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May the Wind Always Be With You

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“May the wind always be with you, Commander.”

Those final words left him with an uneasy feeling before he woke up. Gavin never had such an intense dream before until now. His unstable breathing and shivers lingered on his body. He questioned his dream as he recalled some parts and placed his left palm on his forehead. A notification interrupted his recalling. A message from one of his subordinates, and fellow officers, Vice-Commander Viridian Ark,

“Good Morning, sir, we have a confirmed location of fluctuation of Evol.”

It was a short text but it made Gavin jump off from his bed and get ready.

As soon as he finished getting ready, he strode off to his office. Vice-Commander Viridian Ark gave him a salute and provided him a concise yet comprehensive report of her findings as soon as Gavin settled on his seat, “We believe this fluctuation belongs to a certain Evolver. I have sent a team to do some recon.”

Ark put a photo of a man in front of Gavin, “Tell me, what was the last time you had a proper sleep?” A question that made Ark off guard, “I have a 5-hour of proper sleep, sir. May I ask the reason behind it?” Her brows a bit furrowed, “Your eyebags show a clear sign of sleep-deprived. You can have 2 days off now.” His words clearly show his concern about his second-in-command.

Viridian scoffed a bit before she counterarguments her boss, “Sure thing, but, before I have 2 days off, I would like to express my counter-argument as second-in-command. You know the one who needs holidays the most is you and Chief of Staff Eli Gu, perhaps. I assumed you do understand the role of the intelligence and information department is crucial in every mission. This department is never sleeping until the last Evol-related case is solved. If I took a couple of days off, the department will no longer stand a chance against every organization that opposed us. The command center also serves as my quarter, I bet you know where I sleep. Also, is it way too long for you to not visit her?”

Her counterargument left him speechless and dumbfounded, “Who?”

“Oh, come on, Commander. The producer you loved since high school.”

“She left me.”

A short answer left Viridian’s mouth dried. She apologized for being insensitive to her Commander and turned her back to leave the Commander's Office. Her vision blur, her head spinning around, her body could no longer support her and hit cold flooring. Gavin notices a difference happen in his second-in-command, “Ark? Are you okay? Answer me!” He calls a medical officer from his intercom and approaches her. Her heated body forced Gavin to remove her jacket and lose her tie to cool her down. A couple of medical officers came to his office and took Ark to the hospital wing. Gavin only could see his subordinate taken and let her rest.

Viridian opened her eyes and saw a familiar ceiling of the hospital wing. She tried to get up but could not move her upper body. A figure sitting nearby her with its head tilted towards her, “Commander? What are you doing here?” Her eyes refocus to the figure, “Good grieve, you awake. Let me get the doctor.” Gavin stood up but Ark held his wrist. She only shook her head and got off the bed, “I was exhausted, I will be fine in a few hours. Besides, I need to check with the recon team. They take too long. I am afraid the mission failed.” As she expressed her concern to her team, Gavin cannot interfere anymore. After all, Gavin and Viridian know each other since the beginning of the Academy years.

Gavin was aware that if he continued to interfere, she would not hesitate to shoot him with her beloved snipper, “All right, you win, stone-head. Under one condition, I will accompany you.” Viridian rolls her eyes, knowing her boss would not give up so easily, “Fine, suit yourself. I will join the recovery team as soon as the mission is confirmed as a failure. I apologized for making you worry about my current state. It would not happen again in the future.” She put on her jacket and tightened her tie. She left Gavin alone in the hospital wing and walked to the command center.

“Someone, fill me the details. What happens to the recon team?” Ark said as soon as the door opens before her and enters the room. An officer reported about the mission with eyes fixed on the monitor, “Mission confirmation: Failed, madam. The team was ambushed and held as a hostage.” Viridian sighed and ordered a recovery mission,

“I will also join the recovery mission.”

A voice made her startled, “Do not be stupid, commander. Your position is crucial here, STF could not afford to lose someone as brilliant as you. If you still insist on that stone-head and mind of yours, I will let you just this once and I will inform Chief of Staff Gu, someone needs to keep STF running while both of us go. Later I will make sure you will be locked up in your office.”

Viridian ordered a map to be put on the interface table nearby her and discussed her plan with Gavin, “Things may look nasty in the future; I will have someone guarding you.” Gavin shot a confused look at her, “Yes, I can do that because this is my mission and my responsibility to my department’s lack of competence.” Arguing with her will be a waste of time indeed, “5 minutes! I want a team fully equipped and ready to go!” Her shout was responded by a unison of ‘Yes, Ma’am’ of her subordinates. Viridian and Gavin headed to the changing room, replacing their uniform with bulletproof vests and other equipment.

A team of fully and heavily equipped member stood and gave a salute as Viridian and Gavin emerged from the changing room, “The plan is simple; myself, Commander, and one sniper will enter a building next to it, we will provide cover and clear ground for rooftop team to enter the building if needed, if do not, we will join the main force as soon as possible; remaining will enter from the main. Do not waste any bullet, we lack funding, make sure each bullet fired is worth it, and put your martial art and Evol in use. If one of you messes up, you will be transferred to the archives department for the rest of your career. Understood?” A ‘Yes, Ma’am’ echoed in the room, and the team moved out to enter the prepared vehicle.

“Nervous?” Viridian looked at Gavin sitting uncomfortably across her “It is just a while since the last time I joined a mission was 6 months ago, and here I am the Commander of STF joining and leading rescue and recovery missions.” He leaned back and crossed his legs, “I hope you do not get yourself rusty, it has been a while since the last time we had a mission together.” Viridian kicked Gavin’s sole, an ‘ouch’ escaped from his mouth and caught the attention of fellow officers in the vehicle “Your legs are too long, I barely have space.” Recovering from his pain, Gavin managed his composure back, “After all of this is done, I have a wedding party that needs to be attended, and I need a plus one.” “Let me guess, the producer x CEO?” Gavin only nodded, “Very well.” Once the vehicle stopped, Viridian made a little announcement, “We are here. Final Brief! We will enter the building, make sure all communications are loud and clear. If there is a jammer, I trust your judgment. Now, move out and place yourself in a prepared position!”

Gavin thought the girl who saves his life through her music is the love of his life. However, he never becomes her Romeo. The girl who unconsciously saves him, will be someone else’s arm and wear a wedding ring. What he never thought was he managed to move on and fell in love with someone else. 

That someone else is the one and only Viridian Ark, the one who gave him a cold drink after the cross-country multi obstacle run. That simple act of her made him attracted.  

How they interact for the first time was also quite unusual. An encouragement from Gavin to her after he was considered as an ‘ungrateful child’ by Ark.  

From time to time, they know each other's secrets, they argue a lot, they fight a lot, even they shoot each other with rubber projectiles until Eli smacked their head.

The young Gavin once asked her to have dinner with him on the weekend. When she shows up with a knee-length minimalist black dress with a boat neckline and an updo hair, Gavin silently swears to God and his life; he is willing to spend a domestic life with her for the rest of his life. Her charm and smile make him blush on the tip of his ear. He shall cherish the moment as long as he lives. The past is passed after all.

The weather was supposed to be cloudy; it turned out to be raining.

Gavin carried the body of his love as he exited the building where his team was supposed to be rescued and recover the hostage team. He stopped at the stairs and indulged in the scent and wetness of rain. The criminals anticipated the plan by the well-fabricated counterplan. Gavin managed to pull out the last resort as he unleashed his uncontrollable Evol to save the survival team.

As for Viridian, her action to protect her subordinates caused her to use her Evol also until the very last bit and injured the lower abdomen. For the first time, Gavin saw Ark’s Evol. It was eagle eyes and supersonic move, even faster than Gavin’s movement with a booster of his Evol. It would be fascinating if the situation were right since someone with a double Evol is extremely rare. He does not expect the same person would protect him, regardless of the oath he made in the past. A sentence ringed in his head, “May the wind always be with you.”

That sentence was the last one before she left Gavin’s side and shielded one of her subordinates from a sniper shot. Her unprotected lower left back was shot, and the bullet stayed in her body.

Chapter Text

Saw this happening in front of his eyes, Gavin’s eyes filled with rage, and ready to annihilate everything in his way. Step by step, closing the proximity between Gavin and the girl. His steps filled with a resolution to protect her at all costs.

Gavin’s Evol was no longer wind control that used to create a gentle breeze.

It turned into a black whirlwind deflecting any objects interfering his way.

When he took the next step, a rain of bullets directed at him. By the time his sole touched the ground, none of the bullets reached him. Knowing any further action was futile, the armed group decides to retreat. His Evol calmed down when he was on his knees and carried Viridian in his arms. He walked out through the main entrance without a word escaping from his mouth.       

The press gathered nearby the building caught the moment on camera regardless of the weather.

The internet went viral by such a moment and photograph of Gavin carrying Viridian in his arms. The headline of newspapers, news channels, online media were similar, ‘Price of a mission: Commander of STF carries the body of his second-in-command as the mission successfully carried’ and 'The verge of death: End of Gladiolus?' and discussion over the internet regarding Viridian.

The rescue and recovery mission was a success but at what cost?

Gavin had almost lost control of his Evol and the love of his life.

Blood dripped from the girl’s body and stained Gavin’s uniform, but he did not mind at all. Eli was in the command center set outside the building and saw Gavin holding Ark in his arms. Eli rushed out and commanded to provide cover for his best friends. As Gavin now under protection, he was let go of Viridian to be treated in a nearby hospital. Eli sees Gavin’s soaked body and his eyes filled with shock and emptiness and he escorts him to a temporary command center to let him settle down,

“She will be fine, right, Eli?”

That question confused Eli on how to respond to it. Eli saw how badly injured she was; the chance of permanent damage was not low,

“My prediction lies on her that she might not be able to walk for the rest of her life.”

This prediction of Eli hit Gavin like a truck, no, a high-speed train maybe.

His heart was crushed.   

---- 

Various machines and tubes were attached to Viridian’s body, monitoring any changes made and supplying the nutrition needed.

The presence of Gavin always beside her since the almost failed mission. Gavin never left her side, unless he needed to go to a bathroom and quick run to headquarters, restaurant, and his apartment. He even brought his documents to the hospital, making sure everything runs smoothly in the Department of Intelligence and Information in the absence of the person he loves the most. Viridian’s breathing steadily, her eyes shut, eyebrows a bit furrowed. Gavin thought she had a nightmare or something.

A finger movement was made, Gavin was surprised and disbelieving as Ark opened her eyes slowly,

“Commander?”

Disbelief and relief filled the atmosphere, “Ark, thank god you awake.” Gavin placed his hands over hers, “I thought you were an atheist since you never mention or praise God. How badly injured?” Gavin let out a sigh and a chuckle, “After all that nightmarish mission, you still concern me more than yourself? I am okay, just a few bruises and exhaust. You have more injuries than I have. A gunshot wound on the lower abdomen. You nearly lose your life, Viridian.”

When Gavin mentioned Ark with her first name, shit just got real and damn serious. 

A doctor came into Ark’s room. He started to briefly explain her condition and implications for future performance. Gavin was waiting outside with Eli sitting on a bench across the room. When the doctor closed Ark’s room, Gavin and Eli surrounded the doctor, asking for further explanation and elaboration,

“Under her current condition, I am afraid she must retire early. The bullet removal procedure was performed successfully. The wound of the lower abdomen was close enough to damage her lower back nerve system and luckily it was a close shave, so she still can walk normally with a series of physiotherapy. However, her recovery rate is relatively not as fast as both of you. I am afraid that if a mission is initiated when she still has not fully recovered, it would cost her life.”

The explanation from the doctor made both Gavin and Eli taken aback. They did not expect this mission would take so much toll on her. Gavin looked at her through a window door, his amber eyes fixed on the sight of her sleep and steady breathing, “When she woke up, Eli, please prepare a resignation letter. I will make her resign from her position. I would rather have her resign than she put her life at stake.” Eli counterarguments Gavin’s by stating that would only hurt her pride as second-in-command.

Gavin provided Eli with two choices: first, let her live for the rest of her life domestically and peacefully, second, let her stay in that kind of position where she could die,

"If I were her, I would choose the latter. I am aware of the fact that she might lose her life, but we need her. The STF would be vulnerable without her. The military might hear this and take a chance on her. Commander Bai would not miss this chance of recruiting the former second-in-command of STF as part of his staff, especially with those classified pieces of information in her mind. She never lives peacefully, Gavin. It is the only way to protect her." Eli tried to explain his point of view with a higher volume of voice.

Viridian opened the door and startled both Eli and Gavin, a punch delivered by both hands for both men’s faces in front of her. Despite her condition, she managed to make Eli and Gavin on their knees. Eli asked her intention of punching him and Gavin right on the face. The second-in-command looked at her third man and commander with a threatening aura and folded arm placed in front of her chest, “Made another ruckus, I will not hesitate to kill both of you.” She returned to her room and closed the door angrily. Eli and Gavin looked at each other pensively.

The legendary Viridian Ark of STF is back.

A couple of knocks hit Ark’s door. Two men with different shades of brown hair entered the room. A life-threatening aura filled the room, anyone might want to back off. It seemed Viridian held a grudge against both of them. Viridian sat on the edge of her bed, “Both of you, come here.”

Eli and Gavin obeyed the order and made no word escape from their mouth, “On your knees.”

If Eli and Gavin made a ruckus of anything, the only one who can separate them and make them scared to the core is Ark itself.

Once both of her partners were the same height as her, Viridian hugged both of them in one bear hug. She indulged a combination of their scents, spices from Gavin, and musk from Eli. Gavin reciprocated her hug while Eli intertwined his fingers on her scalp and hair.

Eli the one who realized that Ark’s quake first, “You can cry now. No one will see or hear you crying except us, who vows the secrecy of each other. To be honest, I was scared to death when I saw Gavin brought you out unresponsive.” That assurance made Viridian release its emotion and reveal her vulnerable state of mind, "I am scared, Gavin, Eli. I thought I would lose my life when I got shot."

It was Gavin's turn to speak up, "I was also scared until my Evol was no longer known to me. Please do not pull stunts like that again."

To her, Gavin and Eli were not only fellow officers who started their careers together. They are her brothers for life. To Gavin and Eli, she was not only the one who supported and covered for them.

She was their little sister and guardian angel. 

 ------

Once her crying was done and let them breathe, Viridian dried her swollen eyes. She cleared her throat before she said what is on her mind.

Eli was aghast with her decision. Gavin, somehow, relieved.

She explained her reason one-by-one. First, she was afraid she could not continue to serve STF as usual due to her injuries. Second, she wanted to focus on her recovery. Third, she was tired. Fourth, she wanted to stay alive as long as she could because she still wanted to live to the fullest. She defined her choice if her resignation was not accepted, she preferred to be stationed on Headquarters and dealing with those untouched official complaints made by the Government and public,

“I thought you hate dealing with paperwork like us.” Gavin with a mocking tone “You never do your paperwork because after the mission is done, the one who is dealing with those administration things is me, including filing for yours and Eli’s. Both of you caused a lot of complaints, from damaging private and public properties, trespassing, to exceeding speed limits, which I assume both of you are aware of.” she elucidated. Eli only whistles, faking his deafness, “I know you are listening, Mr. Gu. Therefore, I proposed a solution if you guys, clashing with each other, determining whether I should stay or not, I would stay under one condition, which is…” she stopped her conclusion to let the boys finish her sentence, “stay in office, dealing our paperwork.” Eli and Gavin said in unison, “and negotiate with the government for an extra budget.” added Eli, “No shame.” Viridian grumbled, “I guess we could agree with that.”                       

As time went by, Viridian’s wounds were much better than the previous state. She managed to stand up and walk again. It required a lot of time, patients, including when Viridian faced unintended insults coming from Gavin and Eli, and energy to recover to the previous conditions.

Ark stood in front of her men, “It decided. I will resign from the Head of Department of Intelligence and Information, effectively immediately.”

Listening to Ark’s words, such a bold statement in front of her comrades and subordinates, was a huge shock. In this department, Ark was the queen. Thanks to this department she led, many Evol-related cases were able to be solved comprehensively with a constant supply of information,

“As you can see, I suffered a severe injury from the last mission. I doubt I would ever be recovered and ready to perform in the next mission. So, I decided to resign so I could focus on my recovery. I know you will protest much, the position of Head of Department of Intelligence and Information will be held by the current Vice-Head of the Department of Intelligence and Information. Thank you so much for the last 2 years, Department of Intelligence and Information. I did not expect I would have such a pleasant memory in here. Good luck with your future endeavors.”

People in the room suddenly stand up and recite the famous line from the department motto. The motto was made by Ark to make the people of her department proud of themselves. Ark also joins the reciting while holding back her tears. After reciting the motto several times, people give her a salute, including Gavin and Eli. 

Gavin took over the podium and announced something important, “I would like to announce Ark's resignation from the Head of Intelligence and Information Department. First, as she had stated before, she no longer actively served as Head of Information and Intelligence. She remained here as an active officer and served as Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer under the Department of Negotiation and Crisis Response and still maintains its position as Second-in-Command. Second, the newly-appointed Head and Secondmen of Intelligence and Information will be announced by Chief of Staff, Eli Gu. Lastly, please do bear in mind that your paperwork must be done immediately.” Gavin returns to his spot to let Eli give his announcement,

“We hate paperwork!”

Some shouts that attracted Viridian’s attention made her took over the podium again,

“Listen, you little, the Government, Public, and Businesses, even local police, are filing their formal complaints to us because all of you, especially field agents and hackers, are not properly doing your paperwork and not working based on the procedure we have. In STF, we have a set of rules and principles we uphold. If any of these stakeholders file a complaint about something trivial like paperwork, even if it is only non-verbal and informal, I would not give a second thought to proposing your name to the Chief of Staff to be sent back to the Academy. Get it?” A unison word of ‘Yes, Ma’am’ from her subordinates confirmed their understanding of her anger,

“Good thing, she did not quit from STF. I wouldn’t dare to think what would happen if she quit her job.” Eli whispered to Gavin low enough to keep others from eavesdropping, “Could not agree more. STF would be flooded with complaint papers before we know it if Ark were not up for it. We need someone who handles our papers in any case.” Gavin responded at the same level of voice, “and keep the office running as usual while we are gone. Our legendary Gladiolus back in the house” Eli added and took over the podium (again) from Ark to deliver the announcement of the new Head and Secondmen of the Information and Intelligence Department.

Chapter Text

Despite her current position being under a different department, Ark still needed numerous supply channels of information from her former department. She took her things from her old office to the new working station.

A half-meter-high stack of papers stood tall on her desk when she opened the door.

What a horrible sight,

“Good Morning.” Ark turned her back and saw Gavin and Eli nearby and returned their greetings.

She put her box of things on her table and started organizing.

She took one of the papers and read thoroughly, “Formal complaint from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Facilities regarding damaging one of the public facilities.”

She took another paper and read it out loud, “Formal complaint from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Immigration regarding an unwarranted search and infiltration to one of the detention centers.”

She put it down beside the complaint by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Facilities and took another one, “Formal complaint from Foreign Relation Chamber of House of Representative regarding infiltration and tapping of one of its members.”

The brunette sank on her chair, depressed about things she needed to address, “Both of you, don’t you think you can run from this. I will schedule a visit for each institution, we will do a marathon visit.”

Her life-threatening aura emitted again. Gavin and Eli could brace themselves for such horror.

A couple of knocks saved Gavin and Eli’s life, “Good Morning, Lead Negotiator Ark, Commander Bai, Chief of Staff Gu.” someone greeted by the opened door. The three of them returned the greetings, “I assumed you are my assistant, then.” a jet-black-haired man with glasses and posture of 170s centimeters, “Yes, I am Officer Lin.” Viridian responded with her introduction, “Two of you, get out from my room, now.” Gavin and Eli responded ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and flew away,

“Let’s get to work. First, how many staff do I have?” Officer Lin provided a definite number for each sub-division: six people handle the liaison and protocols, six senior negotiators and each negotiator got themselves a couple of specialized staff, “Call all six liaison officers and protocols to my office, we need to organize these papers based on institution and date. You also help them.” she requested,

“Understood.” Lin turned his back and walked out of Ark’s office to do his errand.

Now, Gladiolus was no longer associated with Information and Intelligence, but as Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer of the Department of Negotiation and Crisis Response. 

Six officers stood upright in front of her, waiting for her order, “Morning, all. I’m Viridian Ark, new Lead Negotiator, and Liaison Officers, former Head of Information and Intelligence, known as one of the STF Triangle. As you can see in front of you, there is a 50-centimeters thick formal complaint across the institution and country. I need your help to organize these papers based on institution and date. The oldest put it on the top of stacks. After that, we will review which institution made the most complaints. Those institutions made fewer complaints that could be merged with other institutions or depending on what I see. I want all papers to be sorted before lunch. Then, we will distribute it to senior negotiators to let them work on compensation. Coordinate with the negotiators if they need one of or all STF Triangle to be present, and do not forget to inform Officer Lin about the visitation and audience. He will make the schedule for us. Understood?” Ark finalized her briefing to her subordinate. Six different voices simultaneously said ‘Understood’ to her, “Good, now get yourself working categorizing those papers.” Two of the six separated the papers and brought it outside to be sorted out, “Officer Lin, summon all six senior negotiators, now. Tell them I want to brief something.” she said while leaning back to her chair.  

Six older than the previous batch of people stood in front of her, “Good Morning, I am…”

One of them interrupted her, a man in his 50s wore a gray suit over a black shirt and the same color palette for tie and trousers, “We are aware who you are and your accomplishments, Ma’am. No need for an introduction. We have all done our research on yourself, including your background as a half-blood Su.”

Ark was trying her best to keep her calm composure when she heard her mother’s maiden name, “Well, then, I did not need further elaboration then. As we speak, officers outside are now sorting all the papers based on the institution and date. You will all receive the papers after lunch and start contacting the institution ASAP. I will leave the technicalities of negotiation for compensation to you. I believe that you know what STF could offer to them. If they request audience or visitation from one of us or even three of us, so be it. Accept it, tell them we will comply with such a request. Any question?” she elucidated.

A man with a dark blue suit around the late 40s raised his hand, “Senior negotiator Zhang, right?” she verified “You do your homework, don’t you? What about you? What will you do when all of us are working at different institutions, then?” Senior negotiator Zhang asked her plan “I will personally take the complaints from the House of Representative, Military and other Law Enforcers.” she clarified her plan “In other words, you will convince the Legislative and Judicatives to deal with compensation while us dealing with the Executives?” A firm ‘yes’ went out of her mouth. She continued that they would join her once their job dealing with the Ministries was done,

“Lead Negotiator Ark, are you sure you will deal with the Military, Prosecutors, Intelligence, and Police? They are quite scary you know, especially the Military under, you know, Commander Bai’s father. The police and intelligence could be our allies since they owe us information regarding Evolvers. Prosecutors were considered neutral since they mostly focused on bribery and money laundering these days, so we cannot expect their support unless the media found scandalous bribery.”

Viridian stood up and walked around her desk and faced the window behind her, “Commander Bai of the Military is indeed one of the most terrifying and ruthless men alive because I have seen it once, during my undercover mission. As a military man, I highly respected his dedication and commitment to the advancement of military weapons. It is too dangerous to engage this man without any support from the Executive, Legislative, and other Law Enforcers, even business and public if needed. I am counting on you all, gentlemen. You all dismissed.” she concluded and all the negotiators left the office. 

Viridian went outside along with Officer Lin to check the officers’ progress on sorting out the documents. All the officers stopped working to salute her, but she interrupted it and made them continue to work, “Any progress so far?” A female officer approaches her, “At the moment, we managed to sort out eighty percent of all documents. The complaints mostly from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Facilities, National Intelligence, and Metropolitan Police.” She reported,

“Take complaints from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Facilities to Senior Negotiator Wei, he can handle this one. Put the House of Representatives, Prosecutors, National Intelligence, Metropolitan Police, and Military on my desk. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Immigration to Senior Negotiator Xi, since he used to be a diplomat. Ministry of Transportation to Senior Negotiator Ming is a top-notch lobbyist for transportation. Ministry of Economy to Senior Negotiator Huang, he could make use of his connection for it. Then, Senior Negotiator Zhang will handle the Ministry of Industry and Business, and lastly, Senior Negotiator Lu will handle the Ministry of Health, since we always asked for more healthcare staff due to the stupidity of our agents. If any of the Senior Negotiators requested an audience with me, tell them to inform Officer Lin to schedule one. After you are done, you may have lunch. Officer Lin, you may take a break too.” she strode off from her department, Officer Lin stood still on the same spot.  

“Do you still have any stock left?” Viridian asked without saying hi before, leaning to the door frame of Gavin’s office, “Ask Eli. He might have some.” Gavin answered without leaving his eyes on the document in his hand, “Eli does not have any he was running out as I do.” she used her matter-of-fact tone. Gavin sighed and pointed to his stacks of instant noodles. She helped herself by getting a package of instant noodles and left Gavin alone with the document in his hand, “Do you want coffee or energy drinks or anything from the pantry?” Gavin prescribed his request to her: coffee, black, no sugar, and cream. Viridian strides to the pantry happily with a package of instant noodles. Happiness is so simple.

As soon as she arrived at the pantry, she saw Eli smoking at a nearby opened window, “You should stop smoking Eli, you're saving some cancer in your lungs.” Eli only inhaled a bit of his cigarette and exhaled it, “Says to who smokes during the undercover mission.” he said in a lightweight tone “It was the purpose of the mission, to get close to the target, you must attain their trust, including by drinks or smoking.”

Eli’s reaction was a scoff, “That’s the intelligence for you.”

He stood up and walked to Viridian who was currently cooking her lunch.

He enveloped her in his arms, “The backdoor deals are the most terrifying. Be careful, okay?” he whispered low enough to only hear it then he released her and messed her hair a bit before he left her alone in the pantry,

“Smooth Mofo,” she said under her breath and continues cooking.

After she was done with her cooking, she cleaned the pan and placed it back. She poured the cooked noodles into a bowl, grabbed a pair of chopsticks, and settled down to eat, “I am full!” She took her bowl to the sink and cleaned it. The brunette hummed a song while making a coffee for Gavin and herself.

She exited the coffee-mixed-tobacco scent pantry to hand requested coffee, “Lead Negotiator Ark?” Someone called her from her six, “Senior Negotiator Ming? What is wrong?” Viridian asked the man’s purpose for calling her, “If you are available right now, I would like to make an audience with you now.” he requested. Viridian had no problem with that but he needed to inform Officer Lin to make sure everything was documented and she needed to deliver a coffee for Gavin first before she headed back to her room. Senior Negotiator Ming understood and entered the pantry. 

“Ding, dong, coffee delivery for Commander Bai.” A sky blue mug filled with smoking black coffee was placed on Gavin’s table. Viridian straight out to her office without having a chit-chat first. Inside her office, Senior Negotiator Ming, a man in his 50s who dressed up finely with those matching colors of suit and trousers, waited, “Sorry for the wait, have a seat, please.” Viridian used her hand to point out the sofa in front of her, “So, Senior Negotiator Ming, what can I do for you?” Senior Negotiator Ming asked to be called Ming, not a full title to reduce formality. She repeated her question this time without the title. 

“I have taken a look at the complaints made by the Ministry of Transportation. They are mostly about public disturbance during daylight chase, since our agents caught most Evolvers who committed a crime during the daytime. They demanded compensation in the form of repairing platforms across stations and enhancement of the cybersecurity system of the railway.”  The man around the late 50s reported on his progress and Viridian’s response was facepalm.

She sighed, “I knew it, those agents would cause a lot of trouble.”

Ming called out to her, waiting for her answer, “Tell them we will comply with the request. Coordinate with the cybersecurity team and new-recruits squad, inform Chief of Staff Gu as well. We will have the recruits do the repair and enhancement. It would be better for them to understand STF is not about chasing criminals but also serving the community.” Ming stood up and saluted her then headed back to his destination in his mind.

“Officer Lin, I would like to head back to my apartment to grab a few things. Can you hold the fort while I am gone? It won’t long.” Officer Lin looked at her with a blank expression. He stated that he could do her errands. The Lead Negotiator took a piece of paper and wrote down a list of her needs. She took a few banknotes from her purse and gave it to Officer Lin, “Before I go, I would like to ask you a couple of questions.” Viridian noded. Officer Lin proceeded with his question on her background. Knowing this would come out from his mouth, she calmly explains her half-blood Su and half-blood Canadian origin and her intention of joining STF in the first place. Scouted because she was fluent in various languages and unexpectedly calm during chaos simulation, “I will tell the rest of the story later. Go do my errands first.”

The sun had set, day 1 just finished. Days beyond lies unexpected turns.

Chapter Text

Time was the most merciless instrument ever. Ark must have pulled an all-nighter for weeks to find a solution to address the complaints. A tri-way audience meeting was initiated and STF confirmed their representative would consist of STF Triangle, Senior Negotiator Xi, and other support staff. It seemed the cost of all-nighter she had done before now took its toll on her, she slept deprived and fell asleep while working. 

The sound of the door opening did not bother the figure sleeping on her desk, 

“Good Morning, Lead Negotiator. I have some audience requests from the Ministries through Senior Negotiators.”

The voice did not even wake her up.

The stacks of complaints were scribbled and scattered on her desk and coffee table. Officer Lin took one of the papers to learn the content of his boss’s writings, “Don’t tell me she did this in a single night?” his tone full of disbelief, knowing her doing one institution complaints done with the various topics. Senior Negotiator Zhang and Xi arrived at the same time and took a peek at Viridian’s office, “Kiddo, what happened to her?” Officer Lin looked back confusedly whether he should wake her up or let her sleep. He told them her all-nighter, even after he left, “Even it looked like a scribble, but I could understand her context immediately. I guess she pulled an all-nighter to plan her moves.” 

Gavin saw the gathered people around the Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer room. He approached and takes a look, 

“Here we go again.” 

His voice made the gathered people shock and salute him. He returned the salute and approached the girl. He sighed like he saw this view thousands of times then he lowered his head to hear the girl’s breathing pace, “Sleep like a deadman again.” 

He circled the desk and took her pulse on her neck, “Don’t tell me she drinks sleeping pills again.” Senior Negotiator Xi gathered his nerves to ask if he meant, “It means her insomnia relapsed and her habit of not sleeping is back.” 

The commander took over personally as he grabbed the shoulder of his former second-in-command to pull her into an upright position. He requested help from Officer Lin to verify her breathing pace and heartbeat. 

Officer Lin was surprised by the slowness of breathing pace and heartbeat, “How can she do that? The heartbeat and breathing is an anomaly.” Gavin told them her past performance as a field agent plus head of information and intelligence plus informant plus administrator affected her overall body. In the past, she had to lower her pulse and breathing pace to play dead or to escape. Gavin further elaborated that she had done this several times and the only way to wake her up is through a surprise. 

He leaned and kissed her lips.

Everyone was shocked and could not process the latter. One thing Gavin realized was his body on the ground with her sitting on his back and pressing both his hands against his back with her leg. Everything happened so fast, 

“Do that again and I will break every bone you have.” Viridian threatened, “Okay, okay, I won’t do it again. Besides, are you gaining weight?” 

Everyone in the room silently prayed for Gavin’s safety because he just pushed a button that he should not have. 

Ark took out her handgun with safety unlocked and pointed to the back of Gavin’s skull, “Any last wish?” She glared at him like a murderer. Gavin quickly admitted his mistakes and apologized to her over and over. Senior Negotiator Xi asked the Commander’s condition as Ark stood up from him. Gavin told her subordinates to not worry about him as this is the way they strengthen their bonds and exercise their patients by getting each other’s nerves. He elucidated that he may have higher authority in terms of hierarchy, but de facto shows that all three members of the STF Triangle have equal standing as he was. Senior Negotiator Zhang asked whether such action was considered as impolite to a higher-up or not. 

Now Ark opened her mouth to give him her answer, “Personally, for us, being impolite and straightforward almost the same. We only become polite to each other when there is an official meeting or charity ball or things like that. After that, we went back to business as usual. Some people in the Government were irritated with our behavior about our straightforwardness and were labeled as impolite.” Gavin moved his sight to Ark, “Was it, Senator Hu, during our hearing session in the House of Representative about legal standing for STF when you touched his nerves.” A nod from her as confirmation she did that. 

She grabbed her toiletries from the bottom drawer of her desk and a set of change clothes, “Officer Lin, can you please tidy up my desk? Those files belong to the Police, there are instructions based on the complaints made. You can start to contact them once you finish organizing. Also, bring the Intelligence file to my desk, I will finish them tonight. Thank you!” She walked while whistling through the corridor to clean herself. 

Gavin excused himself to head to his office. A shade of red sheepishly appeared on the tips of his ears and cheeks. A group of people curiously watched Gavin who leaned to the wall and laughed a bit. He looked like an idiot who was drunk in love. Whispers were heard amongst the crowd. 

It looked like they saw their Commander filled with a romantic love for the first time. 

Once he settled inside his office, Gavin swore over and over. He could not believe he kissed her. The shade of red became more noticeable. Gavin told himself to calm his heart down, so the red shade would worn out. Through the intercom, a voice told Gavin that Eli would like to talk. Gavin granted Eli’s access to enter his office. 

He did not expect that Eli would throw a punch to his face, 

“You kissed her without her consent? Are you nuts?” his high volume voice penetrated the walls. Gavin’s assistant dialed a number and spoke fast to the receiver as she sensed the tension between the two kept increasing. Gavin soothed his face, “Is that even necessary, Eli, to throw a punch to me because I kissed her?” Eli’s anger was no longer containable, “Listen, you prick, you kissed her while she was sleeping, meaning you disrespect her as a woman.” 

A flying dagger cut through the air and stuck out on the wooden flooring before Gavin even responded. 

Both of them were familiar with the thrown dagger. 

Their nape hairs stood and gave them goosebumps when they sensed a unique life-threatening aura emitted by someone they knew very well. Slowly, they turned their head at the source of aura, Ark with wet hair, fresh from the shower, a disheveled black shirt and its hem not perfectly secured under her skirt, “I owe both of you a punch, but I need you all to look presentable now, we will have a tri-way audience with one of the ministers and House of Representative after lunch. Gavin, find an excuse to cover your wound.” Eli responded, “That’s why you're wearing a uniform with a skirt.” Ark neglected Eli’s response and left the office. 

No more ruckus made after Ark left.     

The tri-way meeting was held in the House of Representative building. This meeting was considered essential for all parties due to the agenda that would be discussed was Foreign Evolver Terrorism. 

Of course, STF was invited as the executor of the plan. Gavin, Eli, and Ark went to the meeting in a single-vehicle to reduce the amount of attention made by a convoy, 

“Remember to behave yourself, this meeting is a sensitive issue. I heard there will be a large demonstration by various activists, immigrants, and civil rights movements, even student elements.” Ark reminded them that their movement would cause a stir,

“At least the existence of Evolvers is quite acceptable in society.” Eli muttered, “What do you want us to do?” Gavin asked, “Somehow I could not figure out what we can do other than providing a perspective in the name of security. Our interest is purely security and protection. If one of the citizens of this country is Evolver attacking a fellow citizen, they will be caught under civilian law. What if it is all the way around or one of them is a foreigner? This is what we are going to discuss. If the terror was conducted by a Foreign Evolver or the foreigner itself becomes the target, under what legal stand so we can arrest him? We also need to think about the aftermath of the arrest. It would have a lot of racial sentiment to Evolvers and Immigrants.” 

Hearing this made Gavin and Eli understand the urgency of this meeting, “If the House of Representative made such a fuss about how we execute the plan, I can counter it with ‘you authorized us, more like, you order us to do that. We are the only executor of the plan, you take the responsibility, not us.’ I never like this kind of meeting.” Ark looked at the window and saw a long march by various elements of society, “Blame the intention and execution of the knife holder, not the blade.” Gavin looked at the Lead Negotiator in front of him. 

The convoy stopped at the entrance of the House of Representative building. The blitz of cameras and overlapping questions made by the journalist welcomed the STF Triangle, “For the first time, all STF Triangle members presented in the tri-way meeting. Previously, only one or two of them presented in a meeting. We could confirm Commander Gavin Bai, Chief of Staff Eli Gu, and Head of Intelligence and Information Viridian Ark, are headed to the meeting room.” Ark stopped her walk to the meeting room, “Head of Intelligence and Information Ark, how are your wounds?” One of the journalists asked her, “The wounds are healed. Thank you for asking. I would like to correct it, it is the Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer, not the Head of Intelligence and Information. Make sure you correct that.” She answered and walked full of confidence to the entrance, forsaking the questions from journalist and camera blitz.

The tail of her coat blew as she joined Gavin and Eli in front of the entrance. 

The audience made three of the STF representatives have a headache. 

The debate went into a circle, with no end. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Immigration emphasized its point by strict border control for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. On the other hand, the House of Representatives wanted to relax its border control to let informal jobs fill and increase economic growth. 

The debate was intense. People in the meeting room kept throwing their points. 

Senior Negotiator Xi shook his head. He sees no hope for this audience. Ark turned on her microphone, “Distinguish representatives, I see both of you debating each other and excluding STF point of view. Therefore, STF would…” 

Her microphone turned off during her interruption.

All STF representatives were stunned by such action. Ark touched her earpiece, “Officer Lin, prepare the car, we will go back to the office now.” Eli and Gavin soothed their head by rubbing their temples. Ark wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to Senior Negotiator Xi. The raven-haired with a hint of gray strands read it and nodded his head. 

“The car is ready ma’am.”

That sentence from Officer Lin was a cue for her and two officers to walk out from the audience. “Gavin, Eli, let’s go.” She stood up and led them out. Their walkout attracted the attention of the journalist inside and some Senators and Representatives of the Ministry, “Where you think you were going to, Lead Negotiator Ark, Chief of Staff Gu, and Commander Bai?” Gavin turned on the microphone near him, “Excluding us from the debate and turning off Ark’s microphone during her interruption were enough reasons to make us walk out and it is disrespecting us as independent law enforcers. Please contact us again when you have an agreement with each other. Have a good day.” 

All the STF Representatives exited the room. Their walkout moment soon became headlines everywhere. 

“Gavin!” An unknown voice called out Gavin’s name and a body was thrown at Gavin. Ark’s reaction was faster than Gavin’s as she grabbed the woman’s slender lower arm to stop her from getting closer, “Identify yourself.” The woman grimaced in pain, 

“I am Emme Xi, a producer of a TV company. I am here to greet Gavin.” Ark’s eyes were full of cautions when she heard that, “Could you please use a normal greeting, not throwing yourself to Commander?” she requested, “Why not? We were dating before and Gavin does not mind that.” Emme answered it lightly causing Ark to tighten her grip, “It does not justify the action at all, Miss Xi.” 

A gasp filled the corridor, another fact of Gavin revealed.

Eli noticed the showdown and journalists waiting for the continuation of the confrontation between the two women and poke Ark’s shoulder, “Well, ladies, please stop this. It is a public place.” Gavin responded using his stern voice, “Bear in mind, this is a professional situation, not a dramatic reunion, Miss Xi. Ark, release her.” Ark complied with the order and released her. 

As soon as Ark released her, a slap to her face was delivered. Like they did not want to miss any moment, the camera clicked infinitely. An intimidating radiance from Ark was enough to show them her annoyance, 

“That’s enough, Emme!” 

An echoed voice made all ears turn to its source, Senior Negotiator Xi, “I apologized for my daughter’s behavior. I accept any disciplinary punishment for this.” he said while bowing, “Lift your head, Senior Negotiator Xi. We will discuss this back in the office. For Miss Xi, I remembered your Production Company was granted with special coverage on STF. Wait for the news, okay?” she said it in full of anger while keeping her patient from running out. 

By the time the confrontation ended, a shout before an ear-deafening sound and shockwaves from outside followed. 

Chapter Text

A buzzing sound filled Ark’s hearing sense. 

She slowly opened her eyes, “Gavin? Eli? Everyone?” 

Her white uniform was now covered with dust and her stocking was ripped apart. Every inch of her body ached and screamed in pain. 

Her hearing senses only caught overlapping unknown panicking sounds. Gavin was unable to move as well as Eli and others. Trails of body dragging made. Ark could not process anything when her brain suddenly stopped working on any information. 

The last thing she remembered before darkness was she was taken somewhere. 

Gavin and Eli wake up surrounded by scattered glasses and debris of concrete. The previous blast made their ears temporarily deaf. 

The commander approached his Chief of Staff whose face was covered with dust and blood and woke him,

“Eli, Eli, Eli wake up.” he shocked his body until Eli opened his eyes.

Eli struggled to wake up, “I am okay. Where is Ark?” Gavin looked at his surroundings and shouted Ark’s name. No response. Gavin forced his body to stand up and walked slowly to search for his subordinate. His body could not cope with it anymore, no energy or strength left to continue. 

Eli’s fate was also the same as Gavin's. 

STF without its Triangle was like a dulled blade and prone to danger, the most senior of management only the Head of Department.

Gavin was unconscious and lies down with bandages and oxygen supply and an IV on his left arm. Eli was no better than Gavin. 

Ark went missing. The status of Missing in Action for Ark activated. 

News coverage for all day about the development of the situation in the House of Representative building after the explosion. 

The heads cannot sleep since the crisis emerged. A restless atmosphere also felt in every corner of STF, including in Ark’s department. 

No Lead Negotiator, no Senior Negotiators, only a couple of Liaison Officers stay there. 

Gavin woke up several hours after he was evacuated from the building. The first he saw was a bright white ceiling and lamp of a familiar hospital room. Noise from the hustle-bustle of paramedics, nurses, and doctors soon entered his senses. 

He was in the Emergency Room. 

He tilted his head and looked at the person waiting beside him, “Ark?” the person raised his head, “Commander, you awake! Medic! Medic!” A doctor and a couple of nurses approached him and examined him, “Commander, you have to stay awake. Keep yourself together. We will bring you to a CT scan and MRI to make sure no internal organs are damaged. Let’s go.” They ran through the corridor while pushing Gavin’s bed to radiology. 

Every second matter, every second determines a lifetime, every strength to fight against the odds of ceasing to exist. 

Eli woke up after Gavin left. Same as Gavin, his senses captured the same atmosphere and tension, he groaned in pain, still adapting to the environment, “Chief! Medic! Medic!” someone exclaimed loudly. The same procedure as before, he was brought to radiology to check his internal organs. His mind was blank as canvas except for his concern for his two best friends, particularly one person,  

“Viridian…” he said his last word before he lost his consciousness again. 

Ark was still unconscious when she was tied with both of her hands hanging on her sides. A bucket of water spilled its content on her face. A cough followed by a cold sensation from water awakened her from her deep slumber. Her hair was a complete mess and was now drenched, her sight still blurred when she heard a voice, 

“Hello, Ark.” Her senses were not completely returned but she was aware the source of voice belonged to, 

“Ares. What a pleasant surprise. I am always eager to meet you. Well, not in this kind of situation.” She recovered from her numb senses and moved her body a little bit to judge her situation around, “I thought you would not survive from that explosion and you bring another pleasant surprise also, you seem calm in midst of crisis. Care to share?” Viridian just gave him a smirk, “Practice makes perfect, training is harder than execution, the experience is the best teacher. That’s all.” She answered them as lightly as she could. 

The God of War name bearer emitted a cold aura, unlike the original who radiated a raging aura, “It seems like the time to know your place.” 

Gavin regained his consciousness as well as Eli who was on a different bed beside him, “Careful both of you. You just woke from an explosion.” Both of them groan in pain as they slowly change their position to upright. The person helped them into the position. Gavin asked the person what happened during and after the explosion. The person carefully explained the situation. Eli asked about Ark whereabout. 

The person hesitated, “Lead Negotiator Ark is MIA. Senior Negotiator Xi and his daughter in ICU.” 

Both STF Triangle members were aghast with one of its missing members, “Take us back to the crisis control room.” 

Ark studied her surroundings: dark, cold, and fearful. Looks like she was in an abandoned building or Black Swan Headquarter, Ares grabbed a handful of Ark’s hair and pulled it backward with brute force, “I need you to make an order. Release Artemis and Athena.” Ark answered it mockingly, “As I would.” 

Ares was not surprised at all with her resistance, “but they would.” 

Gavin and Eli run as fast as they could to the Crisis Control Room. The sight of the remaining officers who stayed on their station made them relieved that they were saved. The existence of two members of STF lighted up the situation, 

“Commander! Chief of Staff! We are glad both of you are fine.” one of the officers working there exclaimed. He came closer and saluted both of them. Gavin and Eli returned the salute, “Situation?” 

The officer explained the demonstration was chaotic, the identification of the perpetrator still ongoing, the list of victims keeping up along with graphics from the demonstration, and explosion on the interface table. The officer continued to show his superiors a list of victims with their photographs. Most of the victims were journalists who swarmed them during the walkout moment and confrontation. 

Gavin scanned through the names, looking for familiar names: Robert Xi or known as Senior Negotiator Xi; Emme Xi, Andrew Lin, or known for Ark’s Assistant; who was admitted to the nearest hospital. 

When Gavin tapped on Viridian’s information, a large red block letter written M.I.A, he froze. 

Eli saw this and asked for confirmation of information, “We searched the whole building, from basements to rooftops, there was no sign of her. Most likely, she was abducted.” Hearing this made Gavin and Eli frustrated about the unknown location of Ark. 

An idea struck Gavin like a lightning, he pulled out a necklace from his neck and placed it over the table. Seemingly Eli understood the idea, he also took out his necklace and connected it with Gavin’s. 

Gavin opened a system prompt and started typing a series of commands, “Voice verification” sounded from the table, “System override: Commander Gavin Bai.” Eli also did the same, “System override: Chief of Staff Eli Gu.”  After a while, the verification was completed. 

The officer was stunned as he saw a secret system used by both of them. He asked one of them about the secret system they used, “It was Eli’s idea to make a tracker in case something happens. Three of us wear the same tracker that is disguised as a necklace. If the necklace was hit by something or submerged into water, it would send an encrypted distress signal via satellite to each other. It could not be decoded unless the receiver was one of us and decoded by interface like this.” 

The officer's expression was mind blown, he never thought that STF had a secret system like this, 

“It took for me at least 4 years to plan, prototyping, trial and error, and the final product. The system itself was developed with the help of the Cybersecurity Department. Never thought it would be useful in this situation.” Eli added while typing a series of commands, “Voice command: activated” a female mechanical voice echoes through the interface, “Start tracking, target: Viridian Ark.” 

The machine started its job. Suddenly, an encrypted call from outside. 

The bigger screen displayed Ark being tied, her arms were either side of her and on her knees, “Ark!” Eli cried out, “You are being too noisy…” a weak voice escaped from her mouth, 

“To obtain something, humans must have something in return.” a resonated sound of heels touched the flooring, a man in a black trench coat over an indigo shirt and black tie emerged onto the screen, “Ares…” Gavin muttered, 

“It has been a while, Gavin.” Gavin has to maintain the neutrality of his voice, “What do you want?” Ares walked closer to Ark and pulled her hair backward to show her neck, “Release Artemis and Athena and Black Swan would release Ark as well.” A blade touched Ark’s skin and caused her to shiver,

“Gavin… Eli… Never release Artemis and Athena…” A stab on her nape of the neck caused horror on his counterparts, “You have 24 hours before she dies because of excessive blood loss. Think it carefully, Gavin.” he terminated the connection. 

“Tracking is done: location, Rooftop Black Swan Tower.” That sentence was all Gavin and Eli needed to prepare themselves to go to Black Swan Tower. 

The officer blocked their way, “Sirs, with all due respect, you cannot go there.” Gavin orders him to move away from the door. 

The officer pulled out every last gut he has, “I understand your frustration right now. Miss Ark was being a hostage and both of you are not in top performance after the explosion. I want to save the Department of Intelligence and Information Leaders also. Please, Commander, Chief of Staff, let the Department that she is proud of, save her. If you want to lead them, please lead them from the command center.” 

Eli was the first who gave up, “Understood, prepare your best team.” 

The officer's eyes spark with enthusiasm, “Yes, sir!” The officer touched his earpiece, “Rhododendron, you have the permission to sortie to save Queen. Location: Black Swan Rooftop. Target to be rescued: Queen. Target to be terminated: God of War.” After all this conversation, Gavin and Eli realized that they had not asked the Officer's name. The Officer saluted them, “Head of Intelligence and Information, Captain Steven Ming, son of Senior Negotiator Ming, at your service.” Gavin and Eli looked at each other, thought the same. How many family-related staff in the Ark's department?

Chapter Text

Eli was curious about how Steven Ming ended up here,

Ming only laughed and looking back at the good old days, “Vice-Commander Ark was never given us such preferential treatment. She gave us, the family-related, a double, and if the person was quite well-known, like my father, she would give us triple. She always wanted to know our persistence and willingness to push ourselves, regardless of the title and privilege we had. I owe her a lifetime because she made me who I am right now. Therefore, I am ready for any disciplinary punishment.” 

Eli and Gavin only chuckled and laughed a bit, “Looks like Ark managed to infect her juniors with her stubbornness.” Commander Bai assured Captain Ming and his team would not receive any punishment.     

“Check nearby CCTV, make sure that Rhododendron has a clear entrance.” A female officer reported to Captain Ming that the team has a clear entrance. 

Gavin stood up from his seat and announced that he and Eli would be leading the operation, “Captain Ming, watch your seniors lead the operation. I will show you how fierce the STF Triangle when someone is messed up with one of them.” 

The son of Senior Negotiator Ming turned his body towards the young elites, “But, Commander, Chief, are you sure you can lead this since both of you are heavily injured?” The duo’s complexion showed that they were at the same brain frequency, “Come on, Captain Ming. Two of us used to lead an operation while we were injured.” The subordinate still was not convinced that they fit enough to lead the operation, “It does not justify your action, Commander, Chief. Let me do the operation, I will take responsibility.” 

Eli sighed, he gave up the idea of taking over the whole operation, but Gavin said otherwise, “Captain Ming, we do not have time to argue on whose authority and responsibility this operation is. You can take responsibility for the technicalities of the operation, like which squad would be deployed, but for overall responsibilities and safety of Ark, it lies on my authority and responsibility as the Commander of STF.” 

Still, that argument was not strong enough to make Captain Ming hand over his authority.

It was well-written on his face.

Gavin scratched the back of his neck under his subconsciousness, “Inside Ark’s brain, there were hundreds of classified information that could be worth thousands of dollars, even millions if she sold them to another country or in the black market. That classified information could bring a revolution within the country. Also, if Black Swan or the Military capture Ark before us, it is safe to assume that Ark would become lifeless.” 

Unimpressed with the explanation, Captain Ming only said a few words that could have caught Gavin off guard, “You just love her, don’t you?” 

Everyone paused their activities to digest the young Ming’s words and made a unison ‘Heee’ sound. 

Gavin.exe stopped working,

“All right, you win, Commander.” He removed himself from the command post to let Gavin and Eli take over.

Captain Ming watched them carefully as the youngest top-tiers with flight hours more than two people combined took over.

Rhododendron was a squad of 100 exclusively made by Viridian for the Department of Intelligence and Information, in case of emergency. Each person in this squad was handpicked and had different Evolvers. Named after a flower with its meaning reflecting the abilities they had, they possessed a dangerous manner. 

“Squad Leader of Rhododendron, do you copy?” Eli asked through the radio frequency communication, “This is Squad Leader of Rhododendron, Lieutenant Hu, copy.” a buzz before the word ‘copy’ said, “This is Chief of Staff, Eli Gu, and Commander, Gavin Bai, will lead and provide support during the operation, copy.” Eli waited for a response from the Squad Leader, “Understood, Chief, Commander, copy.” 

Gavin took over the conversation from Eli, “Before entering the building, you use the infrared vision for a better look. It is more useful than night vision. We will shut down the Black Swan building’s electricity both secondary and primary. Second, I read that one of your squad members could travel in the shadows. I want him to inspect the rooftop to verify the presence of Ark. Third, some agents guarded outside might be an Evolver, proceed with caution. I authorized all squad members to use their Evol and restrain themselves from any temptation to turn it into a massacre. Paralyzing and restraining them is enough. With this, I commence Operation Shade. Begin!”

Chapter Text

Officers and Captain Ming were typing like someone doing an assignment on a due date. “Secondary electricity: 3rd level basement, cut off. Proceed to the primary.” One of the officers reported to Captain Ming, “All of you, continue to cut down the electricity until the primary of each floor shut down.” Captain Ming said without leaving his eyes on the monitor, continued to type command series. 

Eli was amazed by the amazing team made by Ark: fast-paced, responsive, systematic, “First Lieutenant Hu, condition, copy” First Lieutenant Hu answered by describing his team's condition and the situation they faced. They saw a heavily guarded building and searched for a possible entrance, “Captain Ming, scan for least guarded entrance.” Eli ordered. Captain Ming soon finds the least guarded one, and coordinates with the First Lieutenant Hu, “Sergeant Qing, please do verify the position of the target.” The tension kept rising as the stealth-type Evolver on his way to validate the position of the target. 

The two best friends watched the monitor in front of them carefully, “Sir, targets are missing. I can only see a necklace hanging on the wall, with a large message written in blood.” Eli asked for confirmation and Sergeant Qing only said negative. 

It was Ark’s necklace. 

Ares was a meticulous man, any tiny detail he would not miss, including a necklace, “it says ‘sorry’ and ‘fire’.”

Another wave of frustration crushed their hope of finding Ark and tightening the chance of finding her alive and kicking.

The fact that Ark was not there was strong enough to drain the color from the young top-tiers’ face, “Start tracking his source.” Gavin said as he determined to save Ark, no matter how slim the chance is.

Ark woke up again after being stabbed. Her white uniform was dusted with concrete now stained with blood oozed from her nape, “As meticulous as I heard. If I were you, I would do the same.” 

The man showed neither emotion nor expression, “Surviving a never-ending tri-way audience, confrontation with the daughter of your subordinate, an explosion, and now a stab. Your persistence is admirable, indeed.” Ark thanked Ares for the compliment. The heels of her shoes started tapping each other, “I did not know that you would be this meticulous, Ares. Removing my accessories, weapons, and belongings was a wise move.” she complimented him back. 

Ares responded with a thank you, “Can we keep talking like this? I am eager to discuss many things with you.” 

“Sir, we caught a distressing signal.” One of the officers reported to Gavin. Hearing this, Gavin ordered the officer to track the signal and started decoding. Various stripes and dots appeared on monitors nearby, “A morse code? Who uses Morse Codes these days?” Captain Ming said with a quizzical tone. 

Gavin saw this differently, so did Eli. Before Gavin opened and said something from his mouth, Eli hit the interface table and started decoding, “The only one who uses Morse Code these days is Ark itself who remembers almost all kinds of codes from Scouts. No one knew it would become handy, like this.” Each word was now translated into their language.

EASTMOON. LEFT-SIDE. ABANDON. FIRE. 

Gavin was instructed to find an abandoned building on East Moon Street while Eli instructed Rhododendron to head to the destination. In his mind, Gavin hoped and prayed that Ark could pull herself together until rescue come    

“Ares, what is the human soul?” Ark asked out of curiosity, “Human soul? From what perspective?” he returned the question with a clarifying one, “Neuroscience, maybe. Please do ‘Lucien’ mode when you explaining that since I am a bit dumb with this kind of thing.” 

Ares started to explain human souls from neuroscience and sometimes asked for her opinion. Ark expressed her stance on the human soul, “I think the human soul is a mysterious thing. Because I heard the term ‘soulless’ which refers to apathy and lack of humanity and it was judged based on external appearance. The counterparts may not look at the person deeper. The case is always harder than content, isn't it? The content always surprises you either pleasantly or horrifically. If the situation is not like this, or we were not enemies, I think I would hit a local pub or cafe and have a drink while discussing things with you.” Ares could not agree more since he enjoyed this kind of conversation due to he was tired of listening to someone’s world domination and evolution plan. 

He closed his distance between them. His hand grabbed Ark’s neck and crushed her throat like a viper, “Do you think I would not notice your signals? How naive.” The woman in front of him suffocated but could not escape from his grip. 

She could only hope she was not running out of blessings from Fortuna.

A real-time video showed a building on fire. 

Gavin and Eli’s biggest fear came true.

Gavin turned his back and started walking to the door, “If you are thinking of saving Ark, think about your injuries first. You cannot use Evol to full-extent.” Eli said with his eyes locked to the monitor.

He was frustrated, he felt helpless, “Then what should I do, Eli?” His voice unusually broken, “I authorized the usage of Water Control Evol. Captain Ming contacted all firefighters and search and rescue teams in Loveland. Locate all hydrant points and utilize them. Send our water cannon to the scene.”

After he was done with giving directions, Eli approached Gavin and placed his hand on his best friend's shoulder, “Trust Rhododendron, the firefighters, and search and rescue team. Ark still owes us a punch. She cannot die now.” Gavin looked at Eli in his eyes, he was scared. 

He did not have any choice, but trust and support with things he could do were his only choice. 

“That choking bastard. I should have recruited him as one of the negotiators long ago. Now I am trapped in a building in flame.” She was wide awake and coughed to clear her throat from the smoke. Captain Ming must have dispatched Rhododendron, knowing he was one of few people she trusted in STF and the remaining Triangle got her message. She tried to send another message by tapping her shoes. 

Something was off, the usual ‘clack’ sound made from her shoes was gone, “Ares, you prick. He removed my shoes as well.” 

She inspected the rope around her arms. She thinks of a way to escape from being tied and the building. Her legs were numb because of her position. Ark started to move her legs to get a better position. Her eyes looked at the fire above her left arm. She at least removed the rope from her limb to escape. Her mental calculation predicted the platform above her will fall around 2 minutes, she would be found as ashes before she knew it,

“Vice-Commander!” A voice she knew called her, “I am here! Rhododendron!” A man all in black tactical clothing with a small pink flower on his chest and left upper arm insignia, “Identify yourself.” She wanted to confirm the identity of her rescuer. He repeated the motto and identified himself. 

Ark remembered the unique identification, “Sergeant Qing?” He nodded and said ‘at your service’. He shot the rope at her arms and freed her legs. He offered his hand to help her stand up. Her legs were like jelly and back to her previous position. Sergeant Qing changed his former boss’s position and brought her into piggyback. He asked Ark to shoot the window to cut the chase and save themselves from flame. 

Even after blood loss, internal organs damaged and mentally and emotionally drained, Ark’s brain showered with adrenaline and orders her body to fulfill his request. Well, simply, she did not want to die or be cremated alive. Under his square off, the brunette shoots the glass of the window panel to clear the barrier between the exit and them. Sergeant Qing smashes the remaining unscattered glass with his kick. 

For those who watch from afar, it looked like movies, but for Ark and her Rhododendron, it was reality. Qing with Ark on his back, got ready to get out of the mess, “Ready?” Ark only nodded. 

He ran at full speed and jumped out of the building. 

Below them, a form of a pillow consisted of the remaining Rhododendron Squad, ready to catch them. After a few seconds without solid ground, both of them landed safely and evacuated from the scene. 

Ark was cocooned with a blanket and her body supported by one of her squad members, “Glad you are safe, Ma’am.” First Lieutenant Hu gave her salute, but under current condition, Ark was too weak to return the salute, “Thank you First Lieutenant Hu. What about Gavin and Eli?” The Squad Leader explained the situation briefly and told her that Gavin and Eli were back at headquarters and leading the operation. She was relieved that other members of Triangle, especially Gavin, had not headed to the scene. 

She closed her eyes and let the fatigue drown her. The whole squad panicked and called the medic. The on-site medical staff performed the first aid on Ark before transporting her to the nearest hospital.           

Tension and crisis atmosphere replaced by relieving sensation. 

Their Vice-Commander is saved and under treatment by doctors, “This is Rhododendron Squad Leader, Queen was under our protection. We lost God of War.” Captain Ming said copy before ordering the squad to return to the base. 

Some of the officers were clapping to show their appreciation to the leaders, fellow officers, and themselves. 

Despite being the pinnacle of STF, Gavin was still an emotional person. Gavin fell on his knees and sat on the floor, unable to process the whole thing. His sharp eyes became watery and it exceeded the capacity. 

He lowered his head, not letting his tears of happiness be seen but his trembled body and sobs revealed otherwise. Everyone in the control room understood the burden was finally lifted by not saying anything. After all, he was still a flawed, emotion-driven human being, like anyone else. 

Chapter Text

After yesterday’s drama, STF slowly but surely rebuilt itself. Senior Negotiator Xi and his daughter, Emme Xi; and Officer Lin, regained their consciousness, no longer in intensive care, and moved to separate rooms for further observation. 

Gavin and Eli made their progress also. Even with bandages, medical tapes, and gauze pads scattered all over their body, Gavin and Eli made their way to the press conference room with a folder with the STF logo on their hand. Gavin opened the door and the press welcomed him with an infinite sound of clicks and flash. 

He took over the podium and tapped the microphone to ensure it was working. The journalist made their way to their respective seats and prepared themselves to type every word he said. 

He opened the folder and read it out loud its content, 

“Good Morning, citizens of Loveland City. Today I would like to announce that the STF personnel recovery progresses. First of all, we would like to convey our deepest condolences to journalists who were the victims of the House of Representative building explosion yesterday afternoon. May God always give strength and protection to the family and beloved ones. Second, all representatives of STF who appeared at the tri-way audience session continue to make their recovery progress. Senior Negotiator Xi and his daughter; Assistant Lead Negotiator, Officer Lin were moved to separate rooms. Third, regarding Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer, Viridian Ark, her condition is currently stable but remains in ICU for further doctor’s observation. She would continue her duty to serve justice and the community as Lead Negotiator as soon as she recovered. Fourth, until she fully recovered, Acting Lead Negotiator shall be appointed. Senior Negotiator Zhang will act as a temporary Lead Negotiator. Fifth, STF would not hesitate to conduct full-investigative measures to unearth the truth behind the terror. Special Investigative Task Force, which would be headed by Chief of Staff Gu, will conduct an independent and transparent investigation. Lastly, we believed that Black Swan was the mastermind of this terror. This information has been verified by Lead Negotiator Ark when she was abducted and physically abused by one of its higher-ranks. To conclude, this press statement, on behalf of STF, I, Commander Gavin Bai, would...” 

The sound of the door opened distracted the press and their heads turned to someone they did not expect. 

Ark with her hospital clothes and draped with her STF white coat, emerged and has a stare showdown with Gavin, 

“If you concluded the press statement with resignation, I would never forgive you and you should be ashamed of yourself. The demonstration yesterday made us look like an easy target because we were distracted by the number of people outside and the number of personnel we had was not enough to handle the demonstration and defend the building. It did not cross my mind that someone would denote an explosive because that was unlikely to happen. I admit I am also responsible for the explosion incident because of the security gap. So stop it, Commander, resigning only makes us look terrible. If you resign, you are a coward. You only run away from your problems and leave me and Eli to deal with it, not solving it.” 

Gavin looked at her determination to stop him from resigning ignited behind those green eyes. He turned his sight back to the press, “Any questions?” numbers of hands in the air followed by overlapped questions. Gavin chose the one on the third row, “How long Lead Negotiator Ark would serve, bearing in mind that she sustained the most and she just appointed weeks ago?” the women journalist asked, “She will continue to serve as long as…” Gavin paused and looked at Ark and back to the press, “the tri-way initiative reached its conclusion.” 

Ark was aghast and felt betrayed by her Commander, “You betrayed me, Commander Bai! You promised me I can serve until I enter retired age! Why would you betray me?! Answer me, Commander Bai!” she shouted hysterically and closed her distance with the podium. 

Eli blocked Ark’s way with his body, “Move, Chief of Staff Gu.” He did not even budge, “Lead Negotiator Ark, his decision is final and inviolable. Please understand and respect his decision.” she tried reasoning with Eli but he responds by raising his voice that made Ark surprises, 

“Please understand that you already used your second chance. No more chance for you, Ark. The medics even said your last field mission should be the end of your career in STF.” 

“We almost lost you twice, Ark.” he used a softer voice at the end of the sentence,

“Aren’t we all, law enforcers, the protector of the constitution, on the verge of death almost every single time? We voluntarily choose to trade our comfort zone for the safety and security of our citizens, and the perseverance of justice. I will make you waive your decision, Commander Bai.” 

She turned around and left the press room. It was not the first time the STF Triangle had a heated debate on camera but surely it left the impression that they were just normal colleagues.

‘Act now, think later’ principle sometimes applied to her. Well, at least she managed to say what was on her mind thanks to her adrenaline rush. From the press room to her room was only 100 meters but it felt like a kilometer. The brown-haired girl felt strengthless as she leaned to the wall to keep herself from falling. 

It seemed the adrenaline rush could only be for a one-way trip. 

Someone in white uniform, just like hers, stood before her, was the last thing Ark saw before darkness. 

Chapter Text

Gavin was holding the girl in his arms and inhaling the scent of her.

Before he knew it, he placed his head on the uninjured side of her nape, his tear ran down his face and wet her nape. 

He spoke to the girl as if she was listening to him attentively, like having a normal conversation with her, “Viridian, the truth is I really cannot afford to lose you. Not because you are an invaluable member of STF, it is because I want to protect you with all my might from my father.”

He stopped a while, trying to compose his words. His hand moves to her scalp while the other goes to her waist, “and because I love you. You are the one who stands tall and might with your terms. A highly-respected woman by everyone, including me and Eli, even the recruits.” he sobs a couple of times interspersed with a tiny cough to clear his throat, “I truly loved you, Ark. Even since Emme left me because I had too little time for her, you were there for me, encouraging me to move on. Remember when we had dinner together like a normal couple, you looked stunning back then. I was speechless, and at that moment, I swore upon my life, I would be your six.” 

He let out a small chuckle and continued, “Because I know you won’t let me have your twelve. I am sorry I am a hopeless romantic person but whether you listened for real or not, it was all real and genuine. I love you, Viridian, from my deepest part of my heart.” he concludes then kissed her on top of her head. 

A pair of hands weakly grabbed Gavin’s back, “Thank you for opening up for me… I love you too, Gavin.” 

Gavin’s hearing senses and brain were not compatible, at the moment. He made a distance between them so he could look at her in the eyes. He asked her to repeat the exact sentence as before. 

She let out a sigh and repeated the sentence afterward, “Do I need to tell you that you need to go to a specialist to clean your ears?” her unusual green eyes met his amber eyes. 

Gavin curved a smile on his face, an embodiment of his happiness. Ark sheepishly had a red shade over her face. Gavin placed his forehead over hers and gently brushed their noses together.  A warm breath with a scent of spices fills Ark’s olfactory sensor and skin. This time, she took the initiative to close the remaining gap. Their upper lips touched each other and soon the lower joined and formed a kiss. No Ark’s sudden reaction interrupts the kiss. 

Both of them slowly retreated from the kiss, “Can you stand?” Gavin asked while keeping her body close to him. Ark placed her head on his chest and shocked her head. She yelped for a sudden change of position. Gavin unintentionally saw Ark’s cleavage, “Can you cover yourself? Your chest is a bit showing.” Ark realized it quickly and covered herself with her jacket. 

Both of them show a red shade over their fair-medium skin tone. Gavin took her to her room, where she prepares her mind to be scolded by medical staff. 

Eli saw the whole thing. 

He felt a bitter taste in his mouth even though he was not eating any. 

So, this was the truth.

He took another route to his office, leaving the happy couple in their world. Along the way back to his office, he neglected every salute to him. Everyone who gave a salute to him was confused about what happened to him. 

He did not expect that his own best friends love each other. He wanted that moment with his beloved. Eli stopped walking once he settled in his office and locked him inside, his mind in a dilemmatic position. 

He wanted the girl in his mind to be happy by her choice but he wants to be the chosen one.

He wanted to be selfish but it would cost him a betrayal. 

Do not get too close or you would fall harder than anyone else, they said. 

He loved her, his body yearned for her, but she was not beside him anymore.

Eli lied down on his sofa and tried to sleep but he could not. He walked to one of the glass compartments and took out one of his collection of alcoholic drinks. A bottle of wine poured its content into a wine-purposed glass. If the alcohol could make him forget about her and his heartbreak, so be it. He drank it all in a few gulps. 

He poured it again and repeated the process until the bottle was contentless. 

Gavin dropped Ark on her hospital bed. A doctor and a nurse were waiting for her and preparing a lecture on leaving the room without a doctor’s consent and information, “May I hear your explanation first before I explain mine?” Gavin closed the door and headed to Eli’s office. 

All of his subordinates were now even confused after they saw Eli in a sour mood while his Commander was in contrast, “Did you notice that Chief of Staff Gu was in a sour mood?” she asked in a low voice to her fellow officer, “Yeah, but I think he was heartbroken rather than in a bad mood.” the fellow officer answered with the same frequency of the voice, “Really? He was heartbroken? With who?” she was squealing in a low voice, “I think Chief of Staff Gu had a crush on someone but she chose someone else. You know this is only my thoughts. It might be wrong.” she answered and left a sigh afterward. 

Gavin arrived in Eli’s office, his secretary stood up and gave him a salute, “Commander Bai, I am sorry but at the moment, I don’t think Chief of Staff Gu will not see anyone.” Gavin returns the salute, “Why so?” Eli’s Secretary only pointed out her boss was in a bad mood. To test her observation, Gavin launched a few knocks on the door and called out Eli. 

No answer. He tried again and no response from inside. 

Worried that his best friend would do anything stupid, Gavin asked the secretary for a spare access key. She looked for it in one of her drawers. 

He tried once again and the result was the same as before. 

She handed the access key to Gavin and he inserted it into the security lock and opened the door. Gavin had a few drinks sessions with him and Ark during the early times of their career. He already knew how Eli would react after alcohol took over his body and mind. 

The tipsy Eli wasted on his sofa, “Okay, he wasted. Call the sofa cleaner company, charge on his tab. I will take him personally to the hospital ward.” Gavin took Eli’s right arm over his shoulder to support him and walked to the meds. 

The journey, of course, became the center of attention. Eli, the laid-back Chief of Staff, wasted and carried by his Commander Gavin became a hot topic in STF. 

Gavin, with the help of a nurse, positions Eli in bed. Ark, who saw Gavin put Eli, shocks, looking at the wasted person, “Is he wasted?” Gavin placed his hands on his waist, “Yup, wasted after taking a bottle of wine alone.” For Ark, it did not make any sense since Eli was not easy to be wasted, “What wine?” Gavin explained the wine. Ark sighed and called Eli ‘idiot’. 

Eli spoke inaudible and incoherent words, “I love you. I truly do.” he slept. Gavin and Ark could not decide whether they should take into account or not because he spoke under the influence of liquid courage. 

Gavin looked at his second-in-command, “Do you think it’s for you or someone else?” Ark looked at him, “I don’t know, Gav. It’s just too complicated for me.” Gavin fixed his eyes on her, “Take your time, Ark. Whoever you chose, I respect your decision.” 

 

From the bottom of his heart, he wanted to be the one she chose.

Chapter Text

Splashes of raindrops hit the window panel. Eli slept like a pig after an irresponsible drink while working. Ark held her legs close to her chest. Contemplating how things sort out. 

She hated it.

Her contemplation stopped when someone called, “Miss Ark? Are you okay?” Senior Negotiator Zhang entered the room with a folder in his hand, “I am okay. I am sorry I have to add you more tasks while I am absent.” 

She felt guilty with her subordinate, “It is okay, I already got used to it. Besides, I only do based on your scribbles over the complaints. It gave me enough instruction to do it. Here you go, the House of Representatives’ file.” 

He handed the folder and a pen to Ark. She changed her legs position into a cross-leg. She pulled the table and placed the folder, “Thank you for bringing this document. I will get it done tomorrow morning.” 

Senior Negotiator Zhang excused him to get another job done. Ark opened the file and read the complaints one-by-one. Underlines, scribbles, instructions are written over. Once she finished with one complaint, she placed it on the vacant site of her table and repeated the process until the last complaint was finished. 

Doing paperwork like this at least kept her mind occupied and distracted her from the decision made.   

Eli woke up when it was sunset. His right hand on his forehead indicated he was still dizzy and needed to cure his hangover, “Sleep well?” Ark asked without looking at him, “Not bad, but I still have the hangover.” 

His appearance was like a mess. The top button of his black shirt unbuttoned; the silver tie slightly loosed; the hem of his shirt not properly tucked; his caramel-colored hair in disarray. 

He groaned in pain as he tried to move his body, “Was I wasted?” The person next to him only nodded and wrote everything on her mind, “I heard that you drank a bottle of red wine alone in a single drinking session in broad daylight and working hours. No wonder Gavin was quite furious.” She moved the finished complaint paper to be stacked over with others, “Yeah, probably Gavin would punish me with some discipline.” Ark stopped writing on her work and looked at him, “Why did you do that?” Eli only gave her his back. 

He did not want to make another burden for her. She already suffered so much, he thought, “Just want to forget about certain memories.” 

He answered vaguely. He refers to the scene where she and Gavin kissed, “Don’t tell me you saw that?” she stares at him. Eli only said yes and silent afterward. 

Ark prayed that her Evol could turn back the time when everything was normal before everything happened. 

Gavin walked down to the STF food cafeteria, “Mrs. Xiao, can I have chicken and ginger soup, a spicy beef lamian, and chicken lamian delivered to the hospital room?” The canteen lady emerged from under the table, “Oh my, Commander Bai! It's been a while! You should stop by even more. I know the lamians for you and Miss Ark but chicken and ginger soup?” Gavin laughed a bit then he tells her that Eli was wasted in his office, “Poor, Eli. I will personally deliver it to three of you. You should eat more, Commander. You and Miss Ark are so skinny compared to Eli.” she advised him, “Will do, Mrs. Xiao. I have other things to do. Charge it to Eli’s tab. See you later, Mrs. Xiao.” he said and left the canteen lady to do her job. 

The young commander met Senior Negotiator Zhang on his way to Ark’s and Eli’s room, “Commander.” he saluted him and walked side by side, “Senior Negotiator Zhang? What are you heading to?” he asked while returning the salute, “Lead Negotiator Ark’s room, Sir. I am on the way there to collect her instructions for House of Representatives formal complaints, Sir.” he answered by stating his intention to him. 

Gavin stopped walking, “She’s still working with those kinds of injuries?” Senior Negotiator Zhang also stopped walking, “Yes, she requested that. She said she needed something that could occupy her and could not leave the department unattended. I may be the Acting Lead Negotiator but she provided me with instruction for institutions that she handles personally. I never saw a negotiator as meticulous and stone-headed as her.” said Senior Negotiator Zhang.

The amber eyes owner realized that Ark earned the highest respect in STF with her capabilities, he smiled, “Let’s go, she must be tired of waiting for us.”  

They showed up when Ark and Eli were eating their food. Senior Negotiator Zhang saluted them, “Ma’am, I am here to collect the instructions for the House of Representative.” she raised her unoccupied hand to point out the document. She said while chewing the chicken slice, “I am sorry but I haven’t finished all, but I think the instructions for each Chamber are relatively interconnected, so I think you could improvise it.” Senior Negotiator Zhang nodded and excused himself out of the room. 

Gavin took a chair and ate the spicy beef lamian on Ark’s table, “Come to think about it, it has been a while since the last time we ate together like this.” said Ark, slurping some noodles into her mouth, 

“How do you know this is my hangover food?” Eli asked while cutting some chicken meat, 

“Last time you wasted, Ark cooked a soup for you, instead of giving you another slice of pizza,” he said that between cooling down the steamy noodles and slurping into his mouth.

Ark only said two words ‘family recipe’ to Eli before taking another bite of a chicken slice. 

She said, “You don’t know I cook for all of you while we had a tracking and undercover mission together? You ungrateful child.” Eli and Gavin only apologized for taking for granted her cooking. 

The flow of exchanging words and dialogues flowed like a natural river. No pressure from work and simply enjoyed moments like this. 

Ark was secretly grateful that her prayer answered which time gave them a chance to rebuild and repair the relationship.

Chapter Text

Eli was discharged after spending two days in bed, while Ark must bear another observation week before she gets herself a discharge. Gavin decided to give Eli a disciplinary action due to his irresponsibility which consisted of 30 sessions of cross-country multi-obstacles training and 30 sessions of shooting practice for a month every morning before work.

STF was surely known as one of the strictest institutions in the country when it comes to discipline. 

Ark made her progress also. Her recovery gradually went on full-speed again. She continued to work while maintaining her health. Senior Negotiator Zhang sometimes stopped by to give and collected works that need a signature from her, which later to be executed by him. Gavin also sometimes stopped by with food from the canteen lady or other takeaway from a famous restaurant and ate with her. Officer Lin also got discharged earlier than his boss and visits her with dozens of complaints made by the House of Representatives on his hand. 

Normal days like this were what they needed after yesterday's incident. 

The doctor entered Ark’s room and gave her the news, “Finally, you are ready to be discharged. Pack your thing and leave this room.” Ark’s greenery eyes glittered with happiness, “Finally!” She packed her things and documents and thanked the doctor and nurses who took care of her. 

Blasted confetti and a cake welcomed her back to her office, her subordinates congratulated her for her discharge, “Welcome back, Boss!” said Officer Lin and following other officers, “Welcome back Lead Negotiator Ark.” said Senior Negotiator Ming while approached her, “Senior Negotiator Ming, it has been a while.” said Ark “You were away for too long, Lead Negotiator. The Ministry of Transportation was happy with your directive and compensation initiative. He even complimented you.” he joked and complimented her work. 

Ark asked Senior Negotiator Ming to thank him for the compliment, “Now, can you lead me a hand in the House of Representative current complaints?” The Senior Negotiators’ smile faded into a jaw dropped. 

He was shocked about the number of complaints made by one institution and let out a sigh then said ‘yes, ma’am’ Everyone in the office laughed freely.

Viridian knocked the table a few times to get everyone's attention to her, “Everyone, thank you for this warm welcome back. I would like to apologize to all of you that you have to do extra work while I, Officer Lin, Senior Negotiator Xi was away. As for now, let’s get full-speed working productivity since we have so many things behind the schedule. Now, cut the cake and get back to work.” Her impromptu speech was enough to get to the heart of the department's engine to work at full-speed.  

Senior Negotiator Xi knocked on Ark's office door. Ark allowed him to enter the room and stood in front of her. She permited Senior Negotiator Xi to sit down, “You summon me for what?” The brunette with green eyes walked to the seat across from him, “I want to talk about the disciplinary punishment for you.” 

His stoic face did not show any movement, “Your punishment would be helping Senior Negotiator Ming for the House of Representatives recent complaints.” He bowed a bit and took it into account, “You could start helping him.” she said, “yes, ma’am” he stood up and exited from the office to start working, “Lin, contact Emme Xi, tell her to meet me here.” Ark started to unbutton her coat and took it off. She placed it on a hanger and rolled her sleeves. 

While waiting for her to come, she took a deep breath and stared at her coat. In her mind, the coat was the silent witness of a decade-worth of a journey since the trio graduated and started their career in STF. 

What a long journey.                     

Emme felt uneasiness slowly increase, “So… What do you want to talk about?” Ark sat on her chair, “Well, I believe that you still remember our unfinished confrontation back in the House of Representatives.” 

Emme’s hair around her neck stood up, “O..of course… I still remember that.” an awkward laugh to cover her nervousness, “I have read your exclusive contract with STF about special coverage for annual joint training with the Police Force, Intelligence, and Military. The triangle has decided to not send any representative to the joint training.” 

For Emme, if STF would not participate in the training, the chance of triple crowns would be gone forever, and basically, Ark revoked the exclusive contract, “But Miss Ark, would not this a golden chance to repair your reputation and image?” 

Ark raised her voice a bit to emphasize her point, “Do you realize how many personnel we lost during the demonstration and explosion? Five deaths; 20 including my assistant, Gavin, and Eli heavily injured due to the explosion; 40 were minor injured. As for myself, I was injured because of the explosion, a stab on my nape, choked to death, almost cremated alive inside a building in flame. I could not imagine the future of STF if Gavin and Eli were devastated when they know I become ashes. I would rather trade STF's reputation and image for the safety of my subordinates and others. I am talking about the risk if I participate in the annual training, Miss Xi. Plus, sending a squad representative would leave STF with no choice but lower their guard. We have something more important: protecting and ensuring the safety of all citizens.” 

Emme felt an intimidating aura radiated from her counterpart, any reasoning with her would be futile. However, Emme tried her best to negotiate with her and it resulted in an irritated Ark, “I appreciate your bravery and persistence in negotiating. Our decision is final and inviolable.” Emme tries again, “But…” 

A slammed table made the sound of a huge ‘brag!’, “Now, you better pay attention to my words because I won’t repeat it. STF still could survive without the help of any because we have protocols and principles, and the resources we need. The joint training was made for the power display of each. STF does not necessarily need that because we work in silence. Every life matters in STF. I don’t work with someone like you who does not know their manners.” Ark pissed off. 

She ripped the exclusive contract into pieces. 

Watching the paper ripped into pieces, Emme could not believe that Ark could do this to her. Ark watches Emme take her to leave and closes the door, “Aren’t you being too rough on her?” Officer Lin asked, “There is no too rough in this world. She needs to know her place. If she sued us, contact our law advisor and form a team. I don’t want to waste time on something unnecessary like that.” Ark answered, “tell Senior Negotiator Xi to keep an eye on his daughter.” 

She took out her phone and dialed a certain number.

The Lead Negotiator placed her phone near her ear, “Let’s have sparring. I need relief.”  

Chapter Text

Her mood for doing work was ruined. 

Ark punched and kicked the sandbag with full force. Doing activities like this could blow off some steam and keep her shape on point. 

Gavin showed up with a black sleeveless shirt and a pair of sweatpants. He sees Ark punching the sandbag. His thought was she was pissed off. 

He directed his eyes to Ark’s green eyes, “Are you done?” Ark stopped punching the sandbag and asked Gavin to move to the mattress, “Let’s talk.” 

“So Emme showed up and it pissed you off because she was so stupidly idealistic.” He concluded while dodging a series of kicks from Ark, “Somehow it reminds me of you. Now I know where you get that idealistic attitude from.” She gave her opinion while launching an attack on the middle point of his stomach. 

Gavin continuously dodged and deflected her attacks, sometimes he attacked back at her. His kick aimed at Ark’s head but Ark managed to duck before it hit her head. 

They exchanged punches and kicks like athletes in their match, “This is the end!” she exclaimed while locking Gavin with an arm triangle lock around his neck behind him. 

Gavin held Ark’s arm and threw her over his body. Ark’s just-healed body ached in pain as soon as she hit the mattress hard, 

“Salute!” an order shouted from somewhere nearby. Gavin and Ark stood up and looked at the source of order, “Are these the recruits?” Gavin and Ark returned the salute, “What are you doing in here, Commander, Vice-Commander?” Ark explained her sparring with Gavin to blow off some steam, “Don’t tell me that you watched all?” a nod from the leader, “As you can see, Commander and I just finished our sparring. Sparring itself could help yourself and your partner to develop a new skill or technique, or simply blow off some steam like mine. There will be times when you have to use your hand-to-hand combat knowledge more than firepower. I highly recommend you to practice your bare hand skills now.” Ark concluded her explanation. 

They got off the mattress and walked to the side bench. Gavin gave Ark a bottle of water, “Thanks. By the way, where is Eli? I don’t see him working or nudging anyone.” She opens the bottle and drinks its content. Gavin stated that he gave Eli a disciplinary punishment slash mandatory workout session for his irresponsible drinking. When Ark asked further details about the disciplinary punishment, Gavin told her the details and left Ark who burst out laughing, “Nice punishment, anyway. I bet Eli would be tanned after your punishment.” 

Gavin could not have imagined a tanned version of Eli. 

Eli ran from one obstacle to another, “I swear to God, I would kill Gavin if he gave me a series of this training again.” he muttered as he climbed to a three-meter high concrete wall with the help of a rope. 

He lied down to crawl under spiked wires. Once he reached the end of spiked wires, he ran again towards a small forest. The caramel-haired man jumped over a wooden log. His pace slowed down to enjoy chirping birds and wind drifting branches, “Viridian would always love trail runs like this.” He accelerated his run and emerged from the woods. 

His punishment supervisor waited for him with a stopwatch in his hand. He steadied his pace until he ran past his supervisor, “Wow, Chief. That was amazing, you still maintain your physique very well. That’s one of Loveland’s sexiest bachelor for you.” Eli regulated his breathing pace and looked at his supervisor as if he did not mishear, “You don’t know? Jupiter magazine held a poll on 40 sexiest men alive under 40s last month and you and Commander managed to secure your seat on top 10.” He retrieved his phone and searched the article. Eli opened a bottle of water and drank it.

His supervisor showed him the article. He is in sixth place, behind Shaw Ling, Gavin’s younger half-brother and a graduate student by day, and bassist by night. No wonder he was popular. 

He scrolled up to looked who were the top four: Victor Lee, the CEO of LFG; Gavin Bai, the Commander of STF; Lucien Xu, the Head of Life Science Research Institute by day, and Ares by night; and Kiro Zhou, the retired idol who still shone. 

Eli was not surprised that the CEO of LFG would win the title 3 years in a row despite entering the age of 30s, his charismatic aura still lingered. 

He returned the phone to its owner, “Also, Vice-Commander Ark won the title sexiest women alive under the 40s.” Eli burst his drinks, surprised that Ark won the title, “Let me see.” 

His supervisor complied with the request. He typed on a search bar ‘Vice-Commander Ark won Sexiest women alive under 40s poll on Venus magazine’ and tapped the ‘enter’ button. 

The search showed Ark’s photo on the magazine cover in her white coat draped over a black shirt and silver tie uniform with folded arms placed in front of her chest. Her green sharp eyes and brunette hair on loose made her look domineering and mesmerizing,

“Uhm… Chief?” the sentence made Eli startled and regained his composure, “Can you send me the article of this?'' A nod from him was all he needed before he went to take shower to clean himself from specks of dirt after a cross-country multi-obstacle trail run. 

The trio bumped into each other in front of the shower and locker room. Ark and Gavin took all their might to not laugh at tanned Eli, “What are you laughing at?” Eli was confused by the reaction of two people in front of him, 

“... You tanned.” Gavin still found it hard to not laugh, “You looked like a loaf of toasted bread. Do you get any tan lines?” 

Eli lifted a hem of one of his sleeves, a definite tan line contrasted with protected fairer skin, “No way. Say Goodbye to a perfect tan and toned body.” He was shocked at the distinction made in his skin. 

“Want to use my tan spray?” she laughed after she said, “Don’t tell me you punish me for having these tan lines.” Eli accused Gavin of giving him a mandatory workout. Gavin denied such a charge to him. He did not know the side effect would be like this, “Anyway, let’s talk over lunch. Whose room this time?” Ark raised her hand, “Mine.” They parted ways to clean themselves. 

Ark opened her locker and took her phone to update her information. She scrolled thoroughly on her notification, making sure she did not miss anything. No significant information, Ark proceeded to release herself from the sweaty t-shirt and tights and took a basket for her clean clothes and toiletries. 

Shower’s session was Ark's favorite routine because she could have private thoughts without being interrupted, Her hair soaked and water ran down over her curvy and scarred body, 

“Hoo... I did not realize that you have such a nice body, Vice-Commander.” Her train of thoughts crashed immediately after the voice surprised her, 

“Gwen Szu! Are you just coming back from a mission?” Ark’s face lightened up as soon as she recognized the voice owner, “Just got back from it. After I clean myself, I will do my report.” Gwen turned on the shower and water hit her face, “I heard you no longer serve as Head of Department. So, what are you doing now?” 

Ark told her story of how she ended up being Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer including small details like her confrontation with Emme Xi and the wasted Eli, “So many things, I did not know. We should catch up!” Ark chuckled a bit and washed the remaining soap on her body, “We should! Anyway, Gavin and Eli will have lunch in my office. Join us, then.” she said with enthusiasm. Gwen apologized that she could not join them because her paperwork was piled on her desk while she was away for a mission. 

She stared at something interesting and smirked, “Your size was impressive even after you passed your 20s. No wonder Gavin was crazy about you.” 

Ark covered her breast, “Wha..what..what are you talking about?” A hint of red on her cheeks showed delicately, “Oh come on, Ark. Do you even know that Gavin is in love with you? He was so noticeable. I am sure when he married and had kids, he would compete against Victor for the hottest dad award and another heartbroken day for any bachelorette after Victor engaged the producer.” Gwen leaned forward to the low-level frosted glass wall to take a closer look at her friend, “Give Gavin a chance, V.” 

The green-eyed girl looked at her only female best friend, “Okay, I will. Do you need some help to get closer to Eli?” Gwen turned off the shower, “Listen up, Ark. I and Eli were done. I know who he loves.” She walked out of the shower cabin and dried herself, “You do? I remember you confessed your feelings to him but I don't remember afterward.” Ark quickly took her toiletries and towel and walked out of the shower. She grabbed Gwen’s sleek lower arm,

“Let’s talk.” 

Chapter Text

Women’s locker rooms were always the place for informational exchange, whether it was only a rumor or gossip to recommendations. By its nature, women loved talking about everything from the latest drama to someone they love. 

This place became one of Ark’s sources of information to keep her out of fear of missing out, “As an Operational person, you know how it works.” Gwen opened her locker and started to wear her undergarments, “Was your mission as secret services for the ambassadors?” Ark asked, “Yes, therefore, I am aiming for promotions.” Gwen answered as matter of fact. Ark was in literal surprise, knowing her best friend was one of the top agents STF had and was her partner besides Eli and Gavin. 

She asked for the reason behind it and Szu answered it lightly, “Because I am tired with field works and I miss office works like yours.” Ark always had something on her sleeves, “but don't you hate paperwork?” Gwen finished hooking up her bra and put on her panties, “Come to think about it, you right. But we had to do it. So that was my last field mission before I moved back to HQ. Also, I want to be closer to my family.” 

She looked at Ark who put on her black shirt, “Well, you need to fill in some details on your paperwork and talk it over with Gavin and Eli.” Szu put on her black shirt. Ark’s curiosity of who Eli’s love encouraged her to ask Gwen further, “So, when you were not here, Eli was wasted.” Gwen was surprised to hear the news, “I did not expect Eli would be wasted.” Ark retold her the story of how Eli was wasted and brought to the hospital room by Gavin while she was still under the doctor’s observation. 

She told her about the punishment Eli had and the consequences were the fitted and tanned version of Eli. Gwen puffed her cheeks, holding her laughter, “You could laugh anyway.” She let go of her laughter, “I and Gavin also laugh, but you had to see Eli’s reaction to his tan lines.” 

Ark finished buttoning up her shirt and took her skirt, “It is unusual for you to wear a skirt nowadays, or are you trying to flirt Gavin with a sexy cop thingy?” 

She hit her head against the locker shelf, “Oops, I guess I hit the wrong button.” Gwen covered her mouth with her hand. 

Ark remained in the same position and the curtain of her hair covered her face “Oh, I hate you Szu.” If Ark said that, meaning she was embarrassed and did not want anyone to see her like that. 

Gwen and Ark walked out of the locker and shower room together while chatting. Gavin and Eli emerged from the gentlemen’s’ locker and shower room and they saw Gwen and Ark gossiping, neglecting the existence of the boys behind them, “Even though she is our partner, she still needs a female friend.” Eli widened his eyes, struck by a realization, “I just realized Ark nowadays wears skirts more than in the past.” Gavin looked at Ark’s below waist part. 

Damn, she was so sexy in those mid-thigh length pencil skirts and looked at those thick scars-covered thighs and lifted bums, the skirt perfectly accentuated it. Yum bum, he thought. 

Gavin came to his senses, he slapped himself hard twice at both of his cheeks, leaving red marks on his face. 

Eli was surprised by the reaction of the person next to him, “Dude, you okay?” 

Gavin lied to him, “I am cool.”

He knew it was a lie, “Your manhood says otherwise.” Gavin lowered his towel to cover his arousal, “I owe you that, is that Gwen Szu?” 

Eli directed his eyes to the girl beside Ark, an obsidian-wavy-haired girl wearing the same uniform as Ark only with pants. 

He was astonished by her beauty radiated. He felt she was so different from the last he met her, “Gavin, I want to make a conviction.” His best friend only said ‘Me too. Come to my office.’ 

From afar, both boys acted like they were still in their mid-20s with the love experience level of college or university boys. 

Who said that only females loved gossips? Their male counterparts also loved gossip. No big difference between them. Both love gossiping in any place, anytime, no matter what the circumstances are. 

For instance, Gavin and Eli loved to gossip in Gavin’s office or Ark and Gwen in Ark’s office during lunchtime. 

A text from Ark to Gavin and Eli ‘Gotta canceled our lunch in my office. Girls only.’ Her text was compact and straightforward. Both men only answered ‘ok’ as they copy-pasted it. 

Ark locked her phone and shoved it into her pocket and said  ‘I heard that if you aim for promotion, you will be stationed as Head of Foreign Operation Department.’ 

Gwen opened the lid of a clay pot in front of her, revealing boiling vegetable udon with beef curry, “Yeah, you will be responsible to my department.” 

Ark took a bite from her lunch box, “True since I still maintain my responsibility as Vice-Commander while handling a Department, it gave me a headache, especially those neverending complaints made.” 

Gwen used her chopsticks to eat the boiling noodles, “But why Gavin gave you a position in a department while you still have a responsibility as Vice-Commander?” Ark took a bite of the fried shrimp and chewed it, “Who knows, maybe as Vice-Commander, my work is not that significant than Eli’s and Gavin’s signature is more powerful than mine. So probably Gavin just gave me this to occupy my mind and least the burden he had.” 

Gwen between blowing her sizzling noodle and slurping it, “It does not make any sense if they need you as head of the department, then just one responsibility is enough to drive you to baldness.” 

Ark looked at her lunch box, “Are you familiar with the term female representation?” The obsidian girl nodded and asked further about it. Ark picked up the salad with her chopsticks, “When Gavin was appointed as Commander of STF back then, The previous commander, Commander Chou, asked me to be Gavin’s Vice-Commander. When I asked the reason behind it, he only said Gavin needed a rope and lifeline to keep him from putting himself in danger. If the Commander of STF were killed or MIA, STF would be prone to danger. Eli was his rope and lifeline, but it was not enough, he needed another one. The one who knew Gavin and Eli inside out was only me. He also concerns about STF’s female representation rate. The higher-ups were dominated by men; only 4 heads of department were women-led, including myself, the medical department, general affairs, secretariat, and intelligence and information, before I was transferred to negotiation and crisis response. It gains a lot of unwanted attention from the feminist movement.” She chewed her salad. 

Her counterpart listened to her with full-attention, “That’s why when you heard I want to move back to the headquarters, you want me to lead the Foreign Operation.” Gwen connected her dots. Ark finished her lunch, “Enough with me. Now tell me, who is Eli’s love?” Gwen put the lid back on the emptied bowl, “Gurl, is it obvious? It is you, dumbass.” Ark’s forehead was wrinkled. 

Now Ark’s love life was officially formed in a triangle. 

Someone, please hide Gavin’s instant noodle stocks. 

This man ate a pack of instant noodles again, “So, she knew you love her, and she loved you back.” Eli said while splitting the chopsticks, “Yeah, I don't know what made me love her after Emme dumped me. She looked stunning back then.” Gavin said like he was daydreaming.

“Back then? When?” Eli was stopped in the middle of inserting the noodles into his mouth. Gavin retold the story of him and Ark having dinner back when they were off duty. He described her as a different girl than usual. He said that she was confident enough to let her battle scars be seen as if they were her medal of honor, though not as much as today. 

The amber-eyes owner slurped his meal, “Anyway, you said that you want to make a conviction. You have come to the wrong place. Go to the catholic church, they have a conviction room with the priest.” Gavin corrected while chewing noodles.

“You know the phrase ‘the ex will become more beautiful after they experience heartbreak’?” Eli asked. Gavin shook his head, “You know my only exes were experience and Emme. I had too little time for her until she had enough and dared to leave me for Victor.” Gavin told him. 

He did not realize that he opened his old wound that never healed and not letting Eli see his face. 

Eli noticed the movement made by Gavin, “If you still love Emme, why did you not tell her?” Gavin shocked his head, “It was no use. She already chose that.” The Chief of Staff seemed to have made a misunderstanding, “I mean Ark, Gavin. Why have you not told Ark that you still loved Emme?” The person in front of him only stayed silent. 

Eli suddenly stood up and walked out, “If you keep hesitating, I would not give a second thought to stealing Ark from you.” Eli’s statement made Gavin rise from his position and followed him. Gavin called Eli several times but he kept neglecting them. The commander raised his pace to match with the chief of staff. 

“Okay, but why me?” The pair of grey eyes fixated its sight on the green eyes, “Because it always been you since the beginning, so as Gavin.” Gwen soothed her nerves, ensuring she was not showing any anger to her best friend. Ark could not process the information in her mind, as if her brain cannot keep up with the overheat. The woman in front of her stood up, “If you cannot choose, I would steal Gavin from you.” Ark’s complexion filled with the sense of competitiveness, “Then, I will make myself clear I will claim what’s mine.” 

A blaring alarm signaled an intruder inside STF, “What now? Can I just have a peaceful day after a series of nightmares?” Ark whined.

Chapter Text

Ark went to her desk and pulled one of her drawers. She grabbed two earpieces, one for her and the other for Gwen, “You know the drill.” Gwen nodded and left Ark alone. Ark lightly tapped her earpiece to activate the communication, she took a bulletproof vest from her wardrobe. “Ming, situation.” Her counterpart explained the situation with the overlapped sound of people typing fast and the mechanical sound of the keyboard as background. 

Ark took her handgun loaded and shoved it into a holster behind her. Her brain filled with adrenaline to help her focus on the grave situation as she took a couple of spare magazines loaded with bullets and strapped her sheathed dagger on her right thigh. Ark tied her hair into a ponytail and ready to confront the intruder, “Ming, connect me to the rest of the triangle.” A few seconds of pause made Ark feel uneasy, “Ming, what happened?” 

Captain Ming conveyed his uneasiness with a few words, “I cannot reach them.”

“Locate them, I am heading to Gavin’s office.” Ark ran in her short block heels and skirt.

What a bad decision she made.

A buzz before a clear voice made in her communication, “Ark, have you made contact with Gavin or Eli?” 

It was Gwen, “I haven’t, Ming said he cannot reach them. One of us must contact at least one of them.” Ark pushed an elevator button while asked Gwen about Gavin and Eli possibly whereabout, “I will try Gavin’s office. Check on Eli’s please.” She stepped into the iron chamber which took her to the floor where Gavin’s office was located, “Leave it to me.” Gwen said before putting the communication in silent mode. 

A ‘ding’ followed by the iron door slides separately, Ark ran to Gavin’s office with no hesitation but filled with concern for his safety. 

Gavin and Eli were in Gavin’s office when the intruder alarm turned on. No words between them, Gavin only grabbed two communications in the form of earbuds and handed one of them to Eli. 

As a trained soldier for a crisis like this, Gavin used sign language to communicate with Eli. The counterpart replied in sign language. In times like this, they must use sign language to avoid being tapped. 

Gavin gave Eli a series of instructions before he went outside. Eli’s eyes ignited a seriousness behind it, he responded with a nod. Gavin gave him a shoulder pat twice and off Eli went. 

After Eli left his office, Gavin took a few steps to his desk to take his handgun and spare magazines and store it behind him. 

He was a calm sailor amid a raging storm. 

The bulletproof vest stored in his nearby wardrobe, finally taken out by its owner, “It has been a while, brother.” A voice beside him surprised and pushed out through the window with a strike of lightning. 

Window glasses shattered and its pieces fell from the building, a body was positioned in the middle of nothing to stabilize himself.

Glass-breaking sound made Ark into a state of panic when she was just a few meters away from Gavin’s office. 

Someone fell out. 

With no further information from the two of them, it was safe to assume that sound could be from one of them. Ark called out Gavin’s and Eli’s name to ensure their safety. 

A response from them would be helpful. 

With a handgun with safety unlocked in her hand, Ark sped up to the Commander’s Office. A gust of wind from the opened door welcomed her. He was not there.  

A quick reflex saved Gavin from fall from his office. His wind supported his weight and lifted him closer to the place where he fell. 

Gavin looked at the sky above him. 

Thunderous sound one after another, dark gray sky overturned the once blue horizon. A storm was coming without any warning. 

A strike of lightning aimed at him, Gavin dodged it milliseconds faster, “Shaw. What do you want?” Another lightning stroke to him. Gavin went to a higher place using his wind, “What’s wrong brother? It seems that your Evol has become rusted also.” The lightning caught him faster. Gavin’s pupil widened, “Did he just…” 

The Shaw he knew only emitted lightning and affected the weather, but that was a whole new level. 

His Evol evolved. He became lightning. 

Ark came closer to the broken window. She disbelieved what she saw.

Gavin must have fallen with something. As her distance was close by, a strong wind prevented her from taking another step closer. Ark shielded herself with her arms and kept her body standing up. When the wind subsidized, she lowered her guard and resumed her walk. 

She looked at her surroundings: shattered papers, beads of broken glass, disarrayed books. 

She knew Gavin would survive from that fall, knowing his reflexes and Evol were excellent enough to save him. The green-eyed woman lightly tapped her communication piece, “Gwen, copy?” 

A brief uncomfortable silence. 

Ark tried to call her counterpart once again but received the same result. The moment she received the response, she knew her communication line cannot be revived. Ark let her senses drown with information, possibilities, and predictions. Her mental state deepened the calculation and brief investigation.

She needed to find Gavin as soon as possible. 

Eli was on his way to his office when the glass shattered in Gavin’s office happened. He met his secretary, hiding under her desk, terrified that the perpetrator might find her. Eli in his protective suit and an unlocked safety gun called out his secretary in a low voice. The secretary covered her head with her arms, shocked by Eli’s sudden existence nearby. 

He soothsaid his secretary, “Go, take cover with others.” 

The secretary nodded and left all her belongings in a safer place. Steps were echoed in the hallway, Eli alerted and prepared to ambush the person behind the alarm triggered. Closer and closer, Eli was expecting the person, but he did not expect that it gave him false alarm. 

As soon as an obsidian-haired girl passed through the door frame, Eli grabbed her shoulders and turned her body to face him, “Gwen?” 

The curtain of hair gently brushed Eli’s hand and revealed the owner’s identity, “Eli? Thank God you save.” A pair of slender hands placed on Eli’s muscular upper arms. 

Blood rushed to Eli’s complexion, leaving him a noticeable shade of red. The girl asked the man about Gavin’s position. 

Instead of answering the question, Eli placed his hand on Gwen’s lower back and pulled the girl closer. He crashed his mouth on hers. Gwen reciprocated him by cupping his face and deepened the kiss. 

If the situation were not like this, they might end up soaked, naked, and loved.  

After Ark stayed in Gavin’s disarrayed office, she ran as fast as she could to reach the highest point of the STF building. 

Knowing Gavin needed a vast space to move around without endangering the people inside and out, STF Rooftop would be the ideal place. 

In addition to that, the distance between his office and the rooftop was relatively closer than to the ground. The elevator took her to the closest level before the door to the rooftop. The door split into two and Ark dashed to the closest stairs. 

Once the brunette arrived at the beginning of the climb, she said ‘I hate stairs’ but she knew there were no options left other than climbing those if she wanted to save Gavin. She started to ascend at full-speed. 

Gavin deflected every lighting that Shaw launched at him. There was not enough debris to be used for Gavin as a weapon against his brother. His brother was too strong and his normal level of wind would not stand a chance. He did not have any choice but used his father’s modification, just like when he saved Ark. 

Slowly but sure, the colorless wind turned into a black whirlwind. 

He knew if he wanted to defeat Shaw he needed to step up his game. “I am sorry, Ark.” 

He lowered himself and jumped into the sky. His right hand formed a fist that was moved closer to his left side of his upper arm. Later, he extended his right arm and caused a strong whirlwind. 

His once proud white uniform was torn everywhere. The bulletproof vest could not withstand the power of his whirlwind until it was turned into pieces. The black gloves he used to wear dissolved into dust.

Gavin retrieved his gun and pointed it at Shaw. He pulled the trigger more than once. All the bullets aimed at his brother. “It is a waste, brother.” Shaw turned himself into a lightning bolt again. The chestnut-haired man only smirked, “It might be a waste. Remember I could control the wind of each projectile. I could boost, manipulate, even slow them down. They are missiles, brother. Also, you are in my territory. I could feel anything as long as you were in the wind.” 

Ark finally arrived on the rooftop. She was welcomed with heavy rain and the sight of a black whirlwind. “Black whirlwind?” 

A surge of memory flooded her mind. It was the cruel moment Gavin voluntarily took by the Military as the price of saving Emme eight years ago. The modification of the Evol project or known as the New Weapon Project. 

A determination filled her mind. She fully understood the consequence of using the modified Evol. Gavin could die because his body could not cope with the side effects. Ark took her gun and activated her ‘Eagle Eyes’. 

Her breathing and heart pace enraged. She could not steady herself. 

She was afraid that she might hurt Gavin in the end. 

Shaw saw something that interested him. Something that could make him escape from the ‘missiles’. He stopped himself and directed lightning towards Ark. 

Ark was nearly struck by lightning as she let go of her gun and it was destroyed into pieces. Some of the electricity made it into her body, but not enough to knock her down. She was sitting on her knees. Unable to move a limb.

The projectiles that directed to Shaw, now headed to her. 

Due to the electricity registered into her body, Ark could not move her body to evade. She closed her eyes and prayed for a miracle.

A warm liquid touched Ark’s knees skin. She slowly opened her eyes. Her green eyes fixated on the sight of Gavin shielding her. The colors of her face drained, leaving her with pale white skin and widened eyes.  

The unresponded Gavin fell on her body. She hugged him. “No….Gavin… Please open your eyes… Answer me, please...” No response from Gavin.

Ark screamed Gavin’s name so hard in sadness.  

The double Evolver senses became unresponsive. Her eyes turned into an even vibrant green. “I will kill you… I WILL KILL YOU, SHAW LING!” she declared. Ark took her gun and shot Shaw in her sight. 

“Sir, we have another fluctuation of Evol.” a female officer reported to Captain Ming. Steven Ming, who just finished instructing one of his subordinates, was shocked by the appearance of another Evolver in rage. He was later ordered to identify whose Evol it was and its possible whereabouts. His instinct told him that Evolver might be someone he knew. He tapped his earpiece, “Chief of Staff Gu, I highly recommended you to go to the rooftop. Something is happening. Commander Bai’s Evol fluctuation indicators suddenly drop to zero while Shaw Ling is in a steady position. I might have a bad feeling about this. Please, check the rooftop for me.” Then, he received word from his office that the Evol fluctuation belongs to Vice-Commander Ark. Something was happening on the rooftop. 

Once her magazine ran out of bullets, Ark unsheathed her dagger and activated her ‘Super Sonic’. Before it was wind against the light, now it was sound versus light. It was a battle of speed. 

Eli along with Gwen ran to the rooftop at full-speed. He was the only one who could save Gavin and Ark. They arrived on the battlefield with Gavin lying down unresponsively and Ark went rampage. “Eli, teleport Ark closer to me. I will make her sleep.” Gwen said. Eli could not disagree as they faced a more pressing matter. 

He opened his right palm and concentrated on his target. Ark was enveloped with Eli’s light and appeared in front of Gwen who was ready to make her enter the deep slumber. Gwen leaned closer to Ark’s ear and whispered ‘sleep’ to her. Later, she injected a formula into Ark’s neck. Both of her Evol now calmed down and she entered into a deep slumber. 

Shaw landed on his foot, looking at the process. “Give her to me.” the lilac man said while extending his right arm. Gwen tightened her embrace around sleeping Ark. “If we don’t?” the man shoved his hand into his pockets, “Then, prepare for the world against you. I will take this.” he took out a flash drive. Later, he dispersed himself into lightning again and disappeared. 

Eli now focused on Gavin who is in critical condition and blood coated. He carried Gavin while Gwen carried Ark on their back. Both Gavin and Ark were a mess. For Gavin, his white uniform was covered with his blood as four bullets nested on his back. Ark’s conditions were far better than Gavin. She only suffered a few cuts and was probably exhausted. The extensive usage of Evol made them must be put inside the tank for full-recovery. 

Eli and Gwen parted ways in the emergency room. They positioned their friend on the bed. After the IV and oxygen tube was perfectly placed, Gavin was taken into the emergency operating room for a bullet extraction procedure while Ark stitched her new wounds before entering the tank. 

The red-brown-haired man sat outside the operating room with its red light turned on. He could not imagine what would happen next. All he could do was pray for the best for his partners. 

Gwen could not imagine the burden that Eli must have faced if Gavin and Ark did not survive. She stood still before the corner with two cups of tea before she encouraged herself to let Eli be vulnerable. 

She handed Eli the tea and received thanks from him. Eli asked her to sit down next to him which she complied. Gwen encircled Eli’s muscular arm with her left arm and leaned to his broad shoulders. 

Gwen may have lost some of her subordinates and her senior who she looked up to. It was nothing compared to Eli who was on the verge of losing two lifelines of STF and himself. 

Hours after hours. Eli sat on the same spot when he arrived. He only left or switched with someone else to clean himself and eat. Other than that, he would stay while working on some projects he led. 

Eli was known as ‘the cleaner’ because he cleaned every mess up that Gavin and Ark made since the beginning of their career. He had lost count of how many times he cleaned up the mess that Gavin and Ark made. 

Even though he had that sort of nickname, he did not mind at all. 

He retrieved his phone and dialed a number, “It is me. I want you to conceal any information regarding today’s attack. I don’t want the public to question STF capability and credibility.” He turned off his line and continued working. 

Heard this from Eli, Gwen stayed silent behind the corner. 

A woman in a white coat emerged from the corner, “Chief Gu.” Eli turned his head towards the source of the voice. He stood up, “Professor Hua. Is it ready?” The professor nodded her head. “When Vice-Commander Ark went rampage, she used both of her Evol until reaching its limits. She was on the verge of blindness and paralyzed. It was a matter of time. She was lucky that she stopped before it took permanent damage to her. At this rate, I forbid her from taking any more missions. She must retire. As for Gavin, I doubt he could continue to live with four gunshot wounds. His recovery rate slowed down plus he lost a lot of blood. I think this is the end of the triangle.” she looked at the operating sign in front of her. 

Eli instructed her to put Ark in the recovery tank once she regained her consciousness. “Let’s just hope for a miracle.”

Chapter Text

The absence of power within STF started to question their ability to protect themselves from danger. If they could not protect themselves from danger, who will protect the lives of the citizens? The spokesperson for STF made it clear that STF continued to protect every citizen and would not compromise with the commitment they made. When the journalists asked about the triangle, “The triangle is fine. They are currently doing their work.” he said with confidence. 

It was a total lie.

The triangle started to fall apart. 

Gavin and Ark were in front of their death door. 

All they needed to do was open it and go inside. 

Eli started to have depression.

He was alone.

Ark was relatively closer to becoming a blind and paralyzed woman.

She laid still with machine support. 

How about Gavin?

After hours of operation, the doctor who handled Gavin emerged from the room. “He is the toughest guy I ever met. He is stable now, despite having lost a lot of blood. Let him rest of a couple of days before we take him into the tank.” 

Eli lost his strength to stand. Both of his and STF’s lifeline survive the nightmare. 

He cried. 

Relief overwhelmed his senses. 

He was not alone. They had not abandoned him.  

Now, one problem has been solved. Time to address another problem: a vacuum of power. The top seat of STF could not be emptied, even for one second. 

Technically, if Gavin was not able to perform his authority as Commander of STF, Ark would step up as the Acting Commander, since she was second-in-line of the STF Command Chain. If the second-in-command could exercise its authority, the third one would replace it. In this case, Eli would be the Acting Commander until Gavin considered fully recovered and strong enough to work. 

As the Acting Commander, Eli’s authority was only limited to maintain the status quo. 

“How long does it take for Gavin to recover?” Eli asked. The doctor hummed before he answered his question, “I would say about a month, for fully recovered. He might need to stay inside the tank for a week since he sustained the most.” 

Eli turned to Professor Hua about her prediction on Ark’s recovery. She predicted that Ark might be able to work after recovering inside the tank for three days and four days of physiotherapy since the electricity slightly paralyzed her. 

Three days until a week. That was what Eli needed to make people believe that STF was still standing tall without them knowing the truth.  

Rumors of Gavin and Ark could not work due to serious injuries any longer being uncontainable. In the end, some of the staff heard and spread the rumor. 

Some heard Gavin and Ark injured due to fighting against the intruder.

Some may believe that only it was just a rumor with no verifiable truth.

Some even speculated that Gavin and Ark were taking a day off. 

If Eli could choose, he would choose the latter. For him, it made more sense that the couple took a day off after dealing with the problem, leaving him with the usual clean up.

Eli was on his way to the secretariat to prepare a document. The Acting Commander document. 

“Chief Gu.” a woman approached Eli when he entered the room. “Captain Huang, prepare the Acting Commander document now,” he ordered but the woman could not register what he was saying. “The Acting Commander document? You are not trying to set a coup d’etat, right?” her brows lifted, indicating that she was afraid that she misheard. 

Eli sighed and soothed his head, “I am not planning and will not do any rebellion to him. Gavin and Ark were taking a week off with minimum to none communication.” Huang looked at Eli confusedly, “But, I did not receive any day off request from both of them.” Eli swiped his face, “Like they would do something like that. They just ran off irresponsible after the intrusion, leaving me with the usual clean-up.” Huang was even more confused than before. Nevertheless, she obeyed.   

Captain Huang opened her office and led him inside. She opened the safe under her desk and retrieved a brown envelope with an STF logo. 

“Are you sure?” She asked him once again. “Yes, I am.”

Eli took a nearby pen and signed the document. Now, he became the Acting Commander. 

After signing the document, he took the document and accelerated his pace to Gavin’s office to retrieve documents that Gavin was not able to finish. One by one, he placed the document inside a brown cardboard box and took the documents-filled box to his office. Before he went into his office, he made a stop at Ark’s office. He saw Senior Negotiator Zhang sitting on the floor while sorting scattered documents. 

He wanted to call him to tell him about his boss’s condition but he could not do it. If Ark really must retire, Senior Negotiator Zhang may be up for the position. 

The sitting man noticed the presence of Eli behind him. 

He greeted Eli and fixed his position to stand up. “Chief Gu, what can I help you?” 

Eli was in a dilemmatic position where he told him about Ark’s honest condition or white lies. “Senior Negotiator Zhang, Gavin, and Ark are currently taking a week off without filing the off-duty request, which leaves me with a bunch of unfinished papers. Can you help me?” 

Zhang was confused, knowing his superior was a hardworking woman and made sure everything aligned with the rules. Her absence was off. “A week off? But she did not tell us that she would take a break, or at least telling her assistant.” 

It seemed Eli forgot that he engaged one of Ark’s finest negotiators and lie detectors. “I knew Ark and Gavin since the beginning of our University years. She was the type who went missing without a trace and emerged in the most unexpected situation and Gavin hated paperwork more than the two of us.” Sensing a lie behind it, Zhang’s eyes turned into serious ones, “You are hiding something from me right?” 

Rapid heartbeat and cold sweat on his palm skin made Eli even more obvious that he hid something from him.   

Zhang decided to play along, despite knowing that Eli hid something from him. “Alright, I will help you until Vice-Commander Ark back to the office.”

Relieved, Eli felt better. Somehow he managed to escape the suspicion. What he did not expect was that the suspicion never subsidized.

He left Ark’s office to head to his own office. 

Once he settled down, he unboxed the document and started working on what Gavin’s left. 

Even though the absence of the remaining triangle, STF must continue to move. 

The sun sunk and disappeared from the horizon, leaving red blood with orange-purple hue bled into the sky. 

Some Eli managed to pull this together alone. 

He leaned back to his seat and turned to the window behind him. Six more days. Only by then, everything went back to normal. All he needed was holding the fort until Ark competent to work.

“Why is Shaw interested in her?” 

That question roamed around his head.  

One document attracted Eli. It was the Foreign Evolver Terrorism File. He opened the file and read it carefully. 

The coordinated mass movement. 

The bombing in front of the House of Representatives’ building. 

The abduction and assassination attempt of Viridian Ark by Ares of Black Swan Collective. 

Everything was orchestrated by something higher or at least equal standing with Black Swan. 

A picture of Ark’s wound on her neck crook attached on the corner of the page as definite proof of violence. Behind it, a picture of the demonstration and debris of explosives showed how chaotic the situation was. 

Who was the mastermind of chaos a few weeks ago? 

He flipped to the next page. A large question mark is placed beside a highlighted passage. A neon yellow highlight emphasized the importance of the paragraph, which said, 

“Every citizen of the Loveland City, both who born and raised, and through the naturalization process, obligated to abide by the law.” 

Another passage has also been highlighted, that stated, 

“Every person who conducts obstruction of law must face the law accordingly.” 

Another question mark beside the text and a circle on the word ‘accordingly’. 

“Every person has an equal standing before the law.”

The word ‘equal standing’ and ‘person’ were circled.

“These are the paragraphs from the constitution.” Eli identified them.   

A long arrow symbol to the bottom of the page. It was Ark’s handwriting. She wrote a clarification question on the definition of person in the passage. Some words like ‘foreigner’, ‘immigrants’, and ‘refugees’ made Eli understand why Ark wanted the rest of the Triangle to attend the meeting, to give them a stronger message that STF took this matter seriously. 

He did not know that Gavin personally would take this case with Ark.

Now he conducted an investigative measure to unearth the truth behind the attack.

Eli opened a browser on his computer and started investigating the matter. 

One figure attracted his attention, Ares. He was spotted during the demonstration between the crowds. His cold distinct eyes made Eli shivered. This man was dangerous. 

“Did he really do that?” He even doubted what he saw. Ares he knew never orchestrated such massive movement only to capture a single person.  He tore a single paper from his notebook and wrote ‘Ares/Lucien Xu’. 

Then, he found another figure, one of the loudest people who aspired to the grass-root level, at least to him. Eli looked at the caption. It said ‘the leader of the demonstration, Jack Ren, standing in front of the mass. He and approximately 5,000 people from the various elements of the society gathered around the House of Representatives’ building complex, expressing their concern about the legal standing of Foreign Evolver Terrorism.’ Eli wrote Ren’s name and continued to look for potential people who might be responsible for this. 

Once he felt enough with his search, he went out to Captain Ming’s office. “Is Ming here?” a figure turned around and saluted Eli. Spontaneously, he returned the salute. “Ming, I need your help to conduct some background check on these people,” he said when he handed the list. 

Ming carefully inspected the names. “These are people who might have been behind the nightmare a few weeks ago.” Eli only nodded. “One of these people might have a connection to the explosion. I am still not convinced that Ares was behind this. He was not the type of mobilizing a large number of people just to capture one person. He is more like Gavin, a lone wolf but manipulative one.” 

Ming understood the meaning and would inform him as soon as possible. 

Eli went to the cybersecurity division to check the security system condition during the breach. “Any kind of attack happens during the attack?” the person in charge said yes and further elaborated about the type and duration of the attack. He asked about the safety of classified information. The person in charge, Captain Jiang, only stated the only classified information taken during the attack was the Evol Recovery Program or known as ERP, which belonged to the Medical Department. He thanked Jiang for the information and asked him for a full report along with the evidence by tomorrow morning. 

Jiang only threw his head back and started doing his sudden assignment.

Eli continued his trip to collect information about the attack to the Medical Department where he met Professor Hua. She put down a report at her desk, “Chief Gu, how can I help you?” she asked. He asked about what happened in the medical office during the attack. She tried to remember what happened, “I believe we had development ongoing for the ERP. We were developing a safe formula to make our agents recover faster.” He asked for concrete proof that the ERP file was not stolen. Hua logged in to her computer and accessed the file. She showed Eli that the file still existed. 

Was Shaw bluffing or telling the truth to him?

“I will ask the cybersecurity and secretariat department to increase the security of the information on this program.” He walked out of the office and went back to his own. 

Once he arrived in front of his office, he asked his secretary to call Captain Jiang and Captain Huang to his office and allowed her to leave after the two captains arrived in his office. His secretary understood her superior’s order and took the telephone stationed at her desk to contact the related. 

The two captains stood in front of him. Both of them were anxious and stiff. “Why do two of you look so anxious and scared?” One of his eyebrows lifted, signaling his confusion. Jiang and Huang prayed silently. They did not want their boss in great anger, because they knew how scary Eli as if he unleashed his wrath. 

“How fast can you recover the stolen document and enhance the security of ERP?” That question caught them off guard. Jiang begged for pardon and requested him to repeat the question. Eli sighed and repeated the question word by word, loud and clear. Jiang and Huang could only look at each other, wishing they knew the answer. He lightly tapped his desk over and over. 

“A week, sir.” Jiang bravely answered while holding himself together. 

A surprised look from Huang made Eli curious, “Why should you be surprised? Both of you started your career here together, and you knew each other's stupidity and guts that I hate the most.” 

“Three days. I want you to recover the stolen file and increase the security of the overall system.” Their eyes wide enough to show him an unpleasant surprise. Eli sighed with exasperated feeling, “You already know that STF was very demanding yet you are still surprised by it. Don’t just stand there, get back to work now.” Jiang and Huang straightened their back and confirmed what he said with a ‘Yes, sir’. They dismissed themselves to start working.

Eli retrieved the Foreign Terrorism file and studied them carefully. “Who was behind the attack?” he asked himself. He opened his notes and started making a mind map.                      

Felt worn out after dealing with the document, Eli walked himself out of the office. He unbuttoned his jacket and took it off once he arrived in his quarter. 

A clean and modest studio-sized apartment. There was not much furniture or decoration since he only came here to rest. Only several pictures were framed and placed on his table. 

What he did not expect was the existence of a person on his bed.

Chapter Text

“Oh you are back,” she said and yawned. The blanket that draped her frame slides down and reveals her scarred body when she changed her position. No string attached. 

He took several steps back and fell, “How did you come here?” Gwen leaned to him, showing her cleavage. Was she always this intriguing and sexy? He thought.

His eyes rolled to the left side and spotted Gwen’s clothing, including her underwear. The woman in front of him was naked. 

“Shall we resumed what we left behind?” with her signature tempting tone, Gwen said while tracing Eli’s jaw with her hand. 

The man knew his counterpart’s ability in seducing man for information was above average, but he never experienced himself being seduced by her. 

Gwen grew closer and touched Eli’s delicate lips with her fingertips. “So soft. So contrast with your demeanor.” 

Patience was never his perk. He grabbed Gwen’s wrist and pushed her body back to the bed. “I don’t have as much patience as Gavin or Ark but I do have more to push you over the edge of sanity.” Gwen watched him untied his tie and removed his button-up. 

Gwen appreciated the sight of the beautiful and carefully carved stomach and chest muscles. Unconsciously, she was jaw-dropped. Damn, this man age like fine wine, she thought. 

Her superior threw his clothes somewhere and leaned to catch her lips. 

In the middle of the beginning of their ‘spicy’ activity, Eli stopped, struck by a realization. He woke up but his forearm was held by the woman as if she understood what he was going to say. 

She put her index finger in front of his lips. “Shhh… I have prepared it for you.” her whisper was as soft as silk then, she retrieved something from her purse. 

A small package covered in aluminum foil. Protection. Exactly what he needed. 

The package was placed between her teeth, creating a romantic and full of temptation atmosphere around her. Amused by her seductive manner, he did not realize that her hand worked on his belt and pants easily. 

She spotted something interesting. “Impressive size, Eli.”

He blushed. 

Gwen made ripping the packaging multiple times sexier. 

She slipped the content around Eli’s manhood professionally. 

They went back to their previous position and continued their ‘spicy’ activities and built up the level slowly.     

The sound of a moaned woman and growled man, skin slapped, their name chanted filled the plain room. It was a lovely and sultry night for them. 

It was ten pm. The couple lied down with a blanket to cover their waist. 

“I didn’t expect you to be this good,”  Gwen said. She placed her head over Eli’s chest. Eli did not reply or comment on her thoughts. Instead, his hand went to her breast and pinched its peak. “Naughty,” Gwen commented and let the man change her position. Eli only gave her a seducing smirk and his mouth captured her soft peak. He licked, sucked, and sometimes bit her left nipple while his right hand worked on her right breast. He slid his middle and index finger into her moist slit. The inserted fingers teased the bundle of nerves of her slit. She moaned as pleasure overwrote her mind and senses. Her rich vocabulary shrank into one word, Eli. 

He switched to her right breast and started teasing the other one. 

“Your peaks are so soft and delicious. I wonder what your bottom tastes like,” he said between his sucks and licks.

A string of saliva connected his mouth to her.

Gwen stunned by Eli’s appearance: sweaty yet sexy. 

She encircled his neck and pulled him to crash her mouth. 

The strong muscular chest made contact with the bouncy soft breast.

He left her mouth to give her bottom pleasure that she never knew he was even capable of. Lick after lick, it drove her mad and drowned in happiness.    

Her pubic hair tingled his nose. Her hand acted on its own accord, slid through his scalp and reddish-hair, and made Eli continue sending stimulus to her nerves. For Eli, her moans were a song to his ear. 

“I am close.” That was what Eli needed to know when she was ready to release her orgasm. 

“Not yet, baby.” Pet name drove her mad. 

He kissed her inner thighs and sent jolts when he marked her. 

“Do you have any turtleneck clothes?” he asked while ghosting Gwen’s skin.

She nodded.

After hovering around, Eli found his way to her nape, only to leave her his signature. 

Happy with his work, he lightly kissed it and caught her delicate lips afterward. 

Their tongues danced like it was their last day on earth. They rolled over the bed to have a better position.

“Let me,” she said. Gwen positioned herself above Eli’s manhood. 

Eli was starstruck. Looked like his dream came true. A faint color borders over her elbow and above knees combined with her natural on her upper and inner part and a darker shade for her lower and fore part of her skin. Scars here and there were perfectly shown. Proof of her dedication to STF. Sweaty body made her even more confident. Her disarray wavy hair made her temptation harder to refuse.

Gwen slowly descended and indulged Eli’s straight-up manhood. Her moist walls stretched, she let out a moan and went up and down. A jiggled pair of breasts filled Eli’s sight. A pair of large hands supported her waist. 

She continued until Eli’s need for release became more urgent. 

“Come to me, Eli.” Then, he snapped. 

He helped Gwen to lay down beside him.      

For Gwen, Eli was a game-changer. By sucking her buds and teasing her breast, in the beginning, slowly, he built its intensity until he could drive her to the edge of sanity. This person was a whole new level of giving pleasure. 

“God, Gwen, I love every inch of you.” Eli buried himself in the gap between Gwen’s chest and circled his arms around her waist. “Go ahead, do whatever you want, Eli. I am yours.” Those words made her realize that she loved him. Every fiber of hers yearned for him. Every moment with him was worth the price. 

Eli asked how she entered his room. Gwen only said that Ark helped her in the exchange for her cover. He grew closer to Gwen’s mouth and kissed her passionately. “I love you, Eli,” she said when they broke the kiss. A soft peck was a response she got before an ‘i love you too’ escaped from his mouth.  

A phone rang. He grabbed his phone and swiped the green button.

“What’s wrong?” 

His complexion bloomed in happiness instantly when he heard the sentence from his counterpart over the call. 

“Keep monitoring them. Report to me every six hours.” Then he ended the call and placed it back on his nightstand.   

Gwen sensed a relieving feeling over Eli. She hugged him from behind and asked about the news he had received. 

“Ark awoke, she will start her recovery tomorrow morning, every six hours.” He said with a big smile on his face. He laid back again beside Gwen and spooned her from behind. “Do you want to clean yourself first or just sleep directly?” The wavy-haired girl chose the first option. “If you choose the first one, I want to tease you again.” His hug became tighter and his hand grabbed one of Gwen’s breasts. She nodded. 

Water ran over the couple’s body and its sound did not fully cover the couple’s lewd voices. Their R21+ activity continued for god knew how long it was. The water valve turned off. Both of them dried themself but kept their nude state, except Eli wore his black boxer pants. They laid down and pulled the cover over their body. “Good night, love.”

They knew they did not need an answer for that. 

They knew they loved each other.

Covered with comforting scent and warmth, Gwen let the fatigue from her sexual activities with him drown her and drifted her to deep slumber. With the inhaled scent from his soap and shampoo combined with her unique scent, Eli was sure he was in a sanctuary.

Chapter Text

Sunrays showered a couple of bodies, tangled nakedly. The obsidian girl furrowed her brows before opening her eyes slowly. 

Her sight filled with close-up scars-covered skin. 

Her smell sense inhaled a signature scent. A comfortable and not overwhelming musky scent. 

She brought herself closer to the man.

A perfect moment to start a hustle-bustle day. 

A hand combed her wavy hair. 

She turned her head up, the man’s hand delicately placed her stranded hair off her face. 

“Morning, beautiful.” A low-octave voice vibrated as he looked down at the woman. She greeted him. He chuckled and made a soothing circular move over the girl’s head, “Come on, wake up. I need to work, honey.” Instead of waking up, she snuggled more to seek more warmth from Eli. 

Realizing she needed to work also, Gwen made some distance with Eli and delivered a loving gaze to the brown-haired man, “Morning, handsome.” A soft peck to Eli’s Adam's apple from her. 

“Let’s have a quick shower before I walk back with you to your room,” he suggested after she received a peck. 

“Do you want some coffee before the shower?” he offered. “Yes, please.” 

For Eli, domestic and full of fluff life like this was something he needed. 

For Gwen, it seemed life without danger once a while was comforting. 

It looked like the last night's glow still lingered. Both of them seemed in a good mood and ready to handle everything. Gwen radiated a refreshing aura that made her subordinates wonder. “Miss Szu seemed in a good mood and more relaxed.” an officer to his friend beside him whispered. “Yeah, I also noticed that Chief Gu felt the same thing as her.” the officer replied to him. “Could it be? He was getting laid with her?!” she squealed. “It could be, but the possibility is endless,” he commented. 

Gwen sent Eli a text.

“Cannot crash to your room early. Stuck with paperwork and will do another mission after this:(.”

Eli stopped his way to his office and turned around to jog to Gwen’s office.

People gave Eli his way curiously. Why was he jogging in the opposite direction of his office?

He arrived at Gwen’s office and knocked on her door. A female voice granted him access to her room. Worried about her leaving, he turned the doorknob and pushed it. It revealed a woman wearing the same color uniform as him. Her gray iris met his own. 

“You will go on a mission after this?” he asked without concealing his concern. “My last mission.” she stood up from her chair and walked to Eli. “After this, I will hand in my promotion application.” the obsidian girl closed the door behind her superior. “You aimed for a promotion?” Gwen told Eli that she had discussed this with Ark and she only signed her promotion once Gwen finished doing all the requirements, including an interview with the trio.  

In STF, a promotion was considered as the highest appreciation they could get. Unlike their police and intelligence counterparts, which are still oriented to seniority, STF promotion was based on performance and merit. It was no surprise if youngsters like the trio could earn a place in the top tier because they took more dangerous missions and have a wider connection than everyone else's and their success rate was higher. 

As for Gwen, she currently worked as one of the heads of the division in Foreign Operations.

“What did she offer?” he asked her “Foreign Operations Department.” 

Indeed, her experience working in foreign operations for the past five years was valuable. 

Eli took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it. “Promise me that this is the last time you will go on a dangerous mission. Promise me you will come back safely, regardless of the result.” 

She smiled before she answered. “I will.”  

Her red lips claimed the man’s lips. A stain of red lips placed over his lips. 

To be honest, Eli could not let her go, but he respected her wish to perform her last field mission. 

“I should head to my office,” he said. “Go.” Gwen passed through him to open her door. 

He walked out from her office to head to his office. 

Later, a gossip of Eli got himself a girlfriend circulated all over STF. In the STF, for the young woman who had a crush on Eli, it was ‘the heartbreak day’. Their laid-back and handsome man was no longer available. All of it because of the red lips mark just slightly above his upper lip. 

Eli settled himself in his office and opened the browser to check any updates. 

One update caught his attention.

No one’s officer: ‘Did you realize that Chief Gu and Head of Division Szu were in a very good mood?’

Ding Dong: ‘Yeah! I saw both of them walking side by side. I mean romantically.’

Newbies: ‘I felt like they were somehow together, right now.’

No one’s officer: ‘NO WAY!’ ‘Our laid-back bachelor chief is no longer available?!’

Gua Guang: ‘Chief Gu and Head of Division Szu were of the same age as Commander Bai and Vice-Commander Ark. I think it was a matter of time for Chief Gu to get married.’  

Newbies: ‘Also I saw a tiny bit of red stain over Chief Gu’s lips.’

No one’s officer: ‘Okay, bye world. It seemed only Commander Bai was still available.’

Ding Dong: ‘No, he is dating his Vice-Commander now.’  

Gua Guang: ‘Is it even allowed? To date a coworker?’

Who Hua: ‘Technically, the relationship between coworkers was not written in our rules. It was common, in the past, to date a coworker. However, I don’t know about the marriage regulation.’ 

Who Hua: ‘My parents were both STF agents when they met. My mom decided to resign to raise me, while my dad stayed until he retired.’ 

His finger stopped scrolling the conversation thread. 

Typically, people around his age already married or even had a child or two. He never thought of being legally bound with someone he loved. His phone rhymed in a familiar tone. Eli picked it up to see who was calling him. 

‘Mom’

It had been a while since the last time he called her, so he decided to answer it. 

“Hello, mom.” he greeted. He smiled and used his softest tone ever. “I am good. How are you and Lilian?” He really appreciated the dialogue between mother and son like this, since the two women of his life shaped the person he became right now.

“When will you come back and introduce your girlfriend?” she asked

His complexion turned into a pale one. Palms started to sweat. Once the softest voice became a trembled one. His heartbeat like a drum roll. He did not know how to answer it. Gavin and Viridian went on full-recovery, leaving him with stacks of unfinished papers. Of course, he was unable to tell his mother about them. What he did was the same as others, told them that his two friends went on holiday. 

“I might able to have a day off but I have to ensure her that--”

“YOU DO HAVE A GIRLFRIEND?!! BRING HER OVER DURING THE CHINESE NEW YEAR!! I WILL MAKE THE BEST DINNER FOR ALL OF YOU!! OH DO YOU NEED A WEDDING RING? USE MINE!” she shouted until Eli made some distance with his phone.

He asked his mother to calm down. 

“I have to go to tell all of our family members. Bye!” she said then terminated the connection. 

His mom really caught his guard off. He face-planted on his desk. “What should I do….” 

A couple of knocks resonated in his office. 

“Come in.” 

The sound of door movement made Eli surprised. 

“Gwen? What are you doing here? Are you supposed to be in your last field mission?” He stood up and approached the woman in her undercover clothes.

“I am here to say goodbye.” Her grey gaze met his blue iris. Eli’s hand acted on his own accord, cupped around Gwen’s jawline. “Don’t say that, I will see you again when you come back.” he kissed her bangs-covered forehead. 

A pair of small hands with slim fingers slid to Eli’s jaw. She slightly tiptoed as Eli was taller than she was. Her face leaned in and let her lips join his. His hands left her jawline and moved to her waist to pull her closer. He tilted his head to deepen the kiss. Half-lidded eyes met the closed counterpart. 

The sound of fallen papers made the couple stop their intimate session. Gwen’s head turned to the source of the tone. 

The person regained their composure and started to organize the scattered papers. 

“I should go. My team waits for me.” her hands left his jaw and held tightly in his hand soon after. 

“Alright, be careful and take care, okay?” he said to her. Slowly, his grip loosened, and let go of the girl. 

Gwen grew her distance and went out from Eli’s office. 

All he could do was pray for her safety and returned to his arms unharmed. 

“God please protect her from the danger and give her strength to survive this last mission,” he murmured his prayer.  

Eli returned to his desk and started reviewing the material left behind. 

His desk phone rang. 

“Speaking.” He kept silent and listened to the counterpart. His reaction from the conversation was a widened pupil and the receiver being slammed back to its place. A moment later, he ran out from his office to the destination. 

He turned left and kept going straight. A sign named ‘Medical Department’ was placed on the wall where he stopped. Eli pulled out his ID card and granted him access to the room. He continued to proceed to the restricted area. 

“Professor Hua,” he called and a woman in a white lab coat turned around to see him. “Chief Gu, I have two news for you.” she waited to proceed. “Bad news first,” he replied whilst bracing himself for the angsty news. “One of her Evol, the Supersonic movement, no longer can be used. The over extensive usage of Evol ends up to lose them.” Eli’s eyes widened. “Fortunately, we were able to save her Eagle eyes and her sight as well as her ability to move her legs, though current abilities are limited to 70 percent.” she quickly replaced the gloom with relief. 

His feelings mixed whether he should be happy or sad. He should be happy because Ark was not in a life-threatening situation, but it made her no longer the legendary dual wielder. He might be able to compromise with that.  

Unease on how he should tell Ark about her true current condition, Eli decided to keep it until the command relay to Ark successfully carried out. He asked about her overall condition. 

Hua diverted her gaze to the tank beside her, “Her progress was quite magnificent as she was able to absorb the nutrients and stimulants quickly for her age. I predict that she would be able to work in two days.” she predicted. 

He asked about Gavin’s condition since he sustained more damage than Ark. Hua forecasted that Gavin would be able to work again after a week or two. 

Eli only praised her and the whole team with a stirred emotion and left afterward. 

The moment made him almost caught off guard again. 

His head hit the wall behind him when he settled down in his office. 

He wanted to call someone. The brown strands fell from their place and covered his blue eyes. 

He was well-aware and understood the protocols and rules of not calling anyone during a mission, except the HQ and emergency. 

“Can I be selfish for once?” he said in a low voice.  

Just like everyone else, Eli was prone to something.     

For him, that day made him enough with surprises.

Chapter Text

A girl ran to STF headquarters. The brunette resumed her run to the information center after the automatic door split into two. 

“I need to speak with Commander Bai,” she said in a rush 

The information staff asked for further clarification. 

“The name is Emme Xi,” she said 

A visitor tag dangled around her neck as she walked to a room. 

She expected Gavin to see her when she opened the door. It turned out to be Eli and bandage-covered body Ark sat on a sofa. 

“Who granted her access?” Ark asked while delivering a death glare to her.  

Emme asked Ark about Gavin’s whereabouts. Either Ark or Eli answered her question. They kept quiet. Then, Ark decided to answer, “It is classified information. Normal citizens, like you, are not allowed to access the information. The fact that you are here uninvited enough to roast my nerves.” 

Ark stood up and walked to Eli’s telephone. She pressed a button and put the receiver near her ear, “Escort her out.” 

A couple of STF staff emerged from outside Eli’s office as soon as Ark returned the receiver to its place. They escorted her out. 

Once the door closed and the footsteps were not heard again, Eli finally opened his mouth, “How is your sight?” he asked. Ark, without leaving the document unsighted, responded, “A bit blurred, but I think I am still able to work with the help of glasses or contact lenses.” 

Ark stretched her body and told Eli that she would take a power nap. She put down the document and with arms closed, she slept. 

Eli saw the girl attentively. He retrieved a blanket and draped it over her.

‘Rest as much as you can, Ark. You deserve it.’ he thought 

He returned to his desk to review, sign some documents.    

A girl in hospital clothes barefooted and draped with a white jacket. She looked above her. Inside a liquid-filled tank, an unconscious shirtless man with an oxygen mask and pads with cables attached all over his body. Her hand extended and reached the outer rim of the tank. Then, everything became white. 

She awoke suddenly with beads of sweat around her forehead. Her breathing was disruptive. Her heartbeat was unstable. She needed to make sure that Gavin was alright. 

Eli called her a few times but Ark did not respond to the call and focused on Gavin. She walked out from Eli’s office to the place when Gavin was treated. 

He cursed before he followed Ark.

“Gav…” 

Ark touched the outer rim of the tank with her hand. In her eyes, the image of Gavin floated and supported with medical devices was blurred. Eli, who saw the whole picture with clear eyes, unable to move his body closer to the girl. 

‘Please, stop it, Ark. It was not your fault.’ he thought when he saw Ark’s forehead touched the outer rim of the tank.

“I am sorry… It’s my fault...” She dropped on her knees. The Head was hanging low. The strong body trembled as she sobs. Another response made Ark and Eli turned their heads. It was not theirs, it was someone else’s. 

A girl from their previous meeting, Emme. 

Her complexion went from surprised to rage. “I knew it! I knew it, you were hiding something from me,” she said with an angered tone. She closed her gap with Gavin and Ark. However, Eli intervened as soon as Emme took another step. “That’s enough, Emme. I think Ark made herself clear that you were not allowed to access the classified information.”

“Move away, Eli,” she asked him. Eli did not even budge. “Take another step, and I will hand you to the police and press association for violating the freedom of information and human rights.” she threatened him. “Then, STF would not stay silent. We will report you back for trespassing authorized-personnel only facilities and taking classified information. I think STF is merciful enough for you because of your good relationship with Commander Bai. If Commander Bai awake, he could lower and turn himself against us, just to make you safe.” Eli raised his tone, emphasizing that he was serious.

‘Emme, stop this. Can you even be more considerate to her? She just almost lost him.’ he thought  

“Stop it, Eli. Just stop...” That sentence made Eli turn his head back to Ark. 

“Emme, let me ask you something. Do you still love him?” she asked without leaving her blurred sight of Gavin. 

The question made her think beyond the present. 

“If you still love him, do not make him a reserve. Also, to actually think that you are a producer and journalist, I don’t know what will happen next if you reported this to the Police and Press Association. All I can assure you is it will be another war between the world and STF. ” She stood up and walked closer to Emme. 

Ark did not bother about Emme's existence anymore.

It was a warm spring, but the reminiscences of winter were still inside STF. 

The brunette went back to her office. 

“Lead Negotiator…” Officer Lin called her as soon as she arrived. He did not dare to call her further. The documents in his hand left undelivered. 

Ark emerged from her office with a purse and a key in her hand.

“I am going to get glasses. Put all unfinished documents on my desk,” she instructed Officer Lin. After taking a few steps, her hip hit the blunt edge of the table in front of her. Everyone in her office was surprised and went to see her. She groaned in pain, “I am okay. Just get back to work.” she continued walking out from her office. Another hit made her subordinates more worried about her condition. She was on her knees and grumbled about her clumsiness. 

Even her two Senior Negotiators asked about her.  

“Ma’am, why don’t you take a break for a while?” Zhang asked her, seeing his boss in a stable condition. Hearing this from her own staff, Ark lifted her head, “I am just back from my holiday and you send me back?” she expressed her disbelief. Ming squatted, “I just wonder, Ma’am, are your eyes okay?” 

Ark was not okay, in fact, her sight became blurred after the incident. 

She wanted to tell the truth, but she was afraid it would create unnecessary concern over her.   

‘It seems I have reached my limit. Just hold on until Gavin is ready to work.’ she thought 

“I am okay. My eyes just a bit blurred due to the continuous work on screen,” she said

It was not Viridian Ark if she was not telling a white lie. 

“Ma’am, I would like to ask you to stop lying to us, even if that’s a white lie.” 

Ark turned her head to its source, Zhang. She asked him for further elaboration. One by one, Zhang dismantled the fact. 

“The last incident, it was you, right? The one who confronted it?” Zhang asked calmly 

Ark lowered her head, not answering the question. 

Zhang continued the fact that her blurred sight was the result of the overstretched Evol use. He sighed before he asked more questions, “Ma’am, where is Commander Bai?” 

She did not answer his question. Judging from her responses, Zhang concluded that she knew what happened or even that she was part of it. 

“It is not your business, Zhang. It is a matter of the trio.” Ark stood up and walked out of her office. 

Officer Lin offered himself to drive her but Ark kindly rejected his request, which made him no choice. He grabbed the key from her and stood before her. “Ma’am, please consider Senior Negotiator Zhang’s words.”

Behind him, someone, who was slightly taller, grabbed Ark’s keys from him. “I will drive her,” Eli said. Ark scoffed, “I can drive myself you know.” Eli’s blue eyes turned into a serious one, “Then, how do you explain yourself about hitting the blunt edge of the table twice in a row?”

Ark’s greenery eyes diverted to somewhere else.

Eli walked away from her and soon she was after him. 

The man stopped after he passed the glass door that separated the cold building entrance and hot basement. He turned to the girl beside him, “where is your car?” he asked. The girl pointed to her 11. 

A white sedan car parked just right in between pillars. 

They walked closer to the car and Eli pressed the unlocked button. A typical car response made them no stop until they reached the door. Eli reached the drivers’ door handle while Ark did the same thing on the passenger side. He inserted the key and ignited the machine. Tires screeching sound made when the car was directed to the nearest exit. 

On their way to the shop, Eli’s head leaned to his right palm while his left hand controlled the steering.

“Why did you do that?” 

A question broke the silence of the trip. 

“The smoke and mirror have failed. We need to tell them the truth. About you, about Gavin, about us.” His eyes never left the upcoming road. 

The green eyes were on the road. Her sighed breath agreed with her counterpart. 

“Under one condition: I will not tell them about the relation between NW and Gavin,” she said. Eli only mentioned one word, ‘deal’

Ark and Eli walked on the pedestrian without their coat of arms. Only the signature white STF jacket covered their weapon. “Don’t do anything stupid.” she reminded him and walked past him. 

A few moments later, they walked out from a glasses store with Ark wearing rectangular with blunt edges glasses and black outer rim. 

A couple of well-built men appeared before them. “Ms. Viridian Ark?” one of them asked her. Ark only nodded and asked about their intention. The man beside the previous showed a piece of paper. It was a warrant from a court under the request of the Prosecution Office. Her eyes went wide, “A warrant? Under what accusation?” The man took off his sunglasses, “The involvement of double agent twice and human experiment. Right now, our team is conducting a search and seizure operation in your office.” 

Ark rolled her eyes and extended her arms. A pair of handcuffs surrounded her wrists. She walked closer to him, “Is it Minister Bai’s request?” Ark said in a low voice. He only nodded. She scoffed, “send an F-word to him. I won’t die in the hands of him or any of his subordinates, including you.” 

“Eli, go back to the HQ as fast as you could. Tell Officer Lin, I have a gift for him.”  

The request from Ark made Eli could not imagine beyond. 

It was only her first week after recovering. 

Yet, she went into trouble again.

Chapter Text

Unwilling to let go of the girl, Eli extended his arm, and light emitted around his palm. Understood what he planned, Ark tried to stop him from doing so. Unfortunately, she was unable to convey her words to him. As a result, Eli was pinned down right after teleporting Ark back to the office. 

“You do have some guts, Chief Gu.” the man said to him 

Eli only scoffed and laughed a bit, “I do.” 

A light portal appeared before the lobby. A girl was thrown outside before the gate closed and face planted. “Eli!” she called out to him but only came into the realization that she was no longer in the busy street. She was back in her office. Ark stood up and looked for her access card. 

“Ma’am?” someone called out to her from behind. Ark turned around and saw one of her trusted subordinates, Officer Lin who held a paper bag in his hand. 

They jogged back to their office. “But, ma’am it will be an all-out war.” Lin kept his pace matched with his superior. The Vice-Commander ignored his warning like she understood the consequence of her action. 

The sound of the door opening forcefully made those inside startled. “All Senior Negotiators have an Emergency Meeting in my office now. Cancel all agenda.” her voice echoed throughout the room. All the negotiators stopped their work and grabbed their notes and pens before going inside. Ark sat down on her chair, “Stupid Eli…” she muttered 

Her office door closed and Zhang asked, “Ma’am, what’s wrong?” He walked to the nearest seat. Ark explained the situation carefully. “Human experiment and Double Agent?” Ming asked for the confirmation of this charge. Ark nodded and sighed, “I went to a double agent mission once in my life and failed miserably. As for the human experiment, I think it is related to the project that the medical department handled because the one who initiated this project was me.” 

A pregnant pause before Ark continued disclosing the information she knew. 

She told them about the ERP and her undercover mission in the early years of University. Xi finally opened his mouth, “Why are you telling us this?” All eyes went to the old man and later drifted to the only girl in the room. “Your daughter came here earlier and asked about Gavin’s whereabouts. I assumed she followed me and Eli to the restricted area of the medical department. I have discussed this earlier with Eli. That stupid man uses his Evol in public unauthorizedly just to save me from getting dragged by the Prosecutors.” 

Xi stood up suddenly, “I will talk with my daughter.” 

All the present people were confused by his actions. “Xi, stop it. Right now, we need to find a way to get Eli out. We will handle Emme after this is done.” she prevented him, “One thing for sure, I will hand myself to the Prosecutors to release Eli.” The senior negotiators were aghast by her decision. “You think I haven’t prepared anything like this before?” Ark took her landline phone receiver and dialed a number, “Captain Jiang, fetch me a document with code B-015332 and C-073498 from the archive room. Thank you.” 

“Information exchange?” a man asked her, “Excellent deduction, Wei. Yes, I will trade this information for Eli.” A man sitting on her left side decided to speak up, “But, Ma’am would it be too dangerous? Are you planning to retaliate against all?” Lu tried to reason with her. Ark soothed her nerves, “I am not asking you to come with me. I asked you to keep the operation going while I bring Eli back to the office and Gavin ready to work again. If the Prosecutors still dragged me down, I promise I won’t let STF be involved in this matter.” she promised 

A couple of sounds of a knocked door made the tension loosen a bit. Ark granted the person access to her room. It revealed Captain Jiang with a couple of documents in her hand. “Here is your requested document, Ma’am,” she said while handed the documents. Ark received and thanked her for delivering it to her. Jiang retreated from there, back to her office. 

“Now, let’s discuss how we survive this. Lin, make us some boiling tea, please.”  

Lin excused himself to do his errand. 

Outside the modest office, Lin made the tea piping hot as requested. 

“Officer Lin…” someone called him from behind. A petite woman with short brown hair, wearing the same uniform as him, “Lowe, what are you doing here?” he asked. Lowe lowered her voice to barely noticeable if someone did not pay attention to it, “I heard that…” Lin rolled his eyes, “here we go again… If it is about Commander Bai, I won’t say a thing. You should be grateful that Commander Bai let you stay here instead of sending back to the University.” he looked at his counterpart in an annoying feeling.  He took a tray filled with the requested things. 

What he did not expect was a loud voice coming from inside.

He carefully opened the door and found a grave situation inside.

The rapid breathing of Ark, papers scattered on the ground, desperate faces of the senior negotiators. Her back went up and down. “Then, what are you suggesting!?” asked the Vice-Commander loudly. Slowly, Lin retreated from the room without giving the tea. His eyes filled with fright as he experienced the air became heavier. “God, Vice-Commander totally furious about this…” His neck hair went up when an unpleasant chilling sensation ran through his skin.

“Let the Senior Negotiator do the dirty work, ma’am.” said Xi “You have us for a reason.” Another pause. Ark’s knuckles turned white as her palm squeezed hard. Her sight went downward. “I can’t… I can’t let you rescue Eli while I am sitting here, hiding from the Prosecutor's chase? Absolutely not.” 

Xi pleaded to her again and again. “Don’t be a hero. Rely on us more. Don’t underestimate the Senior Negotiators.” 

At some point, she melted. Yet, her ego and pride were even more important. “Fine, still I will come to the Prosecutors with these documents. If I don't manage to pull myself out, you can rescue me.” closed her. Ark called Lin loudly that her voice penetrated the thick walls and door. A moment later, the man emerged. “Tell the media I will come to the Prosecutors with information. The merrier the better. Also, I need a car.” 

The man nodded and closed the door. 

The brunette showed signs of dominance and secretiveness. She wore her formal jacket and tightened her tie. Her eyes were focused on the thing in her mind, saving Eli as soon as possible. “If I didn’t manage to get out until eight hours after I entered the interrogation room and Eli hasn’t been released, meaning I authorized you to use ‘that’ to pull myself out.”

The civil war has begun. Let the flame of the rebellion ignite for the sake of justice.  

Ark drove herself to the Prosecutor Office. During the drive, she planned something unusual in her mind. “Go fuck yourself, Old Bai.” Said her in a mocking tone.  

Around a couple of tens of minutes later, her car stopped at the Loveland’s Prosecutor Office entrance. She put the transmission onward and pushed the throttle gently as the gate opened.  The black sedan parked under one of the rows of shades and a driver’s door opened up. It revealed the person who drove the car. 

A swarm of people holding microphones and cameras surrounded the girl. She did not budge and continued walking to the lobby. 

“Ms. Ark, are you here to answer the charge made by the Prosecutors?” 

“Vice-Commander, is it true that Chief Gu was arrested on your behalf?”

“Lead-Negotiator, please tell us the truth!” 

The last question made her stop. 

“The truth? I believe that the Prosecutors are trying to unearth the truth outside their own. Yet, they don’t know what happens within their body.”

Her left-hand inner surface raised and faced the crowd. 

“I solemnly swear to the Almighty God and in the name of Ark, I will tell the truth to the investigators. If I told one false information, I would face the consequences willingly.” Said her in front of the press

She lowered her hand, “To clarify the charges made by the Prosecutor, I publicly disclose the information about the so-called human experiment.” 

A pause. The sound of the camera reeling made Ark take a deep breath.

“I am the person involved as an experimental subject in the New Weapon Project initiated by Loveland’s Military Force led by Commander Luke Bai.”

She stopped for a while. The press adjusted their expression and voice by the sudden claim.  

“New Weapon Project is a military-supported program that focuses on the development, implementation, enhancement, and modification of man-made Evolver into a lethal weapon. In another word, this is a human experiment.” 

She felt her heartbeat increased rapidly. Inside her brain, she might not survive the other day, or someone probably found her lifeless.  

“This project was made only to satisfy the power-thirst Commander Bai. I was the first person who received the well-known dual wielder gene successfully.  That man only stopped when the government said so, otherwise, he was unstoppable.”

Her hands turned into a fist. The document in her hand was slightly wrinkled.

“As for the accusation of being a double agent, I used to be an agent in the Military who went undercover to Police University to carefully observe their relative and deliver some classified information to the higher-ups of both.” 

Her breathing slowly became more steady.

The typical stoic and poker face of her was still intact.  

“Therefore, I hereby declare the accusation made by the Prosecutor to me is entirely false,” she concluded. Her legs began to carry her to the lobby. 

All the questions emerged like a volcano eruption. None of the questions were answered. 

A man stood before her when she entered the lobby. Behind him, a couple of security men ready to detain her. 

“Always put on an extravagant show, Ms. Ark. Have a seat and chat with me.”  

The man led her to the lounge.

Both of them sat comfortably on a cushioned chair and a coffee table placed between them. 

Ark handed the document to the man, “I guess you want to see this.” 

Before the man’s eyes were a couple of documents with the STF logo in front. 

He opened one of the folders. His eyes were a watchful one. As if he was understanding the information, he put the folder on the coffee table. 

“I guess you want Eli back, in exchange for this dark secret, right?” 

His counterpart’s eyes fixed on him. The silence was her answer. 

“Think of this as a mercy from me and a fair trade from you.” he stood up to button up his suit. “Wait here, I will get Eli and give your car back.” 

He exited the lounge. 

Outside the building, a black van followed by a black SUV appeared before the Prosecutor Office. The sound of the door sliding from the van and the door opened from the SUV made the press who waited in front of the office turn around. From inside the vehicles, a team in all-black uniforms and heavily equipped emerged. These intimidating footsteps made them scared and let them have their way. 

“Just now, an all-black squad emerged out of nowhere barged the Prosecutor Office where the Vice-Commander of STF, Viridian Ark, and it's Chief of Staff, Eli Gu, still inside until now.” One of the reporters told the camera through the microphone. 

The glass door split into two. The thunderous foot stomping made its way to Ark’s ears. She sat still. “I hate you, Bai,” said her. She pulled out a package of cigarettes and a lighter. A tube of a cigar was placed between her mouth. Her thumb pushed down the trigger and appeared a flame. The lighter gently touched the tip of the tobacco. She inhaled a bit before turning off her lighter. A gray smoke escaped from her mouth and nose. The ashes fell to the floor. She repeated the inhaling and exhaling process until it reached its filter.

The squad surrounded her. Their tip of gun faced the target.  

“How about a cigar or two, Commander Bai, or should I address you as Minister Bai?” her eyes rolled to the corner and looked at the old man standing nearby her. “Ark, should I remind you about the Classified Information Act of the Military?” He stood among his squad. “I think you should because right now, the only Classified Information Act or Regulation I remember right now is only from the STF.” she retorted. Then, he recited the Military’s regulation on classified information. “The sentence from the military court, 10 years plus discharge.” 

Somehow Ark did not bother to listen to those words. “Well, I am not a part of the military anymore. The only one who can punish me and send me back to the university is Gavin.” She burned another cigar and placed it between her lips. “I think I need to remind you that people from intelligence who resign are not allowed to distribute such information.” He walked around the lounge and the careful eyes watched him closely. “I am just someone who was parentless and taken by the military. Raised by the brutality of the military and inhuman treatment of science. Not bright, but high potential for a dual wielder. The children of the future, my ass.” She said it lightly. 

Outside the building, the ruckus made by the press no longer exists as if someone silences them. They surrounded one phone in loudspeaker mode and microphones were encircled nearby. Only Ark and someone she was aware of who knew that her conversation with Minister Bai was currently televised around the country.

“Ark, all you need to do is state the information you said is entirely false.” The Vice-Commander stood up and exhaled some gray smoke from her mouth. “Sadly, I can’t, Minister. Because what I have said to the media is true. I have waited for this moment, all my life as Experiment Subject No. 221. 40 innocent children’s lives range between ten until twelve before the Project was a success. Even after you successfully implemented those genes on me, you were not stopping, were you? Then, you created NW-717 aka Agent B-7 eight years ago, you turned him into a mass destruction weapon that even me and Eli can’t stop him when he loses control over his power ” her voice gradually raised as she neared the end of the sentence. She stopped for a while and then controlled her breath. “How do you explain your obsession with power!?” her rage was no longer concealed over her poker face. 

“Why even bother waiting for such a long time just to get revenge on me?” asked the man. “As simple as I want to savor everything slowly. To take you down, I need more power to do it.” the corner of her lip curved a bit.  

Luke Bai, the man behind the NW Project, only zipped his mouth. No single denial was made. Instead, he pulled out his gun with a silencer attached and pointed it at her. Ark was doing the same. “I should’ve killed you right after you finished your undercover,” said him. The sound of safety unlocked from both made the tension raise its bar. “It sounds like you regret the decision of letting me go with a head full of classified information.” she retorted. 

“Commander, permission to kill.” one of the squad members said to him. He called him again but no response was made.  

A hand shoved into her pocket and took out a phone shown in calling mode. “I guess you need to make a statement to the press and the Head of Government. All the conversation we had, I just recorded it all and televised it around the country. Also, about the document related to the Project, I still have some.”

Inside a security office, the man who just had a conversation with Ark before the Minister told the security via radio communication, “Let the press in and lead them to the lounge” A moment later, an announcement that there would be a press conference in the lounge made the press run for their strategic position. 

The press has arrived one by one. 

Ark shoved her gun back to its holster. “Good luck surviving the neverending audit and investigation,” said her and walked towards the lounge exit. 

Bai’s gun directed to the girl’s back. She did not kill me directly, she humiliated me to its core, he thought.

“Ms. Ark, is this part of your retaliation against the accusations?”

Before Ark answered, she fell.

A trigger was pulled. A bullet nested inside. 

Chapter Text

Everything happened in a flash.

The press who held the camera directed it to the one who pulled the trigger. The reporters were unable to process the moment. 

“Just now, Minister Bai shot the Vice-Commander Ark…” one of the reporters said to the microphone. “How could you, Minister Bai…Ms. Ark only wanted to unearth the truth.”

The reporter grabbed her phone and dialed a number. “Yes, I want to report an emergency. Someone just got shot. Please, send an ambulance to Loveland’s Prosecutors Office. I am Priscilla Ping, a reporter from Loveland Daily.” she kneeled beside the victim.  

At the same time, Back in STF HQ, a miracle happened. 

A man in a tank opened his eyes and sent some stimulus to equipment attached to his body. 

The person who monitored the changes ran to his superior.

“Ma’am! Ma’am!” 

Professor Hua, who just finished giving directions to her subordinates, turned her head to its source. 

“Ma’am, Commander Bai. He is awake,” he said hastily 

Hua ran to the tank and saw the man restrained. 

“Hua, let me go,” he said over the communication line. She could not believe that the person before her was able to recover faster than anyone. Then, she collected her composure and thoughts back. She realized what she had to do. “Start the discharge procedure.” ordered the Professor. A simultaneous ‘Yes, Ma’am’ echoed in the room from her team and each of the members doing their assigned role. 

The water inside the tank drained, the equipment detached from his body automatically, the chains around his wrist unlocked, the topless body dropped but the strong legs supported them. 

Bright amber eyes loaded with a resolve. 

The transparent door in front of him opened. 

Hua ran to the tank, welcoming Gavin from his deep sleep. She gave him a salute and a towel to dry himself. Her eyes inspected scars on his body. What kind of man is he? she thought. 

“Where are Ark and Eli?” asked the Commander. Hua was stunned that the first thing he asked was his colleagues. She did not know the answer, so she directly shook her head. Gavin only said ‘Okay’ before he left the facility. 

The professor just realized something, “Bai Xuezhang! Your clothes!” 

Gavin walked out with his head covered with a towel and a black shirt. 

He went to his colleagues' offices. The first stop was Eli’s office. 

The response he received when he heard Eli’s availability was a piece of information that he took Ark to an optic shop in the city center. 

Not satisfied with the answer, he exited from Eli’s office and went to Ark’s office. As soon as he arrived, he felt a tense situation. The Senior Negotiators, who were usually busy with their respective diplomatic activities, now ran back and forth along with their staff. Overlapping chat with their counterpart over the phone colored the atmosphere. 

The one who realized first Gavin’s existence was Officer Lin. However, Gavin stopped him from making his arrival announcement and asked him to come with him.

“Vice-Commander Ark? Well, she just came back around two or three hours ago before she left again.” he retorted. 

Again? he thought. “Where?” asked the Commander. Lin only shrugged. Gavin asked Lin to run a search for her license plate. He understood and made some distance to call. 

The Commander walked back to his quarter. On the way back, he called Eli several times but only a mechanical sound stating the receiver was unable to make a call. He accelerated his pace. Once he settled down in his room, Gavin opened his wardrobe and grabbed a new set of uniforms. 

Suddenly, a phone call from Officer Lin. He answered the call and set it into loudspeaker mode. 

“Sir, we found the car. It is in the Prosecutor's Office.” said the officer with a straightforward tone. 

Prosecutors? If her car was in the Prosecutor's Office, then how did she come back here? he thought. His deduction led to one answer, Eli’s Evol. 

“Lin, how did Ark arrive back here?” he asked while tying his silver tie. “There was a white gate before Ms. Ark appeared in the lobby.” His hypothesis was right. He terminated the connection and opened the balcony. 

He used his Evol to bring himself afloat and fly to the location in his mind. 

In the lounge of the Prosecutor's Office, anger at the perpetrator arose.                    

No word escaped from her mouth. The noise outside was unable to make it through her hearing sensory. 

She only felt a warm liquid escape from her fallen body. 

Blood? she thought. 

The sensation made from the liquid spread over her chest and back. 

She did not move. Her face seemed relaxed. 

A man approached her. He secured her in his embrace. Her delicate lips moved as if she would say something to him. 

He lifted her and walked away from the mass. 

She understood the sound made. An ambulance. 

Hang in there, Ark, he said. 

But I am too sleepy, she thought. Her eyes barely opened. 

She was placed on a bed carefully.

A fresh supply of oxygen tingling her nose. 

The man’s callused hand touched her palm. It was a familiar warmth. 

Behind his strong grip, a tremble barely went unnoticed. He was scared. 

The fog made by her breath colored the oxygen mask. 

“Gav…” said her weakly. 

The man rushed beside her, holding her hand tight. She saw the white ceiling of the hospital and three men wearing operating gowns. 

The man let go of the girl’s hand. He stopped. 

His clothes were stained with blood. 

I have to apologize to him, she thought

He sat down outside the operating theatre. His head hung low. Hands covered with blood. 

The sound of someone ran through the hall. “Gav…” called someone familiar to him. “Eli…” 

Eli never saw Gavin this broken. His amber eyes did not emit warmth, instead fear replaced it. Heart made of iron and body made from steel unable to hide his quake. He was afraid of losing her. 

“Eli, is he safely secured?” he asked firmly despite the shock. Eli nodded. He held Gavin’s shoulder. “I know you are angry at him. I was also mad at him. Gwen might smack his face a thousand times harder. Everyone in her department willing to wait to take turns to beat his ass off. Please, restrain yourself from using any force.”     

He completely understood the pain and the temptation of hitting the perpetrator right on his face.

Gavin shocked his shoulder off from Eli’s grip. 

He went off. Eli did not stop him. 

The blue eyes directed to the red ‘operating’ sign. 

The blood mark all over his chest and thighs did not stop him from going front. 

Instead, it motivated him and drove him with vengeance. 

The glass door split into two. The media swarmed the figure in blood.

“Commander Bai, how is the condition of Vice-Commander Ark?”

“Commander Bai, will you handle this case personally?”

His mouth shut. None of the questions answered. 

He opened his mouth, “The condition of Vice-Commander Ark is critical and currently going under the medical procedure. I will be responsible for the investigation. I will make sure the consequence he faced equals the crimes he committed.” 

Eli ran as fast he could.

“Gavin!” He called out his partner out loud, “Ark is--” 

The Chief did not manage to finish his sentence. Gavin ran at full-speed back to the operating room, leaving the press hanging with a further statement. 

He pushed the door and revealed someone laid on the bed.

A white textile covered a woman's body until her chest, leaving only her pale face exposed. 

All ever he wanted was to protect her at all cost from his father. 

Yet, the tragedy of losing someone dear to him repeatedly.

His stained uniform was for nothing.  

“Viridian…” he called her several times. No response from her lifeless body.

He wanted a miracle to happen.  

The wolf’s sadness was no longer containable. The cry of grieve overwhelmed the space.

The straight back crumbled. Legs that supported him went down. His heart broke into thousands of pieces, beyond repairable. 

Outside the room, Eli heard the cry. “Please, let him.”

He positioned himself in front of the door holding back the crowd who wondered. 

It was the first time that Gavin cried out loud.

The wolf who lost his moon.

Chapter Text

Inside her head, a pitch-black void filled her sight. 

She was neither standing nor floating. 

A girl with a uniform walked aimlessly. 

Her mind only told her to move forward, but she never knew the reason behind it. 

After walking for only God knows how long, she saw a familiar girl with a black dress. 

“So, you made it here?” asked her. Her voice was gentle. 

“Yes, I guess it is time for curtains rolled down.” she retorted. She did not know why she answered it like that. It was like the time finally had come. 

The girl in black dress moved closer to her. “Do you want to see him again?”

Him? Who is him? she thought.

She did not realize that the girl’s fingertip lightly tapped her forehead.  

The lens behind green eyes got smaller. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of information overwhelm her brain capacity and cause her pain. She was on her knees before the girl.

Once the pain subsided, she went back on her feet, though a little bit unstable.    

“I will cut the chase. Are you ready to be the next Queen in exchange for returning to his side?” she asked without hesitation

“What happened to you and the other one?” asked the girl. Her counterpart only explained the reason briefly. “I guess this is a fair trade. Alright, Queen, you shall implement that gene on me. ”  A small curved lips colored the girl in a uniform’s expression. 

A blinding light replaced the black void when Black Queen touched her counterpart’s chest.    

A dramatic breathtaking sound was made. 

Gavin turned his head to the source. “Fuck, I thought I was dying for real. That old man really pissed off.” The person sat upright on the bed. 

The amber eyes were watery and exceeded their capacity. Streams of tears wetted his facial feature. 

“You are awake, Gavin.” her usual smile radiated a light. 

“Long story short, yes, the shot was real. I prepared myself to be shot, so I called Heal Evolver to save my ass. I also told the doctor via the Senior Negotiators to use a larger amount of anesthetic to make my ‘dead’ even more realistic. I am sorry, Gavin.” she ended with an apologetic smile. He walked closer to her. Ark averted her gaze to the sheet over her body. “Well, I am sorry not involving you in this matter.” Instead of a comment or a scold, a warm embrace from Gavin welcomed her. “Careful, even though a healer helped me, I still felt pain.”

All of them were lies.  

Her neck was wet, but she did not mind. Ark reciprocated his hug.    

“Gav… There is something I need to talk about with you,” she said to him. Gavin asked Ark to talk about it later. 

Eli walked into the room stunned by the revival but he needed to collect his composure and calm. “That was fast.” 

Gavin and Ark made some distance to see their friend standing in front of the closed door. “You also knew about this?” asked Gavin, the brown-haired man only lifted his brows, signifying that he knew everything. He threw a set of clothes to Ark and Gavin. It was their white uniform.  

“Get changed, we are already behind the schedule.” he turned his back and exited. 

Behind the door, Eli’s collected being crumbled as if he saw a miracle.  

The pair of amber eyes were on the sight of the bare chest of Ark. The upright and stern Gavin turned into an awkward version of him as he turned his back against her. 

Ark covered herself and apologized quietly. 

With their backs facing each other, Gavin replaced his uniform with a new one and Ark wore her usual silverish white uniform. 

“Let’s go,” he said after he finished wearing everything he needed. No need to respond to the invitation. She walked right behind him. 

The curtain of the final show had just been lifted. 

Ark was not her if she did not use any dramatic and extravagant entrance. She pushed both doors full of force and said ‘I am back from death!’ loudly and proudly. 

She walked out of the room and was welcomed by the stunned faces of everyone. 

“Lin, gather the press in the conference room back in the STF. ” 

“Senior Negotiator Xi, Zhang, and Ming, you three contact the Head of Government, the National Intelligence, and the Metropolitan Police. Inform them about my condition and ask them for their cooperation. As for the Prosecutor, request a warrant for search and seizure operation for Bai Mansion and Military Facility in the Northern part of Loveland. Senior Negotiator Wei, Huang, and Lu, you will go to the Board of Auditors and ask them about possible audits, and also inform the House of Representatives about possible public investigation and audits.” she instructed each of them and six of them directly spread to do their tasks.

A man, who previously met her back in the Prosecutor Office, appeared with hands folded in front of her. “I did not expect you to survive, Ms. Ark.” Ark did not slow down her pace. “Enjoy my last show, Mr. Assistant Chief Prosecutor,” said her as she walked past. 

The man called her again. This time, she stopped. He threw something at her. Her car key. “I promised you to let go Eli and return your car.” She caught the keys easily. “Are you using my car?” asked her while inspecting the keys “Eli’s driving. Your car is in Basement 1, A-9.” he retorted and walked away from her.

Her phone rang. It was Senior Negotiator Xi. “Speak.” 

She stopped walking. “Abuse of power… is related to Evolvers. Of course, it is within our authority.” she rolled her eyes and repeated the word with a mocking tone “Then, tell them we will challenge them with the board of auditors, human rights commissioners, and the bioscience society. Also, if Minister Bai doesn't have anything related to what I have claimed before, he should not be able to hide anything. If we are wrong, the Government may cut my neck.” 

Ark resumed her walking to her car. 

Gavin took her car keys from inside her pocket. “I am driving.” 

She was stunned, “How dare you take my car key! I still can drive!”

Ignoring her protest, Gavin continued walking to Ark’s car. 

Instead of resuming her walk, Ark remembered something. Her hands went wild, touching and feeling her pocket. She cursed under her breath, “Jiang gonna kill me.” 

The man realized that his counterpart stopped. He saw her panicked face. Judging from her face, he knew she messed up something. Yet, he chose to ignore it. 

“Gavin, is it really my car key?” asked her 

He stopped and inspected the keys. It was a different brand of car. 

“Your car key is here.” someone said to them. 

A man with the silvery-white coat over the black shirt and silver tie, standing behind them. 

The green eyes went into the sparkling mode as she saw the man. “Eli!” squealed her delightfully. Eli threw the key to Gavin. “Give me the other one.” the man did as he said. “Wait, are you driving the public-duty car?” asked Ark. Eli nodded and went to the car. 

Something just crossed her mind. She left her car in the Prosecutor's Office. 

“I left the public-duty car in the Prosecutor Office...”

The men stopped their activities. Their facial expression showed their doubt about Ark’s driving skills.

“You did not hit anyone, did you?” asked Eli. “Are you roasting me?” her annoyance was not concealed. 

Gavin hit the unlock button and the car responded. He opened the driver’s door. “Get in, I will drop you off in front of the Prosecutor Office. You can drive the public-duty back to the HQ.” said him. “Who are you referring to?” asked Ark. “Definitely not you, Ark.” answered Eli. “I am not asking you, Gu.”

Engaging in this interaction, made Gavin realize how much he missed this kind of conversation. He asked Eli to get in the car and ended up calling his Chinese name. “Quit calling me that.”

Ark entered the passenger side of the car while Eli took the back row. 

Gavin started the engine and drove them to the Prosecutor Office and STF HQ. 

They crossed the Loveland River Bridge. “There is something I need to tell you.” 

Eli and Gavin only hummed. “I will announce my early retirement.” 

The driver hit the brake hard after he pulled over and resulting in Ark leaned forward and Eli’s face crashed the seat in front of him. 

Gavin asked for her conformity. The girl beside him only nodded firmly. This left the men speechless. They knew they needed to find her replacement. She assured them that she had a candidate in her mind. When Ark told them the name of the candidate, a wave of calm and relaxing feeling made them at ease. Gavin resumed driving them. 

“Speaking of someone, I got myself a girlfriend and got laid.” 

The commander hit the brake hard again. Two people in front of Eli turned their heads to him. “That’s an absolute lie, Gu,” they said simultaneously. Then, the man who sat on the back row retold the story of him getting laid. 

The story left them speechless, even making Gavin shake his head. Then, he resumed driving them. 

Once they arrived in front of the Prosecutor Office, Eli opened the rear passenger door and got off from the car. He heard a girl called him. The man paused his walk. “Don’t worry about the rest of the plan, pick her up. She should be around 3-4 hours before she arrived in Loveland.” 

She closed the window and the white car’s engine revived and went to the crowd.

“Is it okay for him not included in this plan?” asked Gavin when the traffic light went red. She sighed and answered the question with an ‘okay’.  

Her body sank to the seat. “Sleep, Ark. I will wake you up when we arrive.” Said the driver. The green eyes gradually became heavier and eventually closed. 

Gavin occasionally took a peek at the girl. His memories drifted to the moment where he was still dating his crush. When he picked her up when he had a day off or spent it as simple as cooking at home, everything was so domestic and modest. Until the moment, when he was assigned to a long-term mission with Ark and Eli.

The brown locks fell gracefully. Gavin tugged the stray hair behind her ear. Her glasses slightly off from her nose bridge. He decided to take off the glasses and put them in a cup holder. 

He sighed and eyes on the road. His fingertip tapped the steering wheel. 

If she really resigned from STF, what would she do for a living? he thought. All he could do was help her prepare the final show and appearance of the original STF triangle. 

“Ark, wake up. We already arrived.”

She woke up easily since she was trained for such a sudden mission. Her hand reached the glasses. 

Ark ensured her appearance was well-prepared before getting off from the car. “Let’s go.”

The sound of block heels from her shoes echoed the basement parking lot. Gavin offered his hand. Ark was a bit stunned by such action. She placed her hand over him. Their hands were intertwined. They walked side by side. 

They held hands until someone appeared. 

It was a silent trip to the conference room. It was not an awkward silence, it was a comforting one.

Before arriving in the press room, Ark increased her pace but stopped in front of Gavin.  

“How do I look? ” asked her while spinning a little. “Perfect.” She took a deep breath before making a grand entrance. 

She took a bow before the press who kept clicking the shutter button of their camera. Some reporters sat down on their respective seats. Cameramen held the videocam close. 

Ark took a look at her watch before standing up on the podium. 

“Good Evening the Citizens of Loveland, I am Vice-Commander and Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer of the Special Task Force, Viridian Ark. Tonight, I would like to share the information regarding STF and the Military. I will begin with my statement that being an experimental subject in my early childhood is entirely true without any falsification of information. Next, the involvement of Luke Bai, who currently took office as Minister of Defence, as the New Weapon Project Leader is also true. About 40 innocent children lost their lives to this project before me who considered it a success. I thought when they managed to turn myself into a weapon, they would stop the project, but I was wrong, Minister Bai also involved his relative as an experimental subject eight years ago.” 

Both of Ark’s palms turned into a fist. The keyboard hitting sound stopped for a while.

“Therefore, STF will conduct a public investigation to the Military Force with accusations: illegal human experiment, a violation against human rights, violation against children’s rights, abuse of power, and obstruction of justice. If the press wanted to investigate this matter, do search a document called Evolver as Mass-destruction Weapon. It is a document released by a team of researchers and scientists of NW Project.” 

She went silent.  

“Questions?”

The press started raising their hands and stated their questions. Ark chose a man on the third row on her right. Other journalists calmed down and let the chosen one speak.

“Vice-Commander Ark, why did you suddenly launch a public investigation into the Military? Is it because of vengeance against Minister Bai?” asked him. “I did not have any revenge on him. All I ever wanted is a peaceful coexistence between Non-Evolvers and Evolvers. However, if he did not stop, how many lives in vain for the sake of greed overpower? I want to stop his obsession with making Evolver into a mass-destruction weapon that could eventually lead to Non-Evolvers being annihilated. Next Question.”

All the reporters raised their hands again. This time, a woman on her left was chosen. “I have searched the document you have mentioned before and I have read it briefly and I have two questions. The first question, Is the relative you meant is Commander Gavin Bai? Second, in this document, it stated that the side effect of this project was emotional numbness. Did it happen to you since you are the living witness as well as the victim of this project?” 

Her mind was in a raging storm. She could answer the second question but not the first. Deep inside her heart, she has to apologize to him as she needs to expose the deeds within the Military.         

“Eight years ago, when I was a Captain in the Espionage Division Team Five, I was assigned to a solo long-term mission to search for the missing Captain as he went unknown after resisting orders from the higher-ups. It took me at least a month to track, search, and locate every possibility of his whereabouts. It turned out to be that he surrendered himself to the Military in exchange for the safety of someone dear to him.” 

Her mouth tasted a bit bitter, “The higher-ups did not give me much detail of the person, only the fact that the missing person was a well-known captain of STF.” 

She bit her lower lips. “When I tried to bring him back to STF, I was too late. The NW Project which I thought was shut down after they succeeded on me, was revived. The missing captain took part as the experimental subject and as the result, he was emotionally numb. Reflecting on my case, it took me years to feel emotions. Years of hardships, commitment, and consistency to bring me back to my original state. After I found him and reported back to the HQ, I had a heated debate with the Commander at that moment. The higher-ups instructed me to shoot him in place due to his disobedience to order, but I can’t. I disobeyed the order and received punishment for that.” 

Just like a group of children who listened to a story, the journalists leaned forward as if they did not want to miss a single word from Ark. 

Her head a bit lowered, hiding her expression. A moment later, she lifted her head back. “The missing captain of STF and the other experimental subject is Captain of Espionage Team Seven at that time, Agent B-7 or in NW Project called NW-717 also known as STF’s finest agent in history. He is in this room at this very moment.”  

The climax of the final show reached its peak.

The camera flashing turned from Ark to Gavin who looked stunned by the disclosure of fact by Ark.

“However, I want the scope and focus of the investigation to myself. The reason is I am the one who starts and I am the one who ends it. To avoid a certain interest-driven and the independence of the task force aspect, I will not join the investigative measure. Instead, I will place myself as the living witness of the New Weapon Project.” stated her, emphasizing the attention must be around her, not him. “Thus, I announced my resignation from any STF’s structural positions, including the position of Vice-Commander and Leader of Negotiator and Liaison Officers, to avoid any influence. I will be fully cooperative during the investigation and the trial. The announcement of the new Vice-Commander and Negotiator and Liaison Officers Lead will be announced soon.” 

A plot twist that everyone was not aware of, except the rest of the trio. 

The press conference ended with Ark’s apologetic bow towards the citizens of Loveland. 

The Vice-Commander walked back to her office. The moment she arrived, her staff gathered. “Why look so sad? I will come back here sometimes,” said her while wearing a fake smile. Then, she proceeded to her office. Ark took a box from her drawer and put her thing inside. Once she was done packing her stuff, she saw her subordinates move closer to her.

“Salute!” Everyone raised their right hand and saluted her.

She did not return the salute, instead, the girl walked away from them. Not because of her hands full of stuff, but more like she did not deserve it. Ark carried her box back to her quarter. 

The moment she settled down inside, she dropped the box and knocked off her heels. The girl freed herself from her formal suit and tie, leaving her with a black shirt and silverish white pencil skirt. 

Her emotion was a mess.

Tears blurred her sight. 

She cried.

Outside her room, Gavin prepared himself to knock but halted midway. He heard a snob.

A couple of knocks made her startled. Her hand wiped off the water from her eyes. She stood up and opened the door. 

Gavin stood up and towered her. He already saw Ark cried plenty of times and mostly because of heartache and fallen comrade. This time, she was a ball of mess. 

“Can I come in?” Asked him. She was not answering him, but she motioned him to get inside.

Ark closed the door after Gavin was inside. His sight laid on a box and minimal decoration of her quarter. Then, he pulled her closer and locked her inside a warm embrace. Her trembled body was noticed by Gavin. 

She was vulnerable.   

She was let go of half part of her life. 

Her head felt a circular soothing motion. 

Slender fingers grabbed the white suit and caused a slight wrinkle. 

Gavin brought the girl to her mattress. She sat down on the edge of her bed while he was on his knees. 

“I am sorry…” said her. Gavin forgave her. A kiss landed on the top of her head. 

He was no longer able to protect her. 

She broke the hug and looked Gavin in her eyes. Both of her arms snake in his neck’s sides. The chestnut locks threaded around her fingers. By this position, Ark’s head was as high as her counterpart while Gavin’s knees bent a bit. 

“I will try my best to turn the investigation on me,” she whispered. 

This time, Gavin broke the hug. He looked at her with serious eyes, “No, we will bring him down.” 

The girl in front of him was surprised, “There is something you need to know.”

She told Gavin about the fact that his father letting him go to save Emme was an embodiment of his affection to him, though it was a bit too late. “I made a deal with Black Queen when I was on my way to death. I will be the next Queen, once I fully understand the gene potential power and can utilize it. In exchange for that, I return to you and I lost my Eagle eyes.” 

The warmth of his hand emitted over hers. The texture of his skin was not soft like any man's, but it was filled with assurance and safety. “You are not alone. You have me, Eli, and everyone else.” She smiled, “You also need to see this also.”

Ark stood up and moved closer to her desk. Her back against his sight. She started unbuttoning her shirt and discarded her underwear. The mid-back long wavy hair was in front of her as she showed her bareback. A bullet scar right at the middle of her back along with faded scars and some noticeable gun wounds from previous missions. “The shot was able to kill me instantly, judging from the range of shot and capability of your dad.” 

Gavin raised his body back on his feet and closed the gap between them. 

His index fingertip touched the freshest wound. The distinct temperature of her body and his touch caused her a shiver. Being bareback in front of him showing her fragile side. A movement of tracing her other wounds was made. She felt a comforting warmth enveloped her. 

Gavin gave her a soft peck on every scar she had. It took all of her might to not release her pleasure-filled moans. After he caressed the wounds, his voice dropped a few octaves, “Don’t hold it. Let me hear those beautiful voices.” he whispered. That sensual voice hypnotized her. His long fingers contacted Ark's arms from skin to skin. He lowered her slim arm and gave him a full sight of her moonlight-showered chest. 

“Stay,” she said while leaning towards him. Ark tilted her head upwards to see Gavin’s handsome face. 

“I am not going anywhere,” he stated. He hugged her from behind. 

The girl turned around and faced him. “Promise?” 

Another lips-to-lips contact from Gavin before he gave his answer. “Promise.” 

She pushed him back to the mattress. 

Unknown courage turned her into someone who shamelessly took off the rest of her clothing and made her in a nude state. 

Petrified by the state, Gavin unable to move a limb of his body and willingly being undressed by the girl. Then, she laid him on the bed while kissing him right on the lips. Their tongue engaged and danced like their finale. 

By the time they started kissing, their lovemaking session had begun. Unlike Eli and Gwen’s, Ark and Gavin’s session was more intimate. 

Moans after moans filled the contrast minimalistic space. 

The temperature felt like an increase a couple of degrees, so Ark, despite her nudity, opened the window for air circulation. “You could just ask me to cool us down,” he said with a smile. He seemed admiring the afterglow from the bare girl. She returned to his side.      

Snuggling closer to him was definitely the best choice for Ark. She became the little spoon when Gavin covered the rest of her body. Sweat combined with her scent became his favorite scent all-time. The heat and aroma from Gavin became the most comforting things before hot dark chocolate with spices on cold winter days. 

They slept together under the same blanket that tugged halfway from their body. A peaceful expression curated the couple’s face.  

The ending of that day's show was not as painful as she expected.

Chapter Text

The beginning of the second part of the final show began. 

The chirping birds and sunlight woke Gavin up. It was a rare occasion that Gavin woke up a little later than usual. He sat up and admired his girl wearing the last nightshirt with no bottoms. The well-built profile of hers and the well-known astonishing Ark’s butts made his awe. 

“What are you looking at?” she interrupted his train of idolizing. His amber eyes focus on Ark’s greenery iris. 

“Admiring you and your famous sexy ass.” he retorted bluntly and raised his brows a couple of times. 

Ark knew the fact that Gavin was a straightforward person, but not this explicit. She lifted her brows confusedly. “During University years and early days in STF, back in the boys' dorm, all the boys were separated into two groups, one is pro Ark’s Perfect Ass and the other is pro Gwen’s Perfect Breast,” he said the word without any hesitation. 

In her mind, it seemed that Gavin and Eli had switched somehow because she saw him like Eli more day by day. 

She stopped in front of him with a mug in her hand. He received the mug and blew it a bit.

The loose curls of her hair were emphasized by the sunshine. 

“Aren’t you going to work?” she asked. Gavin put down the mug on the nightstand and took his phone. Three missed calls from Eli. 09.39 AM. He checked his calendar and agenda. His eyes went wide. 

He cursed under his breath and placed back his phone. 

Gavin took a very quick shower and wore his last nightclothes in a flash. 

Ark only watched him while taking a couple of small gulps. 

His mouth made large gulps when drinking Ark’s made beverage. After finishing the drink, Gavin kissed her.”Tell me when you will move out. Love you, greeny.” He wore his shoes and went outside in a flash.

Gavin and his poor naming choice were back.

Yesterday’s brown box was opened. Ark put her things inside. 

The spare uniform hanging on her wardrobe was finally taken out. It was pretty much dusty. She cleared the dust off from the uniform. Some civilian clothes for the sake of undercover also were taken out. 

Cleaning the whole apartment took a while and she realized it was lunchtime. Feeling sweaty from packing and cleaning, Ark decided to clean herself before getting herself a lunch. 

It was her first time having a difficult time choosing which clothes she could wear. In the end, she chose a black sleeveless turtleneck and khaki-colored chino pants with sneakers and an STF signature white jacket. She took a look at herself, “It looks like myself from a decade ago.” she commented. Ark added a long-strap necklace with a three bars pendant to her neck to make it more stylish and her ID card.  

She walked out from her room to the elevator and suddenly her sight went black and unable to fight. 

Her ear felt the clothes over her head lifted. The drastic change made her squirted before fully opening her eyes. Her staff was there. A large banner said ‘Thank You, Ms. Ark!’ placed over their heads. 

“You guys were lucky enough today. If I were still part of STF, I will cut your pay for the next 3 months.” she joked. Everyone in the room laughed nervously. They knew if she was still in charge, they probably would eat instant noodles for the rest of the month. 

The presence of other people made her instinct sharpen. Her mind commanded the body to be cautious and anticipative. She took out her gun and pointed at the people behind her. The people’s hands were in the air. “Even after you announce your resignation, you are still a cautious girl.” one of them said. The vivid green met the oceanic and the amber eyes.

A slap delivered right on her face. 

“Stupid Ark! Why did you leave me all of sudden!?” it was female. “Szu…” 

The obsidian girl held back her tears. “You will be fine, Szu.” 

Her voice raised its volume, “I don’t want to be Vice-Commander… I just want to be the Head of Division or Department at most…” Ark was stunned, her eyes softened “I am sorry I did not consult it with you but the rest of the Trio agreed with your candidacy. Don’t worry the Lead Negotiator and Liaison Officer will be someone else. Also, you already rejected promotion too many times, until your juniors are your superiors.” 

Gwen went silent and accepted the fact that she will inherit her best friend's legacy.     

The farewell lunch party was held to give Ark the respect she deserved. The center of attention was her. It was her final moment with her team, her life, and her soul. 

Ark’s phone vibrated continuously indicating someone called her. She excused herself out to answer the phone call. Her body went upright as soon as she heard the voice. She several times asked whether she was the person who fitted with the job. As if the voice owner did not take no as an answer, Ark could not decline the offer. After her counterpart terminated the connection, Ark returned to her friends’ side. 

At the end of the party, Senior Negotiator Zhang handed her an appreciation placard as well as an access card. One by one, everyone went back to their work.

“Go to the address written at the back of the card,” he said. 

Ark excused herself because she needed to pack her things in her quarter. 

She locked her door when she arrived inside her quarter. 

“It took quite some time for you to get back here.” a female voice startled Ark when she entered “How did you…” Then, she came into a realization. She made a contract with an omnipotent person. 

The Black Queen stated something controversial for Ark. Later, she explained why such things happened. The Queen lightly tapped the former Vice-Commander’s forehead and vanished into thin air. 

Only darkness filled her sight. 

Gavin, who just arrived at Ark’s doorstep with a paper bag in his hand, knocked on the door nervously. 

No answer or response. 

He tried again. The same old no answer. 

Uneasiness made him look for another way. By utilizing his Evol, he arrived on her balcony. 

He saw Ark laying on the floor. Instinctively, he tried to open the balcony door, but it was locked. This time, he broke her balcony door by kicking it hard. 

“Ark!” he shouted when he entered her room. 

He sat on the floor and held her. His hand cocooned hers.

Slowly, she opened her eyes.

It was only ten seconds. Ten seconds of the eye-widening moment. Her eye lenses went small. 

She saw something.

A man, a woman, and two children. A family. An uphill house with endless greens and clear blue sky. 

Her grip went stronger. “Ark!” 

Her breath became rapid. 

That ten second was up. She controlled her breath. 

“Gav…” she called. Gavin’s pose went to a relaxed one. “Gav, when you were still dating Emme, did she ever tell you about her precognition and you believe it?” asked her. He nodded. 

Ark retold what she saw in her mind. Gavin only listened to her attentively, “She did once tell me that dream. That dream... the one you just had… is the same as hers.”

“Anyway, I have something for you,” said Gavin while standing up to retrieve the paper bag. The girl watched the man hand her a brown paper bag.

A large red box was in her hand. She opened it and revealed a necklace. It was a military-style name tag pendant. “I am sure that you learned how to choose gifts for female colleagues or friends in a hard way plus Eli’s crash course.” Ark looked at the pendant one by one. It was their name tag. She smiled and thanked him for the gift. Gavin sat behind her and hugged her waist. 

“Have you found your place?” he asked with a bit of nervousness. “I haven’t, but judging from the access card those guys gave me. I bet it is an apartment or a hotel room for me to stay awhile.” she retorted while flipped the card back and forth. The brunette could feel his frustration, but she decided to tease him a little more. “You want me to live in your apartment?” an increased heat emitted from the man behind her. The girlfriend chuckled, “Relax, big guy. I will move to the safe house since I am a key witness.”   

She leaned back to the man. “Will you wait for me?” A short assuring answer from Gavin made her even more relaxed. They stayed like that until sunset. 

“I should go.” Stated her. She knew her time had come. With help from Gavin, she carried out the boxes to her car. The car trunk opened when they were only a few meters away. The boxes were sat inside along with a suitcase. “I will go now.” She said after the trunk closed. 

A bow as an appreciation of everything was all she could do. 

Her arm was pulled and her body turned facing Gavin. His lips and hers met. Before it got intense, they separated themselves. “Let’s continue at the safe house.” She whispered. 

An invitation. 

She left Gavin, who looked like an idiot drunk in love, and entered the driver’s seat.

The engine roared through the car-filled space. Tires screeched the flooring as she turned the steering wheel around. 

“May the wind always be wind you, Gavin,” she said when she exited the home for at least half of her life.    

The moment she stepped out from the STF, she was no longer known as the Vice-Commander of STF or the Gladiolus. 

She was a Viridian Ark of normal citizens of Loveland.