The Folly of Your Follies
Murphy’s Seventh Law: Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
Ten minutes later, Louisiana was fumbling with the straps to secure her helmet. Up until that point she’d barely dared to hope that she might get out of her situation alive—clinging to the prospect of getting on her armor was what kept her mind going. By the time she had finished her radio-call to the evac Pelican, and noticed that the echo was gone, she didn’t even have the opportunity to jinx herself by thinking she was out of the woods before the back of her neck prickled.
Louisiana whirled around and her blood went cold.
There he was.
His white armor, GRENADIER helmet, and the steel-and-red emblem on his shoulder were like her reoccurring nightmare come alive. And unholy fuck was it scary!
They stared at each other for an agonizingly long ten seconds.
He was the first one to actually speak, mostly because Louisiana was desperately trying to will herself out of the situation, but also because—what the hell did you say to someone you sincerely hoped was dead and you’d never have to see them again?
“Hello, Hex.” Oh, apparently that was what you say.
Louisiana’s mind had been on a panic-induced hiatus until that point, but she found her voice.
“’Sup, Cissy.” The silence darkened at the reminder of his own not-actually-used-when-the-subject-is-within-earshot nickname.
She glanced at her HUD, hoping against hope that she’d see a friendly green blip indicating that help was within range. No such luck.
“New armor, I see,” Cisco observed casually. “Not the color I’d choose for you, if I’m being honest. It doesn’t really match you complexion.
“I like the helmet, though, CQC right? Doesn’t stand up to as much damage, but it gets the job done I suppose. What made you ditch the Regulation Black when you got back in the game?” His laughter suddenly filled the too-close air. “Hell, what made you get back in the game in the first place?!”
Louisiana shifted her weight, trying to move closer to the edge of the roof without Cisco noticing. If it came down to a fight—and, honestly, when it came down to a fight—she wanted as much space between them as possible. “Well, when I heard some rumors about the Doc resurfacing I couldn’t exactly ignore them, could I? The new armor was just a plus. Severing all ties, you know?”
She took another small step, her heart stopping when he seemed to follow the movement. Letting Cisco know that you were afraid of him was never a good idea.
“Yes, I couldn’t believe it when we got an anonymous tip telling us to dig into the files of the Society of Phoenixes. Particularly that of one Lucille Essex.” He took a deliberate step toward her, propelling Louisiana several steps backwards. “Imagine my surprise when I saw that you were Lucille.”
Oh, I can imagine, alright. And imagine my surprise when I realized that you were Beauregard.
Cisco gave another harsh laugh that went straight to her spine. “Essex! That alone should have tipped me off! Still, I can’t believe you used your mother’s maiden name.” He was practically doubled over by then, allowing Louisiana to put another few feet between them. “And that accent! Babe, you nearly had me fooled!”
She had to admit—even through the mind-numbing fear—that her ego took a blow at that one. When could she ever not do a good impression?
“Who had the nerve to call Mother a maiden?” Louisiana muttered in lieu of defending her grifting abilities. She was the second-shittiest liar this side of the galaxy so no amount of changing her appearance would help her if she did that weird stutter thing when she got nervous in the middle of a con.
Cisco straightened before looking at her again. “So, Hex, what brings you to my little get-together?”
She didn’t dare correct him the way she did Valentino. “… Just a little recon work,” Louisiana shrugged, nonchalantly, her brain finding familiar pathways around the terror. “My higher-ups heard of some Insurrectionist activity in the area and I was sent to check it out.”
She could hear his smile when he spoke. “Insurrectionists, huh? Don’t know about that. But who’s this higher-up? I thought you were done with the military. Last I heard you were on Reach with that little whore.”
“You watch your mouth! Didn’t your mama ever tell you it’s impolite to bad-mouth someone who’s saved your pathetic life?” Louisiana snarled, anger beating out fear. She always hated the way he treated Terence.
“Ooh, still just as feisty. But I see you haven’t given up on answering a question with a question when you’re trying to avoid a subject. Are you trying to avoid the subject of the Director?”
Louisiana felt the blood drain from her face and prayed to anyone willing to listen that her voice wouldn’t break. Karma owed her a few favors over the years, right? “Why did you ask if you already know the answer?”
Cisco smirked. “Where would the fun be in that? You know how much I love seeing you squirm,” his voice turned darker.
Louisiana’s radio crackled and she heard Four-Seven-Niner’s voice telling her that evac was only a few minutes out. She just had to keep him talking for that long. No problem. “So, who’s the girl in red—your new toy? I notice she doesn’t seem particularly fond of you.”
Cisco chuckled. “Oh, you mean Jinx? No one you need to worry about. But, please, you’re attempts at distracting me are about as good as your attempts to get away from all this.” As he said all this he moved his arms in a broad, sweeping gesture that encompassed himself, Louisiana, and—conceivably—all that they entailed. “Why don’t you want to talk about Dr. Church, I wonder?”
He took another few steps in her direction and Louisiana’s legs hit the ledge. She tried to move to the side but he blocked her.
“Perhaps, it’s because you don’t want to admit that you’re in the same exact situation as you were before,” Cisco mused aloud. “Only now the man is a Texan.”
“The Director is nothing like before!” Louisiana leaped to his defense without thinking. She didn’t like Director Church, but she didn’t hate him like most thought. What he was doing, what he was planning on doing, was… less-than-palatable, but she understood it. Memories had a way of weighing you down, so she got that he wanted to let them go…
“Hmmm, such fierce loyalty to a man you don’t even know. Isn’t that… interesting?”
Louisiana moved again to pass him, and when Cisco moved again to block her, and it was with relief that she struck out at his face.
It was just a feint, and when he ducked she slammed his stomach with her knee, but he twisted at the last moment so that the blow didn’t fall true, coming back with a fist to her midsection.
She took the hit, just to see how much he’d changed, and wished she hadn’t.
This wasn’t one of the Standard Issue soldiers that she liked to tease and train with, whose blows hardly touched her, even with five of them on her at once.
Cisco was a man who could knock the wind out of her—who always could—a man who could fight, who knew his strengths and weaknesses and how to work with them. So, he wanted a fight?
Well, she’d give him one.
She jumped and kicked at his chest. He crashed into the ground and Louisiana threw herself on top of him, struck him in the face once, twice, three times, and kneed him in the side before he was able to throw her off.
She was on him again like a wildcat, but as she tried to trap his arms he flipped her onto her back and pinned her with the weight of his armor.
A whole new wave of panic washed over Louisiana at this, a familiarity that she didn’t appreciate, and she curled her legs up and heaved him away. Then they were on their feet again, crouching, circling, striking at each other with hands and feet.
She aimed a kick at his head but he ducked and came back with a blow to her stomach and, when it connected, she could feel something underneath his fist give way.
Louisiana stumbled back, the pain making her vision go dark for a moment.
Trying not to cry out, she kicked at Cisco’s stomach again, but he caught her leg and used her own momentum to pull her closer, pick her up by the throat, and slam her down onto the concrete. Louisiana vaguely wondered if someone could actually die from sheer pain. It didn’t seem physically possible, but then… plenty of shit she’d seen in her life didn’t.
Louisiana heard someone on the radio but the air whoosh-ed out of her lungs and the lack of oxygen and overload of her pain receptors made it so she couldn’t answer; couldn’t breathe; couldn’t think.
She tried to get her breath back and squirmed underneath Cisco, the terror of being trapped the only thing on her mind, and managed to wrench her arms out of his grasp.
She kicked out blindly—connecting solidly with a heavy weight that cursed and rolled off her—then spun away as Cisco doubled over and put a dozen paces between herself and her white-armored opponent. Trying not to black out or throw up, she looked across the rooftop and saw the most beautiful sight she could never have imagined:
York and Maine waving at her from the open door of Four-Seven-Niner’s Pelican, with Wyoming and Washington behind him.
Whoever’s listening, thank you! Louisiana thought to the universe, with the fervor of a Team Edward fan.
Momentarily forgetting her out-of-breath adversary, not to mention her own injuries, Louisiana took a step in their direction, glad that safety was so close but frustrated that it was so far away.
She snorted… Safety. Right.
Why can’t anything ever be easy? Louisiana began to think before she was cut off by a strong, unrelenting arm wrapping around her throat, pulling her against another set of armor and cutting off her airway.
She another arm snake around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides and nearly making her pass out. Then she heard Cisco snarl, “Leaving so soon?” his voice ugly, and Louisiana struggled, desperately trying to gain even a millimeter of air.
Lights popped before her eyes.
Then she could hear soft little put-put sounds and Cisco yelling but it all seemed very far away, as if it was coming from the end of a very long tunnel. The realization that these could very well be her last moments made Louisiana think, disgustedly, I can’t believe this is the one bet that I win, and wonder vaguely why she’d ever make a bet that she could never collect on.
Then her vision went dark.
Without warning, the arms restraining her were released and Louisiana fell forward onto her hands and knees, fighting the instinct to take great gulps of air, and further damaging her ribs, forcing herself to take shallow breaths.
Her entire frame shook. Louisiana looked around as her hearing returned, focusing on the sound of gunfire and York’s voice over the radio.
“Louisiana? Louisiana! Can you hear me? Are you alright?”
Still gasping, the silver Freelancer got to her feet. Maine was firing a pistol lazily at an adjacent rooftop and Wash had one hand on York’s shoulder, looking ready to restrain their infiltration specialist at a moment’s notice. Wyoming was sitting down, legs crossed, looking bored in a way that only the incredibly British can manage.
“I’m f-fine,” Louisiana croaked, rubbing her throat with one hand and giving a shaky two-fingered-salute with the other. She gave a cough and cleared her throat, flinching at the consequential bolt of agony.
“What happened? I was kinda blacked out there at the end.” Louisiana saw her armored colleagues visibly relax at the sound of her rueful voice. As a general statement, they may not like her all the time, or even most of the time, but she was still part of the team, and they were still worried.
She heard York snort from ten feet ahead of her and ten feet up, where Four-Seven-Niner had them hovering. “Yeah, when Maine saw that guy in white cinch in his rear naked choke, he had the brilliant idea to open fire in the middle of a civilian-populated area.”
The agent in question ignored his irate teammate’s pointed tone as he reloaded his M6G and began to fire again, completely unabashed in his behavior.
Louisiana gave a small, shaky smile. “Figured you try shooting your way out, big guy? Mix things up a little?” All Maine did in response was raise one massive shoulder in a shrug, before resuming his utter waste of ammo.
Louisiana couldn’t help but find comfort in these little things, these tiny pieces of normal; York’s disapproval of how Maine tended to operate; Wash fretting about everything and nothing; Four-Seven-Niner yelling at her to Get the fuck in! while making some kind of snarky comment about Louisiana’s mission success rate.
Maybe, if she just breathed it all in, things might not seem so horrible?
Of course, the fact that this was her normal was disturbing in and of itself. When had PFL turned into her norm? Was it when she had begun referring to Agent Washington as Wash in the relative safety of her head? Or, perhaps, when everything she said about Maine had taken on an affectionate undertone that even Terence pointed out in their communiqués? After she’d met Dan, the Irish Standard Issue soldier aboard the Mother of Invention? Definitely after she met Dan. Most likely, it was when she began to actually care about these guys.
When she started to genuinely want to help.
“So, what happened, exactly? Where’s—” Louisiana was cut off when she heard York shout, Wash curse, Maine growl, and felt another armored body ram into her from the left.
Oh, for fuck’s sake! Louisiana thought exasperatedly as her vision stuttered once again, for the third time in the last ten minutes. She rolled to her feet and faced her new opponent, gritting her teeth against the feeling of bones grinding against each other as she did, worrying about internal bleeding.
Then Louisiana blinked, seeing the emblem on their armor: Two white crescent moons, one smaller than the other, superimposed onto a grey circle. “Selene?!”
She was positive that it was her old friend/enemy/companion. Friendenemopanions, Louisiana suddenly remembered Selene calling them the last time they’d spoken.
The black suit of armor before her tilted its head as if considering the Freelancer. Then it pulled back in surprise. “Catie?! Is that you?”
The silver soldier jerked out of her ready-for-a-fight stance—cursing herself for both the fast movement and the fact that the movement caused her pain in the first place—at the confirmation. And that fucking nickname.
Louisiana took an abrupt step forward, turning off her radio in the process. Some conversations just weren’t meant for other ears. “What are you doing here? How long have you been working with them?”
Confusion and desperation and, most of all, anger colored Louisiana’s voice as she spoke, causing it to crack.
The woman before Louisiana made a time-out gesture, before fiddling with the straps that secured her Standard Issue black helmet and removing it.
Selene looked very different from the last time Louisiana had seen her in person, three years previously.
No longer did her olive-toned skin have a healthy glow; and her large, dark eyes had even larger, darker circles underneath them. Her body language and posture spoke of extreme, prolonged exhaustion—more than just an all-nighter or three. She didn’t even have a lick of make-up on, odd for Selene in particular because she was never really cut out for the life of a soldier.
She looked terrible.
Louisiana shook her head and pulled off her own helmet. “Of course it’s me, Moonbeam, but—”
She began to ask again why Selene was there, but was cut off.
“What did you do to your hair?!”
Louisiana smiled bemusedly, nodding at Selene’s inky locks, none of which were more than a few inches long, “I could ask you the same.”
Selene frowned at the response. “Wait, what?”
She held up a hand and just shook her head before Louisiana could speak. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. What are you doing here, Catie? I thought we agreed that I’d get the info and you’d trip the perimeter alarms to draw away the security!”
That one, Louisiana had to admit, threw the beaten and bloody soldier for a loop. “… Um, come again?”
“Your last communiqué!” Selene exploded, the closest thing to angry that Louisiana had ever seen. “You fucking insisted that I be the one to grab the information and you be the distraction! What the hell happened to ‘Stick to the plan, no matter what’?”
Now she had a headache on top of a couple of broken ribs—and possible concussion, if the weird-ass hallucination she was currently experiencing was anything to go by.
Louisiana’s attention was caught by Washington, who seemed to be shouting, working with Maine to hold back York, who seemed to be trying to jump out of the still-hovering Pelican.
She was tempted to turn on the radio to see what was going on, but settled for irritably making a Relax motion with her hands at them before turning back to Selene. “Listen, Moonbeam, ya know I love ya and yer weird, Japanese warrior-goddess thing ya got goin’ on, but I got no clue what you’re talkin’ ‘bout.”
As she spoke, Louisiana unconsciously slipped into using a Southern Belle—she drew on her memories of Director Church’s Texan drawl for inspiration. It was an old habit from when they worked together and knew that Selene hated it with an irrational passion.
Looking confused, and appropriately annoyed, Selene opened her mouth to respond but was stopped by the sound of a door being blown off its hinges.
Louisiana had just enough time to think Misery would have made that explosion bigger, before security guards began to pour out onto the roof.
Selene rolled her eyes and lobbed a grenade into the central mass, pulled a Tactical/Hard Case from the leg of her armor, and tossed it to Louisiana.
The Freelancer caught it reflexively and looked at Selene quizzically.
The young woman in black shoved her helmet back on and shouted over the chaos the her grenade had caused, “Everything you told me to retrieve is in there!”
Selene turned toward the soldiers, pulling the gun from her back-holster as she did, while Louisiana examined the container.
Her fingers were on the latch and she was about to open it when a loud burst of automatic gunfire sounded.
The silver-clad soldier jumped about a foot in the air, only keeping hold of the Tactical/Hard Case by way of body conditioning and muscle memory—drill sergeants and their maniacal attitude about Never, ever drop your weapon! were good for something, it seemed.
Unfortunately, that movement caused Louisiana to remember her damaged ribs via a demanding bolt of agony.
“Goddammit,” she growled painfully, clutching her mid-section and holding back a whimper only through sheer force of will.
Selene looked back at her sympathetically.
“Sorry, Catie,” she muttered, firing her assault rifle again at the soldiers at the other end of the building, causing her companion to flinch. “It’s the only military-grade weapon with easily procurable ammo.”
Louisiana suppressed a shiver and shoved her own helmet back on, attaching the Hard Case to the silver metal on her left leg before pulling her M6G from its holster. She stepped up next to Selene and leveled the pistol at the dozen or so men who were attempting to organize themselves—they certainly didn’t want to end up with the dozen or so bodies that littered the roof.
Upon seeing the younger woman’s actions, however, Selene put a restraining hand on Louisiana’s shoulder and shook her head.
“You have to get out of here, Catie,” she said quietly.
Louisiana looked at her incredulously. “And leave you alone with this shit?” She nodded at the armored security forces—which were looking more and more like mercenaries with every passing second as they regrouped and began firing in return—as she spoke. “No fucking way!”
Selene snorted. “Do you really think I would come without a back-up plan?”
There was a beat of silence before Louisiana spoke. “I’m just gonna let that one go…”
… And could practically hear Selene roll her eyes. “You just go, Catie. I have this under control.”
Louisiana raised an eyebrow at that assessment of the situation, but relented.
“Fine,” she ground out, as she turned her radio back on. “But when this is over we’re going to have a very serious conversation about a very serious problem with your brain being missing.”
As she spoke, Louisiana walked up to the edge of the building, testing her weight on the ledge and running through what she could remember about physics, specifically gravity and force, before backing up a few paces.
She backed up a few more, just for good measure, as Selene muttered a sarcastic “Can’t wait” and, after a quick salute, jumped into the fray.
Louisiana cackled and shook her head in sympathy for the poor saps the “Japanese warrior-goddess” was about to decimate, before crouching like a foot-racer.
The suddenly-nervous Freelancer took a series of deep breaths to clear her head as she ignored the various shouts and pleas for mercy behind her. After a moment, though, she had to stop before she hyperventilated.
Losing her nerve, Louisiana straightened and turned toward the black-armored woman whirling in-between this soldier, then that one, with a wickedly sharp blade in each hand.
She swallowed apprehensively before yelling to Selene, her voice trying for breezy and missing, “Wish me luck?”
The woman just laughed outright at her and—between burying one knife up to the hilt in one soldier’s neck and smacking the butt of the other into another soldiers’ visor—called back to her, amused, “Not on your life! But I will say ‘don’t choke’!”
“Gee… thanks,” Louisiana replied, rolling her eyes at the reference.
You fall off a building because of nerves one time and people never let you live it down!
Turning back toward the direction of the Pelican, muttering something about flying fish, Louisiana got back into her crouch, took three quick breaths—mindful of her injuries, at first, before thinking, Screw it. Can’t get much worse and, either way, it doesn’t matter—… and ran.