Oh, The Places You'll Go

Unquiet Ghosts



Notes: Because I watched Push and was hit over the head with the need for a crossover for The Losers. It all made sense at the time. :D Movie-verse for The Losers, so spoilers for that. Also for Push, obviously.




The girl passes him on the sidewalk, head bent low over a book, sleek, blonde bob shot through with two gaudy blue stripes. She doesn't look up as he walks by and she's just one in the swelling mass of humanity on the city streets, but she tugs at something in him and when he looks back she's looking back at him. Their eyes meet for a split second and she touches her chin with forefinger and thumb, a light mocking expression on her face before she turns away again and is swallowed up in the milling crowd. Jensen hovers, heart beating like a jackhammer, overwhelmed by a sudden sense of loss.

"Move it, freak," says a dude five times his size, buffeting him with a broad shoulder. "Don't you know there's a game on?"

Jensen resists the urge to turn and push his way through the crowd until he's found her—whoever she is. He sticks a finger in his ear, waggling it as if it'll stop the strange buzzing that's taken over his brain. "C'mon, Jensen," he mutters to himself. "What are you gonna say? Hi. I don't know you at all, but I like your hair. It's got blue in it. Any reason why it feels like you killed my puppy?"

It's ridiculous, he knows, and besides, they're waiting for him and he has to go.

He dreams that night of crowded streets and neon lights and a faucet in a shabby apartment that won't stop dripping. When he wakes up it's still dark and he's desperate for a piss. He leans straight-armed against the bathroom wall and can't shake the feeling that he's being watched. That someone knows exactly what he's doing. It's disconcerting.

***


Getting into Goliath turns out to be a hell of a lot easier than getting out. Before he knows it, Jensen's pulling finger guns and spinning a yarn about secret government conspiracies and his telekinetic abilities. There's a weird sensation in his mind like a rubber band being stretched and warped until the point of no return, but it's Danger Will Robinson, and by the time Cougar's broken out the bullets of doom the tension is released and Jensen is laughing his fear out as he takes the stairs five at a time.

***


"Nice kid," says the tall dude with the pencil 'tache. "Looks just like you, which is weird."

"We are related," Jensen points out. "It's not weird, it's genetics and anyway what's it to do with you? Who's your kid?"

The dude shrugs. "That one," he says, finger waving vaguely in the direction of the Marigolds' bench.

Jensen narrows his eyes in suspicion, eyeing the skinny man up and down. "What, the twelve stone bruiser with the scowl? What was that about family resemblances? Are you sure you even belong here?" He throws up his hands. "Oh, oh god, if you're perving on these kids me and my friends here will end you."

"Hey, hey, hey," says the dude, his own hands held palm out in defense. "Not a pervert. Just stopping by and admiring the beautiful game. No need to make a scene."

"This is not making a scene," Jensen says. "You do not want to see making a scene. I could- Hey, ref! What is that? Don't make me come down there and explain the offside rule!" He turns back to the man to tell him to beat it, but there's no one there.

"Hey, Cougs," he says, poking his friend's shoulder. Cougar slaps the finger away, but turns around anyway. "You see where that man went?"

Cougar raises his eyebrows. What man?

Jensen scowls. "Pooch, you see him? Clay?"

They shake their heads. That's a negatory, soldier.

"Jensen, don't look," says Jolene. "I think things are going to go badly for our girls."

"She is very talented, their number seven," says Aisha. "Good balance and strong. A natural fighter."

"Oh god," says Jensen and covers his eyes with his hand. He can't resist peeping through them, though. The Marigolds' striker is charging down on the goal, ball appearing to be surgically attached to her feet. It looks like a sure thing and Jensen starts to chant, "Miss, miss, miss, miss," under his breath, concentrating all his energy on the football. The girl swings her foot back, aims and kicks it with a mighty thwack. It screams through the air in a dead straight line towards the top corner of the net, not a chance in the world that the Petunias' goalkeeper will get a hand to it. "Miss, miss, miss," chants Jensen and at the last second the ball curls, swerving onto the corner of the posts and bounces harmlessly behind for a goal kick.

Jensen jumps to his feet. "Did you see that?" he crows. "I totally did that using the power of my mind. Fear me and my mental powers."

"Sure you did," says Pooch. "Can you get me a soda using the power of your mind or do I have to go buy one using the power of my feet?"

Jensen grins and drops back down to the bleacher. "You know I'm the greatest," he says and bats away the cotton candy Cougar throws at his face.

***


Kira doubled over, coughing out thick, black blood and Nick started towards her, his own blood staining his fingertips brown. She held up a hand and shook her head, no.

"Don't," she said, pleading. "Don't make this worse. We knew this could happen. I knew it and I killed Carver anyway. It was the right thing to do, Nick. The future isn't written in stone, remember?"

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," Cassie said, her face pale and drawn, pacing up and down the tiny room, the tiger that had never been meant for her. "Do it. You have to do it. It's the only way."

Nick shook his head. "There has to be something else we can try. I know you're hurting, but-"

"I saw it, Nick," Cassie spat, turning red-rimmed eyes on him. "I saw it and it's this or death and not only for us. They beat us. They smashed us to pieces and it's over. Just let them. Please."

Nick stared between the three of them—Kira, Cassie and the silent guy standing arms folded in the corner, far too calm for Nick's liking.

"What, you'd rather my hands were shaking?" said the Wiper. "I gotta fix you, not wreck you."

"You're a Reader now?" Nick blurted.

"Guy, I seen it all. Ain't nothin' your face is sayin' that's new to me." He flexed his long fingers, nails the color of rusted blood, and Nick shuddered.

He turned back to Cassie and opened his arms. She hesitated and then surged forward, wrapping herself tight around him. He held on, stroking her hair. She was just a kid. How could she do this by herself? How could he let it happen?

As if she'd heard him she tightened her grip and said, "I won't be alone, that's not how I drew it. I won't be alone." She relaxed her grip and stepped back away from him, dashing a tear from her face with the back of her hand and nodded, firm and decisive.

Nick took a deep breath and looked at Kira. "Make me cool," he said. "And sexy. Cool and sexy, that's what we're aiming for here."

"Trading up, Coney Island," Kira said with a faint smile. "Cassie has it all planned out, don't worry."

"Oh, shit," said Nick, and then fingertips touched his temples and he wasn't Nick any more.

***


Jensen's got to admit, Cougar's worked his magic even better than usual on this one. Pooch recovers from his bullet wounds as if he'd received no more than a couple of dead legs from a schoolyard bully. First he breaks into a hospital solo and then by the time Junior is a couple weeks old Pooch is chasing Jensen around the yard and yelling about sleep deprivation and Pop Tarts.

"How are you doing that?" Jensen yells over his shoulder. "You're not human!"

"I am a father," Pooch yells back. "We're superhuman. And I was looking forward to that Pop Tart, you son of a-"

"Language!" Jensen shouts, trying to be helpful.

"I will kill you!"

The porch swing creaks as Clay stands. "Yeah, it's time," he says, nodding at Cougar.

Jensen stops in his tracks, feinting to the left and sending Pooch flying to the ground. He puts his hands on his hips. "We moving on, boss?"

"Gotta put that energy to better use," Clay says. "Go pack."

Spread-eagled in the dirt, Pooch groans. "Jolene will kill me."

"You're not coming," Clay says, and Pooch scrambles to his feet.

"Now, wait a minute-" he starts, but Clay holds up a hand.

"We can manage without you for a little while," he says. "Jolene can't. Also, I value my testicles highly."

Aisha, lying on a lounger, eyes hidden behind large, dark glasses, snorts. Jensen tries hard not to see the smirk on Clay's face.

"It's good to have backup," he tells Pooch. "Someone to swoop in and rescue us if it all goes belly up."

"When," mutters Pooch, shoving his hands into his pockets with a sullen scowl.

"Aww, I'll miss you too," says Jensen, impulsively hugging his friend and noogieing his head.

"Get the hell off of me," Pooch splutters, but he hugs back all the same.

***


The first time Jensen hears Clay say 'Division', the capital big and heavy as lead, the rubber band sensation returns with a vengeance, but his hands are flying over the keyboard tracking the ghost of a ghost of a ghost in the machine and there's no time for twanging anything, not even memories he isn't sure exist.

"What's Division?" he asks when Clay hangs up.

"Don't know, but we're gonna find out," Clay says, tapping the cell against his hand. "Looks like Max has links. Always with the fingers in the pies. Something about a new breed of supersoldier."

"Like Captain America?" asks Jensen, brightening. "Because that would be so cool."

"Not like that, no."

"Oh." Jensen deflates. Though, thinking about it, Max in control of a bunch of supersoldiers without the redeeming good guy qualities of Steve Rogers? Yeah, that's a recipe for global catastrophe. Also, he's pretty sure vibranium is a fictional metal and where would a Cap-alike be without his shield?

"Then what?" Cougar is stationed at the window on lookout and doesn't even turn around, though his straight back radiates interest.

"It wasn't clear. Some kind of psychic bullshit. You know Max; he doesn't take the easy way out. Probably thinks he can foment global conflict with a few pushes in the right direction."

"Yeah, but you don't think anyone can have that kind of influence without some blinking neon sign over their head saying, 'hey, dude, see what I just did,' do you?" Jensen worries at the keyboard some more. He's never been much for patience.

Clay shrugs. "If you look back at some of the shitty decisions our so-called great leaders have made," he says. "You gotta admit some of them beg the question, 'what were you smoking?' Maybe they weren't in their right minds, but it wasn't drugs that was doing it."

Jensen scratches his arm, his whole body suddenly itchy. Stupid flea-bitten motels. He misses the pullout couch at Pooch's place like a sawn off limb.

"In my country there were stories of people with special powers," Aisha says. She's perched on the rickety desk like some kind of malevolent leprechaun, gun pieces in both her hands. Jensen still doesn't trust her not to kill him in his sleep, but he's pretty sure she'd take Clay out first, so at least he'd get a heads up. "Preachers who could make you believe, people who could conjure money from stones, healers that raised the dead, seers who could tell your future. There were second, third hand accounts of miracles, but I never met anyone who had witnessed such a thing, and I never saw one myself. They were simply fairy tales. When you have nothing, you make something from it. It's how we survive."

Jensen scratches harder at his arm. Damn, some fucker must have chewed him up but good in the night. Over by the window Cougar stands as ramrod straight as if he had a poker up his ass. Jensen can feel the tension roiling off him. It makes him uneasy.

The computer pings. It doesn't have to ping, it's just Jensen finds it more satisfying that way. He swivels to look at the screen.

"I think you'll like this," he says, beckoning the others over his shoulder. "I think you'll like it a lot."

***


Division was nothing without Carver, they'd thought. First they'd get Cassie's mom out and safe and then they'd bring down the whole house of cards. What did it matter that they were only a handful, unable to reach out to other renegade Psychics because they couldn't know whom to trust? They had it all figured out, played all the angles over and over and Cassie, drawing and plotting in meticulous detail, showed only one final image: a girl hugging her mom.

"I see her smile," she'd said, sounding as young and vulnerable as Nick had ever heard her.

And it had gone like clockwork, the preparation, the rendezvous, the exchange with Nick telepathically shifting the syringe from a safe distance, and even now Nick could hear the hitching sob and the broken cry of "Mommy" as Cassie had hurtled headlong into her mom's arms. She'd had her hug.

And then it had all gone to hell.

There was screaming now, not from Bleeders, but from Cassie as her mom staggered and then crumpled in a silent heap, the back of her head blown out from a single sniper bullet. Nick rushed in to drag Cassie away—there was nothing they could do now but run—but she screamed and fought him, fingernails tearing at his hands and arms, keening cries of desperation breaking over him like desolate waves.

"We have to go, Cassie," he said and the air warped and glowed as he propelled the body away from her reach as gently as he could. "I'm not letting you die, too."

"But I saw it," Cassie wailed, her knees sagging under her dead weight. Nick lifted her and threw her over his shoulder. Grief would have to be put on hold. He ran through a hail of bullets, shielding them both as best he could with his one free hand, the air a blur of color. A stray round grazed his arm and he stumbled, righting himself just in time to see a red truck scream up, the door opening to reveal Hook at the wheel and Kira yelling at them to get in.

He practically threw Cassie through the door and jumped in after her, yanking the door shut as they squealed off in a haze of burning rubber.

"This is not what I call clockwork," said Hook, taking the corner so fast Nick had to press both hands against the roof to stay upright.

"You're bleeding," said Kira, reaching past the half-dazed Cassie to touch his arm, making Nick grimace. She pulled her hand away and looked at her wet fingertips. "We don't have a Stitch."

Nick pulled Cassie into his side, holding her safe against him. Kira's eyes were clear but red-rimmed, the dark shadows under them like two inky thumbprints. "You look tired," he said.

Kira looked away. "We'll think of something."

"We'd better," said Hook. "Because they're coming for us and they're not going to stop."

***


"It's not completely impregnable," says Jensen, going over the blueprints for what feels like the millionth time. "But it's close."

"Can you get us in?"

"Pretty sure I can bypass the external alarm system, but then there's the whole thing where all the internal doors are coded and housed on separate circuits. Oh, and the random security patrols. Plus, you know, if they really are psychic they'll know we're coming, right? And we don't even know if Max is in there."

"My guy says there's something big happening down there tomorrow and Max has asked to observe. We get in, kill the bastard, get out clean."

"I kill the bastard," says Aisha with deceptive mildness.

"Someone kills him," says Clay. "As long as he winds up non-breathing, I don't care who does it."

"I do." Aisha sets her jaw and Jensen looks away. He's not getting involved in their creepy hate-hate-let's bone antics.

Times like these Jensen likes to play Anywhere But Here, but it's no fun on his own and Pooch is busy playing happy families in Springfield. That leaves Cougar, stationed as he always seems to be by the window.

"Psst, Cougs," he hisses and receives the expected non-response. Jensen sighs. He stretches out a hand and does what he always does when nothing else works: pretends he's a Jedi and tries to harness the Force. "Look at me," he thinks at Cougar's back. "Turn around, I am the droid you're looking for."

Afterwards, Jensen thinks what probably happened is that Cougar shifted slightly, knocking the brim of his hat against the edge of the wall and tipping it off his head. Right now all he knows is that Cougar is scooping his hat off the floor and glowering in Jensen's general direction. Jensen realizes he still has his hand outstretched and grins sheepishly.

"I promise I did not throw anything at your hat," he says. "I'm too young to die."

Cougar jams his hat back on his head and raises his eyebrows, abandoning his lookout to come over to Jensen, looking down at him with dark eyes.

"Are you glowering or smoldering?" asks Jensen. "Because sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Remember the little redhead at the doll factory who ran away every time you tried to hit on her? That."

Cougar shakes his head, smiling, and Jensen's stomach lurches like it always does. Stupid unreadable pretty eyes.

"What do you need? From me?" Cougar asks, and Jensen thinks, now that would be telling. He makes a grab for his water bottle and drains it dry trying to think of an answer that is fit for public consumption. By the time he puts the empty bottle down Clay is outlining a plan that sounds more like suicide than anything else, but hey, it's not like Jensen's social calendar is bursting at the seams, so why the hell not?

***


Cassie scrabbled through her bag, old, dirty tissues flying through the air and squashed packets of chalk hitting the mattress with a dull thump. Whatever it is, she wasn't finding it and, with a frustrated squawk, she gave up, tipping the bag upside down, the contents clattering into a heap. She sorted through the mess methodically, checking each zippered compartment of the bag, but Nick guessed it didn't turn up what she wanted when the empty bag came flying towards his head. He moved his fingers and it veered off course, thudding into the wall and sliding harmless to the floor.

"Hey," he said, mildly. "Watch the real estate."

"You're not going to get by on your looks, Nick," said Hook from behind a newspaper, long legs crossed neatly at the ankle. "We've been through this."

Nick was halfway to striking a pose to prove Hook wrong when Cassie said, "Shut up, shut up, I can't find my passport. How could I not know I was going to lose it? We leave tomorrow, what am I going to do?"

There was a rustle as Hook put down the paper. He stood up and went to sit next to Cassie, bumping her shoulder with his arm. "Passports are easy," he said. "You stick with me, babe, and we'll be fine. Wanna be Nick's sister or my kid, your choice?"

Nick grinned. "You're coming with us."

"Of course," Hook said, raising his eyebrows as if to say how could you ever doubt me, and then, "Oof!" as Cassie elbowed him in the ribs in what Nick presumed was an affectionate gesture. "Come on, you don't expect me to believe you didn't see that, do you?"

"I've been trying to see further ahead. I wasn't thinking about now. I saw you at the airport but you could have been saying goodbye. I didn't know."

"Well now you do. So what's it to be, kid?"

"Nick's sister. He doesn't call me 'kid'." Cassie poked Hook in the ribs again. He shifted out of her reach.

"Sometimes I do," said Nick, "because you are one. But I'd be happy to have a little sister. I never had one of those before."

"You know what?" Hook pulled out his wallet and fanned out blank pieces of paper, patterns rippling over them as they shifted against each other, transforming into high value bank notes. "I think we should travel first class. No one's Watching. Let's do this in style."

Nick frowned. First class wasn't exactly subtle and they had serious work to do. If they got caught before they'd even gotten started then Cassie might never see her mother again. On the other hand… He shrugged. "Hide in plain sight," he said. "Why not?"

"Yes!" said Cassie, shoving things back in her bag willy-nilly. No wonder she could never find anything. "I am so having champagne."

"You are so not," Nick said, already knowing he was going to give in.

***


Jensen doesn't think it's suicide if someone else shoots you.

The plan is exactly the amount of disaster he'd expected and they hadn't even made it past the perimeter, coming face to face with one of the random security patrols as they made their way to the door Jensen had remotely unlocked. The patrol, only four people—two men and two women—seemed to be everywhere at once, able to dodge bullets with some sort of weirdass glow-in-the-dark shielding and disappearing and reappearing at will. Clay and Aisha manage to somehow make it back outside the fence in one piece and Jensen is closing in when the bullet tears through him, exiting through the front of his chest in a shower of blood and burning flesh.

He has no time to think before his knees smash into the concrete, hands reaching towards him through the hole in the fence. He tumbles forward, blood spilling over his fist as he tries to hold himself together. The pain is excruciating, searing through him, his whole body on fire, centered on his broken heart. His eyes roll up, eyelids fluttering, and he falls, life pouring out of him like sand from a shattered hourglass.

The next thing he knows he's in the back of the van, Cougar straddling him with his hands over Jensen's heart, fierce concentration carving lines into his face. It feels like the torn ends of muscle and flesh and the shattered bones are being forced back together, sharp pulses of energy flowing through Cougar's fingers and into Jensen's chest, phantom digits inside the cavity digging through the chaos for something that's been missed. Jensen screams. It seems the appropriate thing to do.

"He's alive," he hears Aisha says and now he knows he's out of it because there's a tinge of relief in her voice.

Cougar's smile is swift and then the concentration wipes it out again and he starts muttering in rapid Spanish. There's a pinching, tearing sensation and it rips through Jensen like the shot repeated in slow motion. He screams again and then gives it up as a bad job, fainting instead.

When he wakes again it's dark and he's lying on something soft, his head resting in someone's lap, their hand brushing through his hair with gentle, repetitive strokes. He lifts a hand with desultory care, prodding at his chest. There's a bandage there, but where Jensen was expecting stabs of knife-sharp pain he finds only a dull throbbing ache. Perplexed, his fingers scrabble at the edges of the tape, tugging off the dressing. The hand in his hair stills and Jensen peers down at nothing. Not exactly nothing—there's a bright pink piece of new skin about the size of a silver dollar pancake—but there's no gaping wound, no row of neat stitches pulling jagged edges together, not even a hint of dried blood on the gauze.

"What the fuck?" Jensen sits bolt upright, sweat beading on his forehead as he catches his breath. His head swims, ears buzzing and lights sparking in front of his eyes. He moans and drops his head forward, a warm hand squeezing the back of his neck, heavy and comforting.

"Cougar, what the hell?" Jensen says, because only one person in the world exudes such concentrated silence. "No, really, what the hell? Have I been in a coma or something?"

"No." Cougar drops his hand.

Jensen lifts his head, shifting on the bed and turning to face his friend. The flickering neon from the motel sign strobes sickly yellow across Cougar's face offering the illusion that he's trembling. "Cougs, I was there. There was no way I was surviving that shot, let alone-" he gestures at his skin, "-this. What did you do, man? Are you magic?"

Cougar shrugs. "Some call it magic. Some call it a gift from God. Others think it is from the Devil. It works."

"You mean you…you really fixed me? My whole chest, heart and all, was ripped into pieces and you just…you just made it better?" Jensen goes to take his glasses off to rub them clean and then realizes he's not wearing them. He holds his hands out away from him, flexing his fingers, fascinated by the life in them.

Cougar shrugs again and looks away. "You're better alive," he says, looking back at Jensen with hot eyes.

Jensen can't breathe again and drops his hands to his thighs, steadying himself, the sound of his nails scraping against the rough denim fabric too loud in his ears.

"Blood loss," says Cougar. "Can't fix that. Lie down."

Jensen thinks about arguing, but his head hurts and he's so tired. He does as he's told. "Pooch!" he says as he's drifting off to sleep. "I knew that fucker wasn't superhuman. You fixed him. Good for you, Cougs."

"Shh," says Cougar, and lays his hand, warm and quiet, over Jensen's forehead.

This time, Jensen loses consciousness deliberately.

***


"He should have someone," said Cassie, looking at Nick's sleeping body, arm thrown over his eyes to block out the harsh glare of desert sunlight that streams uninvited through the bare window. "He needs someone."

"He doesn't have to," Kira pointed out. "I can make him happy to be alone."

Cassie resisted the urge to punch Little Miss Trouble in the face. "What, because he won't have you, he can't have anyone? Try and be more selfish." She turned away, pretending to look through her book and blinking away the traitorous tears that prickled at her eyes. "He needs to take care of someone. It doesn't have to be a girlfriend, it could be a sister or a…or a niece or something."

Kira's laugh was hollow and Cassie clenched her fists. So what if she was as transparent as glass? Nick hadn't been doing a great job of being on his own when she'd found him, the least she could leave him with was the chance to do better this time around.

"Can we fix that, Hook?"

Hook nodded, pushing a hand through disheveled hair. "A niece will be easier. I know someone who can help."

"Good." Composed, Cassie turned back to Kira. "Do you have the new identity memorized? You can't make mistakes."

"I know. It's all up here, little girl, don't worry." Kira tapped her temple and coughed, wiping the blood on her sleeve. She looked like shit. Long hair matted into lank strands, dampened with sweat, translucent skin taken one shade beyond interestingly pale into walking dead territory, lips rimmed with blue, like tattoo ink faded with years. Cassie was all for giving leeway to the terminally fucked, but she had her limits.

"Tell me," she said sharply. "Tell me again how it works."

Kira shuddered and Cassie spared a second to feel sorry for her. "The Wiper takes every trace of Nick Gant and I push the new identity on the blank slate."

"Like reformatting a hard drive," Hook said.

"Like that. I layer the new identity on him while he's unconscious, give him everything he'll need from his name to what he got for Christmas his tenth birthday. The day his brand new niece was born, hobbies, SAT scores, everything. The brain has a way of taking the information and filling it out, like a drop of paint in water. He'll never know he wasn't Corporal Jake Jensen his whole life."

"And we take him where, Hook?" She knew the answer, but she wanted to hear it again.

"There's a unit. Special Ops. My Sniff on the inside says they're in need of a tech geek. By the time Girl Wonder's done with him, our Nick will fit the bill. She'll make sure they take him, don't you worry, kid."

"Special Ops means off the grid, right?"

"Right."

Cassie pressed her lips together and twisted the handle of her bag around her wrist. "That's good. And then it's me."

Kira closed her eyes. "Then it's you and then…"

"It'll be okay," Cassie said, catching the desperate edge to her voice. She wasn't sure whom she was trying to convince.

"Sure," said Kira, not moving. "It'll be roses and candy."

Cassie went to the foot of the cot and sat at Nick's feet, resting a hand on his shin. There was nothing to do but wait.

***


"I saw her again," Jensen says, dropping the bag of groceries on the table.

"Who?" Aisha digs into the bag, and lets out a satisfied sigh as she pulls out a large, ripe orange.

Jensen wrinkles his nose as her nail bites into the flesh and the spiky, sweet scent fills the air. "The teenager with the…" he twirls his finger near his head, "the blue streaks. I saw her back in Houston and I saw her here. I think she's following me."

"You sure it's the same girl?" Clay holds up a hand and Jensen tosses him a bag of chips. "Gotta be a lot of teens out there with blue in their hair. Probably rebelling against The Man."

"Which man?" Jensen asks, genuinely intrigued.

Clay crunches a mouthful of chips and shrugs. "The," he says.

"Oh, The," Jensen says. "But seriously, Clay, it was her. Can this be a coincidence?"

"I don't believe in coincidences," says Aisha. "Should we track her? I could talk to her. Discover her motives."

"Maybe she just thinks I'm cool and sexy," Jensen says, adding, "and I don't want her maimed, so don't even-"

"I don't hurt little girls." Aisha glares at him. "What exactly do you think I am?"

Jensen feels Cougar shift behind him—poised to pull Aisha off him, no doubt—and he holds up his hands. "Awesome?" he suggests, and then, "With a fantastic sense of humor and bonhomie," as Aisha fails to control the quirk at the corner of her lips. Out of the corner of his eye Jensen sees Cougar stand down. Crisis averted.

"Okay, new order. Draw us a sketch, Jensen. If any of us see the young lady we bring her in—no damage. It can't hurt to talk to her."

"I can do better than that," says Jensen, and hacks into the city's camera feeds, tracking her movements in relation to his own. "And violins, as they don't say in France," he says after a few minutes, spinning his laptop to display her three quarter profile in stark black and white on the screen. "My stalker, lady and gentlemen. Cute, isn't she?"

The girl is of average height, her build slim, and there's something about the set of her chin that reminds Jensen of his niece. He hopes he'll be super cool Uncle Jake the first time she dyes her hair, but he's not counting on it. The picture isn't razor sharp, but if Jensen had to choose the right word for her expression, he'd have to go with 'haunted'. Her hand is at her shoulder, gripping her bag tightly and her other arm is held close against her chest, hand tucked into her armpit.

The rubber band sensation is back with a vengeance again and with it a formless worrying, like maybe he left the gas on three states ago and somewhere a room is blowing itself to oblivion and there's nothing he can do about it. Jensen shakes his head and winces, rubbing over the new skin on his chest.

"Jensen?" Cougar's voice is deep with concern and he's taking a step towards Jensen as he looks up. As gratifying as a worried Cougar is, now is not the time. With impatience and almost without thinking, Jensen moves two fingers and Cougar stumbles backwards, only stopping himself from falling by throwing out an arm to catch at an unoccupied chair.

Jensen blinks. "Cougs, man, grace of a cat. What happened? You trip over your own feet?"

Cougar simply stares at him, eyes round with shock.

"What?" Jensen inspects himself. Everything seems like it's in the right place. He pats at his face with both hands. Nope. Nothing untoward there. "Seriously, Cougar, what?"

The muttering in Spanish he's used to. It's when Cougar crosses himself that Jensen really starts to freak out.

"I'm going out," he says, and stands, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair.

"You just got back," Aisha points out.

"So I did." Jensen resists the urge to slam the door and takes the stairs two at a time. He doesn't know what just happened. All he knows that he needs to get the hell out of Dodge.

***


Nick ran away for the first time when he was five. That was the day his dad lost his shit at something bad on the news and threw the TV out of the window. Without touching it. Nick gazed, saucer-eyed, at the space the TV used to be and then at his dad who was sitting, staring at his hands and trembling. And then Nick turned and ran.

He got two streets away before he slowed down and was immediately distracted by his friend Lori playing in her front yard. She had a cement truck in one hand and a Barbie with wild, chopped hair in the other and was pretending to sob hysterically one second and laughing maniacally the next. Nick liked Lori. She never remembered her crayons and he was always lending his to her. She gave him fruit rollups in return. As introductions to mutual aid went, it was a good one.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

Lori looked up, startled at the interruption, and dropped the cement truck, which started rolling down the gentle gradient, stopping at Nick's feet. He stared down at it for a second and then stooped down, turned it around, pointed his fingers at it and twisted. It was as if a door in his mind creaked open the tiniest crack and rays of bright, golden light bled through, like they'd been trying to escape forever. The truck rolled forward a couple of inches and then stopped. Nick narrowed his eyes, concentrated and twisted his fingers again. This time the truck moved about a foot.

"That is so cool," breathed Lori and Nick looked up at her, grinning. "Can you do it again?"

"I think so," said Nick, and Lori tumbled down the lawn to meet him.

It couldn't have been more than five minutes later when his dad found them, Nick rolling the truck back and forth over Lori's Barbie's body without touching it and Lori laughing so hard he thought she'd burst.

"Nick, you need to come eat your dinner," his dad said. "I'm sorry, Lori. Maybe you can play some more tomorrow."

They moved out of state the next day.

***


For no real reason he can figure out, Jensen decides the best way to track his stalker girl is to wander the city in random patterns. Every time he comes to an intersection he tosses a coin to decide his direction. It's getting late now and businesses are closing. There are fewer people on the streets and most of them are not skinny teen girls, not solo anyway. Jensen is pretty sure there's some rule somewhere that states teens must only be seen in groups of between four and ten.

"Perv," one girl calls as he gives her group a casual glance in case Blue Streak is hiding in their midst.

"I'm not-" he starts, but for once in his life decides that discretion is, in fact, the better part of valor. The last thing he needs is to be seen getting a talking to from a LEO. He shoves his hands in his pockets and keeps on walking.

What exactly was with Cougar? It's not like Jensen had made him trip over, right? Like that's even possible.

And yet.

Jensen pulls one hand out of his pocket and absentmindedly scratches his arm, sucking in a breath as a sharp, scraping pain lets him know he's scratched right through the skin. Man, he needs to pick up some cream or something. His niece had had eczema back when she'd been a baby. She'd had to sleep in these white, cotton gloves to stop her scratching at herself and her nails had been clipped every day. Poor little mite had cried herself sick with frustration. That kind of stuff is genetic, isn't it? But surely he'd have had it before now if he was going to.

Jensen sighs, spotting an intersection up ahead, digging in his pocket for the coin. He checks left and right, catching the coin in mid air without looking at it as he sees her. She's at a table outside a café, scribbling in a book. Jensen's heart thumps a painful beat and he swears it's not just his imagination that it hurts more now since he was shot through it. He puts his hand over his ribcage, pressing down hard, and slips into the shadows, unwilling to spook her. Chasing some kid through city streets would not go any way to mitigating the pervert accusation now, would it?

He slides into the chair across from her, leaning forward and wrapping his hand around her wrist.

"Don't think about running," he says, doing his best Clay impression. "Because I found you once and I'll find you again."

The girl looks up and her eyes are warm and friendly. "Actually," she says, "I found you." She twists her book around and pushes it towards Jensen. He takes it, looks at the page, and recoils in shock.

There on the black paper, in gaudy color, is the tableau of the two of them, right down to the clothes they're wearing. There's an arrow pointing towards Jensen's head and it's labeled, 'Jake?'

"You're a crappy artist," he says, and there's a whole host of rubber bands in his head. Twang! Twang! Twang! One after the other. Jensen has to suppress the sudden urge to crush the young woman opposite him in the biggest of bear hugs. What the hell is happening to him?

The girl laughs. "I know. So very crappy. but you still know it's us, right?"

"Right."

"Coffee?" The girl beckons over the waitress and orders two coffees, Jensen's she makes a decaff. Good instincts, Jensen thinks, leg jittering out of control.

"How did you-" Jensen starts, but the girl sticks out her hand and Jensen finds himself taking and shaking it.

"I'm Steph," she says. "And you're Jake Jensen. Nice to meet you again."

Jensen squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head violently. "What do you mean 'again'? Who are you and what is going on here and does your mom just let you do that to your hair?" That's right, Jensen, he tells himself as Steph gives him a scornful stare, concentrate on the important things.

"I'm seventeen. My mom trusts me," she says. "As for the rest, you want to do it out here on the street or do you want to bring me back to your friends so we only have to go through this once?"

Jensen would let his jaw drop only it's beginning to dawn on him that it will only be the first time of many and he doesn't particularly want to dislocate it, so he says, "What about the coffee?"

Steph grins and points behind her to where the waitress is walking towards them with to-go cups in her hands.

"Okay, then," says Jensen, keeping his jaw firmly up. "To the Batcave."

Steph pays the check and waves away the offer of change. "What do you know?" she says suspiciously, her sunny face suddenly stormy.

"Nothing. Really. Nothing."

He must have been convincing because the storm dissipates and she slips an arm through his as they walk back through the streets. She keeps up a running commentary the whole way and Jensen figures its because it reminds him of spending time with his niece that it seems so familiar.

***


Cassie had always known her mom could see the future. Her favorite playthings as soon as she'd learned to grab and crawl were the discarded sketchbooks full of versions of future events: some frozen forever in that single moment, never to become reality, others flowing on into the sea of possibilities, action begetting consequence forever. None of that had mattered to her as a baby, though. They were fun to rip and gnaw on and use for her own proto-scribblings.

More than once her mom had levered a book out of her pincer-like grip saying, "No, sweetie, not that one, that's what we call a work in progress. Just like you." Then she'd swing Cassie high and bring her down over her upturned face, blowing raspberries into Cassie's belly until she hiccupped with laughter.

So of course, when Cassie realized she too was seeing the future and not just playing out probabilities—a successful raid on the cookie cupboard, for example—the first person she told was her mom.

"Oh, Cassie," her mom said, voice quivering. "A special gift for a special girl. I'm so proud of you." She hugged Cassie tight and then said, "Hmm, you know, I was going to use these myself, but I think I'd like you to have them." She crossed the room to a bureau, opening the top drawer and pulling something out.

Kneeling in front of Cassie she held out the gifts. A drawing book made from sturdy black construction paper and a set of colored chalks. Cassie lit up.

"My own book," she breathed, taking them with a reverence she didn't usually show for her possessions. She plopped down onto the carpet, cross-legged and opened the book. Taking out a blue chalk she wrote in careful hand on the inside cover, 'Cassandra Holmes' and then she waited for the future to come.

Later, Cassie realized there was no way her mom wouldn't have seen this coming, and that there was certainly no way that the woman whose fine pencil drawings were precise to the tiniest line would use the blunt force of chalks to depict her visions. She'd prepared for this day, from naming her kid after a doomed prophetess—gee, thanks, mom—down to the exact expression of delighted surprise on her face. Cassie couldn't blame her, knowing what she did about the flipside to her 'gift', for wanting to give her daughter such a hopeful entry into the world of Watching.

It didn't last. Nothing ever did.

***


Cougar won't meet Jensen's eyes when he brings Steph back to the room. Jensen can't tell if it's because he's still pissed for whatever reason or because he's apologetic for the whole You-Are-Devil-Spawn crossing thing. He's interested in the girl, though; they all are.

"Hi," says Steph, with a small wave. "I feel like I should curtsey or something. You all look so serious." She puts one booted foot behind the other and bobs.

Jensen grins. "Sit here," he says, pointing to the chair Cougar had grabbed onto. "If you want."

"Thanks." She sits down and looks up at them all. "You're not all gonna loom like that, are you? Because I don't really intimidate well and I'd rather not get a crick in my neck."

"Isn't she great?" Jensen says, sweeping them all with a proud gaze. "That's poise, that is. When I was seventeen I was either pounding the old, er, you know, or getting yelled at by the staff sergeant for tardiness. Again."

Steph casts him an odd glance, but Jensen's used to that so lets it flow off him like all the others.

"Franklin Clay," says Clay, pointing to himself. He jerks a thumb in Aisha's direction as he sits down on the bed.

"Aisha al-Fadhil," she says after a considered pause.

Cougar, leaning against the window ledge, says nothing.

"The silent one is Cougar. Carlos Alvarez, if we're getting specific," Jensen says, and Cougar flicks the brim of his hat in acknowledgement or greeting—it could go either way.

"Steph Brown," says Steph. "And your Batcave is boring."

"Ohhh, now I get it," says Jensen, the enlightenment on his face balanced by the puzzled expressions on the others. "I made a ref- It doesn't matter." He turns back to Steph. "Seriously? Steph Brown?"

She shrugs. "Don't blame the parents—I'm adopted. They only got to change one name."

"But you must have read the-"

"Jensen!" Clay's voice cuts the question in half. "Focus." He turns his attention to Steph. "Were you following us?"

"Not exactly," she says, and, though she sounds completely relaxed, Jensen can see her knuckles whiten as she clutches the bag in her lap. "I was following him." She nods her head in Jensen's direction. He takes a little bow and thinks he hears a disgusted snort from Cougar. Jealous much?

"Why?"

Steph pulls a face. "I'm not exactly sure."

"What do you mean you're not exactly sure?" Aisha takes a swift step towards her, dropping down to her haunches and staring up at the girl with a fierce expression. She jabs her in the chest with one finger. "Be sure."

Steph's eyes slide towards Jensen, eyebrows paused between concern and amusement, and he says, "Back off, Aisha."

"I would appreciate it," says Steph. "Woman to woman. You've got to know being poked in the boob isn't the best bonding experience."

Aisha scowls, but backs off anyway, retreating to the bed beside Clay. "I'm doing this for her," she says to Jensen, "Not you."

"Like I'd ever imagine it differently," says Jensen, relieved he's not going to have to take her on. The only question would be exactly how hard he'd lose.

"Let's start again," says Steph, smooth and composed. "There are two things you need to know. The first is that I know him. Knew him. But not…him. It's complicated." She barrels straight on without letting Jensen even get one of his million thoughts out. "The second is that I can see the future. I'm psychic."

Not so long ago Jensen would have laughed at that statement. Probably pointed also. Definitely mocked. Now he simply stares between her and Cougar and then over at the others who are doing the exact same thing. Yeah, like his miraculous recovery was going to escape their notice.

"You can see the future?" Clay confirms.

"Yep. It's a thing I do. You know, like ballet or decoupage."

And Clays says, "Outstanding."

Aisha narrows her eyes. "Do you know what is going to happen to us?"

Steph nods, stretching out her legs and knocking her toes together. "You're all going to die. Me too." She lets the shocked silence stretch out until it seems to Jensen that the air is too thin to breathe and then her face relaxes into a small smile. "Unless the smart guy over here learns to use his gift." She indicates Jensen with a flick of her wrist.

Jensen blinks. "Whoa, lady! My what?"

This time the snort from Cougar has a definite I-told-you-so edge to it.

"You're a Mover," she tells him. "How have you not figured this out yet?"

"A M…a what?"

Steph pats her lap. "You want me to tell you a bedtime story?"

Jensen can only gawp and is grateful to Aisha who says, "I think you'd better."

***


Division in the USA got started late compared to most developed countries, but they worked harder to catch up. It was, after all, the American Way. In 1950 the first children were brought in—'troubled' kids from group homes and foster care—the kind that wouldn't be missed. The Collectors scanned news reports and papers for indications of special talents; poltergeists, inexplicable deaths, suspiciously high test scores, the standards.

Not all the kids they collected were psychic, some were simply unlucky or unusual, but many were. They were poked, prodded, measured and classified, split into groups and experimented on. Their gifts were honed, but the outcomes were too small, too slow and so the scientists dreamed up new ways to push these still-forming brains to the limit and beyond. The high level of attrition was considered acceptable given the constant hovering possibility of nuclear warfare.

It never occurred to Division Management to be scared of what they were creating. A complicated program of propaganda masquerading as education produced a steady diet of True Believers, and if the rumor spread that it was those that didn't believe enough in the program that came back from The Room in body bags, so much the better. As the few surviving children grew into adulthood, Division found that even if they hadn't yet learned how to max out their powers so they could be used effectively against enemies of the state, they could be wielded to increase their own ranks. And so Watchers, Sniffers, Pushers and Readers (the Finder Four) were set to work, and America's middle classes, too, sleepwalked through the kidnap of their children.

The first 'real' soldiers were the Stitches, scattered among the Armed Forces, discreetly mending what should have been impossible, scouting battlefields and enemy encampments for those in opposition that might recover and ending their lives with swift agony. They were vital in high danger black ops missions, forbidden from revealing their 'gift' on pain of death. Graphic, bloody death at the hands of the Bleeders. Most died anyway, caught in crossfire or by IEDs as they pursued their single focus: save us, kill them. The reports always said they were working against orders. They never said from whom the orders came.

Division saw commies under every bed. They had seen versions of the future ruled by the red flag of China. No way in hell was that going to happen on their watch. The first Dark Teams were put into action behind the Iron Curtain. Two Shadows to one of the Finder Four so they could work in shifts, keeping the Finder blocked from the enemy gaze. The fall of the Berlin Wall? That was one of the success stories—no Pusher had ever mass-controlled that many people at once before. The parties in headquarters went on for days. Far too often, though, the picture was grim with many teams never heard from again. No matter, there were always more being trained up to take their place.

Everything in Division's garden was rosy. All except the inability to perfect the drug that would turn the most mediocre talent into a power to be feared and honed into a perfect weapon. There was pressure from the oversight committee—the program was costing too much for too little, shouldn't they be using the cash to fund their own pet projects?—and pressure from within with Management exhorting longer hours, greater commitment, better results now, now, now. With the demands on them increasing, the testing program was accelerated with no concomitant improvement in the mortality rate. Division would find it hard to sustain this level of loss.

Henry Carver, snatched from the airport years before as he cleared Customs in this new country his parents had brought him to, stared through the glass at the girl lying in the bed, still and obedient. It was a new life he had had after all. It was simply not the one his parents had hoped for. They probably didn't even remember they had once had a son. The needle slid into the girl's arm as easily as a knife into butter. For a second nothing happened. Then the convulsions started and the machine beeped out a rapid beat, faster and faster, resolving into a high-pitched whine. Henry frowned. Not again.

***


"Well, shit," says Jensen and Cassie nods.

"I'd say that covers it," she agrees.

"But I can't do what you said," Jensen says, turning his hands over and over, trying to see if they look different now, somehow. "I can't telekinetic at stuff."

Cougar makes a noise that Jensen can only classify as a harrumph. "You can," he says.

Jensen frowns. "Wait. You mean before? With you falling over and waving at me with your crossy arm of blame? You're saying I-? Wow." He looks at his hands again with newfound respect and then back up at Cougar, narrowing his eyes. "It's not like I did it on purpose," he says. "And where do you get off being all Judge Judy? You've not exactly been honest this whole time either, have you? You're a-" he whirls around to face Steph. "He heals. What's that?"

She raises her eyebrows. "Stitch," she says.

He whirls back, getting to his feet and stepping right into Cougar's personal space. "You're a Stitch," he says. "And you know you are. At least I had no clue I could do weird shit." He stops, horrified. "Are you working for them?" he asks. "Are you working for Division?"

For a second, hurt flickers across Cougar's face, and then he sneers. "We do not treat children that way in my country," he says, adding, "American."

Jensen recoils as if he'd been hit in the gut, groping his way back to his seat and tapping at his keyboard though the screen swims in front of his eyes. He misses Pooch so badly. If he were here he'd be cracking some joke about never being able to find his keys and chilling everyone out, even Cougar.

"Children," Clay says with equanimity. "Let's not."

"But what about the other part?" Aisha asks. "How do you know—or not know—Jensen?"

Jensen stops tapping.

Steph furrows her eyebrows. "I don't exactly know." She shifts in the chair, tucking her feet around the legs. "Look, you've already accepted a ton of crazy sounding shit so I'll just tell it like it is, okay?"

Aisha nods. "Go ahead."

"I didn't know I could read the future. Or, no. I didn't know I knew. Had known." She rolls her eyes. "The tenses could get pretty complicated. Roll with it. So I figured it out my fourteenth birthday when I dreamed I opened all my presents. Only when I did it for real it was exactly the same. Not a single surprise, not even mom bringing the cake in and nearly tripping over some escaped ribbon. It was crazy. I was this ordinary kid in this ordinary suburb and suddenly I'm some kind of psychic? Too random."

She shakes her head, laughing at herself. "So I was going to call Traylor—that's my best friend—and tell her everything, but something stopped me. Like, that's how it literally felt. That I could open my mouth and it would be like it was bricked up. I couldn't get it out. I couldn't tell anyone. I don't know why. I was fourteen. I figured magic was out, but maybe aliens? I had nothing to go on.

"I started drawing what I saw. Most of it didn't make sense at all. Some of it was a no-brainer like Traylor breaking up with Sam, like that didn't happen on a bi-weekly basis, but other stuff was more complex, like my dad having a heart attack. Only that never happened because when I saw it I panicked and nagged him until he went to the doctor for tests. He wound up having an operation to have his arteries exploded or whatever. The doc said if he hadn't had the surgery he could have suffered a fatal coronary within weeks. That's when I figured out that the future isn't set, we can change it."

She looks knowingly between Cougar and Jensen. "Which is probably for the best," she says.

Jensen resists the urge to snatch her book from her and flip through the pages until he finds the future she's referring to. "More about me," he says instead.

"Hold your horses, bucko," says Steph. "I'm getting to you. So the flashes, they were more random. Faces I didn't know. Places I'd never been. I started seeing patterns and then one day last year I met this guy. Or rather, I put myself in a position to meet him. I'd never seen him outside my head in my life, but his face when he saw me? It was like…I don't know how to describe it. Like he was so pleased to see me but at the same time the whole world crashed in on him. Does that even make sense? I don't know.

"He said, 'Cassie,' like he was testing out the sound of it and I said, 'I'm Steph,' and he shook his head and apologized for getting it wrong and told me his name was Pinky. Long story short, he's a Shadow. We knew him, too, Jake. Back when we weren't us."

"Back when we weren't us?" Jensen echoes, racking his brains for anyone called Pinky that isn't a genetically-engineered cartoon mouse. He comes up empty.

"He wouldn't tell me who we were, but when I showed him what I'd drawn he told me enough to get me started. He said that we were into some bad shit with this place called Division and that we'd had to go so deep underground that we'd gone through a total Wipe and a Pusher called Kira had given us new identities. There was someone else—a Shifter—who helped. He said I shouldn't go looking, I should be the kid I'd never gotten to be before. I told him that I thought the future--a future—depended on me finding you and he said he'd help keep tabs on you, but we shouldn't meet again. For my safety, apparently. Even though he's a Shadow and could totally keep me hidden, but whatever."

"Why didn't you say something the first time I saw you?"

Steph shrugs. "I wasn't a hundred percent sure it was you. Besides, it wasn't time yet."

"So there are other people out there who know who you are, both of you?" Clay asks. "This Kira and the Shifter. Can't you track them down, too? Get them to tell you what they know."

"Kira's dead," says Steph dispassionately, and Jensen feels it again. That sense of loss that had swept through him the first time he'd seen Steph. "The drug that Division wanted to perfect? It worked on her. She was the best Pusher they'd seen, Pinky told me. Only there were these side effects and only Division had the medicine to keep them at bay. She chose to break ties with them knowing what that would mean for her. I guess she was pretty brave. I wish I remembered her."

"Me too," says Jensen, his mind and heart racing with no winning post in sight. Who the hell is he if he isn't Jake Jensen? Who had he been before and what the hell had he been doing taking some kid into what seemed like a doomed fight? How can it be that the memories of holding his beautiful baby niece in his arms, soothing her to sleep on those hot, summer nights when she was restless and itchy are not memories at all? Nothing in his head is real any more. Nothing.

Jensen's heart hammers in his chest, more and more insistent, but it's only when the pounding starts in his head that he realizes he's no longer breathing. He gasps in a deep, ragged breath and jerks forward, vomiting in a neat pile between his feet. "Sorry," he moans, chest heaving with exertion.

There's a flat palm on his back and at first Jensen wants to shuck it off. He doesn't need healing, thank you very much. But then he allows himself to feel it and it's nothing but the solid presence of a warm hand, comforting and real. Head between his knees, he gropes blindly sideways, colliding with Cougar's torso, twisting the soft cotton of Cougar's shirt between his fingers. He holds on.

***


"Honey, there aren't going to be any roses left if you attack them like that," Jolene points out from the porch where she's nursing the baby.

Pooch aims one final vicious blow at a branch that obviously thought that now the time was safe to come out of hiding. "Take that, sucker," he mutters and then puts the blades down, turning to his wife with his best sheepish grin. "I guess I got carried away," he says.

"I guess you did." Jolene studies him up and down, the warm affection on her face shaded by something Pooch can't read at this distance. "You know, there's two of us to come home for now," she says.

Pooch wipes his brow with the back of his arm. "I know that," he starts, and then, "Wait. Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"I'm saying that I can't afford any more broken crockery and I'd like my garden to end the year with some plants still alive. I know you're desperate to know what's happening with the others, and I understand. I do."

"You don't like it, though."

"I love you," she says simply as if that's all the explanation needed, and it is.

"I promise I won't make you go through the same bu…the same bad stuff again, baby." Pooch climbs the porch steps and squats at Jolene's feet, rubbing his hand across his shirt before touching his son's cheek with a gentle finger. He looks up at his wife. "I'm not intending to die, but if I do, I'll make damn sure you know it's for real this time."

It's a measure of how fucked up things have been in the last year that this sends a wash of relief over Jolene's face.

"I'm coming back," says Pooch. "If it kills me, I'm coming back."

***


Steph is very specific. The attack on Division has to take place in three days at 10.15 am. When Jensen asks if they all still die she refuses to answer.

"What about Max?" asks Clay and Steph says,

"Who, this guy?" thumbing through her book and showing a page with a burning skeleton with one gloved hand.

Clay nods. "I guess that'll do."

She doles out errands. Aisha and Clay are in charge of explosives, Cougar's on watch, and she heads out to meet up with a Charger called Hook who Pinky's put her on to.

"You going to be okay alone?" Jensen asks. "What if it's a trap?"

"It's not," she says. "It's cool, don't worry."

"Yeah, yeah, you saw it," says Jensen, still unused to this weird new world. "What do I do?"

"Practice."

"Practice what? The male lead for 'Time of My Life'?"

Steph shoulders her bag. "You know what," she says. "Start small. Pinky said you used to be great with dice. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not."

"I don't have any dice," Jensen is saying, but the door closes behind her and he's left standing in the middle of the room, all alone but for Cougar.

"Practice," he mutters. "I don't need practice. They don't call me 'Magic Fingers' for nothing." Well, to be honest, they don't call him that at all. Roque had once, back when they'd been running from yet another op and Jensen had to hack into a feed to find out if they were going to get rescued or get dead. He'd done it in record time. He'd remembered Roque's compliment because they were rare as hen's teeth.

Jensen drops to the bed, considering. Huh. Maybe the way he handles computers is a different side to the whole Moving thing. Maybe the way he sees things, shifts things around so it does what he wants instead of what it wants, maybe that's a manifestation of his powers. It makes as much sense as anything does these days. There is an empty takeout box on the bedside table, Jensen stares at it, thinking about how it would look on its side. He tilts his head slightly, forehead furrowed with concentration and points two fingers at the box, twisting them in the direction he wants the box to move.

He thinks it trembles. Maybe.

A couple of hours later and he's ready to pull his hair out in frustration. He's worked his way down to a freaking piece of lint he found on the floor and he can't even get that to move. What the fuck use is he going to be when they attack Division?

Cougar says, "You're trying too hard."

"Huh?" Jensen looks up from his position on the floor, flat on his belly.

"It is part of you, hnh? You are making it too…external," Cougar says, glancing away from the window. "It should be simple."

"You're simple," says Jensen crossly, struggling to his elbows and flipping Cougar the bird. His eyes widen in amazement as Cougar's hat flies backwards off his head, thudding against the window.

With a growl, Cougar turns and grabs it, shoving it back on. Jensen grins and, as soon as Cougar lets go, flips him the bird with the other hand. The hat flies off again, this time in the opposite direction, and Jensen holds it in the air, hovering just out of Cougar's reach. Cougar snatches for it and Jensen crooks a finger, pulling it away. Again, Cougar lunges and again Jensen shifts its direction, laughing at the dark expression on Cougar's face.

Instead of going for his hat again, Cougar walks over to the desk and picks up Jensen's laptop, dangling it from one hand, daring him with a look. You want to play, little boy? it says. With a swift shove, Jensen pushes the hat back towards Cougar.

"Don't hurt my baby," he pleads.

Cougar reaches out for his hat, taking his time putting it on at his exact preferred angle. He puts the laptop down and then, before Jensen can move, he's crossed the floor and levers Jensen over with a foot under his ribs. He drops down over Jensen's hips and grabs his wrists, pinning him and staring down at him with piercing eyes.

Jensen's mouth is suddenly dry and even if it had been a good idea for him to say everything that's in his head right now, he can't do it.

"No," says Cougar, and it makes Jensen want to squirm only that would be a very, very bad thing to do right now. He can't break the stare, though, the skin heating up on his face under Cougar's laser-like gaze.

There's a waft of cool air over his legs as the door opens.

"Looks like I got here just in time," says Pooch, amused. "Who's on watch?"

And if Jensen expects Cougar to jump off him as if he'd been burnt then he's in for a pleasant surprise. He gets to his feet nice and slow, running his hands up Jensen's arms and tugging him into a sitting position. Letting go, he reaches for Jensen's chin, pulling something out of his goatee with a smile that makes Jensen's toes curl. He nods and Jensen holds out his hand, Cougar dropping the useless piece of lint into it, and then he walks away, resuming his position at the window. Someday when they're not facing imminent death and destruction, this is going somewhere. It's already been a long time coming; Jensen figures he can probably learn to wait.

"Pooch!" he says, grinning up at his friend. "Look at what I can do!"

Pooch squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. "Some things are best kept to yourself, Jensen," he says. "Do we need to go through this again?"

***


"Brace yourself," says Steph, flinging the door open and, "Who are you?" with a stern frown directed at Pooch.

"This is Pooch. He's one of us," says Jensen. "And he's already fixed transpo so you can stop scowling now. Brace myself for what?"

Steph studies Pooch for another couple of seconds, obviously liking what she sees as her shoulders relax and chin drops. She knocks lightly on the doorframe, not looking at Jensen. "The Changer. He knows us."

"How?"

She shrugs, examining a knot in the wooden frame with her fingertip. "I thought he was Mr. Parore, the guy from the adoption agency. He came every year. Like a family health check up, I guess. He's…"

"I can speak for myself, kid," says a voice outside.

"I'm not a kid," Steph protests as the new guy walks in.

"Hi, Corporal. Bet you didn't think you'd see me again, huh?"

"Hernandez?" Jensen stares and then takes the proffered hand, shaking it. "That's right, isn't it? It's Hernandez?"

The man is almost as tall as Jensen with dark hair and burnished skin, and handsome but nondescript features that could make changing his identity as easy as changing his name. He looks amused. "Could have been," he says. "I lose track. Let's see." He takes out his wallet, flipping it open and pulls out a piece of paper the size of a credit card. He turns it over in his hand and Jensen watches in astonishment as patterns and colors ripple across it and in a split second it has become a military ID. Hernandez-Parore-Whoever passes it over to Jensen. "That look about right?"

Jensen studies it. It even feels like a proper plastic ID. The detail is incredible, right down to the holographic watermark. The ID is for a Private Roberto Hernandez.

"You were my driver," Jensen says. "You picked me up in the base outside Bogota and drove me into the jungle, to that godforsaken compound where I joined up with Clay and the guys." 'Where my life began,' he doesn't say because he's not sure what to believe any more.

"Got it in one," says the guy.

"I don't get it. How can you be Steph's adoption agency guy and a pool driver for the Company? Unless…"

The guy nods, sitting down on the only empty chair, crossing his legs at the knee. "I knew you both before. Don't ask me who you were or what you did because I had that part Wiped. I only know who you are now." He rubs the heel of his hand along his thigh. "I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you more."

He sounds genuinely regretful and Jensen finds himself warming to the guy. "What name are we using today?" he asks. "I'm partial to Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned Smith, myself."

"You can call me Hook," says Hook. "Welcome to your passage into Division."

There's a flurry at the door and then it slams shut, Clay, Aisha and about a dozen plastic bags doing nothing to lessen the increasing atmosphere of chaos.

"Who's the loiterer?" asks Clay. "We watching him?"

"He's watching us," says Steph. "That's our Shadow. While he's within twenty feet no Sniff is gonna find any of us with, you know, powers. And Pinky's strong, he can keep Watchers off our backs too. He's our best hope of getting this done under the radar. You'll need to buy him a lot of coffee—he's not allowed meth since an incident with a broomstick, a goose and a bag of kitty litter, apparently."

"Done," says Clay and then, "Pooch!" as he spots his colleague slouched in the armchair. There's a touching reunion all around, which is great and all, but then there's a whole lot of noise and it's hot and confusing and Jensen is struggling to cope so he twists his fingers and pops the three lit bulbs one by one. The room is plunged into darkness.

"Well, shit," says Steph. "You figured it out."

And Clays says, "Outstanding."

***


In the end they stroll into Division as if they owned the place.

"Are you sure?" Jensen asks Steph, because this seems like more suicide to him and he's been there, done that, no returns.

"Trust me," she says and Jensen can't help himself. He does. Whether he's been Pushed or his memories of her were so vivid they could never be entirely erased he doesn't know and doesn't care. If shit goes down and she's there? He's right there, too.

Pinky sticks to them so close there's no way anyone is picking up traces of Steph, Jensen or Cougar, and Pooch is hanging way back with the bus. What they see coming is Aisha and Clay, dressed to kill in more ways than one, with briefcases and IDs and clearances up the wazoo, kindly provided by Hook who's safely out of the way with Pooch ready to break out Plan B if it all goes ass skywards.

They all have their roles. Steph and Pinky will peel off and get to the dorms, freeing the inmates, assuming there are still kids in there left alive. Aisha and Clay will lay down the firepower and Jensen will set the explosives with Cougar as backup.

"And I kill Max," Aisha states baldly.

"If you see him, sure," says Clay. "But stick to the plan, Aisha. I don't want to die before you get a chance to kill me."

Jensen uses his power to fritz the camera feed from the front gates. Not all eyes on them would be psychic eyes and it's not like he and Cougs are being subtle about the ordnance they are carrying. They get past the front gates on Clay's charm and Hook's papers and are suddenly in the compound. It's strange; even the quality of light seems different on this side of the fence, raw-edged and vicious, the sun's reflected glare glinting off the low, metal buildings as if daring anyone to hide. There's one main two-story building with corridors of corrugated steel linking to outhouses, some with large symbols painted on the doors. Jensen recognizes them as hazard signs. To the far side of the building there's another watchtower set in the perimeter fence, but from this distance it looks to be unmanned, a plank hanging loose from the roof at an awkward angle.

Jensen's heart beats harder as he sweeps his gaze across the grey concrete expanse and catches sight of a dark stain right by the fence—his own blood not quite washed away. Cougar puts a steadying hand on his arm and he breathes through circled lips, calming himself. He taps his chest to remind himself he's whole now. Cougar's hands did their work well.

The first sight of security patrol sends shivers down his spine and Jensen reaches for Steph's hand, unsure which one of them is trembling. But the guards greet Aisha and Clay pleasantly enough, asking for their papers and then moving on without so much as furrowed brow.

They're heading on towards the entrance Jensen had identified in the blueprints as the best access point when there's a shout from the guards.

"Sir, Ma'am, stop!"

They all freeze. Shit. Shit shit shit this is it. The game is up, they're done for now. Jensen pulls Steph closer, ready to shove her behind him if the situation worsens. He feels Cougar step in on the other side.

One of the women detaches from the patrol and jogs towards them, stopping only a couple of feet away. "I'm sorry, but I just remembered the code on the door was altered early. Something to do with our special guest." She looks conspiratorially at Aisha. "I hear his clearance is so high the President has to ask him for permission to take a piss."

Aisha does her best friendly smile. Jensen's seen sharks do better. "Do you have the new code?"

"Sure. It's 3-7-2 X-ray Alpha 4-8 Yankee. You got that? I'd write it down only it's against the rules."

"Thank you, I have it."

"Great." The guard backs up a couple of steps. "Maybe I'll see you around," she says, turning and jogging back to her patrol.

Jensen sees one of the men elbow her in the woman in the ribs. She pushes him back, laughing. It all seems so normal. One of those people probably killed him and he's probably going to pay them back with interest. He has a moment of complete and utter disconnect and then Steph exhales, leaning her forehead against his arm and, just like that, he's back on board.

"Got yourself a fan," Clay says under his breath. "You sure that's not her digits she just gave you?"

Aisha snorts. "Let's get on with this, shall we?"

The code works like a charm. Inside, the hallway stretches into the distance, the flickering of the fluorescent bulbs lending the endless white an eerie blue glow. Jensen fritzes the cameras again and opens the internal security door with hardly a thought. The more he does it, the easier it gets.

Clay looks at his watch. "Okay, Losers, we have ten minutes to do this thing. There will be no coming back for stragglers, you understand? You have your missions. Once they're complete, get out and get to the rendezvous. Do you understand?"

Jensen nods. Like hell he's not going back for anyone if they need it, but Clay doesn't have to hear that.

"Then get gone," Clay says with a clap of his hands. Cougar tosses him an AK47 and a belt clip loaded with ammo and the same to Aisha. "Lock and load," says Clay and he and Aisha run up the hallway.

Pinky says, "God, I never wanted to be back in this place again. Come on, Steph, this way."

"Wait," says Jensen and grabs her into a hug. "Get out safe, okay?" he says into her hair.

"I was kind of counting on it," she says. "My mom's expecting me home tomorrow and she'll so ground me if I'm dead."

Jensen lets her go. "Fight you for the backseat," he says and watches Pinky grab her hand and run her up the hallway, veering left past the door and out of sight. He turns and looks at Cougar.

"We're kind of exposed now, buddy," he says. "I guess we should do our thing."

Cougar nods, taking point as they race through the building, the distant sound of gunfire telling them that Clay and Aisha are performing their diversion with enthusiasm. The blueprints in combination with Steph's visions have given them their target: chemical storage next to the central laboratory complex, where huge tanks of ammonia are only going to make Jensen's job easier.

There's gunfire behind him and Jensen whirls around to see a guard slumped against the wall, a neat shot through his forehead. "Thanks, Cougs," he says and Cougar nods. Keep going.

The storage facility is at the center of the lab complex, through several rooms and Jensen wrenches open the door to a small office. A white-coated man with grey hair and wire-framed glasses stares at them, grabbing the phone off the wall. Jensen shakes his head and twists his fingers, yanking the cord out of the wall. Then he flicks his wrist towards the guy, a bright pulsing light curving like a shield in front of him, pushing the scientist up into the air. Jensen holds him there while Cougar checks the other rooms.

"I…I…It's you!" the man stutters, his feet flailing uselessly in midair. "Everyone said you were dead. Or an urban myth. Or both."

Jensen's stomach lurches. "Who am I?" he asks.

The scientist looks puzzled. "But you…?"

"Who am I?" roars Jensen, flicking his fingertips out and sending the man smashing into the wall.

"N…N…Nick Gant," the man says, the front of his lab coat staining yellow. "You're Nick Gant. The man who took on Carver and won."

"What about the girl?"

"Wh..which one?"

Which one? Was there more than one? Jensen's head is spinning with the effort of keeping the man in the air and himself together. Nick Gant. Who's the girl? "Not Kira," he says. "Not the one you experimented on, you sick fuck. The other one. The kid."

"Ca…Cass…Cassie Holmes. We had her mother. She…she…sh-"

"Jensen." Cougar's tone is urgent.

Jensen jerks, rocking back on his feet. He shakes his head and flicks out again crashing the man into the ceiling with a sickening crack. He lets him fall to the floor, a crumpled heap of mass-murdering shit. "Cougar, I just gotta…" he says and pulls a thumb drive out of his pocket, quickly searching through the data banks for files on Nick Gant and Cassie Holmes. On an impulse he throws Kira in there, too. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," he chants as the fan whirrs into life, the soft whine of a computer complaining about its workload. Jensen swears at it.

"We don't have-" Cougar starts, but Jensen flings his hand back, air rippling with color as he sends Cougar scrabbling back across the floor, thudding against the half-open door.

"Jodete!"

The bitten-out exclamation shocks Jensen back to himself and he abandons the computer, twisting around to see Cougar wince and rub his back. "God, Cougs, I'm sorry, I shouldn't…I never…You're right, let's go."

With a last, desperate glance at the barely creeping download bar on the monitor, he follows Cougar through the complex towards the storage facility. They pass through a shabby laboratory, all stained workbenches and peeling paint. There are piles of polystyrene boxes stacked against one wall and rows of half empty fridges against another. Slumped over one bench is a woman, a pool of blood like a halo around her still head. Her fist still clutches a syringe like a weapon. Jensen steps over another body and into a room that looks like a hospital ward. The test room. His stomach constricts as the weight of everything that has happened here presses down on him, a hundred—thousand—ghosts clamoring for vengeance. All the beds are empty now, and the place is scrubbed clean. It smells of disinfectant and yet there's something else in the air, something that all the bleach in the world can't destroy. It smells like death.

To the accompaniment of wailing alarms and increasingly loud bursts of machine gun fire, Jensen plants the charges with methodical care, Cougar standing guard at the door. If this goes right, they'll take out most of the main building and, with luck, the fire will take a firm hold everywhere else before anyone can get to it. The timing has to be right, though. Too early and he'll get the others, not to mention the kids. Too late and he misses his chance. He uses his powers to unscrew the air vent panel high up on the wall and to place the last charge just beyond the opening. He checks his watch as he sets the timer. It's almost too easy.

Giving his work the final once over, he nods. "Let's get of here," he says. "Fast."

As they run back through the office, Jensen grabs his thumb drive from the tower. Whatever's on there will have to do. He sprints ahead of Cougar through the labyrinthine corridors towards the exit, emergency lights flashing red next to useless security doors. Aisha and Clay have managed at least part of their mission then. There's a strangled sound behind him and Jensen stops, turning back in time to grab Cougar's arm as he tries to lunge back up the hallway.

"No," he says, voice low and urgent. "You'll spook her."

Way down the other end of the corridor there's a kid, hospital-gowned and barefoot, hair in uncared for twists. She can't be more than six years old. She's winding what looks like a torn piece of sheet between her hands and looks as close to vomiting with fear as Jensen feels.

"Hey, kid," he calls. "Come here, honey. We have a big bus with all your friends just waiting for you."

The little girl shakes her head, twists bouncing, and Jensen can't blame her. He sounds like a creepy uncle and the guy he's with is carrying a big fuck off gun. If he was the little girl he'd be making like a rabbit right now.

Cougar is practically vibrating with tension under Jensen's grip. He looks up at Jensen and it doesn't take an expert to read the pain there, the memories of the lost children in Bolivia.

"Let me go," says Cougar and Jensen says,

"Fuck that shit."

There's no time to waste on social niceties. Jensen stretches out his hand towards the kid and lifts. She rises into the air, a soundless scream shaping her lips. He curls his fingers and tugs. She flies through the air towards them, colliding with his chest with more force than Jensen is expecting. He staggers back, but gets his arm around her.

"Run," he says, letting go of Cougar's arm and catching sight of his watch. "Like you've never run before."

They make it nearly halfway across the compound before the building explodes, the sound and heat of it making Jensen stumble. All around is chaos, air warping with attack after attack from the surviving Movers and Jumpers still loyal to Division. The air is acrid with smoke and burning chemicals, sheered and twisted shards of metal clattering around them like shrapnel. Jensen can only think of one thing—getting them out safe.

The little girl clings to his chest, arms and legs wrapped tight around him and he risks letting go, using both his hands to warp the air around them to create a pseudo forcefield as they run. He staggers against an answering push, too close in to deflect and lets his guard down for a second. As he does, Cougar reels backwards, Jensen grabbing him by his vest to haul him upright. Down to one hand, Jensen tries to recreate the forcefield. It's more of an umbrella now, but it'll have to do, he's running for three of them now, dragging Cougar along with him through sheer force of will.

And then there's answering fire and Steph yelling, "Stop fucking around and come on!" and a bus and the sweet, sweet smell of burning rubber.

"Hey, Mojito," Jensen says to the nodding dog on the dashboard as he collapses up the steps of the bus, handing off the little girl to some older kid.

Cougar lies white and pale along the floor of the bus, blood pulsing slowly from a hole in his neck.

"What are you waiting for?" Jensen asks, with a forced smile. "Physician heal thyself and all that." He leans over and takes Cougar's hand, placing it over the wound. "Seriously, Cougar. I'm not losing anyone today, okay? Especially not you. Do your stuff already."

Cougar smirks feebly and presses down on his neck. He screams and convulses. Jensen grabs for his ankle, holding on tight, swallowing down the bile that's burning at his throat.

"C'mon," he says with fake cheer. "Don't be such a baby."

Cougar presses again and his whole body goes rigid, sweat beading on his forehead, lips edged with white as he keeps the scream inside. And still the blood wells from under his hand. Jensen doesn't see where it comes from, but then there's a small hand laid over Cougar's and another. They press, too.

Again Cougar convulses and Jensen squeezes tight, aiming for some kind of reassurance, however futile. And then Cougar's body stills and Jensen looks up and the hands are gone, Cougar's neck marred only by a small, pink scar.

"Oh, thank fuck," he says on an outward rush of air and finally pays attention to the owners of the helping hands. They're two redheads, a boy and a girl, obviously siblings.

"Thank you," he says and it occurs to him how utterly inadequate those two words are. "Really."

The girl, the older of the two, smiles. "Least we could do since y'all rescued us. Healing yourself is always hardest."

Out of the mouth of babes, thinks Jensen, and then looks past the kids to the backseat where Steph sits holding a baby with one arm around a sleeping boy.

"Guess you won," he says, grinning at her.

"Guess I did," she agrees.

***


Hook uses his smartphone to film the kids telling versions of their stories and Jensen uploads it to YouTube, using his other hidden superpower—social networking—to send it viral within minutes. That plus the local news footage of the explosion means there's no way the government can stick these kittens back in the bag, even if they wanted to.

Within hours, the President is addressing the nation and apologizing for the treatment of their children. The exact nature of Division is never explained and, while that makes Jensen anxious, it's probably for the best—these kids have had enough trauma without being treated like freaks and branded with targets on their heads the rest of their lives. Families are already coming forward, begging for DNA tests to set their minds at ease over a child who looks like the daughter, the son, they never had—strange memories that have haunted them for years.

They drive two cities over, just for security, and Jensen spends the whole time drinking everyone in.

"Is he?" he'd asked a dirt-streaked Clay.

"Ding dong," had been the reply, Clay thumbing over the teddy bear tattoo on his hand as he looked around him with a smile.

Restitution, Jensen thinks, and catches sight of Clay and Aisha glowering at each other from opposite sides of the bus. Clay over the head of a dark-haired little boy who's half-buried under Clay's jacket and Aisha having managed to find the only free double seat on the bus.

Pooch is explaining what sounds like Explosives 101 to a group of fascinated kids, every so often reaching out to slap away the hand of one who gets curious and tries to pet Mojito.

"So," he says, "You, too, will one day be able to blow up your own secret government complex and pass into folk legend. Don't forget to thank your Uncle Pooch." He grins into the mirror. "Or, you know, maybe don't."

Hook moves around the bus, charming the children with his 'magic', and Pinky sits quietly, staring out of the window, lost somewhere inside his own head. Steph isn't saying much, but then she isn't scribbling in her book, either. She looks tired, but peaceful, and Jensen rubs his thumb over the drive in his pocket. There'll be time enough to ruffle that peace later. Jensen himself sits across the aisle from Cougar, the small girl they'd rescued—still too traumatized to speak—glued to his side. Cougar murmurs in soft Spanish to two Hispanic children squashed in next to him. Occasionally they look over at each other. Jensen stretches out his leg into the aisle and Cougar, languid and casual, mirrors the motion. Their feet knock together harmlessly as the bus speeds along. It'll do for now.

Pooch navigates to an Emergency Room. The three surviving adults who'd been discovered late, snatched and experimented on until they can't even remember their own names are helped out here, notes of plausible explanation shoved in their hands. It's not ideal, but it's the best they can do.

The next stop is a couple of blocks away from a police station.

"Okay, kids, you know what you have to do," says Clay. "We can't risk being caught. We got you out, it's on you now, okay? Live good lives, be good people and don't make us come find you one day."

"We got it, sir," says one of the handful of teenagers. "We can take care of ourselves and the little ones, too. Ain't no way we're telling 'em anything that'll get us sent back. Or somewhere worse."

Jensen practically has to peel the little girl off him, sobbing fat, silent tears out of big eyes. "Oh god," he says, heart tearing.

The redheaded Stitch takes her from him, making soothing noises into her hair. "I got her," she says. "She'll be just fine, don't you fret. We know how to take the nightmares away." She glances over her shoulder at a thin, pale boy, with worry lines already grooved into his forehead. "We had to learn."

Jensen nods, not trusting himself to speak, and feels a hand slip into his as the children file from the bus. "Tell me they're going to be okay," he says without taking his eyes from the little girl.

"They're going to be okay," says Steph. "I mean, the world's fucked up and bad shit happens to everyone at some point, right? But overall? Yeah."

The door hisses shut and Pooch says, "Ready?"

Clay gives the order and the bus moves off, Jensen half-running, half-stumbling down the aisle to the backseat, staring out of the window, hands pressed to the pane, until the children are out of sight.

"That was good, what we just did," he says, hovering somewhere between statement and question.

"That was good, what we just did," Hook corroborates more firmly. "You're two for three now. Pretty good going."

"And we got Max," says Aisha. "Two enemies, one stone. That's efficient."

It's the first time she's spoken since they got on the bus.

"Oh, hey, Aisha," Jensen says. "You know, since this is our day of triumph and all, could you and Clay put off your fight to the death until tomorrow? I've got this ulcer coming, you see, and there's this small possibility that I'm going to be having a nervous breakdown any time now, so I could do without the added stress. I'll pay you if you like."

"That won't be necessary," she says, and Jensen wonders if he's imagining the smile that's hovering around her mouth. "I must be getting old—one assault a day is my limit now."

"Outstanding," says Jensen and ducks out of the way of the wadded up tie Clay throws at his head.

***


It was early in the morning, the day clinging on to the last vestiges of night as if reluctant to let it go, the sky a sleepy, faded blue. There was a snap to the early fall air, heavy with the promise of frosts to come and she wrapped her scarf again around her neck, hugging her bag tight across her chest.

He was exactly where she'd known he'd be: by the grave at the top of the hill, squatting in front of the headstone, lips moving as he murmured under his breath. The child, she hoped, was tucked up safe at home in bed. Her own daughter slept oblivious in her car seat, the door to the rickety old jalopy left unlocked. She was safe for now. Her time was not yet.

"John?" she said. "That's right, isn't it? John."

He looked up, confused. "Do I know you?"

"You will," she said, extending a hand to him.

He got to his feet, brushing his hands off on his pants before taking her hand. His eyes searched her face, wary. She didn't take offence—they didn't play by the same rules as most people.

"I'm Elisa. Don't be scared, John. Sometimes it's hard to see how the dice will fall. Sometimes we would rather be blind than know what suffering we must face. But you and I, we both have our parts, and we can begin to bring an end."

John's eyes narrowed and then relaxed. "You're not one of them," he said. Elisa was pleased to hear his certainty.

"I'm not." She smiled. "But they want me to be." The smile faded. John still had her hand. She twisted in his grip, laying her hand over the top of his. "I see the future so clearly. The steps and twists and turns of possibility are all open to me. It won't take much to drive me mad and that's what they want to do."

John said, "Let me help you." He was impulsive and kind, just like she hoped his son would be, for her daughter's sake.

She shook her head. "You can't. Not the way you want to, anyway. But you must do something for me."

"I will."

"There will be a time, soon, when you are running. You and your son. They will come because they always do and you will find yourself in a hotel. You must tell him…you must say, 'Someday a girl is going to give you a flower and you have to help her. Help her and you help us all.' Repeat it back to me."

John repeats her words and she feels a strange frisson as the future begins to change. It isn't time yet, but soon it will be.

She pulls her hand back, hugging her bag once more to her chest, and John says, "But what does it mean?"

"Trust me," she says, turning away.

Behind her he sounds almost helpless. "I do. I don't know why, but I do."

She walks away down the hill. About halfway down she stops and holds out her hand and a bright red leaf circles lazily out of the sky onto her waiting palm.

***


Maybe Jensen hadn't been hoping for some kind of cascading waterfall of recovered memory, but he'd been hoping for more than this. More than a barely there file with a few old photos, some speculation and then some more recent shots taken in what looked like Hong Kong. Surveillance of him and Steph mostly. Hook and Pinky show up too, with some pretty, dark-haired girl he figures must be Kira.

It's weird because it's like looking at an identical twin he doesn't have. The guy in the photos—Nick—has his face, has his habit of pulling his sleeves down over his hands, has his stance, even, but it doesn't feel even a bit like him.

Steph's (Cassie's) file is more of the same. Reports keeping tabs on her whereabouts after she's 'orphaned' by Division. Reports of tracking her after her move to Hong Kong. Photographs, psych evals, estimated skill evals, nothing that actually says anything real except photographic evidence that Steph has always been a fan of color.

A couple of the files are encrypted and when Jensen busts them open he expects the real dirt. But they're as sanitized as the rest of it and it's just words on the screen to him. Clipped, professional reports on the failure of Division to recover R-16 in Hong Kong and red flag notices on Nick and Cassie and on the subsequent shooting of Cassie's mother and evasion of capture of the subjects. The report concludes that they no longer constitute a threat.

The report can bite Jensen's shiny behind.

The only other thing of interest is in a read-me text file attached to a photograph of Nick as a child, walking through a park with someone he presumes is his father. The text file reads. "J. & N. Gant. May 1996. Prior to J. meeting with E. Holmes?"

E. Holmes? That's probably Cassie's (Steph's) mom. Does that mean his real father and Steph's real mom had met? What had they talked about? Had they been friends? Maybe more?

Jensen wants to scream in frustration. None of this helps. None of it. He pages through the files in the thumb drive, looking for anything else. He finds Kira Hudson.

The file on her is much meatier. There are reports of the experiments they did to her, how she survived the first dose of R-16, her escape and consequent capture by Agent Carver, his murder and her second escape. There are medical reports that go into gruesome detail about the side effects of the drug and the measures needed to take to counterbalance it. There are evaluations of her abilities and predictions of her potential. There is a list of known associates with Nick Gant's name at the top with the note, 'ex/lovers' by the side. There's a huge fuck off DECEASED in bold red font at the top of every page.

Jensen wants to throw up.

Scratch that. He wants to want to throw up. He wants to have some kind of emotional reaction to all of this. To the fact that he loved someone who died because she chose to walk his path and not Division's. He should have grieved her. He should be grieving her now, but he feels nothing at all. Nothing since the first sweeping sense of loss the first time he'd heard her name. Earlier, when Cougar's life had been on the line he'd felt sick to the stomach, desperate, ball-freezing fear that he'd have to stay alive without him. Now? Jensen shakes his head, slamming the laptop shut. Nothing.

He goes to fling it across the room, but a hand stills his wrist.

"Don't," says Steph. "I want to know, too."

Jensen looks up at her, searching her face for the kid in the photographs. "It won't help," he says. "But be my guest." He gets out of the chair, gesturing her towards it.

He gravitates towards the window—new window, same lookout—and leans against the window ledge, gripping it with both hands to stop himself scratching at his arm. He watches Steph go through the same realizations by the slow drooping of her shoulders. Cougar shifts his bodyweight, letting his hand graze Jensen's arm.

Eventually Steph shuts the laptop, too.

"You were right," she says. "It doesn't help."

From the corner in which he's been doing a very good impression of sleeping, Pinky raises his chin from his chest and opens his eyes. "It wouldn't," he says. "Officialdom. All the words saying nothing. It's like a disease with them. And they didn't like you, so, there's that. Look, I didn't know you well, not really. It was a short space in a long life, and too many of the details are X-rated and she's still seventeen, but you were good people. Both of you. Kira, too, if you could get past the Pushing part." He shrugs. "I think you'd've liked your other selves. You'd've been friends. I guess that's better than most people get, right?"

Steph sniffs, folding her arms and looking away. "Maybe tomorrow," she says. "Not today."

"What do we call you?" Aisha asks, and it's only because she sounds genuinely curious that Jensen doesn't rip her throat out with his teeth.

"I don't know!" he yells. "My fucking name is not my name, my life is not my life, my niece is not my niece. Nothing is real. I'm a little bit fucked up, right now, Aisha. Come back tomorrow when you can try for the big prizes of my self-respect and dignity."

She pulls a face. "We all live many lives," she shrugs. "Choose your own truth, Jensen."

"Choose your own-?" Jensen thinks his head will explode. "There was a girl. I think I loved her. I don't know if I loved her because she was a Pusher and for all I know that was fake, too. I had a father who loved me and died. I thought I had a niece who I helped take care of from when she was a baby. Turns out that's bullshit. I can't trust anything at all. There is. No. Truth."

"Trust me. Us. This," says Cougar, sliding his hand down Jensen's arm and pushing his fingers between Jensen's.

Jensen looks down at their entwined hands and swallows hard, blinking away angry tears. He steadies his breathing, letting Cougar's words sink in like soothing balm on his irritated skin. Cougar's right. He can. There is something that's real. He looks up at Cougar and across to Pooch and Clay. The four years he's had with them, every minute of them have been as 'real' as it's possible to be. Every memory in his head of everything they've been through is his own. They'd kept him off the grid to keep him clean, to keep him safe and it had worked. He may not be who he was born to be and his family may not be blood, but he found them and he's keeping them.

He tries to articulate it, but the best he can manage is, "You guys. You complete me." They get it. They're smart. It's one of the reasons he loves them.

Pooch says, "If it's taking care of babies you want, Jake Jensen, you come home with me. Jolene would love to have you on standby diaper duty." He taps a closed fist over his heart. "You know we brothers, man. Don't make me come over there."

Steph says, "Can I? Come over there?" and she sounds small and lost. Like maybe Cassie had back when they'd first taken on Division, Jensen thinks.

"Bring it in," he says, stretching out an arm.

She dives under it, wrapping her arms around his waist, looking down at his and Cougar's joined hands. "Drew that," she murmurs.

"Huh?"

"Nothing." She looks up at Jensen. "So, hey, I know our history's kind of peppered with bloody violence and that we don't know each other all that well, really, but could we…do you think?...Like Facebook friends or whatever?"

"You don't get rid of me twice," says Jensen. "I'm like herpes that way." He looks over to Aisha. "So you should probably just go on calling me idiot behind my back and Boy Wonder to my face. I know you can't help yourself. Or, you know, Jensen. That'll do."

Cougar's fingers tighten around his.

"I'm not Nick," Jensen says, and it's as true as he's getting for now. "And I don't know if I would be again, even if I could be. He's this echo I can hardly hear. I kinda like Jake Jensen and hey! Turns out other people like him, too, so. Yeah. I'm pretty sure I'm good with what I've got, thanks."

"I get it," says Steph. "My mom—my now mom—she bakes these awesome oatmeal cookies. Secret family recipe. She says she'll teach me when I turn eighteen and then I have to do the same with my kid if I have one. My dad sings stupid songs about anything that comes into his head. He's such a dork. Traylor drives me crazy but we're applying to the same schools for next year. I have all these people. All these plans. And they're all for Steph Brown. Cassie had nothing apart from a handful of people she hardly knew in the end. I think Steph is winning. It's not that I'm glad Cassie is gone—I wish she hadn't had to—but I'm glad I got the chance to be Steph. To kick ass and still hand my homework in on time, you know?"

Silence falls and Jensen chews over what Steph has said. In some ways he's jealous that she was so young when she was Wiped. In her seventeen-year-old life four years is an eternity. For him, not so much. It's infinitely better than nothing, though, and Jensen hangs on to that thread like his life depends on it.

"So tomorrow Clay and Aisha fight to the death, wanna get burgers after?" says Pooch.

Aisha shrugs. "Tomorrow. The next day. Whenever."

Clay shoves his hands in his pockets and raises his eyebrows. Jensen doesn't even want to know.

"I can't wait that long for burgers," Pooch says. "Who's with me?"

There's a general babble of agreement and everyone is surging out of the door, shooting the shit about everything from Pooch's driving to the hotly contested relish versus onion debate. Steph is in the middle of it all, blue streaks bright in her hair, arguing with Hook about the moral consequences of tipping waitresses with paper. Jensen jogs backwards in front of them all, threatening to levitate them all if they refuse to find a diner that makes chili fries. They're making memories, right here, right now, and, with Max dead and Division gone, the only thing ahead of them is time.



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