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An argument could be made that what happens is not technically the asset’s fault. After all, command should have known better than to leave the the asset quarantined in the middle of nowhere with no proper supervision and a canister full of mystery gas. It’s not as if he’s famous for his level-headedness.

The call comes through a little after sunrise, while Rumlow is en route to his latest briefing on the quarantine situation. “Well, sir,” comes the feeble voice on the other end of the line, “we found out what the gas does.”

“Shit,” says Rumlow. “Who did he feed it to?”

There is a long silence down the line, punctuated by a prolonged rustle, as if whoever’s holding the handset is having trouble keeping still. “Actually, sir...it’s more complicated than that.”

Afterwards, Rumlow will wonder why he didn’t just hang up the phone then and there.

-

There’s no way of telling how much of the hideout has been contaminated. Not without a proper hazmat sweep, and qualified personnel are hard to come by out in the middle of the Registan desert. Just getting the STRIKE unit in was difficult enough. By the time they find and disable the trap, half the team are already inside the contaminated area. They may or may not have been exposed to the unknown gas that started flooding the place as soon as they crossed the threshold, but that’s not a risk command is taking. So those already in the hideout stay inside and seal the doors, while the lucky escapees bail back to Kandahar to help organise the rescue. This leaves Jack Rollins stranded inside the quarantine zone with a slender few day’s rations, the asset and Agents Ivanov and Thompson for company, and nothing to think about but the mysterious and possibly deadly canister now stashed away inside a rusty storage locker at the back of the hideout.

“Could be polonium,” says the asset, settling down against the far wall and wedging his pack behind him like a pillow. He doesn’t seem at all upset by their predicament, though Jack has worked with him long enough to know how fast that could change. “That can take ages to kick in. We won’t know for sure until our hair starts falling out.”

“What about phosgene?” Thompson is trying desperately to imitate the asset’s nonchalance, with a lot less success. “If we breathed that in, we might not show symptoms ‘til tomorrow.”

The asset gives Thompson a very scornful look. Thompson shrinks back. “We’d smell phosgene, dumbass. All I can smell is dry rot.” He sniffs the air thoughtfully. “Rollins, call the lab and ask if they know any poisons that smell like dry rot.”

“You don’t give me orders,” Jack says sharply. The asset’s gaze snaps to him, and Jack forces himself to hold his stare. The asset’s not as fucking tough as he thinks he is. He rolls over for Pierce, and he rolls over for Rumlow, and he’s damn well going to learn to roll over for Jack as well.

Sure enough, when he’s faced with an actual challenge, the asset does nothing except blink his creepy blue eyes and settle back against the wall. He doesn’t lose his smirk, but Jack can deal with that later. It looks like they could be here for a while. “If it’s polonium, we’re fucked,” the asset says cheerfully. “Can’t cure it once it’s in your blood. Just have to sit and wait for your organs to shut down.”

“Can we not talk about this?” says Ivanov. Beside him, Thompson is starting to turn green.

-

Rumlow is supposed to call in for a status update at 1500 local time. He calls in at 1330. “All still breathing?” he asks, his voice distant and crackly over the radio.

“Worried, were you?” Jack scoffs. “We’re fine here. It’s boring as shit, though. Send us some booze.”

“I’ll buy you all a round when you’re out of there,” Rumlow says. He sounds so uncharacteristically serious that Jack completely forgets his next jab. “Look, it could be a while before I can pull you guys out. The brass are digging their heels in, so I’ve got a bunch of red tape to get through. Some bullshit about active war zones and international law.”

“You’re kidding,” says Jack.

“Nope.” Rumlow sighs; the line crackles in sympathy. “Listen, Rollins, you remember that advice I gave you after Leipzig?”

Jack remembers. It had been just the two of them then, hitting the bottle hard at the end of a messy mission, and as they staggered back to their hotel room Rumlow had thrown an arm around Jack’s shoulders and leaned in like he was sharing some rare pearl of wisdom. “Here’s the thing about the asset,” he had said, breath hot and sour on Jack’s face. “He’s easy to manage if you just ignore his bullshit. Your mom ever give you the talk about bullies?”

“No,” Jack said. Jack had never needed the talk about bullies. He’d made damn sure the other kids knew it, too.

“Bullies,” slurred Rumlow, “like getting a reaction. That’s the fun bit, the reaction. So if you want ‘em to leave you alone, you gotta ignore it. Don’t give ‘em a reaction and they’ll go find something else to do. It’s the same with the asset. You gotta learn to ignore him when he pushes you.”

Jack had scowled and dislodged Rumlow’s arm. “If the asset pushes me he gets his ass kicked,” he had said. “That’s what’ll make him stop. Not fucking ignoring him.”

“Your funeral,” Rumlow had said, and then dissolved into a fit of drunken giggles.

Jack casts a glance over his shoulder to where the asset is napping in the corner. He doesn’t look like he’s listening, but you never know. “Yeah,” he says. “What about it?”

“Well it ain’t advice any more,” says Rumlow. “It’s a goddamn order.”

Like hell is Jack giving the asset a free target. “Everything’s under control here. I don’t need you stepping in and -”

“I said that’s an order, agent.”

Jack fucking hates when Rumlow pulls rank. He doesn’t do it often, and when he does it’s always over stupid shit like this. “Yes, sir,” he says through gritted teeth.

“I’ve got another call,” says Rumlow. Through his earpiece Jack can hear the shrill echo of Rumlow’s ringtone. “Report immediately if your situation develops. Otherwise you can check in again at 2200.”

-

2200 comes and goes without incident.

As always when the asset is in play, Jack is working to a modified definition of ‘incident’. The asset steals Thompson’s dinner rations, and then Jack’s (Jack grits his teeth and says nothing). He regales the group with a few more of his theories about the mystery gas and one very disjointed story about stabbing some guy with an icicle (Jack doesn’t tell him to shut his useless trap, even though it’s tempting). He amuses himself for a while by tying Jack’s paracord into a string of complicated knots and then flicking it at him across the room (Jack squeezes his eyes closed and fantasises about wrapping the rope around the asset’s neck). But he doesn’t actually assault anyone, which is a better outcome than Jack was expecting.

The hideout isn’t much more than an old storage bunker. At one point it seems to have been guarded; the front room where they’ve made their camp has actual ventilation and a few sparse furnishings and a tiny alcove containing a covered little pit that Jack has identified (for lack of a better word) as a toilet. The other rooms are packed wall to wall with sealed crates. There’s about as much livable space as there was in Jack’s first apartment, only Jack’s first apartment had the advantage of not being occupied at all times by three other men all vying for alpha status like a pack of caged wolves.

All vying, that is, except for Thompson. Thompson’s even worse: at some point in the last few hours he’s decided that kissing the asset’s ass is his ticket to safety, never mind what happened to the last three guys who tried it. Jack watches in disgust as Thompson stirs the contents of a precious cocoa sachet into an even more precious cupful of his water ration and hands it over, completely unprompted, to the asset. “It’ll help you sleep,” he says, for all the world as though he actually gives a shit.

“Or anthrax,” says the asset, snatching the cocoa like it’s his birthright. “But we’d probably have a fever by now.”

He goes to sleep just fine after that. Thompson picks a spot right next to him to settle down. Ivanov eyes them both doubtfully, then shuffles his ass across the ground, inching closer to where Jack is spreading out his bedroll. Looking for a human shield in case the asset gets any bright ideas in the night. Smart man.

“Don’t even think about it,” Jack warns him. His mood is nearing dangerous, and his brain throbs dully behind his eyes. Probably early onset radiation sickness, if the asset has anything to say about it.

“Roger that,” says Ivanov sourly, and lays down right where he is.

The best thing that can be said about the next morning is that they’re all alive to see it. Jack’s spent half his career sleeping rough, but something about the pitted concrete floor leaves his whole body aching. He sits up against the wall and chooses an MRE from his bag at random, and doesn’t dare stretch out the crick in his neck in case the asset decides to take it as a symptom of some horrible rare new poison.

Yesterday, as awful as it was, at least offered enough unpredictability to keep things interesting. Today is boring. Jack’s got a deck of cards tucked away in his pack, but the thought of playing poker with the asset is enough to turn his stomach. He hands it off to Thompson instead, and after wolfing down his breakfast of gloopy beef stew he goes to hunt through the towering piles of storage crates to see if he can find anything useful. After jimmying open several dozen crates of badly corroded AK-47s, he’s not optimistic. But he does find a few carboys of water in the back of one of the store rooms, too thickly covered in dust to have been tampered with by whoever set the gas trap. By the time he’s finished lugging those out into the main room it’s time for another meal - chicken noodles, this time, just to keep things interesting - followed by a few listless hours watching the others bicker over cards. Then, once Ivanov has gambled away his last stick of gum and Thompson has withdrawn from the game to nurse his fresh split lip, the asset goes back to his newfound hobby of listing every slow-acting poison he’s ever heard of in a loud, carrying voice.

Jack retreats to his own corner of the room and digs through his bag for anything that might help him block it out. Someone - and it’s not hard to guess who - has raided the stash of leftovers Jack was saving up from his last two MREs. He is short one packet of cheese dip and one sachet of hot sauce. Everything else is still there - even the crackers to go with the dip.

He doesn’t ask. It isn’t worth it.

-

On day three, Rumlow calls to tell them that another round of insurgent fighting has delayed their evac plans. “We have to prioritise mission security,” he says, in a tone that suggests he’s warning Jack about a change on the local cable network. “If you haven’t died yet then you’re probably safe to stay put until the zone’s clear.”

“You don’t know that,” shouts the asset from across the room. His voice has lost some of its gruesome good cheer. “The poison could be bioaccumulative.”

-

On day four, Thompson and Ivanov spend a heated hour arguing over their favourite MRE menus. The asset builds a card castle and rounds on Jack in narrow-eyed fury when the thing falls down.

“I didn’t even move,” Jack says, and only barely resists the urge to tack on a few blistering insults.

“Your hands are probably just shaking from low blood pressure,” Thompson tells the asset, before the fight can escalate. “Here, I saved a snack bar from earlier.”

“Or the radiation’s kicking in,” says the asset, and crams the whole bar miserably into his mouth.

-

On day five, Jack is woken by the sound of retching.

He sits up. Ivanov is vomiting into an empty meal bag. “I’m fine,” he says as soon as the convulsions have stopped. He gulps down some water and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. “Just an upset stomach.” His face is very pale.

It doesn’t take much longer after that for Jack and Thompson to start throwing up too. The sour smell of Ivanov’s sickbag doesn’t help, but they all know that’s not the real cause.

The room goes very, very quiet.

“It could be a virus.”

“What?” With a groan, Thompson sits up and turns to face the source of that unusually soft voice.

“Or a bacterial infection,” says the asset. His voice picks up strength, but only a little. “With a long gestation. Maybe that’s why the symptoms took so long to show.”

“We don’t know that the gas is doing this,” snaps Jack. It’s not his most convincing argument. His stomach is twisting into awful knots and he’s going to die alone in the middle of this godforsaken desert, maybe fast or maybe slow and messy and agonising, with no one by his side except the asset and his fucking theories. “It could just be a stomach bug.” But from what? They haven’t eaten anything except their MREs, and Jack has never seen an MRE go off before. He’s not thinking clearly. It’s hard to think through the churning discomfort in his stomach.

Ivanov sits up a little straighter. “That water we found in the back,” he says. “Anyone think to boil it first?”

“Shit,” says Thompson. His shoulders sag with relief, then stiffen again. “But that doesn’t rule out -”

“Shut up,” says Jack. He forces himself upright and tries to inject his voice with authority. “There’s no point freaking out, there’s fuck all we can do about it either way. Until someone starts dying, we’re going to assume our water was contaminated. It’s just nausea so far, right? Dunno about you guys, but I’m not even that -”

Without warning, the asset’s canteen explodes against the far wall. “My stomach hurts,” he barks, glaring right at Jack like he thinks Jack has something to do with it.

It’s too much for Jack’s frayed temper. “Do you even listen? We’ve all been drinking contaminated water, of course your stomach fucking hurts.”

But the asset isn’t listening. His eyes are wide and fearful, and there’s no trace left of his smug detachment. “My stomach hurts,” he repeats, like Jack is missing some urgent point. His breath is coming in shallow gasps. “And I’m too hot and I can’t breathe right.”

Jack is never going to forgive the universe for landing him in the middle of this bullshit. “You can’t breathe right because you’re panicking,” he snaps. “For fuck’s sake, get your shit together. You thought it was fucking hilarious yesterday.”

But of course the asset didn’t think it was hilarious, not really. He must have been freaking out the entire time, and all the gleeful theorising was meant to cover it up. Pathetic. Jack curls his lip, but the asset doesn’t see. He’s staring down at his own mismatched hands. The right one is starting to shake.

“Hey, c’mon.” Thompson, the goddamn idiot, is actually inching closer to the asset. The movement makes him grimace, but he holds out his hands like he’s trying to calm a spooked animal. “It’s not that bad. You’ll feel better once it’s out of your system. Trust me.”

The asset snaps his head up, eyes bright with fury. He’s going to lash out. He’s telegraphing it from a mile away, but Thompson doesn’t back off. “I can get you a -” he pushes on, but the rest of his sentence is lost to a pained shout as the asset’s fist connects with his jaw.

“Shut up!” the asset snarls. It’s a pointless order, because his hand has closed around Thompson’s throat and the only noise Thompson can make is a laboured gurgle. The asset hauls him off the ground and slams him against the wall. Thompson is turning purple, eyes bulging out of his skull.

Jack’s gun is in his pack. He inches towards it, careful not to attract the asset’s attention, and wonders bleakly whether telling Pierce he shot the asset will really be any better than just letting the asset finish them all off. But then, without warning, the asset lets go. Thompson slides to the floor, senseless, and the asset falls forwards and rests his forehead on the wall. He wraps an arm around his stomach and groans.

“I’m dying,” he announces to the room at large. Completely calm. His temper has vanished as quickly as it came.

Jack takes stock of his own condition. Now that his stomach is empty, the nausea has eased off almost completely; only the sour taste in his mouth reminds him how recently he’s been sick. This suggests that the chances of the asset actually dying are, regrettably, about as low as usual. But after what just happened to Thompson, Jack isn’t stupid enough to say so. Better to let the asset play out his little melodrama in peace.

Except - “Fine,” the asset says, voice full of grim purpose. “Might as well get it over with.” Jack’s heart leaps into his throat. If the asset decides to finish himself off, there is absolutely zero chance that Jack will not get blamed for it. He watches, frozen, as the asset heaves an operatic sigh and plods across the room like a man to the gallows.

Not to his pack, where his loaded pistol is stashed. To the back of the room. To the rusty little storage locker where they shoved the canister of poison gas.

Jack is on his feet in an instant. “Fuck, don’t -”

But he’s too slow. Suspended in slow motion, the asset throws the locker open and spins the valve. Thick, smoky gas starts pouring out into the room.

Anger and panic overwhelm Jack’s senses. “You fucking idiot,” he bellows, and surges across the room. The asset doesn’t bother reacting. Jack slams him back against the locker wall and shouts right in his stupid obstinate face. “Why the fuck would you do that? Just shoot yourself like a normal person, Jesus fucking Christ-”

“Rollins,” says Ivanov.

We weren’t even poisoned.” Jack’s whole body is shaking with rage as several days worth of bottled-up fury spill over. A few flecks of spit land on the asset’s face. “We don’t even know what the fucking gas does, and now we’re all going to find out just because you couldn’t handle five fucking seconds of nausea, you stupid worthless insane piece of -”

“Rollins!” says Ivanov, louder.

“SHUT UP,” Jack bellows. “I’ve spent five fucking days playing nice with you, putting up with all your bullshit. I should have just put a bullet through your thick skull the moment Rumlow’s back was turned. You are fucking insane, you know that? What the hell made you think this was a good idea? Why do you have to ruin everyone else’s lives with your stupid shit?”

He’s so angry that he barely feels it when the asset finally pushes back. He hits the ground hard, registers pain like a dull throb in the back of his mind. He can feel the blood rushing in his veins. It’s hot. Hotter than it should be. The heat of it is coursing through him, and he feels - oh shit, he feels -

The asset’s weight is on top of him, straddling his waist, pinning him to the ground. All the air rushes from Jack’s lungs. He sucks in a desperate breath, and then another. The asset’s fist is pulled back, but he doesn’t strike. Just stares down at Jack like he’s never seen him before. Like being called on his bullshit for once has blown his tiny mind. Jack hangs on to his moment of glowing satisfaction. If he’s about to die, at least he’ll be taking a piece of the asset’s stupid pride with him.

“Rollins,” says Ivanov again. His voice is quiet now, frayed and hoarse. “This isn’t…” He breaks off, swallows heavily. “I don’t think this is normal poison.”

Ivanov’s cheeks are flushed, pupils dilated, and his hand is - Jesus. He’s got it shoved down the front of his pants and is rubbing away like a perv in a locker room. Hasn’t even unzipped. The sight snaps Jack right out of his fatalistic daze. It’s so bizarre that he can only stare, and Ivanov stares right back with a look of utter mortification on his face.

“I can’t stop,” he whimpers, and his eyelids flutter as he ruts into his own hand. “Shit, I just need to...I just...shit.”

“What the fuck?” Jack tries to push himself up off the ground, but the asset is like a lead weight on top of him. All of a sudden Jack is very, very aware of the heat of the asset’s body and the friction when he pushes against him.

His head is starting to spin. His veins are alight with chemical fire, and suddenly he’s forgotten why he was fighting so hard to get free. He becomes aware of several things: that it doesn’t fucking matter what Ivanov’s doing; that his cock is hard, twitching beneath the asset’s weight; and that the asset is still on top of him, thighs wrapped tight around Jack’s flanks, hand on his sternum to keep him in place.

That’s as much as Jack manages to take in before the asset falls forward onto him with a soft, strangled noise and sinks his teeth into Jack’s shoulder.

Jack has gone mad. Literally and completely mad. The poison gas has driven him out of his mind. That’s the only explanation for the noise that leaves his mouth, the only explanation for why instead of fighting back he’s gripping the asset’s shoulders and pulling him closer, arching up into him. The asset’s breath is hot on Jack’s neck. He gives an animal snarl and grabs Jack’s hair, wrenches his head back, grinds his hips down until Jack’s tailbone feels ready to crack against the concrete. The pain isn’t registering properly. All his nerves are reading is pleasure, sudden and fierce and completely overwhelming.

It lasts all of half a minute. Jack’s heart is beating hard against his ribs; all the blood is rushing south. The asset’s thrusts are rough and clumsy and it feels incredible. Jack comes with a shout, and feels the asset freeze and go rigid above him, and one breathless moment later he is pushing the asset off him with trembling arms. The asset’s lips are parted in shock and he doesn’t cooperate or resist at all. He lets Jack shove him off to the side, his body limp and heavy like a sack of potatoes.

“Shit,” says Ivanov at last. “Holy fucking shit.”

Ivanov is still there. Right. Jack had lost track. He’s slumped against the wall next to Thompson’s unconscious body, staring at Jack with wide, glassy eyes. He hasn’t stopped pawing at his crotch; the front of his pants is damp and sticky. It should be revolting, but all Jack feels is another aching surge of want. His softening cock twitches a little.

This is so much worse than any of the asset’s gruesome theories. So, so much worse.

Jack needs to focus. He needs to focus before everything goes completely to shit. Before the tidal wave of lust floods his brain completely. He stands, and steadies himself against the wall. “This is just the gas,” he says. The words come out in broken gasps. “It’s some kind of...shit...pervert gas or something. It’s making us all...”

“Yeah,” Ivanov whimpers. It is painfully obvious that the effects aren’t wearing off yet. Jack’s skin is flushed and crawling, and he can’t remember ever having needed to be touched like he needs it now. He can’t think about anything else.

The asset stirs and pushes himself to his feet, and Jack’s heart leaps with a dizzying mix of desire, disgust and apprehension. “Maybe we’re meant to die of exhaustion,” the asset says. His voice has dropped to a husky murmur that Jack is never going to unhear. He doesn’t look angry, or smug, or scornful, or any of the expressions that Jack is used to seeing on him. His eyes are soft and his expression is starving.

His tongue darts out to moisten his lips. Jack’s arousal takes on a new level of urgency.

“Don’t make this worse than it is,” he snarls. He doesn’t feel exhausted. He feels like his heart might stop beating if someone doesn’t get on his dick soon. Maybe - Christ, maybe the asset will do it. He hardly looks like he’s in a state to resist. But when Jack reaches out for him the asset’s hand closes vice-like around his wrist, presses Jack’s hand to his groin. His breath hitches.

Resisting it isn’t going to work. Resisting it is so, so far from Jack’s mind. “Ivanov,” he says. It’s supposed to be an order, an authoritative summons, but what comes out is more like a plea. Ivanov scrambles across the room on all fours in his haste to get there.

“Sir,” he breathes, “please -”

And goddamn it’s hot. When the fuck did Ivanov get hot? Apparently around the same time as the asset, who is rolling his hips into Jack’s hand, eyes scrunched closed, panting for breath. A few minutes ago the sight would have been disgusting; now, Jack’s bones are turning to liquid. “Fuck,” he growls, and at the same moment the asset opens his mouth and says, “Or dehydration. From sweat and -” his breath hitches again; his hips stutter - “fluid loss.”

How is that still what you’re thinking about?” Ivanov groans. But then his hand falls to Jack’s belt, and Jack stops caring about the answer. His body is reacting all on its own, arching forward into Ivanov’s hand. Ivanov is pressing close, burying his face in the front of Jack’s pants, grinding against Jack’s leg. His mouth is dangerously close to Jack’s cock.

Oh, god.

It lasts longer this time. Ivanov’s hands are like velvet, and the asset’s head has dropped to nuzzle - actually nuzzle - Jack’s neck as Jack’s hand works the asset’s cock through his pants, and Jack has never hated either of them less than he does right now. Their warmth is soaking in through his skin, searing his bones, rattling his knees. He wants to drown in it. Wants to hold them in place forever, wants to lose himself in the ragged rhythm of their breath. Ivanov’s hips jerk frantically. He bites down hard on the fabric of Jack’s pants, and Jack is dimly glad that Ivanov didn’t take him in his mouth after all. There’s barely room in his head for the thought. There’s barely room in his head for any thought beyond the urgent coil of pleasure inside him and the insistent slide of Ivanov’s sweaty palm and the -

- sharp, jolting pain as a steel-toed boot collides suddenly and viciously with the back of his knee.

He drops, disoriented. The movement crushes his knee into Ivanov’s groin, and Ivanov yelps and falls back. A harsh metal hand catches Jack by the hair and yanks his head up. The asset is staring down at him, rapt, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide and needy.

A surge of fury breaks through Jack’s daze. “What the fuck -” he starts, but the asset lets out a shaky sigh and mashes Jack’s face into his groin.

Jack struggles on reflex. The asset has unzipped his fly, pulled out his cock; a bead of precum smears Jack’s cheek and he wrenches away. The asset scowls and pulls him back in. Ivanov is panting on the floor beside them, nursing his injured balls, and none of this is hot any more but Jack’s body has stopped responding to his mind. He’s hard and whimpering and the lack of friction hurts like a knife to the scrotum. He pulls back again to gasp for breath, and the asset wraps his free hand around the back of Jack’s neck and shoves his cock roughly into Jack’s mouth. The broken sound he makes sends a shiver down Jack’s spine. He tries to pull his mouth away, but somehow instead he is opening his throat and hollowing his cheeks and wrapping a free hand around the base of his own cock to stroke, and fuck -

He comes still gagging on the asset’s cock, and the asset sobs for breath and holds Jack’s head in place and trembles all over as he spills down Jack’s throat.

Jack sits back, sucking in air in frantic gulps until his spasming throat calms down. He feels sick and angry and humiliated, and he is acutely aware of the asset looming above him, braced against the wall and panting for breath. Beside him, Ivanov has his hand stuffed down his pants again and is whimpering softly as he tugs his own erection. Over in the corner, Thompson has woken up to watch. His mouth is hanging open and he’s starting to squirm as his body registers the effects of the gas.

Jack’s cock isn’t even pretending to soften this time. His balls feel tired and empty and swollen. The skin around them itches from dry friction. He’s just come twice in the space of ten minutes and he’s still so, so fucking horny.

The asset pushes off the wall and dislodges the arm Jack has wrapped around his calves. When did Jack start leaning on the asset? The loss of contact makes him whimper, but the asset doesn’t seem to notice. His eyes are trained on another target.

“Thompson,” he says in that raw, husky voice that travels right to Jack’s cock. “Come here.”

Thompson’s eyes lock briefly with Jack’s as the asset guides him to his hands and knees. The asset pulls Thompson’s pants down over his hips without ceremony. He spits into his hand. Thompson’s expression is a contorted mess of fear and horror and urgent, fiery lust.

“Rollins,” he breathes, “what the hell is -”

Jack watches Thompson’s lips move, transfixed. It occurs to him, in a heady surge of inspiration, that the asset can’t possibly need all of Thompson to himself. The asset is going to get away with what he’s doing, because the asset is Pierce’s precious fucking lapdog and Jack has never once seen Pierce punish him for anything. Jack probably won’t be as lucky. At this point, he’s not sure he cares.

“Trust me,” he tells Thompson as he unzips his fly, “you’re better off not thinking about it.”

 -

The asset is unusually placid when they bring him into Pierce’s office. He sinks languidly into his chair, smiling the same stupid little smile he sometimes gets when the techs overdo his painkillers, and proceeds to pay no attention whatsoever to anything in the room. When Pierce catches him by the chin to redirect his gaze, the asset actually nestles into the touch. His eyes are droopy and unfocused and he radiates contentment from every pore in his body.

It’s a disgrace. For the first time since he received the report, Pierce’s annoyance threatens to slip its leash.

A firm slap sobers the asset up. His eyes snap to Pierce’s face; his expression turns sulky. “Wasn’t my fault,” he says, which would be an inappropriate greeting at the best of times. And these are not the best of times. The asset knows better.

So Pierce takes his seat in front of him and leans in, placing a hand on the asset’s knee. “Oh, sweetheart,” he says. “There’s no need to be sorry.”

The asset knits his brow, puzzled; trying to remember if he’s sorry or not. Pierce can see the words bouncing around inside his empty skull. “What’s done is done,” Pierce goes on. “It’s you I’m worried about. How did this happen? How badly did you…” He breaks off, lets the sentence hang in the air between them. He shakes his head and lowers his gaze, and knows that the asset will read it as embarrassment. Lead by example, Pierce has always said.

The asset takes a breath, like he’s about to speak; then he exhales sharply and turns his head away. Pierce cups his cheek and pulls him back. “I thought as much,” he says. His voice is heavy with regret. “I’d hoped Agent Rollins was lying. You really let the whole team join in, didn’t you?”

He allows another short silence for his words to penetrate. The asset is starting to fidget; he doesn’t move his head again, but his eyes are drifting down to his lap. “Don’t be ashamed, pet. This is my fault. I should never have left you alone for so long with those men. How could you have known any better?” Finally, the asset is looking at him properly; Pierce withdraws his hand and wipes it covertly on the leg of his trousers. The asset’s skin is tacky with sweat, though Pierce assumes from the lack of odour that they washed him down before sending him here.

Perhaps it is a side-effect of the gas. He will have the lab look into it when they’re processing their samples.

Pierce stands up. He turns away, but keeps an eye on the reflection in the window; the asset’s eyes are riveted on the back of his head. “I’ll tell Agent Rollins,” he says, “that what happened in that bunker is completely confidential. Don’t worry any more, sweetheart. I won’t let word get out about your…” He turns back and gestures tactfully. “Little indiscretion.” The asset’s face is a blank mask. “Now go on. Go back downstairs and get yourself cleaned up. I’ll make this mess disappear for you.”

He watches with quiet satisfaction as the asset rises, puppet-like, at his command. The message has sunk in. “Make sure he’s wiped thoroughly before he goes back in storage,” Pierce adds to the waiting tech once the asset is out in the corridor.

It doesn’t matter that the asset won’t remember the details of his lesson. He’ll remember to feel ashamed next time, which is what will make the difference.