Chapter Eighteen A little game of chess

Tori watched as the other girl swept up the remnants that moments before had been her hair. "I don't really know much about cosmetics Ca- Mako."

Mako paused, looking up at her with a slight glare. Tori sighed and nodded. "I know but it's hard to call you by your name when all these years you've been Camille."

Mako shook her head and continued sweeping. "It's alright. It's a bit weird for me too."

She stood and dumped the remnants into the ebony trashcan next to the dresser. "Do you at least have any hair dye?"

"Well yes but..."

"Well we're gonna need that for Zander and Tristan. Maybe even that boy you were talking about."

"What is your plan anyway?"

Mako placed the broom and dustpan back where she got it and turned to face her with a grimace. "Well he knows Zander's face and heard Tristan's voice. So we have to hide them. We play chess to put it simply."

Tori's brow furrowed at the concept. "Chess? Why..."

She paused as a knock came to the door, promptly followed by a crack of the door opening with great caution. Max poked his head in staring back at them sheepishly before coughing and entering slowly. "Hi I'm Max." he directed to Mako.

"Charmed." Mako stated sternly, maintaining a guard stance. Tori cast her glance before giving her full attention to Max. "What is it?"

"The guy that shot at me just pulled in across the street. I figured you two should know."

"Told you." Mako murmured, glancing momentarily at Tori. "Has he done anything?"

"Not yet but Zander's keeping an eye on him."

Mako nodded and moved through the door, pushing Max aside slightly. Tori followed after her.

"What's her deal?" Max whispered. Tori shrugged. "Forgive her; I don't think she's had much practice with other human beings." They followed her out into the living area, where Tristan glanced up with stunned surprise and Zander standing next to the window, his gaze concentrated on the car outside.

"Mako...Tori, what's she doing up? W-what are you doing up?" Tristan stammered as Mako trotted up next to Zander. Zander glanced at her as she came to stand next to him, looking out on the world. "What did you do to your hair?" he asked softly, his hand running through her short hair. Mako shivered slightly moving away from his touch. "I know it looks bad but I'm not readily identifiable at first glance this way." she stated, her gaze trained on the blue car outside and its driver. "He got out." she whispered, bringing Zander's attention back outside.

The driver stood outside of the car, a lighted smoke hanging between his fingers. A puff of smoke floated from him and dissipated quickly in the sunlight. His trench coat hung ajar, the sunlight glinting of the handles of his holstered guns. The driver tipped his hat to them as he swung to the building. Mako flashed him her middle finger before facing the other occupants in the room. She looked around slowly with a deep sigh.

Zander pulled the curtains to, placing a hand on her shoulder lightly. "What are you thinking of?"

Mako glanced at him. "It's time to play chess Zander." Then she looked at everyone else who regarded her with concerned or astonished gazes. "Our objectives right now is to first get rid of the knight and any pawns Lance might have left."

"Attention all customers but the store will be closing in one hour. Please bring any and all purchases to the registers and as always Bargain Value wishes you a good evening."

Tori ran her hand through her hair as she gazed down at the list Mako had given her two hours before. Having gathering most all of the clothing needed for her daring plan, Tori had made her way over to where the crafts were. Mako had roped her into doing this, and had sent her first victim, Max to accompany her. Currently he tapped along behind her, his makeshift PVC cane hitting the shelves periodically.

Mako had stripped the poor boy of his glasses and dyed his hair a violent shade of violet. Needless to say, Max had to be the most unhappy person she had seen in the last week, stumbling out of the bathroom and murmuring a few choice words under his breath as he felt along the wall.
The shelf panged as Max hit it again and he stomped his foot in frustration. "I feel useless."

Tori glanced back at him, holding a hand out to him. "Grab my hand if you can see it."

Max ventured forward until his pipe hit the sole of her shoe and he latched onto her hand. Tori pulled him forward, stepping out of the way so that he could grab a hold of the cart.

"I'm not going to be able to steer the cart you know." he pointed out, his fingers feeling the plastic encased bar.

"I know which is why I'm going to steer it from the end." she muttered, grabbing the end of the cart and turning her attention back to the shelf. She lifted a small bottle and scanned the back of it, rejecting it soon after.

"You hate this don't you?"

"That obvious is it?"

Max leaned over the bar, placing the pipe in the cart. "Yeah it was obvious when I came over. I got the feeling that you thought we were intruding."

"You were." she stated, picking up another bottle. "I've never asked for much. A normal life right now would be nice."

"Don't we all." he stated sullenly, propping his head up. Tori glanced at him disapprovingly which quickly changed into stoniness as she gazed at the boy. He had to be no older than twenty if that. Yet it seemed that the world had weighed on him so much causing him to look so old at the same time.

"What do you mean?" she queried, placing three small bottles in the cart. Tori tugged on the cart and guided him into the next aisle.

Max shrugged, keeping an iron grip on the cart. "Well I mean take the other three. Tristan and Zander don't enjoy stealing. It's sort of like a necessary evil for them in order to get free of this place. Take it from me; this city just seems to drain the life out of people. And then there's Mako and her little predicament that has spread to the rest of us. I'm quite certain that she never asked for any of this to happen."

Tori nodded silently as she glanced periodically at the shelves. They don't need me. They're doing fine on their own. "What about you?"

A deep sigh. "Same thing. The only thing I chose was to grow up sooner than I had too."

They walked on in silence for a few moments, Tori redirecting them to the registers.

"I'm sorry if what I said offended you. I just want this to be over."

"It's fine."

They ran through the check out and then walked to Tori's black car. "So how'd you meet Zander and Tristan anyway?" Max asked as she popped the trunk of her car. Tori shrugged. "It's seems like such a long time ago. I met Tristan when I was in med school. I think I was a freshman at the time and he came into the clinic I was an intern at."

"Nurse?" he inquired.

"Surgeon in training." She threw one bag into the car and stopped, her fingernails tapping on the rim of the cart. "Anyway, he and I got to talking and the next thing I know we're on our third date. Zander however, I never liked from the beginning. I tried for the sake of Tristan cause he looks at Zander as a little brother."

"How come you never liked?" Max asked, coming around the other side and feeling for a bag before tossing it in himself.

Tori shrugged as she threw in the last one and slammed the trunk shut. "Usually asking someone to score them weed and acid tends to offend the other person."

Max glanced at her hazy appearance, a look of incredulity crossing his features. "Seriously?"

"He thought it was funny." she said dully as she shoved the cart across the parking lot. She turned back to Max, grabbing his hand to guide him to the passenger side.

"He called me four eyes when he first met me." Max said as he sat down. Tori pushed car door shut and got in herself on the driver's side.

"How about you? How long?"

Max leaned back in the car seat as she pulled out of the parking lot. "For a couple of years now. I met them right after I graduated."

Tori slammed on her brakes. "Graduated? Just how old are you?"

"Seventeen and a half. I graduated with honors when I was fifteen." he said as he pushed himself away from the dashboard and buckled his seatbelt. "I was top of my class too." he added with a smile, puffing his chest out slightly. Tori chuckled. "Why so early?"

She glanced at him to find that his smile had disappeared and the tired look revisited him. He turned away from her scrutinizing stare and Tori frowned, pulling the car out onto the highway.

In some ways he was exactly the same as Mako. He had become an expert at shutting down completely.

"It was trouble at home." he said softly. "I caught them one night when I was twelve fighting over the bills and I decided right then that they would be better off. So for the next few years I worked my ass off and the day after graduation I turned into a ghost. Zander took me in after I lived for a few months on the street."

So Zander wasn't all that bad after all. "Then what?"

"I lived with him for a while and after he found out about my skills at the computer, I started helping him and Tristan with burglarizing the town. I saved enough from the heists to get myself an apartment leaving some extra out for my parents."

Tori pulled onto an exit for Carnsbourgh. "Have you seen them since?"

Max shook his head. "No, but they're looking for me I know. I send them money every now and then when I come by it but I don't want them to know, to be involved. That's the last thing I need – to get my parents wrapped up in something because of me."

"Maybe when this is all think you'll go see them?"

Max turned as if he were looking out the window even though he could not. Tori sighed, concentrating on her driving for the remainder of the trip.

Mako stepped out of the bathroom, walking straight to the window to glance at the driver. He was the cook after Rosetta had been fired, and Lance's right hand man. Without him, Mako was sure there was nothing that Lance could do on the streets.

"Stop checking him. He's not going anywhere." Zander murmured irritably from the couch. He wiped a hand across his face, rubbing the sleep from his eyes in vain as he relinquished a yawn. They were the only ones in the apartment with Tori and Max at the store. Mako had sent Tristan out to the local camping store for a flare gun.

Mako let the curtain fall as she glanced at him. He sat on the couch languidly, arms stretched over the back and legs crossed at the ankles before him. His hair was a tangled mess and he was shirtless since the white shirt he had on was spotted with her blood. An ache in her side briefly brought her attention to her side before Zander captured it.

"You should sit. All this walking and standing is probably not good for your side."

"I'm fine." she sat haughtily.

Zander rolled his eyes, knocking his head against the wall. "Fine, suit yourself." he grumbled. He was in no mood to fight right now. "Listen, you've got everyone off doing things for this plan of what about us? Lance knows us."

"I know. It was another reason that I did this." she said softly, pulling at her fringed hair. "Which brings me to what I need for you to do. Follow me." she motioned as she strode back to the bathroom. Zander followed after her and entered hesitantly. Max was pissed after she was what's in store for me? Mako slammed the lid of the toilet, scissors in hand as she turned to look at him. "Sit." she demanded, pointing to the toilet.

Zander sat down, a deep sigh coming from him as he stared at himself in the small mirror. "I can't remember the last time I had a haircut. You know...someone else cutting my hair besides me."

"I've always done my own haircuts." she whispered, lifting a piece and snipping it off.

Zander sat still as she continued. He could feel the bits of hair falling down his back and hear the slice of the blades. His gaze strayed from his reflection to hers. She was focused on what she was doing. Small pieces of her brown hair fell over her eyes as she looked down to trim up the back. "About earlier when you said you looked bad." she stopped and met his gaze in the mirror. "I don't think you look bad at all. In fact I think..."his voice caught and he swallowed the lump in his throat.

"Think what?" she queried, resuming his haircut.

"Cute. I think it looks cute."

He watched her stop, returning to his gaze in the mirror. "Zander..."

"Sorry." he quickly amended, looking down to the linoleum.

"No, don't be. Thank you." she whispered back as she moved to his front.

A few more moments passed before Zander spoke again. "Mako, what's our part in this?"

Mako brushed his forehead free of any stray strands before leaning against the counter, placing the scissors on the counter. "We're gardeners. But first you and I have to steal a news van."


"Because we have to set up Tori and Tristan right. As news reporter and camera man."

Zander nodded to this slowly thinking of how it could be done. "And what about the guy out front? We can't do anything with that guy out front. You can't dye all of our hair."

Mako rolled her eyes as she stooped down and started gathering the small pieces of hair with her hand. "Don't worry about him. I know how to deal with him."

She stood and dumped the pile, turning towards the door, stopping when Zander grabbed her wrist lightly. Mako glanced at him as he stood from the toilet, soft concern on his features.

Mako looked up slightly to meet his eyes. I never realized how tall he was... Her eyes slowly slipped from his face only to be called back a moment later when he whispered her name.

"Yes?" she asked, trying to sound annoyed but failing.

"After everything is over..." he trailed off with a deep sigh, already knowing the answer.

Mako shook her head as she pulled his hand off and grasping it with both of hers. "You don't have to worry about that either." she said softly, glancing back up to him, slightly startled to find his face a bit closer than before. The growing warm feeling across her cheeks was alien to her and she wanted to pull away but didn't. The closer his face seemed to get the more she thought she was going to stop breathing altogether.

"Excuse me?"

Mako took this chance to jump from him, spinning to find Tristan standing in the entrance way regarding them oddly. "Am I interrupting something?"

"N-N..." she was stuttering. She never stuttered...or at least to her knowledge not.

"No. You aren't."

Mako glanced at Zander. He was staring straight ahead, meeting Tristan head on. He wasn't looking at her and Mako figured it was on purpose. She looked to Tristan noticing for the first time since he announced himself, the little orange case that hung uselessly at his side. "Is that it?" she queried, breaking the tension slightly. Tristan nodded as he walked forward, slinging it up on the counter and popping it open. Mako came up beside him followed by Zander who peered over the edge of the case. "What on earth are you going to do with that?" Zander stammered, glancing up at Mako who was grinning widely at it.

"I told you that you don't have to worry about it." she repeated, closing the case and slipping it off the counter. She left the bathroom quickly with a bounce to her step.

They watched her go, Tristan shuddering after she was gone. "I'm officially creeped out." he said softly, turning back to Zander.

Zander chuckled. "You too?"

Tori walked in the door to find Mako sitting on the floor with a large orange gun in her hand. It looked like she was loading bullets into it but she couldn't be sure. Tori closed the door behind Max and dropped the bags on the floor. The girl didn't even flinch. She only looked up at them, snapping the barrel to the handle with a flick of her wrist.

"Your glasses are in the bathroom Max, and Tori I need you to get dressed into something nice. We already got Tristan ready."

Tori almost snapped at the girl for ordering her around but her mind drifted back to what Max had said in the store.

She probably never asked for any of this either.

But she looks so at this is normal for her...Tori thought as she picked the bag back up and dropped it beside Mako on her way to her room. Tristan stepped from her room as did Zander right behind him.

"Hey Tori can we talk ab..."

Tori shook her head quickly and shoved both of them out of her room, slamming the door behind her. She placed her back against the hard wood and slid down to the ground.

"How can they act so normal?" she asked herself aloud, pressing her head into her palm. Tori pressed her head into her hand hard before grunting and stalking over to her closet. She ripped through her clothing before settling on a subtle pink business suit. Tori paused, grabbing the sleeve and running her thumb over the fabric.

Her mother had given it to her last Christmas for her first interview with a hospital. Tori pulled it from the closet gingerly, removing it from the hanger as she did so. I'm different from them. I have a loving family. I have more than any of them in there.

She pulled her tye dye shirt over her head and slipped on the coat of the pink suit. It glided along her skin, the silky fabric cool to the touch against her skin. Maybe that was why they could be so calm.

They're always on the run. So they normalized it into a lifestyle.

Zander frowned at the overalls and the striped shirt. He just looked...weird.

"Mako why do I have to wear this again?" he groaned, glancing at the smaller girl. Mako was fitting a baseball cap over her hair. She rolled her eyes at his reflection.

"Stop complaining. I already explained why once. This is what gardeners wear."

Zander frowned again as she looked back to him. "And get rid of the frown before I get rid of it for you." She added as she walked out of the bathroom. Zander followed her out silently, glancing around at the occupants before going back to the closed bedroom door behind him.

"Where's Tori?" he asked, looking back to Tristan and Max. Tristan shrugged and Max looked up from his computer at Mako first then at Zander. "She's in the bedroom still." he supplied before Mako grabbed his attention.

The two conversed quietly about his hacking skills and the stop lights in town. His gaze left them and went to Tristan who had his gaze trained on the closed curtains, his chin propped up on the hill of his hand. To see him like this was painful. Zander turned back to the bedroom door and knocked heavily on the door as he stopped before it.

There was a muffled sound and then the door cracked open, a frazzled Tori appearing in the slot. "What?"

"We need to talk. Now." he stated firmly.

Tori regarded him silently for a moment before opening the door wider for him to enter. Zander turned to her as she closed the door again.

"I thought you said you loved him."

Her mouth opened in a gape, leaning against the door as if she couldn't support herself.

"How dare you say that to me." she accused, pushing away from the door to stand rigidly on her two feet. "After all the ridiculous shit you two put me through, you have the nerve to say that."

Zander rolled his eyes. "Forgive us for not being fortunate enough." he growled. "Listen, don't reject him because you think he's going to serve a life sentence. If for some reason we get charges pressed against us, I'm going to take the fall. He's always been so reluctant to join me on these heists so the least I can do is keep him out of jail."

Tori opened her mouth to say something but found that her voice was no where to be found. Zander was a better friend than she initially thought. Zander walked toward her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I know you care for him so just tell him already. Just don't hurt my best friend."

"I'll think about it okay?"

Zander left her and went to the door. "Think about it hard." he demanded, taking his leave.

Mako had taken up her place at the window with the flare gun in hand. She was staring at the car below through the small slot between the curtains. She had taken that place when she sent Max off on his task to a pay phone just in case the cook tried to pull something. But he remained in his small car, with a cigarette glued to his lips.

"Are you guys almost ready?" she asked, not glancing back at the quiet group of three.

"As ready as we'll ever be."

Mako half turned as Tori walked out of the back, buttoning her pink blazer up. "Is there a back way of getting out of this building?" Mako queried as she cracked the window a bit.

"The fire exit."

"Good you three go ahead and go that way. I'll be there in a minute."

"What are you going to do?" Tristan voiced but failed to gain her attention.

"Taking out the knight. Just go!" she snapped, taking aim on the gray car.

"Come on guys." Tori murmured softly and then three pairs of footsteps left the apartment quietly.

Mako aimed at the tire and fired. The flare contacted and the tire blew, tilting the car somewhat. A second fire at the back tire sent the car completely over on its roof. One last fire and the engine erupted, a hail of fire gracing the downtown street. Mako stepped back and reloaded before dashing from the apartment to join the others. She dashed down the stairs as quickly as her side would allow. Mako reached the bottom to find Zander waiting for her, his expression a bit shocked as he arched an eyebrow at her. "What was that noise?"

"Fireworks. What does it matter? Let's go." she stated as she brushed past him out into the alleyway where Tristan and Tori waited.