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All Of My Tomorrrows

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"Copley."

While James truly adores the particularly husky quality of Booker's voice, he can't help but gently roll his eyes. The analyst starts carding a hand through Sebastien's hair as he mentally prepares to rebut the man's incoming argument. After all, the immortal's current inflection only appears when he starts overthinking their relationship—specifically whether or not he is actually worthy of it.

And while James is inordinately fond of Booker, the former CIA agent's fondness does not extend to such unfounded doubts.

"Bas," Copley replies in a teasing tone, attempting to add levity with the nickname. "Should I be concerned that you've chosen to use my surname in bed?"

The man huffs a laugh at the comment, yet his eternally-tired gaze still finds his.

"It is only concern for your well being. We should stop meeting like this."

James chuckles as Booker burrows his nose further into his neck, the Frenchman's beard softly tickling the sensitive skin there. The affectionate nuzzling is a direct contrast to his serious words.

Although, James supposes, who is Sebastien Le Livre if not a tragically-beautiful contradiction?

"How peculiar," the former agent ponders, aloud this time. "I do not recall you having such concerns last night, or this morning, or even ten minutes ago. Your enthusiasm for our 'meetings' is incredibly misleading."

Both men chuckle at that. As they are currently enjoying the spacious bed of Copley's Parisian hotel room, laying nude among the rumpled sheets, the humor is not lost. The beautiful contrast of their different skin tones is highlighted among the white sheets. Sebastien leans up a bit on his forearms, yet remains comfortably cradled by James' thighs. Copley hums in approval as the immortal places soft, reverent kisses to the center of his chest.

"My enthusiasm aside, our liasons are dangerous for you and will only lead to trouble," Booker responds after a few moments of intimate silence. "Besides, I shouldn't be this close to the team. I need to respect the distance, James."

The way that Booker speaks, the resigned weariness, makes the consultant's heart hurt. While fully understanding of the team's judgment, it makes it no easier for James to witness. He saw how the man had first drowned his sorrows and new regrets at the start of his isolation—retreating to the destructive habits that have served him well over the centuries.

It had taken Copley quite some time and a herculean amount of determination to get Booker to open up and stop reaching for bottles.

Pulling techniques from the agency-mandated therapy James had endured following his wife's death, as well as applying a soupçon of his more cerebral interrogation techniques, the analyst had managed to crack through the centuries-thick walls of repression and self-destructiveness.

It had helped that Copley knew the fissures well himself. His familiarity and empathy had created a natural bridge of communication between them.

Yet, despite the initial months of companionship and conversation, meaningful touch had been the true key to unlock Sebastien Le Livre. The first embrace James gave him, cradling the troubled man as he sobbed awake from a nightmare, had been far more effective than any words.

The irony is poetic in a way.

Returning to the moment, James' touch shifts as his fingers trail along the sensitive nape of the French soldier's neck. Copley can feel the tension easing out of the immortal, despite his best efforts to resist. When a long-held, yet content groan finally leaves Booker's throat, James makes his counterpoint.

"Sebastien, I am not a civilian. I am a former CIA intelligence officer that held the top percentile of my class in marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat alongside my full range of other operative skills. I am an analyst and security consultant. I'm far from helpless," Copley begins. "Andy tasked me to look after all of her family and that still very much includes you."

The sharp inhale of breath at the mention of Andromache does not go unnoticed, yet James continues.

"The particulars of what you and I do during our "check-ins" is none of their concern. Our liaisons do not risk exposing any of you."

The agent considers it a win when his words are met with a acknowledging hum.

"Andy would disagree with you," Booker comments as he settles back on top of the other man.

James chuckles in agreement as he squeezes his legs around Sebastien. The larger man groans encouragingly at the soft pressure. As a gun-calloused hand caresses the length of his thigh, Copley grins at his successful distraction. Booker has never been shy about his appreciation for the tone and strength of his legs, which James is not above exploiting to his favor. Recalling a favorite film, Copley chuckles at the thought of six feet of tactile therapy wrapped around the melancholy immortal.

"I'm sure she would disagree with many of my opinions," the analyst concedes after a moment. "However, six millennia of existence does not make Andromache of Scythia infallible. I've seen her search browser history."

That startles a full-body chuckle out of Booker.

"Comment ne pas tomber amoureux de toi? Je n'avais aucune chance."

James smiles at the casual endearment Sebastien murmurs into his neck. It is not the first time such affectionate words have left the man's lips, yet each romantic utterance gains a new sentimental weight. The immortal is steadily getting used to vocalizing his emotions instead of repressing them. It is a significant progress that makes James grin, as he understands completely. He knows how difficult it is to offer your heart to another, especially when that heart has been previously ravaged by grief. Despite how much affection he feels for the man in his embrace, calling it love feels like a betrayal of sorts to his own late wife. It is illogical, yet it doesn't make saying those words to himself(or aloud to Sebastien) any easier.

"Careful, anything you say can and will be used against you," the former CIA agent teases. "Especially if it's sweet words murmured in French."

"Use them as you see fit, James."

"Promises, promises, Sebastien."

In contrast to their gentle repertoire and indulgent touches, the heavy sigh that suddenly leaves Booker's lips is worrying.

"I don't deserve this happiness."

"Yes, you do."

A rueful huff leaves Sebastien at the firm and unhesitant insistence.

"I'm a coward that only ends up hurting the people I care about. Letting people down is my specialty, even with my best intentions."

Copley takes a look at the beside clock, not terribly surprised to find that it is later than he thought. The consultant has a meeting with a Mr. Stanhope, a potential securities client, in just over an hour. Regrettably, the man is rather insistent and would not react well to a last-minute cancellation. The business pretenses of Veritas Assessments must be maintained if Copley is going to perform his duty to the immortals effectively.

Despite his own personal wishes. 

"You are entirely too hard on yourself. You are the exact opposite of a coward, Bas," James genuinely assures. "Have you forgotten that I have an entire display of bulletin boards dedicated to your heroics in my home office?"

That pulls out an amused chuckle from the man which the analyst rewards with a soft kiss to his temple.

"However, if I must, I will be happy to remind you exactly why such thinking is complete and utter bollocks."

The surprised draw of Booker's brow proves James choice of words have had the desired effect. He tilts the man's chin up so that Sebastien's soulful eyes lock with his own. For a few moments, they simply maintain the eye contact. James' firm determination softens once he is certain that his sincerity has been established.

"Understand this, Sebastien. Though you all are immortals, your individual journeys are different. You are not Andy, you are not Nicky, and you are not Joe. You have had far less time to adjust to this immortal life. You are also not Nile. Compared to her, you have had far more time to suffer with the harsh reality of actually outliving your expected life expectancy. You are unique in that dichotomy. Immortal or mortal, we all have had different experiences that have shaped us and the decisions we have made. Yet, your pain is still valid. You have had to live with the loss of your family and your children and suffer through that unresolved grief for far too long. And just because your team cannot directly relate or fully understand that particular grief, does not invalidate that. Do not lament or apologize for your feelings, process them."

At the tears forming in Booker's eyes, Copley gently wipes them away with his thumb.

"You made mistakes, we both have, and I can guarantee that we both will make more. Do you think that Andy, Nicky, or Joe don't have regrets in their centuries or millennia of life? Or that Nile won't make her own in the future? Regardless of your extraordinary life expectancy, you are all flawed and tragically human, just like the rest of us. What matters now, in this present moment, is how you chose to atone for those missteps, Bas. You have the gift of extended time, so use it wisely."

Sebastian looks at James with a tender sadness that truly speaks of the man's long life. Reaching his hands up, James cups the man's cheeks, enjoying the softness of his beard. He connects their lips with soft, lingering presses before the contact extends into deeper explorations of each other's mouths.

Copley moans as the man's large hands slide up his sides and wrap around his torso protectively. Each of them enjoy this kiss for what it is, a gentle reassurance.

These moments of happiness and contentment are truly cherished by the former agent. James anticipates their meetings and stolen moments between the team's missions, indulging in these periods of selfishness, just as much as Sebastien clearly does. Sometimes it's just sharing a drink and a few lazy kisses, other times it's an uninterrupted weekend in one of their bedrooms—in either Booker's apartment, various hotel rooms, or Copley's house outside of London on special occasions. The two are content to shut the rest of the world out, letting it pass by as they immerse themselves in this pleasure and domestic intimacy.

James misses his late wife, dearly. As much as he treasures what he has now with Sebastien, losing her was an exquisite torture. It changed him beyond recognition. The ambitious, highly-trained CIA agent had felt completely powerless as such an impressive woman slowly deteriorated right before his very eyes.

Nile reminds Copley of her at times. That uncompromising and no-nonsense directness of hers is a quality that he had hoped would have been inherited by the children that they had once hoped to have.

Upon his wife's passing, James knew that he would never love another woman and had resolved to remain alone for the rest of his life. He protected the fractured remains of his heart with distance. Copley had removed himself from his own life and existed to make logical sense of it all, to track down the "why". In the years that passed, the grief-stricken man had been overshadowed by the shrewd and obsessive analyst.

Yet, Copley knew that there had to be some reason he was put on this path, why he experienced such heartache and his wife had to suffer and deteriorate without the dignity she so deserved. There had to be a reason behind the cruelty.

So when James Copley had first came across mentions and whisperings of a ghost squadron, it had felt so right.

And when those legends had led him to the elite extraction team he had once used in Surabaya years ago, it had felt like too much of a coincidence.

It had all just fell into place from there.

The grieving man had immediately latched onto the noble idea of sparing everyone else from the devastation of death. And when faced with sifting through centuries, possibly millennia, of unsubstantiated data, James did not cower. He immersed himself in it. Copley's trained eyes saw what most people didn't, he made connections across generations and continents. His years analyzing criminology and extracting patterns from seemingly random data gave him an insight that was powered by a renewed sense of purpose and a relentless, yet fledgling sense of hope.

His sociograms, which admittedly at the beginning resembled the work of an overzealous scrapbooker, have always made an almost perfect sense to him. Initially, they were a mess of red marker, news clippings, photographs, and photocopies that have transformed into a beautiful interconnected web still on display in his workspace.

They are his masterpieces, after all.

And while James Copley is still proud of his work, he laments how wrong he had been in his initial motivation. He was not meant to give the immortals' gift away. The analyst knows now that he is meant to help protect and safeguard it.

Destiny probably thinks it's clever by sending him this realization in the form of Sebastien Le Livre.

Not that James isn't extremely grateful for the circumvention.

He has found solace and companionship in a highly unlikely place. An immortal French soldier that has lost his own spouse and children to time, equally powerless to do anything but keep living existing.

James had been inundated with condolences at his wife's passing, yet it felt so detached. The words, while well-meaning, were hollow.

However, Booker's words have always held more weight. Perhaps due to the experience of time behind them, they just intone differently. His condolences had been the first to have an impact, weighted with the shared pain and devastating grief. And perhaps better than anyone, Sebastien Le Livre knows how the agony never truly goes away. The memories are like phantoms that forever haunt you, reassuring yet equally heart-wrenching when confronted—when reminded that fleeting memory is all you have.

Both men may have bonded over this mutual burden, but Copley can only imagine the torture of having to live through centuries carrying such pain. Immortality has cruelly prolonged the hope of reuniting with departed loved ones in the afterlife.

As wondrous as this gift of eternal life initially seems to be, James has seen the other side of it. The aspects that Merrick, and presumably so many others like him have never grasped or took the time to explore—

What does one actually do with forever?

At what point does life just become this endless and monotonous existence?

Do the joys of life lose all meaning when there is no end in sight?

Is it just an eternal cycle of loss and pain, resigning oneself to live with this new reality and tortured with the thought that one day, when decades have become centuries that in turn pass into millennia, that time could steal even your most treasured memories away?

Like it had for Andy.

James has spent so much of his time contemplating immortality over the last few months. Exploring his fascination with the concept, and the proof currently in his arms, the agent has come to hold a great respect for those that bear the burden of it. He is certain that Destiny or Fate, or whatever power is behind such assignment, knew exactly what it was doing when it granted Andromache of Scythia, Yusuf Al Kaysani, Nicoló di Genova, Sebastien Le Livre, and Nile Freeman with this awe-inspiring responsibility.

The analyst's own research only proves that it takes an uncommon strength and mental fortitude to walk this path. One that he has seen in all of them, including Booker, despite the soldier's own inability to see it.

And while the mortal man has accepted that he won't be able to support Sebastien on the entirety of this journey, Copley has decided to build the man back up in the remaining time they do have together.

With a warm smile at the thought, James slides his hands down to Sebastien's hips. The analyst begins a slow rocking of his own, encouraging Booker to move in tandem. While the immortal man may not have much of a refractory time, James is still bound by more mortal limits. It doesn't stop him from trading soft kisses with the other man as his hands return to making a mess of Sebastien's hair. He delights in the slow-building pleasure and simple rocking of their bodies.

The intimacy is deeply satisfying in that rare, lazy way, where rigorous, frenzied passion would be unwelcome.

Afterwards, when they are both recovering, James and Sebastien bask in the recalibration of their minds. They both pant for breath as their chests heave with the effort. In that intimate haze, when they are each reborn from mon petit mort, James supposes that they are true equals. He grins at the humor of that passing thought.

Copley's musings are interrupted as he feels Booker's head rest upon his bare chest. The man settles an ear right over James' heart, seeming to take comfort in the steady heartbeat he finds there. Copley indulges the odd habit, chalking it up to a sentimentality of immortality, and presses a soft kiss to Booker's untamed hair, grinning at his own handiwork. When he glances up again at the bedside clock, the consultant already knows that he's unable to delay the inevitable any longer.

"Bas, it's time."

"Already?"

The analyst represses a chuckle at the complete reversal of Booker's earlier stance.

"Yes. I have to meet with a client, but I'll be free after that. I shouldn't be more than a few hours," James answers as his fingers play with the man's hair. "If you'd be so inclined, you could come back to London with me and spend the weekend. We could spend hours in bed, perhaps even start reading The Count of Monte Cristo or watching one of those animated films you love so much. You would be able to critique my 'old man sweaters' to your heart's content."

Booker chuckles fondly at the suggestion. Copley savors the full nuance of the sound as it fills the hotel bedroom. It has taken so long to draw such open expressions of joviality from the man that James now cherishes each one. In their time together, as friends and as lovers, the lone immortal has been expressing his mirth with a pleasant ease. The first time James had heard a genuine, hearty laugh from Booker instead of a snarky chuckle, he had honestly been struck speechless. After all, the laughter had instantaneously melted the weight of the centuries off Sebastien's face.

"I only critique them to stop myself from buying my own, James. They are unbelievably comfortable."

For not the first time, Copley empathizes with the struggle of being an old man forever trapped in a young body. Forever bound by modern fashion trends and denied the comforts of practicality.

"I know you do, you geezer," the former agent remarks humorously. A warm sigh leaves James' mouth as he reaches out to brush away a strand of the immortal's hair. "The charcoal grey cashmere is undoubtedly your favorite. It always carries your scent after you wear it."

The casual observation that hides the fond deduction is not commented on, yet Copley still feels the grin against his neck. With a chuckle and considerable effort, James reluctantly disentangles himself from the man. It is mutual disinclination, evident by the way Sebastien's gaze remains on him as he re-dresses.

"Glaring at my clothes won't prevent anything. I still have my meeting at 3."

The man's laugh follows him as James turns to slip on his gun holster and then his suit jacket.

"Can't blame a man for trying, mon cher."

Rolling his eyes at the shameless use of the French endearment, Copley turns back to the nude and rakishly-handsome man casually wrapped in his bed sheets. Sebastien Le Livre looks rather good there, admittedly. The immortal's hair is mussed and his entire countenance has reached that alluring flushed, yet completely relaxed state from their lovemaking. And as an unneeded pièce de résistance to his current visage , Sebastien has that mischievous gleam to his gaze that promises things that should be scandalously indecent for a man of his advanced age.

A weaker man than James Copley would fall for it in a heartbeat. It is a very tempting offer. Still, the former agent is aware of the dangerous game that Booker has instigated.

"You are incorrigible, Monsieur Le Livre," he scolds affectionately instead. "I'll be back before you know it."

"Ah, then I shall lay here in a malaise. Completely despondent until you return to me."

A chuckle at the man's amusing melodramatics tumbles out of James' lips.

"You'll survive. In the meantime, think about my offer, Sebastien. You may not be able to see them, but you don't have to be all alone, either."

With that, Copley leans in to impart a quick parting kiss that Booker eagerly returns. The consultant grins into the affectionate exchange as he feels the immortal soldier check the gun he's chosen to take with him.

"Satisfied, darling?"

The growl that answers that question makes James smirk in retribution. After all, he can unfairly wield his native tongue just as deviously. Sebastien has always "appreciated" the particular lilt of his own accented voice when the Londoner whispers that endearment into his ear.

"Two guns would satisfy me," Sebastien insists against James' lips as a matching smirk curls his own. "Also a Beretta? Tch, and you call me a geezer."

"Both my choice and quantity of weapon are perfectly adequate. It's a meeting with a cybersecurity client, not a Special Forces operation."

"It won't hurt to have another, James. When you live for centuries, you learn the hard way that it's always a good idea to be prepared. Doesn't always help, of course, but still."

Copley smiles as Booker drops a hand to his clothed hip and starts rubbing circles absentmindedly. The consultant is not surprised that his companion is overly protective, he supposes that immortality has instilled an associated fragility with mortals. Unoffended by the words of caution, James simply rests a hand on a bearded cheek to regain the other man's attention. The tactile reassurance is well received as Sebastien leans into Copley's hand.

"You worry far too much. Besides, I am not without my wiles."

"I know. I am intimately familiar with them," Booker replies as he surprises James by pulling him into another kiss.

As he is gently tugged and manhandled on top of the immortal, the security consultant supposes he can spare another ten minutes or so. James only hopes that the undoubtedly future wrinkles in his suit won't be commented on by his potential client.

 


 

Not even eight hours later, James awakens with a pounding headache and the uncomfortable, yet ultimately familiar, feeling of dried blood on his face. He registers that his body sitting in a chair and held in place by restraints of some sort.

The current state of affairs is far from the first occurrence for the former CIA agent.

However, he knows that Booker is never going to let him live this down.

James can already hear the smug, yet fond, "I told you so."

It would not be wholly unwelcome.

Copley slowly blinks as more of his consciousness returns to him. He seems to recall that it didn't used to take so long to regain his bearings, but he chalks that up to the past resilience of his youth. Intermittently, images of Booker and the rest of the team flash through his recalibrating mind as James shifts his body—determining no other aches or injuries is a relief.

One should always be grateful for small miracles.

Despite the lingering ache of his head, the former agent finds amusement in the fact that all of the immortals were going to give him hell for getting captured like a trainee on his first mission.

To be fair, the ambush after James left his unexpectedly-long meeting with Arthur Stanhope had caught the security expert off guard. It was either extremely bold to kidnap him in public during broad daylight or extremely stupid(James is still parsing that particular detail out). However, in the interest of not wanting to involve bystanders or draw police attention with gunshots, Copley's weapon had remained holstered during the scuffle. It had been unneeded. After all, a few rather efficient Krav Maga moves had quickly incapacitated most of his attackers.

The brutality of his attacks may have been fueled by Copley's annoyance at this unexpected delay.

But despite his training and experience, James still has mortal limits and had fallen to the unseen and particularly-vicious blow to the back of his head. It had dropped the seasoned agent cold. Copley remembered falling to his knees, the rough scratch of asphalt had temporarily distracted him from the head injury. But in all honesty, Copley doesn't remember losing consciousness. It had happened almost instantaneously. One moment he had been conscious and then the next moment he had known only darkness.

Even now, James' disorientation feels more like a concussion than bruising from blunt-force trauma. Years as a trained agent have taught Copley the difference. And in his experience, blows that incapacitate an individual that quickly usually result in the victim suffering severe brain injury or that individual remaining unconscious permanently.

The analyst deducts that whomever is behind this must have been desperate.

Still, the sloppiness is inexcusable in James Copley's opinion.

With that thought, James' focus returns to the situation at hand. He is alone in what appears to be an enclosed office. There are frosted windows to his left that obscure the space beyond it. However, the former agent can make out vague shapes moving about and the echo of the voices suggests an open floor plan. Copley turns his focus to the details inside the room. Despite the laptop computer and security monitors set up on a metal desk, the thick layer of dust that coats the unique machinery hastily shoved into the corners of the room reveals that he is being held in a long-abandoned textile factory. James catalogues these observations, trying to discern a hint to his current geographical location.

However, his sharp eyes then take in the haphazard stack of boxes of medical equipment, each one emblazoned with the all-too-familiar logo of Merrick Pharmaceuticals.

James is lucid enough to feel the dread settling into his stomach.

As he shifts about, Copley confirms the cold bite of metal handcuffs pressing into his wrists and ankles. Rope would have been ideal, yet it is still better than industrial zip ties. Testing the cuffs, James concedes that he is rather professionally restrained to this inexcusably-uncomfortable wooden chair. So, it is also safe to assume that his captor won't be making the mistake of underestimating him again as they did during his abduction.

The ex-CIA agent discovers a delightful satisfaction at the consideration, despite the circumstances and added hindrance towards his impending escape.

Apparently, he's still got it.

"Good evening, Mr. Copley."

Looking up at the voice, James is greeted by a familiar acquaintance that enters the room. He focuses on the woman's face as the harsh artificial light is making him a bit nauseous. Although, the cold, sterile smile is just as disconcerting as it was in Merrick's lab the last time he saw it.

"Dr. Kozak. You are looking well."

The doctor regards his lack of reaction with an amused quirk of her eyebrow. Meta busies herself with a tablet as she walks further into the room.

"You don't seem that surprised to see me."

"Surprise implies an inconsideration of key factors," James informs as he shifts, surreptitiously testing the handcuffs on his wrist again. It will take a minute to pick the lock, but it is still possible if he keeps the good doctor distracted. "The agency focuses on considering all possible outcomes and acting accordingly. Even the woefully predictable ones."

"Woefully predictable? How so?"

"Rest assured, it is through no fault of your own, doctor. It was my mistake to give you the benefit of a doubt in the first place. I had presumed that your intelligence would deter you from antagonizing a group of immortal soldiers. Truly, I had thought Merrick to be the only one afflicted with such lamentable arrogance. I stand, or rather forcibly sit, corrected."

The man notices the clench of the good doctor's jaw with a note of vindictive satisfaction. Copley knows he hit a rather sensitive nerve.

In his time contracted in Merrick's employ, James had quickly learned that Meta Kozak had little scruples. The doctor cared more for notoriety and the pursuit of science than troublesome things such as ethics. Hence her own association with the deceased pharmaceutical CEO. Steven and Meta had both wanted to dissect the immortals, over and over again, just to further their mutual ambitions.

James still feels sick that he ever aligned himself with either of them.

In the aftermath of the team's escape, it had been Copley that scrubbed the security cameras and handled the disposal of the bodies in the maximum security building alongside the tissue and blood samples that had been extracted from both Joe and Nicky. Kozak's body hadn't been accounted for along with a rapidly-downloaded copy of her research and data from Merrick's private server.

He had decided not to expend resources to pursue her as the data from Nicky and Joe had been inconclusive. The results of her "testing" only revealed two extremely healthy, but not quantitatively extraordinary, individuals.

Still, Copley had underestimated Dr. Kozak's need to have her work validated.

He would not be so merciful again.

"Hmm," mutters Meta as she proceeds to watch something on her tablet. "Forgive me, I am fascinated by this footage of your abduction. I admit that I had to rewatch it multiple times. As an analyst and securities expert, I didn't think you had such skill in hand to hand combat. The CIA trained you very well, Mr.Copley. "

The flattery does nothing to endear James to the unscrupulous doctor.

"There are some things that no amount of training can prepare one for."

"Like immortal soldiers?"

"I refer to mortally-bound opportunists such as yourself. I'm taken aback by the new lows that you all continue to sink to."

At his barb, Copley smiles that perfectly calm, unflappable grin that he has found to annoy terrorists, megalomaniacs, and various other arrogant despots the world over.  

And on more recent occasions, the knowing expression has also perturbed one particular Frenchman whenever James easily provides a particularly-evasive crossword answer.

"You sound almost disappointed in me," inquires Meta, interrupting James' fond recollection.

"Disappointment implies there was hope for better in the first place. I know that you only are acting as you are ingrained to, Dr. Kozak. One does not blame a parasite for acting according to its nature."

"Amusing, yet you are not the first to mock those visionary enough to seize opportunity. And I am only seizing mine," the doctor insists, her focus shifting to the computer that holds her research. "I will be the one to quantify immortality—a veritable fountain of youth. I just need time to study how the healing process actually works. Unfortunately, your companions' samples have a disappointingly-short shelf life. There is nothing exceptional about their blood and tissue outside of their bodies."

Copley has the creeping feeling of deja vu as the doctor continues.

"I am in need of a live subject to discover the key to their immortality and replicate the results."

The analyst is not surprised. Some people just never learn. So, as James files that revealing bit of information away, he can't help by sincerely pity deluded individuals like Dr. Meta Kozak.

She actually thinks she's saving the world, like he himself once did. However, the world is not ready for this knowledge. Meta is so obsessed with if she could find the key to immortality, she has not stopped ask if she should. And while the concept that "the ends justify the means" is a convenient and logical argument for the beneficiary party, it only holds up if one is willing to disregard the morality behind such means.

Over the last few months, James has spent too much time pondering the question—What good is saving humanity if the cost includes the very aspects that make one humane?

James Copley is not ignorant of the hypocritical irony of such thoughts. His tenure in the CIA had included violations of privacy laws and the facilitation of "unethical procedures" in truly dire situations.

Steven Merrick had not been wrong in his snarky assessment—there was blood on Agent Copley's hands.

Yet, when Andy had tasked him as their sweeper, Copley easily acquiesced. The former agent complied with this appointed duty as a form of repentance for his own misguided arrogance.  For too long, through direct action or inaction, he has blindly perpetuated ideas of necessary sacrifice for the greater good. A younger James Copley had disregarded what is right, to "follow orders" more than once.

It is a slippery slope, indeed.

And in his prime at the agency, James had been relentless.

To his eternal regret, that same dogged pursuit of evidence is what revealed the immortal warriors to such people like Merrick and Dr. Kozak in the first place.

But now, Copley knows better. It is imperative that these extraordinary individuals, these heroes behind the scenes of some of humanity's greatest achievements, remain hidden. The analyst does not take this responsibility lightly. It is his proud duty to assist in keeping Andy, Nile, Nicky, Joe and Booker out of the clutches of those that would cage them forever.

So, he readily applied his skill set to their cause.

James Copley knows how to truly disappear in this modern world. He knows which false trails to leave in order to be convincing and which true paths to follow to find his quarry. To him, navigating the algorithms and patterns of the modern technological world is as intuitive as walking the dips and valleys of one's native homeland. It is instinctive.

In many ways, James has found a satisfying challenge in protecting the immortals he now considers family.

His thoughts focus on Booker at that thought. It has been hours presumably since they were to reunite at his Parisian hotel room.

For the first time since his capture, James genuinely worries. Not for himself, but for the man's reaction to his disappearance.

The former interrogator resolves to pry every bit of information from this woman about her inopportune reappearance before making a escape. It is the least he owes Meta Kozak from rudely interrupting his romantic plans. With that, Copley's unflinching gaze finds hers once again.

"My men feared that in their haste to subdue you, they gave you a fatal blow," Dr. Kozak observes, her gaze resting on her captive. "You were unresponsive initially. Yet now, it seems you are only a bit disoriented. Maybe mildly concussed."

"The encroaching migraine suggests otherwise."

"Still, you managed to single-handedly take out quite a few of them. I've never seen a femur fractured by human force alone. I'm curious, did they teach you how to do that in the agency?"

With her questioning, Meta takes a seat at the adjacent desk and opens her laptop. The doctor seems more concerned with the information on the screen then Copley's response, yet he obliges anyway.

"Oxford actually. Proper leverage and applied pressure is simple physics."

"I'm surprised you are lucid enough to attempt humor. Maybe your new friends' durability has rubbed off on you. Among other things."

Copley doesn't react to the baiting. After all, abductors are all alike, they try to illicit emotional reactions from knowledge of personal relationships and significant others. It is a textbook interrogation tactic. Agent James Copley has been trained to resist far more advanced techniques while simultaneously extracting his own intel.

The amateur attempt is insulting on every possible level.

"Your new laboratory leaves much to be desired," James leads as he pointedly looks about the makeshift work space.

"Merrick did provide top of the line equipment and facilities," Meta agrees wistfully. "Although, Steven never had any true respect for the scientific method. It was all about profitability and 'one upping' his competitors."

"Is that why you were selling his technology to some of his competitors behind his back?"

James takes pleasure in the taken aback expression on Dr. Kozak's face. She hesitates for a moment, trying to find how he managed to pull that information.

"Did Merrick have you investigate me, too?"

"No, I was not contracted for the surveillance of Merrick Pharmaceutical employees. That was merely a byproduct of my own due diligence and observational skills."

The tightening of the doctor's jaw at the label of "Merrick's employee" almost makes this too easy for the analyst.

"Then you should appreciate what I'm doing here, Mr. Copley."

James is not surprised that pride is Meta's weakness. After all, that is the backdoor he will use to pull out the information he needs. It is uninspired, but easy enough for the analyst to manipulate and exploit.

Playing to her arrogance, the man raises an eyebrow in feigned curiosity.

"And what precisely should I be 'appreciating', Doctor?"

"I am only completing my research. I have analyzed and compiled all the data I took from the first two subjects. With a live comparison source, I'll be able to finish my work. I've seen your research, Agent Copley. You cannot tell me that after all those years devoted to finding the immortals that you are actually satisfied as their lackey."

As James processes that Meta knows that he still has contact with the team, he imagines that the woman expects him to take umbrage to the term. He does not. Handlers are vital to the function of any team. However, it does take a moment to cool the searing and protective anger that the rest of her dehumanizing words cause. Despite the constant and draining effort that is wrangling a group of recklessly-dramatic and deadly mercenaries, they are still his wards. The consultant has grown fiercely protective of them within their brief reacquaintance—antics aside.

However, to properly protect the team, Copley still needs to know if Dr. Kozak is in fact acting alone or if she has assistance. He has to determine if anyone else actually knows the immortals' secret or if she is still recruiting a "potential investor".

So, James entertains her assumptions.

"We mere mortals do what we must to survive," Copley states with an unimpressed look around the abandoned factory. He grins knowingly as his insult hits home. "Funding must be rather difficult to acquire with quantitative proof still evading you."

"That is where your friends come in," Meta smugly counters. "Once I solidify my findings with a live immortal subject as proof, the world's wealthiest will bid obscene amounts of money to gain first access."

A relief washes over James at that revelation. Dr. Kozak has no tangible support, yet. He has time to stop Meta before she auctions off her information and the team's existence to the highest bidder. With that important detail excavated, Copley knows that it is time to circle in for the kill. He needs to expose the flaw in her plans so that Meta will counter with what she thinks to be her strength and ultimate leverage.

"While I admire your tenacity, Doctor, I still fail to see how I fit into your plans. They won't risk their freedom for me. I may assist them, but I'm not one of them."

At that, Dr. Kozak gains an peculiar gleam to her gaze.

"I admit Mr. Copley, I do wonder what secrets you've managed to discover by 'assisting' them. I'm almost envious."

"The nature of their secrets are not my concern. However, keeping them is."

"As to be expected of a former CIA intelligence officer," commends the good doctor. "However, I also know that you are involved with the isolated maudlin one, your initial contact that goes by 'Booker'. You two have quite an exchange of texts and emails. A man that calls you by such saccharine nicknames will come after you alone and trade."

So, Meta has been monitoring their communications. James reminds himself to update the software on all the immortals' tech. As helplessly fond as he is of Booker, he would not entirely put it past the man to unknowingly open a well-crafted phishing email.

"I assure you that it will only be an exercise in futility and a lesson in hubris. Keane and his entire Special Forces team couldn't take them down, what makes you think these men will fare better? They are hardly top-tier."

"I don't expect them to. Even if I had the funds, your team still decimated the best mercenaries on the market. It is extremely difficult to find sufficient help," Meta succinctly informs as her gaze warily shifts towards the security monitors. "So, these second rate ones will have to suffice."

On the various screens, the well-armed men are all hyper vigilant in their individual patrols.

Yet, Copley still detects a particular hitch to the word 'decimated" that he stores away for later as the woman continues.

"Besides, I'm not attempting to engage them. As I said, I intend to make a trade."

"A trade?" Copley asks innocently. "We may be on cordial terms, but none of them would trade themselves for me. I am not worth their freedom."

"Well, this 'Booker' of yours seems to think differently. He was more than willing to trade your mortal life for his eternal one when we spoke. Especially when I sent him a copy of your abduction footage."

James does not find any of this information surprising. Knowing Sebastien, the man had easily agreed to whatever terms Meta had offered once he had seen that video. The analyst is instantly concerned by the toll this situation will take on the man's self-worth—especially when he is not there to help soothe it. After all, James can only imagine how the immortal is blaming himself for this predicament.

The second he gets out of this, Copley fully intends to help remedy such lingering insecurities in the Frenchman with soft and doting affection.

Currently, he needs to downplay the true depth of their bond. He only hopes Booker did the same during his conversation with the "good" doctor.

"Booker does suffer from charmingly unpredictable bouts of valor. However, our particular camaraderie is born of proximity, nothing more."

"That may be, but these immortals are a rather sentimental group. The pair of subjects that I drew my original samples from were testament to that—the ones called Nicky and Joe, I believe? And they all reacted the same when the woman wasn't healing. They may be impervious to injury, but they are just as susceptible to emotional manipulation as the next person. It took very little convincing to get your 'Booker' to agree to the trade, contingent on you remaining relatively unharmed. And even if your 'comrade' decides to renegotiate, your lone immortal is still only one man."

During her speech, Copley's eyes shift to the monitors of the CCTV system monitoring the abandoned textile factory. He witnesses in real time as one of the guards flanking the main entrance is shot dead, and then the other in the span of an instant. His CIA training keeps James' face impassive as both bodies slump against the wall in a mimic of resting. The two clean sniper shots through the head leave only an indistinguishable blood spatter on the grainy black and white screen. Only a trained eye would catch it through the low-resolution feed of the camera. It doesn't take much for Copley to deduct that the shots were made from a considerable distance and with significant skill.

His eyes widen imperceptibly as the perimeter cameras are then taken out, one by one. James doubles his surreptitious efforts to work his wrist out of the handcuffs.

Just as Meta turns an obligatory gaze back to the surveillance system, an explosion rattles the decrepit factory. Copley uses the distraction of the "signal" to finish slipping his wrist from the restraint as Dr. Kozak goes over to the computer and checks the feed. Smoke has filled the entire first floor, obscuring the visuals. However, the unmistakable staccato of bullets begins to echo throughout the former factory.

The increase of the sound is oddly reassuring.

"What is going on out there?!" shouts the woman into a handheld radio.

After a few moments, a crackle of static is heard as Dr. Kozak is answered. James presumes by the leader of her hired squadron.

"We have intruders. Stay in the lab, doctor. We'll handle this," reports a gruff voice. "Team 3, requesting assistance."

Shifting his gaze Copley can just make out the group of hired guns that run by the frosted glass. He turns an almost-bored expression to the nervous doctor.

"Your hired gun certainly seems as confident as Mr. Keane, even if unwarrantedly so. It's almost a pity that he'll meet the same end as his predecessor—underestimating a team of immortal soldiers. To his credit, at least Keane was blinded by affection instead of money."

Dr. Kozak ignores the jibe as she looks at the remaining security feed. Her eyes narrow as Booker is seen attacking a pair of the hired mercenaries through the haze of the clearing smoke. The man is not properly equipped, yet he is doing just fine against the armored men. Copley stares at the screen, too. After all, it isn't often he gets to observe the immortals fight in "real time".

The analyst is thoroughly impressed by the brutal strength and power of Booker's moves. Especially as a camera manages to capture him forcibly disarm a man with a fluid twist and then hurl the same unfortunate individual over his back through the haze of smoke. No time or energy is wasted as the immortal mercenary continues fighting his next opponent.

Meta doesn't look as enthusiastic or impressed to see the man's carnage.

"It appears that your boyfriend is early."

James is briefly tempted to repeat Joe's speech that he scrubbed from the armored van's CCTV. It was one hell of an ad lib. However, he knows that somehow the man would find out about it and take mock offense to the plagiarism. Not that James would blame Joe for any real ire, sometimes passionate romantic professions are only meant for you, your immortal husband, and a clutch of soon-to-be-dead homophobic mercenaries to hear.

Copley is snatched from his musings by the presence of his own Beretta trained on his head.

He tilts his head in a practiced confusion.

"You seem worried, Dr. Kozak. Something wrong? I do hope everything is going according to your well-developed plan."

His sarcasm goes unanswered, but James supposes that the woman has other concerns at the moment.  The seasoned agent remains calm despite the shaky gun trained on him. After all, it is far from the first time Copley has found himself in this situation. One develops a certain numbness to it after the twentieth time or so. Besides, James can always tell the difference between those actually capable of shooting someone "point blank" and those that only threaten to do so. It is all in the ease of the grip.

And while Dr. Meta Kozak is more than comfortable with what is effectively torture with syringes and scalpels, her hand grips the Beretta with a telling anxiety. 

Copley finds the doctor's lack of stomach for such hands-on carnage woefully ironic.

"H-he won't make it past that fire power. They are fully equipped."

James smiles at the lie she is telling herself as the distant cacophony of bullets steadily grows closer to them. Her visible desperation is a good sign, though. Fear is malleable. He can see in her widened eyes that the woman has been transported to that fateful day in the Merrick Building. When she had recovered from Nile's blow, Meta had obviously seen the trail of blood and bodies the immortal soldiers left behind in their escape. The carnage had been rather impressive, even to Copley's experienced gaze. Yet, as someone that is still relatively a civilian, it must have stuck with her. The doctor's fascination with the immortals has been tainted with an instinctual fear of them.

Copley can work with this.

"It's not too late, Doctor. You may still survive this."

"I don't need your help," Meta insists as she focuses the gun back at him. "He'll stop if he sees you in danger."

"Bold of you to presume that Booker would consider you dangerous."

"Your friend may be immortal, but you aren't, Copley! I can still shoot you."

"True. But if you think he's angry now, how upset do you think he'll be to find me dead, Doctor?" James rationalizes with an inquiring eyebrow. "Booker is an immortal soldier that has nothing but endless time to hunt you down. There will be no safe haven."

Kozak hesitates for a moment, which is all Copley needs. Slipping his wrist out from one handcuff, his hand darts out and quickly disarms her with a fluid movement that throws off her balance. Meta has no time to react to the sudden strike as James takes full advantage of her surprise. With his gun now in hand, he strikes her windpipe with the butt of the firearm. Copley then uses the time Meta spends choking on air to fire the gun through the remaining cuffs on his wrist and ankles, freeing himself from the chair. Dr. Kozak lunges at him again, but the agent strikes her harder in the abdomen.

Copley then takes the sole pair of functioning handcuffs from the chair and cuffs her wrists through the rungs of her work table. For good measure, James strikes her across the temple as a reciprocation for the migraine he himself will no doubt have later.

Though admittedly, the ache has been reduced to a largely-ignorable throb.

At the noise of their scuffle, the armed henchmen stationed outside the door of the make-shift lab start to pour into the room. The former agent shoots at them as he dives behind some of the discarded factory's machinery. There's only three men, so Copley is able to take two of them out with efficient two-shot kills—one to the upper torso, one to the head.

Unfortunately, the clip empties, sparing the last man from Copley's advantageous drop on him. The consultant finds cover and scrounges around for a makeshift weapon as he hears the last mercenary approach. He lucks out when a rusted metal pipe comes away easily from the wall. Waiting until his target is close enough, Copley charges to take away the mercenary's advantage. He drops him to the floor with a quick strike to the man's exposed side with the pipe and a strong kick that sweeps his legs. James manages to kick the man's impressive gun away before he's tackled to the floor by the hired man.

On the dusty ground, the two grapple trying to gain the advantage over the other. Copley gets a few good hits in as he dodges the man's blade that he's pulled from a hidden side holster. It is a tense stalemate for a few moments—the mercenary is physically stronger, but Copley is more strategic with his strikes. He also manages to use his legs in tandem with his arms to restrict the man's movements. A haze falls over the former agent as survival instinct kicks in—James understands that he'll most likely have to kill this man with his bare hands. Their struggle finally ends when James manages to twist out of his opponent's grip. He then manipulates his body to trap the man in a triangle choke hold. Holding the position, the man tries to claw at James' thighs but to no avail. The former agent continues applying pressure with the hold until the mercenary passes out from the asphyxiation and his pulse fades away.

He only releases the hold when he is sure the man is now dead.

Taking the opportunity presented to him, Copley takes a moment to catch his breath.

Only to hear another set of boot steps approaching the doorway.

James summons his last reserves of energy and instantly reaches over for the gun he kicked away. Hearing them approach the doorway, he turns to train the firearm on the new threat—only to look at this particular mercenary in fond disbelief.

Annoyingly, Sebastien Le Livre is only slightly out of breath and completely uninjured despite being covered in blood and dust. Copley notices that his hair is disheveled rather rakishly, but otherwise shows little sign of the gunfire fight and brawls he's been through. The immortal locks eyes with James for a weighted moment before sweeping him for injuries.

When he finishes his perusal, Booker only smirks at the gun still steadily trained on him.

"Hello to you too, mon cher."

The teasing tone instantly breaks the tension. James lowers his weapon and exhales a relaxed breath from his position on the floor. Although the adrenaline is still pumping in his system, the analyst can already imagine the soreness that will hit him later. It has been some time since he's been this "active" in the field. He fully untangles his legs from the now cooling corpse and rolls into a sitting position.

"As lovely as it is to see you, I had it handled."

"Well, I see that you 'handled it' with a far better gun then the one you left with," Booker remarks as he walks over and offers James a hand to help him up. The immortal grins as the other man takes his assistance. "Although, as I've always suspected, your thighs are deadly weapons all on their own."

"Shut up. Bas."

At his nickname, Sebastien affectionately rest a hand on the back of Copley's neck before going to check the other bodies in the room. He pays little mind to the restrained, yet fighting unconsciousness, doctor. Yet Sebastien grins approvingly at the efficient disposal of the other two hired mercenaries.

James goes to the door, checking to see if any other "surprises" are on their way. Scattered across the open floor of the textile factory are the cooling bodies of the hired forces. While not an unusual amount of gore from the immortal soldiers' rescue missions, Copley is still confused.

There's no one else.

Well, no one else alive anyway.

Remembering the feed of the guards that had been quickly disposed of with sniper shots, James turns back to Booker.

"Where's Nicky?"

"Well, 'with Joe' is always the safe answer to that question," Booker answers distractedly as he pilfers the custom Taran assault rifle from one of the dead mercenaries.

"On the roof of a nearby building?" Copley asks as he strides back into the room to check Kozak's computer.

Securing his newly-acquired firearm to his back, the Frenchman looks up at the agent with a bewildered expression.

"What are you talking about, James?"

"I saw the perimeter feed just before you cut it," the analyst explains while his fingers fly across the keyboard to unlock her files. "The two guards at the entrance got taken out with sniper shots. Those were Nicky's, right?"

Sebastien grins knowingly.

"No, those shots were mine," Booker comments as he effortlessly reloads his handgun with a grin. "While I'm extremely flattered that you think my marksmanship is on par with Nicky's, he would've gotten both guards with one shot instead of two. He hates waste."

Copley's eyes are wide as he fully unpacks that response.

Meanwhile, Booker wordlessly joins him to help wipe and pack up Kozak's tech. The two work in tandem as they scrub the security camera feeds and check to make sure that nothing has been uploaded to a remote server. Finding nothing, James still makes a note to be unrelentingly thorough in investigating Dr.Meta Kozak's tracks once they get to a more secure location.

"So, you willingly walked into this trap alone?" the ex-CIA confirms once the task is complete and he slips the messenger bag now carrying the remains of Kozak's data over his shoulder. James recovers his own heavily-secured cellphone and sends out a series of encrypted texts. "While I'm greatly appreciative of the effort, Sebastien, immortality isn't an excuse to be reckless."

"You were in trouble, so I came."

Copley blinks at the man's simple statement of fact as his reasoning. The humor in his expression is replaced with sentiment. Booker is not a typical hero in any sense of the word. His own self depreciation aside, the immortal is too maudlin to ever describe himself as such. However, the man is still heroic in his own way. The analyst was not lying to Kozak when he mentioned Sebastien Le Livre's charming sense of valor. It is reminiscent of the characters from Dumas' swashbuckling novels. 

Chuckling off his rather poetic appreciation of the man, James takes the gun that Booker hands him with a roguish smile.

"Ready?"

"Almost," replies the immortal. "What do you want to do with her?"

The sneer within Booker's words stops James in his tracks. He's never heard such a cold and deadly tone in the man's voice. Following the glare to the now-unconscious Meta, Copley regards her with a dismissive scoff.

"Leave her. We already have her research and data. No one's going to believe anything she says," James states, unable to keep the derision from his voice. "Besides, I've already notified my contacts at Interpol of this location. Considering her involvement with some international terrorist groups I found in her communications, she'll be in prison for quite some time. I imagine an extended stay at a few CIA black sites will be in order as well."

"She's hurt my family twice, already."

Noticing the barely-restrained rage in the man's voice, Copley reaches out a hand and settles it over the gun in Booker's tense one. Unlike Meta, it is the sure grip of an individual that would have absolutely no issue shooting someone in the head at point-blank range.

In fact, the dark look on Sebastien's face suggests that he would even grimly enjoy it.

"There will not be a third," James assures, keeping his voice and touch steady. "Trust me, Sebastien. Death would be a kindness, not a punishment. For a once highly-respected doctor and researcher like Meta Kozak, having to exist while her life's work is being dismantled and discredited will be a far worse fate. She will not escape this time. The Interpol retrieval team should be here momentarily and she will then be remanded to the CIA. Meta will spend the rest of her life imprisoned and forgotten."

Tearing his eyes away from the unconscious doctor, Sebastien locks their gazes. A different, yet no less powerful, intensity is in his stare.

"I trust my family completely."

Copley smiles at that inclusion. He knows that it is not said lightly.

"And I protect mine. Now, let's get out of here, shall we?"

Booker returns the grin as he heads towards the door. The handgun is tucked into his waistband as the man cocks his new Taran tactical rifle. Sebastien always brightens up when he gets to use a new weapon—Copley has to admit that the custom TR-1 is pretty impressive.

"Stay behind me, James."

"Gladly."

James is rather proud of the slight flush on Sebastien's face as the immortal leads the way out of the makeshift lab. There are still bodies everywhere, so it makes navigating the floor to the stairs a bit difficult. But it is a welcome obstacle as opposed to another batch of hired guns to fight through.

As they make their way down the stairway, Copley eyes widen as he spots something peculiar sticking out of a slumped body on the concrete stairwell.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Sebastien, but is that an antique bayonet lodged in that man's chest?"

The chuckle that greets James question shouldn't be attractive.

But it is.

"I didn't have time to properly equip, so I had to make due with what I had in my apartment and the weaponry from a nearby safe house. Unfortunately, it hasn't been restocked since the 1890s," Booker easily replies as he pulls the bladed weapon out of the mercenary and hands it over to Copley with a grin. "I was feeling a bit nostalgic, I suppose."

"Well, full marks for creativity."

"It also scared the shit out of them, so there's that too."

Copley rolls his eyes good naturedly as he takes the bloodied bayonet and wipes it off on its victim's clothing.

After all, James reasons, it would be rather difficult to explain the presence of a Napoleonic antique among the carnage of armed soldiers to the incoming Interpol team. The analyst grins away the temptation to leave it behind. It would be almost worth the confusion. Especially since an average person armed with such weaponry wouldn't have gotten close enough to scratch one fully-armed man, let alone decimate an entire well-armed squadron.

Copley decides against it though. Ultimately, there's no need to make the clean up any more complicated than it already will be to explain.

"You immortals certainly have a flair for the dramatic."

Booker chuckles at that as he leads the way out of the factory.

 

 


 

 

It is early morning as the two men gain distance from the textile factory, the sky is just starting to lighten with the new day. As they crest an overlooking knoll, Booker picks up his aforementioned sniper rifle still perched on its tripod. The immortal breaks it down with well-honed efficiency and ease. James looks back at the factory briefly, still impressed with the man's sniper shots, before following Sebastien a few yards further to a parked car—a silver Peugeot 508 sedan. The vehicle is hidden in a grove of trees just off the overgrown back road. Copley chuckles to himself, only an immortal would know and make use of such abandoned roadways.

Prying open the trunk of the car, Booker packs away the weaponry—he takes special care with the custom rifle he pilfered. James finds it rather adorable. The analyst grins to himself as he packs the bag of tech away and removes his own bloodied and ruined jacket, wrapping the bayonet in the fabric. An appreciative smile crosses Copley's face as Booker hands him a hastily-thrown together first aid kit. While considerate, the analyst is grateful that he requires very little from it. Extracting a lone bottle of aspirin to head off the incoming aches, James also pulls out a pack of wet wipes to share with Sebastien. In comfortable silence, they each wipe themselves off, removing as much blood and debris as they can from their faces and hands.

"Where's the keys?" James asks, ready to start the vehicle as he takes two of the aspirin tablets.

"With the owner, presumably."

Looking up at that, the two share a chuckle. Copley notices how exhausted the man actually is as Sebastien closes the trunk and leans against it. Both the adrenaline and the tension seem to drain from his body as Booker takes a deep breath. James looks around, unfamiliar with the seaside city spread out before them in the distance.

"So, where are we exactly?"

"Just outside of Calais," the Frenchman remarks after a moment. "The ferry to Dover should be pretty empty this early, but it will still take us a few hours to get home."

Copley is struck silent for a moment by the man's word choice. It has been a long time since someone referred to a house with James as "home". For the last few years, the house outside of London has felt as nothing more than just a base of operations.

Looking at the man beside him, meeting his gaze, James and Sebastien share an intimate smile. The thought of home is an equally fond one, apparently. In the early morning light, they both lean in and share a soft kiss. The reassurance is filled with a gentle sentimentality and appreciation that belies the savage violence both men unleashed not even an hour ago.

In short, it is rather perfect.

"Get in, Bas. I'm driving," the consultant orders affectionately as they part. "I may be recovering from a head injury but you look like you're about to pass out."

"Oui. You're not wrong."

The two step apart and get into the borrowed car. As Booker sinks heavily into the passenger seat, James reaches down to hot wire the vehicle. It's been a while, but after an initial try, the car starts. He smiles as he recognizes John Coltrane playing on the radio station. Booker closes his eyes with a grin as the mellow music washes over him.

"The instant you fall asleep, I fully intend on changing the station, old man," Copley warns. "So, enjoy it now."

"Jazz is the only music worth listening to, James. I'll make a convert out of you yet."

With an eye roll, Copley shifts gears and pulls off onto the main road. The inconspicuous car makes its way towards the awakening port city of Calais just as the factory is descended upon by Interpol retrieval agents.

 

 


 

 

Despite the fact that it is barely midday, James Copley has already adorned his well-worn lounge wear. The complete change out of his blood-stained and dusty clothes had been almost immediate upon reaching the house in Surrey. Loose pants and a soft navy blue sweater warm James' frame as he moves barefoot about his workspace. His thick rimmed, black glasses reflect the analyst's multiple computer screens as he works, following Kozak's tracks. The sound of running shower water unintentionally forms a soothing harmony with the evening news. As Booker scrubs away the remaining traces of blood from his body, Copley dutifully scrubs the remaining CCTV footage off of Meta's private laptop.

Curiosity gets the better of James as he watches the multiple surveillance feeds before completely erasing it. His eyes widen with the full level of brutality that Sebastien exhibits. This is not the Booker of Sudan or even the Merrick building. This Booker moves with the skill and precision of a man possessed. The deadly calm in his movements and efficiency of every shot is impressive. And while Copley is rather indifferent to the carnage of the man's opponents, he can't help the instinctive flinch whenever Booker takes a few direct hits. It reminds the analyst of how it had turned his stomach when Keane's men had carelessly blown Sebastien to bits in that French church.

Still, James Copley has never seen someone use a gun as an actual close-range weapon with such talent. The analyst's gaze is fixed to the screen as he watches Booker make quick work of the hired men. There is a ruthless beauty in the brutal fluidity of his strikes. Nonetheless, they thoroughly surprise the mercenaries as they seem to have made the fatal mistake of assuming that an absence of bullets between reloads somehow makes Sebastien Le Livre less deadly with a gun.

It doesn't hurt that the man showcases his strength with some rather impressive body throws.

As he continues to watch the feed, James also has to admit that he himself has greatly underestimated the effectiveness of a bayonet. The former CIA operative is not alone in this oversight. Booker's masterful use of the Napoleonic weapon had clearly unnerved his opponents. If he had been asked merely a day ago, Copley would have insisted that a bayonet could not be fitted onto a modern rifle or used effectively in modern combat—and he would have been absolutely wrong. Completely enthralled, the analyst's sharp eyes follow how the immortal deftly uses it to disembowel one of them with morbid fascination.

James is almost tempted to keep the video . . . for posterity.

Once he has had his fill, the security consultant continues to run his scrubbing software as he heads to the en-suite master bathroom. The steam greets the man as he puts both his and Booker's rebooting phones on the counter, next to the clothes he's procured for his housemate. The increased security updates on both their phones will take a while to install, so he switches them both to silent mode. However Copley's timing is perfect, as Sebastien chooses that very moment to step out of the shower.

For not the first time, James is glad that his glasses contain anti-fog lenses as he hands the dripping man a towel.

"Merci," replies Booker as he wraps the offered terry cloth around his waist.

"Je t'en prie. However, I do believe that the expression of gratitude should be mine, Bas."

Even if he hadn't just watched it, James is fully aware that Booker had taken quite an impressive amount of damage in the last few hours. The water still holds a faint red tinge as it flows down the drain. It is to be expected as a one-man rescue team. Yet, the body that James has gotten to know intimately well over the last few months is as unchanged as ever.  

Perhaps it's the limits of his mortal mind and body, but Copley still cannot fathom how reckless the immortals tend to be—especially in regards to their own physical safety.

The consultant leans against the marble sink as he absently watches the rivulets of water run down Booker's healed body. It may have been a "low risk endeavor" on the immortal's part, yet James is no less grateful for the rescue. His expressions of such remain silent, as the analyst is fully aware that Booker does not take gratitude well. The mercenary seems to think he is not even allowed the kindness of the acknowledgement of his many good deeds.

In an ironic contrast to Booker's sense of self-depreciation, James actually has the most tangible information on the life and deeds of Sebastien Le Livre above all the other immortals in his stewardship.

Humanity owes him a debt of gratitude just as much as they owe one to Andy, Joe, and Nicky.

"Need help?" the handler offers as his favorite ward grabs for another towel to dry his hair.

"You've helped me plenty, James."

"My assistance is always freely given, regardless of any past frequency of such requests."

Sebastien smiles at the offer as he scrubs the towel through his wet locks. James reaches out to run a hand along Booker's side, pleased that his touch doesn't even evoke a minute flinch of discomfort. Mere hours ago, there had been quite a few bullet wounds and sluggish bleeding from that area of the man's torso. James vividly remembers the gun shot wounds from the video feed. Yet now, the expanse of warm skin is unblemished, save for a few imperfections—remnants of the scars of Sebastien Le Livre's mortal life.

"It continues to amaze me how quickly you all heal. Though, I imagine it is still unpleasant, regardless. Are you in any residual pain?"

"Pain?" Booker huffs out incredulously. "James, your life was the one in danger not mine. I'm immortal, remember?"

"Tell that to my concern, dear heart. Immortal or not, it's never easy seeing someone you care about in pain."

Sebastien says nothing, but an acknowledging sigh leaves his lips at the endearment. The man takes a seat on the closed toilet seat as he runs a hand through his now damp hair. His weary gaze is trained on the floor.

"One of the worst parts of being immortal is how time loses value to you. You take it for granted," Booker reveals, his voice heavy. "Twenty-four hours is nothing compared to the endless decades and centuries that fly by. And just when you are secure in that arrogance, life likes to remind you just how quickly your entire world can still irrevocably shift."

The heft of that statement fills the space around them. And while James cannot fathom how time passes for one that has an endless supply of it, he knows all too well how fickle life can be.

"Unfortunately, that is life for all of us, Bas. We are all subject to its whims. Regardless of how much time any of us are given."

The man manages a companionable grin at that. But then, Booker takes a deep breath as he brings a hand up to rub at his chest. Copley's confusion at the gesture is answered by Sebastien's next words.

"When I got that message from Kozak along with that video, my heart stopped. I was paralyzed."

"With anger? Rage?"

"With fear, James."

The soft correction has Copley staring at Booker with something akin to wonder.

"As endlessly mundane as it all can be, immortality always grants one surprise," Sebastien continues, aware of the patient gaze upon him. "This eternal existence has an ironically-morbid sense of humor. Just when you think you've experienced it all, you always discover an entirely new excruciating pain."

"Bas?"

"When my family died, my wife and sons, it was out of my control. I can't fight disease or the passage of time. I've come to accept that. But James, if you died because of me, because I failed to keep you safe, I would never forgive myself."

James immediately moves to gently place a hand on Sebastien's shoulder. The weight of his palm and comforting squeeze acts as an anchor. When the man works himself into an emotional spiral like this, Copley knows that the tactile touch is a vital tether.

"All I could think about was how meaningless immortality truly is," Booker continues with a tangible weariness weighing down his voice. Yet, his hand still remains over his heart. "I kept fixating on the thought of how only a mere day ago, I had been happier waking up next to you than I've been in centuries, James. I spent the entire six hours, forty-seven minutes, and three seconds after that call begging and beseeching any deity that would listen to ensure your safety."

"I would never have taken you to be a religious man, Sebastian."

At the words, the man looks up at James with a rueful grin.

"I'm not," Booker answers after a moment. He gently reaches up to clasp James' forearm, leaning into the consultant's steady touch on his shoulder. "I made that deal with Kozak to keep you safe until I got there. But, I wasn't lying to the doctor. I would have gladly traded all of my tomorrows for just one more yesterday with you."

James Copley is completely taken aback by the intense sincerity of Sebastien's soft declaration.

In those words, the mortal man feels closer than he ever has to a true grasp of the full weight of Booker's existence. It is an existence of unending contradictions.

A man that has lived for centuries and once welcomed death, now curses it. This very same man that has managed to rekindle even a small hint of "joie de vivre", after years of repressing his emotional pain. Yet, Sebastien would unhesitatingly surrender his very freedom, the most important thing to this extraordinary group of individuals, just to ensure the safety of one mere mortal—one James Copley.

The analyst comes to the disarming conclusion that Yusuf Al Kaysani isn't the only incurably-romantic immortal.

A fond humor curls his lips as Copley also realizes that Sebastien Le Livre is considerably sappier than his aloof personality would have one believe—yet another addition to the unique constellation of the man's charming contradictions.

"While I truly appreciate the sentiment, there's no need for such a sacrifice. And I, for one, am eternally grateful for your immortality."

James is not surprised to see his words received hesitantly.

"You're probably the only one. It has been nothing but a curse that causes suffering to the ones around me."

"Your existence is not a curse, Sebastien," The consultant ardently insists. "For whatever reason, destiny made it so that you would live long enough to meet me and that I would be in the right place to meet you. I don't know the 'why', but I am glad for the end result, regardless."

His words are not hyperbolic for dramatic effect. James Copley sincerely believes that he was meant to meet and assist these extraordinary people. Even if he will never truly know the reason behind the pain he's endured, the consultant is content with his new purpose.

"The entire time I was held captive, I was never fearful nor concerned for my own safety. Honestly, years in the agency trains that right out of you. I knew that the fact that I was captured alive proved my value as a hostage. Besides, I have protocols in place for when my time does come to an end. I'm leaving you all of my 'old man' sweaters, by the way."

At the hitch of breath at the mention of his demise, James caresses the edge of Sebastien's beard with the fingers of his other hand. The consultant's light teasing and touch have softened the reality, yet it is not a topic that the two discuss very much.

"And yet, during my capture, I was only concerned for your safety and that of the others, Bas. Humanity has a cruel habit of dehumanizing the extraordinary among us, by demanding they share their gifts with us without any consideration to if they even want to. I played a part in that once, and I've vowed to prevent it from ever happening again."

"I'm sorry," Booker whispers as he catches one of Copley's hands in his own. He places a soft kiss to the gun-calloused palm. "You shouldn't have been in that positi—

James shuts up the depreciating man by lifting his chin and leaning down to start a kiss. His hands reverently frame Booker's face as the exchange intensifies.  Unsurprisingly, Sebastien chases after his full lips, eager to accept the affection that Copley so willingly gives him. It is both endearing and tragic how affection-starved the man is. Yet James Copley has always risen to the task, eager to appease Booker's need for the contact.

However the large hands that grip the analyst's sweater and pulls him closer, are an unexpected yet wholly welcome move. James secretly loves the moments when Sebastien's passions override his aloof demeanor. After all, there is an unspoken flattery in the immortal's impatience for his touch. The urgency is addictive and reminds the former agent of his younger years. James further encourages the bold behavior by settling into Booker's toweled lap.

"You immortals are such martyrs," Copley murmurs into his lover's ear when they part for breath. He wraps his arms around the Frenchman's shoulders with a smile. "I make my own choices, Bas. I choose to be here. I know the risks and I can handle the circumstances and any unforeseen consequences."

James leans in, uncaring of the water that still clings to the man's body, and presses his forehead to Sebastien's, sharing the intimate warmth of their body contact.

"This, is your home now, Sebastien Le Livre. Not just this house, but right here, with me."

"You may come to regret that."

"I won't."

"I might leave."

"And you'll know right where to find me when you're ready to come back," Copley answers with no hesitation. "Besides, if you take too long, I'll just track you down. I am ex-CIA, after all."

Sebastien looks up at that with a challenging look.

"Are you threatening me with persistence?"

"What else am I going to do, threaten to kill you?" counters James. He grins as he feels Booker tighten his grip on his hips. "Annoying persistence is all I have at my disposal."

Booker laughs heartily at that. As always, James immediately adores the carefree sound.

"How formidable."

"Well, my tenacity is one of my best assets," Copley concedes as a grin curls his lips. "You're currently groping another."

The chuckle that resonates in Booker's chest is infectiously fond as he continues stroking along the length of James' thighs that are currently astride his lap. The men share their mirth in between quick soft kisses. When they part, James is taken aback with the awed way that the immortal man stares up at him.

"Bas?"

"Je ne veux pas te perdre, mon Étoile Polaire," Sebastien whispers as he maintains the eye contact. "You guide me home."

James' heart breaks at the fear hidden in that murmured plea only to mend at the endearing sentiment. He nuzzles the man's head as Booker buries his face into the curve of his neck. It is a position of comfort, one they've adapted often when Sebastien is haunted by memories. One that is reversed when James' own dark thoughts cloud his mind.

While touch is what soothes, honesty is what often recalibrates both of them.

"I am mortal. I will die one day. That is an undeniable inevitability, no matter what actions we take now or how much we wish it were not so. However, you will not lose me."

"But, Jame—"

Copley interrupts him with a gentle, reassuring kiss to his temple. The soft gesture draws Sebastien from his dark thoughts and has him meeting his lover's gaze. James hopes that his own eyes convey the true depth of emotion he has for this fractured man and kindred soul.

"Je t'aime, Sebastien Le Livre. I love you, right now, in this moment," the mortal man fervently assures. "And while the present is the only time that any of us are ever truly guaranteed, trust that I shall continue to love you for all of my days and the rest of yours. No matter what happens, you will never lose this."

James smiles at the levity he now feels from his own words. He realizes that loving Sebastien now in no way diminishes the love he has for his late wife. The encompassing love he experienced with that remarkable woman was a gift. It had made James strong enough to even attempt this second chance after losing her.

In the whirlwind of events over the last twenty-four hours, James has been made to remember with life-affirming clarity just how important it is to hold on to the people he cherishes. Happiness is so fragile and fleeting. And even if the man he loves is immortal, nothing, not even tomorrow, is truly guaranteed to anyone.

"My apologies, mon cher," Sebastien lovingly murmurs, regaining Copley's attention. "Hope is still a new concept for me."

"There's nothing to forgive, darling. It's new for both of us. Have faith, Bas."

Organized faith is a concept that both men have eschewed long ago. Yet, faith in others(especially in the ones most important to them) and faith in the inexplicable ties of destiny that have bound them together is a far more tangible concept. Booker and the immortal family he protects have all restored James Copley's faith in many things in the short time he's truly known them.  

Sebastien leans into James and holds him tightly, his touch silently asking for the comfort that his voice can't properly vocalize at the moment. With no hesitation, the analyst cradles the eternal soldier against him. Each man is uncaring of the raw desperation behind their embrace. They only shift positions when Booker absently presses against the injured side of Copley's head, which is redirected after a soft flinch.

However, the consultant acknowledges that his reaction is an instinctive one rather than one indicative of actual pain.

The severe head wound that caused such swift unconsciousness yet left no wound or scar is rather peculiar. Even now, James is experiencing neither disorientation or nausea, nor any other traditional symptoms of a concussion.

Maybe later, Copley will think harder on that particular anomaly.

In the meantime, the former agent tilts Sebastien's head up, reuniting their lips in a tender kiss. The two get lost in their affections and indulge in the tactile reassurance.

Realizing a change in location is due before things get too heated, James gets up from Booker's lap. He grins at his immortal's groan of protest before leading Sebastien towards the waiting and familiar bed.

Neither man pays any attention to the soft buzz of vibrations from a series of text messages on the consultant's phone, all of which are from Nile Freeman.

 

Have any weird dreams lately, Copley?

 

We're enroute to London, now. You two stay out of any more trouble until then. ; )

 

Also, Nicky and Joe said 'congratulations'?

 

 

 


FIN