"Who the hell are you?" Victoria asked after catching the glance that I traded with Professor Yang. I had to praise her for catching something as subtle as that. There was no doubt that she was the daughter of the man who taught me how to be perceptive. Still, the bluntness of her question was leading me to think that she had two personalities: one reserved for treating her patients and the other for everyone else.
"Oh so you two met before?" Fortson inquired in a cheerful tone, stopping me right as I was about to give her my cover name. The cheerful, bubbly side of Fortson wasn't something that I got to witness often, so I was mentally filing away everything that she said so I could give her hell about it later.
"He's the one that I told you about. The one that you tried to convince me that he was some secret agent. I thought you said he was dangerous and now you're dating him?" Victoria asked, incredulous. I shot Fortson a glare that she conveniently chose to ignore. Why on earth would she try to convince Victoria of something that was hitting a little too close to the truth?
"Well how was I suppose to know that he was the guy you were talking about? It could have been anyone!" Fortson claimed, exasperated. She was definitely playing her part as clueless civilian well.
"You didn't notice the cast on him?" Victoria gestured vaguely at the direction of my arm, only to stop and realize that my cast was not visible to her. It was hidden under the sleeve of my sweatshirt. The cast that Potter put on me was hindering my movements drastically, so I sought out the previous medic I worked with, Fredricks, and asked her to leave the bare minimum needed to mend my bones. For our standards, it was much more efficient, allowing more movement, but by civilian standards, all the doctors would disapprove. Especially the one in front of me.
"Where's your cast?" Victoria asked, reverting into her doctor mode. Gently, I pulled up enough of my sleeve to reveal the white cast poking out from underneath it. Satisfied, Victoria turned towards Fortson again, presumably to question her choice of men. Fortson merely gave her a grin.
"It's nice to meet you, er…" I started, trailing off. Professor Yang raised a questioning eyebrow at me, but nonetheless, he caught onto what I was trying to do.
"Andrew is fine," Professor Yang replied. Fortson and Victoria now turned towards us, presumably finished with their silent conversation.
"So uhm, I never caught your name," Victoria said, almost looking sheepish. I was tempted to retort back with the classic, "That's because I never told you," but one glare from Fortson quickly changed my mind. For once I could agree with Fortson's reasoning, it wouldn't be good to leave a bad impression on Victoria, especially if she might have the answers that I needed.
"Devon Ingram," I said.
"Well it's nice to meet you Devon. I hope you treat Meralyn well. She is like a daughter to me," Professor Yang stated. To any else, I figured they would have thought there was an underlying threat beneath his words to not harm Fortson. However, I knew Professor Yang knew that Fortson and I were not involved, at least not romantically. But by saying that Fortson was like a daughter to him, was he trying to tell me that he was linked to the organization somehow? I didn't get a chance to explore my thoughts further, because Victoria's voice snapped me out of my reverie.
"Hello Devon. I'm Victoria, Mer's best friend. But I'm sure she already told you that," Victoria said, telling me everything I already knew. She then extended a hand across the table, waiting for me to shake. I took it, shaking it, before releasing her hand from my grasp. She withdrew her hand.
"Now that's a proper introduction, don't you think?" Victoria commented. I knew she was referring to the first time we met. I, for one, didn't care too much for introductions, but I was playing the role of nice boyfriend. Plus, in my mind, I knew I owed her a massive favor for saving my life. I hope the opportunity for me to repay her back showed up soon, because I hate owing people favors.
"Thank you for saving me that night," I murmured softly.
"No problem. It's my job, you know, saving people's lives. But may I ask how you were injured in the first place? If it's too personal for you to share, it's alright." She sounded genuine, almost as if there was no curiosity begging to relieved. Three out of the four people at this table had a good idea what happened to me, but for her sake, I would make up something just to appease her. I could only hope that it wouldn't backfire on me, especially since I wasn't sure if Professor Yang would rat me out to his daughter. I wouldn't blame him if he did.
"I'm a policeman and I just got off of my shift that day. On my way home, I saw some shootings going on, so I stopped and tried to arrest the shooters, but there were too many of them and I wasn't armed properly. I escaped from them but they were constantly on my tail. I radioed for backup while I was running from them. I ran through the woods for cover; that's how I got all those cuts and scraps. I finally managed to throw them off and ended up where you found me," I explained, with an air as if it was the tenth time I told this story. It was complete bullshit though; I made it up as I went. My photographic memory helped; I remembered seeing this cover story sometime in the past. With a few alters, it was a believable story.
"Oh, you should really be less reckless in the future, Devon. Wouldn't want to end up in the hospital and have Meralyn worry about you," Professor Yang commented. I nodded at his warning.
"Oh. I understand now. The things that you said to me. It all makes sense now." I nodded. I specifically came up with a story that would pertain to all the things that I said to her. There was no sense in trying to make her suspicious of me again, when I was working my way to gaining her trust.
The conversation continued freely, with Professor Yang asking questions that any parent would. They were innocent questions really, but I tailored my responses to encompass an underlying message. I was sure that even Fortson didn't catch on. I wasn't sure about Professor Yang though; he knew me well enough to know the answers to the questions he was asking, but I didn't know whether or not he figured out my message.
Fortson then interjected to tell a fabricated story of how we met when Victoria asked. I couldn't help but notice some of the similarities between her story and how we met in real life. Even Professor Yang listened attentively to the story, even though I could bet that he knew it was fake.
"How long have you guys been dating?" Victoria asked. For the first time since we stepped into Starbucks, Fortson hesitated. I didn't know why she was hesitating; it was a simple question that required minimal bullshitting. I couldn't understand her sometimes, she was able to make an elaborate story on the top of her head, but not come up with a simple answer?
I decided to answer for her, "A week."
"A week?" Victoria asked questioningly. At this, Fortson's eyes widened and she wore a "deer caught in headlights" look. That was when I realized I had messed up. "Then how come Mer told me it was a couple weeks earlier today?"
"If you knew the answer, then why did you ask again? And it has been a couple of weeks, forgive Devon. He has horrible memory sometimes." It was a weak cover up. Even Victoria narrowed her eyes at this. I was partly insulted when Fortson said my memory sucked, but I kept my mouth shut since I was the one who got them into that mess anyways.
"Because your relationship is fake and Devon just confirmed it," Victoria said, "But wait, his name isn't even Devon, right?"
"Vic-" Fortson didn't even get a chance to finish before Victoria plowed on.
"The weird phone call was from him right? I lost all respect for you, for planting bugs in my house. Both of you! I bet you told him the road that I take to go home every night and set it up so he could have easy entry into my house. And dad, you know him. Is that why you came back so suddenly when I told you I found bugs planted in my house? To meet up with him? All of you probably are hiding the same secret, but I'm done. You can see your way out of my house when I'm at work tomorrow, dad. And you, Mer, don't bother to try to talk to me anymore. And Devon?" She turned towards me, giving me a deadly glare. I stood still and gave her a blank look. "I don't want to ever see you again or I swear I'll have you arrested for trespassing." It wasn't a very good threat considering she had no evidence that I was the one who planted the bugs. I was almost certain that it was Fortson who had planted the bugs, but I didn't say anything. If Victoria knew, it would be harder for Fortson to gain back her trust and her op would be a failure.
The three of us watched as she stormed out of the cafe, pushing roughly past people to get to the entrance. She made her way angrily to the car, slamming the door shut behind her, before tearing out of the parking lot. When Victoria was out of sight, Professor Yang turned towards us with a huge sigh.
"You two better have a good explanation for this." This was referring to my sudden appearance, Fortson's planting of the bugs, and our op.
"Let's go somewhere more private."
Once again, I was back at Fortson's apartment. Professor Yang sat across from both of us, with his arms crossed and awaiting an explanation. I looked over to Fortson, urging her to start, since it started with her op.
"How about you start, Mr. Yang, by clarifying your true profession. We need to know if you're on the same page as us," Fortson said.
"I'm sure you've heard of me. I'm Hawk, leader of Operation 428." I was right; he wasn't just a professor, but I hadn't expected him to be so well known. Only few earned the honor of donning a code name. The rest of us was stuck with aliases or last names.
"When did you figure out that we weren't who we say we are?" Fortson asked.
"I might not be in the agency anymore, but that doesn't mean that my skills deteriorated. You, Meralyn, I noticed the first time I met you. I have yet to figure out what you want with my daughter. And Devon...or should I say, Stone, I knew also when you sat down. You were too tense for a civilian. You should work on blending in a bit more," Professor Yang replied.
"So you do remember me," I commented.
"Photographic memory, just like you. It's your turn to do some explaining, Meralyn."
"I suppose to be in deep right now, but Stone called me yesterday. That was the weird phone call Victoria told you about." Professor Yang merely nodded, not at all fazed on how she knew that he knew of the phone call. "Anyways, Victoria is my target for my op. I'm suppose to be protecting her, since a year ago we received an anonymous message that said a civilian that was close to us was their next target. I got assigned to watch Victoria and make sure there wasn't anything suspicious happening. That's why I planted those bugs and got the job at the hospital."
"A file was stolen from the agency a while ago and my team was assigned to retrieve it. We got it back, but after we cracked the file, no one knew what the files were saying. We know that it's coded and only written so a certain person would understand it. All the original writers of the files have disappeared off of the grid. I guess it's no coincidence that all members of Operation 428 happened to be the ones that we're looking for."
"We're the ones who wrote those files, but I don't know what the others wrote. I'm surprised ATG knew about it. We never told anyone; we just hid it and disappeared. In fact, I would still be off the grid had it not been for Victoria telling me about the bugs."
"You were never truly off of the grid," Fortson said, "You occasionally came out of hiding to visit Victoria and your phone calls were still traceable."
"Knowing which continent I'm on still makes it hard for them to find me. And yes, I did, but only when I deemed it was safe. I never stayed too long either."
"But it's not safe right now," I stated.
"I know. It was a risk I had to take. Besides, if you were trying to find me, it would eventually lead them to one of my hiding spots so I figured it was better if I came to you instead."
"I need you to tell me what you wrote in your file."
"You don't have enough clearance for that. Nor do you, Meralyn. I will come to the agency tomorrow and tell Sanders, then he will decide if you should know what the file contains. Your op has been blown, Meralyn, I suggest you go and report back," Professor Yang advised.
"And what about your message that you left me? Find Victoria."
"Huh, you figured it out. That message was for if you ever needed me because she knew how to contact me. I'm sorry for leaving the way I did, but they were onto my tail. I stayed in California a little too long. I should take my leave now. I have a few things that I have to take care of while I'm here. I'll see you tomorrow." I wasn't ready to go. Now that he was here in front of me, I had so many questions, so many things to say to him and I didn't know how to start any of them. I could only watch Professor Yang's back as he was ready to leave.
"Oh and," Professor Yang said, turning his head back so I could see his right eye, "I'm proud of you, Dylan." There was a faint smile on his lips right before he turned and walked out of the door.
It would be okay, I told myself, I still had another chance to tell him the things I wanted to tomorrow.
Fortson and I showed up at the headquarters. We were currently sitting in the debriefing room, under the scrutinizing gazes of Porter and Garrison. Sanders was currently with the cryptography team and would be back to hear about my op. As for Fortson, she reported to Garrison, who had been the one to hand out all the undercover ops. I could tell Garrison was slightly disappointed that Fortson had been compromised by her own target; he expected her to be better than that. Fortson took Garrison's reprimands without a word, although she was probably feeling irritated that she was seen as "not good enough."
Fortson was praised as one of the best female agents of espionage division, with close to a ninety percent op success rate. Few had such a high success rate, mainly because they were the ones who got sent on the most dangerous ops. Being one of the best probably made Fortson feel worser than others when she failed a mission. It was another reason why I didn't try too hard to stand out; too many expectations. I knew I could easily be one of the best of the field division, but I didn't want to. It was for the same reason why I turned down the promotion offer.
"With all due respect sir," I interjected, just as Garrison was about to give her another lecture on how to get compromised, "It was my fault." It surprised me that she omitted the part when I contacted her while she was in deep, making it seem like it was her incompetence that got her compromised. Even though it was clear that Fortson was willing to take the hit for both of us, I refused to let her take the burden. Besides, it would save me a hell a lot of trouble from owing her a favor in the future. And it was my belief that I wouldn't let my comrade take the fall; comrades were there to support each other.
"How so?" Garrison questioned.
"I know I broke protocol, but I contacted her while she was undercover. It was because of me that she was compromised," I explained. Garrison's eyes narrowed at me, while he let out a loud sigh. It was probably another headache he had to deal with among everything else.
"You know better than to do that. What made you think it was okay to do so?" Porter demanded, momentarily relieving Garrison of his duty.
"Fortson had the answers that I needed. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have found Agent Hawk." At this, the room fell silent. Garrison and Porter exchanged surprised glances, clearly not expecting to hear that name again.
"Explain," Garrison demanded.
"I think it would be better if Sanders was here as well, so I won't have to explain twice."
After ordering someone to go get Sanders, Garrison sat back down in his chair, his arms crossed as he looked at me expectantly. I averted my eyes away from his, choosing to stare over his shoulder at the wall. Five minutes later, Sanders bursted into the debriefing room, breaking the deafening silence between the four of us.
"You got some explaining to do, Stone," Sanders stated. I hadn't expected anything less.
"Like I said, Fortson and I found Agent Hawk. I have confirmed that he is one of the writers of the file that my team retrieved and he has stated that he will come in tomorrow to brief you on the contents of the file. He also has confirmed that he did not know what his comrades wrote in their files." While I spoke, Sanders made his way across the room, before taking a seat next to Porter.
"Start from the beginning. Leave nothing out," Sanders demanded. And so I did.
I began with my first meeting with Victoria, leading up to this point in time. I left nothing out and for once in my life, my report sounded like Coleman's did. I recited everything that Victoria, Fortson, and Professor Yang said to me, word for word, as if I was reading out of book. Garrison was especially interested when I started to recite what Professor Yang told me in the safety of Fortson's apartment. All three of them looked a little astonished when I got to the part about no one knowing those files existed except for members of Operation 428. It was hard to believe that there was a leak to ATG, but what other possibility was there? Only four people knew about it and they all supposedly disappeared off of the grid. I finished the story with Professor Yang walking out of the door, choosing to omit the part where he told me he was proud of me. I figured that it was a personal moment between us. Fortson seemed to understand because she didn't say a word about it.
"So you found him, huh? And to think that he would be the hardest one to find…" Sanders said, trailing off.
"He is the hardest person to find. Like I said, he found us. I think we might have never found him if it were not for Victoria. And of course, the coincidence that Fortson got assigned to watch her," I said.
"Do you know if he has a clue where his comrades are?" Porter asked.
"He didn't say anything about that subject matter," Fortson answered, "And I'm inclined to believe that Victoria doesn't have the slightest clue about her father being in the agency before. Although, Stone and I overheard Victoria and her father arguing about someone named Kevin. Apparently he knows about who Yang was."
"Kevin is related to Professor Yang somehow. He mentioned that Kevin believed that there should be no secrets between family," I added.
"I see. So we overlooked someone that we were suppose to watch over," Garrison mused, "So beyond that, Yang hasn't told you anything more?"
"No," Fortson answered, "We didn't have enough clearance. He said he would speak to Sanders and then let him decide if we needed to know."
"It's implied that what he left behind is of great importance then," Sanders commented, "You two will be informed as you are on this op. Once he tells us what is on there, I want you two to be on the follow up op." Fortson and I nodded.
"I would also like you two to escort him here tomorrow. Our headquarters have changed since he was in the agency." Again, we nodded. Sanders gave us the sign of dismissal. Fortson and I left the debriefing room, hearing the chatters of the three men right before we shut the door behind us. No doubt that they would be discussing the latest development.
"Do you know where he lives, since Victoria kicked him out?" Fortson asked as we made our way across the parking lot.
"No, but I would assume that he would find us again. Most likely at your apartment or maybe he will be at Starbucks." Fortson nodded, satisfied by my answer.
"Swing by my apartment at eight then. Later Stone."
"Later Fortson," I replied, even though she was well out of hearing range.
I went back to my apartment, knowing that there was nothing I could do until tomorrow. When Locke called me and asked me spar with him, I accepted. I met up with him at the gym and sparred with him until I got my mind off of recent developments. I wished that I could have told Locke about what I found. Even being the least perceptive of our team, it was clear that Locke noticed that something was distracting me. Regardless, Locke kept fighting me, understanding that I needed some kind of distraction.
We didn't stop until the sun started to set and it was near closing time for the gym. We both exited the gym at the same time, our gym bags swinging over our shoulders.
"We have another op soon. Coleman told me to be ready," Locke said, right before we were going to part ways.
"I'm currently on another assignment. As is Decker, I'm assuming. It might just be you two this time." I was hoping that after tomorrow, I could return to my previous post with my team.
"We'll see," Locke said, "Wanna hit the bar tonight?" Any other day, I would have accepted after an op, but I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow.
"Maybe next time." Locke nodded. Locke didn't take my words to heart. He knew and I knew that there wasn't always a next time. Death was always looming above us and we never knew when things could go wrong.
For all I knew, I could die tomorrow.
A/N: Hello again!
Guess Stone wasn't as great as pretending to be Fortson's boyfriend or Victoria is just that perceptive. :)
Anyways, let me know what you guys thought of this chapter. Next chapter will be a turning point in the story, which will get things moving for the plot line to progress and we'll finally get somewhere!
Thank you guys for reading!
Until next time!