Nancy Callahan is 11, and every week she writes a letter.
She's careful about it, careful in everything she does. At first, she only wrote them at night, because when she woke up from the memories and tried not to scream, she would look at the sharp shadows on the walls. Bars of light and dark sketching out a prison cage, and it's one of the most comforting things she knows. After all, being in prison only meant she was one step closer to where Hartigan was.
Her parents don't know what she's doing, and she's sure they wouldn't approve if they did. So she keeps it secret - not because she cares what her parents think, but because the idea of not being able to write to Hartigan is more terrifying than all her nightmares and memories of ropes and warehouses and harsh, invading hands.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome. Nancy isn't completely sure what the term means, but she heard it often enough to recognize and remember it. It's the reason her parents don't question their daughters sometimes-always odd behavior. Expected reactions to the trauma that 'awful monster' put her through.
When Nancy realized they were talking about Hartigan, she screamed obscenities neither she nor her parents realized she knew, and, raging, threw her bedside lamp at her mother when the woman tried to embrace her.
They sent her to a therapist, ten sessions where she sat in a big chair and stared at the wall, not speaking.
Then, on the eleventh session Nancy remembered Hartigan, remembered she'd promised. She'd be sneaky, she'd be crafty, oh so quiet and oh so sly. She'd call herself Cordelia, and she'd be just like Hartigan.
She told the therapist everything the woman wanted to hear, and there were no more sessions. Her parents were so happy, and Nancy had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
Nancy is 11, and 12, and 15, and sometimes she doesn't even have nightmares. She never dates, because every boy who asks her out is a poor shade of her hero. Her parents, likely, chalk it up to the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome, so Nancy doesn't even need to lie.
She's 17, and every week she writes a letter. She never gets a reply, but that's alright. She knows Hartigan is listening.
Nancy Callahan is 19, and every week she writes a letter.
And every night she dances to the rhythm of a drunken crowd's jeers and the drumbeat longing for the one face she wants to see.
She plays games with herself. Pretends he's there, long coat and tall, proud stance watching from some dark corner of the club, half-hidden by smoke. Her hero. Her guardian angel. Her everything. She keeps few friends and no lovers, though many try and some try harder than others. When a bunch of drunken men cornered her on her way home, she remembered Hartigan, and was not afraid; when Marv was done beating the last one into a wall she thanked him, because he was a genuinely nice guy, despite the number of people he killed fairly frequently.
Besides, he reminded her of Hartigan.
Of course, when she does see him, for a moment she thinks she's imagining him again. But he looks around and people talk to him and move around him, and he's real. He has to be. He's just like she remembered, but she's grown up now, and some things will change, and some things won't.
He's still her everything, and when (despite all of his protestations) he kisses her back, she knows that she will never love anyone else like she loves him.
Nancy Callahan is 20 and every week she writes a letter.
Doesn't send them anymore, because she can't. She's moved twice in the past year, but she likes where she is now. Alone without being lonely.
20 years old, but her eyes are older. Not tired, but old, and filled with pride. He taught her that to stand tall, to not cry, to not scream, even when she wants to. She doesn't dance anymore, and every week she writes a letter.
She never gets a reply, but that's alright. She knows Hartigan is listening.