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She stepped from the old Federal Reserve building, the cool air hitting her still slightly flushed face. Her day was finally over and after a good sparring exorcise she felt it was time to head home; maybe get some much-needed sleep after the last week out in the field. She put a hand in the left picket of her simple zip-up sweat shirt, her other hand pushing back a few wispy strands of blond bang hair from her face, as she took a deep inhale. The crisp air entered her lungs, cooling the warm soft tissue of her lungs, causing a sharp sensation in her chest. She wasn’t a smoker but the cool air was a shocking contrast compared to the warm, stale air she had just been breathing in. 

She looked up into the night sky. The bright lights from the city scape did nothing to dull the view of the Nevus. Its pitch-black color, a stark contrast to the bright violet gas and stars that outlined it. Her free hand moved to rub the back of her neck as she sighed. 
”Crus? Damn it Cruz where are you!?”
“I’m here sir!” she raced up to her superior from her bunk in the barracks. 
“You got a message” he said and thrusted the paper into her hand before turning on his heel and leaving. 
She eagerly opened the letter, sure it was going to be something from her father or mother. She was right but the actual contents were not something she had been expecting. Her eyes started to drift over the information.
Melissa,
I regret to inform you of the death of your mother, Delilah Cruz. Your presence is requested ASAP. A plan is leaving at 2300, be on it. 
Cpl Cruz
p.s.
I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you in person honey. See in a few days.
Love, your father


Her mind snapped back to the present as a woman’s rambunctious laughter penetrated her brain. She looked in the woman’s general direction as she stumbled from a nearby. She smirked as the woman stumbled into a friend and another bout of laughter erupted from her. That was a life that Mel had never know, would never know; the bliss of pretending the world wasn’t as big of hot mess as it really was. 

It still amazed her that people could live in complete ignorance of what had happened, what was happening. It was almost as if they woke up one day and opted that the news on their TV was just some giant joke and the rip in the sky above them was just some cosmic joke. She envied them a little, the freedom that such nativity must afford them but then again… she didn’t. She could not imagine living with her head in the sand. 

Her eyes were pulled back from the girls having fun when a fellow ARMA member slipped out the doors she stood just off to the side of
“Night Cruz, see ya tomorrow”
“Bye Hale, have a great night” she called after the retreating form that waved over the back of their head. She watched them retreat for a few more minutes before looking down at her watch. The bright neon colors blinked 2000 hours. It was early and late all at the same time and it left her body and mind feeling at odds over what it was she should do exactly. Sleep sounded amazing but then again it felt far too early to call it a night and the idea of having a drink at the local watering hole seemed perfect. 

She pursed her lips and chewed on the inside of her lips before she headed off in the wrong direction of her bed; it would seem the want for a drink had won out. Plus, there was at least one person she knew she would be able to find there and probably in some form of need of a drinking buddy. Even if he did not readily know it. 

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The Derby was a rougher dive bar that attracted all sorts of the more colorful types from society. It was a hole in the wall place that opened up into a pretty vast establishment, perfect for illicit deals and violent enough where the police generally just leave the place be so long as it does not spill outside.

This was all well and good, especially when Gavin had a tendency to become rather angry at various points throughout a drinking night... which was every night for a while now. This was especially true if the day he had at work was bad, like today.

He went outside the city and vented his frustration a little earlier, exhausting himself to get all the rage and energy out of his system so he couldn't do anything stupid tonight. Anyone walking through that particular section of woods anytime soon would swear that a pack of monsters with claws as sharp as swords cut a path through the trees.

He felt more and more trapped in a role that he should be a perfect fit for but just wasn't anymore. Patience was wearing thin both on ARMA's end and his own, and the goodwill he had gathered in his initial run had run out months ago. There was nothing else for him to do, though, not if he wanted to stay in New York State.

The government wouldn't have him, he was too violent and erratic for a cop, not charismatic enough for a public official, and too prideful to take a job he deemed beneath him. He couldn't turn criminal, because once upon a time he had sworn an oath of allegiance to his country - and even though the name might be different the land was still the same. He couldn't go private sector because he had no civilian skills, and he couldn't go executive security because he had no connections.

He was stuck, for better or for worse, with ARMA until he finally gathered the guts to finally leave the state for good. As it stands now, though, the ex-soldier was on shot number twelve and had already been in one fight tonight that secured him a back corner to himself in the establishment.

He was dressed in attire more fit for a homeless man than a soldier, with a white beater shirt that while still dry retained the stench of sweat being the only clothing on his torso. He had a beaten up, red Atlanta Falcons cap turned backwards on his head and a visibly damaged pair of carpenter jeans and dirty, unshined black leather boots on to complete the urban trash ensemble. The boots and jeans also had small flecks of dried blood on them from when he had kicked a guy in the face earlier when he had dared catch a kick to the stomach during an earlier scuffle.

Nobody would recognize him like this from a distance, which was just how he liked it. The more separate this piece of shit was from Sergeant DeLuc, the better. It was the reason why the initial few months of group drinking had degenerated to drinking alone and at home more and more as time had gone on. At this point, Gavin needed the alcohol to function as a normal human being and certainly was not proud of that fact.

So here he sat, in a dark corner of a rough'n'tumble bar to make sure the shaking stopped and stayed away. To calm him down and make sure he could sleep at the end of the day. So he could eat without vomiting and actually feel his entire body instead of having bouts of numbness.

This was life, now, for better or for worse. There was no need to get anybody else caught in this shit, especially in this day and age. Even if he did have a problem, it was minor compared to what most people dealt with. So what if he would die of liver failure when he was 50 or 60? It wasn't as if he expected to get that far anyway, he would die young like all the best did.

 

Because despite his shortcomings and his challenges the past few years, Gavin still considered himself to be in that elite tier. He had proven himself time and time again, and while he may not be at his peak anymore he had certainly not fallen to the level of only hitting that above average mark when push came to shove and shit hit the fan.

 

He was still useful, damn it. He could still do things, if only that wretched organization would give him the latitude he so craved.

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As Mel walked down the street her mind wondered idly from one thought to the next, never staying on each one long. She shoved both hands deeper into her pockets and hunched her shoulders as a cool breeze swept over her exposed skin. Her eyes looked up again, drawn to the Nevus above her. Her eyes lingered for just a moment before they filled with the view before her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment, focusing on the world around her.

 

She sent her awareness far out around her; There was a couple walking down the road towards her, their intentions bright in her mind’s eye. Just to the left of her a small rodent scuttled across the shadows, its intentions more primal; driven by the need for shelter and food. She pushed it out farther, almost to her limit and felt where she was going more than saw. After another moment she opened her eyes and dropped her focus. Like a rubber band snapping back into place, her awareness shrunk to a small 3-foot radius with a tangible thunk.

 

She considered herself lucky; lucky that the resonance had not changed her beyond recognition. She knew more than one person that had become a meta-human, barely a ghost of who they had once been thanks to the creature they had become. While she might have strange abilities, that were extremely useful, she was glad that she was still human. It was still Melissa Cruz rattling around in her brain.

She felt lucky.

 

As her mind skipped from her own luck to the downfall of others someone in particular popped in her head; the drinking buddy in need of a friend she was heading towards. She could no longer count on one hand how long they had worked together. She could even remember a time when his Wife was still around and what a team they had been. It really had not surprised her how badly Gavin had taken the loss of his wife and guessed that somewhere deep down inside that angry, violent, ragging acholic he still held out hope and was still that great leader and person Mel had known him to before the loss of his wife.

Her mind stopped the ‘memory lane’ moment when she reached the Derby and the door opened; a squat of a man tumbling out, mumbling something under his breath and bumping into her. She gasped and gripped the wall as her mind was filled with this man’s intentions and violence. Her eyes grew wide and dilated with the emotions. She bumped him off of her and stepped away when he tried to use her again as a balancing post and slipped through the shutting door.

Once inside she leaned against the wall just to the left of the door and caught her breath. This was the downfall of both alcohol and her abilities. People who were ragging drunk, typically had less control over themselves, leaving them wide open for the sensitivity of Mel’s abilities at such close proximity. And if she wasn’t ready for that kind of openness, it was almost as violent of a violation for her as it was for them for she had no time to steel herself against the oncoming onslaught of emotions.

 

Once she had herself centered again she pushed off from the wall and shook her head. She turned her focus enough away from her awareness that those around her weak enough to be touched by her abilities were like background noise to her own emotions; they were there and she could kind of hear them but they were not over powering her. For a moment she envied those that had more control of their abilities, like an off switch. For her, because it was tied to her very being it never turned off. She could only dampen it with pushing it from her mind; but it was always there. It was part of the reason she loved being around those with strong minds, to her they were like a silence that she once enjoyed before the Resonance.

 

Her eyes searched the dark corners of the bar, She pushed her awareness out. The need to focus hard on the world around her making her pupils dilate and become almost unfocused; the bar growing a little fuzzy around her. Another fun fall back.

 

Oh sure you can see those around you and their intentions but when you try to focus more intently you can hardly see shit. Thanks the balance of nature, asshat. She thought to herself as she felt something familiar and headed that way.

It did not take her long before her tall, lean body was standing at De Luc’s table and she smirked down at him “Feeling normal yet De Luc?” she asked, that wry humor showings it’s mostly inappropriate face. While others might have tip toed around his problem, Mel was known to point it out. It wasn’t that she had no tact or guile it was simply because he was a friend and she wanted him to know, as a friend and someone who cared about him, that he wasn’t fooling her but yet she wasn’t judging him either. As she had for a long time, she was merely there to make sure he survived to live another day. She felt she owed that to his late wife, who had also been a good friend of hers.

 

Sometimes she felt like Gavin forgot that he wasn’t the only one who lost Rebekah; she had too. But it was only when he was being a real fuck head that she reminded him off that. Otherwise she let him wallow in his self-pity, just there making sure his head stayed above water.

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It wasn’t public knowledge yet, but it would be soon. Within a few days, likely, and maybe even before then.

 

Fuck.

 

The incident that finally caused senior leadership to strip his command was smaller, by itself. It wasn’t public yet, because all of the witnesses were just now coming out of their interrogations. They had come across an odd caravan, and Gavin had taken the lead in interacting with them. They were suspicious of ARMA, and the soldier did very little to assuage those fears and ended up searching the caravan. It became apparent that at least a part of the group were lycanthropes, and tensions rose until fighting broke out. All of those travelling with the caravan, mostly humans and lycanthropes with the occasional Outworlder besides were killed, and three of the American’s men were injured.

 

The sticking points were whether the conflict could have been avoided, and the giant elephant in the room being the fragmentation grenades being thrown into one of the caravans that had the transformation cages inside which ended up having a few humans inside that seemed to have little connection with the group aside from being servants or basic hired help from the initial findings of the investigation that was still taking place. There had been some banging noises inside, but they were the help trying to hide from the fighting and not a hostile entity as Gavin had assumed when he gave the order to let loose the grenades.

 

With four lycanthropes already shot down and only a small group to work with against a larger force, the soldier made a decision that kept everyone alive. If there had been hostiles in that caravan and someone had walked in instead, they would have died or been critically injured before anyone could help them. He stood by his decision, but was stripped of command while the investigation was to run its course. Gavin had just gotten back in the city two days ago, and spent most of today defending himself and getting the entire line of events as accurately and consistently as possible for his superiors.

 

He was on administrative leave that started as soon as he left work, and thus had some time to kill while the investigation ran its course. The soldier had hoped to remain unseen here in this place, but fate had other plans for him that night. Melissa Cruz was a fellow 35M back in the United States Army, which made her really good at reading people even outside of her power set and predicting what people would do under stress.

 

Gavin always thought she was an idiot for enlisting in the first place, because she was the clear cut definition of someone who should have gone to military academy and been an officer. She was smart, more educated than any other grunt in their class, and capable of independent and useful thought in a group setting. She was always a cut above the rest of them, and quite frankly it showed.

 

They had never gotten particularly close until she managed to find herself across the pond for the Dragon War, and to be frank Rebekah was always closer to Mel than Gavin ever was. They were both smarter than the grunts, and both were ambitious and competent women in a subculture that was very male-dominated. Quite frankly, back in the day they made one hell of a team. Cruz was a thinker who would provide a lot of input on the big picture stuff, and Rebekah colored in the lines of that big picture with her larger than life charisma and tactical adjustments when the situation called for it. Mel grounded Rebekah and brought down those ideals into something workable, and Rebekah drew Mel out of that shell and gave her a purpose beyond just following orders.

 

After Lynch’s disappearance, Cruz was one of the only ones who this far out from the event had not just abandoned him. He didn’t know why, truth be told, because she had little reason to not leave like the rest of them had. Excessive loyalty was an admirable trait, but she was always closer to Rebekah than to him. It made no sense, and worked to her detriment in advancing at all when a main associate was as big a fuckup as the former Sergeant DeLuc.

 

When she walked over, casual as a cucumber he knew that she had no idea what had happened yet. He knew that she had no idea how precarious his position was and just how bad it would be for her to be seen with him in any sort of setting at the moment. Steel gray eyes surveyed the room around them, noting that he didn’t recognize anyone else in this establishment. That wasn’t foolproof, but it was a start and a good sign.

 

”Normal? No.” he responded flatly in his weird blend of acquired Irish brogue and his native Southern drawl. ”But then again, I guess most wouldn’t feel normal less than 48 hours after being accused of war crimes by senior brass.”

 

Shoulders rolled back, but his tone and facial expression were both dead. Gavin in recent years had become a lot less of a joker and a lot more blunt with things, and this day was no different. He could be completely fucked in about a week, and he had no control over the situation unless he wanted to flee the city at this point – which aside from being rude would also mean he’d have to go hoofing it in the wilderness outside of the city again… alone, which wasn’t exactly high on his list of priorities at the present. He’d take most things over being forced to live like an animal again in that great wide nothing outside of civilization once more at this point. It wasn’t fear, exactly, just realizing that his chances of survival in this state and this mindset were much lower than the same man five years ago.

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Mel would have not heard too much about what was happening to her old friend at the moment, but she did figure he was in some sort of trouble. When wasn’t Gavin in some sort of trouble these days? She tried hard to keep him out of it the best she could, but it wasn’t easy; especially when she wasn’t there.

 

The mission that he was being demoted over was one that she had missed. Injuries had nasty habits of sidelining people like that.  During a mission with another team, Mel had been filling in for another, she had taken the brunt of an assault and it had left her with a few broken ribs and a fractured pelvis.  So it was no surprised that she had been kept from any further missions until healed, much to her frustration. In fact, today was the first day she had been allowed to do any sort of physical training.

 

Mel had always known Gavin to be a bit brash and headstrong, less of a strategist player and more of a shot from the hip kind of guy. So if someone had told her he was in the shit house she would have laughed, shrugged it off and figured that he would be back at it the next day… not on admin leave with the possibility of losing his job.

 

So when he spoke of being accused of war crimes that bright but calm demeanor changed just slightly. Her eyes narrowed, and she tilted her head to the side. She had to consciously attempt to pull her awareness back even tighter around her. If there was one thing Mel did, it was never ‘read’ those that she trusted or considered friends. She had always felt it was rude. Plus, if this was the situation that would mean Gavin was on a destruction roll even more so than usual and she did not need to be sucked into the that black abyss of emotions.

 

She sat down in one of the empty chairs at his table and huffed ”Damn De Luc, I leave you alone for one mission and you go get yourself on admin leave…" she said and then added ”I am assuming” she looked away from him to wave down the cocktail waitress and ordered herself a drink. She looked back over at Gavin and chewed the inside of her cheek but said nothing as her attention was pulled away by the waitress setting down her drink.

Mel had never been particularly close to Gavin in their earlier years of service together, but she had respected him as a fellow soldier. When they had moved overseas she had gotten a little closer to Gavin, but it had been his wife she had become better friends with. Perhaps it was that Rebekah and her feed off each other. Where she lacked Rebekah made up for and vice versa. Plus, they were two of the small handful of woman during the dragon wars. As the years had passed they had all gotten closer but the distance between her and Gavin had always been grater.

 

That was until Rebekah was gone. Perhaps it was her undying loyalty to her friend in need or some weird sisterly duty she felt towards Rebekah to look after Gavin or that he was the last connection to her she had. Whatever it was, Mel looked after Gavin, stayed with his team and stayed his friend through his slow spiraling descent into whatever self-destructive hole he was trying to burry himself into, determined to not let him get too far.  He was not going to completely destroy himself on her watch, even if it took everything in her to make sure it did not happen.

 

She took a sip of her drink and looked back at Gavin, whatever guilt she was feeling pushed back down under the surface where it was not readily read-able on her face. She smirked after a moment and shook her head ”Damn De Luc, just Damn” she said with another shake of her head. Her smirk and slight amusement was meant to hide her guilt as it tried to bubble back up again. If she had been there, she would have used her ability and there would have been no grey area… no reason to act without knowing. Damn she thought to herself and mentally growled in slight frustration.

 

”What are you going to do on leave?” she snorted a laugh ”You’re not going to do something stupid… like I don’t know run off and play survivalist outside the city are you?”. Mel didn’t have to read him to know what he might do. No, after so many years she just knew what he might possibly do. It was what had made her such a good regular human soldier; her ability to read people and adjust for what they might do. In truth she probably should have gone about her military career differently, but she enjoyed the grunt work. And it would seem that it was a good thing she had done it the way she had. Her abilities would have been wasted had she gone a different way.

 

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Trust was a funny thing, and recent events had a way of changing his perspective on things.

 

God, it just felt so bad to be completely powerless over your own life… but here he was, drinking himself half to death waiting for a decision that he no longer had any control over. Worst case, they cut him and try to dampen his powers before letting him go due to the instability. Quite frankly, he would rather die fighting than survive a neutered shell of his former self. He had no illusions of actually making it out of the headquarters building alive if he decided to try and fight his way out, but he could do a good bit of damage before the top shelf mages came and snuffed the life out of him.

 

If they just released him, he would have to try some new line of work. He wasn’t cut out for much more than fighting at this point, and having to stay in New York lowered his options considerably. Maybe he could set up a mechanic shop or something, but his pride was too high to go to a customer service job after all of this time. He was a soldier, and would continue to be a soldier regardless of the organization or cause that he ended up fighting for. That was a fact of life, and if that fact could not be true…. He would die fighting before it was taken away from him. It was all he had left, for better or for worse.

 

”None of our people died, so at least there’s no personal guilt.” he admitted, tone flat as he took another long drink. ”And yes, ‘administrative leave pending investigation’.” he almost spat the phrase, the distaste and anger clear in tone and expression. Shoulders and right arm tensed for a few moments before relaxing back to normal as he briefly considered chucking his glass against the wall in frustration, but thought better of it at the last possible second.

 

Cruz, with a laugh, asked him what he was going to do when he was on leave. She knew him well enough to know that fleeing to maintain some level of control was something that he had thought of… but he just stared back at her coolly with a blank expression and unfocused gaze and a completely rigid posture before speaking again.

 

”No felonies, destroying my liver, the occasional shooting range day… you know, the usual.” he said, his tone matter-of-fact and voice low. It was almost as if he was talking to himself, and maybe he was. In an instant, his eyes refocused and his body relaxed just a tad bit more as he seemed to regain awareness of where he was. ”Fuck.” he hissed suddenly, getting up from his seat abruptly in a way that made it pretty obvious how much he had to drink already that night. ”I need some air, you up for a walk?”

 

Using one hand to steady his uneven feet, he started meandering out of the building without a response. His pace was slow, because he knew damn well that if he moved quickly the chance of falling or getting into another fight were relatively high. He had already paid his tab off, because he paid after every drink to give him the freedom to just wander off whenever he damn well pleased. It was a habit that he always had, because in the old days he never used to get more than comfortably buzzed at these places and certainly not to the sloppy drunk level that he routinely descended to these days. He had done a great job at training his voice to not slur in a manner that made it obvious to others, but the body movements and glassy eyes always gave it away.

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mel sipped her drink as a small silence passed between them. She watched him with calculating blue eyes. With her ‘awareness’ still pulled close around her she read him as best she could like any other, unusually observant person that knew the one they were watching just a little too well. She felt concern settle over her like a tangible blanket for her friend sitting across the table. What would they decide for his fate? Would they strip him of his rank, possibly even try to cuff his powers, then turn him loose?

 

Even though Gavin was a wild cannon, even more so these days than in the past, he was still valuable. His knowledge through the battles he had fought, his willingness to get the job done and his inability to shy away from a fight made him the perfect solder. Coupled with his ability, he was truly an asset to any team, if he could keep himself under control. As she sat there and weight and counter-weighed him as if she herself was the judge and jury, she almost wondered herself if his pros truly did outweigh the cons.

 

She took another sip of her drink. Of course, they did, she thought silently to herself.

 

When he spoke she nodded her head ”Mmm” she said in a simple acknowledgement of his words. She knew that none had died on that mission for if they had, she might have actually learned how deep of shit Gavin was in. Not that she could have done anything about it, the action had already been committed and he now had to answer for it; whether it was good, bad, or indifferent.

 

There is a moment when you throw new fuel on a small flame and it flares, throwing a burst of heat outwards without needing any movement from the things the heat touches to help it reach. His next words and the thoughts underneath were like the fuel on the flame and his emotions the quickly expanding heat.

 

Mel blinked for a moment longer than normal as his anger, distaste, and frustration washed over her. Another downfall of her ability, even when she was not wanting too she could still feel those around her if they projected hard enough. And Gavin was projecting his emotions out into the room like a wave crashing hard onto the beach. It almost caused her true physical pain, but she kept that small fact to herself and schooled her poker face to not show what was happening to her.

 

Mel groaned when he did not readily respond to her question and instead stared off with a blank expression. She narrowed her eyes and for just the slightest moment though about pressing her awareness out to him and trying to reach him on a deeper level, but the vehement of his earlier emotions washing over her kept her from doing that and the fact that after a moment he finally spoke, his eyes not even refocusing as he spoke.

 

She took another sip of her drink and chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment as she continued to watch him. It had been some time since she had seen him vacate so completely, it was as if Gavin was not even in his body any more, just automated responses triggered by the right questions.

 

While it raised even more concern for Mel, the moment was fleeting and soon he had returned to his body; his eyes focused and his body no longer rigid. An eye brow raised when he cursed and suddenly stood from his chair. It did not surprise her, his abrupt change of direction, she was just curious where this moment was leading too. Mel kept her eyes on him as she downed what was left of her drink and dug out some money to lay on the table for the drink and tip, since she had not settled when she had ordered the drink.

 

She did not respond to him, just silently stood and followed him out of the bar. She pushed her awareness out a little bit as they started to exit, just encase someone got a little bur of their butt and decided to start something or do something stupid to the retreating pair. Mel stuffed her hands in her pockets and never once reached out to help steady Gavin, he was a big boy and if he did make it to the ground then she would help him up if she felt he needed it but until then she wasn’t going to push any kind of physical contact. It wasn’t really in her nature to be overly touching.

Once they were outside the bar Mel looked at Gavin and sighed “Where to now Boss?” she asked in her typical bright tone. Her blue eyes watched him for a moment and her eyes narrowed, debating on if he really needed some help steadying himself or if he would be able to walk by himself.

 

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The cold night air outside immediately made him regret not bringing an actual shirt or a jacket into the bar itself. Each step was unsteady, but despite all appearances he seemed to keep his balance just fine and more than prevent himself from taking a spill onto the pavement. He would have normally driven to the bar, but he couldn’t exactly be seen breaking the law at this point and it was kind of hard to miss an armored truck in the streets of New York City.

 

Drunk Gavin, however, was not the most reasonable of individuals in the world. He ignored Cruz’s question for the moment to fumble out his phone and make a phone call. He rose the device to his ear, shivering slightly due to the fact that his beater shirt covered very little and barked out the address of the place immediately before continuing in a tone of voice that was much more giving orders rather than pleasant conversation.

 

”One extra large meat lover’s with barbeque, roll it in with two things of breadsticks and a two liter of Mountain Dew. Paying in cash.” he all but yelled into the phone, not giving a single damn about keeping his volume at a reasonable level with all the people around him. The soldier was not the best planner to begin with, but the more trashed he got… the worse his grasp of the future outside of immediate wants and needs was.

 

Which is why the second phone call was to a taxi service. He made absolutely no attempt to move to a more convenient location, and seemed more than content to loiter right outside the bar he had just left and continue shivering right by the door. He had left the establishment, so it had ceased to exist in his vision and thus his mental state at the time.

 

After the phone call and explicitly calling the cab to the location outside the bar, he started pacing back and forth while continuing the shivering. ”I should’a just fucking drove here.” he breathed, frustration clear in his voice. ”Fucking hell, it’s not like the truck would get damaged even if I rammed it into a power line anyway.”

 

The pacing continued for another thirty seconds ago until he seemed to remember that someone else was with him and actually turned his attention to Cruz once more. ”Hey,” he started, then shook his head slightly in a brief moment of lucidity. ”Sorry. Just a bit fucked up right now, I just need some food in me and I should get a lot better. Sorry you have to deal with,”

 

The brief pause was caused by a momentary loss of balance where a violent lunge to a nearby parking meter was the only thing that prevented a full on fall onto the concrete. ”This shit. I should probably just go home,” he started, but completely lost the train of thought when the most timely delivery of pizza occurred, mostly because Gavin didn’t realize that the pizza he had ordered had a building not even two blocks away from the bar he had holed up in. This was not a part of the city he exactly frequented, due to the fact that police tended to get angrier about people flaunting the law in the higher income areas. If a little drunk driving and a little fighting happened in a poorer area, the chances of the police being called were much lower. Once the conversation left his immediate field of view, it was forgotten. That was a sign of enough drinking that at least this point of the night would be a complete blackout by morning, and only happened when he drank an excessive amount even by his standards.

 

At the moment, though, Gavin just stuffed a hundred dollar bill into that confused teenager’s hand as he grabbed the entire order and sat down at the edge of the sidewalk without a word. He tossed the order to the ground, opened up the breadstick containers and just started sloppily devouring the food as quickly as possible to satisfy the momentary craving for food.

 

Back in the old days, he would never allow himself to get this wasted. He had not gotten quite this bad in months, though, because things at least seemed to be getting a little bit better. Now, with the possibility of everything that he had worked for crumbling before his eyes… he was right back to match the worst alcohol abuses that he had ever done.

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Mel stuffed her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket, the fleece lining soft against her hands.  She looked around them, her eyes taking in the darkened roads that were dimly lit and the sparseness of people walking down the sidewalk. This wasn’t exactly her side of town; not that Mel was afraid to be in the rougher parts of town. She just preferred to not be somewhere that might get her into a spot of unnecessary trouble. It was one of those things that wasted energy she didn’t want to waste.

 

Mel was like that, she wasn’t about throwing good things after bad; and that included her energy. Especially out in the field. While to people who didn’t know her that might have come off as a bit of a lazy streak but really it was just because she was strategically planning out each move, then each move after that.

 

She did not seem bothered by the fact that Gavin had completely ignored her question and just kept to watching the world around them; just assessing the situation around them, never letting her guard down (even if she did look relaxed standing there).  Her eyes had been watching two men boisterously attempting to get into their vehicle several yards away when she heard Gavin’s voice. Her head snapped around and an eyebrow shot up as she heard the words coming from his lisp.  She snorted softly in amusement as he barked his order into the phone before hanging up and calling a taxi.

 

She snorted a slightly amused chuckle again as he called a taxi. When he began to pace and started speaking to himself Mel tilted her head to the side, never saying anything just watching him. She pulled her hand out of her jacket and scratched an itch on her neck just as Gavin seemed to remember she was standing there. She gave him a soft smile and just watched him for a moment as he spoke.

 

Mel opened her mouth to speak but clamped it shut when Gavin made a full-face dive into the ground. She lunged forward and moved to reach out to him to help stop his wayward fall into the ground when he caught himself and used the parking meter to right himself. Mel took a step back from him and put her hands back into her pocket. She turned when she saw the delivery boy’s car pull up and watched with amusement as the look of confusion flashed across the young man’s face at the sight of Gavin.

 

Mel really did feel for the guy. This would be the second time his world might be imploding on him (the first having actually imploded with the loss of his wife). She was also pretty sure he had not been this bad of a drunk since right after Rebekah was gone. She took a deep inhale and looked down at Gavin and watched him as he devoured as much of the food as he could within the shortest amount of time possible.

 

 She shook her head after a moment of watching before moving to plop herself down beside him. With her feet flat on the ground in front of her and her knees bent Mel placed her arms on her knees and interwove her fingers together. She looked over at Gavin and finally spoke “is any of that actually making it into your mouth Boss?” the amusement in her tone evident as she watched him eat the food he had just ordered.

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Gavin was never the type to complain about getting his hands dirty, which was just as well because the current situation from any outside eye was pretty disgusting. The warm food was hitting the soldier’s face, but only about half of it was actually reaching the chewing phase. He jumped slightly when he heard Cruz’s voice so close to him, but quickly went right back to shoving food into his face with just a tad more accuracy.

 

”Of course it is.” the soldier snapped back, words slurring much more noticeably than before. ”The taxi should be here any second now.” he continued in between bites, before suddenly pushing himself up in the middle of one and abandoned the now smashed remnants of the cheese sticks and the unopened pizza completely.

 

”Fuck, it’s cold.” he mumbled, glassy gray eyes surveying both sides of the street in anticipation of the cab. The man absentmindedly rubbed off the cheese and grease seared into his hands and forearms as he started to pace back and forth impatiently. Boots stomped on the ground with every step as the soldier’s upper body slumped forward and shivered.

 

”Keys left front pocket.” he recited as Cruz came into view once more, part of the ritual he had gotten used to saying to a person nearby that wasn’t completely destroyed when they were around. He would normally say where his keys were and where the weapons on his person were, but for once he had brought no weapons with him. No matter how destroyed he got in a random bar, his powers couldn’t be stolen from him and he couldn’t exactly discharge it by accident. He also couldn’t flat out set it somewhere and forget it in a blackout phase, which happened often enough to be an issue that was planned for when possible.

 

 

Fucking light.

 

This wasn’t the first time he had to be dragged into his house, and it was certainly not going to be the last. At the very least, it was a good house in a good area. Five stories with a garden (though horrifically unmaintained at this point) and both basement and roof access. Hell, he even had ten parking spots reserved in the parking lot about a block down the street. Much too good for him right now, but a goddamn battle to get in the first place. It was a townhouse style building in the Upper West side of Manhattan, within walking distance of the old Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity. It was an enormous purchase, and was originally a group purchase between about four families that fled from England in the beginning stages of the Dragon War and bought up the enormous building while prices were extremely low because of the lack of public order and lack of bodies to occupy the many buildings in the city.

 

By 2017, the house was put up for sale because the property prices had shot through the roof and the four initial families had an irreparable falling out that had to be settled in court. Gavin made a habit of taking souvenirs from doomed areas over the years to supplement his horrendous salary as a soldier before joining the Silver Winged. Mostly jewels and other easily portable objects that would retain value once society got back together. When all was said and done, the American contributed about a million towards the house by selling off all of his baubles and pooling all of his savings together from the year they had already spent with the Silver Winged. Rebekah ended up auctioning off about four dragon skulls for roughly the same amount to collectors who were much more eager for the bones than they might have thought.

 

Four other coworkers ended up chipping in roughly a quarter of a million each in exchange for rooms within the complex, but both had sold back their shares in the years since in order to chase money or adventure. Most of them went outside of the city in search of these, but the one that didn’t was actually the one who got the tip off about the house in the first place and was at this moment a very successful house flipper who got filthy rich by making the necessary renovations that the previous tenants lacked the resources to do and just reselling.

 

Not that Gavin could touch anywhere close to a million these days, and indeed even paying for the maintenance of the house cut a decent chunk out of each and every one of his paychecks. He was living alone in this enormous house, partially because he was paranoid and partially because anybody that he trusted enough to share the building with found him to be absolutely insufferable and left within a few months. That didn’t exactly help the soldier’s willingness to bring fresh blood in, but between the drinking and the fact that he was too damned lazy to do some of the repairs and general maintenance by himself meant that he might not have much choice in the matter sooner rather than later.

 

The drunkard woke up on his couch on the ground floor with a groan, in an instant noticing that for some reason he had dried cheese all over his bare hands and arms alongside the fact that he had a noticeable amount of dirt on his left side for a reason he could not entirely remember. The living room itself was fairly generic at the moment, with multiple couches surrounding a fireplace that hadn’t been lit in years and a large flag of Connacht hanging above it. The room had a metal door to the back garden area and another opening towards a long and narrow kitchen area. There were three other doors that led to the bed and bathrooms for the floor, the cellar, and the foyer with stairs leading to the second floor respectively. The house was obviously a thing of beauty, once, but years of partial neglect had taken its toll and any polish the area might have once had was gone. It was much more of a functional living space than the pet project it used to be, which suited Gavin just fine.

 

”Fuck…” he muttered, reaching blindly for the whiskey that should have been on the table next to him but finding nothing.

 

”Fuck.” he hissed, a little bit more loudly this time as he rolled to his side and grabbed his aching head before forcing himself to sit up and steady himself. He closed his steel gray eyes and was content just to breathe in and out for a few moments as he steadied himself. ”I need a goddamned shower, jesus.” he muttered under his breath but made no immediate effort to actually get up. He needed to work up the motivation to do that at this point, and that motivation was simply harder to come by than usual.

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