Twenty-Six

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Twenty-Six

"Take my voice, take my tears, take my wallet, take my fears/

You'll never have my love from all these years."

-Kamree Philips, Un-stolen Love EP



Wes' knuckles were whiter than the papers on the table in the conference room. He wanted nothing more than to smash a fist through the wall. Or Brayden's head. He'd never seen it coming. None of them did. And now Aria, Aria, was gone. And he had nothing to trace her.

"The bracelet tracker is disabled," Tony said in the heavy silence. He had his tablet in front of him and yet, uncharacteristically, he did not touch the keyboard.

"Would he know how to do that?" Marlee asked.

Leonger, staring at the image on the projection screen, shook his head. "He can't. Only the system running it can engage or disengage the tracker."

As if the word "system" activated him, Tony took a deep breath and started typing. Good.

"What if he found a way to take it off?" Marlee asked.

"Again, the system controls that."

"System means nothing at this point," Eva muttered. "We need to find her the old fashion way."

Tony's fingers never left the keyboard. Over his shoulder, Wes watched him punch different codes into the bracelet's system. No doubt trying to find a way to locate the tracker. It all looked like random letters on a black screen to him. If Aria were here, she would've been able to recognize what he was trying to do.

Behind Leonger, the projection screen displayed a frozen shot of Brayden carrying a seizing Aria off the property. Every time Wes glanced at it his whole body turned white-hot and his jaw tightened. There was an open chair next to Tony, yet he couldn't get himself to sit down. His muscles were coiled too tight to sit.

Leonger surveyed the screen in front of him, and shook his head, his thumb and pointer finger along his jaw, his elbow propped up by his other arm. "We have nothing."

Wes barely stopped himself from kicking the chair out from under Tony. This was the most important job the kid had ever had and he couldn't even do that. Something as simple as tracing a bracelet?

Dimly, somewhere deep inside his mind, past the bursting fireballs of rage wrecking his emotional control, he knew it was unfair to think that. But he didn't care. This was Aria.

His only family. The only girl he'd ever been interested in impressing. The only one who understood where he came from and what his past was like. The one who'd hold his hand in those early days and squeeze just a bit tighter when their foster parents argued in the dead of night. The one who had whispered to him in the dark that it was okay to cry, that she knew it didn't mean he was weak.

Aria was the girl he'd rather tranquilize than kill, even when she became a danger. Because he couldn't fathom a world without her lopsided smile. Or her delicate snort. Or her teasing humor.

After a pause, Marlee asked, "why Aria? Why not me? Or Eva?"

"She's been in suspended animation for 16 years. We don't do that for just anyone," Eva said bitterly. "Obviously she's of value to us. He knows that."

"He's not working alone," Wes pointed out, referring to the pair of jean-clad legs in the corner of the screen. The image had been caught by their hidden security cameras a split second before it cut out. "And he knows what she can do. He may want to use her."

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