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Filthy Secrets

 

Prologue

 

 

Brent Matthews awoke with a start.

Where the fuck am I?

His head throbbed and his world seemed to be spinning.

He groaned and felt his stomach lurch. Somehow, he managed to keep from vomiting.

Brent leaned to his right and felt something warm and soft.

“Get the fuck off me, man.”

“Wha—?”

Lips tacky, he licked them and tried to focus. He was in a car, a car that was moving. And he was wedged between two people in the backseat.

“Brent?”

Something sharp pressed between his ribs.

An elbow.

“You awake?”

The voice came from his left.

“Yeah—what the fuck happened?” Brent’s voice was thick and syrupy. He instinctively tapped his pant pockets, looking for his phone.

They were empty.

Brent lifted his ass off the seat and felt around.

Still no phone.

“Fuck off.”

It was Theo, Brent realized. Theo’s on my right, Ethan on my left. I’m in a car and we’re driving away from…

“Dude, you grabbin’ my ass? Fuck off,” Ethan chirped.

“Naw, my phone.” Brent slid his fingers between the seats. “I think I lost my phone…”

There was some light in the car, mostly coming from the dash, and Brent, squinting hard, looked down at their feet.

Nothing.

“Fuck—where’s my phone?”

“Bruh, tell me you didn’t leave it back at the shack,” Ethan warned in his nasal voice.

When Brent didn’t answer and continued to search, both with his hands and his eyes, Ethan lodged his pointy elbow into his ribs again.

“I don’t… I don’t know.” Brent grimaced. “My fucking head hurts and I don’t remember shit. I feel like I’m going to puke.”

 “You puke in my Chevelle and I’ll fucking kick your ass,” the driver threatened.

Why can’t I remember? The Shack…

Flashes. Brent saw flashes. Beer bottles, a joint being passed around.

A curtain.

A mattress.

“You really forgot it?” There was a hint of worry in Ethan’s voice now.

“I… just lift your asses up.”

Ethan did and, with considerably more effort given his size, Theo did the same. Brent cringed as he slid his hand across the warm leather where they’d been sitting.

No phone.

“We gotta… we gotta go back. I need it. I need my phone.”

As an eighteen-year-old senior at Tenbury Academy, the entirety of Brent Matthew’s life was contained within the six-by-three-inch technological marvel that was his cell phone. But despite the expected anxiety of a teenager not being able to locate their lifeblood, Brent felt extremely uncomfortable.

“I need my phone. I need it.”

A cold sweat broke out on his forehead.

“Fuck,” the driver cursed. “You sure it ain’t in here?”

Brent nudged Theo again, who had since lowered his fat ass onto the seat. He searched more thoroughly this time, wedging his fingers between the backrest and seat cushion. Ethan turned on the flashlight of his own cell phone and after recovering from the light that felt like an icepick in his brain, Brent scanned the floor of the Chevelle.

“It’s not here, man. Fuck. We gotta go back.”

The driver released a string of curse words and Brent expected to be told to fuck off. Especially by him.

The car suddenly lurched and the tires squealed. Brent felt not just his stomach rise into his throat, but all of his internal organs.

He gagged as the car whipped around and was forced to bring his hand to his mouth, thinking that vomiting was imminent and believing that covering his lips with his hand would somehow keep the vomit down. It was nonsensical, but Brent knew if he puked in the Chevelle, he would get his ass kicked.

“Fucking dumbass forgets his phone,” the driver grumbled. “Fucking absolute moron.”

Ethan had been forced onto him by the aggressive U-turn and Brent shoved him off.

“I’m sorry, fuck! It missed have slipped out… I don’t… I don’t remember shit.”

“How much you fuckin’ drink, man?” Theo asked.

“I don’t remember. Fuck.”

The driver hit the gas and everyone in the vehicle was thrust back against their seats.

“Easy,” Ethan said. “You don’t wanna get pulled over. The fucking cops—”

“Cops, yeah, like they’ll do anything. Brent, get your goddamn phone and get your ass back in the car, all right? Is it upstairs? Tell me it’s upstairs, at least.”

Something in the driver’s tone suggested that if this wasn’t the case, another U-turn was imminent.

“Yeah,” Brent lied. “I left it… I left it by the front door.”

More curses, but the car kept moving forward, still picking up speed. As the trees whipped by on either side of them, the fear of being pulled over was quickly usurped by just getting back to the Shack alive.

“Slow down, man,” Ethan whined.

“Shut the fuck up.”

Brent had no idea how the driver saw the small dirt road in the dark, but he did, once again yanking the wheel to the right. There was a short drop from the hardened gravel of the larger road to the much smaller dirt one and for a moment, he felt himself go airborne.

When the Chevelle’s fat tires gripped the dirt, a thin stream of vomit filled Brent’s mouth.

He somehow managed to choke the acrid bile back down.

The Chevelle came to a rocking halt a few moments later in front of The Shack, the plaster building, barely deserving of its namesake elsewhere in Hawkesbury, looked imposing jutting out of the woods and illuminated by the Chevelle’s harsh headlights.

“Find your fucking phone, Brent!”

Brent wanted to answer but kept his mouth shut for fear of his stomach revolting.

He reached over Ethan and opened the door then waited for his friend to get out. But Ethan just grabbed him by the arm and pulled.

“Go! Just Go!”

Brent slid over him and fell out of the car. His balance was still off and he had a hard time getting off all fours, looking like a runner who was going too fast and his legs couldn’t keep up, even though he was barely moving.

Brent clenched his jaw, and this seemed to ground him a little.

What the fuck did I drink?

He was standing when he reached The Shack’s rotted wooden door. It was partly open—Brent didn’t think that it was capable of fully closing—and he instinctively reached for his cell phone to illuminate the darkness within.

But, of course, he didn’t have it.

“Hurry the fuck up, Brent!”

Despite hanging open, the door took some effort to widen enough to slip inside The Shack. Brent took one step and nearly tripped over a bottle, sending it careening into the darkness where it collided with maybe a dozen more.

“Jesus!”

Brent backed out of The Shack and hurried to the car.

“You find it?” Ethan asked, hanging halfway out of the window.

“No, it’s too dark. Gimme your phone.”

“I ain’t givin’ you my—”

“Give me your fucking phone! I can’t see anything in there!”

“I’m not—”

“Ethan, give him your phone!” Theo snapped.

Ethan slid into the car.

“You give him your fucking phone, Theo. He already lost—”

“Give it to him!” The driver ordered.

“Fuck.”

Ethan reluctantly held his cell out the window and Brent snatched it up.

“Don’t fucking lose it like you lost yours.”

Brent ignored his friend and dipped back inside The Shack, this time with the bright beam from Theo’s iPhone to guide him. But even with the light, Brent realized that finding his phone wasn’t going to be as easy as he first thought.

The floor of the fifteen-by-fifteen-foot structure was littered with bottles. The Shack had never been clean, of course, but Brent didn’t recall it being this filthy. The bottles, mostly beer, had typically been confined to the corners of the heavily graffitied space but they’d since spread inward, like bacteria growing toward a central source of nourishment. There might have been a path through the middle, there had to have been just to make moving through the space possible, but when he’d accidentally kicked the bottle, he’d knocked over others that obscured the path.

He was supposed to be searching for his cell phone, but Brent had to expend most of his effort just trying not to trip and fall.

Every few strides, Brent stopped moving and scanned the floor, sills, anywhere he might have rested his phone.

“C’mon, c’mon. Where the fuck are you?”

Being inside The Shack did nothing to spur his memory. Brent still didn’t recognize anything. All he could conjure were small, incoherent flashes. He thought about using Ethan’s phone to call his but couldn’t because his friend hadn’t unlocked it for him.

Something moved in his periphery, and Brent whipped the phone in that direction. A rat the size of a small beaver hissed at him.

“Fuck!”

Something was hanging from its mouth: the tail of a smaller rat.

“Sick—get out of here! Go!” He waved the phone. “Go!”

The rat didn’t move.

Brent jumped when a horn sounded outside. He instinctively glanced toward the door, and he turned back to the rat, it was gone.

“Hurry up!” Someone hollered from outside. “Brent, hurry the fuck up!”

Spurred equally by the sight of the mutant rat and the horn, Brent began to move more quickly, no longer caring about the bottles underfoot.

After about a minute, he concluded that his cell phone wasn’t on the main level. Which meant that it had to be in the basement.

Brent hated The Shack’s basement. It didn’t even make sense that this place, located in the middle of nowhere, with no access to electricity or water, had one.

But it did, and it was the only place left to check.

There was no door leading downstairs, just concrete steps behind the broken remnants of what might have once been a kitchen, descending into an earthy, dirt-floored open space.

Brent reluctantly took a step and then, forgetting the low ceiling height, cried out as the top of his head struck the plaster hard enough to send his neck jolting backward.

“Fuck.”

Massaging the crown of his head, Brent more carefully descended into the basement that reminded him of something from The Blair Witch.

It didn’t help that some asshole had had the same idea and had decided to draw child-sized hands all over the walls.

With his free hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his bottle of prescription Zoloft. He knew that the pills could exacerbate his nausea but fuck it, he needed something to calm him down. His heart felt like it was going to explode from his chest.

He normally wasn’t afraid of the dark, even in a place as creepy as this, but something about it made all the hairs on his body stand on end.

Brent dry-swallowed two pills and finally made his way to the bottom. It smelled bad down here, like damp gym socks and weed. Unlike upstairs, where every just stood when they hung out, the low ceiling made sitting more comfortable. There were six cigarette-scared lawn chairs set up in a semi-circle on the dirt ground.

Did I sit here?

Brent didn’t think so.

He didn’t remember coming down here at all. But he didn’t remember much of anything that happened tonight.

And even that was an overstatement.

But his phone wasn’t resting on one of the chairs or lying on the dirt beneath them.

Something crawled across Brent’s foot and his entire body exploded into pins and needles.

It was another rat. And, unbelievably, this one looked even larger than the first.

Brent kicked reflexively, but rather than fling the beast across the basement as he’d intended, it just flopped onto its side and then, like an overturned slug, slowly righted itself.

Oh, fuck this!

The rat just stared at him, and Brent’s trembling hand made the light he was holding bounce up and down. It reflected off something in the rodent’s mouth. Something silver.

Something he recognized.

Despite the fear coursing through him, Brent leaned forward. It was a metal chain and dragging in the dirt attached to said chain was a sterling silver heart about the size of a nickel.

This inspired a memory. A burst of a scene, of this necklace pressed against a sweaty collarbone.

Breathing was difficult now as Brent’s throat closed up like a gummy paper straw.

His phone was suddenly the last thing on his mind.

The basement was mostly just an open space, but there was one area that was segmented from the rest with three poorly erected, and now mostly rotted, walls. Perhaps the builder, whoever that might have been, had hopes of putting in an HVAC system or a hot water heater for a non-existent water supply.

Don’t look, a voice of reason warned Brent. Don’t you fucking look in there.

But he had to.

He had to.

Sweat, a moan, a thrust.

Instead of a door or wall to enclose the would-be utility area, someone had hung a thick curtain. Brent stared at this now, unable to remove his eyes from the soiled fabric. He shuffled toward it, kicking up tiny puffs of soil as he moved.

Don’t look. DON’T LOOK.

With a shaking hand, he reached for the curtain. The fabric was thick with grime and years of collecting smoke debris from cigarettes and joints alike. The feel of this filth on the pads of fingers gave him pause.

He almost said, fuck it—fuck this place, fuck the shack, fuck the necklace, and fuck my cell phone—and ran back upstairs, likely braining himself in the same place he’d struck his head earlier.

But then he heard another honk, this time muted, from outside.

Don’t be such a pussy.

Brent teased back the curtain and a scream immediately caught in his throat. His vocal cords weren’t the only things that froze, either.

Two years ago, when he had been playing high-level lacrosse and on the verge of getting a full-ride scholarship to Penn, Brent had made a stupid, over-the-shoulder pass to a teammate in practice. Something in his arm didn’t feel right afterward, but he didn’t want to look weak and powered through.

The injury worsened and eventually escalated into a full-blown slap tear of his rotator cuff during a playoff game later that season, effectively ending his career. The morning after the injury, Brent had awoken to a strange sensation.

His shoulder had completely locked up and he was unable to move it.

This is what it felt like now, only the feeling wasn’t confined to his shoulder; his whole body was frozen. If it hadn’t been for a third honk of the Chevelle’s horn, Brent was fairly convinced that he would never have moved again. But the sound shattered the ice encasing his nerves and Brent let the curtain slip from his fingers. At first, he backed away from the scene slowly, but then his heel struck something hard, and fearing that it was a rat again, he just turned and ran.

Brent sprinted upstairs toward the sound of the horn that was now incessantly blaring outside. Somehow, perhaps on account of him bending low to run, he managed to avoid concussing himself on the ceiling. He blasted through the bottles on the main level and then burst outside, falling to the ground.

Only now did he pause, his body heaving as if he were performing a dramatic version of the Yoga cat-cow pose.

“The fuck are you doing?” Ethan demanded. “Get yer ass—Brent, what happened?”

“She’s dead.” Hot tears soaked Brent’s cheeks as he raised his face and looked his friend in the eyes. “She’s fucking dead, Ethan! She’s dead… she’s dead… she’s dead…”

 

 

PART I – CVU

 

Chapter 1

 

“I couldn’t help but notice you staring at me from across the bar,” the man said as he sidled up next to Chase. “I was thinking that maybe you wanted to buy me a drink?”

It wasn’t just a relationship of convenience.

It was a relationship that just happened to be convenient.

Rachel Abernathy and Georgina Adams… two young girls with past trauma but equally big hearts staying together for spring break? That was good. Getting Tate’s nanny Marguerite to live with them in Virginia so Chase didn’t have to worry about camp or any of that nonsense? All funded by Stu Barnes’ generous donation?

Sign me the fuck up, Chase thought.

This arrangement also meant spending a lot more time with Tate, something that Chase was surprisingly still enjoying.

Apparently, not everything that happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

This came as somewhat of a shock as Chase had been worried that after reality sneaked back in, she would be less inclined to hang out with the man.

After all, for as much as she had a type, Tate wasn’t it.

True, Chase was traditionally far from selective when it came to choosing a partner, but the man she’d married, Brad, was tall and lean, with what most would refer to as traditionally handsome features.

He had shaggy dark hair, and small, but manly features.

This was not Tate.

Tate was big and bold, everything about him grandiose from his mustache to the way he carried himself. He wasn’t fat, per se, but was definitely on the heavier side.

Tate wasn’t like Jeremy Stitts, either. And while Chase loves Stitts, she didn’t love him romantically. But she had slept with him, and he was more like Brad than Tate.

Chase didn’t know what to make of this strange dichotomy. Did it mean that what she felt for Tate was more or less real?

In the past, a question such as this one might have crippled her, but not now. For once, while Chase acknowledged these queries, she didn’t find herself over-analyzing her actions or the underlying reasons for sleeping with the man.

And perhaps because of this, Chase had decided, explicitly, after a conversation with herself in the mirror, to just let things happen.

Let things happen.

A foreign concept but not one without evident merit. It had, after all, brought her back to Virginia, to Quantico, and had introduced Rachel to Georgina, who got along like two peas in a pod.

Chase had taken up running again, something that had fallen to the wayside during her travels across the country to confront Bryan Jalston, and she had even convinced Tate to come along with her on a few occasions, although all he did was grumble the entire time.

Floyd had made a full recovery and there were rumors that he was starting a cold case unit with Stitts.

By what could only be considered a miracle, Chase Adams’ life had obtained an almost unheard-of level of normalcy.

Except for two things: her ex-husband Brad and her son Felix.

It was nice to see Brad. The animosity she’d once felt for the man for taking her son and fleeing the US had long since faded. He was only doing what was best for the boy and perhaps for him, for his sanity; Chase could see that now.

But Felix… just glimpsing the boy’s round face was enough to conjure deep-rooted feelings of guilt and shame. These were so powerful that they threatened to shove Chase back down into the dark abyss that she was perpetually trying to claw her way out of.

It wasn’t just that she hadn’t thought about Felix, let alone spoken to her son, for so long that she had a hard time remembering his voice, but it was also about Georgina.

About how much time and effort and care Chase put into her niece while completely neglecting Felix.

Chase sighed and massaged her forehead.

Guilt.

That was what plagued her… plagued her since she was a little girl.

Ever since she and her sister had been taken but only one of them had gotten away.

Stay with me, Chase. Please, Chase.

Even though Chase knew that Georgina had been an apparition, the creation of a madman in the metaverse, in Cerberus, the feelings invoked by seeing her deceased sister had been absolutely, one-hundred percent genuine.

“Chase, you gonna be okay? We don’t have to do this now if you don’t want to. There’s no rush.”

Chase forced her lips into a smile.

“You should know this by now, but I’m never okay,” she said. It was meant as a joke, but it came off as self-pity.

“Don’t do that,” Tate said, shaking his head. “You don’t need to do that with me.”

Chase felt a defensive retort forming on her tongue, but she pushed it away. She wanted to say, and you don’t need to tell me what to do. But she and Tate had agreed that if this, whatever this was, had any chance of working, they had to be brutally honest with each other.

Chase was.

For the most part.

chase rubbed her temples again.

“I know,” she said. “But this is what I want. This is what we both want, right?”

Tate nodded, apparently satisfied with the response.

“Okay, let’s do it then.” Tate gestured toward the door with the placard reading Director Hampton on it. “You want to do the honors?”

Chase grinned and this time the emotion was authentic.

“How chivalrous.” She raised her hand and rapped her knuckles off the wood three times. The answer from inside was immediate.

“Come in.”

Chase reached the door handle but at the last second, she paused.

“What if he doesn’t go for it?”

Now it was Tate’s turn to smirk.

“C’mon, does he really have a choice? Can he really turn down two of his best and most fucked up Agents?”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“Get your shit together, Brent. Like, now.”

Brent glanced over his shoulder as he finished taking a piss.

Theo was standing behind him, his hands on his thick hips, his even thicker lips turned downwards in a frown. He may have ordered Brent to get his shit together but judging by the way his eyes darted back and forth, it was he who was on the verge of a breakdown.

 

“I’m not doing anything,” Brent said. He shook and then stepped away from the urinal.

“That’s the thing, Brent.” Ethan stepped out from behind Theo and ran a hand through his long black hair. In almost every way, he was Theo’s opposite. Ethan was thin and wiry, had a narrow nose, and his cheeks were almost sallow. This contradiction extended beyond physical appearance. Ethan didn’t look worried, he looked angry. “You’re not doing nothing. We’ve been in school for half an hour, and already three people, including Natalia, have asked me what’s wrong with you.”

Brent licked his lips.

“I’m not doing anything. I swear. I haven’t said—”

Ethan stepped forward and placed a hand in the center of Brent’s chest.

“Of course, you’re not gonna say anything. Right? Right?”

Brent winced.

“I saw her, though. I know you don’t believe me, but—”

Ethan twisted his hand into Brent’s shirt and pulled him close.

“You were high and drunk, Brent.”

There was no room for argument here. And while Ethan was right about Brent being drunk and probably high, he was wrong about Em.

Every time he closed his eyes, Brent saw her face, the blue veins standing out on her fair skin as if drawn in pen.

Her cloudy eyes.

The necklace clutched in the rat’s mouth.

“She was dead,” Brent nearly whimpered. “Fucking, dead, man. I saw—”

“You were high and fucking wasted. You don’t know what the fuck you saw,” Ethan hissed through clenched teeth. Spit sprayed on Brent.

If only he could believe that.

If only he could chalk it up to a nightmare, maybe a bad trip although he didn’t even remember taking a hit from a joint.

But she was looking at him. Into him.

Blaming him.

Blaming him for everything.

Brent shuddered and the reaction spooked both Ethan and Theo, the former finally letting go of his shirt.

Brent rubbed absently at the wrinkled fabric.

“You don’t know what you saw,” Ethan repeated, but his voice lacked the authority of moments ago.

“Is she at school? Is Em even here?” Brent countered. “Have either of you seen her? I tried calling, but she didn’t answer.”

Theo looked down and Ethan eventually shook his head.

“She’s probably just sleeping it off. You know how her hangovers can be.”

A two-day hangover wasn’t unheard of, but one bad enough to keep Em out of school? Especially when they were only a few weeks from prom?

No. Ethan was full of shit.

Besides, Brent had seen her. And Emily wasn’t hungover.

She was fucking dead.

Ethan cleared his throat and then curled his upper lip.

“She’ll turn up. But don’t you fucking say anything. You say anything, and we’re all fucked. Me, Theo, you, and… you know who else. Keep your mouth shut, Brent.”

The glare in Ethan’s eyes forced Brent to lower his own.

“Yeah, yeah, I won’t say anything. I’m not an idiot, not a fucking retard.” There had been a time before his injury when Ethan wouldn’t have dared to speak to him this way. Then again, if it hadn’t been for his torn rotator cuff, they might never have even become friends at all. “I’m fine alright? I’m fucking fine.”

Theo seemed happy with this response, but Ethan refused to move out of Brent’s way.

“What?” Some of his lost bravado returned. “You want to do something, Ethan? Because—”

“Just keep it together.”

“Whatever.”

Brent brushed by both Ethan and Theo and went to the sink to watch his hands, deliberately avoiding his own reflection.

“Just don’t ignore us. Answer your fucking text.”

Theo left first and Ethan followed. Brent stayed beyond, lathering his hands. Soap trickled down his wrists and it dawned on him that this was the first time he could remember washing his hands after taking a piss.

After rinsing, he finally looked up. But he didn’t see his blond hair, square jaw, or pale blue eyes.

He saw her.

He saw Emily.

A shudder coursed through him, and the reflection slowly became his own.

Brent sighed and rubbed his eyes.

I can’t answer your God damn texts, he thought. Because I still don’t have my phone.

But he couldn’t tell them that. He’d lied and said he’d found his phone in The Shack because he couldn’t bear the idea of going back inside.

“Brent?”

Brent’s eyes flicked to the door, and he was surprised to see Ethan still standing there, glaring at him.

“Yeah, I’ll answer your texts. Now, I can please just finish washing my fucking hands in peace?”

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Director Hampton didn’t say anything as Chase and Tate entered the room, he just stared down at a stack of papers on his desk. Having gone through this routine perhaps a dozen times prior, Chase knew better than to speak out of turn.

She often wondered what was printed on these ubiquitous pages. Clearly, the director wanted them to believe that they were important documents, requests from the President, or secret Pentagon transcripts, but Chase had a different idea: romance novels—the dirty kind, harems, perhaps, maybe one that takes place on a distant planet. Hell, why not one with dinosaurs, too? Tame dinosaurs and women.

Whatever his taste in literature, there was no doubting the man’s experience. Before becoming Director of the FBI Academy, Hampton had been a top Agent, if not the top Agent in the Bureau. This was some time ago, however, although exactly how long had passed since the man had been in the field, was unknown. Director Hampton appeared to be in his late fifties, but being involved in the FBI had a way of ageing you prematurely.

He could be thirty-eight for all Chase knew.

And today, Hampton appeared particularly ornery, the lines around his mouth like deep chasms filled with disgruntled feelings. Without looking up, the man gestured for them to take their seats.

Tate replicated this motion, which annoyed Chase—precisely why he’d done it. Still, Chase sat first and then Tate followed suit.

Still nothing from the director. He shuffled the printouts of his Harem LitRPG, stacked them neatly to one side, then interlaced his fingers and leaned forward.

Finally, he gave them the privilege of looking up, his hazel eyes moving from Tate to Chase before coming to a complete stop.

“I knew I’d see you back here one day.”

That was it.

No, Hello, nice to see you. No, I’m so glad you’re back, Chase.

There had been a time when Director Hampton might have led with something congenial, as the man had made it clear that he wasn’t happy about Chase’s decision to leave.

He’d even stated that she would be welcomed back from her indefinite sabbatical any time. 

But that was before.

That was before the disaster in New York City with the suicide girls and Cerebrum. That was before the dual disasters in Virginia and Columbus when she’d had no business being involved at all. And then there was Stu Barnes and the fact that she’d dragged Tate and Floyd, nearly getting the latter killed. The worst part was that the FBI couldn’t claim Chase’s “successes” given her non-affiliated status, but the media had no problem attributing her failures to the Bureau.

“That makes one of us,” Chase replied, trying her best to reflect the Director’s demeanor.

The two of them just stared at each other until Tate, like a kid being left out, decided to chime in.

“What about me? Did you expect to see me back here?”

Predictably, Hampton ignored Tate, which in and of itself was telling. If anyone else had made the inane comment, they’d likely be looking for another job by the time they left the room.

But not Tate.

Given all that she’d learned about her partner, Chase realized that the man’s professional trajectory was something of a mystery. By reputation alone, she knew that he’d been with the Bureau for several years, more than both herself, Floyd, and maybe even Stitts. She also knew that the man had worked with the once revered and now maligned Constantine Striker and that they’d both been instrumental in bringing down the notorious Sandman killer. Tate hadn’t been shy about telling her that Con was the one who had taught him the ways of the Chameleon, so to speak, but other than that…

“Are you here to apologize for interfering in a federal case?”

Even if Chase felt motivated to reply, which she didn’t, it was impossible to know what case Hampton was referring to.

“Or is it to apologize for getting one of my agents shot, an agent who has now left active duty to pursue cold cases?”

Chase did her best to suppress a smirk. This, too, was unclear. Was he referring to Floyd or Stitts?

Probably Floyd, she decided.

Yet, Chase was far from apologetic.

It was no surprise that being abducted at a young age, having your sister taken and indoctrinated, being addicted to heroin, and going through everything since had Chase leaning more toward Eeyore than Pollyanna.

But not Floyd. Somehow, he’d remained optimistic, unjaded, unconvinced that the world was filled with people who had but three simple desires: to fuck, to inflict pain, and to kill.

Deep down, she was glad that Floyd left before this inevitable attitude change.

“If you think I came here to apologize, then I might as well leave now,” Chase said dryly.

“Expect you to apologize?” Hampton shook his head. “No. Not you.” He finally looked at Tate. “You, on the other hand…”

Tate, for all of his ability to control his emotions, was taken aback and Chase saw the real Tate, which was rarely glimpsed in public.

Shocked, vulnerable, and more than a little sad.

She felt the urge to reach out and hold him then, which quickly made her feel silly and childish.

It was like witnessing a magician perform his signature trick, one that he’d successfully completed and awed the audience with hundreds, if not thousands, of times, only for it to fail miserably.

There was an innate desire to comfort them.

Maybe there was more to humans than fucking, hurting, and killing, after all.

“Me?” Tate hated filler words, but here was, buying himself time to slip into a protective persona.

Director Hampton didn’t bite. Perhaps he’d learned from Stitts that staying quiet often spoke volumes while running your mouth said nothing at all.

Tate’s Adam’s apple bobbed; the man was literally swallowing his pride.

Director Hampton was no fool. He knew that they’d come here because they wanted something, and the man wasn’t above making them grovel for it.

“Yeah.” Tate licked his lips. “I’m sorry. I fucked up.”

Chase’s relationship with Director Hampton had always been complicated and strained, which was no surprise given how she’d been brought into the FBI, duped and nearly murdered by ex-Agent Chris Martinez.

But not until this very moment had she seriously considered physical violence against the man.

Chase felt a nearly uncontrollable urge to slap the smirk off Director Hampton’s face.

Fuck, she hated that look.

“Let me guess, you guys want back into the fold? You want to partner up?”

This time, neither Chase nor Tate spoke—they just stared. Eventually, one of the director’s untamed eyebrows rose up his forehead.

“There’s more? There’s an and to your request?”

 Chase shrugged.

“Given that you’re in the mood to open new FBI divisions, like cold cases, I was hoping that you’d considered one more.”

The director’s other eyebrow met his first.

“We only want to take on specific cases,” Tate finished for Chase.

Hampton’s eyebrows dropped, as did his eyelids as he squinted at the both of them. 

“And let me guess, you only want cases that involve children?”

Chase wasn’t surprised that the man had hit the nail directly on the head.

“That’s right,” she said, holding the man’s glare. “Agent Abernathy and I are only interested in serious crimes against minors.”

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