3. Verbal Bloodbath and Anger Management

The next morning Vesper still felt like someone was taking a brick in a sock to her head over and over. Restraining all those emotions was tiring work, but she hadn't slept well at all, waking up every hour like clockwork to rustle around in her sheets, impatiently waiting to fall back asleep. Just opening the bulletproof-glass paneled door to the Agency took more effort than she was used to it requiring.

Jacinth, the woman in her mid-twenties who sat at the front desk, was picking at her fingernails when Vesper came in, but looked up at the sound of her heavy footsteps. The clerk flipped her red hair over her shoulder and tilted her head at the hunter, ignoring Vesper's warning glare.

"You look dead on your feet. Coffee?"

Vesper wasn't sure she'd ever heard the woman speak, and wished she could have kept it that way. Jacinth's voice was high pitched and slightly nasal, slicing its way into Vesper's head unpleasantly. She probably shouldn't have held it against her, but Vesper found herself disliking the woman despite her apparent niceness and shook her head sharply at the offer of coffee. Anything ingestible, caffeinated or no, sounded absolutely atrocious at the moment and the mere mention made her stomach swirl.

The clerk noted Vesper's answer and nodded, already returning her attention to her hands. Vesper's shoulders loosened slightly, having tightened in anticipation of some sort of argument, and she picked up her pace, striding toward the large room that held all the cubicles.

The Myth Control and Protection Agency was disgustingly cliché when it came to arrangements and appearances, which should have been apparent from the fact that there was a front desk to greet visitors. There were never any visitors to the Agency. Vesper wasn't even sure anyone knew where it was; there were no identifying markers on the building and its address wasn't listed in any phonebooks. The whole operation was barely legal since animal-like myths had been made an endangered species and human-esque ones had been given rights, but that toeing-the-line atmosphere was what had drawn Vesper to it in the first place.

When she pushed the proper door open, grunting slightly under her breath at the weight, the room she spent most of her time in came into view. It was basically a huge, simple square, cut into smaller squares by columns of removable plastic cubicle walls. The fluorescent light from the ceiling made the white of the walls stark and sterile, blinding Vesper's sleepy eyes and sending a shooting pain straight to her brain. She felt almost hung-over and the sensation was only making her angrier.

Throughout the room, people were rushing back and forth in a state of perpetual hurry; hunters, weapons specialists, myth experts, managers, paper pushers, all of them annoyingly awake. Vesper stumbled down the closest hall, pushing more than one person out of her way in the process, before finally collapsing into her highly uncomfortable plastic chair. There was a yellow post-it on her bulletin board, a green one right beside it. Vesper stared at the green one for a solid minute, trying to think of what it could be for since hits were always yellow, before finally snatching it off of the corkboard.

See Slaid.

Vesper's head fell back with a groan, hitting the back of her chair painfully. Just what she needed; a meeting with Slaid, her boss, when she could barely keep from snapping at herself, let alone anyone else. Hopefully Slaid would be intimidating enough to keep her mouth shut, even though she wanted to bite his head off for giving her and Caden all these baby jobs.

Prying herself from her chair, Vesper lurched back into a standing position and rubbed her eyes once before moving out of her personal lot of space. Slaid's office was all the way across the building and she

wasn't looking forward to staggering all the way over there, but she forced herself to begin and eventually found herself standing outside the fancy wooden door, staring at the words Dominic Slaid stenciled across the frosted glass.

The soft sound of talking was already filtering through the door, but Vesper hesitated. She'd always been a little nervous around her boss, but what with the way he'd been treating her lately she was even more loathe to pay him a visit. It wasn't just the too easy hits either, it was something else. He'd always followed her with his eyes—Slaid didn't relax around anyone and was always alert—but now there was something else in his expression, something she couldn't identify. The whole atmosphere when she was in the same room with him was different since she'd defeated Eros and Vesper wasn't at all sure she liked the change, the strange tension. Sighing at her own pathetic uncertainty, Vesper wrapped her small hand around the doorknob and slipped into the room before stopping dead in her tracks.

How could they do this to her? This was far worse than what she'd been expecting; there was no way she'd be able to resist physically assaulting someone in a room with this sort of occupants. Just existing in this proximity to her was like a death sentence.

In front of Slaid's large, dark-wood desk were three chairs of similarly colored wood, all of them currently filled. On the farthest left was a blonde woman, one with kind, delicate features and a tall, skinny figure. When Vesper stepped in, the woman, her former partner, turned her head and smiled. Dalia Smith was the sort of girl that you just couldn't be mad at for long; her sweetness made any sort of grudge-holding, even for Vesper, impossible. If it had just been her in the room, Vesper probably wouldn't have been nearly as bothered.

The person, for lack of a better word, seated in the center, ruined any semblance of civility she may have had this morning though. Black hair flopped over his forehead and always in his dark eyes, sharp, shadowed features that even now were twisted into his customary smirk, and a muscled build that Vesper knew bruised beautifully; Ander Preston was a murder waiting to happen while in the same room as her. She had also suffered a brief partnership with him, but it hadn't lasted long due to their inability to resist verbally accosting one another.

The last chair was filled with her current partner, Caden Moore. She wouldn't admit it, but of the three he was the one that held her eyes the most. She wasn't sure if it was his classic good looks or the fact that at the moment she was glad to see him in company rather than alone. There was still the tiny chance that he had invested in caller ID and knew she'd randomly called him yesterday. Vesper was a horrible liar, but she would still try to make up stories rather than tell Caden that she'd needed someone to talk to and he had been the first person she'd thought of. Anyway, she knew he wouldn't say anything about the incident now, not with all these people around.

Ultimately though, the man who attracted her eyes was Dominic Slaid, her boss. He was taller than everyone else in the room, older, though Vesper didn't know his exact age, just that he looked like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. Slaid had black hair that somehow seemed darker than Ander's, tanned skin and a rugged appearance created by his stubble and questionable expression. Vesper could never read Slaid, and if she tried she usually got him wrong.

His appearance wasn't what drew her attention, though she couldn't deny that he was physically attractive enough. Slaid was just too scary for Vesper to lust after. The man literally held her life in his hands; he made the decisions that would keep her in a job or put her out on the street. This was her boss and if she couldn't stay on his good side, Vesper was fucked, so she had to keep her mouth shut and her attitude neutral.

This became harder when the rest of the eyes in the room turned to lock onto her, some friendly and one pair slightly less than polite. Vesper glared at Ander and his mocking smile, then narrowed her eyes at Caden's smirk. Sure it was less of a leer than Ander's expression and more of an 'I know something that you don't and you're going to hate it' look, but she wasn't going to put up with any shit today. Slaid's eyes were still digging into her forehead, as per usual these days, and Vesper immediately stopped trying to drill a hole in Caden with her gaze and turned her fact to her boss.

You're not going to like this at all. I suggest you take a deep breath.

Caden's familiar voice jutted its way into her mind, the warning ringing a little in her head like he was torn between trying not to laugh and being angry himself. Even though she'd already translated the prospects from his smile, the mental caution still made her tighten in anticipation, seeming to worsen the situation. Caden had no respect for her personal space, but he still didn't invade her head unless it was absolutely necessary or he thought something was particularly funny. Maybe he sensed how close she was to lashing out at the nearest breathing object and knew she needed a little bit of forewarning.

She took his advice but did so quietly. Even so she saw his smile widen out of the corner of her eye and found herself scowling.

It had only been a few seconds since she'd burst through the door, but Vesper was getting tired of standing and being stared at so she took another few steps forward.

"You wanted to see me?" Her voice was more of a snap than she'd meant it to be, but at the moment it was the best she could do.

Though she was wondering what Ander and Dalia were doing there, she wasn't really all that intrigued until Ander's rampant thoughts forced themselves into her head, filling her with enough information to make her head burst in a split second. Slaid was opening his mouth to explain, but Vesper had already gotten it all from Preston, the only idiot in the room who hadn't learned to shield his mind. Dalia hadn't been able to last time Vesper had bothered to pay attention, but now she was shut as tightly as Caden and Slaid. Her silence wasn't really necessary though, since Vesper was already pissed enough to start shouting.

"You're what?" Vesper shrieked, making everyone but Slaid, who seemed to have foreseen her reaction, jump, "You can't be serious!"

The source of her anger, her poker-faced boss, continued to gaze nonchalantly forward, but Vesper swore she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. So help her, if even Slaid was going to laugh at her pain, Vesper was going to go on a psychotic killing spree. None of the others commented on the fact that no one had even said a word yet; everyone knew about Vesper's ability and had learned to deal with the impossibility of breaking any news to her easily.

"It's necessary, Vesper. There's evidence of another god stirring things up underground and we need a team assembled to deal with it. I wanted the best and that's what I'll get," Slaid said, throwing in the last part for flattery alone. Vesper was sure that was why, since Slaid didn't compliment people for no good reason, but her attention didn't remain on that injustice for long.

"What evidence?"

Her tone was slightly guarded, her mouth tight. Vesper's eyes inadvertently flicked to Caden, who was already focused on her with a smug expression. If he had told Slaid about the note they'd found in that couple's basement and that was why she was going to have to suffer for an undetermined amount of time, Vesper was going to make sure the rest of their partnership was far more unpleasant for him than it would be for her.

Slaid continued though, and Vesper's fists relaxed, "Just like with Eros, myths that shouldn't be mixing are and places that shouldn't be having problems are starting to get more activity than ones that should."

"What if it's just some fluke and you're killing Ander for no good reason?"

When Vesper mentioned him, Ander turned and sneered at her again, drawling, "You honestly think you're going to come out on top, Vesper? You've let her get all soft, Moore, always letting her have her way."

"No one let's me do anything, Ander, I just do, and I'm sure it won't be too difficult to deal with you; after all it wasn't last time," Vesper ground out, teeth clenched. Bringing up the previous time his person had been introduced to her fist had the desired effect, and his face tightened into a scowl. Their boss cleared his throat, forcing the two former partners to end their staring contest and turn to him.

"No one is to kill any of their partners. No fighting, arguing, injuring; nothing to distract you from your jobs." Slaid glared at them each in turn, which for Vesper was plenty threatening enough to shut her up for the moment, then continued, "This is serious business and I don't want to have to deal with the paperwork if one of you gets offed."

"Gee, thanks for the concern there, Slaid," Caden snarked, simply having to have his say. In Vesper's opinion, he was incapable of keeping his mouth closed for an extended period; she had experienced his cocky, overly talkative self more than she would like. At the same time though, there was some sort of sadness in her chest at the idea of no longer having him as her singular colleague.

She wasn't quite sure why acquiring two more partners was all that big of deal, since she should be happy the situation would give Caden more people to be distracted by and allow her some time to breathe, but for some reason she felt like she would be losing something. As if she wanted to be alone with Caden. Strangely enough though, she was used to him being an aggravating prick, almost looked forward to the challenge of getting him to shut his mouth. It was an unusual relationship, one she wasn't all too sure where she stood in, but it was all she had. All well, now bickering with Ander would fill in the time that Caden wouldn't be around so at least she wouldn't get bored.

"So you're putting Dalia, Ander, Caden, and I together to deal with what Caden and I alone solved last time?" Vesper said finally, leaning back against the wall near the door. Everyone in the room relaxed slightly, as if they'd expected her to throw a bigger fit before giving in, and Vesper's glare returned. It was true; a month ago she would have fought. Maybe Ander was right, maybe Caden had softened her.

Slaid recovered quickly, "What you and Caden barely managed to survive even though I told you both to back off, you mean?" Vesper opened her mouth to argue even though what he said was completely true, but Slaid cut her off, "I won't let things come that close this time, so you're all going to work as a team."

"It'll be fun, Vesper, just like old times," Dalia's high voice chipped in when a temporary silence threatened to allow the other woman to argue.

Vesper narrowed her eyes at the blonde, wondering if she was imagining the sadistic glint in the other's eyes. Dalia would like this assignment; the girl was immature enough to treat the whole thing as some sort of slumber party when in fact they were dealing with a bloodthirsty mythological super-being and his league of lesser minions. Vesper was sure she would prefer the murderous god to the sleep over, so Dalia's cheery disposition simply made the prospects even gloomier; she was twisted enough to enjoy fighting with Caden and Ander more than suffering Dalia's unchangeably good nature.

There had been a long pause after Dalia's declaration, everyone absorbing the idea that they were going to be stuck working together until the god decided to let himself be known or they found out who it was and were able to kill it. Vesper decided to break it.

"So what are we going to do? We're wasting time."

Slaid snapped into action, looking away from Vesper's face for the first time since she'd entered the room and down at his desk, pushing some papers around in a familiar fashion. Vesper strode up to the desk readily, recognizing her boss's preparatory motions. Around her, her new and current partners gathered, rising out of their chairs to peer down at Vesper and Slaid. What was slightly depressing was that Vesper was standing and Slaid was sitting; all the others were just far taller than her.

"We don't really have any direct leads yet, nothing concrete, so I'm going to have you split up into your usual pairs to watch key areas for unusual activity. Hopefully you'll see something we can use, like recurring appearances of—"

"You mean we just went through all this to be divided again? What the hell was the point?" Vesper interrupted, eyes narrowing into angry slits and fists clenching. Practically her entire morning had been spent doing something that was apparently completely unnecessary, when she could have been attending to that yellow post-it on her bulletin board and actually doing something worthwhile. Like say, committing a murder she wouldn't be imprisoned for instead of one she was about to perform that would put her away for life.

Slaid answered, tone sharp, "Just because you aren't working together directly at this stage doesn't mean you won't be later and I still want you to communicate regularly in case someone needs backup or finds something out. If you would have allowed me to explain everything before reading Ander you would have known this wasn't as big a deal as you were making it out to be."

Vesper stared at him for a few seconds, sufficiently cowed. No one could put out her fieriness quite like Slaid and his intimidating presence…except maybe Caden and his disarming one. Her boss had always been the only person she was afraid of and she was definitely feeling that fear right now, when his features were jagged with annoyance and displeasure. Even her fear though, wouldn't let Vesper be completely subdued.

"It's not like I have a choice," she mumbled. It was true, she hadn't meant to hear Ander's annoyingly loud thoughts, nor had she wanted to, but he was just so obnoxiously there and the subject of his thoughts had caught her attention, making it even harder to ignore him.

Slaid, surprisingly enough, seemed to loosen at her weak protestation, the edges of his lips tipping upward again at her defiance. Vesper wasn't amused, but she wasn't going to complain. Apparently she was off the hook.

"If we're going to discuss Vesper's many failings, can I contribute?"

Ander's deep voice shattered the temporary lull, grinding into Vesper's head like sandpaper. She would be doing quite well if she never had to hear that voice again, but she kept her mouth shut with a miraculous strength of will, forcing her jaw to clench so tightly that her tongue didn't have the opportunity to escape her and verbally lash Ander into submission. She couldn't risk pissing Slaid off again, not when the chances of getting off so easily a second time were slim to none.

Vesper just didn't have the self-control to keep from saying anything at all though. Somehow she kept the threats to a minimum and promised to keep it outside of the workplace.

"Make sure you don't ever run into me alone, Preston. Actually, please do; you'll save me the trouble of dealing with the court system."

"How diplomatic of you; it seems I have a choice in the matter now. Usually it's just 'I'm going to gut you with a letter opener, Ander' or 'Stand in the middle of the street and I'll let you touch my car. By the way, it'll be going sixty miles an hour.'"

"Enough, Ander," Slaid said as soon as the dark-haired man took a breath.

"Like I'd ever hit you with my car. You'd bleed all over it. I'd at least use someone else's; then there's the double benefit of the police not being able to trace it to me," Vesper snapped, ignoring her boss again. He was just a subtle buzzing at the back of her head that told her to shut up.

Caden spoke up suddenly, smiling widely, "And there's no way Vesper would ever use a letter opener for that job, she has far more style than that. A machete, at least."

"All of you, stop talking," Slaid barked over their increasingly loud argument, "God, you're like a pack of six year olds."

"Or wolves. Always so eager to tear each other apart," Dalia contributed, though she was grinning. Vesper, Ander, and Caden all turned to stare at her, all of them just now remembering she was even there. Dalia had a way of disappearing when she wasn't saying anything, just fading into the wallpaper and observing. Vesper didn't envy her for it; she loved being in the violent thick of things far too much. She glared at the girl for existing in the same space as her while being in such a nauseatingly chipper mood then moved her attention to Slaid.

Her boss seemed to be enjoying himself far too much too, in Vesper's opinion. His eyes were glittering brightly and the edges of his mouth were quirked up into a semi-smile—about as much of a mood as one could ever get out of Slaid. She was starting to wonder just what exactly his motives had been when he'd called her and Preston into the room together. Maybe he'd been bored and needed an entertaining pick-me-up.

Slaid seemed to sense Vesper's coming complaint and cut her off before she could even open her mouth, "If you're all done bickering, I can give you your assignments and we can all get out of here."

He looked at each of them in turn, daring anyone to speak, then slipped two manila folders from the jumbled mess on his desk. One was pushed into Dalia's hands, one into Caden's, both of whom immediately turned to their normal partner to share. If Slaid had given the information to the other two this polite gesture might not have been made, and Vesper wondered for a moment if that was why Slaid had chosen the more rational half of their 'team' to handle the paperwork.

It only bothered her for about three seconds before Caden dragged Ander's abandoned chair over to his and dropped down into his own seat, folder clutched in his hands. Vesper took the commandeered chair with a smug smirk. Caden disliked Ander almost more than she did and it was entertaining to watch the little things he did to piss the other off, especially because it was rare for Caden to hate anyone, let alone show it. Ander just had that effect on people.

It took about ten minutes for Vesper and Caden to go over the paperwork; the charts and firsthand accounts painted a picture of restless myth activity quite similar to last month's. Vesper wasn't exactly sure she accepted the fact that there was another god in town wreaking havoc, but she couldn't deny that something was going on. As much as she didn't want it to be a god, she couldn't think of any other explanation and her mind flickered back to that note Caden had found yesterday. 'Let's play' was about as much of a mystery as it had been when they'd discovered it, and Vesper forced herself to disregard the message as evidence. No one could have known she would be there and since the gods seemed to think she knew information that she didn't, there was no reason for it to be connected in any way because it couldn't be meant for her.

During the time spent sifting through papers, both she and Caden were strictly business; both hunters knew that their job was serious at this point. Sure, when the actual killing was being done there was a little leeway, but during the planning…you needed to know what you were up against or there was no point in even trying to survive. Caden and Vesper knew that and that was another reason they were so successful as a team.

When Vesper looked up from the map she held, Slaid was still busy fishing through papers and the other half of their newly formed team was still pouring over their information. Caden was just finishing, attempting to shove all of his papers back into the folder, crinkling them mercilessly in his attempts to make them fit. Letting out an annoyed sigh, Vesper snatched the mess out of his hands and straightened it, earning a grin from him.

"Sorry, I'm not so great at organization."

"Clearly," Vesper replied, then looked up from her hands, "So…what do you think about this?"

"About what? About that?" He pointed to the folder and Vesper shook her head sharply.

"No. About this," the last was accompanied by a quick nod in the other two hunters' direction, almost cracking her neck with the suddenness of it.

Everyone already knew how Vesper felt about the combination of the two teams, but Vesper was more than a little curious about how Caden was taking it. He seemed to be neutral about the whole thing, but Vesper knew better than to take him at face value. Out of the corner of her eye, Vesper saw Slaid look up at the two of them, probably in surprise since it wasn't exactly normal for Vesper to care about Caden's opinion. She wasn't exactly sure why she was asking, other than she wanted to know and didn't feel like working through all of her confusing inhibitions to get to the point.

"Well, this might work out wonderfully," he started out loud, smiling, then finished mentally, dropping his shields for a second to let Vesper alone get the rest. Or it could turn into a total bloodbath. We'll either fight amongst ourselves so much that we'll get ourselves killed or we'll kill each other before the god can get to it.

Vesper couldn't help but smile at his no-nonsense mental tone. "Yeah, I'm leaning toward the latter."

Who do you think will maim Preston first; me or you?

"Definitely me."

"Why do I always feel like I'm missing something with you two?" Slaid interrupted, making them both start. "We have other gifted hunters but none of them are as annoying as trying to follow your conversations."

"I'll consider that a compliment, boss," Caden answered, turning to Slaid after shooting Vesper a grin. Her own lips twitched in response before she remembered she wasn't playing nice with Caden anymore. It was hard to keep that in mind sometimes.

Slaid shook his head once or twice, then waved his hands at all of them, glancing at Ander and Dalia as they finished up. "Get out of here, all of you, and get to work."

Vesper bristled slightly at his tone, the apparent accusation that the morning's idleness was their fault, not his, but forced herself to back down. She wouldn't leap over his desk and go for his throat, not when he was finally dismissing them. No matter how much she would like to.

Spinning on her heel, Vesper strode out of the room first, leaving the rest to stare after her and worry over the possibility that she might be waiting around the corner to take out her anger on the first passerby.

Back in her cubicle, Vesper had managed to calm down slightly. It was a good thing she had too, because only a few minutes later, Caden sidled into the corner of her vision, a smile spreading across his face as soon as he spotted her decimated expression. Was there some sort of mystical contract that fate had put out on her, demanding that she never be given a moment of peace? There must be.

Not to mention Caden was a sadistic bastard for finding her misery so damn amusing. Just for good measure, Vesper imagined herself dismembering the idiot and hiding his limbs in her filling cabinets. That'd be a surprise for whatever pansy clerk went looking for papers in her cubicle.

"So what's on the menu today, Ves?" He asked, dropping into his usual folding chair in the corner. It was carefully just out of arm's reach in a deliberate attempt to ruin Vesper's fun and she scowled at this fact for the millionth time as Caden leaned it back on two legs.

If only she had a broom or something to knock him over with without her being required to move.

Largely tempted to reply with 'human flesh' but instead just sighing, Vesper glanced up at her bulletin board, to the yellow square that would order her around for the rest of the day. The black scribbles on it were too far away to read so she snatched it off the cork violently and scanned it. Her angry expression loosened in anticipation.

"It's good then?"

Once again interrupting her, the annoying blonde shoved his nose in her face, making her heart race unpleasantly. He only wanted to see the note, but really, did he have no respect for her personal space? And what was with her subconscious actually liking this? Vesper's fingers shook ever so slightly as she threw the paper at him after pushing him away with a hand to his chest, making another resolution to keep as far away from him as possible. Which wasn't very far, considering how crafty he seemed to be and the fact that he was her hunting partner.

Well, one of them now. God, that hadn't quite caught up to her yet. Her blood was just now beginning to simmer.

Caden's grey eyes were skimming the note quickly, narrowing as they went. Vesper knew why, as soon as his expression started to change to one of blank anger, but was in no mood to pity him. He was just too irritating at the moment.

On the paper were the name, species, and location of their hit; Jay Forrester, naga, and some slum down near the harbour. Only Caden had sort of a personal vendetta against nagas in particular; the species of myth that had ended up destroying his family when one of them ran away with his sister. He always got a little tense and snitty when they were involved—actually that was pretty much the only time those words could ever be used to describe him. Just what Vesper fucking needed: a moody Caden when she was already about to cave someone's head in.

Pulling her mind away from the pleasing image of braining a faceless person, Vesper forced her legs to extend their short distance and pick herself up out of her chair. The move startled Caden out of his senseless rage and he scrambled to his feet, crumbling the note in his fist before reaching around his back to slip his gun out of the back of his jeans. Deftly, he slid the clip out, checked it, then slammed it back into the Colt with the heel of his hand theatrically enough to make Vesper glare.

He noticed her expression then, and threw her a dark half-smile.

"Ready to kill some monsters?"

Vesper clarified sweetly, hoping to spoil his enthusiasm like he'd killed hers so many times. "We only have license for one this time, Cadey."

He grimaced at the name, and replied in an uncharacteristically serious voice, "Not if we make sure some others get in the way."

Frowning, Vesper checked her own gun and shoved it back into her pants before leaving the little room. She hated it when he did this; reversed their roles, no matter how short a time it lasted. It threw her off, made her unsure how exactly she was supposed to act. The idea that she based how she behaved on Caden even minimally was not only nauseating, it was horrifying, and made her want to punch him a couple times in the gut. It'd been a while since she did that anyway and she was starting to feel a little nostalgic.

Maybe, just for the sake of the old days…. Nah, not unprovoked. At the first sign of snarkiness though, he'd be eating knuckles faster than Vesper drove.

When they stepped out of the Agency's glass door, both checking to make sure they had their ID access cards so they could get back in, Vesper wasn't exactly expecting to get socked in the face. Which she didn't, but she may as well have, since that would have been far more desirable than what actually happened. That being, Ander and Dalia had chosen the same few minutes to occupy the parking lot and were even now only ten feet away. Another encounter with Preston was exactly what she didn't need at the moment, but he seemed to feel differently.

Whatever, it was his face.

Slowing down as Vesper and Caden strode forward, Ander quickly came up even with them. Dalia continued, rolling her eyes at her partners antics, toward her car, and Vesper couldn't help but wonder when the girl had gotten smart.

"I didn't get to thank you earlier, Vesper, for making us all look great in front of Slaid," Ander said sarcastically, throwing himself right into the mocking with gusto. His stomach would do just as nicely as Caden's for taking out her anger—probably even better because she didn't even like Ander. Not that she liked Caden…goddamnit.

Vesper didn't feel like taking the time to get the answer to her question out of his idiotic, convoluted thoughts, so she just snapped, "What?"

Ander was picking at his nails, apparently feeling she wasn't worth looking at, "Well, compared to you we all looked like fucking saints."

Taking a sharp step toward him, Vesper opened her mouth to start the berating, but Caden cut her off with an outstretched hand.

"I'll take care of it, Vesper."

She glared at him hard enough to singe his face. "What makes you think I want you to take care of it? I want to take care of it! I will enjoy taking care of it!"

"I'll take care of it."

The way he said it, so calm and quiet, was intimidating, but Vesper wasn't about to back down. She didn't need him to protect her; she could damn well do that herself.

"I can—," she started, but the stupid fucker interrupted her again, this time making her mouth snap shut.


That's all he said, just her name, but his tone was enough to make her take a step back. Clearly he was serious about dealing with this himself. Lower lip sticking out ever so slightly, Vesper spun on her heel and took a few steps away before turning back to the pair. Later she would teach Caden that she wouldn't be ordered around like a child, but now she wanted to see Ander, who was standing, watching the two with far too much amusement, punished.

But that wasn't good enough for Caden. "Just go get in the car, Vesper; I want you out of range." He glanced at the Impala, halfway across the parking lot, and gave a small, satisfied nod.

"What? Why?"

"Preston and I have some things to discuss, just the two of us."

That sounded…dangerous.

Caden surprised her like this frequently, breaking out of the personality she'd applied to him and doing something unexpected. You'd think Vesper would give up on profiling him, but she just kept trying to figure out what kind of person he was and kept coming up missing. Times like this though, it less than bothered her. More like she liked it. When Caden got dangerous, Vesper got…intrigued.

And that just wouldn't do.

Turning around more slowly this time, Vesper started to move toward the Impala, but was stopped by the unfortunate sound of Ander's voice calling after her.

"You're getting tame, Vesper, letting Moore order you around like this!"

She stopped like someone had just speared her through the heart with a telephone pole. Every single atom of her being was begging to go back and beat the stupid out of Ander Preston, but Caden's command rung through her violently. That could only be a bad sign—that anything Caden said would keep her from doing something she wanted. It had been a command for god's sake; Caden didn't give those, she did.

But she didn't look back. She must have stood there for half a minute, but she didn't so much as twitch. Her anger was building slowly, starting to boil, but she couldn't make herself turn around, not only because Caden didn't want her to, but because doing so would be giving Ander what he wanted, letting him know that he'd gotten to her. Well, it was probably already clear that he had, but not to what extent. Vesper took a few more long strides, putting about twenty feet between her and the two men just for an extra buffer zone, then let herself spin back toward them. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.


"No, Caden, I'm out. Now continue." She'd given him as much as she could. Giving up seeing Ander being given a verbal lashing was not an option. Even if she wouldn't be able to hear what was being said or thought, seeing the expressions change on his face would be enough.

Too bad Caden wasn't a little more violent. Then maybe she'd get to see some real action and Ander would gain a few bruises to go with his bad attitude.

The two started to whisper, Caden grabbing hold of the front of Ander's shirt when the other didn't speak quietly enough. Vesper couldn't understand a word of what was going on and she shifted on the heels of her feet uncomfortably, wishing she could. She had a feeling that she was being mentioned in more than one of those hushed sentences.

This continued for a few minutes with no change. Just when Vesper was starting to wonder if they were planning what to have for dinner and where they were going over the weekend, Ander hissed something at Caden and things exploded unexpectedly.

The unexpected being Caden sinking his fist into Ander's face.

a/n - So it's been a while...yeah. My bad. Again. I edited the last chapter a little, not much. I took out most of the phone scene because it was too melodramatic. Hopefully it's a little less angsty now. Anyways, hope you liked this chapter better than the last one. I did. :) Thanks to openheadspace, Emmy131, Belle Morte858, beaglelvr93, A.V. Mackie, helloworld109, and awesomelyme for reviewing! Woot to all of you for being awesome!

openheadspace: yeah, I get what you're saying. It probably sounded distracted because I was distracted. Emotional Vesper is hard to pay attention to. Probably I'm a horrible person because of this...all well. :)

Emmy131: Glad you liked and I'm not sure yet. It depends on how I feel after I finish this one, but I originally planned on having four. Maybe just three now, if that. I have stuff up about this on my homepage, which is on my profile. Go check it out, if only to see how cool I think it is...nudge, nudge.

A. : Ha, nope, false alarm. I tried to make it less serious when I edited a little of it, but it just can't be changed all that much at the moment. Maybe later I'll figure out a way to make it less angsty. But the story as a whole will hopefully still have that light mood to it. Don't despair! ... I don't know why I said that. Anyways, thanks for reviewing.

helloworld109: You make a very good point. -strokes chin thoughtfully- I didn't even really notice myself doing that (calling her Ves), but now that you mention it I should have a scene where Pace hears Caden call her Ves and they get into an argument about who's allowed to do that. -I bow to your awesomeness- You win reviewer award of the day for giving me an idea. Woot!