"What exactly does 'went rogue' mean?" The question had sprung from Ken's lips before he knew he was even going to ask it.
"I'll tell you on the way. I want you to see where the mission took place. Maybe you can find something I missed." He grabbed Ken's hand and pulled him out of the office, barely giving him time to grab a jacket against the still falling rain.
Out of the corner of his eye as he and Michael stepped onto the elevator, he saw Mr. Jason Biggs on the telephone. Then the thick metal doors closed.
"So what does 'went rogue' mean, Michael?" he repeated.
The teenager shifted nervously. "Well... Three months ago, me and Claudia were part of a team, an official team, running off the Hunters Network. The rest of our team, Miguel and Jacqueline, were the other two people in the picture. They were killed on the same mission I got this bite on," he gestured vaguely towards his elbow. "Well, rather than report back to New Mexico to build a new team, Claudia and I decided to go it on our own." He paused, biting his lip.
"What is it?"
A nervous smile as the elevator began to descend very slowly. "Claudia has the reputation to go solo if she wanted to. She doesn't need the Network filtering missions to her; she used to freelance before she joined, in fact. She asked me if I wanted to go back to New Mexico after Miguel and Jacqueline died, and when she told me she was going solo, I decided to stick with her."
'Because you think of her as your family, as you said,' Ken's mind finished. Aloud, he prompted, "So what happened?"
"The Network sent... representatives to us, saying to come back or else. Claudia refused, but she gave me the option again of going back, and I said I was going to stay with her." He laughed humourlessly. "She said fine but she wouldn't be responsible for my safety - then saved my life the next mission out. We functioned better as a duo than when we were a full team."
He gestured vaguely. "Come here." The boy turned towards him, and he started buttoning up his jacket, anything to keep from seeing that too very tempting vision.
As if it were nothing unusual to have another man fixing his clothes, Michael continued speaking. "A full team is five people. We were pushing it having four after Scott got promoted in Claudia's place - she turned it down despite the higher pay - but having just two was too much. The Network gave us one last chance, come back or be cut off, and we refused. So now Claudia and I are freelancers, rogue hunters."
"So why did Claudia turn down her promotion?" He fastened the last button and began pulling on his own jacket.
"To stay in the field, to keep hunting. She says she can't live without hunting, she's been doing it so long; there's no other life for her now."
'I'm almost afraid to ask...' "How long?"
"She told me she started hunting when she was eleven..."
"Eleven?!" He choked on nothing but air, staring at the young man in absolute amazement. 'Hey! When did I start believing this?'
Michael nodded slowly, his blue eyes darker somehow. "That's right. That's when she started hunting. The Network's files have her first recorded kill at age nine though." He shrugged lightly, nervousness still in his every gesture. Apparently, he wasn't quite used to talking about all this. "I hacked the files when I was in training. Claudia's the best of the best - and then some - and that's why I had to be on her team." He shrugged again. "I'm very good at getting my way."
'He blackmailed his way on there. Sounded like he... slept with someone whoever assigns teams then held that against them... Why am I buying this?'
"You look like you're trying to decide whether or not to believe me, Ken," Michael stated suddenly, staring at the older man's reflection in the metal doors just as they opened and they stepped out. He couldn't help but be startled at the boy's intuition. "It's all true. I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by lying to you."
"You know that?"
"Of course!" He didn't look or sound offended, but Ken was fairly certain he was. "If I lied to you and you found out, you wouldn't help me and then I couldn't find Claudia. I may be young, but I'm not stupid." He pulled his jacket up closer to his neck as they stepped out into the elements. "The mission was the warehouse district three miles west of here. Do you have a car, or do we walk?"
28 October 2001
So is it the approaching holiday, or has inspiration finally jumped up and bit me in the ass?
I have to say I like bitch boy Michael better than the way he originally. In the beginning, both he and Claudia were very much like Fujimiya Aya-kun; now he's a weird, slutty fusion of Tsukiyono Omi and Shindou Shuichi (Omi's mad skills and Shuichi's fashion sense ^_~).
Anyway, next chapter will be out Monday or Tuesday! Keep your eyes open for it!