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Sara

Upon the gears. Upon the levers.

Sara hasn’t slept in long enough that, she notices, she’s not prioritizing well. She’s indulged her baser urges plenty this week, yet she can’t keep herself from sending a squad of bright young terrors out on the hunt for that idiot boy. She can’t spare them. She can rely on so few of these people. But she does it, and gets back to work.

Zach isn’t allowed to sleep because of his head, which hurts a lot by the way, and also they took away his bulletproof vest because this hospital is full of dicks.

Zach

“Are you a relative?” asks the triage doctor in Hungarian, Romanian, German and English.

“Oh! No! I don’t know her.”

“Angel of mercy,” she smiles.

“I shot her.”

The smile drops. “You are armed?”

“Yeah.” Zach checks his pants. “Whoops! No. Crap!”

“Your bulletproof vest. Police?”

“No, no, assassin. I was hired to kill this girl. Not that girl. Another girl. But she’s got this mommy complex so she left me with these guys, but then Hidebound, who’s supposed to be my–”

“You have a concussion,” she sighs.

“I’m still technically an intern,” says Zach, choking up for some stupid reason.

Zach

“Oh Jesus oh fuck,” says Zach, stumbling through a panicky crowd. The police, hair-triggered, have pounded into the square with shields high; kids with vinegar kerchiefs are squeezing through gaps to whip masonry at them. Gas and smashed vegetables underfoot. One of the cops pulls off his mask and becomes Hidebound, looming, grinning, aiming, and then the Vulpine Phalanger hits him so hard they both tumble back into the ranks.

Zach scrambles up, takes a rock to the head, blinks away light and blood and gets up again. There. Finally.

The kid he shot makes a mess of his shirt.

Sara

“You’re right,” says Sara, tossing the hammer behind her. “I’m not going to hit you.”

“You could have saved us some time, dear,” says Nasser, regarding the ruins, “and me some money.”

Hogy a mellény.

István grins and leaves. Nasser frowns.

“I do speak a little Hungarian, you know,” he says, “but I fail to see what ‘vest’–”

“It’s time you knew how it feels,” she says, “to be the one manipulated.”

“We all manipulate each other, Sara,” he says, but with an unusual sobriety. “Every one of us.”

“Not every one,” says Sara.

Meanwhile, Zach shoots an eight-year-old.

Zach

The thing digging into his ribcage, Zach decides as he lies prone and aching, is a gun.

This knowledge sits there in his mind, unprocessed, a block shaped inappropriately for the available holes. A gun. A GUN gun.

Who on earth, he wonders, would be so irresponsible as to give him one of those?

The half-life of lidocaine in the body is roughly two hours. The pain of his burns is returning, but Zach gets the big black thing unholstered. He ejects the clip (full) and reslots it. He checks the slide.

Somebody taught him how to do that once.

Zach

Had Zach completed the training Hidebound claimed to have given him, he would have known that the impact of a bullet while wearing a vest is like a kick to the breadbasket by a medium-sized ungulate with smallish hooves. Had Hidebound been trying to show off, he might have used his favorite example, the okapi.

This would not have helped Zach, who believes that okapis are total nerds from Japan.

“Whough,” he says, falling gracelessly, denied any useful point of comparison. The Vulpine Phalanger has already vanished. Hidebound curses himself for aiming at the center of mass: training, you know.

Zach

“My hands don’t hurt,” says Zach, staring at them. “Why don’t my hands hurt? Or my feet–”

“Shut up,” says the Vulpine Phalanger, hustling him down an alley constipated with protesters. “Don’t talk. Don’t question. Do exactly as I say and you might get to bore your grandchildren with this story, understand?”

Zach opens his mouth, shuts it, and nods.

She stops and turns back. “No talking. No questions.”

Zach nods again.

“No. Talking.”

Zach nods, slowly, one final time. She turns to start walking again.

“But why don’t my hands–”

“I don’t know why he didn’t kill you,” she says.

Zach

At length, Hidebound retires.

Zach doesn’t actually cry until he’s alone in the darkened room. He stops crying after a while, and gets angry, as his hands and feet pulse with the maddening pain-tingle of blistered burns. He explains aloud the reasons that this whole situation is so stupid, and whose fault it is, and why, and fuck them. Then he cries some more. It’s awkward, trying to wipe his eyes and nose on his shoulders.

Zach sleeps. A woman enters, unbinds him, and mists lidocaine onto his wounds.

She is the Vulpine Phalanger.

She is going to kill someone.

Iakob

Nasser’s man Iakob–the one whose knee was recently reconfigured by István’s claw hammer–would recognize Zach if he saw him. They met last week, when Iakob came to Littleford’s agency to hire a killer. He wasn’t supposed to get a good one. Nasser just wanted to pull Sara’s hair.

Now Littleford is dead, and Pál is dead, and Zach and Iakob are in tremendous pain. Nasser can’t tell Sara what she wants to know; Zach knows very, very little.

Nasser’s smile is cold and sweaty, the smile of a man whose reach exceeds his grasp. Hidebound doesn’t smile at all.

Sara

Sara’s stumbled over her words since she was a child; it made her cautious, then precise, and now she’s an irresistible brand of fire when she speaks. But on rough days she falls back to fifth-grade habits. She rehearses sentences as she walks, over and over, in mutters of breath.

“Nasser’s and my relationship is,” she begins, then “Nasser and I have this weird thing. Listen, there’s this guy Nasser–”

She shuts up on realizing she has no reason to explain any of this to Zach. Before she can think of one, she’s at the safehouse door, already scenting blood.

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