HUMAN TARGET: LLAMA KISSWritten by Diane N. Tran, with Abri Isgrig and Lindsey Hartley
Junior dropped the airline magazine from his view, as he let out a bored sigh. These long flights back from missions were always boring. After a three-day mission of running around and enjoying that ever-familiar, life-gratifying adrenaline rush, sitting around in a plane was not something his legs wanted to do.
Stretching, his eyes lazily scanned the plane, not really taking anything in... Until his eyes took in a tiny tuff of white hair sticking out of the satchel his friend had left on the ground in front of his seat. Blinking, Junior stared at it for a long, uncertain minute, contemplating whether or not he should indulge his interest. Pursing his lips, Junior rubbed his fingers anxiously, as his curiosity finally got the better of him.
Scooting forward in his seat, Junior quickly glanced over his shoulder, as he silently and quickly unfastened the buckles of the bag. A grin spread from ear to ear, as he reached in the satchel, resembling like a boy stealing from a candy store, and he pulled the item out...
And his smile faded unexpectedly.
Tilting his head, his eyebrows furrowing together, he held the fluffy... thing... up to his face, as it appeared to stare back at him blankly. The object had solid white fur, bright black eyes, hoofed feet, floppy ears, a long neck, a tiny bunny-like nose, and a ridiculously adorable, yet somewhat goofy, smile.
...What the hell was he looking at?!
"Not cool, dude," said a voice beside him; "Lookin' through other people's stuff."
Junior, used to his friend's uncanny ability to sneak up behind someone without making a sound, let his eyes dart up to the shorter figure of his friend, Harrison. He stood in the aisle with his hands stuffed in his pockets, a frown on his moustached lips, and his left eyebrow raised in a questioning yet annoyed manner.
Junior's eyes went back to the object in his hands a stuffed toy llama, of all things and he burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. His hand fell over his mouth, as he tried to control himself, while Harrison narrowed his eyes at him, his jaw clinching, and grimaced further. The glare on his face would make a grizzly bear cower. Junior, however, was unaffected.
"Oh, c'mon, Jack," breathed Junior between his fit of laughter, with a shit-eating grin on his face, "you can't regain tough-guy status when you have a stuffed toy in your bag!"
Harrison sat down in the chair next to him, falling into his usual slouch, as he let out a low growl: "You breathe a word of this to anyone, dude one single, solitary soul I'm gonna personally emasculate you in your sleep."
Junior fought down his giggles, as he shook his head. "Ouch," he teased, "that's a bit harsh, isn't it?"
Harrison's eyes narrowed to slits for a second, as he held out his hand lazily. "Then give it back."
"In a second," he grinned with glee, as held the llama up and bopped his friend's nose with the toy, sniggering. "Llama kissssss!"
Harrison grumbled a curse, running his hand from his forehead to his chin in annoyance. Junior simply ignored him, flashing another boyish grin, before he jokingly bopped Harrison's nose with the toy yet again, which prompted Harrison to snatch the animal away from him with frightening speed.
With his hands raised defensively, Junior switched on his easy charm, knowing he was starting to really push his friend's buttons. "I swear I won't tell anyone. I would rather like to keep my manhood intact. My lips are sealed." Childishly, he pretended to draw an imaginary zipper across his mouth. "See?"
A slight silence fell between the two, before Junior motioned to the stuffed animal still in his friend's hand. "I take it this is some get-well-soon present for Lucy, huh?" Harrison glanced over at him out of the corner of his eye, as Junior continued, "I think you said something about her being sick, right?"
Harrison let his eyes slide forward. "Something like that," he mumbled solemnly.
Junior gave him a lop-sided smile. "I like that you're being sentimental. It's hysterical, as well as horrifying."
Harrison didn't respond. His attention was fixed upon the jovial little toy sitting on his lap. Junior raised a brow at his friend's silence. Although his expression was a bit too cryptic to read, his thoughts seemed to be a million miles away.
Clearing his throat, Junior snapped his fingers in his friend's face. "Earth to Jack!" Harrison's face darkened and his skin paled slightly, as Junior frowned, "I know you can hear me."
Harrison shook his head, not looking at his friend. "Dude," his voice was barely heard above a whisper, "I'd rather not talk about it."
Junior shook his head. He wasn't going take that crap. His voice was matter-of-fact and prying. "I noticed you've been acting weird ever since the start of this job."
Gripping the toy tightly in his hand, his voice tensed and was so low now that Junior had to strain to hear him. "Let it go..."
Junior tilted his head slightly to the side and pried again, "You two get into a fight or something?" He wasn't going to let this drop. Like a child, Junior could play the guessing game for hours without fear of pissing off the one he was bugging.
"It's nothing..." Harrison's voice was shaky, as he gave a stiff shrug of his shoulder, trying to shake his friend's curiosity.
"It doesn't sound like nothing," Junior deadpanned, as Harrison slammed his fist down slightly on the armrest of the chair.
"Don't you trust me?"
Harrison gritted his teeth in frustration, as he snapped at the taller male, his voice a low hiss: "She's pregnant!" Junior felt the blood drain his face as he felt Harrison's words like a kick to the stomach. His eyes searched for an answer in his friends, but he had none. All the smaller male could do was keep repeating those words, forcing each syllable to sink slowly into his friends mind. "She's... pregnant..."
Junior's hands flew to his head, as his tone became a low hiss of his own. "Jesus, Harrison!" he leaned closer to his companion; this was not a conversation for others to hear. "You swore you two were going to play it safe this time!"
Harrison bit out a bitter laugh. "Apparently, we weren't safe enough, dude."
Junior groaned, as he fell back in his seat again, and clamped his hand over his eyes. "The Old Man is gonna kill you when he finds out," Junior paused, before removing his hand and shaking his head. "No, I take that back: He's going to crucify you!"
The corner of Harrison's moustache couldn't help but pull into a smirk. "Not enough that the geezer hates me for screwin' his daughter, huh?"
Junior fought back a chuckle, as he tried to remain stock-faced. "You knew the risks going in."
Harrison's eyes darkened. "I did and paid the price." His hand moved over his clothed chest, where his acid scars hid underneath, and continued with a slight, almost unseen, twitch of the lip smile, "But it was worth it, dude."
"Sure, you say that now," Junior snorted.
Harrison turned his head to look directly at his friend, whose face was still pale and worry-filled. "You know I've been stabbed, shot, burned, beaten, strangled, caged, tortured," Junior gave an absent nod, as his friend continued, "and I should have died more times than I can count." Harrison folded his hands together, as he stared forward with a blank expression, shaking his head. "What if," he squeezed his eyes in pain, "if it turned out like me?"
Junior couldn't help the barked out chuckle. "Now, that's a scary thought."
Harrison smirked dryly. "The universe isn't exactly ready for two of me."
Junior stared at his friend. His face was shrouded in a veil of dread, fear, and uncertainty; something that was strange to see on his usually calm and collect face.
"Look, it doesn't have to be this way," Junior interjected finally. "I know a clinic that's clean and safe and, most of all, quiet." Junior was able to lock eyes with his friend's. "The Old Man will never know."
Harrison simply shook his head, causing Junior to burst in.
"But you said"
"I know what I said, dude...," cutting him off. "But it's not gonna happen."
Junior's forehead creased in confusion. "Why?"
Harrison forcefully closed his eyes, as his hand gripped his knees, pushing the stuffed animal into his lap with his elbows. "Remember our first pregnancy?"
Junior's face fell, as he glanced away briefly from his friend. "Yeah... But that was over two years ago. Ancient history to some."
"I killed it."
Junior felt his shoulders slump at the anguish and pain coming from his friend's voice. Ever since the events of the last pregnancy, he'd been a mess. He tried not to show it... But Junior could see.
"It was an accident," as Junior's voice fell to a low whisper.
Harrison was shaking his head, unable to look at his friend. "It was my fault, dude."
"It wasn't your fault!"
"How do you know that?" he snarled, as he gripped his kneecaps so tightly that his knuckles began to turn white. "Dude, I don't even know that!"
"You were high, drugged up, and you weren't in control," Junior persisted, emphasizing his words with a growl of his own.
"It happened...," Harrison's voice trailed off, and Junior had enough.
"Stop it!" Junior let out a frustrated sigh, as his tone was angry, fight the urge to shake Harrison or to hit him. "You're a different man now than you were then, aren't you?"
Harrison said nothing.
"You've been clean for how long?"
"I hit her. I hit her, right there, dude," Harrison placed his hands upon his stomach, which fell and churned at the painful memory. "I've never hit her before... You didn't see it, dude... You weren't there... You didn't see her face..." He squeezed his eyes shut and pulled his head away from his sight, as bitterness saturated every word. "I felt it... When I hit her, I felt it..." His tone turned graver as he spoke again: "The Old Man was right... I am a monster."
Junior watched Harrison pinch the bridge of his nose to hide his expression from him. If Junior didn't know him better, he would think he was crying. It pained him.
"Why would Lucy ever want a monster?" Harrison questioned just above a murmur.
"Because she knows there's a good man behind that monster, Jack," replied Junior, solemnly, outstretching his hand and held Harrison lightly on the shoulder.
"I don't know if that good man is inside anymore, dude..." Harrison let out a noise. Junior couldn't tell if that was a sniff or a snort. "I think he died that night."
Junior shook his shoulder. "Then why are you fighting to keep it?"
Harrison looked up, letting his hand fall to his lap, as he turned to his friend with a grave expression. "Because there isn't a day that passes when I don't hate myself for what I did. A day I don't sit and wish I could go back to fix it." He locked eyes with his friend's. "There isn't a day I don't think about what life would have been like if that kid would have lived." He gazed down at the stuffed llama in his lap, before holding it out in front of him with a distant expression. "I wasn't too sure at first, dude," he continued, as he stared into the llama's black eyes, petting its fuzzy back, as he returned its tiny smile with a twinkle in his eye. "But I'm sure now. We both want this, Lucy and me. Don't know if it's the right thing, but I'm not letting this one go." He glanced up from the llama's face to fix Junior with a serious look. "We're keepin' it."
Although it was good to see the sureness and smile on his friend's face, Junior couldn't help but let his thoughts get in the way. "And the Old Man?"
Harrison's face hardened again. "We walked on the razor's edge before." He tapped a finger upon the triangular nose of the stuffed llama before returning his attention to Junior. "He can do whatever he wants to me torture me, kill me, lock me up, I don't care anymore but he's not gonna take this away from me, bro. Not this time." His last words were low and deadly.
"He just might, you know," Junior cut in, his face pale and serious, as a scary thought came to mind. "He always wanted a male heir. Hell, he chose me over his daughter!" He fixed Harrison with a worried look. "If this baby turns out to be a boy... He might take it, from the both of you."
"He won't," Harrison growled, as he balled up his fists, his nails digging crescents into his palms.
Junior shook his head. "How can you be sure?"
Harrison's breathing was heavy and his teeth mashed together, as he snarled, "I'll kill him first!"
Junior groaned and leaned back in his chair. "Now, I know you're crazy, Jack." He sighed deeply before he spoke after a long moment's pause, "We just came from a job where we killed thirty-eight people, whether they deserved it or not, in cold blood." He leaned forward again, fixing his friend with a look. "I don't know about you, Jack, but I'm scared to death for you, and I don't get scared easy. I mean just look at us! We're assassins-for-hire. We're murderers of the first degree." He let out a puff of air, as he shook his head. "I can't even imagine bringing a child into a world like this. How can a person grow up with all this around them?"
A long, uncomfortable, silence grew wider and wider between them before Harrison finally spoke up, breaking that growing distance of discomfort: "If you were where I am, dude, what would you do?"
Junior didn't miss a beat. "Run."
Harrison narrowed his eyes. "I ain't a coward, dude. I don't run."
"Then you're as good as dead! If you face the Old Man head on like this, then everything you're trying to fight for is finished."
Harrison scowled, as Junior held up a hand in defence.
"Look, you're not running to save yourself, Jack. You're running to save your family and your child your future." Junior gave him a dead stare of seriousness. "Believe me, it will not be the act of a coward; it will be the act of a bravest man I ever had the pleasure to know."
Harrison studied at his friend, as a thought crossed his mind. "He'll track us down," as he instinctively squeezed the llama close to his chest.
"Not if I run, too."
His head snapped up and his eyes widened, as he straightened in his seat, with an expression of pure astonishment on his face. His words had completely thrown him off.
"If I jump ship first," continued his friend, with all the seriousness he could muster into his tone, "he'll search the globe for me. While he's distracted, you and Lucy get the fuck out there."
Harrison shook his head, his jaw slacking slightly from shock. "Duuuuuude!"
Junior's face remained serious, as he continued with his plan, running it through in his mind. This could work. It had to. "We'll have to hide in individual safe-houses, changing identities, in separate cities. I think the safest thing is to keep radio silence until the coast is clear. All we need is one last job to set it all off."
"And you'd take a dive for me?"
Junior's eyes flashed with a slight grin. "I've been thinking about droppin' out of the fold for past two years."
Harrison was silent, as he continued to stare at his friend with a look of complete awe and pure respect. "You sure about this, bro?" he was finally able to ask, finding his voice again.
"You've got more to lose than I do. Besides," he flashed his boyish smile again, "I've always wanted to be an uncle."
"You know, he's gonna call me to drag you back, kickin' and screamin'."
Junior gave a shrug. "Most likely."
"I got a reputation to keep, dude, and a pregnant woman hide."
Junior gave a dry smirk and pulled out his cellphone, tapping a few buttons, before slipping it back into his jacket. "The next target is someone named Katherine Walters. The Old Man's going to brief me on it once I get back to HQ. You just find me before Baptiste does."
Harrison nodded his head. He sank back into his chair with relief and thanks upon his once worried face. He felt lighter. "If this works, name your price; I'll pay it."
Junior waved his hand at that. He wasn't doing this for money; he was doing this out of friendship. "Just give that kid a good life." He gave his friend a goofy smile. "I want you to spoil that child every chance you get. That's my price."
"Deal," Harrison smiled widely, extending a fist to him, "and thanks, bro. I owe you, big time."
"Hey, no problem, man," Junior smirked and gave him fist-bump to seal the bargain.
Harrison shifted towards his bag, only for Junior to reach forward and stop him.
"Hold on a second," as he snatched the toy llama from Harrison's hand and bopped his friend's nose mischievously, earning a groan from his companion.