"You're not going to believe it, Milly!"
James burst out laughing as he pulled the visor from his head. His eyes were practically sparkling with excitement and his body was shaking not from the cold but from the multitude of emotions running through him.
The match had been a simple player versus player environment, but what he encountered was completely beyond his expectations.
"I think we got caught up in a minor squabble between two very rich 'gamers'. That fighter had no idea what he was doing!"
James rubbed his eyes before quickly massaging both of his bare arms. He suddenly became aware of the temperature in the room. It hadn't been cold earlier, but he suddenly felt like he needed his clothes.
When no answer came, James squinted through the light to see Milly sitting at the door. Her head was in her hands.
Fear gripped him. He immediately assumed the worst.
"Milly, did the watchdogs come? Are you okay?"
The young woman looked at James through puffy red eyes.
Cursing himself, James realised that the risk was too high and he shouldn't have taken the job. Milly had so much more to lose than he did.
"Hey... hey, don't worry about it! Was I in too long?"
James tried to reassure Milly as he got out of the rig.
Without even looking around for his shirt, he wobbled over to where she sat at the door and placed an arm on her shoulder.
"What's wrong? If it's the watchdogs... what's the worst they can do? Create a new F-Class for me?"
Normally Milly would laugh or at least smile at his terrible jokes, but this was a whole different side to her that he had never seen before.
"Talk to me, Milly. What's going on?"
James tried again, hoping she'd respond.
"... why didn't you tell me?"
She finally answered, her tone was half cold and half breaking with emotion. The accusation in her voice caught James by surprise.
"Tell you what?"
He answered in genuine confusion.
Milly looked down at his wrist and James noticed for the first time that his notifications were flashing erratically.
"That you were C-Class! That you were just like me... the medical bills... you... you were a fucking PARAGON!"
James answered simply as he tapped the notification light.
Thousands of messages remained unread in front of him but he could see that some of them were opened.
If this happened to him in the past, he would be furious at the invasion of privacy... but since becoming E-Class, he had nobody.
DV8 and The Neophyte Bar were the only places he felt like he still mattered, or even existed.
The last ten years had given James a new perspective on how people treat others around them.
Milly reading his messages meant she had a good reason to do so. He was sure of it.
"I'm sorry, Milly."
James eventually admitted with a guilty expression.
"In my defence though, I did tell you that I was just as good as the Paragons..."
Milly gaped at James as emotion finally returned to her face.
"EVERYONE SAYS THAT."
He had never seen her so confused, frustrated and worked up over anything like this before and it brought a warm smile to his face.
"Could you keep the licence open just a little longer by the way?"
James asked gently as he looked Milly in the eye.
"I just kinda want to tell them I'm doing okay and not to worry."
"... about that."
Milly at least had the decency to look guilty.
"You might want to scroll down to the most recent messages."
James frowned at her response, not really sure what he was looking for. He didn't feel as though they had enough time to go through them all.
He wanted her to sever the connection so that the watchdogs wouldn't figure out what they were up to.
Milly's face showed that she was serious, so James did as she asked and started to scroll down to the most recent notifications.
|You are now connected with Don Orso (Aliases Known: Scarr)|
|You are now connected with Helena Murdoch (Aliases Known: Helena)|
|You are now connected with Alexander Vance (Aliases Known: Khance)|
|You are now connected with Varya Weaver (Aliases Known: Kincső)|
|You are now connected with Frederick Hargreaves (Aliases Known: Greaves)|
James couldn't breathe as he looked at all of the names listed in front of him. He spent countless days trying to recall everything he knew about his friends, in the vain hope that he could remember something that would point to their real identities.
Looking back at Milly with disbelief and excitement on his face, he couldn't control his emotions.
"We were all underage and protected by social privacy laws... nobody knew each other's real identity. Greaves, Khance, Scarr... That's all I knew them as. They never met James Sylvester, they only knew me as Travesty."
Smiling at James, Milly took out her own terminal and severed the verification process.
"I wasn't sure they'd remember me."
James admitted guiltily as he wiped his eyes briefly. His payment for the Platinum job was credited to his account, but James didn't care at all.
In front of him, was a full address book... he was connected to them now. James had spent years wondering about what he would say to them if he had the opportunity. Would he congratulate them on their success, would he ask them to meet with him? Would he ask to play again with them if they had the time?
"Thank you for this, Milly... to be honest I don't even know what to say to them!"
"Well, you better think very very fast."
Milly admitted as she threw his shirt at him.
"Wait... who is this?"
|You are now connected with Quentin Bell|
James' eyes were wide as he looked at her. His shirt lay at his feet and Milly started to clean the room around them.
"Please just remember a moment ago when you were thanking me and you weren't angry. Lets remember that exact emotion right now. Okay?"
Milly suggested without looking at James.
"Why is the CEO of Abidden connecting with me?"
James looked back at his wrist and then back at Milly.
"Why do I need to think fast?"
A thunderous shout echoed out from the hallway behind them.
"WHERE IS HE?!"
James' eyes widened at the sound. Everyone in the district knew it. Anyone that had seen a single episode of the Abidden broadcast would know it.
"Milly, did... did you invite Greaves here?"
The young woman laughed nervously.
"Of course not!"
James hastily put on his shirt and Milly threw him his pants that had been neatly folded at the base of the rig.
"They kinda all invited themselves..."
A moment of awkward silence filled the air before the shout appeared even louder than before.
It was definitely Greaves.
"You might want to fix that! You have Rig-Hair."
Milly teased as she pointed at his mop of black hair. Before he could retort, she danced out of the room and into the corridor.
James could hear her sing-song voice, back to her incredibly professional tone as she addressed one of the most famous groups of people in the world.
"James is just getting dressed. He'll be with you in a sec."
He had a minute to think, but his mind was blank. Should he thank them for coming, apologise for not being able to message them for so long. Should he explain what happened with the hospital?
Steeling himself, he decided that he should congratulate them on the success they achieved as the Paragons. After all it was their lifelong dream to become famous through gaming.
Smiling, James psyched himself up as he straightened his shirt and put a hand through his hair.
Before he could even step through the door, the air was knocked from his lungs.
Helena's arms wrapped tight around him. Her hand gripped the back of his head and her chin rested on his shoulder.
She whispered in his ear. It was a statement, a question and a sigh of relief all at once.
James openly felt the tears rolling down his face as he just nodded in response.
It was the first time in ten years that he actually felt that those words were true.