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Father Uncloaks

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“Jeremy,” he said, looking at the sweet infant cradled in his arms.

 

Jeremy was an okay name, she thought. Lord knows, after seven other boys, there wasn’t a name she hadn’t already thought of.

 

“Alright,” she said. “Jeremy.”

 

In twenty-seven years, Jeremy would be known as Scout, and she’d be known to his teammates as his loving ma. And the young man, looking at his new son with love in his eyes, he’d be known as Spy, a rat bastard who’d left that family. But that would be twenty-seven years later. Right now, it was only Jeremy, brand new innocent Jeremy, with his two loving parents— one of whom couldn’t ever imagine leaving him, and the other knowing that he probably would. Because that man, that odd French man in the ski mask, was too debonair, too wayward, too young , frankly, to settle down in Boston and give up a life of espionage for a life of toys and tots.

 

But he was looking at Jeremy with love in his eyes. She sighed in the hospital bed. She ought to let him— “Jeremy”— be held by his father as much as possible, before he left.

 


 

“Boys?” she called out, walking into the small home in Boston. “Do you want to meet your brother?”

 

Half-brother, he really was. Really bad luck, in her opinion, that the one man she’d bedded after her other sons’ father had left her life had gotten her pregnant.

 

One of the middle ones, not more than four, tugged on the Spy’s suit jacket, wanting to see the new little brother that he’d have.

 

He was clutching the bundle of blue blankets with a protective ferocity that she recognized. “C’mon,” she prodded. “Let him see his new brother.”

 

Spy decided to squat down on his knees. He turned Jeremy to the curious child, who looked at the still-scrunched up infant’s face.

 

And poked it.

 

The wail that Jeremy cried made Spy stand up, retreat straight to the bedroom he shared with Jeremy’s mother, and shut the door, so he could keep his son close for the rest of the day.

 

“It’s okay, sweetie, you know how it is.” She sighed, ruffling her other son’s hair.

 

One of the older ones, looking out from his bedroom doorway, frowned. That wasn’t the way it was. Their dad let them see their brothers, and their dad wasn’t so mean about it.

 


 

That day, the first “Gathering of the Real Brothers” commenced. Obviously, Jeremy was not invited.

 

The appointed leader, the oldest of the brothers, started the meeting. “He ain’t our dad, that’s plain enough— stop chewin’ on the flashlight, this is serious business!”

 

The first meeting had some issues— namely, that half of the brothers in the meeting were too young to understand what was going on. But still, they were there, underneath a blanket tent between two sets of bunk beds.

 

“He ain’t our dad,” he continued. “He’s an okay guy, but he’s not Dad at all.”

 

The Vice President— second oldest— asked, “So what’s that make Jeremy?”

 

“It’s obvious, ain’t it? Jeremy doesn’t have the same dad as us, and brothers share dads. End of story.”

 

“But he got Ma. We all got Ma.”

 

The President of the Brothers thought. And thought some more. And his twelve-year-old brain figured it out, figured something out that would only end up hurting little Jeremy, little Scout. “He ain’t a full brother. He’s half a brother. So we don’t call him ‘brother’. We use half of the word. He’s our ‘bro’.”

 

“Jeremy is our baby bro!” Vice Secretary— the six-year-old in the room— clapped his hands.

 

“Sure, but he ain’t our baby brother . He’s our bro.”

 

“Got it. Baby bro.”

 


 

Baby Jeremy. One year old, barely walking, always babbling, wearing a little Talking France on his t-shirt. It was all so familiar to his mother, but so new to his father. She found it somewhat sweet, the way he was lining up pillows to the side of little Scout as he practiced walking, so if he fell he wouldn’t hurt himself, or the way he’d stopped smoking around the child— he kept a pipe of unlit tobacco at the ready, and lit it up when Jeremy was with his mother, but he refused to let the smoke waft into the baby’s lungs.

 

All of it was sweet. None of it would last. There was a tipping point.

 

“Yo, Pops, you’re making mac and cheese for all of us, right?” Scout’s brother had tugged on the suit jacket, not paying attention to what he was saying, just wishing for some delicious macaroni goodness.

 

Spy was paying attention to what he was saying, and the spoon he was using to stir clattered against the pot. “Yes,” he said, but he quickly walked away, lunch forgotten for all.

 

He lay in bed that night, thinking. It had been a year. So many jobs turned down. He’d told himself it was temporary, but now that he’d thought about it, less and less executives had been calling him. It had happened, spies getting too settled in family life. They probably thought it was happening to him. No one wants an operative who cares too much about his family.

 

Jeremy cried. Since he’d been moved to the children’s room with the rest of his brothers, he’d been crying every time he woke up, something he hadn’t done since he was six months old.

 

Spy moved to get up.

 

“I’ll get it.” A hand patted his and the mother of all eight boys stood up, yawning.

 

Spy kept thinking, in the inky darkness of the night. They were her sons. He’d treated Jeremy like he was his and his alone, but… they were hersons.

 

He made a decision.

 


 

A week later, Scout’s ma had woken up to a note on the bedside table, the suits in the closet gone, and a cold space in the bed beside her. She sighed. She knew it would happen, the instant she overheard one of her youngest call Spy “pops” when he wasn’t paying attention. She had actually just started to have hope that he would stay.

 

She read the note. He wouldn’t be coming back.

 

Jeremy was too young to remember. That was a good thing, at least.

 

She looked at a small snapshot on her dresser. Her, the man in the suit, and baby Jeremy, just learning to walk on his own, one hand being held up by each of his parents.

 

She took it out of the frame and almost tore it in half. But she looked at the photo again. One of her older sons, playing with the camera that day, had captured a beautiful moment.

 

There was an honest smile poking out of that ski mask, so proud to see his son taking his first steps. She looked happy, too, laughing at the careful way he had watched Jeremy so he wouldn’t fall. And Jeremy, well, Jeremy was the sweetest little toddler in that photo, just figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other.

 

She sighed, and taped it up to the back of her closet— the boys knew well enough to not go in there. She’d look at it, and feel bittersweet memories come up.


Poor Jeremy. At least he wouldn’t remember.

Chapter Text

Scout talked fast, walked fast, ran fast. He grew up fast, as though he was trying to chase his brothers across the years that separated them.

 

His ma knew that he would be her last child. The other moms tutted in sympathy. “Eight boys, all by herself. She must feel so broken down inside.” they’d say.

 

But she didn't. Frustrated? Sometimes. Tired? Often. But she never felt bitter or hopeless. She played the cards she was dealt, and raised the eight rowdy boys she loved, so they could be eight inspiring men.

 

But damn, it was hard sometimes. She’d come home from work, and her ears would be flooded with voices calling out “Ma! Ma! Ma!”

 

“Alright,” she said one such afternoon. “Sit down! Sit down! And you! Come here! Oh— don't even think about it!”

 

Scout, seven years old, was the only one who didn't have a bruise or a scratch on him. “What happened?” she asked, sternly.

 

What had happened was that his brothers had gone out against his mother’s orders, leaving him alone in the house— also against mother’s orders— to go to a Red Sox vs. Yankees game. Then, they’d gotten into a fight over the game; the Yankees won and some tough guys had gotten all cocky about it. It was seven to five, and even though they were big guys, they won, according to Scout’s brothers. Then, they’d picked up a box of chicken nuggets and a jumbo cola for their brother and came home, only to start arguing over who got control over the second-hand, really crappy, had-a-wire-coat-hanger-as-the-antennae TV.

 

Scout knew better than to tell the truth. He wasn't gonna rat his brothers out— no matter how upset he had been that they wouldn't let him go to the game. But he couldn't think of a lie that would explain away the multitude of bruises that his brothers had.

 

He went for straight-up denial. “Nothin’. Nothin’ happened.”

 

She crossed her arms. “Nothing happened. Really. Jeremy, are you sure ?” The look Scout's ma gave him had broken him many times before. But not this time. He was going to stay strong.

 

“Nope. Nothin’ at all.”

 

He saw her eyes narrow. She caught him by the chin, sticky and stained with artificial coloring. “Jeremy, is that cola ? I told you, you’re not allowed to have soda! It makes you hyper! It's why I don't keep any… in the house…”

 

She snapped her fingers at the two boys who could drive. “You’re going to do the dishes, and then tell me what happened. The rest of you, go to your room, and do your homework. I don't want to see any ‘F’s on report cards, are we clear?”

 

Everyone muttered, “Okay, ma,” and quietly picked themselves up.

 

Scout trudged by the sink, where his two brothers were grabbing the dish soap and sponges. “I'm sorry,” he said.

 

They looked at each other. Scout felt a friendly hand squeeze his shoulder. “You tried, bro.”

 


 

That night, there was a storm. Scout was huddled under his blankets, hugging his pillow and trying to just sleep through it.

 

A whispered voice from the bunk above him said, “Why don’t ya go on to Ma’s room, Jer?”

 

“But you called me a baby last time I did that,” he whispered back.

 

“I changed my mind,” his brother said from above him, and that was more than enough to get Scout to grab his blanket and pillow and go darting down the hall, jumping as thunder shook the house.

 

As Scout left the room, a light flipped on. “I, the Head Secretary of the—”

 

He was cut off. “We get it, you kicked out Jer, whadda ya want to say?”

 

“Uh… we oughta let him come along next time, don’t ya think?”

 

It was a loaded question. Jeremy never came along to their escapades. But he was getting older, and all of them were noticing the disappointed looks on his face whenever they left him.

 

Everyone turned to look at their oldest brother, hands dry and red from scrubbing dishes.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “Sure. Now turn off the the damn light.”

 


 

The baseball game was nothing less than breathtaking for Jeremy. And sneaking into the stadium was the biggest thrill of his life— better than when his ma finally let him ride the big coasters at the moving carnival. He remembered the pep talk his brothers had given him.

 

“Now, Jer, don't say anything . Anything at all .”

 

They walked to the gate. When asked for their tickets— which they didn't have, because tickets for eight was an expense they couldn't afford— they’d piped up.

 

“We’re a tour group.”

 

“We needed ta take this kid outside.”

 

“He forgot his teddy bear on the bus, that’s what’s in the bag.”

 

Scout wanted to protest; he was seven , he didn’t need a teddy bear anymore. But he didn’t say anything. His brothers knew what they were doing. They bragged about getting in all the time.

 

The guy reached for the bag.

 

“No, no, no— he’s real embarrassed by his teddy bear, he’ll start cryin’.”

 

The guy frowned at the kids in front of him. Scout had a flash of inspiration, and hoped he wouldn't get yelled at. He grabbed the bag from his brother’s hands, and said in his best little-kid voice, “Mr. Snuggles is mine, not yours.” He held the bag close, feeling the cold edges of the beer for his brothers inside.

 

The security guard looked at the little kid, apparently close to tears, and laughed. “You are way too old for that, son.” He waved them in, cackling. “Good luck in there. This is a ‘big boy’ game, ya know!”

 

His brothers nodded, feigning embarrassment. When they got to their seats, they burst out laughing. For a second, Scout was close to tears, until he heard:

 

“That was awesome!”

 

“Didja see that guy’s face?”

 

“What a moron!”

 

He got clapped on the back. “Great job, Jer. Usually we have to try two or three times before we get in.”

 

“And sometimes we lose the beer,” his brother said as he popped the tab. “Don't tell Ma, by the way.”

 

“Well, duh,” Scout laughed. His brothers were proud of him, and the Red Sox were starting. Life was incredible.

 


 

The Sox won, and his brothers were the loudest in the stands, whooping and hollering. He cheered with the rest of them, standing on the seat and putting his fists in the air.

 

Scout had only had a few sips of soda during the game, so he was the only one that didn't have to pee.

 

“Now, wait here,” he was told. “Ma will kill us if ya get lost.”

 

And though his brother didn't say it out loud, he was worried about leaving his youngest brother alone in the large stadium, even for the quick few minutes it took to run to the restroom.

 

He leaned back against the wall, looking around. He noticed that the ladies’ line for the bathroom was much longer then the men’s.

 

He looked some more, a few kids his age, but a lot of adults, too. A voice caught his attention.

 

“Yo, that whole game was total crap. The Sox sucked.”

 

A scraggly-looking man was talking to the air. He swore, and said, “They shoulda lost.”

 

Scout’s eyes narrowed. His brothers said that no one was allowed to talk like that about their team. And if they don't shut up, ya gotta make them shut up.

 

“You’re the one who sucks!” he said, walking up to the men. He had to crane his neck to see their faces.

 

“Really?” the guy chuckled, looking at his Red Sox shirt and cap, his red foam rubber hand pointing at him.

 

“Yeah! You're just a… just a…” he remembered something his brother had said when someone cut them off. He didn't know what it meant, but it sounded bad. So he said that.

 

The guy suddenly lifted him up by the arm.

 

“Ah! Lemme go, lemme go, lemme go!” This wasn't the way his brothers said fights went.

 

The oldest of his brothers would drink one, maybe two beers each, but this guy’s breath smelled like he’d downed a six-pack and then some.

 

“You're real stupid, ya know that ya little—”

 

“Hey!” Scout heard his brother’s voice ring out, footsteps running towards him. “What the hell are you doin’, man?”

 

The guy dropped Scout unceremoniously on the ground, where he landed flat on his back. “Teachin’ this little jackass a lesson.” He leaned over Scout, beer breath saturating the air. “You’re gonna lose the fight, so don’t even try.” he said. He snorted, and looked back up. “He’s your brother, then? Well, get this stupid pants-wetter out of here.”

 

It was only then that Scout felt the wet warmth of urine making his pants cling to his legs.

 

“I mean it!” the guy said, lurching and laughing. “Get your stupid piss-pants brother outta here.”

 

“You don’t know anything, asshat , you get that?!” Scout looked up at his brother, who was suddenly a different kind of mad. He was yanked to his feet. “Let’s go .”

 

Scout was pulled to the car. “You shoulda told me that you had to pee,” his brother ranted. “And I told ya to stay right there and ya didn’t .”

 

All eight boys clambered into the car. The scent of urine was obvious in the closed space, and more than a couple of boys cursed.

 

His brother in the driver’s seat turned around. “Rule number one, Jeremy,” he said, loud and scathing. “Don’t get into a friggin’ fight with a six-foot drunk guy whose team just lost! Wait, forget that!” he slammed the steering wheel. “That guy was right, don't get into a fight at all! Bro , I am notsaving your ass again.”

 

He started the old car, the engine clambering to life. Scout looked down at his feet. He pulled his cap— now grimy from when he was squirming on the ground— lower on his head, tugging the brim over his eyes.

 

It didn't help. Everyone knew he was crying.

 


 

They got home. Scout took a shower and changed into his pajamas. He saw his brother scrubbing at his pants and shirt and cap. He said, “I gotta clean your stuff. Otherwise, Ma’s gonna wonder.”

 

Scout nodded. He’d stopped crying. He was about to turn to leave the room, when he decided to say something.

 

“I'm gonna come to the next game.” he said. “And I ain’t gonna pick a fight with anyone, but if someone picks a fight with me—with us — then I'm gonna fight. And win.”

 

His brother sighed at the sink. He almost said something, then looked at Jeremy, eyes determined. “Pick a fight with us,”   he’d said. This little half-pint wanted to have his back, even though he couldn't hold his own.

 

A fraction of a smile slipped onto his face. “Maybe one day,” he said. “Now do me a favor and get me the last candy bar in the cabinet.”

 

“But—” he protested.

 

“I’m washin’ your piss pants, you gotta do what I say.”

 

He left the room to get the candy. His brother chuckled. Maybe…

 

Maybe just one more chance to bring Jeremy out to a ball game.

 


 



They told Jeremy that he’d always have to pretend to be a little wimp so they could get through the gates. He didn't mind at all, because instead of watching the games on the cruddy, second-hand, coat-hanger-antenna TV, he got to be at the stadium with his brothers.

Chapter Text

“C’mon, Ma, you’re embarassin’ me,” Scout pretended to protest to his mother, who was standing on tiptoes and hugging him tight, but he was hugging her back just as tightly.

 

“Ah, I know I am,” she said, and leaned up to kiss him on the forehead before letting go. “Stay safe, sweetie.”

 

Scout smiled. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll brush my teeth and wash behind my ears and do all that crap,” he said. Though he was a grown man, his mother still gave him a light smack on his bicep for using the word “crap”.

 

“I’m serious , Jeremy. Be safe. Call me.”

 

“Yeah, Ma, I promise I won’t take candy from strangers or nothin’, okay?” he managed to coax a laugh from his mother.

 

He tried to smile back at his ma, but it was tinged with guilt at the edges. He was saying all the right words because he was the last one to leave the house, leaving her with an empty nest. If she knew about his job, and how he couldn’t be safe, she might have held onto him and not let him go.

 

But it was a great job. Growing up, some track-and-field for a bit, some baseball for a little longer, rushing to a fight (and running from the cops) constantly— well, he never realized that being fast was such a talent of his, until he’d gotten the letter saying that he was so skilled that he was being recruited for a job as a mercenary.

 

He’d had to look up the definition of “mercenary” in the dictionary. At first, the thought of killing people, and getting shot at himself, made his guts twist in doubt. Was that a kind of job he was suited for? Wouldn't he be better off just trying to get a job as an intern or a salesman or something?

 

But there was a little thing, a disclaimer that said, “More information can only be disclosed after accepting the job.”

 

More information. It sounded like there would be more to it than just a regular mercenary job— and besides, Scout knew he would obsess over it until he knew what the super secret “information” was. He filled out the huge pile of paperwork— all of it “Classified” , so he had to do it all by himself. It gave him a headache— damn, how did other people handle all this reading? All the twisty letters and stuff— but he managed to get all the right words in all the right places, using his best “professional adult” signature whenever he had to.

And it turned out the classified information was good information, at least in his opinion. No actual dying involved. Well, only kinda. Apparently he would “die”, a lot, but he’d come back every time. And apparently he was gonna get used to it.

 

He figured it was gonna be weird to get used to dying. And all that “respawn” technical crap they didn’t tell him about either (even though he signed all the papers!) But he figured that it’d probably be too complicated for him to understand. Gettin’ people back from the dead could not be a simple thing.

 

“Jeremy?” his mother’s voice reminded him that he hadn’t gotten on the train yet, and that he should still be saying his goodbyes. He’d have plenty of time to wonder about the job later.

 

“Yeah, Ma?”

 

“Jeremy…” She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know if she should tell him anything he didn’t know— not right now, not right before he was leaving for a special job that must have been a blessing just for him. She didn’t know if there was anything more to be said, really; her baby was leaving, and that was really all that mattered.

 

She decided on the one truth that she couldn’t repeat enough to him. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, Ma.” he was the one who hugged her this time, if only to spare her from seeing his eyes water just a little.

 

“Train’s here,” his mother sniffled, apparently not being able to hold back the waterfall. “Bye, Jeremy,” she said.

 

“Bye, Ma.” he pecked her on the cheek and boarded the train, the train that was supposed to be a regularly scheduled “normal” train, but instead was a long-distance ride meant only for him, to take him to the Badlands.

 

A bit of fear and anticipation made him shiver when he saw how different it was compared to any other train he’d seen before. The train car he boarded looked was very barren and industrial in the inside; like it was only temporarily repurposed for his trip. He looked through the only real window and waved goodbye.

 

His mother waved back, a scared feeling in her gut. Her intuition was never wrong, but she thought it was just the feeling of the last of her little ones leaving the house.


 

 

Spy couldn’t check on his son often, because when Spy did check, it made him want to sit down with his son and shake him. It made him want to ask him where his life was going, what he was planning. Spy refused to interfere, or let his contact in Boston give him any news over the phone. Just the small file every once in awhile.

 

The previous time he’d checked, he’d gotten two reports on Jeremy. He sighed, looking over them. A front-page photo of him, crossing the finish line first at Olympic-level speeds in a high school track meet. And next to that, a record from his two weeks in juvenile detention, for shoplifting a massive amount of soda from a department store.

 

A small part of him was angry that they’d lock him up for something so harmless. That was the paternal side. The other part, the professional side, was nodding at the fact that the rules were being enforced like they should, to prevent young men from going down the wrong path.

 

And what path was Jeremy on now? He opened the new letter. He always asked his contact to keep the updates short, not a full run-through of what his son had been doing. But he was frustrated that the news was so terse that it could fit into a regular letter-sized envelope, instead of the usual folder that his son’s information came in.

 

He looked at the one document inside. Classified. Odd, but not too odd. Some policemen generally liked to consider themselves more important than they were, marking everything they did “Classified” or even “Top Secret” , with no real reason to do so.

 

But he pulled out the document, and as he started scanning it, he realized that the information was, indeed, not meant for the eyes of the general public. He saw the news in bits and pieces, as though his brain knew that reading the whole document at once would make his heart give in.

 

Jeremy [REDACTED] to fill the role of “Scout”… Designation: Offensive… noted for potential information retrieval skills… high running stamina, low resilience to attacks… low priority for medical treatment…

 

Spy could have sworn his heart stopped. His leg had been a victim of an ambush. It had been peppered with shrapnel. Even now, after being healed, after nursing a glass of whiskey, it still hurt. And he would run on it tomorrow. It was his job . And now, it was his son’s.

 

Pauling knew. But Spy didn’t know that Pauling knew. If he did, he might have gone running to her. He would have said to her that Jeremy was still a child. What was she thinking, hiring him? He still had a chance. He should be an Olympic athlete, not a mercenary. He should wear gold medals around his neck, not wear dog tags in case he got shot.

 

But he didn’t know that Pauling knew. And he decided it was too risky to tell her, to say anything.

 

He lifted the bottle of whiskey, poured himself another drink, and thought about what it would be like, seeing his son for the first time in over two decades.

 

And thought more, about what it would be like seeing his son, only to watch him get blown up.



All of the other mercenaries were bigger and older than him. But he’d been friends with his brother’s friends, so he knew how to get along with those kinds of guys. The trick was, to peg them for who they were as soon as possible, to make sure you knew who not to cross, and who you could mess with.

 

“Alright,” Miss Pauling said. Scout had taken one look at her and wow . She was pretty, and she was growing more beautiful by the second. It was so cute, the way she got all flustered when she dropped her clipboard.

 

He moved to pick it up for her.

 

“I said it before, Scout, these are top-secret files.” She was still flustered. One of those pages mentioned that Spy was Scout’s father. She berated him. “You can’t just go around trying to grab them when I’m not looking!”

 

“But—” C’mon, was she really playing hard-to-get? 

“Scout!” she sighed. “Let’s just go meet your new teammates, alright?”

 

“Yeah, okay.” he said. It was okay. He still hadn’t flexed for her yet. That would get rid of any bad first impressions for sure.

 

Alright, time to size ‘em up.

 

“Who's the boyo?”

 

First guy. Seemed to call him a kid, but not really. Huge tough dude. He’d never met a drunk six-footer with an eyepatch before— oh wait, no, there was that one time. But this guy was black. And Scottish. So, not the same guy.

 

“Scout this is Demo. Demo, Scout.”

 

Demo held out a hand to shake, the other clutching a bottle of whatever made his breath horrible. He laughed rambunctiously and slapped him on the back. “You ready for some fun, boy?” He laughed again, but calmer. “Aye, you’ll like it here.”

 

Scout smiled awkwardly, nodding.

 

“This is Engie.”

 

“Pleased to meetcha, kid.” he stuck out a hand, half paying attention. Scout shook. He was one of those older dudes, the ones who thought they were smart and it was their duty to teach kids like Scout everything they knew. But he seemed kind enough, despite that.

 

Pauling and Scout turned a corner.

 

Pauling hesitated. “Um… just be nice here, okay?”

 

“Oh-kay…”

 

She sauntered in. “Pyro, this is Scout!”

 

This “Pyro” had a mask on. And was wearing a giant fireproof thing. And was coloring on the floor with crayons.

 

“Hi, Pyro! He’s gonna be helping on the team!” Miss Pauling said, voice bright.

 

Pyro’s head tilted. Then Scout found himself engulfed in a full-body hug. Pauling was frantically giving him two thumbs up, mouthing, “ go with it”.

 

Later, she said. “That was good. Very good.”

 

“Uh, are ya sure?” Scout raised an eyebrow. Pauling recognized the expression— Spy made that face all the time.

 

“Some people get set on fire,” she said in explanation.

 

Scout stopped in his tracks, while Pauling kept walking. “C’mon, not too many people left to meet.”

 

This guy, “Soldier”, was next. “You American?” was the first question out of his mouth.

 

“Yeah, man. Boston.” Scout replied.

 

“Alright,” he nodded, voice gruff, and Pauling tugged on his arm.

 

“That’s the end of it,” she said, out of his hearing range. “He likes you. It takes a bit longer for anyone who’s not. American, that is. Don't mention politics.”

 

“Don't really care for ‘em anyway,” Scout replied.

 

The guy Sniper, he didn't say anything . He just nodded. He lived in a van, too. That seemed sad. Scout made a mental note that he probably wasn't one of the cool ones.

 

“Here we go,” Pauling said, pushing open a door. “Heavy, Medic, this is Scout.”

 

“Hey—” he started, then stopped. Some fat guy’s chest was just cut open right there in the middle of the room. And the other guy, the doc, he didn't even seem to be operating or whatever. They were freaking laughing at something before he walked in.

 

A bird came flapping down to the doctor’s shoulder. Scout looked up slowly.

 

“Okay, that’s not sanitary,” he noted, looking at all the doves roosting in the ceiling.

 

He didn’t realize he’d said it out loud until the Medic responded with, “Good to meet you, too.”

 

He just blinked. Pauling dragged him out.

 

“Yeah, okay. So that was Medic and Heavy.” Pauling wiped some sweat from her brow.

 

“Who the hell keeps birds in their O.R.? That doc is nuts.” Scout said.

 

“Luckily, you won't be working with him much. He and Heavy are the main team on the field. Whatever injuries you take, you’ll probably have to deal with them yourself.” Pauling shot a look at him over the edge of her glasses.

 

“Oh.” Scout said.

 

“Alright,” she sighed. “Last guy.” She saved Spy for last for a reason. Scout had no idea of his real father, she figured, and by all of her accounts, Spy had pretty much forgotten he’d had a son. But there was still a lot riding on this first interaction.

 

“Scout… this is Spy,” Pauling said, as she opened the door to the smoking room.

 

Scout looked him over. A suit. A suit . Really?

 

Spy looked at his son. Scout was not nervous at all, instead looking him up and down with something like judgement in his eyes. He didn't care about being judged. He did care about the fact that Scout should be scared out of his wits at this new job. He shouldn't be so confident as to be casting glances at the petite woman next to him.

 

Spy knew that it was irrational to think that his son would recognize him. But as the seconds passed and no stunning revelation came to Scout, something inside Spy broke, just a little.

 

He moved to shake his son’s hand. He looked at him. “Hello, young man.” He turned his gaze to Miss Pauling. “Didn’t realize we were hiring children .”

 

That was all Scout needed to hear. Spy was immediately filed under the category of French Prick.

 

Pauling actually frowned. She’d thought Spy was a nice guy, even after she found out that he left his family. She’d thought that he’d probably had his reasons. But this seemed cold in a way that she didn’t realize Spy was capable of.

 

“Spy, Scout. Scout, Spy.” she said once more, before tugging Scout out of the room.

 

“And that’s everyone,” she said, trying to hide any emotion she felt from the situation. It wasn't her business. “Assignments will begin for you tomorrow. There’s where you can get set up.” Pauling pointed to a room.

 

“Okay,” Scout said. “Hey,” he called as she turned to walk away. “When do I get to see ya again?”

 

Pauling frowned. “Um, tomorrow. I’m the one who hands out the assignments.” She left, kitten heels clicking on the floor.


"Dangit,” Scout thought. “She’s the boss."