xxxviii. obese koala bears

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"The what is in my what?" I hesitate.

"I'm not going to repeat myself Miss Snow," Ace demands. He turns away from me, almost as if he doesn't want to believe the statue he saw. "The Winged Victory of Samothrace; the sculpture stolen from the Louvre. Why is it in your room?"

The options weigh present themselves like shitty Christmas presents from Santa after you become so old that your parents are too lazy to continue the gist.

"I'm not a fucking idiot," he spits. "You're clearly working with or for Thirteen. What was that? A gift? A threat?"

"I can't... I can't tell you. Please just trust me," I sputter.

My world was caving in on itself. Foolishly, my grave miscalculations of controlling the chess board were burning. It was like a car crash. In the moment, everything slows, and yet there's nothing you can do to stop it.

On one hand, I turn over the information to Thirteen via the burner phone right now. Pros include protecting my mother. Bonus points as well since Thirteen might even stop hurting others if I can help him find peace and find his "Queen".

Cons include betraying the CIA, my team, and Ace.

My gaze wavers towards the burner phone on the desk in hesitation. Ace's eyes flicker to where my eyes settle. Unfortunately, he notices the burner phone and lunges for it before I can. I try to push against him, but he retaliates, slamming me against the wall. I'm completely paralyzed beneath him.

Ace examines the phone and proceeds to take out the SIM chip, slams it to the ground, then shoots a bullet through it. Metal rain shatters like diamonds against the floor.

"Why did you do that?" I instinctively scream. Without thinking I lunge for his chest and throw punches at his face. "That was the only chance I had of saving her!"

Ace restrains my wrists with one hand and my body with the other. "Saving who? Just... just stop hiding things from me."

I begin to sob in his chest. The tears come out faster than I can produce them, and not that bullshit pretty-crying like girls in movies do. No, this was the same type of crying as when I was seventeen years old after seeing Mufasa die in the Lion King.

Ace takes off his leather jacket and wraps it around my shoulders. He brings me into his arms, holding me without saying a single word.

"Thirteen—he was threatening me," I sputter. "If I didn't hack into the USB then he would have killed my mother. She's the only family I have left."

"That's not true." He brings my tear-streaked face to meet his eyes. "Chase, Xavier, Skye, and, well, me—we're all your family."

I let out a small chuckle. "What is this, Dairyland Wisconsin? No need to be so cheesy."

Ace grins. "So are you implying that you don't want my jacket around your shoulders and my arms around your waist?" He begins to pull away.

At least, he tries to pull away. I refuse to let him leave, clinging onto around his neck like an obese koala bear to XXL eucalyptus.

When I finally move my face from his chest, his shirt is stained wet with tears. "Look Cupcake," Ace says softly. "That SIM chip I destroyed wasn't actually a SIM chip. It was only disguised as one, it was a tracker."

I shake my head. "That's impossible. I scanned it myself."

"It's a nano-tracker, which uses simple trilateration to roughly estimate your position. It's something the agency had been working on for a while now. It's nearly impossible to detect if you didn't know it existed."

I run my hands through my hair. "So Thirteen somehow got his hands on CIA tech and knows we're in Albemarle. Just great."

"Whatever happened between you two, you need to tell me," he states. "No one should deal with him on their own."

Ace was right. It was clear that no matter how much I tried, there would be no way to control the entire situation. I tell Ace everything, starting with what happened in Toulouse, why the Winged Victory of Samothrace is in my room, how my mother's life was at risk, and most importantly, the real reason we were in my hometown.

His jaw tightens with anger and contemplation after I finish. The deafening sound of another bullet cut through the air as Ace shot the broken pieces of the burner phone.

"This... this is all my fault," he sighs.

"No Banana Bread, none of this is your fault."

Ace looks away from me. "I had the opportunity to kill him when his crime syndicate first started. But—but I couldn't bring myself to put a bullet in my old partner's head. This time though, he hurt you, and I promise you that he will suffer."

I wrap Ace's jacket tighter around my body. "What do we do now?"

"We give Thirteen what he wants on the USB. Let him find whoever Agent 009 is—we need to prioritize saving your mother."

I rub my temples. All the possible simulations of events rank themselves before me. "We can't give him what he wants. What about moving her to a safehouse?"

The words sounded stupid as I said them. Somehow, Thirteen knew where everything was at all times. If I'd just moved her, Thirteen would become suspicious, and no doubt she'd suffer the same fate as Deschamps. Ace gives me a pained look.

"Trust me, Cupcake. Thirteen keeps his promises, and he will hurt your mother. I don't know how, but he was able to infiltrate Deschamps back in Paris. We just need to figure out why the USB sent us to the police station before he does; or perhaps, catastrophizing here, deal with the consequences."

Thank god that Ace was calm during situations like this. In my mind, everything was on fire like that show Caillou. (You know it's true.)

I show Ace the old PC with my father's work hard drive. "There has to be something on here that will help us; if something about the CIA came through the station, he would have known—he was the Sergeant before Antony. I just can't figure out what."

Before we could open up the hard drive, a stray bullet suddenly whizzes through the window and rips a hole in the drywall behind my head. 

Ace: "Vote if you wanna protect Cupcake."

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