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Black.

A bright light reflects on the screen. We can barely see.

Suddenly, the light disappears, and a title card shows 2136.

An empty, peaceful street is shown, illuminated by spectacular oranges and yellows.

A 6 year old girl, with pig tails, a yellow dress and orange sandals is skipping down the road.

The summer sun is near scorching, but she’s tougher than it.

She is happily humming to herself and playing with her Black Widow action figure.

She sits on the swings, her feet shuffling on the sand, and she imagines what it would be like to be a secret agent.

To be a hero.

She could do that!

She smiled as she day dreamed of saving the world.

Of making it better.

2140.

A 10 year old girl sits in a stuffy room with a stiff atmosphere.

Her mother, a tired, weary woman who kept her perfect composure despite the world, applies make up to her face.

The room is dark and grey, devoid of color and life.

The girl is clearly uncomfortable, but her emotions aren’t given the time of day.

2147.

A 17 year old teen sits impatiently and rolls her eyes as she sits in another lifeless, grey room.

One could feel the drying paint suffocate any life that could be found.

A Newton’s cradle is in motion, but its movement is stopped by two stubby, forceful fingers.

A large, bald, hulking man sits down on his desk chair and looks back at her.

He is here to advise her on her future.

She knows he’s actually here to destroy it.

2152.

A 22 year old woman is in another office, this time with brighter colors decorating the surroundings.

One could almost feel the hope in the air.

Sadly, the woman, her face full of disappointment, can see that hope being forced away by the cruel hands of fate as they imprint the insignia.

2153.

A 23 year old woman, now with fighting gear and a gun as armed and loaded as her soul fires rapidly at a target.

The bullets can be felt before they even land.

Like she’s letting out some great anger on the poor cardboard figure.

A hand reaches the gun…

2154.

A 24 year old woman, cold on the exterior, proud and joyful on the interior, is graduating.

Top marks.

After one year.

Most would say that adheres respect.

But some still demand “perfection”.

2160.

A 30 year old Woman walks down the halls, her body language that of a proud and slightly selfish person.

But a person who has earned her stance.

A person for whom every step is perfection.

But there are still those who treat her like an object.

2016.

A 45 year old Woman is in her apartment.

Her face radiates anger, frustration, pain.

She just wanted to go out and eat some fancy food.

But her jerk of a partner just has to be the one to choose!

The 6 year old girl is suddenly pushed off the swing by a bigger, mean and cruel kid.

His freckles dance as he laughs at her pathetic body falling down and staying down, quivering with pain and sobs.

“Look at little Ms. Super Spy! Can’t take a tiny wittle push! You really think you have what it takes?”, the boy jeered and pointed at the small girl.

“Mom, why do I have to wear this? I like the way I look! This is so… Ugh!”, the 10 year old girl cried and tried to remove the dress.

Her mother held her down firmly.

“You must look just right, dear. Otherwise, you’ll never hear the end of it. You must play by their rules, or you’ll never be good enough.”, was the infuriating response.

The girl felt the dress tighten her waist and her joy.

“Ms., your future plans ASTOUND me with their childlike naivety and juvenile, pitiful pleading.”, the counselor ennounciates with mockery.

His chair is elevated so that it seems he is looking down on her, judging her with utter brutality.

He smiles smugly, his teeth exhibiting all their animal grotesqueness.

“You will have to reconsider your career choice.”

A big red blot is stamped on the 22 year old woman’s application.

She knows what it is before she looks, but she still looks at rejection head on.

A hand reaches for the 23 year old woman’s gun and snatches it.

“While you’re busy imparting your vengeance on the world or whatever, the villain is making his getaway.”, A 30 something year old instructor says, and she gives the woman a cold, hard stare.

“Let go of your feelings and shoot the bloody thief.”

The instructor, with perhaps too much glee, shoots the cardboard figure squarely in the heart.

“One shot, one hit, one kill. Don’t feel.”

The 24 year old woman tries to enjoy her graduation, but even then, someone finds a flaw.

“Come on, miss! Give us a smile!”, says the cameraman, almost like he’s shaming a child, not a grown woman.

The 30 year old woman passes some young interns.

They wolf whistle howl, laughing their butts off as she frowns.

“You’ll miss me! You’ll see!”

The door slams and the 45 year old woman scowls.

Suddenly, it opens.

“Forgot Mr. Fuzzykins.”

The door closes again.

The 6 year old girl stands up and wipes her tears.

Her mother says not to answer or act when this happens.

So she clenches her fists.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 10 year old girl is told by her mother what to say and repeats.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 17 year old teen, her palms bright red due to clenching, whispers harshly.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 22 year old woman fights back tears as she leaves the office, swearing to get in to the academy.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 23 year old woman shoots the cardboard figure.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 24 year old woman resists the urge to put the cameraman in place.

She smiles through gritted teeth.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 30 year old woman pretends that she didn’t hear the whistles.

“Don’t… Feel.”

The 45 year old woman sees Brick leave the apartment.

She clenches her fists.

She shakes with rage.

She closes her eyes.

“Don’t… Feel.”

And Savannah doesn’t feel.

At least…

That’s what she tells the world.







Black.

“My Dinner With Vinnie”.

One day after “Elevator Music Is Not In My Control”…

Savannah waited.

And waited.

And waited.

She knew an apology was coming.

Well, more like she felt an apology was coming.

Surely, that elevator experience would make Brick want to say something!

Anything!

But no.

Brick instead chose to ramble about meeting something last night and needing some time to refocus.

Time.

She had given him plenty time!

But did he give her the time of day?

No!

No. Way.

Savannah walked in, her demeanor that of a very disappointed woman.

Brick sat on the couch, staring into the distance, considering his options.

Was it truly the right thing to do?

Was it right or wrong to embark on this quest?

He knew what he wanted…

But was it worth it?

His reflection was interrupted by the reflection of Savannah on the glass window he was looking through.

“Well?”, was the single word that sliced through the air.

Brick, dazed and confused and unsure, failed to hear her.

“Well?”, she asked, sharply.

She stepped towards him, her arms crossed, her expression sour.

She was having a hard time controlling her feelings.

Brick turned around to her.

“What?”, he asked.

What?!

What?!

WHAT?!

He DARES?!

Savannah, fuming, storms out.

Brick, now confused, follows her.

He had genuinely forgotten his argument with her due to his pondering.

“Where are you going?”

Savannah opened the door.

“Hopefully, as far away from you as possible.”, she coldly replied and shut the door.

She clenched her fists, her knuckles, white as snow, nearly cracking from the intense effort she had to put to not say all that’s in her mind.

She could almost hear her instructor: “Don’t feel.”

Don’t feel.

“Yeah, I know.”, she thought, and started to walk out.

The day was a major opposite to yesterday, as only a small zephyr of wind blew in the Danville streets.

She hated this time period.

It was so primitive.

Though, sadly, it still retained certain aspects the future had, she thought as someone made a comment about her.

She gritted her teeth and tried to calm down.

Her anger at Brick resurfaced, and she began an inner tirade at him.

“How could he forget to apologize after all that?! “Oh, Savannah, don’t be mad. I saw some ghost or whatever so I need some me time.” Me time! Does he even KNOW how I feel? Does he even care?”, she fumed inside.

Brick was supposed to be there for her!

But Brick seemed to only care about himself.

And…

He seemed to look down on her.

How she hated that!

She wanted a partner, not another boss!

They were supposed to be…

“Don’t… Feel…”, her mother echoed in her ear.

Savannah wanted to.

She wanted to scream out her frustrations, rip out her hair, cry herself to sleep.

She wanted to let all those emotions loose.

But…

She couldn’t.

She regained her composure and breathed to calm down.

Her eyes stung, the tears threating to come out, but Savannah could do nothing but order them to stay.

She had to be perfect or she’ll never hear the end of it.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened her eyes again.

That’s when she saw it:

Chez Chaz.

A New York – Paris esque restaurant in the middle of Danville, one could say it’s almost out of place.

Its tables feel like entering a different universe, one where you are almost alone, despite being surrounded by other patrons.

A cold wind blows past Savannah, and the smooth jazz and orange lighting become even more inviting.

Perhaps…

Perhaps a compensation is in order.

Who knows?

Maybe this will quell the storm.

Savannah sits down at an outside table and she takes out her phone.

The main wallpaper flashes, a picture of her and Brick in happier times.

“Perfect timing,”, she thought sarcastically, and she put the phone down, lest her suppressed emotions get the better of her.

A waiter approached her in a most elegant fashion, his moustache as proper as his behavior.

“What will you be having, madam?”, he asked, his voice as clear as Brick’s disdain for her.

Savannah straightened herself so as not to look in need of help and made her order.

“Coffee. Black. Really black. So black that’s it’s no longer coffee, it’s just the color black squirted into a mug, essence of black, if you will, that reflects his soul…”, Savannah started, only to realize that she was oversharing.

She took a breath.

“I mean… Black Coffee, and your Butter Pecan Ice Cream.”

The waiter looked at her.

“I assume you will be wanting it in a tub?”

Savannah dryly looked up at him.

“Read me like a book.”

The waiter dryly inflected, “I shall wait for the movie.”

He then made his way to the kitchen inside to impart his order.

Savannah sighed and looked at the other patrons.

Perhaps they could distract her from Brick.

Her eyes, used to sleek observation thanks to years of experience, could detect even the smallest details.

She saw a young Caucasian man, 16, 6,2, his eyes darting backwards and forwards in hushed anticipation and fear, his hands clammy and sweaty and already reaching a fourth napkin, his cheeks flushed from the thoughts of this upcoming encounter.

Some would theorize that he was guilty of a terrible act, but some wouldn’t notice the already wilting rose in his left breast pocket, the hefty wad of cash protruding from his right trouser pocket or the 2$ aftershave he had borrowed from his father that was supposed to smell good but… Yeah, didn’t.

“That date is going to be disastrous”, she thought and she turned her attention to another table.

Tall. Straight. Sitting at 90 degrees, she directly and precisely stabs her lettuce leaf and places it in her mouth perfectly.

Every movement, every inch she takes is calculated to the most intense parameters.

The white complexion, the business hairdo, the absurdly clean suit…

And a business card she may be presenting a little too proudly.

Yes, this was definitely a businesswoman.

She played the game and won it, but at what cost?

As if Savannah didn’t know.

See, most people would have detected the above, but would they have detected the faint wrinkles she so desperately tried to hide?

Would they have detected the nearly invisible, but still present damp mark on her eyelids?

Would they have detected the mechanical nature of her movements, not designed for perfection, but for as little feeling as possible?

Would they have detected her hands?

At first glance, they were delicate and clean, but a gaze at her palm would tell the difference.

Scars that would not heal.

The mark, the punishment of bottling up.

Always present.

Always hurting.

A lifelong struggle.

Savannah, if she didn’t know better, would have almost wanted to comfort her.

Heck, she would have almost wanted to comfort the boy on a date!

But she wouldn’t.

She would stay where she was and focus on keeping her emotions in check.

She took a deep breath, and opened her eyes, her heart still pounding but her brain keeping her cool when suddenly…

“And you sir?”, the waiter from before asked.

Nope. Nothing strange here.

Wonder why the writer pointed it out…

“Yeah, hey, Garcon, can I call you that?”

That voice sounded familiar.

Savannah couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she was sure she heard that voice somewhere.

She careened to take a look at the patron two tables away from her, but the waiter was blocking him.

“I guess you can…”, the waiter said.

“Ok, great! So, Garcon, do you have, like, any breakfast burritos around here?”

“Breakfast burritos”, Savannah thought with a huff. Brick loves those. Just what she needed. A reminder of his majesty.

She then remembered the one night she agreed to go there with him.

The food had been… Terrible, but the two had enjoyed themselves by making fun of all the odd people who passed the shop window.

Brick was wonderful that day.

Funny, charming, caring.

He saw her as a friend, not as a nuisance.

He saw her as an…

No.

No, she said she wouldn’t go there.

“Don’t… Feel.”, she said sharply to herself.

But…

She missed those days.

The days where Brick was not just her partner.

He was her friend.

Savannah nearly felt the tears come out when suddenly…

“No burritos? How ‘bout some egg rolls?”

“Sir, this is Chez Chaz, not “The Breakfast Burrito Place” or “The Chinese Restaurant Where They Sell Those Little Egg Rolls, You Know What I Mean?”.”, the waiter informed, a tad impatient.

“Makes you wonder why I came here. I should have known better!”, the man joked, and he laughed hysterically at his own humor.

“Agreed, sir.”, the waiter, clearly, did not share that sense of merriment.

Wait...

That voice.

Burritos and egg roles.

Dumb jokes.

She only knew one person like that.

Thankfully.

The waiter moved aside (to his immense relief) and Savannah saw who it was…

“…D…Dakota?”, she asked, surprised at the appearance of her former co-worker.

Dakota turned to see the familiar (but not too pleasant) figure before him.

“Savannah? Wow! What are the odds?”, he asked, a pleasant smile worn on his face.

Savannah rolled her eyes.

“Not that small, considering we live in the same town and time period now.”

“True, true.”, Dakota said, and he picked up his menu.

His eyes lit up as he spotted a certain dish.

“Hey! Check this out: Fettuccine Alfredo! And with small pieces of salmon inside! Man, that’s going to be great! You should try it!”, he recommended, a friendly gesture that Savannah, due to her mood, did not pick up on.

This was not a meeting she wanted.

She was feeling enough as it is, she didn’t need Dakota to annoy her.

Or hit on her.

Or…

Do anything.

God, he was annoying!

“No thank you. I’m only here for a… Short visit.”

Dakota nodded and resumed his journey through the menu.

“So, you here alone? Where’s Brick?”, Dakota asked, curious.

He looked around, thinking maybe he had missed him, but Brick wasn’t there.

Had he not apologized?

“Brick…”, Savannah started, swallowing her pain. “…Isn’t here. He stayed back. I… I needed some me time.”, she explained.

Dakota could sense the sadness in her voice.

He frowned.

Too many people that he knew were feeling down these days.

Brick, Savannah…

Cavendish.

As if a switch was turned on, Dakota’s cheeks burned red.

Just the thought of his partner started a flurry of emotions.

Anger at the whole alien debacle.

Fear for his safety when he was gone.

Love for…

Everything about him.

How he wished he could tell him!

How he wished he could stoke his face, gaze into those lovely eyes and kiss the lips he had wanted to kiss for 7 years now.

Almost 8.

Dakota’s train of thoughts on Cavendish were suddenly interrupted when Savannah’s coffee and Ice Cream arrived.

The way she looked when she sipped from her mug…

The mechanical way she ate her dessert…

The distant stare…

The utter loneliness…

Something was DEFINITELY wrong.

Dakota knew it wouldn’t do much…

But he would not give up without a try.

He cleared his throat and ventured a question.

“Hey, uh… Savannah?”

Savannah groaned.

She was sure the conversation was over!

The formalities were past them, could they not go back to ignoring each other like normal people?!

She sighed and stared at him, annoyed.

“What is it, Dakota?”, she asked, tired of the whole ordeal.

Dakota cautiously probed on.

“I can’t help but notice that… You seem… Different.”

He gave her a worried look.

“Is something wrong? Did Brick not aplog…”

Savannah shut him down immediately.

“Nothing is wrong. Especially with Brick. I am fine. Even if something was wrong, it would be none of your business. Now buzz off.”, she said through gritted teeth, trying to keep her emotions in check.

And she returned to her ice cream.

Dakota sighed.

“Sorry. I’ll leave you alone.”

“Hallelujah.”, Savannah deadpanned.

Silence returned as Dakota, feeling bad for Savannah but knowing he couldn’t do anything, looked through the menu, and Savannah, still suffering from her internal storm, continued to eat.

As she ate, she noted to her surprise that Dakota had not tried to hit on her.

Had he finally understood that she wasn’t interested?

Actually, now that she thought about it: How many times HAD Dakota done that?

She could really only remember two times. And he had accepted her rejection both times.

Perhaps she had been a bit harsh on that matter.

That was one thing he hadn’t botched up.

She looked at him.

He looked a little down, almost as if…

He was worried.

“About me?”, she thought. “Why? We’re not friends!”

But the expression was there, clear as day.

She looked at the empty seat in front of her.

An all encompassing feeling of loneliness overcame her.

She had always felt it, but her recent falling out with Brick had only brought it even more to the forefront.

Perhaps she could use some… Companionship.

Dakota was nice enough to ask her if something was wrong.

Maybe…

Maybe a chat would take her mind off of things.

Who knows?

It might… Not be the worst.

“…Dakota…”, Savannah started, a little nervous.

This was the closest she had ever come to sort of asking for help.

Not that she was doing that!

Dakota looked up, surprised to hear her call him.

“Yes?”, he responded.

A loud silence now occupied the space between them.

This was dumb, they weren’t even friends! They weren’t even colleagues!

But…

She needed something to distract from the pain.

“I guess… It is rather lone… Boring out here. I guess you can… Sit in this empty chair, if you want to.”, Savannah choked out the words, finding the whole affair to be quite exhausting.

No wonder they told her not to be emotional, this was hard!

Dakota brightened up at this request.

Now was his chance to help!

Besides, it could be fun to talk to Savannah!

He got up from his seat, and after tripping over the table (causing Savannah to let out a small laugh for a moment), he sat down in front of her.

The waiter arrived to jot down Dakota’s order, and the two were now at each other’s mercies.

They said nothing.

It was…

Really awkward.

Savannah was beginning to regret the whole idea, when Dakota opened his mouth.

“Well,”, she thought. “Saved me the trouble of having to start.”

“So…”, Dakota probed. “What’s wrong?”

Savannah groaned. What a terrific start.

“None of your business. Please talk about ANYTHING else.”, she shot down his question like she shot down Jericho on the Bastille all those years ago.

Literally.

It was 1792.

Dakota backed off and decided to pursue a different subject.

“What about work? How’s that been?”, he asked, a note of bitterness from how Block treated him present, but also a genuine curiosity as to how things have been.

Savannah smirked proudly. Now this was something she could talk about!

“Oh, work has been fantastic! Now that I can stop criminals instead of worry about those dumb nuts! Thank god Block gave the job to someone else!”, Savannah said, relieved that she could do something else with her time.

Dakota nodded. The whole pistachio business was bad enough, even without the threat of world domination.

“It just feels so good to be able to make an actual difference! To do something with meaning! You know what I mean?”, she asked while taking a sip from her mug.

She then smirked.

“Oh, wait. You wouldn’t know what that means. You’ve never done anything worthwhile. I forgot.”

“Well, at least her cockiness is back.”, thought Dakota. This was just like the old Savannah.

Not that he liked her haughty nature, but it was better than seeing her be miserable.

“I mean, I saved the world from aliens, but, sure, nothing.”, Dakota said, not trying to start an argument, just reminding Savannah of a truth she forgot.

Savannah felt a bit bad now. He HAD saved the world. Not recognizing that would be mean.

“Sorry… I forgot about that.”, she apologized, a little sheepish.

Dakota waved it off.

“Don’t worry about it. I get it: You’re used to the Dakota who stole your gadgets, ate all the time, and sang dumb songs.”

“And you don’t do any of that anymore?”, Savannah asked with a knowing smirk.

Dakota raised his hands defensively, but with a smile.

“Hey, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad! I don’t steal your stuff anymore!”

“Bravo. Roll out the parade! Where do you want the street named after you?”, she shot back playfully.

“Preferably next to the breakfast burrito place.”, Dakota said.

“I should have known.”, Savannah said and took a spoonful of her ice cream.

The banter was pleasant, a change of pace for Savannah. She and Dakota had never really talked, so she found it a pleasant surprise to find someone who could keep up with her and laugh at himself.

He wasn’t as bad as she remembered, she had to admit.

This thought made her decide to address something.

“To… To be serious for a second…”, she started, a little tentatively.

“Oh man, do we have to?”, Dakota pretended to be disappointed and pouted.

Savannah stifled a laugh.

“No, really! Look… What you… And Cavendish did… Stopping those aliens…”, she started, but Dakota raised his palm.

“You don’t have to say anything. It was the right thing to do.”, Dakota said simply, and he smiled to let her know all was ok.

Savannah, now feeling relieved about the whole situation, went back to her ice cream.

She was starting to feel just a bit better. She had almost forgotten all of the…

Problems from before.

“Don’t… Feel…”, she told herself, closing her eyes.

If she could just keep it off of her mind a bit longer, she might be able to go home and fix things.

Maybe.

Dakota suddenly shoved the menu in front of her and grinned.

“Here’s an idea: Let’s order the pistachio ice cream and dump it somewhere.”

Savannah at first gave him a judging glance, her face projecting a look of “Are you really that dumb?”, and this made Dakota worry he made a mistake.

But then Savannah smirked and said “Better idea. Let’s blow it up.”

Dakota laughed. “Yeah, let’s send it to kingdom come!”

The two shared a small laugh.

“I hope I never see another pistachio again.”, Savannah remarked, running her hand through her hair, trying to relax.

“I know what you mean.”

Savannah, forgetting that Dakota had once guarded pistachios too, looked surprised.

“How?”

Dakota gave her an “Are you serious?” look.

“Savannah, I spent 7 years of my life protecting those darn things. I am the pistachio protecting master! Or, well, amateur, since I never protected one.”, Dakota explained.

Savannah analyzed this realization. She and Brick had had to protect pistachios for about a month. Maybe two. Dakota and Cavendish… They had almost a decade of experience.

7 years… Of protecting pistachios.

If she suffered… If she sometimes shuddered at the mere utterance of the name…

What was Dakota feeling?

How taxing was that experience?

How terrible were the memories he probably tried to repress?

How much did Dakota suffer?

Savannah, for the first time in her life, felt a pang of sympathy for Dakota.

Her first impression of him way back when was of a lazy, stupid, annoying man with no talent or usefulness.

A waste of space in the vast universe she lived in.

But in just a few minutes, he had already proven her wrong multiple times.

What else did she not know?

Her spy senses were already kicking in as she noticed a few faint scars on the palms of his hands and on his neck.

Not like her scars, of course, but clearly he had gone through more pain than she thought.

His eyes were a mystery, a window into his soul, really: There was a tiredness to them, the eyes of a man who had seen much, and knew he was only getting started. The eyes of a man who would be destined to fight dark forces countless times in the future.

But here came the surprising feature: They were also still playful. Innocent. Joyful.

Despite the mysterious experiences he had had, Dakota still enjoyed life.

Suddenly, a plate shattered.

Some ignored the commotion.

Some simply stared, in judgment or out of curiosity.

Savannah also stared, her attention fixed at the hapless waiter getting shouted at by his boss.

That wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising was Dakota approaching the waiter.

He helped him pick up the pieces, and quietly talked to him, his hand softly placed on the waiters back.

Her sharply trained hearing managed to catch just a few words, but they were enough to understand what he was doing.

“Just… Mistake… Happens, kid… Don’t… Worry… Tomorrow… You’ll see!”

The tone was so soothing, like a…

Huh.

She didn’t really have a mental image of soothing.

Well, whatever it was, it would be this.

Almost like he was talking to his own son.

Such…

Care.

Dakota patted the kids back, who smiled back at him, encouraged.

Dakota then went back to his table, but not before ordering his meal.

“Hey. Sorry about that, had to… Deal with something.”

“I saw. You know him? Distant ancestor or something?”, Savannah asked, sipping from her mug, that was a bit cold, she inspected with an annoyed look.

“Oh, him? Never met him in my life.”, Dakota answered simply.

Savannah blinked in confusion.

Dakota looked at the melting ice cream.

“You gonna eat that?”, he motioned a spoon towards it, but Savannah slapped his hand.

“Ow! Didn’t you learn that sharing is caring?”, he said, rubbing his sore hand.

“Didn’t you learn how to order at a restaurant? Also, I never answered your so called “request”.”, she said, but she still pushed the bowl towards him.

Dakota eyed the bowl hungrily and began to take spoonfuls.

Savannah resumed the conversation.

“So… You don’t know who that person is?”

Dakota, with ice cream in his mouth, nodded.

“…Then why did you help him?”

Dakota smiled.

“Why not?”

He resumed eating.

If Savannah was surprised before, she was even more surprised now.

Was he always like this?

How had she not noticed?

“Your mouth is open. I hope you’re not expecting me to feed you.”, Dakota quipped.

“I don’t need a babysitter, I need an explanation.”

Dakota shrugged. “My fees would have been too pricey for you anyway.”

Savannah looked at him intently.

“Seriously, Dakota!”, she asked, confused.

Where was the gain?

Dakota sat back with his arms behind his head.

“…I guess… I just… Like to help people. He needed help. He needed someone. I was just… The right man at the right time.”

He looked at her, and, without realizing, asked an armor piercing question.

“Wouldn’t you have done the same?”

Savannah tried to avoid his wonderful eyes.

“I… I…”

Savannah had no answer, but she was not going to address any… Issues, she had, because she didn’t have issues, she was fine, perfectly fine! Fine! Fine! Fine! Issues? Her?! Ha! She was perfect! No issues, no problems, no feelings of absolute isolation, no trust issues, no extreme need for understanding…

“Don’t… Feel. Don’t… Feel. Don’t… Feel!”, she told herself, breathing hard.

Her palms turned redder than ever, as she tried desperately to bottle up all her emotions.

But for how much longer could she keep them in?

Dakota, now concerned, offered to help.

“Do you… Need something? I can leave if it makes you feel better…”

Savannah realized she was about to make a huge mistake.

She raised her hand.

“It’s… Fine.”

She breathed deeply and let her bruised hands rest.

“I’m… Fine.”

Her fake smile did not hide the stress marks, or the fiery shade on her cheeks, or the small but visible dampness in her eye lids.

Her fake disposition did not hide the shaking in her arms or her voice.

Her straight legs did not hide her clenched toes.

Her arms did not hide their scars.

Dakota knew she was way beyond fine.

But he wasn’t going to make her feel worse.

He wanted to help now more than anything.

Something was WRONG with Savannah, and it didn’t matter to him all that happened in the past, he would do anything now to make things better.

But…

He wasn’t going to force it out.

Instead, he’d find a different way.

Suddenly, the waiter arrived with his meal.

“Here you go, sir. Fettuccine Alfredo with some small pieces of salmon mixed inside.”

Dakota licked his lips.

“Wowee! Thanks!”

“Wowee?”, Savannah asked, raising an eyebrow.

Dakota shrugged.

“Something I picked up from… Someone very special to me.”

Dakota smiled softly.

“…Someone very special indeed.”, Dakota thought, as his heart swelled just from thinking of his special boy.

“I still exist, you know.”, The waiter said, still holding the bowl.

“Whoops! My bad!”, Dakota said, and he took the bowl. 

He then offered the waiter a high five.

The waiter left.

“Woah. Cold.”, Dakota said.

“I thought I was the ice queen…”, Savannah weakly offered some self deprecating humor, but one could tell she was still recovering from her minor attack.

Dakota couldn’t stand this.

He HAD to do something.

He suddenly noticed Savannah look at his meal with a bit of…

Longing.

Savannah would never ask.

She couldn’t be…

Helpless.

She had to stay utterly resolute or she would fail.

And failure was not an option.

But clearly, failure had not met Vinnie Dakota.

Well, actually, failure had met Vinnie Dakota multiple times, and it was always disastrous, and…

Oh, you know what I mean!

Anyway, Savannah suddenly noticed the bowl being moved towards her.

Dakota smiled softly.

“I’m not… That hungry. Want some?”, he offered.

“Um… I really couldn’t…”, Savannah tried with all her might not to appear weak.

She couldn’t let up.

But Dakota saw past the super spy training. Something was letting up in her façade, and Dakota started getting the feeling that Savannah was hiding something.

Something major.

“…Let’s just call it: Returning the favor. You shared your ice cream, I share my fancy pasta.”

Savannah smiled weakly.

That was an acceptable excuse.

Technically, she wasn’t below or above Dakota now.

If only that was her constant reality.

She took the bowl.

“…Thanks.”, she said.

Dakota smiled.

She took the fork and tried the odd meal.

She had never tried it before, actually, but…

Woah.

“You are full of surprises, Vinnie Dakota.”, she said as she took another bite and enjoyed it.

Dakota raised an eyebrow.

“What do you mean?”, he asked.

“Well, for one, you can be quite funny and not that annoying. Sometimes.”, she smirked.

“Ow! My feewings!”, Dakota feigned sadness.

“And… You’re kinder than I thought. And apparently, you have good taste in food.”

“Apparently?”, Dakota said. “Girl, I am the food choosing master!”

Savannah scoffed.

“You? You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, you are better than I thought, but you’re not me. Don’t forget who you’re talking to.”, she said.

“Yeah, I know.”, Dakota rolled his eyes. “Ms. Perfect.”

Once, Savannah would have loved that ego stroke, even if Dakota was being sarcastic.

But…

She wished for something else.

In the end, despite all the positive surprises about Dakota, there was one constant:

She had no equal.

Dakota was just another person looking up to her, and Brick was just another person looking down on her.

But there was no one looking directly into her eyes.

…Well, technically Dakota was, but still.

No! Stop feeling!

Come on, Savannah! It’s been 45 years!

This should be child’s play by now!

But…

She’d be lying if she said it was ever easy.

Her hands were clenched again.

She had to calm down.

Maybe some snobbery would do the trick.

“Anyway, I am clearly superior in that sense, as in others.”, Savannah said, her nose up in the air.

It was Dakota’s turn to smirk.

“Challenge accepted!”

He called for the waiter.

“I hope this isn’t some sad attempt to high five me, sir.”

“Nope.”, Dakota explained. “I’d like to order the following things… Wait, Savannah, can you cover for me? I’m kinda low on cash right now. Out of a job, and all that. Unemployment sucks.”

This message is sadly true.

Savannah groaned and took out a wad of cash.

“This should cover it.”

Dakota gave her a thumbs up.

“Much appreciated. Now, I’d like to order the following things…”

About 45 minutes later, the two had managed to consume a rich serving of Paella, a generous helping of Shepherd’s Pie, two Hamburgers with Eggs Benedict, Hollondese cheese and ?, and, finally, a delightful plate of brownies.

Savannah, satisfied, gave Dakota the last brownie.

“No… I couldn’t… Well, I could, I’m a human vacuum, but you clearly want it.”, he said, lying back in his chair, stuffed.

Savannah accepted defeat.

“Hard as it is to admit… I was wr… Well, you were right.”

God, that was close.

“You know about food. Here you go. It’s a reward.”

Dakota took the brownie and swallowed it.

Suddenly, Dakota got a text notification.

The “Mission: Impossible” theme (by Danny Elfman) began to play, and Dakota looked a bit embarrassed.

“Oh… Um… Yeah, that’s the…”

“Mission: Impossible” theme…”, Savannah stated, an odd tone to her voice that Dakota had never heard before.

“Yeah…”, Dakota rubbed the back of his neck. “I know, it’s sort of silly…”

Savannah suddenly had the goofiest grin on her face.

“I LOVE the “Mission: Impossible” films!”, she said excitedly, her face containing for the first time in years a real, genuine smile.

Dakota was surprised by this revelation, but he was happy to find a fellow fan too.

“Really?”, he asked, a grin on his face.

“Yeah! They are deep, exciting action films about spies that have an emotional undercurrent to them. And they’re really cool!”, Savannah raved.

She had never been this happy since she was a little girl, and she failed to notice how improper she was behaving.

“Did you see the trailer for “Fallout”?”, Dakota asked.

“Uh, yes! Duh! Of course I did! The helicopter stunt looks amazing!”, Savannah enthused.

Suddenly, she realized that she was oversharing.

She realized how much she was showing.

Off the corner of her eye, she spotted some judging stares.

She straightened herself and pretended to be someone she wasn’t.

“I mean… Yeah, sure, I like them, whatever…”, she trailed off, hating herself.

As usual.

Dakota again decided not to intervene, but he was sad to see her behave oddly again.

Suddenly, he noticed the new bracelet she had on.

“Hey! That’s a great bracelet! Where’d you get it?”, Dakota asked, admiring the accessory.

Savannah looked at it.

“Oh, this? I got it at “Laura’s”.”

“Oh, I should have known! “Laura’s” has the best bracelets. And the tell tale shine of the gold… Classic “Laura’s”!”, Dakota enthused.

Savannah blinked in confusion.

“You… Go to “Laura’s”?”

This may be the most surprising thing she’d learn about Dakota all evening.

“Sure! They’ve got great stuff!”

“You… Like shopping?”, she asked.

“Why not?”

“…You’re a man.”, she said, puzzled.

“So? It’s fun!”, Dakota explained.

He then blushed a bit.

“Besides… Cavendish gets most of his stuff from there, so it’s great for presents for him…”

He looked a little flustered, but Savannah didn’t try to pursue the subject.

Still…

“I didn’t know you liked shopping.”

“Uh, yeah. We established that? Want me to play it back?”, he said, and he pretended to rewind.

“So? It’s fun! Besides… Cavendish gets most of his stuff from there, so it’s great for presents for him…”

Savannah stopped the recording.

“It’s just… Surprising. But in a good way. You clearly have good taste.”, she remarked.

“Well, maybe we could go shopping one day! Could be fun!”

“…Um, I don’t know…”, she nervously stammered.

Dakota realized he may have overreached and took it back.

“Or not. Doesn’t matter. It was nice to talk about these things for once, though. Cavendish is never interested in these things.”, Dakota dropped the subject, much to Savannah’s pleasure (though she noted the line about Cavendish as… Interesting).

Still…

It was quite nice to learn she had things in common with Dakota.

She almost felt…

Relaxed.

Savannah felt so good, she allowed herself to sit back and rest.

Only she then realized her makeup was off, so she quickly reapplied it.

It wasn’t actually that off, it was a microscopic change, but Savannah was not going to let her standards fall.

She had to maintain an image as the perfect, irresistible spy.

Though…

Now that she was thinking about it…

Dakota seemed to not find her irresistible.

And now Savannah was confused.

On the one hand, it was so nice to have a male friend who didn’t slobber all over her (not that Brick did so, but he was… More complicated.)

But if both Dakota and Brick didn’t…

Her mother’s voice came back to her and sent her 35 years into the past.

“A woman must keep her stance as a pinnacle of perfection. If all the men’s eyes are on you, you’re doing something right.”

Savannah was a 10 year old girl again.

“But I don’t want everyone to look at me! It sounds creepy. Can’t I have male friends who just see me as a friend?”

She looked up at her mother pleadingly, but to no avail.

Savannah’s mother laughed.

“Oh, dear… You can’t. A successful woman is one who all the men want. Regardless of how comfortable you feel about that. An ugly woman goes nowhere. But a pretty one… A beautiful one… Just might be…”

She whispered the final word, making it sound like a far away promise, a treasure that Savannah could never achieve in her wildest dreams.

“…Happy.”

Savannah was slipping.

She was failing.

Happiness was leaving her grasp and she was hanging off the cliffs of despair, holding on to dear life.

She quickly applied some makeup, nail polish and mascara.

She looked in a mirror.

She admired it.

Perfect as ever…

…Right?

She couldn’t ask Dakota, but maybe she could wrestle an answer from him by getting a reaction.

Meanwhile, Dakota had received another text and was looking at it.

Unlike the first one, that was an ad for a clothes store…

Showing emos holding fruits.

…Weird.

Anyway, the second text was much better, and Dakota smiled warmly at it.

Savannah, meanwhile, cleared her throat and tried to get his attention.

Dakota didn’t notice.

“Dakota.”, she called.

Dakota still didn’t notice.

“Dakota…”, she said with an inviting voice, trying to charm him.

Once again, he didn’t notice.

“Dakota!”, she suddenly shouted, only to realize she had overdone it, and she shrunk back to her seat.

Dakota looked up.

“Oh! Sorry, Savannah, I didn’t hear you.”

“We sure did!”, someone said from another table, causing Savannah to sigh.

“What did you want?”, he asked.

“Never mind…”, she grumbled. “What was so fascinating anyway?”, she asked.

It had better be some text to make her lose the only thing society let her have.

Dakota smiled and showed her the phone.

“Oh, it’s just a text from Melissa. She’s my… Well, not exactly… It’s kind of complicated…”

“Cut to the chase.”, Savannah said.

Dakota laughed.

“Accidental pun! Whoo!”, he said, and raised his hand for a high five.

Savannah ignored it.

“Wow. Everyone’s hanging me out to dry today. You, the waiter, the giant cow I play badminton with…”

Savannah was about to ask what the heck was that about when Dakota showed her the text again.

“Anyway, it’s from Melissa Chase, a girl who’s friends with Milo Murphy, another kid I know…”

Savannah recognized her.

“Oh! Yes! She once helped me pass the spy little sister assignment.”, she said, remembering the day fondly. It was one of the few days that she recalled happily.

Dakota continued to explain.

“Anyway, I know them because we once had to save the world and whatever, and we all got close. We hang out, mess around, all that jazz. Anyway, she sent me this text that she’s leaving Karate class and… Well, look at this.”

Savannah’s eyes adjusted to the brightness of the screen, and she read the message displayed on the phone:

“Hey, Dadkota!...”

“Dadkota?”, Savannah asked.

Dakota smiled at the phrase he had originated.

“Dadkota… Ha. I came up with that when Cav and I realized we’re basically second dads to these kids. They all call me that. Milo, Melissa, Zack, Amanda, Sara… Well, Amanda hasn’t called me that yet, but…”

“Who are those last ones?”, Savannah quarried again.

“Oh, yeah. Whoops! Forgot to mention them. They’re some other kids. Zack’s friends with Milo and Melissa, Amanda’s friends with them too and Sara is Milo’s older sister.”

Savannah nodded and went back to the message.

“Hey, Dadkota! Karate just ended (kicked glorious butt as ever. Boom!) and I was wondering if you can pick me up. Milo and I are going to have a sleepover!”

A second text followed the first:

“Milo gives the best sleepovers! He’s so fun!”

The message was accompanied with a smiling face with heart eyes.

A third text followed:

“Uh, ignore that last one! It’s… Not like that! Not that he isn’t pretty, or wonderful, or absolutely amazing…”

Fourth text:

“Ignore that last one too!”

Savannah couldn’t help but smile at the adorableness of the denial. But…

She also felt a pang of pain.

Melissa was denying her emotions too.

“That just never changes, huh?”, she thought sadly.

“She and Milo have been friends forever, and they’re clearly crushing on each other. Melissa’s more observant of this, but she’s not sure if she wants to go the next step. Milo’s… Pretty oblivious as of yet.”, Dakota explained the situation.

“Quite the soap opera.”, Savannah remarked.

“But so cute!”, Dakota added, and he replied to Melissa.

“Don’t worry! I’ll get Dadvendish to pick you up! Don’t stay up too late (but eat as much junk food as you can! Treat yourself! I’ll deal with your dad when I need too!) and have tons of fun! Oh, and don’t worry about Milo… You’ll figure it out, sweetheart.”

He sent the message.

She replied:

“Thanks, Dadkota! Oh, and I’m not worried about Milo… We’ll figure it out in the end.”

She then replied:

“And maybe I did mean some of those things.”

A winking face was included in the message.

Dakota couldn’t help but laugh.

Man, he loved those kids!

While he called Cavendish, Savannah thought of how beautiful it was to hear all that.

To see how much Dakota loved those kids.

After the call, he even showed her some pictures.

Savannah couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous.

Such care…

Such compassion…

Such…

Love.

Why couldn’t she have that?

Was she really that bad?

Still…

Dakota continued to prove to her how wrong she was about him.

He really was a good man.

Honestly…

She wished she had seen it sooner.

“Dakota…”, she started.

“Yep?”, Dakota answered.

Savannah looked at him.

The sun was close to setting, and he looked stunning.

His face was like a beacon to her tired, depressed self.

A beacon of hope.

“What you showed me… With those kids… You are a better man that I thought you were. I’m sorry I misjudged you.”, she said, feeling a tad ashamed…

And then feeling nothing, since she again bottled her emotions up.

Dakota didn’t know what to say.

Not every day did you hear something like that.

But he smiled softly and said “…Thanks, Savannah.”

Suddenly, Savannah felt a pressing question.

One she really wanted answered.

“I… I must ask you something.”

Dakota looked up, intrigued.

“What?”

Savannah felt a little uneasy.

This wasn’t your ordinary question.

Then again, when was anything in her life ordinary?

“Dakota… You broke the rules time and time again for Cavendish. But… You two don’t have much in common. And… If memory serves… You two… Fight quite a bit.”, she started, and noticed this was getting hard.

Jeez, what was it about Dakota that was almost making her feel things all the time?

“…Yes?...”, Dakota asked, not liking where this was going.

“It’s just…”, Savannah continued, unsure if she should prod on.

But an overwhelming curiosity, perhaps her years as a spy took over her and she spat it out.

“Why would you risk everything for him?”, she asked.

Dakota looked down.

“No… Reason…”, he said, clearly hiding something.

Savannah wasn’t sure what to do.

Should she pursue?

“But… It surely couldn’t be for no reason…”

Dakota looked oddly worried.

Annoyed, even.

“Really, it’s nothing…”, he said, a different tone to his voice, sweat rushing down his face.

Savannah went too far.

She rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Only an idiot would do such a thing for nothing…”

Dakota slammed his hands on the table.

“Then I’m an idiot, since it was for nothing! I just felt like it!”, he said quite sharply.

He then noticed how loud he was and retreated back to his seat.

Savannah was quite startled.

“I mean… It’s nothing. Really. If you can hide what you’re feeling, so can I.”, he argued.

Savannah had to admit, she could see his logic.

She backed off.

As they sat and looked at each other, both feeling different things, Savannah felt helpless.

What was she going to do?

Every time she felt even a little relaxed, her emotions, her fears, her anger caught up with her.

Why?

Why couldn’t she just forget?

It was because of Dakota.

That’s who!

He was making her feel…

Weird!

Wait…

“That’s not true and you know that, Savannah.”, she thought.

She sighed.

It wasn’t that Dakota made her feel things.

She always felt things.

Maybe…

Maybe Dakota made her WANT to feel things.

Maybe Dakota made her WANT to share these things.

Something about him…

Made her want to be herself.

But…

She couldn’t.

It was against everything the world told her.

But she could be free!

But she can never be free.

Not even with him.

Society…

The world…

They’d never accept her!

And…

If she was truly honest…

Would Dakota accept her?

A woman so open?

With no masks?

With no shields?

Someone… Real?

No.

That simply wasn’t true.

The world wanted her to be something.

She was a tool, an item, a model.

She could never be…

Savannah.

And the sooner she accepted that the better.

But the hope, the possibility, the maddening need to finally be herself, locked away all those years, began to rise up.

To demand presence.

Inclusion.

The conflict raged on inside her, and she felt… Dizzy.

What…

What could she do?

Who…

Who was she?

Was she the beautiful goddess, the model of charm and grace?

Was she the efficient, deadly, cold spy? The one who felt nothing? The one with no heart?

Was she the young hopeful woman, wanting to be included? Wanting the respect and the love she deserves?

Was she her mother?

Her instructor?

Was she an object to be objectified?

A warrior?

A genius?

A normal person?

A hero?

A villain?

A woman?

A girl?

Was she the 6 year old girl, who just wanted to save the world?

Or had that girl died long ago?

By society’s hands?

Or…

By her hands?

Who was she?

Was she even alive?

Savannah didn’t know.

Her head was booming, her ears buzzed, her eyes darted back and forth, seeing nothing but judging glances.

Even Dakota…

What was she to him?

A co-worker?

A rival?

A crush?

A stranger?

A…

A friend?

As if, she scoffed at herself.

As if…

Anyone would ever like her.

With no Brick…

No Dakota…

She was nothing.

She had nothing.

Who was she?

What was her purpose?

She wasn’t supposed to feel, but she couldn’t help the flurry of emotions, the storm inside finally unleashing itself on her.

Her knuckles turned white with pain as her nails dug in harder and harder into her palms, trying in vain to stop herself.

Her body began shaking visibly, and her teeth gritted themselves loudly, the utter force she exerted emitting an unnerving sound.

“Don’t… Feel. Don’t… Feel. Don’t… Feel.”

Dakota noticed this and, looking concerned, asked Savannah what’s wrong.

“Savannah… You ok?”, he asked, his face filled with worry.

“Fine. I’m… Fine…”, she said, decidedly not fine.

“No! You’re not fine! Tell him!”, a voice, forced to be quiet for so long, shouted at her.

“I won’t!”, another voice shouted back.

“You’re stopping the real you!”, the first voice said.

“You know what they’ll think… You know what they’ll say… When they see the real you… Don’t FEEL!”, the second voice shouted.

Her vision was blurry.

The multiple voices, the multiple sides of her personality were waging full out war in her mind, demanding her to feel and not to feel, to be and not to be, to love and not to love.

Her very psyche was in conflict with itself.

Who was she?

WHO?!

Suddenly, a man with a disgusting smirk passed by.

“Hey, gorgeous. What a lovely figure…”

He ran his fingers through her hair.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!”, Dakota growled, standing up from his chair.

The man ignored Dakota.

Before Dakota could push him aside, the man leaned in and whispered into Savannah’s ear, his breath running a child down her spine.

His hands began to feel her back.

“You wanna come over to my place and…”

And Savannah couldn’t take it anymore.

All the years of abuse.

All the years of silencing herself.

Of being silenced.

Of being objectified.

Of being used.

All the years of not feeling, and stopping the real Savannah…

They were all forgotten in a moment.

She turned, and, without saying a single word, but with a look of total and complete rage and hate, knocked the man out cold.

Her punch was so hard and bracing, she knocked out two of his teeth, and sent him flying onto a table.

Blood splattered on the table cloth, and on her face and dress.

The music stopped.

The diners turned around in shock.

Everyone looked at her.

“No… No… Don’t… I’m sorry…”, she whispered silently, her emotions breaking out, a tear actually running down her cheek for the first time in years.

Her nails had dug in so hard into her knuckles she couldn’t feel them.

Her entire body shook violently, one would have thought she’d faint any minute now.

Dakota, who was about to push the man away, approached Savannah, worry filled eyes.

“Are you ok? Do… Do you need me to go? Or stay? Do you want to report him?”

But Savannah wouldn’t answer him.

She couldn’t answer anyone.

She looked around her.

Her vision got blurrier, and she could barely see anything.

But she could feel.

She could feel the eyes around her burning into her soul.

Questioning her.

Whispering shocked words full of hate and judgment.

She had failed.

She was no longer an acceptable woman.

She didn’t know what to do.

So she ran.

Her powerful legs carried her into the interior of the restaurant, knocking into a waiter with a bowl of soup.

“Look where you’re going, idiot!”, the waiter shouted.

She zoomed off, looking for a place to hide.

Her heart pounded in her chest like a marching drum, her face riddled with blood, sweat and tears.

She then remembered the excruciating pain of running on heels, and removed them, her now bare and bruised feet carrying her into the men’s room.

She locked the door and sat inside, her world crashing around her as she entered the fetal position.

Dakota had entered the restaurant too, but he had missed Savannah, and did not know where she hid.

He scanned the area.

“Oh, Savannah. Where are you?”, he asked no one in particular, as he fervently searched the dining area.

He hung his head as he approached the bathrooms.

“Give me a hint. I need to find her! I need to help her!”, he begged, when he suddenly saw the high heels.

As he picked one up, he could hear the faint but incriminating sound of crying.

Coming from…

He put his ear to the women’s room, and then to the men’s room.

Men’s.

Definitely this room.

He entered, almost silently, and slowly entered the room, so as to not alarm Savannah.

He stood at the entrance of the room, and, with eyes full of sympathy, watched the quivering, shaking mess on the floor.

Small, heart wrenching sobs could be heard, and the once proud agent was now lying on the floor, utterly alone.

Or so she thought.

Dakota walked gently over to her.

“…Savannah…”, he started, but she cut him off.

“Go away… Leave me alone…”

Dakota sighed.

“I don’t want to. You… You need help.”

Savannah refused to look at him.

“Go. Please… I’m… I’m fine.”

Dakota persisted.

“No. No, you are NOT fine. And you can keep saying that to yourself. But I KNOW you’re not. And right now… I’m the only person you have.”

Dakota expected a different response, but Savannah surprised him with her reply:

“No. You’re not. No one is.”

Her stomach clenched, making her feel naugious.

“No one is. Because… Because…”

She couldn’t bring herself to tell him.

Dakota tried to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she swatted it away.

“Why?”, he asked.

Savannah closed her eyes.

“Because…”

She let out a terrible sigh.

“Because I have… No… Equal. No true equal.”

Dakota wasn’t sure he understood.

“I’m… Not sure I understand.”

Savannah sighed.

Could she really tell him?

But, remembering all he has done…

And all he did…

Savannah knew…

He was about as close to equal as she could get.

She hesitated…

And then she explained.

“All my life… I have been looked up to, or looked down at. All my life… I’ve been… Different things. To different people. But… I don’t have anyone who… Who looks me in the eye. Who is real with me… And… Who wants me to be real with them.”

She shuddered.

“I… Have… No one. Because… I am no one. I want to take off the mask… But I fear… What’s underneath it.”

She turned to him.

“I fear… What they’ll think.”

She looked up to him, anguish in her face.

“I fear… What they’ll see.”

She opened her hands and raised her palms.

“And… I fear…”

They were smeared in blood, blood from the wounds, scars and bruises on her palms, blood that spilled from years of concealing herself, of hiding her emotions, of locking herself inside.

“Me.”

The tears ran down her face.

“Because… If they want me to be someone else so badly… Then…”

She hung her head low.

“I must be… Something… Terrible. A monster.”

She sobbed.

“You can’t save me, Dakota.”

She looked up at him, all the pain finally reflected in her eyes.

“I never existed.”

And she breaks down.

Dakota, who was silent the entire time, sits down…

Holds her…

And embraces her.

She recoils.

“Stop, Dakota! Please! It’s for your own good!”, she cried.

“No it’s not.”, he said.

“You’re better than me!”, she said, pleading.

“No I’m not.”, he simply replied.

“Dakota, please! I’m not worth it!”, she cried again, her voice cracking.

Dakota just patted her back, and let her sob on his shoulder, her tears spreading all over his jacket.

“Yes. You. Are.”

She looked at him.

“How do you know? When… When have I ever treated you with anything but disdain?”

He looked at her.

“Today. Today you did. Not always… But… When you let your shields down… When you showed me the real you…”

He sighed.

“I’ve seen you do good things on missions. You may have been cocky, but you did good things. And today, when you felt, you showed humor, compassion, guilt…”

He smiled.

“How many monsters do that?”

She still wasn’t convinced.

“You don’t understand… I… I have no real relationship. I am an object. Someone to be admired. Or oppressed. Or used. Or directed. But not loved. Not ever.”

Her face contorted with pain.

“I’m alone. I’ve always been alone.”

Dakota realized…

There was no other way.

He grabbed her shoulders.

He cleared his throat.

He steadied his breath.

He ignored the pounding of his heart and the voice inside screaming in fear.

“Savannah… I want to help. But I can’t… Until I become your equal. Until I prove to you… That you can trust me. That I won’t judge you. That I won’t laugh at you. And that I’ll let you be who you are. Who you really are.”

He straightened himself.

“And there’s only one way to do that.”

He took a deep breath.

Savannah looked up, unsure of what was going to happen.

“You asked me… Why I saved Cavendish. Why I did that. Why? He… Shouts at me. Doesn’t share many of my interests. Sometimes… He’s just really… Unthoughtful.”

He smiled.

“But… He always comes through. He’s always there for me. He knows when to admit that he’s wrong, and he does respect me, and like me, despite our differences.”

He looked at Savannah.

“You asked me why… Why I risked it all… And why… I’d do it again.”

His voice composed itself.

Savannah held her breath.

“I did it… Because it was the right thing to do. I would have done it for anyone else.”

A single tear ran down his face.

“But… I also did it… Because…”

He then looked Savannah straight in the eye.

“I love him.”

Savannah’s eyes widened.

Dakota kept on.

“And not just in a “Oh, he’s so cute” way. In a “I want to marry this man. And settle down with him. And watch the sunset with him. And dance the hours away with him. And take strolls with him. And make dinner with him. And watch dumb movies with him. And joke with him. And squabble. And laugh. And kiss those, annoying, bossy, wonderful lips, and look into his eyes, and feel protection, and care, and love. I want to hold him for hours, for day on end. I want to stroke his hair and tell him it’s all right. I want to caress his face, and fall asleep with him, and wake up, with his arms around me. Feeling safe. And… Maybe one day… Adopt a child.”

He smiled through the tears.

“That’s the truth. I love him, Savannah. More than anything. And I would… I would die now, if that made him even… A little bit happy. Because…”

He let out a small chuckle.

“He’s Cavendish.”

A small smile appeared on his lips.

“What are you gonna do?”

Savannah took this all in.

“…Wow.”, she said.

Dakota smiled.

“Yeah. Wow.”

“…Who else knows?”

Dakota shook his head.

“Just you and me.”

Savannah couldn’t believe this.

“I almost told Brick, but only because I was about to die in that elevator. I wasn’t… I wasn’t planning on telling anyone.”

Savannah didn’t understand.

“Why me?”

Dakota rubbed her shoulder.

“Because… You needed someone. An equal. So I opened myself up. And besides… I trust you. I do.”

“…Why?”

“…Because I know… That deep down… You’re a good person.”

Savannah looked at Dakota, eyes full of tears.

“All my life… I was told to be one thing or another. A woman… Has to live up… To so much. How can I be beautiful and modest? Oppressed yet understanding? An object of pure perfection? How can I be me? Who will accept me?”, she asked.

Dakota embraced her.

“I will.”

Savannah felt her face warm up.

She looked at him.

How could she have been so wrong?

He was…

Exceptional.

And he was the only friend she had in the world.

But she didn’t mind too much.

“Brick… He wanted to apologize. I don’t know why he didn’t… But he’s also alone. Like you… He needs someone.”

He smiled encouragingly.

“Maybe you can try again.”

Savannah sighed.

She wasn’t sure.

But…

“I’ll… Try.”

She looked into her heart.

And the real Savannah came out for the first time.

“No…”

She smiled through her tears.

“I will.”







Savannah went back home.

She felt…

Oddly at peace.

Being herself was going to be…

Incredibly difficult.

But…

She was going to do it.

If only she didn’t have another problem…

“Dakota…”, she said as she left the restaurant.

“Yes?”, he turned to her, his face comforting her form afar.

“Tell…”, she hesitated.

But she knew it was the right thing to do.

“Tell Cavendish.”

Dakota took a second…

And nodded.

“I will.”

He smiled.

She smiled back.

Savannah, now entering her house, closed her eyes.

“If only…

She sighed.

“If only he could be mine.”

Her heart now belonged forever to Vinnie Dakota.

But she could not hurt him.

She opened the door.

Brick was waiting for her.

Looking…

Scared.

“Brick, I wanted to…”, she started, when a presence entered the room.

“Agent Savannah…”, an inhuman voice uttered, chilling Savannah.

She turned, her blaster at the ready.

“Who are you?”

The voice echoed across the room.

“Just a friend… Who knows about you and Dakota. About Brick and Dakota. And about some other people.”

Savannah looked at him.

He looked back.

“What do you want?”

He laughed.

“Exactly what you want: Vinnie. Dakota.”

And The Seventh Shadowy Figure entered the room.

And smiled.








Meanwhile…

The door was opened.

And the opportunity was now at play.

Vinnie Dakota looked into the apartment.

“Well… This is it.”, he said, not ready and also totally ready at the same time.

Cavendish entered, wearing a “Kiss The Cook” apron.

“You were gone for a while! We’re having breakfast burritos! You want to watch “Neptune Needs Women” or “Krillhunter I?”, he asked.

Dakota couldn’t help but smile at his friend, who was trying to be more thoughtful.

He then took a deep breath.

“Dakota… Is something wrong?”

Dakota smiled.

“Well… Here goes nothing…”

He looked at Cavendish straight in the eye.

“Cavendish…”

“There’s something I need to tell you…”








Post Credit Scene:

2175.

B.O.T.T Headquarters.

Mr. Block’s office.

Currently being trashed.

As three figures stood in the back, clad in shadows, a fourth pinned Mr. Block to the wall, a shine emanating from the object at Block’s throat.

“Get that thing off of my throat!”, he demanded.

The Seventh Shadowy Figure ordered the figure pinning Block to stand down.

“What do you want?!”, Block shouted.

“Ah, Mr. Block. Another member of the Vinnie Dakota fan club.”, he said with a grin.

“What? No! Not at all! I don’t like that devilishly handsome man who reminds me of who I want to be! He’s… A… B-Baka!”, Block dug himself into a corner.

The figure smiled.

He fixed Block’s coat and wiped the dust off of his shoulders.

“Calm down! I’m not here to kill you!”

The inhuman voice took a sinister, joyful tone.

“I’m here… To offer you a proposition.”

He grinned.

“What if I told you… You could have… EVERYTHING you want?”

Mr. Block narrowed his eyebrows.

“What do you mean?”

The seventh figure laughed.

And smiled.

Coming soon: BALTHAZAR CAVENDISH VS THE WORLD!

Next Week: Guard!

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