Anyway, if you are here reading, a big thank you as always. Be well, my friends.
M. From C.M. Moore.
While Keith brushed his teeth in the bathroom, Brice marched to the overstuffed wingback chair next to his mentor's four-poster bed.
"Be right there," came Keith's voice from the other room. "Take a seat, Young Brice."
As Brice glanced around Keith's quarters, he absorbed the warm brown and tan décor and the feeling of masculine energy that hummed in this apartment. Brice scanned the old mahogany desk, the heavy drapes, and the garden paintings. Even though he had the art to look at, Brice's mind was back on Clay for the hundredth time.
It had been two days, and Wicks was correct. Brice couldn't forget anything that happened between them. The images tormented him, and his body begged for him to find Clay. He couldn't sleep, and he couldn't eat. At night he tossed and turned with a hardon that refused to find release. The sexual hunger was unnaturally intense. He was fucked up over the man and kept wondering what Clay was doing and if he was alright. Slowly Brice was going crazy. The only person he thought might be able to help him clear his head was Keith.
Keith was the head of the H.S.P.C., and the man was like a father to him. This man was his support structure since he was a teenager. Keith and Nancy had been there for him after Colin died, and they had built a relationship over trust and commitment to the greater good. If anyone could tell him to dig deep and fight the attraction, it was Keith. This man knew how to be brave and tough through anything. Keith built the most skilled team of assassins during the government's fall, and he survived the meteor hitting Earth. Keith was fearless. That was the kind of strength Brice needed right now. That kind of tenacity.
Brice dug his fingers into the top cushion of the chair. How was he going to explain his problem without telling Keith that he'd screwed a recruit? Fuck, that was going to be the challenge. Lately, Brice got the feeling that Rea wanted him to step away from training and get back out into the field. If Keith found out he that sucked off Recruit Wicks, his mentor would tell Rea and Karma. Then Rea would be pushing to have him on a mission and away from HQ and the men. He didn't want to get back out into the world. What if he had another panic attack? What if The Originals got him a second time? He wouldn't survive.
After picturing his other foot crushed, Brice changed his mind about the visit. He couldn't tell Keith about Wicks. In fact, maybe he didn't have to. Perhaps if he simply sat with Keith long enough, he would remember all the reasons he believed in the H.S.P.C rules. Maybe Brice would recall why dating Clay was a bad idea. Keith's rock steady energy would rub off on him.
Staring at a canvas painting of a pond, Brice rose from his seat and took a few steps toward the exit. He could still hear his leadership shuffling around the bathroom. Brice decided he didn't need help with this rash and senseless attraction. This hold on him would go away on its own. Maybe Brice was just lonely. He would say he stopped by to say hello to Keith, and that was it.
Keith poked his head out of the other room and frowned. "Take a seat." After he gave the command, he disappeared again.
Seeing the creator of the H.S.P.C. reminded Brice of why instructors didn't fuck their students. He didn't need Keith to tell him why training was so necessary. Brice knew why. Didn't his sex life lead him to follow Toby blindly? That incident cost Brice his foot and, with the panic attack, his dignity. He didn't want any of that for himself or Claymore Wicks. He wanted the recruit to stay focused and become the best damn agent out there. If Clay were a proficient agent, he wouldn't get hurt. Brice hoped his respect for Keith would be enough to get his head out of his fourth point of contact and get Clay out of his brain.
Brice's heart could stay safe and intact, and Clay would be a fantastic agent. Slapping a smile on his face, Brice did as told. He returned to the wingback chair.
"Hey," Brice said when Keith appeared in the doorway. "I thought I'd drop some files to you and see how you're doing."
After scanning Brice, Keith shuffled in his bathrobe to the bed and climbed into the thick green blankets. Keith had lost considerable weight in the last few weeks. After he arranged his pillows behind him, he picked up the files Brice had set on the corner of the bed. Even though his thick black curls were tinged with gray, Brice never thought of Keith as old. Brice guessed that the man was only in his sixties, but since he lost weight and looked so pale, today Brice saw the time on his father figure.
"Why are you here, Brice?" Keith looked up from the papers. "I know you did not come to drop files. Any newbie could have done that."
"I heard you had a little cold," Brice said instead of admitting he was fucked up about Claymore Wicks. "Just seeing if you need anything."
"I do not need anything." Keith's dark eyes were too shrewd. Brice squirmed in his chair. Did his insane and unstoppable desire for Clay show on his face? Why was Keith looking at him so hard? "Why are you here?" Keith asked. "The truth this time."
"I wanted to say..." Brice sighed. He could forget Clay by himself. It couldn't be that hard. "That I think you're stubborn."
"You sound like my Karma." Keith chuckled lightly. "Why do you say this?"
"I think you should ask Luna to heal you." Brice took a deep breath. "I've never told anyone this, but I wish I'd asked her to use her gift on me. When I was sick and battling that infection, I didn't ask her to heal me because she is an Original member. I was stubborn." Brice paused. "But now I wish I'd asked her. She might've been able to save my foot or even fix up my face." Brice ran a finger down his cheek. "I don't want you to make the same mistake."
"I am not stubborn, my boy." Keith closed his eyes. "But thank you for the advice." He grinned. "I have asked Luna to help me. She visits, but she can only do so much. I am slowly being poisoned."
"What?" Brice almost rose from his chair, but at the last minute, he scooted closer to Keith. If any sentence could help him get his mind off Clay, it was that one. "Who's poisoning you? Does Karma and Rea know? We should put HQ on alert."
"Collect yourself." Keith opened his eyes, but the flutter was like he was exhausted doing that small movement.
"I'm fine." Brice relaxed back into his chair and set his hand on his cargo pants. Keith never was one for big emotions. "Tell me what's going on."
"This is not to be repeated, Young Brice. I tell you only because I see you worry. You do not look well." Keith eyed him. "I see Luna every day and the people who must know about this know. I have trusted and skilled agents on the problem."
"I don't understand why you're not talking to everyone. A few agents aren't going to help. What's the plan?"
"I know how The Originals work. They are smart and gifted as well. I will not share this with everyone until I know how the member or members have infiltrated HQ. I am letting them keep poisoning me until I discover who they are, how many are here, and how they are doing it."
Brice rose from his chair as his stomach rolled and dipped. He started to pace. Leave it to Keith to let someone kill him just to figure out who was doing it. When Keith found out who was trying to assassinate him, the man or woman would be dead.
"How can I help?" Brice crossed the carpet to the foot of the bed. "What if you die?"
"We all die, Brice." Keith snorted. "We cannot be afraid of death."
"I should do something. Has Rea questioned everyone?" Rea was a human lie detector. That was his gifted ability. A few interrogations, and they should know who was trying to murder Keith and why. The Originals might want Keith gone, but at this point, even if they slaughtered him, that would make no difference. The H.S.P.C. wasn't going anywhere. The government agency in the Confederate Territories of Noth America, known as the C.T.O.N.A., was established with the agents to back it and the water bases giving it power. The president of the C.T.O.N.A. was in position. The water bases and HQ were the only areas that were Snow Flu free. The Originals were dopes if they thought removing Keith would make any difference now.
"Rea askes around, but remember, he has to ask the right person the right question." Keith waved to the chair to have Brice sit again.
"What does that mean?" Brice sank into the cushion.
"I told you that I believe an Original member is hidden here somewhere and trying to kill me. We have to find out if it is one person, two, or a group, and I have to know how they are doing it. I want to know if they will kill others and who of my agents I can trust. Trust is important in the kind of work we do. This isn't something where I can let Rea loose questioning everyone on a... what is the word? Whim?"
"You tell me all this." Brice leaned back in his chair. "You trust me with this information?"
"I have always trusted you, Young Brice. I have known you for a long time." Once more, Keith's eyes drilled into him. "You look tired. Why are you here? It is not because of my sickness and not because of files."
"If I'd known someone was poisoning you, I'd have come sooner. I thought you had a cold," Brice muttered.
"That is what I told people. And that is what you will tell people."
"I will not repeat this conversation." Brice agreed and then paused. "Has Gears checked your food?"
"We have been looking into this for weeks. I even hired a new chef that only cooks for me." Keith fluffed his pillow. "And Doctor Gears has checked my food and water. He analyzed my laundry detergent, my clothes, my shoes. He even examined the air I am breathing."
"And nothing?" Brice couldn't believe someone as smart as Gears didn't have this figured out yet.
"My team will uncover this plot, Young Brice. I know Gears and Luna and Karma and Rea will do all they can." Once more, Keith leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "I am tired. I ask that you cease worrying and instead tell me what your problem is."
"I don't have a problem." Brice lied. Rarely did he lie to Keith, and he hated doing it, but there was no way he was going to toss his inane wanting to have sex issue on Keith's plate while someone was slowly trying to murder him.
"We all have problems."
"I'm fine." Seeing Keith deliberately risk his life to see who had infiltrated the H.S.P.C. put his yearning for Clay into perspective. Clay needed to stay focused, and Brice wouldn't distract him by chasing him just to get his dick touched.
"You know you can always talk to me, my boy." Keith smiled.
"I know, and nothing is wrong. I just realized that I got it figured out."
"No one has it figured out, Brice."
"I do." Brice got up from the chair. "I'm fine."
"You worry me when you start saying you are fine," Keith muttered.
"But I am fine." Now Brice knew that dating Clay was a bad idea. Being distracted could get you killed in this kind of job. It was imperative that Recruit Wicks keep his head on training. People like The Originals had to be stopped, and if Keith could risk his life for the protection of the H.S.P.C., then Brice could not have sex.
How hard was it to simply not have sex?
Brice decided he would talk to Clay one more time. He would explain the bigger picture. He would make sure the man was well and tell him that he needed to become the best damn H.S.P.C. agent he could become. Before he knew it, Clay would be off fighting The Originals, and Keith was correct. The outlaws were gifted, and skilled, and smart. Brice needed to make sure Recruit Wicks was ready for whatever life threw at him.
"I should go check on the recruits," Brice said as he reached the exit.
"Do you like the new class?" Keith asked as he held up the file.
"They're very skilled." Brice motioned to the papers. "And I bought you my outline for the individual course for honing natural gifts. See what you think, and I'll come back and pick up your notes."
"I will look over this." Keith nodded. "Are you positive there is nothing else you want to discuss?"
"I'm fine." Brice opened the door. "Thanks for seeing me, and I will keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Have a good night. And I hope you have everything you need."
"Good night, Brice," Keith spoke as Brice walked out the door. "And I hope you truly are fine."