Forty-Nine - Ira

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It was hard to tell what a safehouse meant in our instance. We weren't on lockdown, there was a small lab in the attic for Stuart to try and help Linkin again, and in the mid-afternoon, when they had started doing just that, Thierry begrudgingly took me grocery shopping. He made sure to taunt me at every opportunity, and my selective hearing would have been perfected had we not made our way back to the house. I was sure that some of the French he'd used was more than to speak to shopkeepers, but the insults in English were irritating enough. Thierry only shut up a little when I made a good Mexican dinner, in record time as well - I'd gathered just as much coordination in my left hand while waiting for my shoulder to recover in Mexico, and that meant that I could put both hands to use in the kitchen. Linkin looked a bit forlorn at the table, and I couldn't tell if it was the food, the relocation, or the tests that she and Stuart holed up doing all day.

Linkin and Stuart headed up to the lab in the late evening, even though they both looked exhausted. I offered to help, but Stuart said that it was fine with a certain nervousness about him. There was nothing for me to do here except engage in a staring competition with Thierry, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with Stuart running tests again. When Thierry got bored, he pulled out his laptop and started tapping furiously away.

"If you like Linkin that much, can you erase her criminal record?" I made him transfer his intent glare from whatever criminal business was on his screen to me. When Thierry didn't say anything, I shrugged. "Just trying to help. She's going to need it eventually."

"You are always trying to help." Thierry stood up from the leather sofa, raising his voice with every word. "Aren't you? You were so helpful that you called me and made me think Linkin was dead." He towered over me, the laptop still in hand, looking ready to strangle me.

I looked at his bulging arms, then at the balcony doors. I thought about the look on Thierry's face when he burst through the door in England and the way he looked at Linkin. He really was furious.

I sighed and knotted my eyebrows. "I'm sorry about that, Thierry."

He laughed, turning his head to the high ceiling with a volume that almost shook the chandelier. Thierry kept laughing to the point of doubling over.

"Did I say something wrong?" I asked quizzically. I could see Thierry's teeth.

"No... You apologized," he said in between snorts.

"I'm reasonable."

"Not from what I heard," Thierry countered. "Linkin said you killed grown men before you turned ten, and it scares the shit out of Stuart."

I grimaced. "Is that why you won't give me a gun?" Before he could answer, I swooped in with a suggestion. "You should, by the way. I can see perfectly in next to total darkness if Linkin didn't properly introduce me. If we ever get attacked at night, you'll want my help."

Thierry wrinkled his nose and snorted. "Do you even know how to use one?"

"I'm only familiar with close contact." I shrugged. I bought and hid a gun in New York, but I'd only know how to blindly fire it. "Screwdrivers, knives, scalpels."

The look on Thierry's face was somewhere between shocked and impressed.

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Thierry was onto his third can of beer when I put on a black cardigan to go outside. I was tying up my shoelaces when he opened the balcony door, and a gust of wind hit me all the way on the other end of the living room.

"No can do," he said, shaking his head and shutting the door. He adjusted the other empty cans in the crook of his elbow. "These will blow away. Forget the docks. We're going to the basement."

I gulped. "I'll have one of whatever you're having. Where can I get it?"

"This is non-alcoholic, Konstantinov." Thierry shoved the can in my face, waiting for me to read it. The label was in French and I didn't know where to look. "You sure you don't want a real beer?"

"Why do you drink n-"

"Trying to stay clean, sober, and alert," he said proudly, bending over a few unpacked boxes. "Five seconds. Take your pick."

"Real," I said. "Though I feel irresponsible now; I used to be an alcoholic."

He tossed me a can. "Good. You should feel guilty. Anything else before the games begin?"

"Games?" I cautiously followed Thierry down the stairs, feeling the air grow damper on my skin. When he switched on the basement lights, every thread of worry disappeared. The space was nothing like I'd expected. It was filled with arcade games, a pool table, a poker table, and on the side wall, a collection of guns of every size was lit up under a red fluorescent light. I couldn't help but smile.

"Surprise," Thierry said, grinning widely. He pointed to the beer in my hand. "Have that drink later for celebrations. You need coordination first."

I trailed my fingers along the green felt of the tables as I followed Thierry to the other end of the basement, where there was a thick concrete slab. He put a large hand against a print scanner next to the weapons cabinet and took out a black handgun. Thierry handed it to me without saying a word, his eyes curious. I waited for him to hang a target over the concrete.

Eventually, I found the safety switch no thanks to my instructor, who was standing with his arms crossed and head tilted and nodding when I did something right. Lifting the weapon, I closed my right eye and found the two sights. Thierry still said nothing, so I lined them up the centre of the target and pulled the trigger.

The noise was shatteringly loud and ricocheted through the basement. I raised a hand to my ear and clicked the safety back on with a grimace, but Thierry was unbothered. He squinted at where I made my mark. It was not far from what I aimed for. "Not bad. You are natural. Next time, move your shoulders a little bit that way." He demonstrated the more effective stance.

It felt awkward standing the way Thierry told me to, and my second shot was skewed with confusion. Before Thierry could tell me what to do next, the basement door slammed against the wall and footsteps came rapidly running down. Linkin appeared with a pistol of her own, and Stuart poked his head around, alarmed.

"Thierry!" Linkin screeched, not bothering to hide her annoyance one bit.

"He's teaching me the basics so I can shoot in the dark," I explained. I turned to give Stuart a smile. "I'm getting there."

We stood looking at each other awkwardly before Linkin spoke. "Do you know how hard it is to assess a skin condition when the mafia's downstairs? There's a giant patch of outdoor land for a reason, Thierry, and what the hell is all this?" She gestured to all the games in the room.

"Ira likes it," Thierry defended his work.

"As do I," Stuart chimed in, looking a lot more relaxed than a minute ago. "When you and Ira are finished, I'd like to play some pinball. Brings back memories."

"Not you too, Stewie," Linkin said. When she realized that Stuart was not joking, she took to the stairs with a huff.

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