Another one for Rocket100 on LJ. PG-13 for a brief almost-lime and some harsh language (stupid swear filter).
"Dammit..." Vicious muttered, rolling over with a sigh and punching the mattress offhandedly. "Donno what's wrong."
"Well, it happens," the woman next to him reassured, but after a moment added "but if we can't, I should probably go." She waited for a few seconds for any reaction from him, but he gave none, so she slid out of bed and pulled her uniform back on.
"Just go," he told her, halfway between a whisper and a harsh order. As she scurried out the door, he covered his eyes with his hand and let out a deep breath. It didn't happen, not to him. None of this did. But things had changed over the past few weeks. Ever since that damn mission in the woods...
With a grunt, he forced that thinking to the back of his mind and tried to get some sleep. He had a mission assignment in the morning and he couldn't risk screwing it up.
He was a tangle of sheets and the topcover when he woke up at six am. He always woke up at six am, but lately his sleep was fitful and his dreams erratic, so he hadn't felt rested in weeks.
And those dreams often left him sick and anxious, even though he could never remember anything from them but green.
"No way," he croaked, his throat dry. "I'm not--" He could never finish that, even as a thought, but the very idea haunted him more than those streaks of green in the back of his mind.
To clear his mind, he took a shower. It had to be cold, that was often the only water he could get out in the field and he had to be used to it, and he was glad that at least something in his life could stay the same.
He certainly looked the same, once he got past the sleep deprivation lines and bloodshot eyes. But no one would notice those anyway, not with his mask or the sunglasses he wore around headquarters, so those didn't matter. At his mirror he flexed and pulled back a dangerous-looking smirk. No one would have to know that anything was going on, and maybe he could forget it for a while. And hey, it could go away as fast as it came on. "Yeah," he told himself. He'd get his assignment, get his morning workout in, and head to the cafeteria to bask in the usual adoration the lower ranks showered on him, and everything would be back to normal.
It had to be normal again soon. He couldn't afford to have his life disrupted like this for much longer.
Usually he wore a more standard uniform when he was just on base, but his unique bodysuit was a trademark of his in the field, identifying him as the fearsome Marauder nearly as much as his mask did. The second he set foot outside his apartment, even though he lived in an area of the base set aside for the upper ranks of the Team, a passing agent who had to be an Elite as well saluted him. And her face showed pure respect, which usually elated him, but today felt like a punch to the gut, like he didn't deserve it. But he did, he knew he did, and there was no reason for him to think otherwise.
By the time he reached the mission center, he was feeling a little better. His mission would be given for next week, and by then he could get some of his old self back. He hadn't had a mission since that one, and he figured he needed one. So with a smile, he saluted his commander.
But the commander looked dour. "Marauder," he said, pausing to clear his throat. "You're to report to Giovanni's office for your assignment."
At the mention of their leader's name, Vicious winced and immediately regretted not wearing his mask. "...did he say why, sir?"
"You're one of his top officers. You know he checks in with your rank frequently."
Yeah right. It couldn't be something that mundane. "Yes sir," Vicious said, saluting again and excusing himself from the office.
Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong, and Vicious knew what it had to be. Giovanni knew, didn't he? He knew about everything that had been said in the forest, all the boasts of power Vicious had made, and every last traitorous word uttered to that redheaded woman. He'd kill her, track her down and deal with her himself, but that would require getting out of this 'meeting' alive.
Had the elevator ride to the administrative floor always taken this long? Had the hallway always loomed ahead so menacingly? And had he always been such a wuss? He'd dealt with Giovanni dozens of times; being called to the office was nothing new. He was among the Team's top officers, after all, and regularly heard from the people in charge.
But his suspicions had to be true. And if they were true, he had very little chance of leaving that room under his own power.
No way, he decided, he wouldn't let himself be taken prisoner. If it came down to that, if the Boss would have him taken away, he'd fight tooth and nail and force them into icing him. It would be better than wasting away in a prison cell, he figured, but still the thought made him nauseous to the point where he had to steady himself against the wall until the urge to throw up passed. And even then he had to wait once he reached the office until he stopped his hands from shaking.
Things like this didn't happen to him. He was a hero; everyone looked up to him. And now he was considering getting himself killed, like a coward.
Just the same, he forced that confident smile back onto his face as he pressed the intercom button. "What is it?" Giovanni's sharp voice demanded.
"It's the Marauder, sir," he replied, his words as even as they would normally be.
There was a buzzing sound, and the door clicked to unlock. "I've been expecting you. Come in."
This was it. A shiver went through Vicious as he opened the door. It creaked on its hinges, something he'd never known them to do before. "Sir!" he addressed with deliberate force, bringing his hand to his forehead in a stiff salute.
Giovanni was at his desk as usual, but something was bizarre. He was *smiling*; not his intimidating smirk, but as though he was genuinely pleased. Vicious had seen that look before, while being lauded for success in the field. Which just served to make him more suspicious. "Lord Vicious, you've done it again!" the Boss crowed, leaning back in his chair.
Vicious was struck into silence for a moment. What the hell was going on? "...sir?" he asked, watching the man alertly for any signs that anything was amiss.
"Your mission!" The Boss stood, picking up a piece of paper and waving it before pushing it back down onto the desk. "This report is exactly what we needed. The water from that lake will serve us well, and it's all thanks to you."
So that was it, the healing lake. Of course that was important, but the other shoe was going to drop, so he wasn't about to let his guard down for a second. Giovanni would never forgive the failure to capture a Legendary. This was a ruse, it had to be. Giovanni was a sadistic man, and Vicious could feel those hard eyes boring into him, looking him up and down and inside and out and oh damn he was talking.
"When I address you, I expect a reply," Giovanni snapped, standing directly in front of the agent. The mirth was gone from his face and voice, and he glowered at the Marauder. He was a very tall man, but Vicious was taller by several inches, and yet even having to direct his venomous gaze upwards did nothing to diminish the contempt. This was when it had to happen. He was mad, and when he was mad he was dangerous, and when he was dangerous, it always ended badly. "Have you suddenly gone deaf?"
"I fucking heard you the first time, old man!" Vicious blurted out without thinking.
There was dead silence in the room for a moment, and both men stood still, the only movement being the large Persian at the side of the desk raising its head.
And then Vicious clapped a hand to his mouth. He'd really said it. He'd said it and he could never un-say it.
Giovanni folded his arms, looking for all the world like he was addressing a petulant child. "What the hell did you just say?"
Vicious tried to answer, but even through parted fingers he couldn't manage a sound. This was the man he hated more than anything, the man who he'd sworn to overthrow, but at the moment the very thought of betraying him turned the agent's stomach. Even the idea, the knowledge that he'd spoken back to him was enough to make the hardened Marauder physically ill.
Things were bad enough in there. He turned and ran out of the office before he could be sick and make things worse, but even that made him sicker because he was leaving without being dismissed.
He barely had time to dash to the floor's restroom before losing the contents of his stomach in the first stall. This couldn't be happening, not to him, not to the star of the Team. How could someone like him become so weak?
After dry heaving for some time, he was certain that nothing else was going to come out, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. The action of sullying his uniform sent a jolt of sickness to his stomach, but it was more of a dull ache. He flushed the evidence of his body's betrayal and staggered to the sink, having to steady himself against the wall all the while.
His sunglasses dropped off into the sink as he bent his face down to wash. How they had stayed on all that time, he didn't know, and the thought didn't provide near enough of a distraction as he needed. Peeling his gloves off and tossing them aside, he drenched his face with water and let out a low hissing breath. This was the sickest he'd been in ages and he couldn't escape the nagging doubt that it was his own fault.
No, it couldn't be his fault! It was those kids, it had to be! It had to be, there was no other way to see it. The kids didn't know about what he'd told the redheaded agent, they only saw him pursue Celebi, which had been his order. He stuck with his order as far as they knew, and there was nothing he had done wrong in the outline of the mission. He'd get over this, he'd get back on his feet, and he'd take on the world again. Forcing a smile back on his face, he looked up at his reflection, hoping to regain some of his old self.
But he saw nothing but a hollow man, a washed-up agent with an empty grin staring back at him. He wasn't even thirty yet, and physically looked it, but something aged him beyond his years. He looked weak and worn out, even pathetic, and the smile faded as quickly as it had appeared.
A sharp pain seared through his gut, and he keeled over with a cry. It felt for all the world like he'd been stabbed, but there was no one else in the room. No, this was all the work of his mind, his body. It was all betraying him.
It didn't matter, he realized as he wrenched his eyes shut, whose fault his failure had been. It happened in the end, and he couldn't deal with it. The top officer, the infamous Iron Mask Marauder, couldn't cope. He had the thought that if his fans or anyone found out, he would be ruined, but it was followed by the realization that he was ruined already. Ruined by himself, by his hubris, by his expectations of perfection.
He was no longer the best. He was no longer anyone.