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Chimera Fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 3/15

July 6th, 2011 (07:51 am)

A/N: And this starts the fundamental conflict in the fic :) Which is why it's a lot shorter than the previous two sections. Thanks!

Previous parts here.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Ava was just one small part of the plan. While she was taking to her part like a duck to water, the other details were a bit more tedious. Though considering the number of times Ava wanted to meet to ask more questions, Stefan was beginning to question her self-sufficiency.

Saul made daily contact from his hotel room in the ritzier part of town. He deigned to come to the apartment a few times, but most of his work was done remotely, making phone calls and procuring various items and intel. While he was tracking down the getaway vehicles they'd need and some of the stealth gear that was easy to get without raising eyebrows, Saul seemed to be having trouble with the infrared scans Michael wanted, but he promised he was working on it.

Stefan was on top of the heavier stuff. An old friend of Anatoly's gave him access to the weaponry, but the key was to get it past Customs. They had a drop spot at a private airstrip just outside the city, and Stefan had every reason to believe that the cash he was forking over would ensure that it was a smooth deal.

Michael had the least to actually do, but he seemed to be taking it all the hardest. The kid spent most of the week looking tense, but doing a pretty damn good job of trying to keep it under wraps. Stefan could tell, of course, but Stefan knew everything about that kid. There was nothing Michael could hope to hide from him, not if Stefan made a point of knowing.

And Stefan made a point of knowing everything.

Even the things he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Like why Michael was sitting on the couch, just staring at him.

The staring had been going on for the better part of a half hour, ever since Michael came back from class. Stefan had to work the late shift down at the bar, so he'd been preoccupied with arrangements all day. Michael, lazy little thing that he was, didn't have to do anything except sit around and shut up.

Which, to his credit, the kid was doing.

Literally.

While he stared.

At first, the staring had been under the pretense of reading. Michael still had a textbook open on his lap, something very obscure about South American history. Sometimes a page was absently turned, but the slow pace was a dead giveaway that Michael wasn't reading it at all.

No, Michael wasn't reading. He was staring.

Stefan tried to ignore it. Just kept up his work, checking things off his to do list, and reassessing their entrance strategy. He had plenty to do, and he didn't have time for Michael's stares.

Because Michael's stares were never innocuous. No, Michael stared when he wanted something. Permission to go somewhere, information of some sort, a free four-course meal with an extra dessert. Michael still struggled with some of his conversational skills, so his way of trying to get Stefan to ask him what was wrong was to just stare until holes were burned through Stefan's skull and he gave in.

It was worse, not only because Stefan always gave in, but he always ended up saying yes. Yes, Michael could go out with his friends. Yes, Michael could know about what it was like to have a mother. Yes, Michael could enjoy that four-course meal with an extra dessert that Stefan was going to end up preparing.

Stefan never meant for it to work, but Michael could stare really well. Almost without blinking. It would be creepy if it wasn't so damn distracting.

All things considered, Stefan really should have been proud he'd made it this long. His previous record had been sixteen minutes.

But after thirty minutes of an unrelenting stare, Stefan's nerves were shot and his patience gone. Knowing his luck, the kid would go blind for lack of blinking and that was just a hassle Stefan didn't need.

Somehow, that justification made it easier to swallow his defeat.

With a sigh, Stefan put aside his work, looking up at Michael with an annoyed glare. "What?" he demanded.

Michael blinked, bicolored eyes large and innocent. He wore contacts when he was out, but at home he preferred to go au natural. "What?"

Stefan rolled his eyes. "You're staring."

Michael faked a frown. Poorly. "Oh. I hadn't noticed."

Stefan snorted. "Yeah, whatever," he said. "Just tell me what you want so we don't have to play twenty questions to get there."

Michael seemed to consider prolonging Stefan's misery, but he must have been feeling nice today. Either that, or he just really wanted to share what was on his mind. Lips pursed, his brow wrinkled. "Is Ava coming over tonight?"

"Yeah, before my shift," Stefan answered cautiously. That question had been too simple.

"And that's why you want me to go out to dinner with my friends?" Michael continued.

Stefan nodded, again with reservation. "Yeah. That and sometimes I need a break from trying to feed the endless pit that is your stomach."

Michael ignored the insult, which was a very, very bad sign. "So I won't be here when you meet with Ava."

"That one's not a question, Misha."

But the next one was: "When do I get to meet her?" Michael didn't even miss a beat.

That was a simple one. "You don't."

He frowned. "But why not?"

"Because there's no way I'm risking her outing you," he said as a matter of fact.

"But she's met you."

"Yeah, and I'm at least still technically an American citizen," he said. "You're more at risk."

"Are you sure that's the reason you don't want me to meet her?"

Stefan glared. "What other reason would there be?"

Michael gave a small shrug. "You like her."

"What?" Stefan asked.

Michael's expression was plaintive. "You like Ava."

"I like Ava, but I don't like Ava," Stefan said. Then he shook his head, thoroughly annoyed. "And it's not even the point. Ava is part of the team. She has a job to do. That's all."

"Again, with the talking too much," Michael said. "It's a dead giveaway."

Michael and his damned psychology textbooks. "Not everything is about sex, contrary to what your mind seems to think," Stefan said. "This is about business."

Michael nodded solemnly. "You're deflecting."

And if he was, he was totally justified in it. "Watch your mouth, or I'll deflect onto you."

The threats of violence had never had much impact on Michael. He shrugged indifferently. "If you get to approve of my dates, then shouldn't I get to approve of yours?"

Stefan glowered. "What part of business don't you understand?"

"The part where you keep meeting with an attractive girl and every time I ask about her, you start to turn red and yell at me."

"Who said she's attractive?" Stefan snapped.

"You didn't have to," Michael said. "Are you saying she's not pretty?"

"No, well-" Stefan tried, but snapped his mouth shut. "That's not the point."

"So she is pretty."

"And you're annoying."

Michael shook his head, almost in disappointment. "You know that I support you dating."

Probably just so he could elicit details and tips. "Thanks that means a lot," Stefan said coolly.

"It might make you less tense," Michael offered.

A beer might make him less tense. Getting the Institute out of the picture might make him less tense. Erasing his history with Konstantin might make him less tense. Evicting the rat that lived in Michael's room might make him less tense. Getting a girlfriend, however, would not make him less tense. Girls were a distraction he didn't need, especially when they came with reporter's notebooks and an insatiable curiosity.

More than that, he was barely managing Michael's would-be love life. If the kid ever got from innate desire to the real thing, Stefan would have a hell of a mess on his hands and the thought of trying to keep a girl happy in the midst of it was just not all that appealing.

"You are awfully tense these days," Michael observed.

"I live with a teenage know-it-all and a rat. Trust me, in my shoes, you'd be tense, too."

Michael smiled a little, pleased by that. "I can see how my intelligence would be difficult to handle. You did say you even went to a prestigious college and you still can't compete," he said. Then he gave Stefan a sympathetic look. "But it's not your fault, so you shouldn't beat yourself up over it. Genetics are what they are."

Punk ass kid. Sure of himself and cocky as hell. Of course, it didn't help that he was right, but as the big brother, Stefan wasn't about to let the little craphead get away with it.

Michael was certain that Stefan would never hurt him, but make a show of whooping his ass? Hell yes, he would. He was still bigger and faster than his brother, and better yet, Michael would never see it coming.

Kid never did.

Quickly, Stefan sprang, tackling Michael off he couch.

Michael yelped as he fell, cushioning himself with his arms and trying to roll with the impact. They hit the end table, jarring it and spilling a lamp onto the floor, but the clatter didn't even make Stefan pause. Trained as Michael was in multiple forms of self-defense and fighting techniques, he wasn't well equipped to handle a full out frontal assault. It was no surprise to Stefan when he felled the kid quickly, twisting him around until he had him in a choke hold that reminded the kid that even if he was smarter, he was still the younger brother.

Michael squawked, flailing for a moment, bucking vainly against him.

As Michael slumped a little, Stefan let go, knowing his point was made.

For a second, Michael just sat, blinking a few times before looking up at Stefan. "Wow, picking a fight," he said. "You must really like her."

This time Michael saw the attack coming and scrambled out of the way before Stefan had a chance to finish the job. Tucking tail and retreating, Michael grinned back from his doorway. "Don't worry," he said assuringly. "That winning personality of yours. I'm sure she likes you, too."

Stefan was about to growl a string of obscenities at his brother, but Michael slipped into his room, locking the door for good measure.

Sulking, Stefan plunked back onto the couch. Coward. A damn smart coward, but still a coward.

And Michael wasn't right, for once. He didn't like Ava. The kid was the one who was projecting and if it took pinning the kid to the floor to convince him of that, then so be it. After all, that was part of the gig when it came to being a big brother - keeping the little punk in line.

Yet, Stefan had to smile. Not for Ava, attractive as she may be or not. But just this, being brothers. To think of how long he'd waited for this and how good it felt. So if that meant a little teasing and a little ass kicking, then Stefan would relish every minute.

-o-

No matter what Michael wanted to believe, Stefan's relationship with Ava really was strictly business. How could it not be? As far as Stefan could tell, she was the consummate journalist and her attention to detail bordered on anal retentive. He was beginning to wonder if she'd been posted in South America because her bosses in the States were tired of having to deal with her face to face.

But still, it seemed to be working in Stefan's favor. Despite her annoying stakeout habits, Ava had all the makings of a sound ally. She picked up on the background of the Institute quickly, putting together the pieces and making pretty sound theories to build on. Better than that, her natural curiosity seemed tempered by an innate desire to do the right thing. She obviously wasn't as motivated to save the day as Stefan was, but Ava Leehey was ready to do her part.

More than her part. With the questions she was asking - rapid and almost nonstop - Stefan wondered if he was going to have to make her a full fledged partner of their little escapade.

It had started innocently. A few calls to check up, a meeting to discuss the details. Research, she called it, crucial to her story.

Or so she said when she invited herself over to his apartment a few nights later.

It was a weird thing, after he realized what he'd done. Inviting her over. Saul knew where they lived, and Michael had had over people from time to time. But Stefan's social life was still strained and mostly nonexistent. He had other things on his mind.

But Ava - she was harder to get rid of than Zilla when he was insatiably attracted to Stefan's socks (which the little bastard had an unnerving propensity for - Michael had probably trained the damn thing). Inviting her over had been easier than fielding countless phone calls from her. It had nothing to do with liking her - no matter what demented notions Michael seemed to harbor.

After all, who could like a girl like that? A dog with a bone had nothing on her, and she was wholly focused on one thing: her precious story.

And that was what Stefan would help her with.

Still, the fact that Michael had a study group that night was extra convenient.

She arrived on time, her punctuality actually more honed that Stefan's. Her smile was bright and Stefan had to look twice when he saw the yellow sundress she was wearing.

"Hi," she said, holding out a box of chocolates. "I figured since you provided the place, I should probably not show up empty-handed."

Frowning, Stefan took the box, completely unsure what to do with it. "Um, thanks," he said, putting it on the kitchen counter. "So, uh, what questions did you have?"

"Just a few clarifications," she said with an absent shrug. "And I was thinking about your plan. Are you sure you've accounted for all the security in place? They're bound to have some sophisticated stuff there."

Eyes narrowed, Stefan felt himself bristling. "You're the reporter, remember?" he asked pointedly. "Not a tactical advisor."

She blinked, her face registering the rejection slightly. Her expression wavered but solidified. She pressed her lips together, head cocked. "Reporter, right," she said slowly, a strange lilt to her voice. She bit her lip for a moment, then smiled. "But I'm a detail person. Always wanting more. Drove my parents crazy."

Stefan could imagine.

Ava hedged for a moment, then continued. "Like you," she said conversationally enough, but Stefan could tell he was in for more than he wanted to deal with. "You fascinate me. I mean, this whole righteous crusade thing is one thing, but you. American, right? What are you doing in Bolivia?"

"Bartending," he said simply, the barest version of the truth.

She controlled her exasperation with a bemused smile. "And I totally love the scar," she said, then caught herself. "I mean, you can hardly tell, you've done a good job with it. But I love scars. They are stories in and of themselves. No word count or quotes necessary."

Talkative, observant, and strangely rude.

She didn't need him to reply, which was good since he had no intention to, and instead she rambled on about a scar on her foot from when she stepped on a nail when she was seven, which then also reminded her of a story she wrote about a boy who got glass caught in his foot for seven years until it worked its way out and he gave her a piece when she wrote the profile about him.

He could tell her to shut up, but it didn't seem right. Especially since he'd somehow been coerced into inviting her over. And not when she was so inherently good-natured. Stefan was a trained killer, bodyguard for the mob, and he was being totally subdued by a reporter with a cute smile.

He told himself again that he needed her help. But why he was tolerating her endless rambling, he still wasn't sure.

Inside, Ava moved around the apartment smoothly, going from one thing to the next. She picked up a picture frame curiously. "Is this the kid?" she asked.

Stefan followed her, plucking it from her hands and returning it to its place. "Yeah," he said. "But he's not part of the story, remember?"

She nodded absently, continuing her trek around the room. "Not part of the story," she said. Carefully, she settled herself on the couch, all smiles. "But clearly part of yours."

There was something in the tone of her voice that unsettled him, and Stefan forced himself to sit to avoid dealing with it. "Yeah, well, my story is off limits, too."

"Oh, come on," she cajoled. "You have to throw me some kind of bone here. I mean, you're an American bartender, shacked up in the middle of South American with some out there scheme to overthrow a facility with unknown governmental ties that you say is raising and manipulating children to become killers. This isn't the kind of stuff that happens to just anyone."

"Exactly," Stefan said. "Which is all the more reason that I want myself out of it. Guys with nothing to lose aren't running around doing this kind of crap and getting their name in the paper for it."

She seemed to consider that. "True," she said. "But you assume my curiosity is strictly professional."

Was she hitting on him? It had been so long that Stefan barely even knew how to recognize the signs.

He opted to ignore. Instead, he laughed brusquely. "Then you need some new hobbies."

"Can't disagree there," she said. "It's a problem I have."

And one that Stefan clearly had. Michael was going to be home within the hour, and the last thing he wanted so this question piranha trying to attack him with journalistic know-how.

"I never would have guessed," Stefan said ruefully.

"So, you still haven't told me what your angle is," Ava said conversationally. She was leaned back on the couch, legs crossed. She was trying to act casual, but Stefan could see that the journalist in her was still trying to put it all together.

Stefan shrugged, keeping himself on the defensive. He needed Ava in all of this, and okay, he sort of liked her, but she wasn't the point. She was an important tool to end the cycle, and beyond keeping her safe, Stefan didn't have the time or energy to expend making new friends. "What can I say," he said. "I was born with a big heart."

Her eyebrows twitched, and Stefan could see she didn't buy it. "This is a little more than stopping a mugging on the street or volunteering at a soup kitchen," she said. "I mean, the scale of this thing? The risk alone is monumental. You'll be using heavy artillery to get in and out, which means you're putting yourself at risk for getting arrested - in South America, no less. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the risk of actually getting killed in the attempt. You know better than I do just what kind of firepower you're probably going to be up against."

Stefan refused to answer, staying stiff and eyes up and locked with hers. He didn't want her to see how right she was.

She sat up, leaning forward, resting an elbow on her knee and cradling her chin with her hand. "No, this is the stuff of obsession," she said. "Personal vendettas. Martyr complexes. Something pushed you into this. And it's a lot more than you've told me so far."

Her gaze was penetrating, hotter than the Bolivian heat. Stefan couldn't help it, he shifted uncomfortably. He'd been out of the game too long for this kind of crap. "It's sort of a long story."

Face brightening, she seemed to inch closer. "I'm a journalist," she said simply. "I love long stories."

Of course she did; that was why she was here. But there were parts of this story Stefan didn't want her to tell - couldn't let her tell. His role, Michael's very existence - if they were ever going to put this behind them, there could be no mention of them. Stefan collected a steady breath, looking back at her discerningly. "I told you when I let you in on this that I'm not part of this story."

She nodded. "You and the kid, I remember," she said. Then she paused, almost as if she'd just listened to what she said. "The kid. This is about him, isn't it?"

It wasn't a stretch that she would figure it out, but it certainly wasn't exactly what Stefan had hoped for. Ava was supposed to be a tool, a convenience, but she seemed dead set on complicating things.

Suddenly in need of air, Stefan got to his feet, going to the window. He cracked it, letting the tepid breeze waft over him. "Like I said, it's a long story."

Behind him, Ava stood, walking up closer to him. She gently touched his arm.

Surprised, Stefan turned. Her face was soft now, her expression concerned, but it was all Stefan could do not to bolt. He hadn't had a lot of connections in his life, and when it came to girls, Michael had made that an entirely secondary priority.

But seeing Ava here, feeling her touch him so softly - well, it was reminding Stefan that maybe Saul's patented pick up lines and Michael's raging hormones had the right idea.

Skin prickling, he didn't really know what to do. He had the sudden urge to kiss her, but the base desire was counterbalanced with his well-honed impulse to run.

"I'm not all about the story," she said softly, her voice almost a promise, taking the edge of her prattling and taking it to a level Stefan hadn't expected. "Some things are always off the record."

He'd misread her. Stefan wasn't sure if he'd just missed her signals or if he hadn't wanted to let himself see them. He'd spent so much time shutting himself down, focusing on the other things in his life that seemed more important. He'd never made a point to avoid romance, but he'd certainly never made it a priority either.

"Please," she said again, hand squeezing his arm for a second before letting it go. "I'm invested in this, no matter what happens. I mean, if half of what you showed me is true, this is huge. I just want to help you."

Stefan stiffened a little. "You are helping. You're going to run the story, no matter what."

Ava shook her head. "No, I want to help you," she said, emphatically this time.

Uncertain, Stefan tried to keep his distance. It was not in his nature to trust, no matter how much he wanted to. "You don't even know me."

Her lips quirked into a sardonic smile. "Call me a sucker for knights in shining armor," she said. "I've spent too long around guys who throw their entire lives away for a bigger byline. Then, here comes you, not looking for five minutes of fame, but to do the right thing. I swear, just by being with you this past week, I've learned more about what journalism should really be about than in all my years on the job."

Good words. Words that made sense. Stefan had to remind himself that not everything was a lie. Not everything was a guise.

Still. "I'm not the hero you think I am," Stefan said, shaking his head. There was no armor for him, just guns and bullets and a whole lot of cash to get the dirty jobs done.

She hesitated, moving forward, close enough he could smell her. "I don't know," she said. "Risking life and limb for some kid while purposefully keeping him out of the limelight? Tough guy like you, and I've got you pegged as a total sap when it comes to him."

A total sap. That wasn't exactly the image Stefan wanted to project, but he couldn't deny that it was true. "It's a brother thing," he said, trying to shrug.

This seemed to surprise her. She cocked her head. "Your brother? Really?"

Stefan paused. "Yeah," he said. "Little brothers can be a pain in the ass, but you got to love them. And he's a good kid."

"No, yeah," she said. "I just - I mean, all things considered, how is that possible?"

Something lodged in Stefan's throat. "How is what possible?"

"How is he your brother?" she asked, clearly confused. "All the kids there are genetically engineered. They don't have families, and this kid's one of them. Complete with the eyes."

Of course she had seen the eyes. And of course Stefan hadn't kept those salient tidbits from the files.

Realization dawned over her face. "Oh," she said slowly. "You're playing brothers, aren't you? To help keep his cover. I'm so sorry! I won't say anything."

"No, it's okay," Stefan said, feeling his stomach clench and unclench. "It's just...I've worked hard to keep this one under wraps. No one knows. I won't let anyone know and will kill anyone who threatens to say otherwise."

She held her hands up. "I told you, I won't say anything," she said. "You've worked hard to get him out and safe, I'm sure. And you two play it really well. Especially the kid. He doesn't give anything away."

Of course he didn't. Because he didn't know. Guilt twinged in Stefan's gut with new vigor and he gritted his teeth, trying to pull himself together.

He wasn't quick enough. "He doesn't know," she breathed. She was looking at him, almost mesmerized. "You love him that much that you're letting him believe it, too."

Stefan felt his heart skip a beat. "You can't let on," he said. "When I got Michael out, he was a mess, and at first, I mean, I thought he was. It's a long story, but for Michael's sake, he can't know. He can never know."

Ava nodded, eyes dark with concern. "Stefan, relax," she said. "I don't have any intention of ruining things for you - or Michael."

He tried to believe her, forcing himself to calm.

She smiled, raising her hand to brush at his hair framing his face. "Really," she said. "I know why you're having trouble trusting me, but what you're doing here. What you're doing for Michael. I really do think it's heroic."

Stefan couldn't move, didn't dare let himself move. It was impossible to confirm or deny any of it - not without giving everything away. This was too close to him, something he'd held inside too long - and Ava was here, and she was beautiful, and she was so close - but he couldn't. The odd mixture of sex appeal and sheer terror was almost paralyzing.

Because the nagging doubt was there. Maybe he could trust her. Maybe he was a hero. Maybe he was ready for more. Maybe he could let Ava in. Maybe...

He was leaning closer, and she was leaning back. Her eyes were closing, fluttering, lips up in anticipation, and Stefan felt his body responding almost without his consent.

He could do this. He could let go. She could be his friend. She could be more than his friend. He just had to let go.

It'd been so long. These parts of him had been dormant for so long. It was more than being with someone, it was being trusted by someone. Being loved. Being accepted. Being human. Being alive.

Stefan had made the mistake in the wake of Lukas' death of cutting himself off. Michael would never want the same for him. Michael deserved better from him.

He swallowed, raising a hand, letting it finger her soft tufts of hair. The emotions were raging, conflicting. The fear of being vulnerable, of opening himself up. Letting someone know about Michael, letting someone know about him.

He wanted this. He wanted it so bad.

Ava's eyes closed, her mouth opened just a little. Stefan let his fingers string through her hair more, breathing in deep and letting his eyes close and just let go.

But then he saw it-

A movement in the doorway.

Small, but there.

Abruptly, Stefan stopped, eyes wide and alert. His heart almost stopped for real this time, cold fear washing over him with an intensity he hadn't known since the night he'd saw Lukas get killed on the beach.

The moment was suspended, hung precariously in time. For a moment, he wanted to believe he could take it back. Tell Ava to go home, tell her there was no story to tell. Close himself off, just like he was supposed to, keep himself in control, just like he'd worked so hard for.

Because if he'd done that, then it wouldn't matter that Michael had gotten home early. It wouldn't matter that Michael was standing in the doorway, looking far younger than his eighteen years.

Michael.

Stefan took a breath despite himself, and Ava startled, turning around, and Michael stood there, still and unmoving, eyes boring straight into Stefan, into his eyes, into his soul, and no matter how hard Stefan tried, there was no way to take it back.

NEXT

 

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: July 7th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)

Damn. I was just beginning to like Ava. Feisty and smart. But Michael's timing was horrendous. *cringes*

See you Friday for my next fix!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 8th, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
chuck bad day

I have to admit that I grew quite fond of Ava. I don't do OFCs often, but she was fun.

Thanks :)

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