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Fire and Kerosene

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This house is boring.

It's the only thing on Luca's mind as he sneaks away from his mother's side. Father had told him this house belonged to the… the?. Luca couldn't remember the word, it was big and had a lot of letters in it, but he knew it had something to do with art, and art was supposed to be colourful!. 

The estate was completely white, with white walls and white floors. Luca Balsa may have only been six years old, but he knew drab-looking scenery when he saw it. Which is what led the boy to the garden, presumably the only place in the vicinity not drained of all life. Bright red roses sprung along the ground, perfectly trimmed and kept, even that felt too perfect, nothing like the cluttered and lively estate his father provided. 

Among the sea of red, something white catches his eye. Not a boring white wall or floor, but a boy. 

He's sitting on the cobblestone, perfectly pressed white blouse and carefully tied back jet black hair contrasting against the flora. He makes Luca stop, the boy's eyes trained on the other. 

Luca balsa was always a curious child.

He hadn't heard what happened to the cat yet.



 A knock at the door is what snaps him out of the dream this time. 

Luca rubs at the side of his face, fingers brushing past his optical implant. A lock of Honey blonde hair falls over his eyes before he pushes it back into place. 

His mind wanders back for a second, back into the dream, the memory. But he shakes his head, the desire to reminisce a moment more vanishing into alertness as another knock sounds at the door. 

He's half-expecting an angry Josè, perhaps another lecture about the importance of punctuation, but instead it's Victor. A warm grin embellishes his face as he cocks his head to the side. Wick trots his way from behind victor's feet, pawing at his leg. Luca chuckles, bending down to scratch behind the dog's ears. 

"Ready already?" Luca asks. Victor nods, letting out a string of binary "we were ready an hour ago". 

Luca huffs and rolls his eyes sarcastically, stretching the sleep out of his ligaments. "What's the bet at now?" 

Victor beeps as he and Wick trot behind Luca down the hall. "Patricia gave 20 that you'd be up on time, William thinks you'd sleep till noon, bet last ops cut on it" 

Luca chuckles nervously, he'd have to deal with Patty's rage at losing the bet later. 

He runs his hand along the torn wallpaper as they walk, the cracks of the abandoned auditorium they called home slicing through the paper. He'd get that fixed soon, along with the faulty lights, and the clogged pipes. Sometimes Luca thinks Josè only took him under his wing to be a glorified handyman. 

"Balsa!. I thought we discussed the importance of being awake and alert while we're waiting on Intel. Care to explain what was so important you decided to crawl your way out of bed an hour late?" 

But only sometimes, a glorified handyman wouldn't be scolded on tardiness. 

Luca yawns, waving his hand at Josè as he grabs the reel out of his hand, starting to unwind the film embedded in its casing. 

"Yeah yeah old man, calm down. Not my fault you don't know how to decipher these." 

Luca smirks as Josè Stammers frustratingly, something about everyone on their team having a skill for a reason. Before the older man can even finish Lucas already extracted the Line of encrypted text from the film real, giving a salute and a wink before making his way to sit next to the rest of the auditorium's current inhabitants. 

William chuckles as he counts the bills in his hand, extending his fist to bump against Luca's as he passes. Patricia gives him a sour gaze which he returns with an apologetic smirk. He takes his seat next to Victor, who's stroking his hand against Wick's fur, the pup settled in the paperboy's lap. 

Josè clears his throat as he begins, devolving into the info Miss Plinius had managed to smuggle them, which was Luca's cue to tune out.

He was never one to sit and Listen, his father used to scold him constantly, but his mind was too vast to stay in one place at a time. Patrica's notes of the briefing would suffice as they did every time. 

So Luca lets his mind wander

first to the cracked wallpaper and dripping pipes, then to the several manuscripts and blueprints scattered along his desk, then, for a fleeting moment, to a Colourful rose garden and a boy in white…

No, he wasn't going to do this again, he wasn't going to let himself be pulled under by the current of emotion that image brought him. He had more important things to dwell on than foolish reminiscing. 

But no matter how much he shut it down, no matter how hard he tried to store it in the back of his mind, I'd find its to the surface again, clouding his thoughts in an instant. 

He was always there. Despite a faulty brain implant, despite his awful memory, it's like every second of their time together is imprinted in his mind, like-

Suddenly, the sound of a snap rings in his ears causing him to lurch forward. The fingers in front of his face are Patricia's, he meets her eyes and she cocks her head towards Josè, indicating they've reached an important segment in the briefing. 

Good, he didn't need all that bullshit anyway, he'd let the dream fade just like he did countless times before. Luca straightens in his set as he finally tunes into the conversation.

"- like we discussed last time. Now, we've done undercover ops before, but never in the upper district." 

Luca's ears perk up at the mention. The upper district of the metropolis housed the most powerful families in the city. Anyone who belonged to the highest branches of government got to reside in the most lavish of estates and attend the richest of galas, while the rest of the city starved and decayed under their watch. 

Luca doesn't like to discuss his childhood in the upper district, his past reputation as the heir to the Balsa family's control over subliminal messaging In the cinemas isn't something he'd ever be proud of. No matter how much he tried to back step, to make up for the harm his family had caused, nothing felt enough to him. He'd burn it all to the ground if he could, just like his father had tried to. He only hoped the next words out of josè's mouth were "grab a match" 

"There's a data disk hidden in the vaults under one of these Estates, it's got the names and crimes of almost every missing prisoner who has spoken out against the Eternal Arora. If we can get the names of these people we can start an operation to free them, this could be the first big step to an actual uprising." 

Josè doesn't need to elaborate for the three of them to understand the weight of this mission. The last person the pirate radio Rebellion had busted out of jail was Luca himself, and that was almost four years ago. The prospect of more people willing to help their cause was too important to pass up. 

"When is this gala?, I'll be able to get in as a reporter but I'll need to know what estate it's being held at so I can see if Plinius can get you three identification." 

Patricia was already jotting down the needed information, finicking with the pen in her hand and flipping through her notes to make sure everything was in order. 

Luca lounged back in his seat. As important as this mission was, a gala in the upper district didn't sound like too bad of a time. As much as he hated those elites, the social season brought an odd nostalgia. He knew his experience with navigating through talkative investors and chatty noble wives would be crucial to blend in. 

A simple undercover opp for some beyond valuable information, couldn't be that bad. 

 "It's being held at the Valden estate. That family has the sentinels so deep in their pockets that their most sensitive information is held in their vaults. Despite being the heads of propaganda they-" 

Oh, it could. 

Before he can even process a deep feeling of dread sets into his chest and suddenly ten years of his life come flooding back. Every regret and feeling of longing so strong his head feels fuzzy, the only thing he can focus on is a single newspaper clipping he's kept on his desk for months. 

"Promising young artist and Heir to the Valden fortune conspires against our eternal Arora. authorities suggest rebel activity, Alexander Valden to offer a statement tonight."


And suddenly every wall is built up comes crashing down, every feverish insistence not to yearn, not to pretend like any aspect of his old life would ever find its way back to him, ever shred of denial that he'd allow himself to think of Edgar Valden as anything else but a distant, bitter memory. 

It all sets in in an instant, the same daydream he'd been trying to repress only moments later playing on loop in the forefronts of his mind, every ounce of self-preservation out the window.

It's like his mind was waiting, biding his time for the last four years in search of something, anything, that would give him an excuse to see Edgar again. Something that would lead him to enough desperation to let him break the promise he made those years ago. 

Something that would let him push aside the still burning feelings of betray and hostility, just to indulge in the prospect of getting to spend another moment Living the life he missed. 

His new life, his new family was everything to him, but he never forget what, who, he left behind.

What mattered now was tearing apart the lower district to find the one man he knew better than he knew himself. 

Luca doesn't even process the fact that Josè is still speaking as he stumbles his way out of his seat, almost tripping over William's legs as he scurries out of the auditorium. 

"-Getting in won't be a simple task. They're unveiling a new Gallery piece that those investors have sunk thousands into, security will be no doubt higher than we've seen in ages. not to mention the floor plan we managed to snag only shows us half of the estate. If we want to successfully navigate to the vault we'll need to get someone on the inside, we'll…"

Josè spots Luca out of the corner of his eye before he reaches the auditorium door. 

"Balsa! This briefing isn't over yet! You-" 

Before Josè can finish, Luca's voice booms through the empty showroom, a tremor that's noticeable in his usually charismatic tone. 

"I know someone who can help."