22: BUILD UP

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Johannesburg was busy.

The hole in the wall -- likely black-market run -- store that Bravo led us to however, was not.

"Hanru!" Legion greeted in his usual booming voice, his cheerful smile now laced with an edge of malice as he approached the tall, long-limbed man who stood behind the shabby counter.

The man called Hanru was even darker than Legion was, nearly disappearing into the shadows in which he had stationed himself. To make matters even more interesting, he had an eye patch on, so only the whites of one eye could be seen. His mane of curls stood at all ends, adding to the ultimate crazy that he oozed.

He eyed us all suspiciously. I didn't doubt that his last meeting with Team Bravo had left them on questionable ground. "You are here for weapons," he said slowly in thickly accented English, glaring from Legion, to Sergeant. He seemed hesitant to look away from them, apparently considering them the biggest threats in the room.

"Indeed," Sergeant drawled, eyeing him in return. "And we'll be paying in cash, like usual."

Hanru nodded slowly at this, his eyes finally shifting away from Bravo toward the rest of us. He gave Rebel and Gunner a swift once-over that seemed close to professional, which made me all the more irritated when his gaze lingered too long on me.

A scowl was already tugging down at the corners of my mouth when Rebel stepped between Hanru and I, speaking up as he did so. "We need mostly handguns. Knives would be good, too."

I could barely see Hanru nod stiffly what with Rebel's form in my way, but I didn't shift my stance. My temper was a fragile thing at the moment, and a small part of me recognized that my going off now would not do us any favors. So I bit my bottom lip until I tasted blood, and kept my threats reduced to the nonverbal daggers I glared at what I could see of Hanru.

"A machine gun," was Gunner's only contribution when silence prevailed.

Hanru didn't move right away, and that prompted Legion to speak up. Though the man was a generally kinder individual -- at least, in this line of work -- he had a deadly streak like us all. "Now, Hanru," Legion said in a low voice.

That was all the prompting Hanru required to take off from his position behind the counter, disappearing into a small door behind him. Only then did Rebel turn to me, arching a dark brow as he looked down at me, his eyes still shining even in the dim lighting of the space. "Breathe," he said quietly, so only I could hear.

I took in an unsteady breath, hands clenching to fists at my sides. I heard a low rattling sound before my eyes fell shut, and only then did I recall the fixtures that had been hung haphazardly on the wall. Warm hands held my shoulders then, and I pried my eyes open.

Rebel flashed me a familiar, encouraging smile, one I knew was reserved only for me. His eyes flickered between each of my own, and he repeated, "Breathe, истребитель."

The Russian unlocked something in my mind, as it was so prone to doing, and just like that, I returned to normal. My breathing came steady, my hands relaxed, and I gently shook Rebel's hands off my shoulders. No words needed be exchanged, so none were.

When Rebel moved back to my side, lingering closer now, neither Team Bravo nor Gunner asked what had happened. In reality, my anger management issues were not so secret as I liked to tell myself. My temper tantrums had been a thing of legend as we aged, not because of their frequency, but rather their intensity. When it came to frequently losing one's cool, Rebel won that award proudly every time . . . and I let him.

It was one of the many reasons why we worked better together.

"We'll get better weaponry after we meet up with Gray," Legion said then, leaning back against Hanru's counter and facing the rest of us. "Hopefully some tactical gear then, too. I don't think I've ever worn civilian clothes this long without being on an assignment."

Sergeant chuckled at that. "Are you trying to say you're missing the Armani suits, or the tactical gear? Because I was picking up on the suits."

Gunner snickered at that, though the sound went stifled when Legion shot his partner a warning look.

All conversation ceased when Hanru returned, toting a large case. He began to remove and organize a variety of handguns and knives, pausing only to extend a decent looking machine gun Gunner's way when he reached it.

Gunner stepped up and accepted the weapon with ease, his large hands falling familiarly on the weapon and going about preliminary checks.

Sergeant and Legion stepped up next, each of them retrieving the handguns that they desired -- along with their matching holsters -- before stepping away to situate themselves.

Rebel and I moved forward after them, neither of us needing to be prompted. I instinctively reached for two nine-milimeters, taking note of the straps on the holsters with a slight smirk. Rebel was a little slower going as he studied the weapons, though his gaze had settled on the knives, for those were his usual preference.

He was picky about his knives.

I had just finished strapping the first gun to my hip, safely hidden away by the billowing black shirt that I wore, and was beginning to work on strapping the second holster mid-thigh on my other side when Hanru spoke.

"So you two," he gestured between the two of us with calloused hands, a glimmer of something despicable in his eyes, "you are dating?"

Resisting the urge to snatch up one of his knives and have impromptu target practice, I instead flashed a feral smile that was all teeth. "No," I said flatly, the word escaping as a hiss through my teeth.

"Before you voice your next thoughts," Rebel said, delicately retrieving one knife and toying with it pointedly, "I would like to inform you that it won't be me that'll knock your teeth out -- it'll be her. And none of us will stop her."

Hanru hesitated at that, his eye lingering on Rebel's knife play for a second before he looked past him at the other three men. I didn't have to see any of their faces; I recognized the expression his morphed into just fine. It was a look of fear. That fear remained when his eye turned to me, and I couldn't help but allow my smile to widen.

His lips clamped shut after that, and he took a half-step away from us. Rebel offered me the knife he had been examining, and I accepted it easily. It looked like a knife I had favored, once upon a time, so without a second thought I capped it and slid it into the exterior of my right boot.

It didn't take Rebel long to arrange his own weapons on himself after that, and within the same handful of minutes Legion had paid the man.

We left wordlessly, heading back into the city. The only other words spoken as we made our way through the alley were, of course, from Sergeant. "So, Risky," he chirped in clear amusement, "think you can keep from traumatizing whoever we get our vehicle from? Or should we start up a point system for who scares the most random strangers?"

The only answer he received from me was a subtle elbow to the ribs as I pushed between he and Legion to walk beside Rebel before the rest of the group. Legion's laughter at his partner's misfortunate and bemoaning thereof echoed in my ears, and I allowed myself a small smile.

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