chapter seven: in sheep's clothing
Her pulse throbbed against the blade of the knife. One cut and it would be over. Frankie closed her eyes but couldn't prevent a lone tear from escaping to trickle down her cheek.
"It's too late to cry."
She swallowed, uncomfortably aware of the knife. "Tyler . . ."
"I didn't want it to get this far." There was a tinge of regret in his voice, accompanied by a horrifying tone of finality.
"Tyler, I don't understand."
"You never did."
Very slowly, Frankie reached up and curled her fingers around Tyler's arm. She kept her voice calm. "Let's talk about this, Tyler. We're friends, aren't we? Tell me what's wrong."
"Stop trying to psychoanalyze me!" The knife pressed into her skin, burning. She couldn't tell if he'd nicked her.
"Okay. Okay. I'm sorry." She held her hands out in a gesture of surrender. "I just want to know why you're doing this."
Tyler repositioned the knife so its tip rested in the hollow at the base of her throat. He kissed her neck and it took all of her self-control to keep from shuddering. Where the hell was Margo?
"Why?" His breath was hot on her skin. "You say we're friends, but we're not."
"I thought we were."
"No." He turned her around, pinning her against the wall. "I loved you and you never noticed me. It was always him."
"If I can't have you, no one can." Tyler traced her cheekbone with the knife, brought it down over her lips and came to stop under her chin. "He's not going to save you this time."
Frankie moistened her lips, her eyes on his. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"You would have just smiled and said you weren't interested. Smile for me now, Frankie."
She blinked and forced her lips into a smile.
"You're so beautiful."
"Tyler, please put down the knife. John's not here now. We can talk about this."
He chuckled. "I know he's not here. I'm smarter than you people give me credit for, you know."
In a sudden flash of insight, Frankie understood. "You set him up."
There was a noise from the hall, distracting him. Frankie knew this was her only chance. She brought up her knee, catching him in the groin. At the same time, she jerked the knife away from her throat. Tyler collapsed on the floor, groaning in pain. Frankie grabbed the knife and knelt over him.
She looked up as Margo turned the light on. The agent was bleeding from a wound to her side.
"Sorry," Margo said. "He surprised me."
Frankie looked from Margo to Tyler. She turned back to Margo. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine. It's a scratch. Angel's on her way."
Frankie couldn't believe she was back at GW Memorial. Angel had insisted that she go with Margo in the ambulance for a checkup, promising that she would call as soon as she had news about Kilmer.
"Excuse me, ma'am. I need to take a look at your neck."
Frankie bit her lip at the sting of the anaesthetic as the doctor dabbed at the graze on her neck.
"Were you missing us, Frankie?"
She looked to the door to find Doctor Moore, her previous physician, watching her with a smile on his face.
"You've gone to extremes to get back here, I see."
Despite her concern for Kilmer and Margo, Frankie managed to smile. "Hi."
Dr. Moore approached the bed and took over from the other doctor. "Nurse Hatcher – Agent Hatcher, rather – is in surgery. She's going to be fine."
Dr. Moore examined Frankie's neck, then nodded. "Is this what you call taking it easy?"
"It wasn't my fault." At Dr. Moore's dubious look, she said, "Really. I have been taking it easy."
There was a noise at the door and the next thing Frankie knew, she was in Kilmer's arms. His stubble scratched her face and the graze on her neck burned but she didn't care.
"Are you okay?"
Kilmer looked at Dr. Moore for confirmation. The doctor nodded.
"It's just a scratch." He stood, leaving the room to give them some privacy.
Kilmer released her and looked at the wound himself. His face paled as he traced the graze with his thumb. Frankie covered his hand with hers. "I'm fine."
"You've got to stop scaring me like this. When Angel told me you'd been attacked . . ." He shook his head. "Tyler, of all people."
"He set you up. He—"
Kilmer put a finger to Frankie's lips to shush her. "I know. Angel explained everything on the way here."
The adrenaline was wearing off and shock began to set in. Frankie blinked back tears without much success. "He wanted me. He wanted me and he couldn't have me and – and—"
"Shh." Kilmer put his arms around her again, gentler this time. "There's more, Frankie. It's worse than you think."
She tried to pull away but Kilmer held fast.
"Tyler has been part of Black Sun for almost a year."
Frankie made the connection immediately. "Fasil," she whispered.
Frankie said nothing for a long time. Then she looked up at Kilmer, her eyes red, her face stained with tears, and said, "Let's go home."
Frankie sat in the bathtub, her arms wrapped around her knees. She reached up and felt the graze on her neck, remembering the feel of the knife against her skin. Remembering the hatred in Tyler's voice. Remembering how dark and cold it had been in that cellar, how cruel Fasil had been.
She didn't hear Kilmer enter. When he touched her shoulder, she looked up at him. "Hey."
He sat on the edge of the tub, picked up a sponge and began to soap her back. She closed her eyes, knowing he needed to take care of her as much as she needed to be taken care of.
"I just got off the phone with Angel," he said. "Tyler's in the brig. They're keeping him here for questioning."
"Who's doing the questioning?"
"Fulbright," Kilmer said, naming the leader of one of the other Homeland Security teams. "Atkins refused to let me. He said he was worried I might reach across the table and do something stupid like wring Tyler's neck."
Frankie smiled. Kilmer's hands were soothing on her skin. "Not to mention that you were the one Tyler set up."
"I don't care about that. Compared to what else was at stake . . ." Kilmer's hands stilled. "I could have lost you tonight."
"But you didn't."
Kilmer rinsed the remaining soap from her back and picked up a towel. Frankie stood, letting him wrap her in it.
"We're okay, aren't we?"
She smiled. "More than okay."
The towel fell to the floor.
The Vault's atmosphere was unusually subdued the day following Tyler's arrest. Cassandra Hodges had ordered that all current employees be subjected to another round of vetting. Until that was done with, everyone would be suspicious of one another. Even then, it would take a while before things got back to normal.
Mo and Tim, having spent the last few days in Europe, were completely taken aback at how quiet the Vault was. They noticed a couple of people give them strange looks as they headed towards Holly and Jelani.
"Hey," Tim said, "What's going on?"
You'd better sit down for this, Holly signed.
Jelani quickly filled them in on what had happened with Tyler, Frankie and Kilmer, and Angel's involvement. He finished by saying, "I can't believe it. Man, he was our friend, you know."
Mo nodded. "You think you know someone."
Atkins crossed the room to join them. "Good work on finding that bomb."
"Too bad we didn't get Nathalie though," Mo said.
"Yeah, that woman's as slippery as a damn eel." Tim shook his head. "Jelani, has there been any chatter about her?"
Jelani shook his head.
"Take a few days," Atkins said. "You two deserve it."
Neither Tim nor Mo was going to object to a vacation.
"I'm going to need your weapons and identification," Atkins continued.
"It's nothing personal. Everyone's being vetted again. If you thought we were paranoid before . . ." Atkins smiled.
Tim shrugged and handed his gun and ID to Atkins. "If it gets me a couple days off, I'm not complaining."
Holly smiled as she watched the two field agents walk off with Atkins. When Jelani touched her arm, she spun her chair around to look at him.
"Look, there's really nothing for us to do here now . . ." He glanced down at his hands and took a deep breath before continuing. "Would you – I mean, do you want to go get something to eat . . . or something?"
Holly's grin widened. Are you asking me on a date?
She pretended to think about it, then stood. Okay.
Angel waited patiently outside McGarry's office, giving Margaret a polite smile. The phone rang. Margaret listened to the caller then looked at Angel.
"He's in with the President. You can go through."
"Thanks." Angel put her hand on the doorknob.
"No, I meant, they're in the Oval Office."
"Right. Of course." Angel took a deep breath and headed for the other door. She wondered if she'd ever get over being nervous in front of President Bartlet. A young black man opened the door for her and nodded for her to enter.
"Good afternoon." She greeted both men with a nod.
Bartlet waved for her to sit. "Leo tells me you've managed to clear John Kilmer."
"Well, not by myself. It was more a case of watching for the right moment to make a move. In the end, Tyler Harris made it easy by going after Frankie."
Bartlet nodded and half-turned in his seat to face McGarry. "It's like chess, Leo. An inexperienced player will often dig himself into a hole."
"You're mixing metaphors, Mr. President."
Bartlet looked at Angel. "Do you see? My best friend doesn't even respect me."
Angel wasn't sure how to respond.
"Do you like chess, Angel?"
"Uh, Mr. President, if we could finish with this?" Leo held up a copy of Angel's report.
"Alright, fine. So, Angel, I assume things will be returning to normal at Homeland Security?"
"I hope so, sir."
"And the Kilmers? I think it's about time I met them. What do you say, Leo?"
"Maybe when they get back from vacation, Mr. President." McGarry smiled at Angel. "Good job on this. What's next for you?"
She shrugged. "I don't know yet."
McGarry and Bartlet exchanged a glance. Bartlet leaned back in his chair, his expression serious. "How would you like to work for me?"
Kilmer stood at the water's edge, framed by the light of the setting sun. Frankie strolled to join him, the beach sand warm under her bare feet. When she reached Kilmer's side, she slipped her arm around his waist. They stood in silence for a while, enjoying the peace. After everything that had happened, it was good to get away from D.C.
Frankie gave a contented sigh and leaned her head against Kilmer's shoulder.
"What's on your mind?"
"Nothing. I'm just happy to be here. With you. I didn't think we'd ever get to this point again."
Kilmer kissed her forehead. "I love you. I never stopped, you know that, don't you?"
"Yeah." She smiled. "I don't think I ever stopped loving you either."
"Say it again."
She grinned. "I love you."
He kissed her, holding her close to him. It was only when the cold water began lapping at their feet that they remembered the rest of the world existed. Kilmer looked down at the water, glaring at it for the interruption.
"I can't believe Atkins gave us tickets to Maui." Frankie chuckled. "Not that I'm complaining."
"He should make it a yearly thing. You know, as an incentive to work harder."
"Oh, sure. I can see that happening."
"You're right. We should probably make the most of this week then, don't you think?" He swept her into his arms before she had a chance to respond and carried her back up to the hotel.
A/N: Alas, all good things must come to an end :-( Thanks to everyone who's been following this story; I appreciate the time you took to leave feedback.