1 – Counselor
The very first time Wesley had seen that man, he had not looked like this.
If ‘this’ was to be put into words (which Wesley really didn’t want to), it would be ‘like a dog’.
A stray dog, dirty, drunken and hunted.
“Counselor,” Sloan spoke to him. “He has shown up in the Loom.”
The Loom weaved the names that would cause deaths to others. Preventing that was their duty.
Killing one to save thousands, killing thousands to save millions – the Fraternity’s code.
Wesley supposed he was a Fraternity now.
“The fuck with that name?”
Sloan was unfazed, being too used to the boy’s snarls and swears. He continues, tone ever serene, as if he was merely discussing dinners.
“Not his real name. Everyone calls him that though.”
“I thought the Loom would show true names, not aliases.”
“Not always. It shows the name everyone around him gets by.”
“Great,” Wesley snorted, “who knows how many fucking ‘Counselors’ there are in this country.”
There were thousands counselors, but ‘Counselor’ – only one.
It turned out finding Counselor wasn’t as hard as Wesley had imagined. Wherever he was, the man stood out from the crowd. The center of attention. The ladies’ choice. The men’s envy.
Wesley did envy him, yes. For even a pair of sunglasses Counselor was donning probably cost twice his monthly paid as an accountant manager. And that was only when he hadn’t taken any sick leave. Nor enraged Janice.
No wonder the Loom had spoken his name. Just the way he’d thrown a pool party this luxurious was big enough a crime.
To envy him was easy, to kill him was hard…
…especially when the man had smiled at Wesley – a wide smile, kind of shark-like – and crossed half the pool to offer him a drink. Scotch – Wesley’s favorite.
…especially when Wesley had grabbed the collar of his polo shirt and pulled him into a rough, bloody smash of lips and teeth, stunning him for a good minute before the man punched Wesley square in the face and stomped off. Gazing at his retreating figure, Wesley licked his split lips and smirked. Counselor had tasted like Scotch – strong and sweet, perfection with only a hint of nicotine to mar.
…especially when that night, Wesley had dreamed about pinning the taller man to the wall, making him moan in all variations of obscenity, and woken up in the middle of the night with a damp patch in his crotch. It was bullshit, Wesley admitted, but Counselor had turned him on more than Cathy or Fox ever had.
To kill him would be extra-hard, especially when Wesley didn’t want to kill him at all.
He would return to the textile mill empty-handed and make up some lie. Sloan would probably see through him and take the cue, sending Fox or someone else instead – he was too wild a card to offend, at least not before he destroyed Cross. As for Wesley, so long as it wasn’t his bullets pulverizing Counselor’s skull he was cool. He wasn’t that sick, thank you; having the desire to fuck and to kill the same man at the same time was definitely not his thing.
Sloan saw through him, as expected; and Wesley could not careless about who the old bastard had sent after Counselor’s head because not long after, Wesley buried the Fraternity with his own hands.
The second time Wesley had seen him, it had occurred on a street of Argentina, a whole year and four months after the first. Though no longer a Fraternity, Wesley could not have returned to his former job as an accountant manager (not after his grandeur ‘farewell party’ on the day he’d quitted). Changing career was a big ‘no’, because Wesley Adam Gibson, besides accounting and killing, had no other degrees that could give him a decent job to survive his ass in Chicago. Fortunately, before he’d downed to his last penny, Pekwarsky had asked him if he would want to ‘succeed’ his father. Wesley had shrugged and sure, why not; he hadn’t had many choices, had he?
So that was how Wesley had ended up in a freelance assassin career and for fuck’s sake, his business was booming.
Wesley’s target this time was an Argentinean drug-dealing mob boss and he’d gain a handsome sum just to load the cartridges into his brain – something Wesley would enjoy even without the pay. Money made it all the more pleasant.
Counselor stood out among the parading crowd like a sore thumb – a solid Caucasian in a sea of colors. Wesley spotted him at once, mildly surprised and thoroughly excited; it seemed a lucky day for him indeed. After forfeiting his ‘mission’, Wesley had never thought he would one day see him again – the man who had had the taste of Scotch. He was certain Counselor had been executed by the Fraternity, probably by Fox or the Butcher; yet here he was, all well despite looking a bit disheveled.
Compared to the first time Wesley had seen in the pool party, Counselor was looking less than his best: his hair tousled, his designer cream-colored suit spotted and there was some grime and dirt on his cheeks, greasy with sweats – the heat in this country was even worse than Chicago at its worst. However, instead of the flush, Counselor was looking unusually pale.
Had he not already on a rented R1 running at insane speed with a covered sniper rifle too conspicuous on his back, Wesley would have come up to him and said hello just to test whether Counselor still remembered the man who had given him probably his first man-kiss. Would he punch him again and run off like a shrinking violet like he had one year and four months ago? Or would Wesley grasp him, ravish his lips and make his own wet dream a reality?
The thought brought a devious grin to Wesley’s face hidden behind the helmet. Maybe next time, thought the assassin with a hint of hope. If there was a second time, the chance of the third wouldn’t be unlikely, would it? And even if there wouldn’t be the third, then Wesley would just make it. If he had been able to hunt down Sloan – with his wits and slyness of an old fox – Wesley didn’t see how he was unable to find a man who didn’t even know he was being tracked.
Indeed third time came, as Wesley had expected. What had him surprised instead was the state he found Counselor in.
Like a dog. The words were a sudden lump of bile clotted in his throat, turning the taste of fine Scotch vile and bitter.
A dimly lit bar at a deserted corner of some street was where Nam had picked for their ‘rendezvous’. The talk had been brief since his Asian-rooted handler wasn’t the loquacious type; he had left almost immediately after placing a thick brown envelope in Wesley’s lap. “Enjoy yourself,” the words left his thin lips in haste and the man hurried out of the entrance, his lanky figure quickly melted into the late afternoon’s orange hue.
Enjoyed himself he had, for a man whose pockets stuffed with dollar bills was always a content man. And the Scotch in this dingy looking bar wasn’t half bad at all, which was a plus. Wesley knew he could always trust Nam to have good taste in booze.
He was savoring his Scotch in the least noticed spot when his acute hearing picked up the yelps of the barmaid and the distinctive sound of flesh being punched and kicked – he was too used to mistake it for any other, being the receiver countless times during his training. Normally he would mind his own ass and ignore whatever was occurring in the bar if his too acute hearing (again) did not recognize the soft, barely audible whimpers as acquainted. He jerked his torso around, nearly knocking his Scotch, and was greeted with a overly familiar figure. The cream-colored suit also helped, despite its terribly discolored state, the once expensive fabric smeared with dirt, sweats and a few blotches of brownish stains – others’ or his own Wesley couldn’t tell.
The bulky middle-aged bar owner yelled something in Spanish and raised his hairy arm. Like a bullet Wesley sprang up from his seat and dashed forward barely in time to stop another blow to Counselor’s guts. The barmaid gasped. The man glared at him and jerked his arm forcefully to break free of Wesley’s grip. However, Wesley’s hold was unyielding as his blue eyes bored into the older man’s, a gaze sharp and cold as a killer’s should be. It was only when the older man’s panic and fear were reflected in his own eyes and the bulky wrist in his hand became slick with perspiration did he loosen his grip. Wesley asked the bar owner what had happened for him to start beating the crap out of his customer, to which the man replied in rapid-fire Spanish rendering his own shitty Spanish useless as best. His gaze shifted to the young barmaid, silently demanding an explanation; he had seen her speaking English with a few Western patrons earlier and he knew she was able to manage simple conversations.
“He… he suddenly grab me,” her tone heavily accented and shaking, the brunet was on the verge of tears and Wesley softened his eyes in a pang of guilt for scaring her unnecessarily. “He grab me and call me Laura. Papa saw and got angry…”
Wesley glanced at Counselor, who had curled up in fetal position, saliva mixed with blood formed a little pool on the floor. He winced slightly and looked up to meet the barmaid’s eyes.
“He’s just drunk, that’s all. Here,” Wesley pulled out a wad of dollar notes from his jeans pocket and placed them in the young barmaid’s trembling hand. “For his purchases and mine and your troubles. Sorry about that.”
Apologizing even when it wasn’t really his fault – old habit died hard.
The brunet and her father both shook their heads so violently Wesley was briefly afraid they might snap their necks and erupted in a stream of Spanish that he could only pick out “gracias”. Guess that’s settled then, thought Wesley as he bended down to hook his arms under Counselor’s and lift him up. At close distance, Wesley could tell the man was reeking, a mixture of sweats, dirt, alcohol and puke that burned his nose. He ignored it as he walked them both, slowly, out of the bar.
That was when it hit him that he had no idea where Counselor was staying. Though he doubted Counselor would hear it, Wesley muttered an apology when he let the wall supported his weight while his hand dived into the man’s breast and trousers pockets in a slight hope that he might find something useful, a cell phone, a hotel card, anything to give him a clue. Instead, the only thing he found was a crumpled photo in Counselor’s left breast pocket. The woman in the photo looked comely and nice; Wesley wondered what relationship the woman and Counselor were sharing for him to treat her photo in such contradictive manner.
Wesley smoothed a few creases out of habit before folding it up and returning the photo to its place. Great, he spoke to himself, Wesley Allan Gibson, with his shitty Spanish and a stone-drunk man he’d barely known, out in the middle of an Argentinean street as the night sank in, entirely clueless about where he should go next. Fox would definitely be laughing at him for making a fool out of himself if she was here to witness.
He briefly pondered if Counselor had any acquaintance in this city but when he glanced at the man’s dirtied face, he dismissed the thought. If he had, he would not have been in this bar drunk as a skunk and have had his ass beaten out. And even if he had, which number on Earth should Wesley call?
On the other hand, Wesley could just take Counselor back to his apartment/safe house left to him by his late father. The man could use a rest, maybe a little wash and a change of clothes – though Wesley doubted their sizes matched – until he was sober enough to find his way back on his own. Wesley could not help but laugh a little too loud at his own out-of-the-blue kindness. Saving the guy’s ass was already out of his character; now he even brought him home and intended to take care of him. Who was Counselor to Wesley Gibson after all?
Well, consider it ‘return the favor’.
The walk from the bar to his apartment wasn’t awfully long and Wesley could make it in less than fifteen minutes on foot. Yet today it took him twice the time as he was supporting a dead-drunk grown man. Counselor wasn’t heavy, to be fair; the man was almost skinny and Wesley winced slightly every time his bones accidentally jabbed his side. Weight Wesley didn’t mind but height difference was another problem. The man was fairly taller than Wesley and it took the assassin great effort to keep them both balanced and not tumbling over. Wesley was considering shouldering him like a sack of potatoes for the rest of the way when he heard a retching noise from his side. He reacted quickly and helped the man to a trash heap – thanks God there was one nearby – where he emptied the content of his stomach in a noisy manner. As Wesley half expected, the man probably hadn’t had any proper food for the last forty-eight hours, only burning alcohol to fill up his empty stomach. What had caused him to torture himself so, Wesley wondered while patting Counselor’s hunched back in an awkward fashion. That was when he felt it, a surge so forceful that almost had him off-balanced.
Wesley Gibson couldn’t mind-read; such was his estranged uncle’s ability. It was a piece of information he’d only learnt after Sloan’s death, that he still had a living relative and said living relative was – what the media called it nowadays – a mutant. The man was currently running a private school full of mutants in Westchester and much as Wesley had been impressed by it, he had to admit school life, with superpower teachers and superpower teenagers to boost, wouldn’t suit him. He had turned down the offer the moment it had been projected into his mind. To be honest, he was a little scared to be close to a person who would, literally, read others like a book. Not to mention his current ‘partner’, a man who grazed his nerves as much as Sloan, who could bend bullets far more effortlessly than any Fraternity members ever could; Wesley didn’t want a taste of his medicine, thank you very much.
Though Wesley couldn’t read minds, he was able to catch murderous intents right at the moment they entered his vicinity. The scenario played out in his mind like a video footage fast forwarding at highest speed, showing him how the assailant in question would approach, what sorts of weapon he would use, what moves he would pull and whether Wesley could react fast enough to counter or not. He wasn’t sure if it was a by-product of his training or a hidden factor in his DNAs recently awakened – family legacy and such – yet it had saved his ass a few handful times. Had it not for this mutation, Fox would have blown a hole in his brain that day on the train.
But this time was tad different; it wasn’t his own scenario that came to his vision. In fact, he was watching everything from a third person’s point of view, like a specter removed from reality – their reality. In his vision he saw a man in black hoodie carefully crept out from the dark of the trash-littered alleyway they were standing. He had no guns, knives or anything that came remotely close to a weapon except a small bizarre device Wesley had neither seen or gotten a hold of how it functioned. The hooded man sneaked behind Counselor easily enough, considering how drunken, weak and defenseless the latter was, and looped the funny-looking device around Counselor’s neck with abundant efficiency that Wesley couldn’t think it was his first time. He fled the scene as fast as he had shown up; no further effort was need; the device did its job beautifully.
The sound of clock ticking. Wesley counted.
At first second, the electric motor started.
At third, the noose tightened.
At fourth, the man started feeling something was wrong, despite his intoxicated state. He brought both hands to his neck, frantically trying to loosen the noose.
At sixth, he fell to the muddy ground, rolling wildly while yelling.
At eleventh, his yells turned to chocked noises in sync with the motor’s.
At sixteenth, his fingers left him. Blood gushed out like broken pipes, from both his hands and his neck.
At twenty-third, the noose reached zero.
At forty-second, a stray dog went into the scene, sniffing at the motionless body. With a slight nudge of his muzzle, the head left the body. The vision went blank and dissipated.
Whoever had invented this device had to be a genius, a fucking sick one. When Wesley rubbed his eyes – sore from the vision – he wasn’t surprised by the dampness on his fingers. Without much of a second thought, he wiped out his gun from his bell, aimed at the dark and emptied the chamber of its content. The bullets curved around the lamppost before they found their target. He felt the steel penetrate flesh and bones the same time Counselor collapsed. Wesley caught him and finally gave up the thought of walking the unconscious man the rest of the way. He piggybacked the man in a rather ungraceful fashion (unconscious man had no right to complain) and walked over to his victim. He founded the hooded man lying face down under the shadow of the lamppost, paid him only a quarter a second and picked up the strange device in his hand. Nam might know something about it, maybe even able to trace its origin. Wesley’s blood raged at the thought of the device’s inventor, of putting bullets into him and whoever had assisted him.
This was not saving the world or exacting justice or anything. This was just his own aching on the vehement urge of killing. Maybe he had been wrong about it. Maybe killing also had to do with the right person after all.
First thing first, he had to get Counselor to his place. The thought of taking the man back to his own place vanished like smoke; he would be dead the very moment Wesley left him on his own.
Strangely, Wesley didn’t question how Counselor’s safety had become his business.
1) Wesley is a mutant and he’s Charles Xavier’s distant nephew.
2) Nam is my original character.