Special Response Team Lead; Nicholas Finch:
The single hardest task during an emergency was going to sleep. It was almost impossible. You walked out of the briefing with fire pumping through your veins. Enemies on the front. Civilians in trouble. Evacuations needed. And yet, two times out of three, your orders were to sleep. To be on call.
It made sense, in an abstract manner. If the response teams deployed everyone at once, there’d be no one well rested enough to take charge of the situation beyond the first twelve hours or so. Even combat forces needed sleep to be at their best.
Even so, Finch hated it. He’d been told to sleep when the elves attacked last year; only brought onto active work for the latter half of the event. Forcing the male to go to ground in central park. Helping the goblin teams dispose of the hunting birds in the aftermath.
He remembered every second of that supposed nap, eyes glued to his computer monitor, watching the updates come in. One confirmed kidnapping. Two. Three.
When the number hit five, he’d crushed his coffee cup.
There were some moments when agent Finch truly hated his job. This new assignment was one of them.
“A thirteen year old?” he asked, gazing at the image on his desk. “You want my team to take down a thirteen year old?”
The woman from the planning department shrugged.
“God no,” she replied. “Activating you against him would be a disaster. But we’re the government. We’re the ones who have to have a plan in place if everything goes to shit. And that’s what we want you to do. Figure out how to stop him if everything goes wrong.”
“He’s thirteen,” Finch replied, halfway between perplexed and insulted. “My team was trained for an inter-dimensional terror response, and you want us to come up with a kill plan for an adolescent civilian?”
The woman frowned.
“Did you see his surname?”
He glanced at the file again, and swore.
“His dad’s my fucking boss.”
“We know,” came the response. “That’s part of why you’re being called in. Normally, we’d rely on one of the Toranagas for this. But clearly, they’re not the right people for the job.”
Nick let out an aggrieved sigh, a residual note of stubbornness telling him to keep on fighting, even if he knew he had to do it.
“What makes you think he’s even a threat?”
His opposite number shrugged.
“We don’t,” she replied. “We have every reason to hope that he will never become a problem. But we’ve identified some side factors that pose additional risk.” Nick glanced up at her, and she started listing off items on her fingers. “First, he was molested about a year ago. It was quite traumatic, if the latter reports are to be believed. He was also actively targeted during the elvish raid-” Nick felt a momentary pang of guilt at that. “- and has been the target of at least one other attempted kidnapping that we know of.”
He began to object, but the woman wasn’t done.
“We also have evidence that he made unshielded contact with Father on at least two, possibly three occasions.”
Finch fell silent at that, his objections dying in his throat. He might have kept on fighting if the list was simply trauma. That was what the therapists were for. But this was Father. He glanced at the image on his desk, and winced.
Short. Slender. Androgynous. The kid was exactly Father’s type.
“What level of contact?” he asked.
The woman laughed. Nick didn’t really see the joke.
“A few minutes of exposure at Mount Sinai hospital,” she murmured, digging out her phone and flicking at the screen. “The contact was minimal, and he had enough protective supervision to ensure his safety. The incident we know less about is this one. One of the Toranagas’ students uploaded it last week.”
She passed the phone across Finch’s desk, and he took it.
It was set to a youtube video, only thirty seconds long. He pressed play.
A few seconds of top down footage on an empty stretch of wall. Then a muffled thump, before the wall exploded outwards with a crash. The camera panned away from the wall for a moment, just long enough to catch the freshly made hole in the building opposite. A brief glimpse of the legs of whoever was holding the camera as they dropped the three or four storeys to ground level. A few seconds of incomprehensible shaking as the person crossed the gap, then the camera steadied, now focused on a bedraggled looking man, embedded in the side of a rusted heavy goods vehicle, blood trickling slowly from his temple.
Finch paused the video, and looked closer.
“… And we’re sure that’s Father?” he asked. “Man’s a shapeshifter after all. He could’ve-”
“The form’s consistent with what Father has looked like for the last few years,” came the response. “And there aren’t many other people in New York who could’ve survived the blast.”
He nodded, then resumed the feed.
A single arm reached out from behind the camera, took Father by the shoulder, then wrenched his body free of the broken chassis, his shields flaring faintly all the while. There was something very satisfying about seeing the bastard half-concussed.
A few more seconds of shakycam, then the feed settled on the hole in the factory wall, this time viewed from ground level.
At first, Nick struggled to make out the interior in the gloom; then James Toranaga floated forward, tourmaline mist rising from his eyes.
The sound quality was terrible. Finch couldn’t make out the first few words.
“-ever hurt my friend, I will hurt you. Got it?”
Finch fought down a grin.
“I like this kid.”
“Noted,” his opposite number replied with a smirk. “But the fact remains. He has had at least one meeting with Father in which there were no witnesses, and for which he had no protection. That, on its own, is enough to consider him compromised.”
“Can’t say I disagree,” he admitted, passing back the phone. “What are the parameters?”
“Complicated,” came the reply. “This boy attends school with some of the most important magical children in the country, and has the rough destructive potential of an M1 Abrams tank. You are advised to consider this a mission of national security. Your team is to figure out how to incapacitate him-” she raised a finger up between them. “-without pissing off his entire family.”
Nick gave her a slow nod.
“Okay,” he murmured. “What’s my cover?”
“But I don’t need a supervisor,” James complained, floating out of the elevator behind his father, and proceeding down a narrow hallway. “I’ve been training super hard!”
“It’s your first hunt,” Peter replied sternly. “Your mother would kill me if I let you go out there alone.” The next words held a trace of mirth: “You need an adult there to help look after you.”
“Like hell I do.”
“Language,” his dad rebuked.
“Good.” They were silent for a minute or so then, before James felt a bracing hand on his shoulder. “Cheer up, squirt. You’ll like him, I promise. Finch is cool. He’s in spec-ops.”
In the past nine months, James Toranaga had had more than enough time to get used to the idea of his father being a secret government agent. And his grandparents. And most of his friends’ parents.
“So?” he asked, determined to remain annoyed. “That doesn’t make him cool. Just makes him one of your dorky work friends.”
Peter laughed at that.
“Ouch,” he murmured, feigning a wince. “Kitty has claws today.”
“I’m not a kitty,” James grumbled, stung. “I’m a fighter. I’m tough.”
“Really?” Peter asked. “Good. Then you can stop being such a grump and come say hi to your new supervisor.”
James spent a few moments searching for a way out of his dad’s trap, and failed to locate one. That was sneaky.
“…Fine,” he muttered.
Peter cocked an ear.
“Didn’t catch that. Sorry.”
James refused to grin.
“Fiiiiiiine,” he groaned.
“Good,” Peter murmured, reaching the end of the long corridor, and pushing a bar to open the heavy door. “We’re here.”
James flitted in over his father’s shoulder.
It was a gym. Or a warehouse. Or both. The place had to be six hundred feet from end to end, high ceilinged and half filled with exercise equipment, a dozen or so people working their way between machines.
James spotted a pool to the far side. And a basketball court. And a large, thickly matted area with a number of deep looking gouges in the walls. James floated over to a machine with a set of weights fitted to each of the hand bars. He counted the weight. Half a tonne.
Peter tapped him on the shoulder.
“He said he’d be over in the basketball court,” he said. “Come on. Don’t wanna keep him waiting.”
James couldn’t help but drift ahead while his father navigated the equipment on the floor. One of the weird things about moving around by air. It took far less time to get to a place.
He arrived a minute or so before the older man, therefore, and found the court surprisingly well populated. Four people, two to a side, currently battling it out towards the furthest hoop.
One of them, a fit man in what looked to be his early thirties, noticed his approach and turned to wave, allowing a lithe woman to dodge past him and dunk the ball.
“Hey!” he called. “You must be James. Come on down.”
The moment the man spoke, the game stopped, the other three turning as one to gaze at the boy above them. James floated forwards, raising a hand in automatic greeting.
“Hi. Agent Finch, right?”
“Yup,” the man replied with a grin. “Drop the ‘agent’, though, yeah? Just call me Finch.”
“Sure.” James touched down and shot a glance behind the agent. “And these guys?” he asked, gesturing to the other three. The lithe woman waved.
“Oh, right,” Finch replied. “Introducing special agents Mulaney-” he gestured to the lithe woman. “Conroy-” a tall man who looked like he did pushups in his sleep. “-And Sye.” He gestured to the least muscular member of the group, a slim figure whose gender James failed to immediately place. He noted the lightness of their stance, the skin just a touch too airbrushed to be normal, and, more tellingly, the single throwing knife strapped to the upper thigh.
‘Ah,’ he realized. ‘Goblin.’
“He or she?” he asked, gesturing across at Sye. “I know most of you guys use ‘he’, but-”
“I go with ‘she’,” the goblin answered. “Thanks for asking. Most people just get it wrong.”
James smiled back, not sure what else to say.
A second of awkward quiet, then Finch spoke up.
“So. You play basketball?”
“Used to,” James shrugged. “Stopped when I got my powers. Hard to play without my friends seeing how weak I am now.” He felt a pang of regret at that. He missed sports.
“Wanna play a game?”
James cast a dubious glance towards one of the hoops. It wasn’t even close to kid height.
“I don’t think I can shoot that high.”
“Then fly,” Finch shrugged. “We’re supposed to be seeing what you can do here anyway.”
“… You sure?”
The lithe woman picked up the ball, then tossed it across to James. He looked down at it.
“Uh. Ok. Sure.”
He took to the court, Finch taking up a position opposite him as the other three moved off toward the sidelines.
“You’re sure I’m allowed to fly?” he asked. It felt like cheating.
James reluctantly took to the air.
“Ready?” Finch asked. “We start in three, two-”
The agent vanished into thin air with a quiet pop.
‘Oh, crap, not this again.’
He darted to one side in the air, hoping to clear the space before-
Finch reappeared around half a foot to James’ side. He felt a hand slap the basketball from his grip as the man began to fall.
“Wha-Hey!” he yelped. “No fair!”
Finch ignored him, already sprinting across the court. James was quicker. He shot in to block it, his arms spreading wide in front of the hoop just as Finch leaped-
Only for the man to shove him to the side and dunk the ball.
Finch hit the ground, looked up at James, and grinned.
“Get dunked on, kid.”
James blinked. So this was what outrage felt like.
“Wanna go again?” Finch asked. “See if you can touch the ball before I score again?”
‘… So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?’
James forced himself to take a breath before he spoke.
“Make a forcefield,” he muttered. “I don’t wanna break you.”
“Someone’s cocky. Alrighty, forcefield on-” a web of light flickered into place above his skin as he returned to his side of the court, the ball held lightly under his arm. “Ready to go on three, tw-”
Peter Toranaga caught up with his son just in time to see Agent Finch’s body slam into the gymnasium wall hard enough to crack the plaster. He watched as his son floated over, took the basketball off of his supervisor, and grumpily dumped it through the hoop.
He decided not to ask.
Wow. Two months off and howdy gee do I feel rusty.
Also, yes. I took two months off. I really needed it. Thank you for being patient with me.