too."
"I'm not!" she said, almost brightly. "I'm not that naive, luv. I'm not the first person they've done this to."
"...almost certainly not."
"You know, right? That neural reconditioning you talk about, with Amélie?"
"That they have it."
"That they've used it?"
"Then," she rocked back and forth in her chair, idly, "I guess we understand each other."
He nodded. "I suppose we do."
"Will you still be my friend, though?" she asked, a little hopeful, a little plaintive, a little afraid.
"Always," said Winston, firmly.
"Good evening, Winston," said the elder assassin.
"Widowmaker," said the ape, grimly, with a three second delay. "I see you have acquired Lena's prefix code."
"Thank you for responding," she said. "We have not talked in some time."
"Using Lena's code set will get my attention. Does she still have access to it too?"
The spider smiled wanly and leaned out of the way. Lena popped into view, "Hiya, big guy! It's okay, I'm here, she's using my kit."
Winston blinked confusedly. "oh! Hello! Where have you been? I hadn't heard from you in a few weeks, and then I heard about London. What exactly happened?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow, now that I don't have MI5 watching my every breath. It'll be a lot easier to get ahold of you from now on! But Amélie needs to talk to you alone, and I wanted to make sure you'd answer, so... hear her out, will ya? For me?"
Winston did not look pleased by the request. "I... what's this all about?"( this is a long one )