A/N: Hiatus is presently over!
Warning: Hints of underaged drinking. Well, according to America's laws.
Year Four - Accountability
Any qualms worrying about the consequences of his actions meant little to Chad at this very moment. Things have gone to hell and back so how would this be any more different than the destruction that he's caused so far?
He felt for the former Sector Z operatives, he truly did. This personal hell that they had to endure for so long was the harsh consequence of their loyalty to the KND and look what happened to them. They were little less than the very drones everyone had witnessed at the Base: cold and unfeeling and very much inhuman in their perfection. A living, cruel parody of what adults wished their children to become because it made their lives much more manageable, much more easy to control, and perfect to take care of.
Being a part of HAWK, he had an idea what had happened to the parents of those operatives. They likely had their memories removed of Sector Z just as history repeated itself with the children under stasis. And then, just like that, they were swept under the rug until a solution could be found be it months, years, even decades. It was pragmatic for someone like him to understand, but it was undoubtedly horrifying to think about. Sometimes he wondered if he was doing the right thing the way things were going so far.
There was nothing but a disgusted pity when he met them at Father's mansion, a home that should rightfully be his at some point, but one he would never step back into again after this night. He didn't see anything atypical of a party. In fact, everything looked like it was being settled for a quiet evening. That was what kept Chad on edge. If this wasn't a party, then it must be a trap.
"I can assure you, Father, it is not a trap," their unified monotone did little to soothe his nerves, or maybe he was at his most vigilant due to the name. To be called Father by them was unsettling. "We will let the party come to us. BYOB, is the crudest twist of the phrase."
Chad frowned. "BYO…?" Bring Your Own… he couldn't believe his ears. Especially not from them. Did Father's absence really break some kind of hold over the Delightfuls after all? It must have for them to be seeking out an audience with him and inquire for that risky chance to try recommissioning again if not temporarily. The problem was HAWK's ruling on the matter. All recommissioning modules under their property couldn't be used unless one was eighteen years old. The Delightfuls was just shy of sixteen. "Why a party seriously? What do you hope to gain from it?"
"Destruction." Chad blinked a few times wondering if he was hearing correctly. "This mansion has too many memories. Bad memories. We want it gone."
Well, that was one way of going about it. "And then where will you go afterwards?" The question of HAWK hung in the air. There was only one place they were going now: back into Mother's rightful custody no doubt. Maybe they were even to be tested on to seek a permanent cure if there was one available. There was no use waiting around for a fallen archvillain that they may or may not come back to if the contents of their email to him proved anything.
With a heavy sigh, he weighed the pros and cons before he stood up and fished for his pockets for the device, a little thing that looked like a cellphone. It even acted like one. "You ready then?" Good idea or not, something had to give. Maybe this was what they presently needed: an escape from reality. Even for one single night.
They stood together and stared him down in an absolute quiet as the device made a whining ring.
Fanny was finally conscious enough to complain about the food and the medical staff, so when Rachel received word that she was awake, she immediately pushed all conflicting thoughts she had about the mission and Chad's sudden crisis of character to see her.
She wasn't alone.
Before she even reached the ward, Patton had already arrived, or maybe he had always been there. He was an immovable force that neither ate nor slept until the people he cared about were safe again. When she saw the redhead upright and whining about trivial things, Rachel very nearly started to cry, and actually did when her best friend took one good look at her and then patronized Patton for the bandages around Rachel's arms.
"You dragged Number 23 to safety I hear!" she grinned and took Fanny's bandaged hand into her own. After a moment, she wiped the tears away with the other. "You old softy you!"
Caught in the act of doing good back in DRAGNET, Fanny gave a hitch of her shoulders and raised her nose up. "Aye… she was a lousy shot. An'... she was in the way of my own aim! Dragging 'er was just an afterthought!"
Patton rolled his eyes, but it was so quick, Rachel had honestly thought she imagined it. "Well, she's out in recovery now. She's going around calling you a hero." Now that really did color Fanny's cheeks and she ended up sputtering in denial about it.
Rachel simply laughed.
The reunion wasn't long. One of the nurses on-call eventually ordered them out for continued observation of Fanny's injuries now that the worst was over. Rachel personally didn't envy whoever was in charge of taking care of the spitfire redhead. By the night's end, she wouldn't be surprised if she received communications from the Medical Ward begging for Fanny to be released into a regular hospital instead due to her demanding nature.
Ordering Patton off-duty for a full night's rest, Rachel dealt with whatever paperwork she had neglected the last few hours and then returned to the barracks. Barely anyone slept there unless it was for overnights, for they already had a place to rest within their own homes and their own families. She took advantage of the privacy by climbing up one of the top bunks and fiddling with her phone, debating whether she should contact Chad.
He wanted privacy, that she knew for certain, but sometimes she just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and knock some sense into him the Fanny Fulbright way. She wanted him to know that he wasn't alone in this. At the very least, not anymore. They were all going through this together.
Things, unfortunately, just weren't as simple. She had read his file multiple times to prove that theory. His psychological scars aren't something that can be easily banished away, not with the kind of life he lead that didn't sound so healthy, especially when he was so young doing it. She couldn't imagine a life like that herself, being a double no, triple agent at the cost of her own identity.
With a frustrated sigh, she tucked her phone away. "Idiot," she mumbled. If he'd just talk about his feelings- it was a man thing, she supposed. It was a really stupid man thing. Undoing the strap of her Utility Watch before she tucked in, she had a startling realization that caused her to sit up in alarm.
Fiddling with the interface, the face of the watch began to glow until a small hologram appeared, reliving Numbuh 362's conference with Infinity years ago that she had hastily recorded back on the Exobase. She fast forwarded it to where she left off and watched her younger self considering her answer before she turned down the offer to ascend.
"Why?" Infinity asked.
Rachel witnessed her younger self turning away from the boy and her hands clasped thoughtfully behind her back. "Why not?" she said after a long moment. "I'm needed here. With or without memories."
"Without your memories, how could you be needed for the Kids Next Door?" Infinity pressed on and, truly, Rachel wondered about the same thing. Her younger self only smiled a secret smile, one that she recognized quite plainly. It was the kind of smile she used whenever Harvey claimed he knew exactly what his gifts were under the Christmas tree and his guesses were completely off course. She knew exactly what presents he would receive. Oddly, Numbuh 362 was exuding that same aura about her.
Her younger self's next answer was monumental into Rachel's decision regarding her possible recommissioning.
Not too long after, a heavy thrum of bass sounds caused the polished wood underneath him to rumble pleasantly beneath his feet.
They weren't kidding when they offered invitations to everyone and anyone. Predominantly teenagers, bodies began to pour in, carrying everything from DJ equipment to beverages to dirt bikes.
Dirt bikes that were currently being used as a racing gimmick down the winding staircases of the mansion. People cheered and hung dangerously against the banisters while riders crashed into everything and anything from windows to furniture. The DJ then spun a heavy beat in the large ballroom where most of the party was gathering and they all danced and pounded down drinks while the DJ announced that tonight was going to be the most wild party in the history of the city. That might even be true the way it was going now.
The chaos brought peace to his mind. For the first time, the external sounds were distracting his thoughts, leaving him quite bare and acute to the rest of the world. He became strange when he wasn't allowed to plan and scheme. Chad kicked back on the couch in order to supervise the event as what the Delightfuls, now a very angry and feral Sector Z, suggested he do before reveling in the party going. That was when a dirt bike suddenly revved right past him while he got comfy and crashed right through the glass doors to his left until it finally parked straight into the pool where people quickly jumped into after. People cheered loudly, but it was hardly entertaining for someone who's seen the best and worst of motorcycle accidents.
"Looks like you need a drink," a very sultry voice said to his right. Chad rolled his head and found Cree in all her adult glory nursing a can of soda. Possibly soda. One look at his critical expression proved her words. "More than a drink then," she teased and probably wondered why he must always analyze everything and everyone without a break in between. Perhaps that was why he was considered the best at what he did.
He should be alarmed, even angered at her presence. After her brutal chase of him during his ATB and the way she handled Rachel, he had half a mind to attack her. Number 274, however, was currently off-duty and so it left just Chad Dickson to do the song and dance of speaking to another human being without the guise of an agent. Which Chad persona he wanted to use tonight was debatable. The uncaring double agent? That might work. "Does Maurice know you're here?" he inquired coldly before taking the can she offered him. Cree simply snorted.
"He's not my keeper. I can do whatever I want." That was a surprising answer. Cree crossed her legs and chilled on the couch with him until someone turned on the giant plasma TV in front of them and switched through the channels. They ended up settling on an MTV lineup of party music, giving the illusion that they wall beyond them was even more full of party goers. The mansion was quickly gaining ground with all of these guests.
"Want to dance, Dickson?" she finally offered after a long minute. Her dark smile insinuated something much more than doing the two-step, however.
Chad's answer was blunt. "No." He didn't dance or party on his own volition and when he did, it was for a mission. They let the awkwardness hang for a moment and occasionally a pretty blond girl would pass by in a dress way too short for anyone's liking. That was when his thoughts began to drift back to Rachel back on base. She was probably curled into the sheets in the barracks dreaming away her injuries. Was she dreaming of him at this very moment?
After the tenth time the same blond girl partied right on past him, his illusions of Rachel in such a similar outfit ended pretty fast. Rachel would never be caught dead wearing such a short skirt. She'd wear jeans or some kind of pants instead because she was always self-conscious about her bare legs, a sentiment that he certainly did not share with her. Guilt hit him for a moment until he washed it down with his drink and grimaced at what he tasted. "What the heck is this?"
"Cola," Cree teased, her smirk growing with each sip he took. He found her answer highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, the can had been emptied five minutes later.
The party goers he knew a good number of them by name. Teen Ninjas, former KND, that rare TND operative curious about the rave going on in the parlor, they were all here. Neither were fighting which was a first, unless it was that unfortunate idiot who tried to dance with someone's girl. The fights usually ended when someone landed on some kind of furniture and breaking it completely under their weight. That usually brought great cheer to neighboring partiers.
This was Sector Z's gift to those trapped in alliance against each other Chad had realized. They wanted everyone to be normal for one night without the pressures of politics on their young shoulders. It was obvious because he and Cree were sharing space on a couch and they weren't trying to tear each other's throats out. In fact, she was downright enjoying her role as a kind of gateway to forgetting his troubles and offering him 'soda' in all sorts of flavors and colors.
The police was surprisingly nowhere to be found even as the party was reaching a climax of epic proportions. It had come to the point that there wasn't a single quiet bit of area that Chad could easily get through without squeezing against every random person in sight. Soon the lights had faded and the colors of glow sticks and strobe lights filtered through everything crevice from inside and out.
Cree's Miracle Sodas successfully banished any thought of whether someone was an ally or not. Everyone was just a sea of random faces who were simply having fun, a chaotic fun that befitted their wild teen years. Eventually Cree's presence became more of a familiar welcome than a hindrance and they eventually ended up laughing when she relived the night he overthrew Father and described the state of Cavallero's face with colorful detail.
"His nose was never the same after that!" she wheezed in between sips of her drink. "It looked like a bent golf club!" Chad nearly snorted his drink out his nose. With each laugh, she scooted closer to him and, despite his hazy state, knew all too well of those implications. She was always someone who enjoyed eating the eye-candy from afar, but she was never as determined before. It probably meant one thing.
"Had a tiff with Maurice?" he raised an eyebrow at her forward advances. Maurice's name seemed to magically snap her out of whatever spell she had herself under and she readjusted her seating with a huff.
"You think I'm some kind of idiot, don't you? You AND Maurice," she nursed her drink with a glare. Now he was seeing the familiar Cree Lincoln. "I know what it's like to be used. Maurice was no exception."
Ah. "I see." Maurice's mission had always been to keep Cree on a tight leash. Somewhere, somehow down the line, she had figured that out if her angry expression was anything to go by. She may have even been more livid if it wasn't for the can in her hands. "You went strong for how many years? Can't be all what you think it might be." Even Chad had to switch girls from time to time in order to avoid those unnecessary strings that came with a long-term relationship. But Maurice had always been adamant that Cree was too dangerous of an opponent to switch off on and, eventually, the TND's last director of operations allowed him to go truly steady with Cree. Those excuses were really telling for every year passed that they had been together.
Cree, obviously, didn't see what Chad saw behind the scenes. "You mean fake? He and my sister are glued to the hip now. After Father…" her lips curled into a sneer. "the last Father disappeared, that was when we started smoking out spies like you. You'd be surprised how many disloyal dogs we found to our cause after your little stint. Maurice wanted to ally with you so badly after that bit in the convention, I knew something was up. So what is it? A secret faction? The Adults Next Door? You didn't have a use for my skills? I want to know." Her anger was growing with each sentence.
"You're loyal to Father. That's all you need." Now he was speaking in third person. Horrible. Truthfully, he didn't know why Cree wasn't tapped by HAWK after she defected. Maybe was too evil or something. Perhaps it was time for him to go through the proper channels if he wasn't already fired for what he had done to Sector Z. He gave his can a disgruntled look before downing it again. "Unless you doubt my power?"
"I doubt your loyalty. There's a fine difference." Cree had always been a shrewd woman. Clever, but easily moved by her emotions. That made her great for combat, but horrible at espionage. "Who do you really work for?"
Chad picked his words carefully and then shook his empty can at her, a charming grin well used to deflect the hard questions. "Next round. Surprise me."
The next mission came all too soon. There was a disturbance in the Delightfuls' Mansion. Interestingly enough, it was a party gone out of control.
Rachel zipped up her new uniform. The bodice was new and designed to withstand heat and all sorts of volatile environments for the worst of scenarios. For something as simple as a party? It was perfect for a test round according to Evy. After DRAGNET, Evy's query about updating the uniforms were a landslide in for approval and this was a prototype for the espionage division after Rachel's report about how their suits were too easily weak when it came to extreme heat.
She was slipping on her boots when Patton entered the barracks, already dressed in his riot gear and ready to go. He had what, a couple hours of sleep? Yet he looked as fresh as a daisy. She might have to ask for his secret to that one day.
"Mission specs," he said with a cool professionalism when he handed her the datapad. "The police have been encouraged to stand down."
She raised an eyebrow before glancing at the synopsis. "Why?" The answer was already spelled out to her. Most of the party goers had some affiliation to the cause be it KND, their lot, or their adversaries. It was like the Delightfuls expected this to happen. "A party designed to be neutral," she read out the specs. "At least, that's what the inside informants have decided otherwise."
Patton started to crack his knuckles, psyching himself out for combat. He was like Fanny in every sense of the name, though the only difference was the expressionless mask and the cool demeanor under pressure. Was he like this as an operative once upon a time? Maybe one day she'd find out.
The rest of the specs were a bit alarming. The Delightfuls had also been temporarily recommissioned. That meant someone had reinstated them with their tech-someone high up the chain of command. Rachel sighed in disappointment. She hoped it wasn't who she thought it was. "Well, this invitation does apply to us in a sense. Best we not disappoint, yeah?"
Her comrade nodded. "I'm all for a little party crashing myself."
Poor Fanny. She would have loved this mission.
Eventually their little territory of a couch became swarmed with couples so both Chad and Cree ended up at what used to be a very classy bar in the study. Now, it was its own mini party for the more older crowd. The college students there were still rowdy, but knew how to pace themselves for a long simmer of a night instead of crashing and burning like the younger ones.
The bar was loaded with all sorts of beverages he was pretty sure were hot enough to be illegal if the occasional thief who dropped by to escape with a cache of goodies from Father's secret stash under the bar was any indication. Trying to settle in, Chad had encouraged a very dizzying teen off one of the bar stools to go dance in the large mosh behind them. It didn't take long to persuade him and, feeling extremely proud at his tact, took the now unoccupied seat for himself.
Cree easily slid over the bar. Much to Chad's amusement, she seemed to be in her element pretending to be a legit bartender. The illusion kept on once more people visited them and soon enough, Cree actually ended up mixing drinks when people ordered while she and Chad talked about nonsense in particular.
"So…" Chad had long reached the point where he was completely one with the universe which was a first in a very long time. The 'soda' had loosened his tongue and attitude considerably. "Where'd you learn to mix?"
Cree handed him a drink that seemed to look like actual soda, but he caught on real quickly when it came to appearances. What it really was long since mattered, however, since he just pounded down whatever she gave him easily. "So…" she teased, stealing his opening and leaning against the counter. He wanted to laugh at how much she looked like an old school bartender listening to the woes of her customers. "How's your girl? Or did you finally ditch her like all the others?"
It took a moment for Chad to concentrate on the question, blinking away what felt like pure sluggishness. "She's… not like the others." He shook his head and revealed a very lazy grin. "Not a single one." And it brought a longing the more he talked about her, wishing to find her leg comfortably bumping against his while she lightly swayed to the music against his side. She wouldn't have recognized any of the popular artists, but she would try to dance to it anyways trying to prove that she was hip and cool too. He'd probably spend the next hour just watching her make a fool of herself, but it would be nothing short than the most adorable thing in the room. Maybe she wasn't the type to hold her 'soda' either and she'd end up giggling like a loon after the first sip.
He imagined her sliding down his side a bit, needing his arm around her before she fell off her seat and end up giggling into the floor. She wouldn't be worried about anything when he was around. He'd always take care of her and keep her safe… even when drunk.
This, however, was reality. He was here alone and enjoying himself while she was back on base watching over Fanny. Everything was all twisted around and wrong. What the heck was he doing here anyways?
"So why isn't she here?" Cree propped her chin on her palm, swaying just as much as Chad was, but only just. She was exceedingly good at holding whatever she imbibed thanks to experience. "She too uptight like Maurice and can't handle a bit of adult fun?"
But Rachel wasn't an adult yet which he slurred out to Cree. She rolled her eyes. "Look around, Dickson! Do you see just adults?" There was a random scream. Someone had been swinging on what looked like an antique chandelier and eventually that caved down into the crowd. The party continued without a hitch though. They've barely blinked at dirt bikes and catapulting into the pool from the roof so destruction of property was the least of their worries now. Instead the crowd around the fallen male simply cheered him on for his stupidity and got back to partying.
Chad turned back from the bar to find Maurice staring over him, his features etched in displeasure. "Heeey! Maurice! Looks like you're not uptight after all!" Cree fell onto the counter in a fit of giggles. It was such a perfect bit of timing that even Chad grinned stupidly at such a stroke of pure destiny.
Maurice looked between them and then frowned. "Seriously?" he demanded. "Guys, you understand the whole place is getting trashed right?"
Cree scoffed and then laughed again. "Who cares? S'not our house!" Chad nodded at such perfect logic before another induced bubbling of laughter left him again before he could suppress it. Maurice didn't need to put two and two together to see what was going on.
"I see you've welcomed yourself to Father's preferred stash," his voice was far from disappointed. "Dickson, you're free to come with if you don't want to continue acting like a donkey, but I've been ordered to take Cree home. Let's go."
Her laughter immediately ceased and she snapped her head at Maurice, sobering up. "Is that so?!" Cree's demeanor changed so quickly, Chad had to blink hard to keep up with the sudden change in atmosphere. Was she not in a good mood a few seconds earlier? She shoved herself away from the counter in disgust. "And who ordered that? Little Abby? Of course she would," Cree sneered. "you tell your little KND goody two-shoes girlfriend to mind her own damn business for once! I'm an adult!
"You're definitely not acting like one," Maurice had countered and both young men realized how explosively consequential the words were to someone like Cree. She immediately procured a bottle of Jack from the shelf and tossed it hard at Maurice which he dodged with an easy grace befitting his operative status. Chad wasn't so lucky and ungracefully slipped off of his seat when the bottle crashed onto the floor behind him, barely making a sound against the heavy music. He stared sadly at the waste of a full bottle.
"GO AWAY MAURICE!" she screamed and armed herself with a glass tumbler this time. While Chad wasn't in a very good state of reasoning, he was pretty sure Maurice couldn't dodge all one hundred of those things hanging on the shelf behind her. "I know who you are! You traitorous scumbag! You… you… you user! You used me as just another mission! Nothing about you is real!"
Maurice had the decency to grimace at her words. "Cree…"
Chad sympathized with Cree and nearly fell over again when he did. He had been used too. By both the KND, the GKND, just one after the other. How was that any different from Cree's plight, who honestly believed that her high school sweetheart cared for her? When Maurice advanced, Chad slipped out of his seat and got up close and personal with his former friend. "Hey… leave her alone, Maurice. Let her do what she wants."
Another wrong thing to say.
Eyes flashing in warning, Maurice leaned close practically daring Chad to make another move lest he ended up draped over the bar. "Stay out of this Dickson."
"You want a go?" Chad egged him on. "C'mon Payton, give me a reason. Because your holier than art thou attitude is really pissing me off."
Maurice shook his head in disgust. "Is that how it is, Chad? You going to fight me while drunk?"
"I've fought in worse circumstances." The undercurrent flash of unnatural blue in his eyes seemed to make Maurice a tad guilty of the implications. It wasn't exactly fair to launch half of the Teen Ninjas after him while he was obviously dying under the infliction of the S-Spore. They both knew the desperation that brought them up to this point but it was still a raw fissure in their lives personally. "Back off, homeboy," Chad continued with a growl. "The lady doesn't want to go anywhere with you."
"Back off yourself. This isn't your business," Maurice snapped back. "So this is what the great Chad Dickson's become? You get weepy over a mission and decide to hit the bottle, is that it?"
He hit below the belt this time and was rewarded with a harsh shove for his troubles. Two could play at that game. "You don't know a damn thing, Payton. You got all cozy in your command seat while your people nearly got killed. I saved their asses. Me."
"You're full of yourself." The slew of insults were smacking hard on both of their defenses that did little more than peak Cree's attention as they went at it. "And you wonder why they picked Uno over you." Their friendship now laid out on cold slab they seemed to be taking terms stabbing at it until they actually did end up in a physical confrontation. Chad's fingers began to close tightly into fists, his inebriated state only a mild side effect now that Maurice got his full attention. He was more than read to take Maurice on and then some.
Finally, Cree decided to wisely step in to defuse the situation. "Your alpha male problems bore me," she muttered with a lazy yawn. "Why don't you take your fight somewhere else where I can't see. I'm here to have fun, not referee your fractured bromance." And, handing Chad one more of her specialized drinks, she slid off the bar and disappeared into the throng of people so easily, Maurice would have an extremely difficult time ever finding her again.
With a huff of mild irritation, Chad took a step back and returned to his seat, oddly satisfied with what just happened. "Sorry I messed up your current mission," he punctuated his words with a sneer and drove the point home. "Maybe I'm done with you treating Cree like she's someone who needs to be leashed."
"Spare me your delusions," Maurice growled. "You did the same thing with Roxy and Sapphire and all the other girls. How did you think they felt?"
The blond let out a sharp laugh. "Oh, that's rich. Here's a lesson I learned the first time I mixed my personal life with my professional one: I never once told them it was forever. I never spun a story about how I wanted to marry them or do anything more interesting than what was on the table and I definitely didn't play the wholesome good boy who could sweep them off their feet for a better life. That, my friend, was all on you." He took another swig of his drink. "If you cared about Cree so much, you would have told her sooner than have her find out later."
Maurice said nothing, so Chad continued, though it seemed to be for his own benefit than his former best friend. "You know what I learned the last hour? She's got it so bad for you, it's almost painful to hear. Was it an act? I gotta know. Is it?" His continued silence said enough. "You better turn back around if it was an act. Either way, quit the mission and look for her because you want to, not because Numbuh 5 ordered you to."
Eventually, even Chad stopped speaking and they let the music seep into the bar to break the tension. Both men stared at the bar just thinking until Maurice decided to part.
"You should get drunk more often."
Chad snorted and returned to his drink. What was he a couple's therapist? Shaking his head, he returned to his drunken suffering, but even that was cut short. It seemed that no matter where he went, someone had to recognize him, someone had to demand something of him.
He sure as heck wasn't anticipating being pulled around by Kuki Sanban of all people, who looked so distraught that it caught him completely off guard. "Wha…?"
"Please!" Kuki cried desperately and pulled at his shirt. "They said you could help me! I want to join your organization!"