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Chimera fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 8/15

July 18th, 2011 (08:05 am)

A/N: Thanks to those who are reading! Previous parts here.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Staying employed was really the last of Stefan's concerns, but stopping by to pick up a paycheck still seemed like a worthwhile venture. After all, their best laid plans had just gone belly up. Stefan needed something to fall back on, and unfortunately for Stefan, that included the dingy bar and Jorge's pinched little face.

It wasn't that he disliked Jorge - in truth, the man kind of amused him - but he just didn't have the time for it - not with Michael missing.

Except he did have time. That was the cruel truth. They were fresh out of leads, and while Saul turned over rocks and Ava checked behind hard places, all Stefan could do was collect what meager cash he had and continue his preparations to leave. Because he would be leaving. One way or another.

Since it was midday, it wasn't like the place was packed. They didn't do a strong lunch crowd, but there were a few regulars. Michael's Raquel was behind the counter, and she inclined a manicured eyebrow when he came in.

"Stefan," she said, her heavy accent taking the Russian and lilting it. "I was beginning to wonder if you had taken el nino and left town. I am glad that you have not."

Stefan managed a grin. There was a reason that Michael had been attracted to her. Everyone was attracted to her. Hell, half the reason Jorge kept his place afloat at all was because of Raquel. She was nothing short of perfection - a long sleek body, perfectly bronzed skin, and the high cheekbones that would set any ad campaign on fire. Why she was resigned to working in a bar, Stefan couldn't be sure, but he halfway suspected she used it as a playground for her sexual prowess. "I'd miss you, too," he said tightly, keeping his eyes from her low cut top.

Her smile turned sly. "You, no. But the boy, yes. Cute face on that one. Nice blonde hair. Guapo."

Stefan grimaced. No wonder Michael had gotten the hint that she liked him. Raquel was circling the horses when it came to Michael. "He's barely legal," he reminded her.

The glint in her eyes was ravenous. "Barely is good enough."

Maybe cutting down wasn't such a bad idea after all. If Raquel had her way, Michael would have his cherry popped right before she devoured him whole. Knowing Michael, he'd probably think it was love and fall for it, head over heels, until she ground him to dust before moving on to the next hot thing in her path.

Of course, that assumed Michael was here at all.

Stomach twisting, Stefan forced himself to ignore Raquel. "Is the jefe here?"

She lifted her chin, looking down at him, clearly not pleased by his brush off. With a jerk of her head, she said, "In the back."

"Thanks," Stefan said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He slipped behind the bar, working his way to the back room.

"Con cuidado, muchacho," she advised from the bar. "He may not be too happy to see you."

Stefan turned briefly, flashing her his best winning smile. "But everyone is always happy to see me," he said.

The roll of her eyes suggested that it might not be so true.

The angry tirade Jorge launched when he set eyes on Stefan confirmed it. Most of it was in Spanish, but Stefan picked up on the salient details. Some things were easy to understand in any language.

Stefan endured it with as much patience as his fortitude afforded him. This was his last stop when it came to tying up lose ends in La Paz, and he had accepted coldly that he might never be coming back.

It was a cold truth, that it was time to move on. Michael's nabbing had only secured the deal, even though it might have been long in coming. They were both wanted men, one way or another, and as much as Stefan wanted to provide Michael with some stability, keeping him safe was his primary concern. Staying in one place too long made Stefan sloppy, and he could see how it ended up.

Still, seeing the apartment stripped bare, boxes packed and pictures taken down - it was a hard thing to swallow. He'd watched Michael come alive there, blossom into the bizarre yet beautiful young man that he was. Michael's school was there, his friends, his would-be girlfriends.

Hell, Stefan was even going to miss Jorge. Round little face and angry Spanish litanies and all. Michael wasn't the only one making connections. Stefan didn't really believe in friends, but people who knew his name, who expected him to show up, who knew him well enough to get pissed when he was a no-show - it wasn't nothing. They were the every day relationships Stefan had so craved as a child. The ones he hadn't been able to trust in the mafia. Michael wasn't the only one who had come into himself in La Paz.

When Jorge finally stopped to take a breath, his face almost beet red, Stefan offered a meager smile. "Lo siento," he said. "I've had a bit of a family emergency."

Jorge threw his hands up. "Todavia, se disculpa. I pay you to work, not make excuses!"

Normally he'd joke with the man, play out one last back and forth but he didn't have it in him. "It's my brother," he said finally, honestly as he could. "We've got some bad stuff going on. I'm not sure when I'll be able to pick any hours back up."

Jorge's face softened at that. "El nino? He is okay, yes?"

Stefan swallowed the emotions. "He will be."

He couldn't say more, and he wouldn't, but fortunately for as much as Jorge liked to scream and rant, the man also had a heart. That was a funny thing. After working for Konstantin, sometimes Stefan forgot that people in the real world had a thing called compassion.

And Jorge had it in droves.

It was surprising, to say the least. Stefan had expected a rant and a shove out the door, his only recompense the meager paycheck in his pocket. But Jorge ranted in an entirely new tone, worry and concern, and he gave Stefan his paycheck and a bonus for good measure.

"And if you need anything, just ask," the man was saying as he herded Stefan to the door in a fatherly fashion. "Your job will be here for you when you are ready, yes? You will come back when all is well?"

It wasn't likely, but the little man was looking at him so sincerely with his big brown eyes, that all Stefan could do was smile. "Yeah, of course."

"Bien, bien," Jorge said. "And tell the boy to keep eating. Skinny thing like him, my wife would think to make him plump so he really gets the right girls."

Stefan had to laugh. "I'll pass that along."

The rest of the farewell was in Spanish, a bit tedious and slow, but when Stefan finally made it out into the front room, he felt oddly better. So that was what living was really about. Stefan tried to remember a time when he'd been so simply human, but he was hard pressed to come up with anything.

This was another reason why he needed Michael back. They needed each other - plain and simple. And Stefan would stop at nothing until the balance was restored in both their worlds.

Skirting around the bar, Stefan studiously avoided Raquel's curious eyes. He was just about to duck out the door when he saw him.

Long trench coat. Bald spot.

It made Stefan's heart stop, his entire body going cold. It was the man he'd seen in the bar all those nights ago. The one who had checked Michael out.

The one on the video, spiriting Michael into an alley.

He was here. Sitting in Jorge's bar, drinking a beer and ogling Raquel for all he was worth.

Throat tight, for a second, Stefan didn't know what to do. His impulse was the grab the man and beat him senseless on the spot.

But his impulse would only get him arrested, which was a trouble he didn't need.

With effort, he made himself keep walking, numb fingers on the doorknob as he opened it, stepping out into the street.

His steps were careful and measured as he walked by the window, eyes lingering on the man one more time. He was still there, bald spot to the window.

Resolved, Stefan kept walking to the alley, ducking into it discreetly.

Working to control his breathing, Stefan focused on the task at hand. This was a lead - a damn good lead - and he could risk losing it prematurely. But he also couldn't risk exposure, which meant it was a careful waiting game. Let the mark make his move first, then pursue. When he had an opportunity to snatch him, then he could ask his questions and get the answers he needed.

The son of a bitch had it coming to him, after all. It was exactly what he'd done to Michael, except he'd been too much of a chicken to do it all himself. Instead, he'd relied on a little girl.

Stefan didn't need a little girl to do his dirty work. His own hands were dirty enough, and a little more certainly wouldn't hurt.

Stefan couldn't say for sure how long he waited. It was a tricky thing, keeping the door in his line of sight while remaining unimposing. He fiddled with his cell phone, pretending to make some calls and check some texts.

It was hard waiting - damn near impossible. The anxiety was building in him, reaching almost unbearable proportions. This was the man who had taken Michael. This was the man who had taken his brother.

Stefan could find out why and where - he could get Michael back.

And still he had to wait.

Just when Stefan was about to screw waiting and drag him out of the bar kicking and screaming, the door opened. First a young woman came out, turning down the street toward Stefan, but right behind her, the trench coat man had ducked out, hands shoved into his pockets, head pulled down as he started down the street in the opposite direction.

At an easy gait, Stefan stepped out into the street. He kept his pace quick, but his demeanor unassuming, trailing at a comfortable distance.

The man walked on, seemingly oblivious. He looked around briefly, but never checked behind him.

Then, he turned, walking down a more residential street.

Following suit, Stefan turned as well, closing the distance between them slightly.

This street was quiet, mostly empty. A delivery van was unloading something at a corner market. A man was walking a dog. There was a woman pushing a stroller.

And a man in a trench coat, walking calm as could be for a kidnapper.

Then Stefan saw it. A drive-through alley, just up the way. The van was parked the other direction, providing good cover.

Stepping up his pace, Stefan was right behind him now and he timed it perfectly, stepping into the alley right as it opened up next to him. With quick movements, he grabbed the man by the arm, yanking him into the alley.

Before the man could yelp, Stefan pulled his gun, shoving it had into the man's back, digging through the trench coat so he would know exactly what it was.

The man was spluttering a protest, but Stefan didn't stop, dragging him deeper into the alley and slamming him face first against a doorway.

"You don't want to do this," the man said, sounding not nearly scared enough for Stefan's liking.

Ramming him harder, Stefan dug the gun deeper. "How the hell do you know what I want?"

"I don't have much money, if that's what you're after," the man said, almost conversationally.

Stefan adjusted his grip, wrenching the man's arm up to an uncomfortable position. "I don't want your money."

The man gasped a little, a smile playing over his face. "Okay then, so tell me, what do you want?"

"I want you to tell me who the hell you are."

The man snorted at that. "If you knew, kid, you wouldn't be messing with me."

"Yeah?" Stefan asked, wrenching his arm further and mashing him even more against the wall. "Well you don't have any clue who you're messing with either."

The man actually chuckled at that. "I don't know who you think I am, but I'm going to cut you some slack here. Check my back pocket."

Stefan hesitated, but if he wanted to know who this idiot worked for, checking the ID was the best way.

Careful to maintain his grip, Stefan used one hand to dig into the man's pocket. It took some work to pull the billfold out, but when he did, he flipped it open and promptly went numb.

"See it, kid?" the man asked mockingly. "Read it nice and clear."

Stefan had lived on the wrong side of the law wrong enough to know the real thing when he saw it. He swore.

The man chuckled. "So you think you want to let go before I nab you for harassing a CIA agent?"

Stiffly, Stefan let go, his throat feeling tight. He'd been expecting something sinister, and he knew about the government ties - but damn. The Institute had the CIA pulling its dirty work. Just how deep did this go?

The man - Agent Lance Webber - turned, adjusted his coat as he did. Rolling his shoulders, he pulled himself to his full height, as if to look intimidating.

Stefan sure as hell wasn't intimidated by the guy's size or the badge in his pocket. The CIA's involvement made his skin crawl, and the only reason he had for not belting this guy right then and there was the fact that Stefan still had information he needed.

"So you have anything to say for yourself now, kid?" Agent Webber asked, something of a smirk on his face.

"You're supposed to be one of the good guys, then," Stefan said. And that did mean something to him. All those years pining to carry a badge had made him want to believe in the inherent goodness of such things.

Agent Webber's lips puckered a bit, his eyes narrowing. "All the way," he said. "Kind of stuff I worry about is way above your pay grade."

Stefan had been kept in the dark about his father's dealings for most of his life - so the tone of need-to-know was familiar to him. But he hadn't liked it as a kid. And he sure as hell didn't like it now. "So then why did you take the kid, you son of a bitch?" he asked, not quite able to keep his voice restrained, malice slipping in.

The man's eyes widened a bit at that. "The kid?"

Stefan had to give him credit; he had some acting chops. He almost sounded sincerely oblivious. "You nabbed a kid. Blonde, about eighteen. Out of the market a few miles down the way. I know it was you - I saw the surveillance video. It's subtle, but there if you're looking for it."

Agent Webber's face was blank for a moment before resignation passed over his features. "I should have known that kid would cause me problems," he muttered. "I just didn't figure he'd be in so deep as to have people really looking for him."

Right, so he just figured he'd take some naive eighteen-year-old and no one would notice. "Well, they are," Stefan said. "And I want to know why you'd be so stupid as to take a kid like that? A kid."

A moment of indecision passed on Agent Webber's benign face. "Look," he said, and his voice was edgy now. "This isn't the kind of stuff you're supposed to know about. Your best bet is to just forget the kid every existed and move on with life."

Of all the possible outcomes, Stefan could guarantee that wasn't going to be one of them. "I don't think you understand," Stefan said, fingers clenching into fist. He was treading as carefully as he could. He wasn't so stupid as to ignore the leniency he was getting here, and getting picked up on anything - even something as small as assault - would screw over his chances of finding Michael quickly. "The kid is my life. I'm going to get him back."

Agent Webber shook his head, running a weary hand over his face. "This is what I get for coming back," he muttered. "Damn CIA stations me out in the middle of Craphole, Bolivia and I finally find a bar with rum that doesn't make me want to hack, and this is the trouble I get."

"Cry me a river," Stefan snapped. "Tell me where you took him."

Agent Webber rolled his eyes. "Even if I told you the drop site, it wouldn't make a difference. I met with a representative and then he was gone. I don't know where, and I don't care where. I did what I had to do."

The classic response. Just following orders.

Except this moron wasn't even very good at it. Spilling his guts to some punk civilian. CIA should know better, but it proved to Stefan that arrogance, whether in the mob or in the CIA, was one of the greatest downfalls there was.

Still, Stefan wasn't about to stop Agent Webber from giving up details he should have been holding close to the vest. Maybe, if Stefan was lucky, the idiot would get his badge pulled for lapses in any coherent thought whatsoever.

"And I'm just doing what I have to do," Stefan pushed. Agent Webber seemed to pity him, and Stefan would take the handouts however he got them. With steady resolve, Stefan raised his gun again. "Tell me the drop site."

"Look-"

Stefan cocked the gun, still not sure if he'd be willing to do it. It was something to kill when someone was shooting at you; it was something else entirely to take a life when that person wasn't pointing anything back. It was why he'd let Vasily walk back in Florida. Liar and a thief that he was, Stefan hadn't had it in him to finish the deed.

Agent Webber was probably an American patriot for all Stefan knew. Doing his job, protecting the world. Maybe this mission had been bogus, but Stefan had no way of knowing about the rest. Killing Webber wouldn't be justice.

But it might be necessary. Stefan knew that, even if he didn't want to.

And he could only hope that Webber would know it, too.

Agent Webber's jaw worked, then his face hardened. "A place outside of the city. A private compound just outside Santa Cruz, designed to handle this kind of thing. It's over now, there's nothing-"

"What was the name of your contact?" Stefan demanded.

Agent Webber shook his head. "You're not getting more out of me," he said. He shrugged, eyeing the gun disdainfully. Then he straightened. "You'll have to kill me."

The refusal pushed the edges of Stefan's self-control. He did not want to be here, he did not want to kill this man, he didn't. "Just tell me."

It was a plea, and they both knew it. And just like that, Stefan's advantage was compromised. A tried and true killer would have pulled the trigger. A hardened criminal would have upped the stakes. Stefan had just proven his limits. A bonus for his humanity; a con for his effort to save his brother.

Agent Webber smiled knowingly. "You really are smitten, aren't you? They hadn't told me the kid had any ties worth considering."

Then they were doing a pretty piss poor job of their intel. "Who was the representative?" he tried again. "Why did you have to take him?"

But Agent Webber's helpfulness was beginning to wane, his self-assured cockiness returning. "It's not your fault," he said patiently. "You had no way of knowing what the kid was."

"That kid is my brother."

The man raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised by that revelation. "The kid's an asset. A genetically engineered freak. He has no family."

He said it plainly, as though it were indisputable a moron would refute it.

Unfortunately for both of them, Stefan had never banked much on his intelligence. He tilted his head, a hard glint in them. "You're wrong."

Agent Webber sighed, almost in exasperation. There was a strained and condescending look of sympathy on his plain face. "I know he probably lied to you - he's trained to do that. Got you all twisted around to try to find him or something. He's trained to make you believe anything he wants you to believe. And I get it, I do. I mean, kid like that - just look at him. And if you swing that way, you're going to be pretty protective-"

Stefan didn't need to hear anymore. CIA agent or not, he let loose with a punch. It clipped the guy across the jaw, and no amount of training could have given someone the fortitude to stay up from that kind of force.

Agent Webber - bald spot, trench coat, and all - went down like a sack of potatoes, a dead weight on Stefan's feet. For a moment, he fought the urge to finish the guy off - CIA or not, any jackass should know it wasn't okay to take kids off the street. Stefan was sure that telling himself that the kid was a danger, that he was nothing more than a governmental top secret project gone awry, that he was protecting international security by containing a threat - that it made him sleep a little bit better.

It was still piss-ass wrong, and even a guy with a warped moral compass like Stefan knew it.

All in all, Agent Webber was lucky Stefan didn't take him out where he lay. A single bullet with the moron's own silencer would do the trick.

But Michael wouldn't want that. And despite the fact that this guy had had a part in snatching Michael, he was just a lackey, a schmuck following orders. Even if this guy made his skin crawl, Stefan could respect that sometimes when you were low on the totem pole, you had to do what you were told if you wanted to live.

It wasn't likely that the agent would go after him - not the would-be scorned lover he seemed to think he was. At any rate, Stefan wasn't planning on sticking around long enough to find out.

He had a brother to find. He didn't have time to indulge whims like revenge anyway. And with all that he'd done to betray Michael, he wasn't about to let the kid down by killing someone.

So if Stefan kicked the guy one or two times before leaving, it was entirely for himself.

-o-

Torture.

Michael had seen it in movies. He understood it, in theory. He knew the psychology behind it. He was also well versed in scenarios which could justify it, and the best methods to elicit the desired response.

In all of that, Michael had never experienced it.

Yes, he had on occasion thought of his early years in the Institute as torture. Long, empty years, devoid of control or humanity. They had been horrible and limiting, in ways Michael had not fully realized until his rescue.

However, he had been wrong to think of them as torture.

Very, very wrong.

Torture was more foundational, physically overpowering and psychologically incapacitating. It was cut after cut, precise and careful, a slow, tedious monologue of every body part, every organ, every drop of blood. Torture was hearing your life literally be reduced to DNA, plucked through callously, cut and divided and disregarded on a whim.

Torture was pain with no escape. Second after second, until life was reduced to a string of agonizing breaths. It was closing your eyes to avoid reality and opening them again, desperate for a reprieve from the nightmares. It was screaming for help until your throat was raw and watching as the torturer drank easily from bottled water within sight but always out of reach.

That was torture. Not in theory. Reality. Unreality. Torture was its own reality, grounded on a primal level in the concrete but reaching so completely into the metaphysical realms and beyond. Michael did not experience pain, he was pain. He ceased to be Michael, and started to become the subject Dr. Bellucci had prescribed him to be.

There was no begging. Subjects didn't beg for rights they didn't have. There was no hope. Subjects knew there only purpose was this and only this, whatever someone else dictates for them.

Michael did not know how long it lasted. He did not pass out, and he watched through a small window as daylight faded and twilight settled. The lights inside were ever-bright, burning through his irises and searing his brain, even as he was stitched back up.

When the doctor was done, he left Michael alone, lights on and glaring, body naked and exposed. That was where Michael was now. He had not moved. He could not move. His limbs were still tightly cinched to the gurney, and the only part of his body he could move at all was his head. He had lost feeling in his fingers and toes a while ago, whether from loss of circulation or sheer fatigue, he could not be sure.

It didn't matter.

Nothing mattered.

Michael could feel every stitch where it rose from his flesh, and he thought it seemed appropriate, as though he were no longer whole. No longer real. Parts of him were missing, violated and dismissed, and his body trembled as the twilight faded to darkness.

Sleep did not come. He spent hours awake, staring at nothingness, wondering what to make of it. For a while he had tried to count ceiling tiles, but he never made it past three. He'd tried cataloguing the machinery in the room, but the thought of what each piece could do made him sick to his stomach.

There was a clock on the wall, but it didn't have a second hand. Michael tried to count to sixty each minute, but when he topped 100 without fail, he gave up.

He gave up.

That was the point of torture, to make someone give up. Sometimes it was to give up information, perhaps important tactical data. Sometimes it was used to catch terrorists. Sometimes it was used by terrorists.

But then it wasn't pure torture, not in Michael's mind. Pure torture had no purpose, no definitive end for the victim. Real torture, of the most basic kind, offered no recourse to the victim. There was nothing to give up and nothing to hold onto.

His body felt distant, but his brain acute. That was all part of the torture, he figured. No refuges, not even in sleep.

That was almost more unsettling than the pain. Michael was used to falling asleep quickly, on a whim. Most nights he just laid in bed and was out before he could even look at Kermit smiling at him on the ceiling.

He liked that picture, though. Always made a point to see the green muppet. It was endearing and benign. Peaceful.

Stefan had never liked that picture.

The thought of Stefan seemed almost foreign, and the image of the other boy's face was already faded.

As though he didn't exist at all.

Michael wondered if he really had.

The painkillers were wearing off, his body beginning to tremble. At first he had thought it was a simple reaction to the growing influx in pain, but he soon learned that wasn't the case. He was running a fever, alternating with hot flashes and cold spells, jittering throughout his body with an intensity it could not tolerate. His arms were cramped from being so tightly pulled against the bars and his kidneys ached from the catheter.

He existed here, in this place. In this state. This was real and he knew it by the pain of every stitch of his violated body, the shame that throbbed with every pulse of his heart. Nothing else mattered, not really. Only the here and now, the fever and the pain, the humiliation and hopelessness.

But he could still remember - he could. Michael's eyes drifted shut as a bout of fever took him. It was hazy there, gauzy darkness that wasn't penetrating enough. But Stefan was there, dark hair and a scar on his face. He was talking, telling him they were brothers. That was what Stefan did. Stefan took him to Bolivia, helped him create a life for himself. He could see Stefan smiling, laughing, making promises no one brother could ever hope to keep.

Then Stefan was curling up in pain from Michael's doing.

That thought startled Michael awake, eyes snapping open and darting frantically around the room. The apartment was gone. There was no picture of Kermit. Stefan was not there.

Stefan was not there.

That simple fact wore on his frayed psyche and released the sobs he'd been keeping at bay. Cries not of pain, but of despair, racking his body so hard that the gurney shook and clanged, even in the bright stillness of the room.

This was regret. This was living with one's mistakes. He made his bed; now he was going to sleep in it.

No, he was going to die in it. Slowly, painfully, but surely.

He took a strangled breath, tears hot on his face. He had no right to cry. He had no right to miss Stefan at all.

In essence, there was no Stefan. Stefan was not here, he perhaps had never been here. To miss someone, was to still be human. Holding onto that humanity would only make it hurt worse.

As if it could hurt worse.

Steadying his breathing, Michael sniffled, even as snot and tears were drying on his face. He looked at the ceiling, looked at the hopelessness of his existence, and stared on until morning.

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