For Jonathan, happy birthday!


Aya closed the door to her motel room with a tired sigh. After spending almost the entire day running around, taking care of both important and senseless tasks, she realized it was time to get some shuteye. She decided she didn't want to sleep into the morning, but maybe a small nap would do her some good before setting out again. On her way to the bed, she caught her reflection in a mirror on top of a dresser. She touched her right cheek, her fingers wiping away blood and dirt when she pulled her hand back. Her face did not betray the exhaustion she felt inside. Even with grime and sweat tainting skin that was once fresh and clear, staring back at her was a youthful and vibrant countenance, one that did not belong to a twenty-seven year old.

It was her mitochondria that was responsible for this, the mitochondria that gave her powers she did not wish to have, but had no choice but to utilize for the sake of protecting herself and others who were soon going to be victims of an unimaginable threat. Aya shook her head to clear her mind of the bits of information she had gleaned in Dryfield, and some from Kyle. Now was not the time. She didn't return to her room to just contemplate. She just wanted to get some sleep so she could focus on the job that needed to be done, because at least she was doing something, unlike Kyle, who was just sitting on his ass getting drunk.

Aya rolled her eyes, quickly dispelling the annoyance that shouldn't be on her mind right now. She had to admit that he was a helpful partner, but she didn't need him. If he got in the way—and from the looks of things, he might—she'd simply drop him and work solo. She had done so before, and had gotten used to being alone ever since the death of her mother and Maya.

"What's with you tonight? You're usually not like this…" she whispered, and then shook her head again and laughed without humor. So it had come down to this—talking to herself to put her mind at ease. She really needed to get some sleep now, before her sanity slipped.

The blistering desert heat still encompassed and suffocated Dryfield, but she supposed she shouldn't be complaining. The temperature did drop since morning, and while there was not an air conditioner in her room, she was grateful that at least she had a room to shield her from Dryfield's unrelenting fever.

Aya walked to the dresser adjacent to the bed and dropped her handgun on the surface top before removing and throwing her denim jacket on the back of a chair. Once her fingers unfastened the utility belt around her waist and tossed it next to her jacket, she stretched her arms and back, relishing how free she felt without the extra weight cinching her sides. She'd like to think that without tools for wars, there would be no wars, but her own experience had taught her that victories were not always gained by guns and masses of men; they were not always predictable, imaginable.

With that oppressive reflection taking precedence over all other thoughts, she felt more than ready to pass out so she didn't have to deal with what was at hand. Aya searched the drawers of the dresser, not really expecting to find anything, but was glad when there was a clean white tee, still new with a price tag, waiting to be picked up.

She lifted the garment and ripped the tag off, wondering how long it had been there, but figured that it didn't matter. It had never been worn and looked big and comfortable to sleep in; that was what mattered. With the tee hanging over her arm, she made her way to the bathroom and washed her face with refreshing cold water before changing out of her mini dress. Now that she thought about it, it wasn't the most practical attire, but it did give her arms and legs the liberty to move about freely.

Now, only if it were a bit longer…

She'd caught the eyes of Douglas and Kyle straying to the hem of her dress when they thought she wasn't looking. It was even worse with the latter when they were in combat and she had to bend over and around awkwardly to make the best shots. Aya dismissed the embarrassment with an affirmation that nothing could be done about it now. She reached for the zipper at the back of the one-piece and pulled it down, letting the dress pool around her ankles. Standing in just her black bra and panty, the mirror reflected all her visible injuries, but there weren't enough that revealed just how much she had gone through today. The monsters she faced were relentless, and had it not been for her abnormal healing abilities, she doubted she would even be standing right now. Even the dark blues and greens of the more prominent bruises were beginning to diminish in color, the marks seeming to just blend into her skin tone.

She touched a fading scratch above her stomach and wondered if there were people who would be thrilled to have her abilities-to experience evolution in both body and mind-because she wasn't. It made her less human and more like them, whatever they were. She could never grasp normalcy again, never feel it again, and the only person who could even begin to understand what that was like was gone. Her reunion with Maya immediately turned into a farewell, but she wasn't even given the chance to give a proper one. It had been two years since she had accepted the true fate of her sister, but the pain was still raw like the assault of a thousand paper cuts.

But even a thousand paper cuts would heal, eventually. Giving herself a smile that did not meet the eyes, Aya unhooked the bra and slipped into the white tee, the soft cotton fabric hitting her knees. She gathered her belongings in her arms and made her way back to the bed, placing the clothes on a nearby wooden chair. A shower seemed like a nice idea earlier, but it could wait until morning. The plush, queen-size bed looked much more inviting for her heavy eyelids.

Aya plopped on to the soft mattress, sighing in content at the comfort of simply letting her entire body lie without movements, disturbances. Her eyes found the clean, white ceiling and the still blades of an old ceiling fan that did not seem to be functional anymore. She took notice that the room used to be covered with wallpaper of floral art before it was ripped and replaced with navy paint that was now chipping against remnants of its previous design—signs of worn and age. On her right, the head of some creature she couldn't identify with short horns was displayed against a wooden mantle, mounted above the dresser. Though its eyes were not reproduced, Aya still felt like she was being watched by the inanimate object; a very creepy sensation. A television set that looked older than her was set against the panel in front of the bed, and the remote was resting by the stand next to the bed for her convenience. Overall, the motel room had a very quaint, relaxed atmosphere—a nice and even welcoming change from what she was used to in New York City and Los Angeles.

As she reached to turn off the lamp, her wrist hit the remote, and an overwhelming need to turn on the television followed. She was never big into television shows, but there were some channels she watched regularly before the incident in New York. Since then and her relocation to Los Angeles, work, training, and research preoccupied nearly her entire day, every day.

"Just for a few minutes," she told herself, because she missed what it felt like to have a normal routine again.

Clicking the red button at the corner of the remote, the old television burst to life, pictures forming, static hissing first before the fuzzy commotion became loud coherent voices. Aya jumped slightly at the unexpected volume that seemed to amplify with the inhuman, high-pitched voices resonating from the screen. Repeatedly tapping another button to bring down the volume, she almost giggled to herself that what gave her a scare were some silly cartoon animals. There were two beavers and a skunk fighting over a batch of strawberries a family had left behind after a picnic. Very random and silly, but she remembered that she enjoyed watching these types of pointless cartoons as a child, on weekends, with Maya.

Though her eyes were glued to the scene of the animals attempting to fight one another for the strawberries, her ears no longer picked up on the words spoken, and her mind drifted to a moment in the past which she could only relive through memory now. She thought about her family almost every night, but the ghosts were more persistent tonight, the memories stronger, the pain and loneliness greater. Maybe she should have joined Kyle at the abandoned bar for a drink; his company was better than none. Heck, even the idea of playing with Flint didn't seem so bad at the moment. Turning away from the screen, she eyed the telephone and considered calling MIST. Maybe Jodie or Pierece would still be available, but then she recalled what time it was and fought the urge to feel sorry for herself.

Rolling on her back, Aya closed her eyes but sleep no longer wanted to claim her and sorrow would not leave her. Her mind begged for distractions, and somehow, the wish was granted in the form of weak footsteps outside her room. Her eyes instinctively flew open just in time to see the doorknob turn. Cursing her stupidity was meaningless now so she began channeling her parasite energy, preparing to unleash a shower of fire at the potential threat—

-and then the door swung open, presenting a tall, dark figure shrouded by night, till he stepped into the faint light in her room.

The heat her body accumulated dissolved, the tension focused on retaining her concentration receding when she met the familiar face with a gasp. "Kyle? What are you doing here?"

She watched him with a scrutinizing gaze as he continued to saunter into the room without reserve, not even finding the courtesy to announce his presence and the reason why he was here. He did, however, close the door behind him on his way in. She noticed that he was having a little trouble keeping his balance, his torso swaying slightly as he ambled over to her bed.

"All the rooms are out. Was wondering if I could find a roommate," he said fluidly, casually as if he were ordering a cup of tea.

Even though he was standing over her, the smell of alcohol wafting from his breath did not go undetected by her nose. "You're drunk," she stated.

He laughed. "And you're watching cartoons."

"I wasn't-" she started, but then stopped upon realizing that there was no point in explaining herself to someone who was drunk. She reclined into the pillows and crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes never leaving his—she hated to admit—handsome face. "Forget it."

"Aww, come on."

She shook her head. "No," she declared firmly and nodded toward the door. "Good night, Mr. Madigan. I'll see you when you're sober."

A flirty grin tugged across his lips and his eyes suddenly gleamed as his line of sight trailed from her face to the rest of her body before he spoke with great audacity, "What if I won't take no for an answer?" To further prove his reluctance to leave, he seated himself at the edge of the bed to challenge her command.

Aya understood that look in his eyes, was no stranger to it herself, and could read his intentions like an open book. She felt her heart ascending, but not from fear or alarm. Physically, she was no match for his stature and strength, but she was far from being defenseless. In fact, he had already gotten a small taste of just a fraction of what she was capable of inflicting and had burnt skin on his arm to remind him of her capabilities, but she supposed that didn't register when he wasn't in the right state of mind.

"Then what?" he whispered, the goofy smile softening as he leaned closer to her face, twisting his torso around so his body arched over hers, one arm resting against the headboard of the bed.

She wanted to say she could seriously hurt him, but couldn't bring herself to release those words through her pursed lips. Perhaps it was because he was drunk that she was no longer afraid to confess that he was very attractive, and up until this moment, she had respected both his profession and help. She could never openly reveal that to his face though. People often complimented her, especially her friends at the NYPD and MIST, that she came off as someone who was cool and authoritative, but they didn't know that she could still be very shy and withdrawn at heart.

When she didn't respond, he placed a hand against her cheek, gently drawing her face closer to his. A surge of uncertainty, excitement, and hesitance propelled her floating heart higher, letting her experience mixed feelings she should neither be thinking about nor dealing with now. Yet, she felt her eyes closing in anticipation for something she knew she should resist. Yes, there was some slight attraction since the moment they met, but that could not justify being taken advantage of (ironically) right now. An inch or two from his lips, she reached for his shoulders and pushed him back.

"Kyle," she murmured, shaking her head to emphasize her reluctance.

He didn't answer at first, just glanced at her with his warm, brown eyes that had taken on a more piercing effect due to the sheen of lust. She thought maybe he was regaining his senses, but the longer he observed her face, his thumb running circles over her cheek, she began to see that he had not given up on his pursuit. If it weren't for the scent of Scotch emanating from his breath every time he softly exhaled, she would have never guessed he was drunk. The slight lack of coordination she had caught when he entered the room was now under control. No more uncoordinated sways and silly grins. Just the same Kyle she had gotten used to having nearby, but with another objective in mind, one he seemed eager to fulfill under the influence of his heavy drink.

"You're…very beautiful, Aya."

She immediately felt exhilaration stab her heart, leaving it to bleed warm bliss that traveled throughout her body. His words came out firm, convincing, and so the compliment sounded too genuine; and so she didn't want to listen to the tiny, intrusive voice in the back of her mind warning her of the man's true motives for his praise. She…she just wanted to believe that he was being sincere. Why? Maybe so she could find the excuse to defend this situation to be acceptable, maybe she just wanted some company, the right company that was so hard to find these days.

Kyle's brows furrowed above his eyes, his lips contouring into a frown. "What's wrong? You don't take compliments well?"

Aya blinked in surprise, wondering what made him asked that. "Huh? I haven't even said anything…"

"Yeah but I can tell your mind is on something…you…you just seem sad. Want to talk about it?"

Was it possible that he had sobered up within the last few minutes? The Kyle Madigan she knew never made any suggestive hints, always maintained a professional relationship that was almost too fragile to cross. She was a special agent and he was a private investigator—different occupations but both followed the same protocols when it came to romantic engagements. She doubted he needed to sleep with her for some answers to his investigation. It was understood that neither knew more than the other. This was getting too confusing for her to sort out, so she just established that he was almost entirely there.

She let out a deep breath, and out went the frustration she had locked up. "I…well, have you ever just felt really alone? That no one understands you, and no one will ever understand you?"

He chuckled and stared beyond her face, beyond the wall behind her, into a moment she wasn't privy to. He retracted his hand from her cheek and swept it through his hair. She read it as a nervous gesture and could almost envision his mind meeting conflicts as it sought to reach a junction point after discarding one choice. He could have chosen to open up to her a little more, but he did not and answered with just a nod and a vague explanation. "Yeah, I am a private investigator after all."

She saw him swallow a visible lump in his throat before he looked like he was with her again, in the present. It seemed like he had his own demons to fight, but just knowing that there was someone who could relate to her made all the difference. Perhaps she was just imagining things, but she could have sworn she saw him waver before replying. Are you really what you say you are? her mind wanted to ask. She didn't doubt that he understood her dilemma but she did suspect that there was more to his story. Still, she was in no position to pry, for he had respected her to leave personal affairs out of their partnership.

For now, just knowing that she wasn't as alone as she'd thought was enough.

"So, you want to talk?" he asked again.

Maybe when you're ready to. Aya shook her head, declining with a small smile. "Thanks, but I think I'll be all right. I actually feel a little better."

His hand found its way to her cheek again before he leaned toward her face, his whisper, promise, sending warm shivers down her spine. "I can make you feel even better."

Leaving her no time to even consider the implications she was already aware of, the distance between their lips closed, and this time, she did not resist, did not react as a soft kiss settled upon skin that had not been touched by a man in many years. The last most intimate affection she recalled was just a peck on the cheek from her date two years ago, whom she never saw again after that fateful night at Carnegie Hall. That night changed everything, took what she needed, gave her nothing she wanted. She was almost afraid she wouldn't remember how to return the sentiment, but natural instinct guided her in exploring a mouth that did not leave a bitter aftertaste, did not leave her choking on tears and sadness.

She no longer cared if he was drunk or not; maybe she was the one who was intoxicated, imbibing an illusion that was infinitely more exquisite than her reality could ever be. In this state, there was no pain, no suffering, no grief.

Just the warmth she hadn't felt in so long.

The kiss intensified, Kyle's lips and tongue becoming a little more aggressive, but it was never rushed. Her heart found comfort and security in the presence of this man, and like a magnet attracting its opposite pole, she felt the fragments of the organ drawing toward him, wanting him to piece them back together, give the whole a function again.

A wave of heat tumbled through her body when she felt his hands at her sides, his fingers gently caressing her abdomen, seeking permission to wander further. She signaled a confirmation in the form of faint moan, and new tingles electrified her senses as his hands ascended over her chest, his palms falling over the full, soft protrusions of her breasts. His thumbs intentionally grazed over the nipples, turning them into erect nubs, their shapes outlined by the stretch of the tee. A sensation that had remained dormant for far too long was awakened, stimulating one of the most primal urges, making her feel that she wasn't too different from the human before her, or the next one, or the one after.

"Kyle," she called breathlessly and held his waist, summoning him to satisfy her expanding greed. She ran her nails along the muscles beneath his tight shirt, the texture of his physique most pleasing to her sense of touch.

He pulled his lips away, letting her inhale sharp breaths as his mouth glided down her slender neck and shoulder blade. Kisses were planted down the trail that led to her right breast and the nipple he captured lightly between his teeth. Warm pleasure shot throughout her body, and she felt as if every receptor had just stirred to welcome back this forgotten feeling.

She cupped his face and sighed into air that was mixed with the aroma of cologne and alcohol. "Mmm…"

The tip of his tongue playfully teased the tiny bud, soaking a tiny area of fabric below his mouth until she guided his face toward hers, his lips back to her anxious mouth. It was strange—kissing seemed to calm her at the same time it excited her to know that it would lead to something else, to a level more intimate than the last. She didn't have to wait long for Kyle's next move. One arm curled behind her head, the fingers weaving through and locking around a fistful of hair, but his right hand crept along her thigh, moving upward beneath the tee. With no material in the way of skin-to-skin contact, his palm above her bare breast charged the tingling impulses circulating through her system.

She swept her legs to her right, inviting him to utilize the extra space on the bed. It was funny how a few minutes and a kiss could so easily change her mind. She couldn't even stand having him in the same room before, but now she didn't want him to be anywhere else. He pressed himself over her, his movements calculated so he wouldn't risk hurting her.

"Aya," he grunted, a pleased moan following when her breast was caught in a light squeeze. It fit within the contours of his hand perfectly, and all five fingers wanted an adequate feel of the flesh. "So soft."

When his body pressed closer to hers, it was impossible to not acknowledge his erection pushing against his jeans, brushing against her thigh. So hard, she thought with a smirk. She didn't have the guts to say it aloud, and even thinking about uttering such a simple statement caused heat to overwhelm her cheeks, because she knew she was responsible for feeding his lust and needs. As much as she was tempted to feel him there, the more conservative side of her dominated her motions, leading her hands to his well-toned back, where muscles rippled through his warm skin. She didn't want to admit it, but she was still having a difficult time letting people into her life, because they didn't stay for very long, and Kyle would not be an exception.

The kiss disconnected, and Aya could see it in his twinkling eyes that he was plotting something. "What is it?"

He smiled, his hand still kneading her breast with firmer grasps. "Allow me to do some private investigation?"

She resisted rolling her eyes at the corny one-liner, but his aim did retain her interest. Ignoring the roaring pounds of her heartbeats, she managed to say without stuttering, "I thought you were off the clock, ready to go to bed."

He closed his eyes and gave her a peck on the forehead. "I can work overtime. More benefits."

Aya suppressed a laugh. Just the urge to smile at the ridiculous statements put her more at ease. She did not see his humorous side until now, and wasn't even sure he had one. Maybe he didn't, and this was just the intoxication speaking on the surface. Maybe he was truly removed from reality and the monstrosities that plagued it, and she just wanted to be carried away as well.

Then let him.

Her body wracked with excitement when his fingers released her breast and took on a new route, moving past her stomach, and settling at the destination between her inner thighs. His thumb pushed lightly against the fabric of the panty, causing her thighs to reflexively squeeze together, either to deny or permit further advances. It had been too long since she had last been touched like this, and though the burst of pleasure was tantalizing, she knew her face expressed her hesitance. She barely knew Kyle, but that was not what bothered her; what scared her the most was eventually growing attached to him. She had accepted that living in isolation would be for the best, but an encounter like this could change their relationship.

"Don't be nervous," Kyle reassured, but not understanding her real concern.

He offered her a captivating smile that highlighted everything she found attractive about his face. It was hard to not return the smile, and when she did, he took it as a sign of passive consent. Wanting to explore more and give her a deeper satisfaction, his fingers curved under the band of her underwear. A mix of a squeal and a moan was deprived of by his strong kiss that set off a chain of fiercer ones, allowing their tongues to clash in a mischievous war. His roaming fingers, lubricated by her moisture, triggered all the right places that made her sensitivity pulse violently. She held him tighter, as much to brace herself as to show how much she was yearning for what was to come.

"Don't stop," she pleaded.

Tension around her toned, lean legs dissolved, leaving adequate room for his forearm to rest between her thighs. The limb began to shift forward and her warm, wet passage stretched to accommodate the two fingers slipping in, a little farther with each push, until she was sure that the full lengths of the digits were confined. "Go…" she whispered, and he was more than willing to execute her command, building speed after the first few thrusts that felt more experimental. He was a careful listener, noticing when and how her gasps escalated to settle for the right pacing, and when he discovered it—one that was consistent and accelerated—he was eager to keep her moans growing and finish the job.

Heat that could rival the desert's enveloped her, making her feel as if she were trapped within a hot bubble. Just her and Kyle. Nothing but this moment mattered right now, this moment in its own private cocoon, isolated from the world of poison that infected all that was outside this room, this sanctuary.

"Faster…please…" she murmured into their kiss, her short gasps causing her breasts to heave toward his chest.

His arm swooped across her back, and almost possessively, he hugged her upper body till it was right against his. That was her warning—if it even was one—that he would turn into the aggressor she secretly desired him to be at the moment. Safety, security, satisfaction—everything she ever wanted in life was right here, but she didn't expect them to remain for long. Each would be taken away, was fleeting, and always had been since she could remember. But for the moment, she wanted to enjoy what she had, while she still could.

The index and middle fingers drove forward and backward in a rapid motion charged with momentum that was fueled by the contact of their bodies and mouths. At a certain point, the pressure building toward the core of her climax numbed all but what was being targeted by persisting digits. Her tongue no longer fought against his, and she couldn't focus on anything besides the well of heat and electrifying throbs that was on the verge of rupturing. A soothing harmony of soft moans from both her and Kyle filled her ears as his fingers impelled till they could reach no further.

"Ky…" She bit her lower lip and curled into him. Lids fell over her eyes, and she saw nothing but felt everything—the eruption of a powerful orgasm that shocked and revived every part of her body, down to the last atom.

The fingers pulled out in a gentle tease, dragging her discharge with them. When he placed his palm on her quivering thigh, she felt just how soaked his hand was, and could still feel sticky liquid seeping on to the bed sheets as the spasms began to ebb.

Warm breath loomed over her face, and the faintest of pecks met her cheek, tranquilizing her.

In the sedated state, she finally surrendered to her exhaustion.

"Run!" she called out to the little girl who bore an uncanny resemblance to her. She was screaming, her mouth was moving, but no sound flowed from her desperation.

There was something very wrong; she could sense it. Threats were among the child as she ran to the center of the cross path of the strange and intimidating facility.

"Please, run! You have to get out of here!" she yelled again, but her warning did not vocalize.

She saw the fear on the child's face, and felt her heart sink. There wasn't anything she could do. She wasn't with the girl physically, but was just observing her through unknown lens.

The girl looked around the corridors, deciding which door she should go through. When she turned to the one behind her, her eyes widened as a golem-type ANMC came through, its bulky legs strolling toward her, forcing her back. She tried the door on the left, and before she could even reach the exit, another golem-type ANMC greeted her, sending her to the center of the room. Two more golem-type ANMCs came into view, one from each door.

She was trapped.

And she knew it.

Fear dissolved into defeat and acceptance as the soldiers closed in on her.


A shrill, female scream ripped through her ears, jolting her to consciousness. Her heartbeats throbbed as soon as she sat up, her head spinning around the room in locating the source of the horrifying shriek. Comedic sound effects soon followed before her eyes found the television, the channel airing some black-and-white slapstick show.

Aya relaxed at the realization that it was just some noises from the television that had startled her. There was no one in the room with her. No little girl. No Kyle.

Was it all just a dream? The one with the girl had to be. She wasn't even in the strange facility with her.

But Kyle?

She touched the center of the mattress, where his arm had been when his hand was between her legs.


Dried over some time?

Or maybe it never happened.

Aya shook her head.

Now seemed like a good time for that shower.

A/N: Did it really happen? That's for you to decide! Thanks for reading!