Getting onto Blackthorne territory unnoticed wasn't the hard part. Getting into the actual building wasn't the hard part. The hard part was sneaking onto the Circle members while maintaining their element of surprise, which was no easy feat if Abigail Cameron's findings was to be believed.
Location? Blackthorne's ballroom. Number? At least a hundred. Exits? Two, through the window or the main door. Both options were undesirable, as indicated by Solomon's scrunched up expression as he took in Abigail's report.
"Looks like we're going to have to hit the air vents," Solomon stated casually as if he was suggesting going for a walk, "But I'm afraid the ducts can only hold three of us, max." Solomon pointed to himself as if to indicate that he was definitely going to be one of the three. Max jumped at the opportunity to see a bit of action, even though he was less than keen on being cramped in a tiny space. Zach sighed before volunteering himself as the third member of their party, much to Cammie's protest, but she was shot down when Zach reasoned that he knew the layout better than she did. Although Max doubted that Zach had any prior knowledge with the layout of the air ducts, Cammie relented.
Townsend and Abigail were positioned outside, by the window, sending updates in two minute intervals. Cammie and Bex resigned themselves to being positioned outside of the main door, in an attempt to listen in on the Circle's discussion. Meanwhile, Solomon had successfully taken off the metal crate and set it aside. He turned back to look at Zach and Max, cocking his head to the side as if he was questioning whether or not they were coming.
And then Solomon went in.
Zach motioned for Max to go in after Solomon and Zach took up rear. It was cramped, especially cramped for three grown men who made it over six feet. And dusty. Max mentioned that thought aloud.
"Of course, it hasn't been cleaned since the last time I came through," Solomon commented casually as if it was an everyday occurrence. Even Zach was taken aback by Solomon's statement and he thought he knew just about everything there was to know about his teacher.
"Air ducts make the best escape routes," was all Solomon said in response to Zach's inquires about why Solomon had been in the air ducts in the first place. With the way Solomon navigated through the air ducts like a pro, Zach wagered he had been here multiple times. Either that or Solomon had done an extensive study of the blueprint. The former seemed more likely, knowing Solomon.
After ten minutes of crawling through the ducts, Max's knees begin to hurt from the contact with the metal, but there was no space for him to move anywhere except forward. So he kept going, despite the throbbing pain.
"We're here," Solomon whispered into his comms unit. Solomon sprawled out flat onto his stomach, his eyes peering through the vent to see the events down below. While from the window or the main door, the others had a hard time making out the Circle's words, Solomon, Max, and Zach was able to hear every word, loud and clear.
"I see Edwards," Solomon relayed through the comms, "He's on the stage." While Solomon scanned the crowd to memorize all of the Circle members' faces, Max was preoccupied with something else entirely. Being particularly short, Beth wasn't easy to spot, but Max eventually found her, standing off to the right, about five rows away from the stage. Her eyes were fixated intently on Edwards.
And she seemed perfectly at ease, even surrounded by multiple Circle members that were twice her size.
"Decker," Solomon whispered, tearing Max's eyes off of Beth and followed Solomon's line of sight.
"Blackthorne's Decker?" Zach asked, hovering over Max to get a glimpse through the vent.
"Blackthorne's Decker," Solomon confirmed, relaying this information through the comms unit. On the other side, Grant let out a strangled choking noise upon hearing that name, being the only one besides the three of them who knew Decker personally.
"That guy," Zach stated, pointing in the general direction of a black haired man with an average build, "He's the one that I intercepted the note from."
"You could have taken him," Max whispered back, "How did he injure you?"
Zach tossed him a dirty look, before explaining, "He had help."
The three of them continued to listen in onto the Circle's discussion of their next course of action, mentally making notes on how they were going to foil their plan. Edwards was at the forefront of the discussion, with occasional members of the crowd tossing in their opinions and doubts.
Inevitably, the topic of moles within the Circle came up. Max watched his uncle whip out his gun in a matter of seconds, the sound echoing throughout the room. The three of them watched as the black haired man that Zach had intercepted the note from fall and for everyone's attention to swing onto him. Solomon relayed situation through when Townsend questioned the source of the sound, but Max was focused on Beth. Upon seeing the man die, Beth's eyes had darkened considerable and her face morphed into an unreadable expression. Beth tore her eyes away from the dead body and settled her gaze on Edwards, who had been giving her a pointed look.
"A warning," Zach commented, seeing the same thing that Max had, "Beth is part of the inner Circle so Edwards has no reason to suspect her."
Max narrowed his eyes at Zach's comment, "Are you implying that Beth isn't loyal to the Circle?"
"She isn't," Zach confirmed as Edwards brought the Circle members' attention back onto him, their dead comrade all but forgotten, "Beth just wanted you to think she was so you wouldn't interfere."
"But she told you?"
"There's only three people in the world who would understand what she is doing," Zach explained, "And one of them is dead, so there's only two of us." Zach motioned to himself and Solomon to emphasize his point. Max opened his mouth to ask another question, but Solomon cut him off with a very pointed look that meant for him to save it for later.
"It's time." With that, Solomon moved to lift up the air vent, setting it aside. Solomon stuck his head through the gap, surveying the entirety of the room, taking in some of the details that Solomon had missed due to the previously limited view. Max noted that Beth's eyes darted upwards in their directions. She pressed her lips together, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
"What's the plan?" Zach asked.
"We jump on the count of three," Solomon stated.
"That's crazy," Max responded, but was gearing himself to jump down into the midst of a hundred Circle members who were most definitely armed.
"You haven't experienced crazy yet," Solomon replied lightly, with a small smile playing on his lips.
It turns out that Solomon didn't need to count because white smoke began to fill up the air at a rapid pace. Solomon quickly hopped out of the air duct and down below, disappearing in the smoke. Zach quickly followed right after he gave the go ahead for the rest of the CIA squad to enter into the room. Closing his eyes tightly, Max jumped, bracing himself from the impact.
Surprisingly, he landed on two feet, but Max stumbled for a couple of steps before he regained his footing. A person bumped into him and that person immediately reached out to grab him, but Max fought back, managing to knock the figure over. Despite the tears that had formed in the corner of Max's eyes and the cough that threatened to overtake him, Max managed to securely pin the man to the ground.
Gunshots pierced through the air and Max desperately hoped that none of his comrades were the ones being hit, but there wasn't much he could do until the smoke cleared the air. In fact, Max didn't even know if the man beneath him was a friend or foe, but Max didn't want to take any chances.
When the smoke cleared, Max was met with the side of many Circle members lying on the ground, some already gone still, while others continued to writhe in pain. Some that were Circle members were subduing other Circle members.
Double agents, Max thought to himself.
CIA were scattered around the room; some subduing Circle members, while others had their guns pointed right at the stage. Where Beth, Decker and Edwards were having a standoff. Beth's gun was jammed into Decker's side while Edwards' gun was pointing at her. Decker's gun laid a few feet away, out of his reach.
"So the real leak was you all along," Edwards commented, and Max almost snorted to himself. As if Edwards didn't already long suspect Beth, judging from his spectacle of killing the black haired man to serve as a warning.
His family was crazy, Max thought to himself. He considered it a miracle that he turned out alright, despite being influenced by his father and uncle, who seemed to be competing to be the most insane.
"You were an idiot to trust me," Beth responded back and Max smiled to himself. In the end, Beth had been on their side all along, even if she didn't want to admit it to him.
"The Cavan blood runs in your veins. You can't escape from your legacy no matter how much you want to. You deluded yourself into thinking that I blackmailed you into doing the Circle's deeds, but all along it was of your own will." Judging from the shocked looks on some of the Circle members' faces, it was clear that Beth's heritage hadn't been exactly well known. Even after the CIA tried digging up Beth's lineage, they still only came up with Beth being the descendant of Ioseph Cavan, the original founder of the Circle. The identities of all of the generations in between were still unknown.
Max heard Decker let out a groan of pain as Beth jammed the gun harder into his side.
"The CIA may take down the Circle today," Edwards was saying, but Max's attention was more focused on that fact that his finger was so close to pushing the trigger, "But there are hundreds of us out there. The Circle will rise again."
Edwards fired. Instinctively, Max's body lurched forward, as if he was going to run onto the stage and block the bullet, but his mind forced his body to remain rooted to his position. Even if he had moved, there was no way Max would make it in time and he would leave himself vulnerable to attack from the Circle member that he had subdued.
Max watched as Beth reacted within a split second and released her hold on Decker, shoving him right into Edwards' line of fire. While Beth had reacted quickly, by the time Decker registered what was happening, it was too late. Decker took the bullet, toppling to the floor with a loud thud. In that time span, Beth had managed to cross the distance between herself and Edwards and had her gun pointed at his heart, while his rested on her forehead.
Max knew that Beth was going to die trying to take Edwards down and she wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Max also knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop her from sending herself to her death.
"You're braver than I thought," Edwards stated with a low chuckle, in a way that suggested that he found amusement in their current predicament.
"What a pity," Edwards lamented, in a mocking tone, "You would have been our greatest asset. Unfortunately-"
Max had been so sure that Edwards was going to fire the moment he finished his sentence. Max had been so sure that he would have seen both Beth and Edwards falling onto the ground at the same time. Max had been so sure that the CIA would have wanted it that way, to save the trouble of dealing with Beth, a girl whose intentions aren't all that clear.
Except Max hadn't predicted that Edwards would be the first to fall. Judging from the shocked expression written on Beth's face, she hadn't expected someone to save her either. Both Max and Beth turned in the direction of the assailant; both of their eyes widening in recognition.
The Director of Blackthorne.
Beth called out his name, but the Director's focus wasn't on her. Instead, his eyes scanned the crowd, of both the dead and alive, taking in everyone's presence. Then his dark eyes landed on Max.
Although the Director remained silent during the entire duration of it, his eyes spoke volumes. Anger, dislike, and perhaps a hint of concern? All directed at Max.
When the Director finally spoke, Max realized exactly who he was. The head of the Circle. The one that the CIA had been tracking down all along. And he had been there all along, right under their noses, pretending to work with the CIA. One who had been almost a grandfather like figure to Max during his time at Blackthorne, but it wasn't out of genuine care.
Perhaps, he was just keeping tabs on the progress of the Circle's next successor, Max thought wryly to himself.
"What do you want?" Beth's voice was shaking, even though she tried to keep it levelled. That spoke volumes to Max at how much power the Director had, if even Beth was shaken by his presence.
"You're my legacy, so you tell me," the Director responded, leaving Beth speechless for once. The static crackled in Max's ears, reminding him that he still had a comms unit in his ear the entire time.
And Townsend was relaying pertinent information that Max hadn't been so sure that he wanted to know, "He's the missing puzzle piece that we had been looking for all along. Ioseph Cavan the Fourth, undercover as the Director of the Blackthorne Institute as Noah Advark. He had two sons, Ioseph Cavan the Fifth and Joseph Cavan. Out of jealousy and greed for power, Joseph killed his older brother in order to become the next leader of the Circle. Or he would had been."
At this point, Townsend paused as Beth began to chant "Long live the Circle of Cavan" repeatedly.
"But Joseph fell in love with a woman and had a child," Townsend continued, his words rushed, drowning out Beth's chants. Although Max's attention remained riveted onto Beth, his mind was processing the information Townsend had just spilled, "That child is Bethany. And she had been the one to kill her father."
And now Beth was the one to kill her grandfather.
It happened in an instant. One moment, Beth had been chanting "Long live the Circle of Cavan," and in the next, her words changed to "The Circle of Cavan will die." As soon as the words left her mouth, Beth fired, her aim true and Ioseph Cavan the Fourth found a bullet in his skull, by the very same girl who he had saved moments prior.
"The Circle will die with me tonight," Beth stated, turning towards the crowd, her voice shaking, but her hand steadily held the tip of her gun to her heart.
"Beth!" a woman cried. Max recognized her as one of the CIA's higher ups, one who was always the calm and collected, while the younger agents began to crack under the pressure. Townsend tried to stop her as she brushed past him on her quest to get closer to Beth, but his pointed look didn't deter her at all.
"Mom," Beth called out softly, her eyes tearing up as she spotted the source of the voice. As Beth continued to speak to her mother, the same thoughts ran through all of the CIA members present. The biggest scandal in all of CIA history...a CIA agent fraternizing with the enemy.
"Remember last time, you told me that the next time we met, we would be a CIA agent and Circle member and not mother and daughter?" Beth was saying. Cammie's heart ached at hearing those words come out of her mouth, Circle member or not. Cammie couldn't imagine being pitted against her own mother, ever, and judging from Bex's contorted expression, Bex was feeling the exact same sentiments.
"The CIA wants you alive," Beth's mother stated, but everyone knew that only a selected few cared to keep her alive. It had been the same case with Solomon, despite his clear loyalties to the CIA, the higher ups in the CIA decided that it was too complicated to clean up the mess of a reputation that he had left behind. Just like it was going to be for Beth.
But Beth was adamant in killing herself. When Beth began to recount all of her deeds, Max couldn't help but still believe the good in her, to believe that she had a reason for doing all of those things.
"His name is Matthew Morgan and I killed him in cold blood." Rachel Morgan and Cammie began to tear up upon hearing his name, but the two of them held their emotions in check. Bex placed a comforting hand on Cammie's shoulder and Zach wanted to cross the room to be next to her, consequences be damned, but he stayed rooted to his position. Solomon kept a calm expression, but he was hurting badly on the inside.
"And I killed them in cold blood." Abigail Cameron's eyes hardened upon hearing the fate of Agent Richardson, having worked with the kind-hearted man once on a mission in Turkey. Although Agent Richardson was serious when he needed to be, Abby knew him as a humorous and light-hearted man. The last that she had heard of him was that he requested to be taken out of field work to focus on his family first. And now he was dead.
"The English diplomat and the rest of Ambassador James' family were collateral damage." When it happened, it had been on the English news channel for about a week. Townsend had been put on the investigation team when the police were unable to find anything substantial. Two weeks later, Townsend had been the one to personally sign the document that stated it was an accident. He had been bested by a nine year old and failed to deliver justice to Ambassador James and his family. Townsend curled his fist out of anger, but he had only his inability to blame.
"I left him to die in cold blood." Max knew, of course. His dear uncle had graciously decided to inform him how Marcus died when he caught up to him at the stadium, but he failed to mention that Beth had been there too. And she made it out alive. Without Marcus.
"I let all of that happen in cold blood." Cammie flinched at the mention of the summer where she had been held captive by the Circle. Although her memories never fully returned, she recalled bits and pieces, enough to know that she had been tortured. The blurry figure that was always at her bedside in her memories was Beth. The figure that Cammie had begged to make it all stop.
"All of it was an act." Beth may have convinced herself that it was an act, but her actions didn't lie. Beth cared. It wasn't an act.
"But I still let them die. In cold blood." They didn't have to die, but the Circle wanted publicity. There wasn't a single thing that Beth could have done to save them, already saving Amy was a feat in it of itself.
"I'm sorry." Max acted on instinct; his brain not even processing what he was doing. It was only in the aftermath did Max realize that he had fired, the momentum of the bullet sinking into Beth's arm threw off her aim and caused her to fire at her shoulder instead.
Her mother was the first one to rush to her side, sobbing as she began to recount all of her regrets for not being there for Beth like a mother should have, for not pulling her away from the Circle's influence like a CIA agent should have.
Blackthorne was located in the middle of nowhere, so it was a miracle that Beth didn't die from blood loss.
From the doorway of Beth's hospital room, Max stared at her prone body. Her skin was deathly pale, an unusual sight since she was always so tan. Needles stuck out of her arm and the white tape that held the needles in place blended in with her skin color. Although cleaned of the blood, her dark haired laid limp and matted, like it hadn't been cleaned for weeks.
When Max walked out of the hospital that day, he vowed to himself that was the last time he would see Beth. Avoiding her wouldn't be too hard since Beth would be in CIA custody and Max would be off somewhere.
Once upon a time, they were each other's best friend and confidant. Once upon a time, they were just two children racing down the halls of Blackthorne, their laughter piercing the silence. Once upon a time, Max had been a heartbroken boy at the loss of his best friend and Beth had been a girl who disappeared without a trace.
Perhaps in another life, they would have continued to be best friends, the best CIA duo, and lovers.
But in this life, they were CIA and Circle.
A/N: Hi guys!
So this is just another version of chapter 17. Originally, I wrote this just out of curiosity because I realized that Beth was too focused on the Circle members to really register any of the CIA's reactions. So here you have it, another side of the story.
Of course, this chapter isn't really necessary as part of the original story, but I thought it would include some extra details about what happened that day.
Speaking of, I'm currently in the middle of writing another bonus chapter featuring Beth after she's released from CIA's custody. The epilogue vaguely skims over some important details that happened in the 10+ years of Beth's life until she meets Max again, but this chapter will be focusing on how Beth actually came to terms with being still alive. I'll post the chapter once I finished writing it. :)
Thank you for reading!