The workshop was almost empty, and Masaru Enatsu had returned to work.

Despite his main drone he even used to bring himself potato chips was working optimally, for him this was not enough. He was now working on his secondary drone as his main one was resting peacefully on an adjacent worktable.

He was enjoying the peaceful and quiet lonely ambience and was working faster than usual. He had already wasted enough time with his SAS colleagues.

It had been a long time since he had left them and Twitch in the VR room. Anyway, his only job was to monitor the program, and so he fulfilled his part of the deal with Porter. Now all Masaru had to do was wait for him to do his part as well.

He had to admit, he had fun. It hadn't crossed his mind that his innocent project that slightly changed VR could be helpful to someone like Mark. Although he found it hard to believe that someone like him never had played a single dating sim as they were so popular in young and hormonal boys.

Mark was seriously a complete novice on the dangerous mission he was on.

It was getting dark. Since it was a day off, it was very likely that many operators went out to have fun, or have a casual meeting in the living room at night. Maybe both.

Masaru wasn't interested in any, and he planned to work even past midnight. He sent Yokai to turn on the lights.

While he watched as his drone returned flying back to its place, he remembered that he hadn't seen Yumiko since lunch. That was a bad omen. He shrugged it off and continued his secondary drone.

Yet he knew his roommate was coming here anyway. Ignoring her text messages was the worst bet he could've taken.

After some time of welding and messing up electronic mini-cameras on his gadget, he heard footsteps approaching. A female voice was humming a song he couldn't recognize, but with just that, he had already recognized who she was.

He stopped his screwdriver and looked at the door. Yes, it was who he expected to be. She had her laptop under her arm, apparently to work with the Logic Bomb.

Realizing that he was already there, Grace waved briefly at him.

Masaru just shook his head. Many times the same scenario had been repeated. However, something about her looked different. Her smile had changed from being mocking grin or even a fake one, to being joyous, or somehow reflecting the feeling of happiness, or sweetness, being as optimistic as possible.

"Nice." he muttered, refocusing on his work. Mark's progress was so far so good. Seeing that kind of smile didn't happen everyday. If ever.

"It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you..." Grace began to sing nonchalantly, annoying the japanese, on purpose, of course.

Her voice was bearable, but it was sharp and loud enough to distract him. Her karaoke abilities weren't that good.

Without thinking twice, he decided it was a perfect job for Yokai. Masaru quickly went to see his wrist device, then watched his drone fly right above her. A small hit to the head wouldn't hurt. Not much, to say the worst.


"Really, Mark? For real, mate?"

"I said no."

"But you said you were ready! What happened?"

"Not in the mood to talk."

James had already opened his mouth to continue arguing but Seamus interrupted, with a strong throat clearing in the distance.

Only Porter and Mark were in the small SAS common room. The young brit lounging all along the sofa, undoing the clasps of his gas mask. Normally that was an end of a conversation for him.

The other was sitting on the armchair, sprawled on it as well, his legs hanging in the air. He didn't seem too fond of the situation.

"Leave him alone, Porter. If he doesn't want to do it, it's his problem. He's not a kid." Seamus was in his room, changing his clothes.

"Uh huh. Hey Mark, mind if I ask Grace out? "

Mark sat and shrugged, he had enough. He got up and went to fetch his tablet in his room, grabbing his mask on the way.

Seamus turned off the light in his room and went out. He had sports clothes on.

"What's wrong with that mute IDIOT?" James clenched his teeth, trying to control his annoyance.

"You know he still can hear you loud and clear, right?" the scotsman laughed as he closed his door.

"That's the point of speaking ill of him, isn't it?" James narrowed his eyes, turning to him.

"It seems like you haven't lived with Marky the past few years. Come on, wanna hit the gym? At least it'd help with your disappointment."

"A'ight. Give me a minute. " James jumped up from his seat and went to his room.

Seamus slowly went to James' armchair and settled him back to its place. He had the bad habit of pushing it backwards.

"Remember that time isn't patient, Mark. And look at your badges, maybe that's the answer you are looking for."

Mark heard, but chose to be still on his bed. He knew which words the badge had on. He thought that was a motto to be used on war, not to a problem related to the opposite sex.

"Who cares who wins?" James chuckled, still in his room.

"Not this time, Porter. I honestly wondered when the motto would serve us after the torture in Brunei."

"Me too. Let's go. I don't like sharing my precious air with a depressing living being. " the short brit was out of his room, with the same clothes type of clothes Seamus was using. Comfortable enough for CQC training, too.

"I suppose. See you at dinner, Marky. " Seamus followed James, who had already gone out into the corridor and closed the door. It was better not saying anything else.

Mark waited on his bed for a while, chilling with the silence. There was nothing else to do for the day anyway. He had no desire to move at all.

Grace supposedly was in the workshop, so the idea of working was dead as soon as the thought came by. It wasn't his thing to go to the gym and Porter was being worse than a headache, so it was better to avoid being in his presence. So the best choice was staying quiet, for now.

However, he had already warmed both sides of his pillow. Unacceptable. Carefully, to not drag the blanket with him, he got up and walked to the common room and lay across the couch. It wasn't the comfort his bed offered, but for some reason he felt cooler.

For a moment he wanted to sleep, but the light right above his eyes didn't let him. As soon as he turned it off, the only remaining light came from James' room, who had left the door wide open.

The window inside was letting him know that the sun was still shining. It wasn't much, but the breeze that came through was pleasant.

He returned to his starting position, looking at the ceiling. He didn't want to think, because that would make him start fighting with himself, again. Trying to override his own mental functioning, he focused on the old reliable: Music. The slow beats were useful to relax, or at least it was for the other three who lived with him.

He wasn't used to listening to anything out and loud, as he was a little selfish with sound, but sometimes he did because it improved the atmosphere. A lot.

"Turn that off, Mute. I hate sleepy music." the old man couldn't bear any kind of wave stuff. For him music had died with the old rock, a.k.a. Queen or Rolling Stones. English stuff.

"I like lofi, Mark, but honestly I'm going to fall asleep if I keep listening to that while I work." muttered James, one of the hundreds of times they'd shared the long work table at the workshop.

Seamus never complained, but had fallen asleep many times in its presence. Couldn't blame. If Mark wasn't used to the many hours of study with that kind of quiet music involved, he himself would have fallen asleep twice as many hours in the workshop.

It felt good, even he couldn't feel the breeze directly. He had forgotten his mask in his room, but it was not necessary at all. It wasn't as if Grace was magically going to appear outside. Not this time. His senses started to feel numbed and his mind became lost with his thoughts.


"So, are you ready to ask her out?"

Mark didn't know how to tell him. It had been a game, and it had only been once. Was that really what it took to be ready? In which reality?

"Maybe." He didn't want to say no, after seeing that Emma and Echo had taken a bit of their time off to come to help him. He could disappoint the other two later.

"That's enough for now, I guess." James seemed satisfied with that answer.

Masaru said goodbye to them almost instantly, after asking them to tidy the place up, emphasizing "as Porter had promised." The french woman was still there, who had settled on the sofa from before, watching the members of the SAS do the work. It wasn't much, but it was necessary. Mike liked things clean as the usual old recruit instructor, and using the VR was a favor.

Mark got a seat at the other end of the couch where Emma was. It wasn't his thing doing housework, but James didn't even ask him anyway.

He felt that his presence wasn't needed at all, but the chances of finding something to do in his room were less than 1%. Although there was the idea of going to the workshop. Moni could use a improve.

He didn't like being in the same place as other people, even if these were his roommates. Sometimes they even made it more complicated, but this time it was a very good opportunity to learn what it was like to participate in a small casual meeting. If this could be considered one of those.

Mark had to gather as much experience as he could. Normally he only listened and answered. That's why talking to a girl casually was so complicated for him.

Seamus had taught him that "Hello" was a nice pick up line. At least on easy difficulty.

Their conversation topic was super trivial, obviously something that Mark couldn't meddle in, simply because he couldn't figure out how.

So he decided to look at his cell phone, only catching a few loose words from each sentence said. James and Seamus certainly didn't seem thrilled to be cleaning the equipment, but they also knew it was going to be a boring afternoon.

At that time he understood that everyone wanted to return to the VR program. Truthfully, he did too. Neon lights could be addictive in excess, and also the supposed feminine contact.

In a random moment, the old man arrived, but only to make sure that they had already stopped using the machine. James was the only one who saw him, his visit being so brief that he didn't even had the chance to wave at him. Nor did it distract from the topic of conversation.

"Resounding success in high school, Porter? Really?"

Mark sighed. He hated this one in particular. Especially since he had nothing to say.

"Yeah. I like to weigh my options." James returned her attention to his french colleague.

"Oh? These "options" weren't blind, were they?" Emma made the quote gesture with her index and middle fingers, mocking him.

"I can assure you: They weren't. Now you, Twitch. Something exciting in high school? "

"Oui. There were bunch of "options" to choose from. Parties, late night studies..."

"Hoho. Can't deny that. How many boyfriends have you had?"

"Boyfriends? I like girls, Porter."

Mark chuckled softly inside his gas mask. His friendship with Emma always came down to this phrase: "Shame you are not a girl, Marky. Nights here could be so much better."

At least when she was drunk.

"He just wants you to say it yourself, Pichon. I don't think it's necessary to tell you he has rare kinks." Seamus clarified, with a disgusted tone, as he ran a small vacuum cleaner down the office chair Masaru had used.

"Hey, not so subtle, Cowden. As I was saying, how many girlfriends have you had? "

"Hm... only two. Enough to satisfy my curiosity." Emma winked at Mark when he accidentally met her gaze. He beared the sudden warm blood in his face and didn't flinch.

He already knew it. In any case, in the drunk memories he kept she was always present. At least until Seamus and James showed up.

"Ooh, suddenly, you can get very interesting, frenchie."

"Is that so? What about you, Smoke?" she asked, turning to him, crossing her legs.

James had opened his mouth to reply, but Seamus spoke before him.

"There were two. They both got scared and ran away. Can't blame them."

Mark curved a small smile. He had already heard that story. James had only loved two women in his life. So much that he forgot to have his "options" available when they left. Legend says he emptied bottles of whisky on his own those nights, with a bunch of women cheering. He didn't even remember their names.

Although it had happened very few times in the Hereford base, listening to anecdotes from James drunk and sad was worth it. The price was high anyway: Leaning on Seamus' shoulder as the three of them struggled to not fall to the ground during their return to their room. James never drank alone, and Mark was also resistant to alcohol, but his body seemed to sacrifice balance for memories. However, the hangover was inevitable.

"At least I had loving partners, sweetie." James automatically turned his annoyance into a mischievous look, intending to hit him back.

Seamus just shrugged. Mark knew he didn't like to talk about that.

"Even if I yearn for my youth, I have more fun now." he looked at himself, in his current situation. "Sometimes more than others." he added, as he sat down where Masaru had been, using the vacuum cleaner on the keyboard of the control PC.

Mark didn't know where that thing had come from, but James also had one, which ran through every seat in the defenders' booth. Surely those things had been inside the room from the start. Mark shook his head and continued to pay attention to his cell phone.

"Now, now, don't be mad. Better to love and lose than never to have loved, right? " James said, as he closed the booth. There wasn't much to clean up there anyway.

"Words from the guru of love, huh?" Emma crossed her arms.

"Meh. Porter has as much as a guru than Marky does as a talker." Seamus replied, spinning on his chair.

"Haha. You should take me one day to those bar hangouts, they look like fun. "

"Anytime. Having a drink with someone who isn't neither Maestro nor Porter would be nice. I warn you: I don't share any prey."

"Don't worry, me neither. And Mark? Can't he...? Oh right, he obviously can't do well as a wingman."

"Without the mask he can't speak, remember."

"He just needs enough alcohol. Vodka, if we are serious. By the way, if you like girls, why did you get so cuddly with him in VR? " James asked, with excessive curiosity.

The young brit stopped his scrolling. He had a slight interest in her response.

"Can't a girl at least dream of hugging a handsome boy in the middle of the neon lights?" Emma laughed, leaning her back.

It didn't seem like a serious answer, but it described one of the lines in his bucket list. Mark sighed and returned to his endless search for good memes.

"What do you think about that, Marky?" James said, without looking at him, entering the attackers' booth. His voice had the usual teasing tone.

Mark looked at him, his expression empty. He took a deep breath, channeling the little social energy he had gathered in the VR.

"Yes, I would like to dance again."

Seamus clapped, with a smirk. James whistled. Mark rolled his eyes, it wasn't that weird. Emma turned to her left, and looked at Mark thoughtfully.

"Mask off. " she simply said.

"Uh ..." Mark automatically went into defensive mode, and looked at Porter. He was innocently still cleaning, even though he seemed to not be doing anything.

He analyzed the situation. Oh, not again.

Actually, he had already done it with Porter and Seamus, with a lot of effort and years of confidence. Lunch was a clear example.

Obviously, drunk was much easier. The problem was Emma, and alcohol was not an option. He was determined to show at least some progress to the one who had helped him.

Slowly he undid the clasps of his mask, and took it off, before the eyes of the Scotsman and the French with Porter deliberately ignoring him.

His comfort zone disappeared. The new oxygen felt suffocating, despite being exactly the same. He barely endured the desire to put it back on. He never thought he would prefer that Porter had taken it from him. He was shaking, He had not planned this. He hardly swallowed, fighting his own reactions and took a deep breath.

"Aw, just say you love me, Marky." Emma forced a smile, trying to make him feel ease.

The effect was completely opposite. The discomfort began to grow throughout his body. He had to find a way to run away, as usual. However, he felt a little guilty. His colleagues had invested time in him.

Ah, fuck it.

"Ha-Hi, Emma." he closed his eyes as he spoke. Two and half words, was it enough?

He opened his eyes. She was still looking at him. Seamus was giving him a thumbs up, while Porter just looked at him, surely feeling pride of the "grasshopper".

"Dance." he managed to continue, but very low.

He acquired his empty expression again. Trying to look as normal as possible. However, he felt flustered, with warm blood flowing in his face, and feeling coldness on his hands.

"Dance what?" Emma moved a few inches closer, enough for him to feel her feminine presence in all its glory.

He couldn't take it anymore. He quickly grabbed his gas mask and put it on. He relaxed to the point of ending up leaning on the armrest on his side of the sofa.

"Well, I tried." Emma returned to her initial position leaping gracefully backwards. She didn't seem disappointed, but neither was she proud.

"Are you kidding, right? He said four-words-in-a-row. It's a brand new record for him. " Seamus smirked, emphasizing his words showing four fingers.

"I don't think it'll take only four words to ask Grace out, Sledge."

"Nah, love has nothing planned for anyone. Who knows what might happen."

"Well said." James had suddenly appeared next to Mark, patting him on the shoulder. His little vacuum cleaner was gone, like Seamus'.

The young brit had already regained his composure, and was looking with disgust at his roommate. Although it was already habit. He didn't know any other way to look at James.

"Not bad for a first timer, Mark." Emma commented, trying to get him to talk again.

James and Seamus looked at each other instantly, letting out a mocking chuckle. Apparently they both had the same idea.

"That's what she said?" Mark had heard that joke from his roomies so many times that he had said it in reaction, but the last word had an uncertain tone, perhaps unconsciously reacting to Emma's presence.

The french woman opened her eyes wide, not waiting for that answer. Honestly no one expected it.

"Hey! I was going to say it! " James protested, curving a corner of his mouth.

This laugh was contagious. Soon Emma and Seamus were laughing too. Mark had never gone along with it in that regard. His own habit of never laughing without the presence of memes didn't let him.

However, he remembered the VR. Jane and Emily had made him laugh, somehow. He chuckled, and realizing what he had done. He gulped, canceling the expression, but it was already too late.

"See? He CAN laugh! The VR is incredible."

"It's not that impressive." Emma raised an eyebrow. "Is it?"

"He has laughed as many times as his girlfriends' counting, Twitch."

Mark looked at Seamus, narrowing his eyes. James usually said that. Nonetheless, it didn't hurt his geek pride. Well, maybe. Just a little.

"But he's all laughs with me! At least the times we talk... "

"Uh... any electronic and alcohol been involved?" James asked, remembering Jäger's party.

She thought for a moment, putting her hand under her chin. Of course, whenever Mark laughed with her or his tablet or liquor served by James was present.

"Oh."

"You see? He's progressing and that's all that matters. "

"I thought we had something special..." Emma brought her right hand to her own heart, hurt. She faked a sob, but couldn't hide a grin.

"Crocodile tears, huh?"

"Aye. Well, I'm hungry. See you later. " She stood up and went to the door.

"Thanks for the help, Pichon. It's good to know there are still nice people around the base."

"I didn't do it for you, Porter. Mark is a strange enough individual and anyone would be curious about him. Even Taina."

"Unfortunately, I think she hates me. You were the only candidate we thought of."

"Oh, then call me if you need anything. I like ex-pe-ri-men-tation." she said getting to the exit, emphasizing each syllable. Then she waved her hand as she was leaving.

Porter whistled, obviously checking her backside. He spent almost a second staring at the air after she left. He didn't expect her returning almost instantly, surprising him and the other two.

"I heard that Dokkaebi was going to the workshop." Her gaze locked on Mark. "Go get her, tiger."

With that said, she left. The canister user kept looking at her, fixed on the place he wasn't supposed to be looking.

"Ooh. Tremendous wasted potential. "

"She would never notice you, mate. Anyway the closest one to get in her pants is this masked fella. " Seamus had also stood up, and had approached the sofa. "Any plans for the rest of the afternoon?"

"Total boredom." Mark muttered, feeling comfortable after quite a while.

"Good plan, isn't it?" Porter asked, adding sarcasm to each word. "But I have a better one for ..."

"We can go have a drink tonight, right?" Seamus suggested, purposely interrupting James.

"I think it's about time for me to go. It could be good, huh?" Mark was completely out of character, realizing he had to go along with Seamus.

James had his mouth open, but didn't say a word.

"Oh? What am I seeing? A changed Marky?" Seamus raised both of his eyebrows.

"Yes... Yes..."

The young brit was quickly out of ideas. He wasn't very good at improvising.

"Or we could get Marky to the workshop. Yes?" James looked excited, though he swallowed his annoyance for not letting him speak.

"Great." Mark answered, with his sad and muffled voice.


At least he had already got rid of Porter. He had always felt his perseverance was admirable of him, but now it was counterproductive. James wasn't going to give up.

Mark sighed. The beats had calmed him down enough. He could close his eyes and stay there, just existing. His internet search algorithm never disappointed.

He didn't want to change anything. He liked life as it was now, although he couldn't talk to girls or having "selective mutism", medical terms thing. This "thing" had progressed positively, yes, and could be useful, in many areas. He had a sense of humor, very well attenuated, but he had it deep within.

Both options were bad. It wasn't just feeling insecure because she could say no. In any case, he could overcome her refusal by finally agreeing to go out with his roommates and get drown in alcohol to burn his sorrows, and possible nicotine. As long as it wasn't whiskey or vodka, he'd be fine with it, although his self-esteem and psychological health were at stake. Maybe his own mutism turns into something worse and he won't go out for lunch again, like he used to do.

Besides, he didn't know how to tell Porter AGAIN he wasn't used to chit-chat, at all. And he already knew that. Perhaps that strange human being also liked try new things. Ah, thinking about it like that could be misconceived in many ways.

If, by an unlikely almost impossible stroke of luck, she said yes, it could turn his life upside down, but he was a man of routine, and routine is stronger than love, or so he had heard. Anyway, her smile, her lips, her hair, the slightest physical contact made it all worth it. He was fucking head over heels for her, like a teenager.

A fierce fight with himself was raging. Barely aware of his surroundings, he fell asleep. Her cell phone kept sounding, but the beats weren't enough to be disturbing.

A sudden heat woke him up. He opened his eyes.

Pink mist covered his field of vision. He saw changing lights, as if he were at a club or party. He rubbed his eyes. He could hear ambience music, along with voices he already knew, but there wasn't any people to be seen..

"Hey! I'd never knew you liked hanging out to these places, old man! " Porter's voice was unmistakable. The problem was that Mark couldn't see him. He hardly even could detect any face at all.

"Neither would I, huh. Wow, another girl for me? Hello… "Mike's voice seemed calm and confident, with a seductive tone in the last word.

He managed to see several figures, to later realize that he was sitting, possibly in a strip club, judging that in front of him was a platform, with a brass pole in the middle, with an invisible dancer, apparently. As he looked around he saw other platforms, empty as well.

He was alone at his table, and he couldn't see the faces of the other customers at the other places, although their voices were recognizable.

"Common love isn't for us ..." could detect a slow effect on a song that he had recently listened to. It was very pleasant to hear, as the voice was deep and went with the flow.

"Oh come on, dude! l chose the blonde! " he managed to hear Thermite's voice in the distance, close to one of the platforms.

"Didn't you like redheads, Trace?" Dominic's voice was heard from the same distance.

"What?! No!" His angry voice turned into a nervous one.

"Don't worry, friend! My lips are sealed." Elias' cheerful voice stood out from the other two, totally out of context. He didn't belong to that place, at all.

Mark smirked. It was totally unlikely that so many operators were in a place like that at the same time, and even negative odds if Mike was among them. He realised he was dreaming. It wasn't possible this was really happening.

Near him was a tall glass of various colors, with an umbrella, and next to it, proudly standing, the pot with the reddish-colored cactus. He curved a smile when he saw it, and caressed the petals softly, as if it were a pet. Its remittent was still there, but next to its name was a heart drawn in red ink, something he didn't remember putting on it.

"What's wrong Seamus? Can't hold your liquor?" Emma's voice dragged her words slightly. Mark turned in reaction to her direction, though he still saw nothing, just blurry figures.

"I like to keeping things on place, Emma, but if you want to contest, then bring it on. Hey, Tachanka! " Seamus called for his fellow operator, his voice not any different from usual.

"Speak up, comrade!" Alexsandr reported instantly, as if it hadn't been necessary to call him that loud.

"You, me and Pichon. The first one to fall pays the entire round. "

Mark chuckled. Those kinds of competitions had happened before. He had seen Emma falling before, and had always repeated the same words for her sake: "Oi, Doc!"

Unfortunately he only saw silhouettes move. It was fun to see how that transparent liquid affected their brains' function.

"Ah..." Mark couldn't get if that was out of pleasure or something else. He heard the clink of glass with a surface, one sound after another, to finally be three. "Another one! We will not stop until dawn!"

"That's how I like it!" Alexsandr held, while Mark could detect his figure move, so that he could serve the other two.

"Merci beaucoup, mon ami!"

Suddenly, Mark saw how girls of different and generous features appeared, one by one. Blonde, brunette, redhead, and some colors were obviously not natural. Some of them positioned next to each brass pole dance platform, and remaining ones vanished behind the pink mist. Apparently it began to dissipate enough to see them clearly move, but with seconds passing, they hid again. Maybe he didn't know enough about female seductive moves and his brain just hid it.

"Oooh. Sight for sore eyes." He managed to hear Seamus, with genuine emotion in his voice, something he didn't usually have.

Mark shrugged. He had never seen anyone dance for him in person. so he associated that his mind couldn't create that idea. Although he could remember some odd movie, right? He was curious.

"Lights out and follow the noise ..." the song felt nice. He seldom listened to songs with vocals, but this one had something... unique. It gave him the same feeling that the synthwave offered, with a touch of sensuality he couldn't describe, totally influenced by the place.

"Whoa, whoa, there's enough James for you, ladies ...!"

The nirvana of the neon lights could be in the middle of everything, but he preferred to stay calm, still, on his seat. Maybe that was what the dream was about.

He focused on the cactus. What could the small plant be doing in such a place? He haven't felt its new owner's presence at all...

He looked at his drink. He took the glass and took a few sips, but felt nothing, although he saw the volume of the liquid vanish. He left it back on the table.

He wanted to deny it, but he felt a bit lonely. Laughter could be heard in the distance, mostly female. The sharpness of it contrasted the deep sound of the song, which still continued.

Maybe he wanted to see a girl dance for him. Mark was a boy after all.

In front of him was still the empty pole dance platform. He guessed that maybe he wasn't thinking enough about it. Suddenly he saw a figure arise, with that damn pink mist covering it. However, this time it wasn't that dense. The closeness helped this time.

He narrowed his eyes to improve his vision. She was a girl, with a nice figure. She didn't have long hair, or maybe the mist was blinding Mark enough. It could be that she had short hair, or be a man. He could never assure. Never after... Ugh.

Mark remembered something he did not want to remember. He shook his head, focusing again.

He still couldn't see anything. Screw his brain and thoughts. The mist had formed a curtain around her, only revealing her silhouette. She began to dance, accentuating her hips and thighs, while her hands unconsciously guided the lucky viewer's gaze.

Mark leaned back in the chair where he was, grabbing and sipping his again full cocktail unconsciously. He didn't know what to do, besides enjoying the view.

He noticed the dancer was following the rhythm of the song playing. He couldn't imagine a better one for her. In one her moves, as she bent down slowly, hands on her separated knees and wiggling her hips rhythmically, he saw two strands of hair fall from her head and swayed from side to side. He recognized them. He had admired them for a long time now.

Mark blinked several times. He felt sudden heat, the same one he felt every time he met eyes with...

"Oh." he muttered.

"Who needs to go to sleep, when I got you next to me?"

The beat started again and the mist cleared, revealing who was behind, just as she accentuated her derriere, as she got back to her feet.

She had blue shorts, which showed her legs almost entirely and her thighs were the meaning of visual pleasure. Mark had been mesmerized, watching her hands ran down her skin. She wore a white top with a heart on the middle, small enough to show her waist and a little bit of cleavage. She had a pair of black heels adorning her feet, and had almost no problem moving around. Her usual beanie was missing. Didn't matter at all.

Suddenly she grabbed the brass pole and began to circle around it, letting her fantastic figure be appreciated. She was doing nothing extraordinary, but Mark could only feel his salivary glands slightly increasing their production.

He had never stared at her chest. It felt... disgusting. But now it seemed like the opportunity, the one and only. He had always wanted to look at her without restriction.

Her face was beautiful, but seeing her entire body was a blessing. The perfect curves. The perfect edges. He couldn't help but feel a little aroused.

She suddenly met his gaze and smirked at him. Mark just noticed then that she didn't have her glasses. He chose to break to eye contact to close his mouth, embarrassed.

She didn't stop moving. She no longer was moving around, but had remained in front of the pole. She had leaned against it, her right hand with a firm grip behind her head. Her braids kept swinging side to side. Maybe Mark was just using that excuse to see what was right underneath them.

Her free hand went to her mouth, accentuating her slightly shiny pink lips. Two fingers, the index and the middle, began to descend from the lower lip. She opened her mouth, letting out her breath. Mark unconsciously waved the pink mist that was gathering in front of him.

Her hand descended tenderly, leaving no part without a splendid touch, while she bent down again, moving her hips, slowly.

Suddenly she leaned forward and dropped herself to the ground. Her butt was fully accentuated, while her chest was a little distance to the platform. Surprising the young and hormonal brit, she raised her head and began to crawl towards him, her eyes thirsty for contact.

Mark felt the temperature rise even higher, and he drank from his cocktail, not feeling refreshed at all. Although he could wish for her to come even closer to him, he knew they were always going to be separated by that dance platform.

Mark wasn't mad at all, because looking at the divinity of her figure was enough. He couldn't deny it, he was excited or that's what he thought he was. He didn't quite know how to describe this. He was a rookie after all.

The edge of the platform had stopped her. Or so it seemed. She rose back to her feet, still keeping the pace, and slowly went down a staircase, which had suddenly been uncovered by the pink mist. She began to walk to him, her toned figure getting closer.

The distance between them was short. Mark didn't know how to do. He was supposed to be an observer, no... he wasn't ready for this.

Sadly, he couldn't run away from his own mind. She kept advancing, pushing the table softly with her hip, to give her room to move.

"So come on, come on, come on..." Her stunning presence was within his personal space.

The heat had a sudden contrast, with cold blood running through his own stomach. He couldn't move. Not even an inch. Mark still had the cocktail in his hand. She took it and with a quick movement put it away, disappearing.

Without warning, she sat on his lap, leaving a nice view of cleavage for him.

As a reflex, he looked away, but it wasn't that effective. Her dark eyes were a magnet and he couldn't avoid direct eye contact.

Mark felt weird. He wanted to run away, but he wanted to stay. Despite he hated physical contact, this was getting pleasant. He started to smell perfume, the same one he felt at lunch.

"Let's get physical..." She moved her lips along with the lyrics, narrowing her eyes, sensually.

He couldn't bear it and eliminated the distance between, and their foreheads touched. Her dark eyes glowed brightly. Her lips were closer than ever, at his reach.

She blinked, and playfully got an inch away, smiling flustered. Her hair fluttered slightly, releasing a thin strand, which swayed slightly from side to side.

Mark's body was already acting in reaction. With his left hand he brought her hair back to its place, without missing the opportunity to caress her face. Slowly, fingers going over, lightly brushing her cheek, down to her chin.

It was worth it. It was worth everything he had done so far. The torture of the SAS recruitment was worth it. It was worth having put up with the old man when he got to Rainbow. It was worth the six bullets he was shot in action. Everything for this moment.


The gym was what could be expected. Divided into Cardio, weightlifting and muscle workout. This area full of pure machines doubled the dimension compared to the CQC square, which was also there.

It had a square painted in three different colors to determine the ring. Yellow the center, green the middle and red the edges. It also had two large benches, mostly serving for spectators, and a place to leave the refreshments and towels.

Taina was almost always there, practicing on her own. Occasionally she was accompanied by someone brave enough to challenge her or her partner. No one could forget when she locked the old man's neck between her legs and made him give up before she kill him, judging by the maniacal grin she made and the deep red tinge Mike's face was getting.

The height didn't matter either. More than once Seamus had fallen before her, faithfully remembering her interrogation in the simulations. Nor did the speed itself, proving she could defeat Eliza, after a long and exhausting fight.

However, only one person in the base had been able to defeat her more than once and make her feel the heat and excitement of an even battle, at the same time. The fucking James Porter.

Taina had never taken him seriously. His attitude, his humor, HE was obnoxious. Nor did he take that much into account in the simulations. Honestly, it was better not to lean on his existence, unless her other three allies were dead.

However, when they fought on "friendly" terms. He suddenly changed his usual grin to a serious face. He caught her off guard, attacking her legs immediately. Normally she used them as lethal weapons, but being defensive didn't work very well for her. After a couple of blocked punches and one evaded leg grab, Porter managed to knock her off balance and knock her onto her belly. He put his knee on her back and immobilized her arms, waiting for her to give up. There was no way for Taina to turn the situation around so she simply tapped her palm three times to the ground.

He smirked and didn't say anything, just went to his companions to celebrate his achievement. With his SAS colleagues they went on to continue doing their routine, while Mark only were riding the immobile bike, as if he wanted to escape and not being able to do so.

Taina had practiced harder since then, feeling disappointed with herself. She was supposed to be her own gadget, but someone had defeated that. Someone who was only in charge of releasing strange yellow smoke to one place and another.

She became stronger and she could defeat Porter in later situations, but she wasn't satisfied. Not until she could crush him and make him beg for mercy.

"I'm in danger." the canister operator muttered as soon as he entered the gym.

She had automatically noticed his presence, but quickly looked away.

"Oh. Caveira is still there. Shadow Fighting, right?"

"Yep. Wanna spar today? I want to practice something new that I saw on the internet. "

"Do you want to show off with me, Porter?" I remind you that your rival is there. " Seamus pointed to the brazilian, who kept punching the air, restless.

"Oh, come on! I won't be that hard on you, I promise. "

"No. I just wanted to do some muscle, to spend some energies. She is always there anyway, if you change your mind."

"Bummer. You know if I miss any hit, she won't stop until my bones are destroyed."

Seamus shrugged. He started to do a bit of arm stretching right next to the weightlifting machine he was going to use. James followed, not sure if he was going to do anything. Coincidentally there was the bike that Mark always used right next to him. Maybe it was the way to spend the extra energy he had.

He pedaled for a while, chatting trivial things with Seamus as usual.

"Hey, hey, Have you played Plague Inc. yet?"

The attacker just looked at him, and shook his head side to side, briefly, before grunting as he started another routine.

"It's just so cool, man. Figure, you can kill the entire human race with a little virus..."

Taina was having a break and apparently heard the conversation too, but her face didn't change at all. In her mind, that idea sound ridiculous, but intriguing. She might look for that game later.

After a while, Porter remembered something. He could annoy Mark a little more.

"I'll be back." the canister user stopped the bike, grabbed his small towel, and headed for the door.

"Huh? Okay." Seamus didn't seem surprised. He just hoped that at least that day would pass with no major incidents.

When he crossed the door, he encountered one of the russians. He didn't have a bad relationship with them, so he waved him briefly, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the towel.

"Good afternoon, Smoke." James was surprised. Normally no one greeted him verbally, not as polite as that.

"Hi Glaz." It seemed rude even for him to not return the greeting.

Both nodded each other, but neither had more words to say. James moved again, with one goal in mind, the workshop.

The base was silent as all light outside turned artificial. There wasn't much noise coming from any room, except for the kitchen, where few operators had sneaked to see if there was any German lunch left.

The workshop light was on. When he peeked inside thirty minutes ago with Seamus, Echo was the only one there, as usual. He expected to find Grace, but disappointed he had to go on with Seamus to the gym.

Now could be the chance, unless Emma was wrong.

He peeked quickly into the room. Bingo! She was there, earphones on her. She was staring at Masaru, as she rubbed her head as if something had just hit her.

Yokai hovered silently above her, returning to his owner.

Preparing for his next move, he hid again by the door, putting the towel over his shoulder. He was sure this was going to bother Mark somehow, so he readied himself, and took out his phone.


The young brit was upset. It was honestly the best dream he ever had, one he thought it was his personal heaven.

He had never paid premium on any video platform because it wasn't strictly necessary for him, but an advertisement had just destroyed all his possible imagination, and his dream. He was going to hate that woman's voice for his whole life, although he was surely going to forget her in a couple of hours.

He had gotten up to wipe the saliva from his face, which had even fallen a little onto his vest. Fortunately, nothing had fallen on the sofa. A single stain and he had to clean everything. Old man's orders.

As soon as he could, he searched for the song that had been playing. It was a slowed version of the original, which didn't had any effect on him. As he played the previous one, he felt aroused, thinking of a certain korean girl. He sighed, trying to get rid of his impure thoughts.

Within two taps he returned to the lofi, but this time from an app where there were no ads, hopefully.

Having such a vivid dream, he felt like he hadn't even slept at all. Even more, he felt sleepy again. He realized that the sun had already gone down, and the breeze from the window was colder than before.

Leaving the bathroom light on, he went to Porter's room and closed the window, leaving it half-open. Some air had to get in.

There wasn't much in there.

His wardrobe was filled with extravagant clothing, such as flowery shirts, deep red hoodies, as well as the SAS uniform he never wore outside missions. The only thing that could stand out from all this was a black leather jacket.

Not even once Mark had seen him dressed in that. Maybe it was his hidden treasure. He looked to his own clothing, always in the same blue and dark. He had never been interested in fashion itself.

The old man didn't seem to mind either because he looked exactly the same every day.

The rest were the same as the other rooms, plus a lone disarmed canister on his nightstand. On the wall next to his bed he had a painting of two coconut palms, above and covering a woman's silhouette, in the moonlight with the purple sky, her reflection crystallized on the beach. It covered almost 80% of the wall. Mark examined it, as he did every time he entered his room.

James had made it out of pure spray cans, molds and shapes, but it didn't matter. It was worthy enough to be admired. Mark even wished that he had done it outside in the common room, just so he could fall asleep more easily on that sofa.

Shaking his head to avoid feeling numbed in that place, he got out, turned off the bathroom's light and returned to his couch. He lay down and closed his eyes, hoping not to dream this time.

Who was he lying to? The sweetness was addictive.

When he felt his relaxation to its fullest, Mark felt a single sound vibration nearby, interrupting the beats. He didn't move, no matter who it was, he could reply later.

It vibrated again within a minute. Two attempts. Possible contacts were reduced. He opened his eyes.

A small flashing green light interrupted the darkness, coming from his cell phone. Mark had an idea who it might be, but his message was the last thing that could interest him, so he simply reached out and turned the device around.

He usually gave up on three tries, but now he broke his own record and Mark had already lost patience. Yes, his guesses were correct.

Porter had filled his chat with spam. Mark had forgotten to silence him from the last time they had a meme fight. He was about to do it and delete everything, but he noticed that he had sent an image in the end.

It didn't seem like a meme at all, nor was it a weird thing. It seemed to be a photo. He mentally asked that the 257 kb of space to be worth it. And they were.

Grace was working on her laptop. She hadn't noticed the presence of the one who had taken the photo, so it was in her natural attitude. Carefree, her lips closed and her hands typing on her laptop. Her glasses reflected the glow from the white light just above her.

He felt lost, looking absentmindedly at her for a couple of seconds. Then he noticed Masaru, two tables away, staring at the camera. He had noticed him.

Mark didn't know what answer as a thanks wasn't the best he could send Porter, in ANY case. It was an excellent message if he thought about it, despite he was going to delete it in the near future.

What had happened at lunch with Seamus and the old man seeing a photo of her had been a total accident. He felt safe with Porter's absence, but it couldn't happen again.

He stared at the phone, just above his face. He had reduced its brightness as much as possible, and it was still annoying. He wanted to sleep, so he couldn't stand more than a minute of complete inactivity. He put the device back in its place, and pulled the table near, preparing for the immediate future.

Putting up James' annoyance for a few photos of Grace was a reasonable price. If his roommate was still willing to do that fair exchange, Mark would be happy to comply.

He had barely returned and laid on the sofa, and another message popped up.

Without moving anything not necessary, he just reached out and took his phone. Another photo. Curious, he downloaded it.

Grace was closer, and had noticed James' camera. He was offering her a hand, as if inviting her to something. She had stopped typing and was just looking at him, one hand on her cheek and a mocking grimace.

A small message appeared just below the previous one: "Jealous?"

Mark sighed. He silenced the chat and wrote three words that he had repeated many times in that bubble: "Fuck off, Porter."

The music was still playing. Surely Porter could keep texting, but he wasn't really looking forward to replying. Anyway when he came back for sure he was going to keep being annoying. Even if what he said was true, he doubted Grace would accept him, unless it was a friendly hang out.

However, he couldn't help but feel something weird in his chest. Would she make the same expression if it was him asking instead of Porter?

"Who knows?" he muttered, adjusting his head in the armrest.

He remembered that he hadn't deleted the photos, but he just let himself go with the sleepiness, until he dozed off again.


Seamus felt unease at its maximum. When Porter was gone, one of the russians had arrived. As usual he greeted him without much importance and continued with his routine, concentrating on the strength of his arms. However, after a while he began to feel something strange in the air.

He put the weight down in its rack again and used the excuse of drinking water to see what was happening.

Timur and Taina were practicing CQC. Seamus analyzed the scene for a moment. In a normal situation, she would quickly defeat him. It wasn't the russian's specialty to fight from so close.

However, they were both rolling on the square's mat. She was smiling, while he was trying to avoid any possible immobilization. Normally she didn't give a trace of happiness, unless she was fighting with Porter. A couple of seconds later, without much effort, Taina had him already on the floor, completely immobilizing him from his back.

"Magic words, Timur?"

"You are my best canvas, Taina." he replied, looking her in the eye.

Seamus knew, as anyone else at the base, that he painted her face before any mission.

She seemed satisfied with it and let him go. As he stood up, their faces brushed each other very closely.

However, and almost instantly, the scotsman felt two pairs of eyes briefly fixed on him. He choked on the water briefly and had to clean himself, then headed back to his routine. He was going to finish it as fast as possible because it wasn't his thing being the obvious third wheel.

As he was tightening his grip on the exercise object, he heard footsteps right next to him. Porter had returned.

"Well, if reverse psychology really works, Grace will have a date for tomorrow." he said when he stopped, leaning on the machine just next to his roommate.

"You really went to ask her out?" Seamus left the weight on the rack again, finally feeling the discomfort ease away.

"Of course not, Seam. I can be anything but a love wrecker for Marky. "

"To all this, was the phone sequence really necessary?"

"Yes, of course. Thatcher to Thermite to Castle to Blitz to Blackbeard to Valkyrie to Frost to Dokkaebi. Planned to make it even longer, but it was hard to remember if any of them hate each other. " James repeated the sequence like a robot, making Seamus raise an eyebrow.

"At least the ones you chose are cool people. Hopefully they don't distort the message that much."

"I count on it."

Seamus continued with his routine, while James switched between machines, unable to make up his mind.

After quite a while, when Seamus finished, he stood up, exhausted. While drinking water, he noticed that Porter was sparring with Taina, as Timur watched from the nearby benches. With his water bottle almost empty and his towel, he went to enjoy the show.

The sweet night had just fallen.


A.N.: Take care, thanks for reading.