Wait a second, I thought Frea gave this story up.
Guess she didn't.
Or maybe she just needed to write something.
Either way, this picks up after Passion in Providence, Part I. Literally, it doesn't even have a scene break in the document on Frea's computer (which is named Romeo — Not a Date.doc) and sits on her desktop and taunts her daily.
But you know, Frea hopes you enjoy it.
— Frea's Subconscious
She didn’t go far: for one thing, she didn’t want to go outside in this neighborhood Nick had picked. Not out of fear, precisely—she could handle herself—but out of the sheer, intense knowledge that if something tried to mess with her, her instincts wouldn’t be kind. So instead of storming out of the diner, she instead headed deeper inside, toward the restroom.
It was disgusting inside. She expected nothing less. No stalls, just the one toilet, a sink, and a floor that probably hadn’t seen a mop since the last Bush was president, illuminated by a dubious and flickering fluorescent light. She tried not to look too hard at anything and instead crossed to the sink to stare at her reflection. The clothing made her look younger, but the fact that her skin was gray undercut that somewhat. Her eyes were red.
Had she been crying? She didn’t think so. It felt like her eyes were dry, so dry and gritty that it hurt to blink.
Bryce Larkin was dead. How many times had she wished him back to life in the past six months, just so that she could punch him? Just so that she could yell at him for going completely insane, blowing up government property, and leaving her to clean up the mess? How many times, she thought, had she instinctively turned to her left—he always seemed to stand to her left—to ask him a question and had been met with only empty air? She’d grown to think of that space as belonging to his ghost, the ghost of partners past, possibly looking out for her.
Only, he hadn’t been dead, that whole time. He’d been alive, and tortured, living the most awful existence known to mankind, and she hadn’t had a clue. Bryce would have known if it had happened to her, her mind whispered. He would have instinctively known where to look, how to find her.
Or maybe she was just beating herself up for the sheer hell of it.
After all, Bryce hadn’t ever been a paragon of anything. He didn’t know everything, and he certainly couldn’t read minds or instinctively know things others wouldn’t. He’d been a little too shady to be the good guy, a little too worldly to be the idealist. He’d projected a big image, but Sarah had been his partner, able to see at the end of the day what others hadn’t: that Bryce Larkin had faults and flaws, that he was a good person anyway. Maybe at times she’d thought he was too good of a person. At other times, she’d thought he had too many faults and too many flaws.
She really needed to stop thinking ill of the dead. Bryce wouldn’t think like this. Bryce would...
Sarah’s head shot up as the bathroom doorknob, which she thought she’d locked, turned. “It’s occupied,” she called.
The door stopped mid-swing, an inch open. “Yeah, I figured. Are you decent?”
Sarah said nothing.
From the other side, there was a sigh, and then the door finished opening. Nick let himself in, closed the door behind him, and seemed completely unaffected by her glare. “You didn’t throw up again, did you?”
Sarah glared at him. She had yet to turn to face him, but she could see his face clearly in the mirror.
“Going to take that as a no.”
“This is the ladies’ room.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I saw the sign on the door. I’m just checking to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m fine,” Sarah said through her teeth. “And I want to be alone.”
“I got that, I really did. I just...” Nick put his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet, in one instant becoming the picture of utter discomfort. “I’m just checking to make sure you’re all right,” he repeated, finally.
“I’m fine,” Sarah said again. When Nick flinched—not at her words, but the instinctive cringe of a person in pain—she nearly snarled. “Why are you doing this?”
“S-standing here?” Nick asked, looking surprised. He glanced behind him, but there was only the door.
“Being here at all. I beat the hell out of you today.” Sarah finally turned away from the sink and faced him, telling herself it was only her imagination that Nick backed up half an inch. “I kicked your ass.”
“The only ass that got kicked today—literally—belonged to you.”
This time, Sarah did snarl. She couldn’t categorize the noise that erupted from her in any other way, except that it was somehow primal and guttural. “I kicked your ass to hell and back and would have done worse if we hadn’t found—if we hadn’t found Bryce, and yet you’re here, and you gave me clothes, and now you’ve ordered soup—”
“Hey, the soup was for me. I said I missed lunch.”
“And I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you’re being nice. You’re my target, they’re paying me to find you.”
“You got taken off that assignment.”
“We’re still on opposite sides,” Sarah said, and felt the burn of tears against the back of her eyelids, a damning feeling. “You can’t be nice to me. You can’t.”
“And now you’re apologizing! Stop that!”
“Sor—” Nick broke off mid-word and gave her, of all things, an exasperated look. “Impossible standards.”
“You have impossible standards. It’s annoying. Did it ever occur to you that we’re not exactly on opposite sides of a line?” Nick leaned back against the doorway and grimaced as he did so—the move probably jarred a lot of the muscles she’d bruised in their fight earlier—but he didn’t move away. He also never looked away from her face, though she desperately wanted him to. He could probably see the threat of tears, but he made no comment. “I mean, sure, your bosses think I’m a criminal.”
“A criminal guilty of what?”
“Exactly. They haven’t given you a reason to arrest me, just that I’m your target and a person of interest. I could be completely innocent.”
“Yes, completely innocent. You haven’t broken a single law today.” Sarah couldn’t help it; she rolled her eyes, as they’d broken several laws to get from Boston to Providence. “You travel off the grid and carry chemical weapons that can knock people out. The NSA wants you. You carry a concealed weapon that I doubt you have a license for. You’ve got nothing but aliases—I don’t even know your real name. Sound like an innocent person to you?”
“In this case, yes. And it’s Chuck.”
Nick gave a half-shrug before he cringed again. He recovered to standing up straight, though she could see him gritting his teeth against the pain. “It’s Chuck. My name. Since, you know, you’re so curious.”
She didn’t believe him for a second. At this point in the conversation, if she were going to give a name, she’d give a fake one, too. But even so: “What kind of name is Chuck? Who names their kid that?”
“One of the great mysteries of the universe. But I’m not a criminal and the reason I’m being nice is because I’m not a scumbag.”
“How the hell do you know I won’t just take you into custody the first chance I get?”
Nick looked troubled, just for the briefest of seconds. Real doubt crossed his face, and if she’d been any slower or staring any less intently, she might have missed it. But his voice was completely indifferent when he said, “I don’t.”
“Then why take this risk?”
“I’m not going to leave somebody who just saw—saw that happen to somebody they cared for alone. Call me an idiot all you like, but that’s not the kind of thing I do.”
The bathroom seemed a lot blurrier all of a sudden; Sarah blinked hard to shove back the tears, cursing herself silently. She knew exactly why she wasn’t under control, but she’d been an agent for years. She should be stronger than this.
It only made her want to cry harder. In the end, she had to turn away from Nick—from Chuck, his name was Chuck—though she kept an eye on him in the mirror. Even admitting that much vulnerability made the spy side of her recoil in horror, but she didn’t have much of a choice. “Prove it,” she said.
“Prove to me you’re not a criminal. Tell me why the government wants you.” Sarah yanked out a couple of paper towels from the dispenser and wadded them up to blot away the moisture around her eyes.
“It doesn’t work like that. I’ll be nice, but I’m not telling you my life story.”
“So I’m just supposed to trust you when you say you’re not some serial killer or terrorist, that you’re just an innocent guy? Just like that?”
“Doesn’t faith suck?” Chuck asked, but he didn’t seem upset, just weary. It wasn’t the first time, Sarah realized, she’d gotten that feeling from him. “The last thing you’ll ever be, I think, is helpless, Agent Walker. But nobody should be alone after having to see what we saw today. So here I am.”
Chuck stared at her for so long that she wondered what she’d said wrong. Finally, he sighed. “Not many people have been kind to you, have they?”
“Everybody’s in it for themselves, Chuck.”
“If you truly believe that, I’m sorry for you. Either way, you might want to come out and eat soon. Your soup’s getting cold.”
“I thought you said it was for you.”
“I lied.” And Chuck slipped out of the bathroom, leaving her to her own thoughts and the horrible feeling that she was about to cry for hours.