Author's Note: GAH! It's been about two and a half million years since I updated...my only excuse is I have been dealing with midterms, and now I have to deal with finals. Hope you like it!
I look up, startled. "Now?"
"Yeah. Come on, it'll be less conspicuous anyway if there're two of us. Grab a jacket and put some shoes on."
I stand up hastily, looking down at my plain black t-shirt and jeans. I dash into Trevor's room to grab my suede jacket, scarf, and black flats. I shove the latter onto my feet and pull on my jacket, looking back at Trevor, who smiles reassuringly as the door closes.
Jessica grabs my hand and pulls me forward. "It's not far from here," she says to me in a low whisper. "But we have to hurry. It'll be gone soon."
"Is this how it always is?" I ask, trying to catch my breath.
"You mean the rush? Pretty much, yeah, since we have so much music as it is. The only things we need are the ones that are really hard to find, and therefore they're in high demand."
I keep pace with her as her long blonde hair whips behind her. She still has a tight grip on my hand. Within five minutes we're rounding a corner, and then she stops abruptly in front of a store that looks closed until I realize that's just because there are so many books stacked up in front of the windows. They're all BBS-friendly books, but they give the shop a secretive air nonetheless. Jessica pushes open the door and pulls it closed behind us, locking it swiftly and turning around and grinning as a smooth, amused voice asks, "Miss me that much, J?"
I turn around too and see the source of the voice. A tall, very handsome guy with a lean, fit body is lounging against the far side of the counter, smiling at both of us. "Who's this?" he asks when he notices me, standing upright and eyeing me.
"This is Isabella. She's new, but she's with me."
"A hunter in training?" he asks, running a hand through his dark brown hair. I notice the tattoo of a black sun on the back of his hand as he does so.
I shake my head.
"No? So I won't get to see you often? That's a shame." He grins lasciviously and I give him a withering look.
He holds up his hands and turns his attention to Jessica. "Elephant?"
"Obviously." She takes a fifty out of her pocket and slides it across the counter.
He smiles lazily. "Why are you in such a hurry, Blonde?"
She glares at him. "Don't be an asshole, Myles. I was here first."
"I'm an asshole for wanting to make a good profit for risking my life? I'm hurt."
"You're an asshole because by rights Elephant is mine. Come on, Myles."
"Fine," he grins and ducks down briefly. He straightens up again, sliding a cellophane-wrapped CD across the counter. Faster than I can blink, Jessica has stowed it deep in her jacket. "Let's go," she mutters to me, glaring at Myles. He smirks at her unapologetically.
"Bye, new girl." He calls as we exit the shop.
She shakes her head, muttering under her breath as we stride quickly back up the street.
"That was amazing," I say breathlessly, finding words at last.
She flashes me a quick grin. "Now you know why we risk it."
"I think I already knew," I say quietly, half to myself. "I knew because of how painful it was to watch those books being Shredded."
There's a break in her stride for just a step, and then she presses on. "I forget that you were there," she murmurs, giving me a sidelong look, "Trevor told us, but I just…forgot."
"The first time they sent the Shredders out?" I ask, and then answer the question before she can confirm it, "Yeah, I was there. I was just stocking books, sitting on the floor. Then the door opened and this…this thing walked in. It didn't even wait for the agent to give it instructions. They were hungrier then. Less discriminating. I'm guessing you know that."
"I had heard."
"It seems strange, that they would have reined that in a little bit…" I say musingly. "But either way, it was a massacre. That's a funny word, for the situation, I guess. But that's how it felt."
"I can understand that," she says quietly. "I do understand that."
"Thank you for letting me come," I say, shaking away the memory. It's not one I want to dwell on too greatly at the moment.
She smiles. "No problem."
But the tense set of her jaw makes it very clear that this is no light matter.
"I know I put you at an incredible risk, coming along with you, Jessica," I say quietly. "I appreciate it."
She smiles, and even though it's tired and worried, it's genuine. "Don't worry about it. Jason is a little intense, sometimes. The way I see it, I made this choice and I know its consequences. Consequences which could just as easily come about if you were nowhere near me. Speaking of which, we really shouldn't be talking about this on the street." She turns up the collar of her overcoat and quickens her pace. I match it, saying nothing else until we are buzzed into the apartment and safely inside Headquarters. I shrug my jacket off, since it isn't needed in the warm room, and say hesitantly, "Myles doesn't seem that bad."
This statement is greeted with hearty laughter from Trevor, who is still sitting at the computer in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and Jonathan, in the rolling chair next to him. Jessica just rolls her eyes. "Myles is a complete slut," she says drily.
"Myles is an asshole," Trevor remarks amusedly.
"I don't even have words for what Myles is," says Jonathan, scrolling down an online list so fast that I can't distinguish anything.
I laugh. "Even though he gave you a hard time about it, he did give the CD to you," I comment.
Trevor grins broadly. "That's because he's still trying to get her to sleep with him."
I look at him in surprise. "Call me naïve, but I didn't really get that sense."
"No, because he was too busy eying you," Jessica says, raising her eyebrows. "In all seriousness, that's why either Raquel or I are the ones who go to deal with Myles, unless we're too busy. He's much easier to deal with if the person he's dealing with is female."
"Oh," I say, unable to think of anything else.
She winds her hair up in a bun and takes a seat next to Trevor, leaning in to peer at the screen. "Anything new?"
"Every Breath You Take."
"LP. You going for it?"
Jessica shakes her head. "We already have that one on LP, and even if we didn't Digger will have already sold it. Wilder's closer to her than we are."
"You're right, we do. I forgot."
She shakes her head with a small smile on her lips. "You have every book title in the basement stored in your head, Trev. I don't blame you for not remembering all the music. That's my job."
"And mine," Jonathan remarks, still intent on the screen of his computer.
"You are a walking card catalog," Jessica says fondly, tousling her brother's hair. Without looking away from the list, he reaches up and grabs her hand. "I'm older. You don't get to do that."
"I get to if I want to," she says tauntingly. "What are you going to do to stop me?"
In one quick movement, he uses his grip on her wrist to yank her down into a sitting position on his lap, pinning her arms behind her back.
Trevor stands up, sliding the headphones down around his neck and walking towards me, trailing a long black cord connected to the computer. He stands next to me, arms folded across his chest. "Their parents were Disappeared," he murmurs so that only I can hear.
"Were yours?" I ask. I am too used to the concept to be shocked, though I am sad to hear it.
I see his jaw clench slightly. "Yes."
The abrupt, cold way he says it makes it very clear that's all he wants to say on the topic, and the tone is so very different from the way he's talked to me in the past that I simply blink at him for a second.
"Sorry," he says quietly, "I just don't enjoy talking about it."
"It's okay," I say hastily.
He shakes his head, smiling tightly. "No, it's not."
He returns to the computer and I stare at his back in shock. I mean, I don't like talking about my parents, either, but the situation has never made me that angry, not in that way, not to other people.
I notice Jessica looking at Trevor sympathetically. Jonathan murmurs something to her and she slides off his lap, nodding. She crosses the room and rummages through a brown canvas purse for a few moments before retrieving a white iPod, one of the first generation ones that are an inch thick and the size of a deck of cards. I haven't seen one in a very long time; my own is sitting in the drawer of my desk with a cracked screen and dead battery. She turns it on and scrolls furiously with the small white wheel, then points to something and shows it to Jonathan, who swears under his breath as his sister grins triumphantly.
"Could have sworn we didn't have Love Comes," he says to me by way of explanation. "It's not often that she's right."
"I am right all the time," she contradicts, then looks around. "Fuck, where's Raquel? She's normally much faster than this."
"She doesn't normally have to go to the Tenderloin," Trevor says, his tone light and easy again as he looks at Jessica. "It's halfway across town, genius."
"I know that," she rolls her eyes, "just forgot she was going there. Something good, huh?"
Trevor's lips quirk upwards. "Oh, yeah."
"You going to tell us?" Jonathan asks sardonically.
Trevor cracks his knuckles and sets the headphones on the table. "Lord of the Rings trilogy, anyone?"
"No way," Jessica hisses. I smile automatically. "Really?" I ask hesitantly.
"Hell yes. Hardcover, leather-bound, almost perfect condition. Includes The Hobbit and the Silmarillion." He laughs at our expressions. "She was excited too, believe me."
Jonathan laughs with him. "Only time I ever see that girl without the bitch expression is when she finds a worthwhile book."
"Well then you should hope I find them more often," Raquel says, shutting and bolting the door behind her as she pushes a furry hood off her face and gives Jonathan a withering look.
"Knew you were back, else I wouldn't have said it," he says cheerfully, not turning around from the computer. I smile and Raquel looks at me disdainfully. I look down immediately.
"Get it?" Jessica asks impatiently. Raquel gives us what I can already tell is a rare smile and reaches into her nondescript brown book bag, emerging with a stack of small, fat books with exquisite covers and titles embossed in gold. "All five," she says triumphantly.
"Damn," Trevor says appreciatively, "that just about closes up the worthwhile fantasy books."
"We have a complete set of Ursula Le Guinn?"
"Almost. The Earthsea books, anyway. I said just about, wiseass." Trevor retorts.
Jonathan, who asked the question, grins at him.
Raquel tosses the now empty bag onto the floor and takes the rolling chair next to Trevor. "Anything else?" she asks shortly.
He scans his own copy of the list and shrugs. "Not unless you wanted to go for the Gone With the Wind that Taylor has."
She shakes her head. "I'm tired. That's been there for two weeks, it'll still be there tomorrow. Taylor's on the other fucking end of the city and taking Muni's too risky right now. I'm on my third offense, you know. Those fucking neo-Nazis are watching me and I'm not in a mood to get Disappeared this week." She stands up again, and I find myself wanting to ask when exactly she would like to be Disappeared, since the way she says it has no humor or sarcasm in it at all, simply a flat seriousness.
Jessica laughs. "You say that every week, Raquel. It's okay to want to live to see thirty, no worries."
Raquel shrugs, unsmiling, and grabs her bag off the floor. "Kind of a moot point, considering I won't." She doesn't sound concerned at all. Just like she's stating a fact that doesn't bother her much. Her eyes flick to me and they're unfathomable. Then she disappears behind her room's black-painted door and shuts it quietly. I stare after her, not realizing Jonathan is talking to me for a few seconds.
"What?" I ask. "Sorry."
"Don't mind her," he says again, smiling kindly. "She's not as intense as she seems."
"I'm not sure about that," I say slowly. "I've never met anyone that certain of her own death."
"Don't let it fool you," Jessica says in a whisper, glancing towards Raquel's closed door. "She sounds like she's accepted it, but she's just as scared of dying as any of us."
"Does she sleep all the time?" I ask quietly. "I think I've seen her awake for about five minutes total."
Trevor shrugs. "She's damn good at what she does. It's stressful and exhausting, so we figure, what the hell. Let her rest."
"Even when she could be helping with maintaining the network," Jonathan says in a deceptively pleasant voice. I have to smile at his exasperated tone.
"Having second thoughts?" Trevor asks me. He doesn't sound mocking, like I know Jason would. Just curious. I shake my head. "No."
"Braver than I am," Jonathan says, grinning. "I prefer to work from the relative safety of Headquarters. I hate going out on runs, but Jess is a bully, so…"
"You know you love runs," his sister retorts, rolling her eyes and stretching out on the couch. "Is our work for the day over, Trev?"
"Not sure, J. Give me a minute and I'll have a new list. Jon? Want to pull up the music list for me?"