Nathan stared down at his plain blue tie. In his light blue button down and navy blue blazer and slacks in the burgundy carpeted room, dark wooden floor and bookshelves lining dark wooden walls. A window let in the late morning Sun’s bright light brightening the space behind Principal Dr. Henry Morgan’s desk, letting light linger on papers and paperweights, a pencil cup of all costly ink pens, some binders, and a bookmarked novel.
Everything that was normal, made sense, Nathan focused on.
The voice of the man he was supposed to be focused on had faded out of his ears long ago.
What he was saying made no sense. A time machine? Reese, dead? His best friend, John Reese? Today?
That made no sense, and most definitely was not normal.
There was a sigh.
Nathan had no idea whether it came from the man in the leather jacket and jeans, his Principal, or his Principal's Secretary.
He didn’t know if it really mattered.
“Look,” a voice said. It definitely wasn’t his Principal's accented voice, nor was it the wry voice of Secretary Lucas Wahl, so it had to be the man. “I know this is all hard to take in, but we really don’t have any time. So, um… I’m gonna tell you something and hopefully you’ll believe me. So… Um, Lucy said your birthday was… Wait, Wyatt said not to say that… Uh… What was it again? Oh, right, um, so the last 4 digits of your Social Security number are supposed to be, um, 1860? I think? But you’re really secretive about that, so that’s all history can really trace from you because you’re this sort of amazing spy that’s one of the US government’s greatest kept secrets, even at your age… Oh crap, I wasn’t supposed to say that much.”
Floored, Nathan sat, very still, rigidly in the visitors’ chair, the comfort of the cushion long since covered by disbelief at the man’s words. His father had raised him to eventually join The Academy, had him remember his Social Security card, only to make sure records of it only existed when they were necessary and that said records were erased from existence as soon as their purpose had been served. Not even Principal Morgan knew about it, although no doubt he’d be recording the last four numbers after this meeting and reporting it to the government, along with other information about the government’s high school aged star spy.
Which this man would see- no, have someone tell him- in the future. No matter how they’d gotten the information in the future before this moment, now that the man had spilled part of his secret before his information-hungry Principal, there was no doubt history had already been rewritten and this was how they’d get the information in the future as Nathan’s current timeline continued.
The thought was so overwhelmingly confusing.
The Principal only stared at his reaction amusedly, so Nathan looked to the Secretary Wahl, who nodded gravely.
So. It was all true then. That there was a staged terrorist attack that would take place today, by cause of some organization called Rittenhouse, for whatever bizarre reason, and Reese- his best friend Reese- would be killed by some operative named Kara Stanton.
If he closed his eyes, he could still see the invitingly soft blue of his bed sheets and calming blues of his and his partner’s shared bedroom walls.
He opened them.
“Okay, suppose I believe you”- Nathan already did, but the man looked relieved at his statement and it was always good to hold an advantage for as long as possible- “what do you suppose we do?”
“Well, go save Reese, obviously! Without changing the past as much as possible, of course, but I’ve found that that’s pretty much impossible, so we just try to keep the changes to a minimum, really.”
This man would make such a terrible spy.
Nathan shut his eyes and tried to keep blue out of the backs of his eyelids.
“You should know, students at The Academy always operate in pairs. It’s much safer that way. Which means I would be required to bring my partner along with me on this assignment.”
"Oh." The man looked lost. "Uh. Your partner wouldn't happen to be Reese, would it?"
This man would seriously make such a terrible spy.
"No," Nathan said very slowly, hoping his voice didn't convey the long-suffering feelings he was currently experiencing, "Reese is not my partner."
"Now that that had been settled," Principal Morgan spoke up for the first time that morning, brisk and crystal clear, "I believe it is due time for you boys to get moving. Have a good day and may your mission be successful."
As clear a dismissal as any.
Nathan stood. "Thank you, a good day to you as well, sir." Then, with a glance towards the man, he swiveled and walked out the door. It took a second, in which Nathan could feel the man’s confusion before he was scrambling after him, with a quick thank you and goodbye to the Principal.
Outside, Nathan’s lonely steps upon the granite floor were loud and austere, and soon followed by the frantic sounds of sneakers trying to catch up.
“Hey, you mind slowing down a bit, kid?”
He considered speeding up briefly, never one to appreciate being called a child, but could hear how many steps the man took to cover one of his strides- it was only two and only because Nathan was being difficult in his indignance at being outed so easily and unintentionally, but still- and decided to accommodate the man’s request. Marginally.
The brief seconds of respite it gave him from his tiring pace- he could go faster, but any faster than that and he’d most likely be undercover and aiming to go somewhere; in other words, within New York City, where everyone was trying to go everywhere at once- made him realize calling him “the man” was despicably inconvenient. He struck up a conversation (and noticed that the man’s stride was now able to match up with his own).
“Is this something you do often then? Travel to the past, debrief the people your mission concerns about time travel, and then enlist their help? With all the movies regarding this particular topic, I would imagine you would be advised against that.”
“Uh, oh, yeah, no. No, we don’t usually tell people that we’re time travelers or anything, we kinda just try and fix things by ourselves without causing too much damage. But considering we’re chasing for an urban legend, well. We figured talking to another urban legend might be the next best option. After all, you’re spies and stuff, you probably know how to keep secrets. Plus, then we found you and you happen to be friends with Reese, so it works out in the end! By the way, is your partner his friend too? I mean, if you are, I would usually think he is too, but if anything, I’ve been taught not to assume too much anymore, so.”
“You’re right not to assume,” Nathan answered distractedly, turning the corner into the tediously long hallway that was the sole indoor entrance to the boys’ dormitories. No one used it due to the length- it was a much shorter distance if one just chose to walk to the outside entrance- unless snow started to cover up the sidewalks, but that was exactly why Nathan- and his partner- preferred it. “They’ve never officially met.”
“Huh. That’s surprising, man, I thought friends introduce their friends to their other friends, you know? Guess spies are different. All secretive and stuff. Which I do too, actually. Hey! D’you think I count as a spy?”
Nathan didn’t deign to respond, still lost in thought. The Academy, he understood, was indeed an urban legend. If the man- he still hadn’t gotten his name, drats- came from the future, then it would continue to be so. But that also meant… In the future, Reese would be an urban legend?
His best friend was an amazing spy, the best of his class and arguably of the entire student body, second only to Nathan- because whereas John could complete above and beyond the orders he was given in a mission, he couldn’t seem to give orders with the same excellence- but to become an urban legend in the future… What happened?
“You mentioned chasing an urban legend-” they finally turned the corner at the end of the extended hallway, “I’m assuming you’re talking about Reese?”
“Oh yeah, him and his partner, some guy called Finch, I think? Like that’s not weird, but who knows with you spies. Yeah, they become a duo, an urban legend called “The Man in the Suit”. Singular, ‘cause we think only one of them ever went onto the field. Not sure which one though.”
A strange feeling settled over him as he stopped abruptly, right in front of his and his partner’s door. Finch? But-
The door swung open.
Inside, his partner lay snuggled on his side of the bed they’d made by pushing their two twins together. Pale blue covers were snug around his waist still, but he had his glasses on and a book- there was a bird on the cover, of course it was about birds- in between his two pale hands. Raising his head at the disturbance, he took one long, lingering glance at the man beside him at the door before turning a subtle, unimpressed stare at him.
“You said we were going bird watching today.”
Nathan tried not to crumple, weak to his best friend at all hours of the day, in all moods.
“Harold, this is…” He glanced next to him and the man seemed to take the hint.
“Rufus Carlin. Nice to meet you. This room is kinda surprisingly aesthetic, with all its… blueness.” Nathan let the annoyance at not knowing Rufus Carlin’s name beforehand wash away the strange feeling that had turned into unease when it settled deep inside him.
“Rufus Carlin, meet Harold Wren.”
Nathan watched Carlin fiddle with his earpiece for the 47th time from across the room and didn’t bother to correct it, as he knew-
“Mr. Carlin, I strongly suggest against you touching your earpiece once more, unless you intend to reveal that you are not in this ferry for the appropriate reasons to every passer by and moreso, prying eyes.”
-that would happen and instead focused on, as he had been for the past 3 hours, keeping one eye on the man who didn’t know the basics of secrecy and another on the boy who knew too much of it.
Where was Reese?
They’d been through 5 rooms in the past 3 or so hours- this ferry was large, although Nathan could probably afford it if he wanted to splurge the money he’d accumulated through his jobs for the US government over the years- and there was no sign of him. Nathan knew his friend was among the best, but how much longer would they have to keep looking? A bomb- which they weren’t supposed to prevent, for Pete’s sake, time travel was an ethical disaster - was liable to go off at any time and the boy was being pursued. There was little time and secrecy, for once, couldn’t be taking all of it.
All of the sudden, there was a beep and Nathan frowned. Had Harold turned off Carlin’ earpiece?
“Nathan.” Harold’s voice was quiet, and Nathan’s frown deepened.
“Here as in on the field?”
“ What the hell are you doing on the field?! ” Nathan could imagine Harold’s flinch and subsequent frown and immediately regretted his tone of voice. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“I know,” Harold cut in, and his voice was stable. Although relieved, Nathan frowned. His partner was being very serious. What was going on? “Nathan, I know where he is.”
It took him a second to adjust to the abrupt change in topic. “John?”
“Yes, John. Reese, your best friend, I know where he is.”
“Okay, that’s amazing, thank you. I’ll go get him and you can wait here, I’ll come out with John and Carlin and we call all go-”
“That’s not everything.”
Nathan went silent.
“I don’t know how, maybe it was those Rittenhouse people- although I’m not quite sure how they could manage to tamper with The Machine- but I couldn’t see Reese or whoever this Kara Stanton was for the longest time, even using it. Which, by the way, I did confirm Reese was on it. The Relevent List, even. Which means what that guy said can be considered true, since I don’t think time travelrs would go back to just save anyone. But that’s all besides the point. The point is suddenly, for an instant, I got their position. We’re going to have to move quick.”
The immediate assumption would have been that yes, they’d have to move quick before Reese and Kara Stanton were able to move, but Nathan could tell from Harold’s tone of voice that that wasn’t it.
“Why, what is it?
“Nathan…” His voice turned soft, hesitant. It trembled. Harold may not have been a field agent, may have worked with The Machine as other behind-the-scenes agents did, but that didn’t mean the stress of being on the field would get to him, not enough to make his voice tremble. This, this was something different. Nathan was starting to get scared.
“You know you can tell me, Harold. Come on.”
There was a sigh on his partner’s end. “They set off the bomb. It’ll blow in 5 minutes once we start taking action, give or take.”
The uneasiness earlier in the day seeped back into Nathan’s skin, settling down, down past his flesh and into his core, where it mixed with the growing fear and doused his skin in goose flesh.
Nathan, Reese, and Harold were the best students The Academy had to offer.
They never let things get to this point.
Years of training and instinct took over him and his voice turned hard. “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. You get Carlin out and I’m going to retrieve John. We’ll meet at the nearest base. You should get there before me- I’m assuming you know where it is already- so from there you’ll continue to assisst Reese and I via Mini-Machine and, if necessary, some interventive hacking. Understood?”
“Let’s get moving.”
The earpiece beeped again, letting Nathan know Carlin’s earpiece had been turned on again as he made his way out of the room, so his partner could lead him to Reese’s location.
“Listen up, Carlin, there’s been a change of plans. I’m moving, but you’re going to stay there until you see Harold and then you’re both going to head on out. I will follow shortly. Harold, update me on my position.”
“Take a left and then a right 15 steps down.”
Harold started a mental count.
“Wai- wha? What’s goin’ on?!”
“Nothing to worry about, Mr. Carlin,” Harold interrupted smoothly as Nathan turned right, “another right at the end of the hall- We’ve located Reese, so we’ll be exiting the scene now. Nathan’s just going to go assist Reese with Stanton for a bit until the both of them can return- take a left right there, Nathan, yes, thank you, a right in 32 steps now- what was I saying? Oh, yes, we’ll be retreating to safety until they can join us, after which we will all return to The Academy. Nathan, that’s your last turn up ahead. Be safe, please. Now, Mr. Carlin, do you see me? Turn to your right- slowly - yes, there you are, start following me now, please.”
Carlin seemed to have more questions, but as Nathan took his last turn to see one distinctly female body facing him with a gun and no Reese, everything boiled down to battle instinct as he ducked beside a pillar- if he’d had the time, he’d have noticed with irony that they were located in some large and pristine sort of ballroom, full with round tables set with wine glasses, silver cutlery, and long, white tablecloths and white marble pillars dotted throughout the room, making it seem more grandoise- before he could get pierced by the bullets he knew were sure to co- just flew by. There were no words exchaned, no verbal taunts or questioning of identity, simply volleys fired and bullets counted- Nathan was counting his shots at 7, which meant he had 8 left in his current gun before he’d have to switch, and the other woman- who he was assuming was Kara Stanton- had fired off 5 at him. He didn’t know how much that left her, what the model of her firearm was, or how many she had on her.
3 mintues, 47 seconds. He’d have to work quick.
Reducing himself to returning fire rather than opening it, he snaked over, pillar by pillar, as quietly as he could until he figured he was close enough and-
A cold ring of metal pressed into the side of his head. Nathan froze. Streams of curses ran through his head.
He never messed up this bad.
Kara Stanton had to be at a level of skill much higher than his.
Slowly, Nathan turned his head so the gun was pressing into his forehead rather than his hair and looked into the eyes of the person who held the fate of his life in her palm. And trigger finger.
Icy blue contact lenses were Nathan’s pride and glory- the one material thing he would willingly splurge on that wasn’t for Harold’s sake- but Kara Stanton’s eyes were true ice.
She hadn’t shot yet, but she would. Nathan knew that with absolute certainty. For now, she was just biding her time, looking for something, but she would shoot, and it would be within seconds.
Nathan didn’t have that many seconds left.
Quickly, he let tenseness build up across his body, clenching tighter and tighter such that it was visibly shaking, trembling, shivering. Kara Stanton’s eyes flickered as she took in the movement of his body, his face falling into fear to match the condition of his body.
Her grip on her gun didn’t change in the slightest, nor did the expression on her face, but that one second was enough.
Facing up, from all the way down at his feet, partially hidden by the end of his blue suit jacket, he squeezed the trigger of the gun he’d pulled from his inner pockets.
Red bloomed in a circle spreading out and gradually dripping with force at the soft underside of Kara Stanton’s jaw. Her entire body spasmed, minutely, and Nathan’s eyes widened before he quickly scrambled to get out from under her.
There was the sound of a bullet firing and a hole in the floor where Nathan’s body had been crouched a minute ago before Kara Stanton’s body fell forward. Nathan’s heart continued to pound furiously.
To shoot even after receiving a fatal headshot. Nathan didn’t know what exactly Rittenhouse was, but they trained top-level gunspeople. Nathan stared down at the fallen body, the hair at the top of the head starting to dampen. He would never have the capacity to do that. Perhaps, out of him, Reese, and Harold, only Reese would be able to ever attempt such a thing, but Nathan sincerely hoped he’d never have to make such an attempt.
The thought of his best friend brought Nathan’s attention to the watch on his wrist.
34 seconds. He’d never make it out on time.
He’d had a hunch, ever since he’d heard the name of Reese’s future partner- only Harold would be so sentimental as to give himself a last name of a bird. And he couldn’t imagine himself and Harold separating for whatever reason in the future, not with the way they looked at each other, acted around each other, understood each other, without words, as if no one else mattered in the room. No, there was no way they’d ever give each other up.
Unless death did them part.
And so, regardless of how he was supposed to die in the future, in an effort to save his best friend- which had evidently failed, seeing as even finding Kara Stanton hadn’t brought him to John- Nathan Ingram would die today, victim of a staged terrorist attack.
He closed his eyes and sighed. A peaceful blue bedroom dominated his mind’s eye.
“... him! … -ot him, I’ve got him, Nathan, I got him out!” Harold’s voice, not excited or exhilerated, but frantic, filtered through the earpiece as Nathan allowed his body to relax, exiting battle mode. Nathan smiled tiredly.
“Good job, angel. I always told you that you could do field work if you tried.”
“Nathan!” His partner reprimanded sharply. He always loved the nickname, provided they were alone, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything to soothe his despair. Harold sobbed. “I’m inside, Nathan, I’m inside!”
The words cut through his resignation like a knife.
A figure burst through the entrance of the ballroom. Nathan would recognize Harold everywhere.
“What are you doing?” He yelled, immediately running over to his red-faced and panting partner.
“I couldn’t leave you,” Harold gasped, making his way over to Nathan as well in the pained and slow gait of those who’d expended all their energy. “I can’t, prince, I won’t leave you.”
They met as if destiny was at play, hands colliding and entwining first, relief filling him, and then Nathan toppled into Harold’s waiting arms, although the boy’s unathletic body crumpled under him, sending them tumbling towards the floor.
The force knocked their lips together, as Nathan put a hand under Harold’s head to protect it from the impact of hitting the floor. He watched as his partner tensed, initially, and then melted, closing his eyes as his body slammed into the floor, Nathan’s slamming right on top of him.
What are you doing? Nathan wanted to scream as the breath knocked out of them entered the other’s lungs through painfully parted, but still barely attached lips. You have a future of infamy ahead of you! Why are you accepting your death?
But… Blue entered Nathan’s vision as he too closed his eyes and relaxed.
Perhaps even death couldn’t separate them.
The bomb went off.