Sparrow had collected Cyrin three years before.
Little had changed about the Arcade in Cyrin’s time there, and he found it hard to recall anything different about most of the nights at the Fortune’s bar before he’d been found, before he’d met Mireya and Clarity, before he’d been the Specter. The neon was always bright, the music was always loud, there was usually a brawl or at least a scuffle at another table that he would ignore. Even when that familiar rhythm had been disrupted one evening by someone coming up beside him, Cyrin hadn’t immediately known there would be something different about that time.
“Is this spot open?” A smooth, low voice spoke to his right.
Cyrin twisted his hurricane glass on the counter boredly, letting it spin. “Yeah.”
The voice laughed. “Perfect. You’re Cyrin, aren’t you? I happen to be looking for you.”
It was then that Cyrin looked over and actually saw Sparrow. He’d caught a few details in the corner of his eye, like brown hair hanging in a short ponytail and mechanical prosthetic legs, but he hadn’t been expecting that wide smile. It was charismatic, almost to the point where it made him less trusting— those teeth seemed too white, too flashy. Months later, he’d hear Mireya call Sparrow an anglerfish and wonder why he hadn’t thought of that of himself.
“That’s me,” Cyrin said. “What is it?”
Sparrow chuckled and sat down on the stool next to him. “I’m Julian Sparrow. I believe I have a job for you.”
“A job,” Cyrin repeated flatly.
Sparrow nodded. “I hear you’ve been looking for something high-paying, but that you haven’t had much luck. Trying to get rich fast?”
From the prosthetic legs, Cyrin guessed that Sparrow must have felt the weight of a crushing hospital bill at some point. Even so, they didn’t think they should share that they needed to pay one off for Autumn. If they couldn’t… No, they shouldn’t think about that either. “Something like that.”
Sparrow smirked. “I’m going to let you in on something. That doesn’t happen in the Arcade, not unless you can do a job no one else can. You’ve got to be in demand first to make demands, or else you get slim pickings. Luckily for you, I’ve got one I want you for.”
Cyrin paused, cautious. “How much is it for?”
“I’m offering twenty million.”
That was plenty. The price was an order of magnitude higher than even their best heist before this, and they regularly got much less than that. Still, even though Cyrin wanted to shout a yes, they knew they had to ask more first. “What would I be doing for twenty million?”
Sparrow set a folded piece of paper on the counter, sliding it towards him with that smile again. “I’m not going to say it out loud, as it’s rather… dramatic. You’ll find it there.”
Cyrin found his behavior to be dramatic, but he raised his eyebrows and unfolded the paper. The text of instructions was short. Even so, it took him several long moments for him to read it enough times that it sank in.
He actually laughed.
He laughed for so long that his chest hurt, and he thought he might choke. There was nothing funny about the job, but the idea of him being wanted for the task was so ridiculous that he couldn’t help it, and he’d had a few drinks not long before. He finally managed to catch his breath before he laughed for a little longer.
“What’s that for?” Sparrow asked. They’d expected him to be angry or offended, but he only sounded curious.
“Are you serious?” Cyrin wheezed through their laughter, folding the paper up and pushing it back before stabbing a finger at it. “You’ve got the wrong person.”
“I don’t think I do,” Sparrow said, with a grin that should have scared them if they’d had the sense to be afraid at that moment.
“I don’t do anything like that— I feel sickened just being asked. I’m sorry to say it, but you’re wasting your time here.” Cyrin scoffed. “I’ll look somewhere else. Go find someone who does something besides theft, there’s plenty of people like that around here. Or better yet, don’t do it at all.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t be one of them for twenty million dollars?” Sparrow asked, raising his eyebrows.
Cyrin laughed again. “Not a chance. Take that elsewhere.”
“You might not want to be so quick to say no,” Sparrow remarked, leaning in. “Your options—”
“Yeah, yeah, they’re limited.” Cyrin gestured over their shoulder, waving him away. “Leave me alone. I’m not doing that.”
He’d expected Sparrow to be mad, or at least annoyed, but instead, he’d just smiled again and stood up. “Very well. We’ll see about that.” With that, he walked off, vanishing into the hidden entrance to the Arcade.
“Do you have any idea who that was?” the bartender snapped, moving in front of Cyrin. “Are you insane?”
“I got a name from him, yes,” Cyrin said, glancing back at his glass. All the amusement for the situation had left him, but he didn’t know why.
The bartender scoffed. “How new are you?”
“I’ve been here for a year and a half.”
The bartender shook his head. “You haven’t learned something crucially important yet,” he muttered. “If he wants something, Sparrow doesn’t take no as an answer.”
It was only two days later when Sparrow found Cyrin again. That morning, Autumn had been as smiling as ever when he visited, but her face was paler. Her coughing happened more often, lasted longer, and seemed to shake her harder. He’d had to leave early so that the doctors could help, and although he was assured she’d be fine that day, he wondered at what point he’d need to start counting them. Cyrin had only just gotten back to the Arcade, almost dizzy with worry, when he heard that voice again.
“Nice to see you again, Cyrin. Still trying your luck?”
Cyrin spun around. “What do you want?”
Sparrow laughed, and the sound infuriated him. “You’re not going to find anything better than what I offered you here, just so you know.”
“From a purely practical point of view, I’m not the person you want for that, because that’s not what I do,” Cyrin said flatly. “That doesn’t even get into the problems I have with it morally. It’s horrible. So stop offering.”
Sparrow chuckled. “I think you’re plenty capable. You just haven’t used your skills in that way yet.”
Cyrin narrowed their eyes. If laughing Sparrow off hadn’t worked, they’d have to drive him off. “Do you want to hear me say no again differently? Because I can tell you. Saints.”
Sparrow stepped a little closer, a curious look in his green eyes. “That reminds me. You follow a Saint, don’t you? I can see why that’d make the decision harder, but don’t worry, I can make it very easy.”
Cyrin froze. That wasn’t something a stranger should know about him. It would have been reasonably easy to deny, but he was much more concerned about how Sparrow had learned that than calling it false. “How do you know that?”
“Some people are well-documented,” Sparrow said, smirking. “It’s possible to get a lot of information about them. Sometimes it’s harder when they fall off the radar for a couple years, but… well.” He shrugged. “Sometimes you discover things like that.”
Cyrin remembered he’d suppressed his panic by reassuring himself. That doesn’t mean he knows who you are or where you come from. He can’t know all that. He learned a thing or two and thinks he can scare you with it.
It had been hollow, in the end.
“What a nice way to say you’re a stalker,” they spat, turning around and hurrying off. “You’re not getting me to do your sick work.”
They knew Sparrow was smiling behind them. He had to be.