So the following bit is from neither Fates nor Greater. In fact, the following is a short scene from a story I haven't even published on fanfiction.net, though I did share a bit of the first chapter on the blog, and have kicked around ideas for it for awhile in my head. You can read the first chapter (and synopsis) here, of course.
And you can read the scene after the break.
13 Months After the First Chapter...
It wasn’t hard to find the theater marked on the envelope, even though it was buried in the backstreets, practically squeezed between what looked like an upscale ladies’ boutique that had fallen on hard times and a shoe shop. If she’d been at all given to philosophy, Sarah might have supposed that it was sad that this theater would soon be overtaken by Multiplexes and the IMAX revolution, given that the exterior showed more character in a single brick than any of those newer places. The agent in her, however, only checked it over for egress points, weak spots, chokepoints, and anything else that might come to her advantage. And then she trotted up to the teen working inside the glass booth and handed over the ticket that had been shoved under her hotel room door.
It figured. She’d hopped three time zones for him, and he wanted to see a movie. Though, she had to admit, it was a pretty decent meeting place. She hadn’t noticed any security cameras in the nearby vicinity, and the camera system in the lobby, above the aging popcorn machine, looked like a closed circuit loop.
Chances are, they’d find the footage from tonight mysteriously disappeared if they ever thought to look for it. He was good at covering his tracks that way.
She headed down the path to the “downstairs theater,” as the ticket-taker had called it, her heels making nary a sound on carpet well worn from years of feet. The interior was a little musty, but it wasn’t unpleasant: beneath the carpet, she imagined there were hardwood floors, and the façade placed the building renovated in the fifties, though she figured it was much older than that. The theater was mostly empty when she got in there, a few people scattered around in singles and pairs. None of their builds matched his.
It took a leap of faith, but she found a seat near the exit and sat.
He didn’t keep her waiting long. The previews had already started when she had come in, and only a couple had wheeled through—one for a 1970s sci-fi movie, one for a romantic comedy that she could admit looked pretty interesting—before she sensed movement behind her. She tensed.
“Just me.” His voice was a mere whisper. “Relax.”
“Were you followed?”
“Please.” She heard the smile in his voice. “It’s me.”
She shrugged. “Me neither.”
“Excellent. Got something for you.” A manila folder slid through the gap between her and the seat next to her. Sarah carefully took it and flipped it open, keeping her upper body still so that nobody else in the theater would realize she was no longer paying attention to the previews. A glance was all it took.
She ignored protocol and instead whirled. “How the hell did you find out about this?”
Chuck grinned back at her. “Shh. There are others in here.”
“No, seriously, the movie’s starting.”
Chuck just shook his head. Part of her noted that he looked good—whole, no missing body parts, and more dressed up than she usually saw him in a button-down and khakis. “You did a grid search on Moldovan assets, in particular the price of exports. It showed up on the radar.”
“Not mine, and that’s all I’m saying about the subject.” Chuck’s face abruptly took that hard glint that she’d learned to associate with getting too close to the forbidden topics. “But I pulled the file for you. Don’t worry, the info’s all good. I double-checked.”
“Maybe there’s some records of a Norman Travis wandering around Moldova, asking questions. Don’t be surprised if you hear about him when you go poking around.”
Norman Travis. NT. He’d introduced himself to her as Nick Tucker, and she’d since gleaned three or four aliases with those initials. Even so, Sarah didn’t let her face give that away. “You sure it’s smart to be poking around in CIA cases?”
Unexpectedly, that full grin came back. “Hey, I give you crappy intel one time and then you won’t let me see you again. I was covering my bases. And you might want to turn around. You’re missing the movie.”
Sarah didn’t give a damn about the movie, and he knew that, but she turned around anyway. “Why are you giving this to me?”
“Because flowers are too ordinary? And you seemed like you could use a break.”
“Have you been spying on me?”
“Not at all. Your work computer? Different story.”
She was going to have the techs look over her laptop the minute she left the meet, Sarah decided.
She felt Chuck shift behind her. He’d folded his arms atop the back of her seat and judging from the fact that she could feel his breath on her neck, just under her right ear, he’d rested his chin on his wrists. “Look, sometimes I can ignore the red tape you can’t. There aren’t any strings attached to this. I just thought you could use a little help.”
“And helping me is how you think you’ll stay ahead of me in this game of spy versus spy we always seem to find ourselves playing?” She shifted in her seat, just a little bit, to get a look at him. No way was she admitting that his nearness was having any effect on her. “I could arrest you right now. Just think of the bonus I’d make this year.”
“Nah. You’re too soft-hearted for that.”
Now there was an accusation nobody had ever made about her. “Excuse me?”
“Shh, movie’s starting.” Chuck’s eyes practically sparkled with mirth. “I haven’t seen this one before.”
She gaped at him as he leaned back in his chair again, folding his hands together over his stomach, and by all appearances, relaxed to enjoy the movie. “Wait a second,” she hissed. “You’re actually sticking around to watch the movie?”
“Well, duh. I just told you I hadn’t seen it before.”
“But this is a drop. You make the drop, and then you lea—wait a second, wait just a damn second. Is this a date?”
“Nope,” Chuck said, and to her surprise, rose to his feet. He then grinned at her one last time—and left.
Well, that was unexpected. Sarah nearly darted out after him, to demand an explanation about why he had been watching her and keeping up to date with her work cases, but she reminded herself to stay put, that it was for the best that she and Chuck see as little of each other as possible. He was, after all, the Ghost, and she was ostensibly supposed to be tracking him. The bosses overlooked for field operatives, she knew, but she imagined they wouldn’t look too kindly on the fact that the woman charged with locating and apprehending Chuck was instead getting important intel from him to solve other cases. So Chuck leaving was smart, even if it was far too soon.
She forced her face to stay pointed toward the screen, only half paying attention to what was happening in the movie, while she counted down the minutes until she could leave. She’d have to stay for quite a bit of the movie, she figured, since she and Chuck had been pretty obvious about talking to each other during their drop. Longer if the film wasn’t engrossing and the others in the theater were shifting around. She’d just have to wait it out, and try not to feel that stab of loneliness. The meeting had been far too short. Ruthlessly, she told herself to suck it up. Knowing him, Chuck would be back when she least expected it.
She sensed movement again, and Chuck proved her right by plopping right into the seat next to hers. He had his arms full—a bulging bucket of popcorn, two drinks, a box of candy.
“Now,” he said, “it’s a date.”
Though it would have been smarter for one of them to leave a few minutes before the end of the movie, to stagger their departure times, both of them stayed. The popcorn bucket was mostly empty—Chuck’s fault—the milk duds were gone—her fault—and yet they stayed right until the final credits began to roll. Sarah hadn’t paid much attention to what was actually happening on the screen itself; she didn’t get much opportunity to see Chuck, what with their meetings being less than five minutes long, usually, and stuck in the back of some nightclub without video surveillance, or on a too-public street where neither of them could look directly at the other. So she indulged herself and studied Chuck out of the corner of her eye. She’d memorized his profile on their first night together, so this exploration was more about remembering things her memory had grown fuzzy about.
For his part, he seemed to be wholly into the film, laughing at all of the jokes, frowning whenever something unpleasant happened, smiling when the characters were happy. His free hand snatched bits of popcorn and a couple of times, he tossed them into his mouth, catching them easily.
He kept his other arm around her shoulders. A few minutes later, she leaned back and allowed herself to relax.
When the credits rolled, he stretched. “I hear the river’s pretty this time of night,” he said, and just like earlier, left.
Did he really just not believe in conventional good-byes? Sarah let him have a minute or so of lead-time before she picked up her jacket and pulled that on. The night was chilly with the promise of fall once she’d slipped outside, but she just slid her hands into her pockets.
I hear the river’s pretty this time of night.
Not for the first time that day, she wondered if this little town in Northern California had any significance to Chuck. He’d sure picked a pretty spot, and truth be told, he could have chosen some place closer to Moldova. She’d seen him yawn a few times during the film, which told her he was either relaxed enough around her to let something slip—she doubted that—or he was just genuinely weary. She was taking her vacation, which meant she could have picked anywhere on the planet, well, anywhere pretty, without it looking suspicious. But the winery she’d chosen for her cover vacation was a beautiful spot, so she didn’t mind.
She made her way to the river, wandering a little and pausing to peer into some darkened shop windows. The sleepy little town apparently had rolled up its sidewalks for the night; she only passed a couple of people on the street, and most of the shops were closed. But Chuck was right: the river was very pretty. Even more so, the sidewalk path alongside it was both intermittently lit and not watched by security cameras.
“What’d you think of the movie?” Chuck asked, standing up from the park bench he’d been waiting on.
“I liked it,” Sarah lied, since she hadn’t paid attention. “Is this business or still part of our ‘date?’”
“Agent Walker never rests,” Chuck said, but he was smiling. “Any reason it can’t be both?”
Maybe it was the town, or perhaps the fact that she didn’t have to report in to Langley until Monday and she had just two days to be nothing but herself, but Sarah raised an eyebrow. “I’d prefer one more than the other.”
“Okay,” Chuck said, his face closing off like it always did at some point during their infrequent meetings. It made her sad, how easily that happened. Something about him just seemed to say he should be an open, happy disposition. Whatever had happened to alter that had to have been horrible. “Well, you have the intel, then. Good night.”
He turned to stride away.
“That wasn’t the one I was talking about,” Sarah said, and Chuck stopped in his tracks. When he swiveled, his expression puzzled, she raised her eyebrow again. “I took some vacation.”
“You took vacation.”
“Mmhmm. I have a couple of days with nothing to do, it appears.”
Chuck wandered a step closer. “They say idle hands are the devil’s playthings, Miss Walker.”
“What about you?” Sarah asked. “Do ghosts get vacations?”
“I wish.” A frustrated look flickered over Chuck’s face for a split-second. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help you with yours. There’s something I have to do.”
Disappointment felt like a sharp blade between the ribs. “Oh,” she said. Just another case of two ships in the night, as Chuck had put it in the nightclub in Bucharest. Their schedules just never seemed to synchronize.
“That said, no reason that something can’t wait for a walk in the moonlight. Especially if you’re there, too.” Chuck reached out his hand, and Sarah wasted no time linking his fingers with her own.