Author's Note: I started this fic a mere week or so after "The Janus List" aired--back at the beginning of June, to go by the dates on the initial document. It's taken this long to finish, and I'm just glad I'm able to post it before the show's season 4 premiere. Enjoy!
Many thanks to my betas: Feliciakw, for her patience and handholding as I worked on my first 'shippy fic, and to Mistral Amara for her sharp eye and encouragement. This is for you both. blows kisses
This is set just after "The Janus List," so 'ware spoilers.
Day Has Gone Down
The report on her monitor wavered and blurred. Blinking only made it worse. Megan used the tip of one finger to press the lashes further back from the surface of her stinging eyes.
She had fully intended to replace the used-up bottle the same night she got home, or at least the next morning. Between the flight, the time change, and the letter left under her door, she'd completely forgotten. In the morning, she'd scrabbled in the back of her bathroom cupboard for an old bottle; not waterproof, but it would do.
So of course her first day back at work had them working a bomb threat on a bridge. Action, investigation, and a growing sense of unease barely left Megan time to sleep, to clean off her makeup at night and reapply it in the morning. She had no chance to restock the fridge, much less shop for cosmetics.
And now her mascara was melting into her eyes. Damn it. At least I don't wear contacts.
She blotted the corners of her lids with the edge of a Kleenex, soaking up irritated tears and wiping away bits of makeup. After a moment, she managed a blink without biting her tongue. Vision restored, she glanced at the office clock across the bullpen. Almost midnight. She probably looked like it, too: eyes red, hair caught back in a messy ponytail.
Time to go home.
There were still files spread out on her desk. Megan tucked each folder neatly into her current cases drawer, only looking at the names on the labels long enough to note the shape of the first two letters. Thinking about how strange the broken curve of a "C" was, compared to the half-moon capital "D" or the folding ladder "A," kept their meaning at a manageable distance.
An old trick, to help her leave work at work; of course, when she needed it most, it wasn't very effective.
Megan twisted the key to lock the drawer, then reached for her purse and jacket. It wasn't until she stood up that she realized how quiet the bullpen had become. She willed her shoulders to relax; it had been a long evening pretending to ignore the stares that everyone gave her and her team. Pity and horror and personal dread. The same attitude people received after their house burned down, or they lost everything in an earthquake. Could that happen to us? Oh my God, what if?
David's computer sat dark and silent, his desk deserted. Good. Megan passed the break room, and paused when someone moved inside. Don, stirring creamer into a paper cup of coffee.
She leaned against the doorway, as casually as she could. "I hope that's decaf."
He glanced up. "Yeah. Want some?"
Megan shook her head. "No thanks. I've got hot chocolate waiting for me at home."
"Good for you." Don took a cautious sip, and made a face. "I sent David home a while ago. He didn't want to go, but I know that look. He just needs to--" Don shrugged and reached for the sugar instead of finishing the sentence.
He's not the only one who needs to get out of here. Megan watched Don shake one packet of sugar into his coffee, then another. "How are you doing?"
Don's hand stopped stirring for a split second, and he checked his watch to cover the motion. Megan could almost see his defenses going up. Good sign or bad, she wasn't sure, but she was grateful. This Don, she knew how to deal with—he wouldn't require or expect the kid-glove treatment.
He continued stirring and glanced at her. "Fine. The Director wants to meet with me in the morning."
He's being replaced already? Megan swallowed a sudden tightness in her throat (grief, a detached voice in her head informed her; she ignored it) and pushed the thought away. "You'd better be rested up for that, huh?"
He smiled at her, and the warmth of it, so foreign to this day, made the world lurch around her. "I'm headed home, yeah. Well, actually, I'm going to Charlie's. I want to see how he's doing."
Megan took a deep breath, and mustered up a smile of her own. "Good. I'll see you tomorrow."
She had turned away when Don called after her: "I'm glad you're back."
Megan paused. The appropriate response (so am I) stuck in her throat. She couldn't lie to Don, not tonight. So she glanced over her shoulder and put all the gratitude she could muster into a single word. "Thanks."
He nodded—dismissed—and she escaped from the bullpen, eyes burning once more from her ruined makeup. That had to be fixed before she tried to drive home.
In the women's restroom, Megan turned the water to warm and scrubbed at her face with the harsh hand soap allotted to public servants. It didn't matter; all that mattered was getting the residue of the day off her skin, discarding the mask.
She shut off the water and stood there for a few moments, taking deep breaths, still bent over the sink so she wouldn't drip on her silk blouse. A few handfuls of cold water eased the heat of her cheeks and the leftover burning of her eyes. She patted her face dry and finger-combed damp tendrils of hair behind her ears.
I just need to go home, she told her reflection. I just need to let go and forget for a few hours. Everything will seem more bearable in the morning.
She turned and walked out into the hallway before her reflection could show her how shallow that lie really was.
Megan pulled into the parking spot underneath her apartment complex, shut off the engine, and sat there, hands loose on the steering wheel, staring into the dark.
She should open the door, get out of the car. Lock the door. Climb the single flight of stairs. Unlock her apartment, dump her jacket and purse and briefcase, lock the door behind her. Get into her PJs and make hot chocolate.
The tightness in her chest and throat, the dampness in her eyes, didn't surprise her. But if she let go, she might not be able to snatch control back again.
The apartment would be empty. Oh, Megan's things were still there—the carefully framed pictures of family and friends, the neat set of bookshelves where westerns and sci-fi butted up against psychology texts and manuals on profiling, the rack of flowered china cups inherited from her grandmother. But Megan herself wasn't there. She'd locked that door behind her, and it wasn't quite Megan who came back six weeks later.
No. Don't go there. She couldn't even breathe now, her body taut with strain, hands clenched painfully on the steering wheel.
Megan didn't belong in that apartment anymore, not really. It echoed around her. All the pieces that had made it hers now made it a stranger's house.
She'd held onto the memories of her team visiting her there, of Larry coming over early in the morning. Because those were something outside of herself. Because they were real.
Except, apparently, not all of them.
Stop it. Her mind hadn't used this voice in many months. Rough, annoyed, and very masculine. You're strong. Take this like a man.
Like a man, huh? The words cued a memory of David's furious rush into the interrogation room. She couldn't manage that kind of anger. Not yet. She didn't have the strength.
Megan managed a cautious breath, then another. The tightness began to ebb, leaving all her bones feeling hollow.
She rubbed a hand across her eyes. All right. She didn't want to go upstairs. Couldn't go back to the office—she had to have a break before braving those stares again. Maybe an all-night diner, some pie and decaf coffee?
No. A diner wouldn't be any better than her apartment right now. Going in there alone, without. . . .
She reached for her purse. There, tucked behind her pocketbook where it couldn't be crushed, was the envelope. Megan eased the letter from its casing and held it gently, without opening it. She didn't need to read the carefully drawn words again to remember them.
Not even half an hour away, and as impossible to reach as he had been in orbit.
The movement of her thumb against the soft paper slowed. He didn't know. Sequestered in his own thoughts, in solitude, no one would have told him yet. Someone should.
Are you sure? Maybe you should leave him alone.
It would still be true when he came out, though. Better he know now than emerge into a world so unexpectedly changed. He needs to be told.
Be honest, her conscience commanded her.
Megan closed her eyes. Fine. I need to tell someone.
She turned the key in the ignition.
The monastery was perched up on the eastern side of the arroyo. There was no space to park along the narrow road in front of the building, so Megan drove another hundred yards until the shoulder widened and she could pull over.
When she'd passed the building, it was closed up and quiet. If she'd had any thought of trying to enter, the idea seemed ridiculous now.
Instead, Megan pulled out a notepad and pen.
The words wouldn't come.
Or rather, they came in such a contradictory flood that she couldn't figure out which ones to use. How messed-up was she, that she couldn't even manage a note to a loved one?
Dear Larry, today was a bad day...
Dear Larry, something bad has happened, and...
Dear Larry, I need to tell you something...
Dear Larry, I'm not sure which way is up anymore...
No. None of those. With an effort, Megan put aside the overload of information, and the tangles of words, the need to see him, touch him. Neatly, she wrote ten words on a single sheet, folded it once, and wrote his name on the outside.
Before she could over-think this any further, she got out of the car and walked back towards the monastery. The wind coming up the arroyo was brisk and cool. The motion of her body eased some of the tension in her shoulders and back.
For several long minutes Megan stood in the building's darkened portico, unwilling to breach its silence. They should have a doorman, these men who took in contemplative guests. Eventually, she raised one fist and knocked firmly on the solid oak of the door.
Megan knocked twice more before she heard footsteps.
A tiny hatch in the door slid open. The face on the other side was bearded, older, and more awake than she had expected. Megan held up her piece of folded paper. "You have a guest in residence--a Doctor Larry Fleinhardt?"
He nodded, instead of speaking.
She extended the paper towards him, through the hatch. "Can you make sure he gets this message? It's important."
The monk's gaze stayed firmly on hers for several moments. Finally, he nodded again, took the paper in nimble fingers, and slid the hatch closed.
Megan stood on the doorstep for another minute. That was it; the task was done. The man probably wouldn't wake Larry until morning anyway. She should go home. Try to sleep, try to forget. . . .
Back at her car, Megan paused with her hand on the door. She had been so focused on what she was doing, she hadn't noticed the sky. This near the edge of the city, the stars were actually visible.
She still didn't feel like going home.
The lights of Los Angeles huddled dimly out below her, a mass of glowing coals. Megan laid her jacket on the ground and sat, back braced against the front wheel of her SUV, and leaned back to gaze at the sky. The wind, which had skipped dust and dead leaves along the sidewalk near the Federal Building all day, had blown away the curtain of smog, revealing at least twice as many stars as she could see from her apartment. Each one glittered like a spark or a shard of glass.
The sounds of traffic were muffled here. The air around her belonged to the trees, rustling in the night breeze. Megan hugged her knees against her chest. The darkness around her filled with a kind of quiet, in which all the running tension of her body shifted towards release. No wonder he'd chosen this place to make his retreat, to contemplate re-entry into the life of Earth.
That rustle wasn't the wind. Steps scuffed gravel on the road's shoulder. What now? Megan rose to one knee, and slid a hand to her belt, ready to unsnap her holster. The steps were coming from her left, from the direction of the monastery.
The shadow of a head and shoulders came into view against the star-flecked sky.
She knew that stance, and the shuffling step as well.
She'd missed that voice. Her own trembled as she drew in a long breath and answered him. "Hey, Larry."
He settled on the ground next to her. The dim light was enough to see the outline of his face as he gazed at her. "Brother Marcus brought me your message."
It wasn't only her voice that was shaking, Megan realized as she eased herself back to a sitting position. This had been a rash decision, too quick, too soon. "I'm sorry."
"I wasn't sleeping," Larry assured her, touching the back of her hand. He gestured upwards, to the sky. "I was watching the stars."
He'd seen her doing the same. Megan nodded, jerkily, and blinked hard. It wasn't fair, wasn't fair to Larry that he should have to see her like this, right now, when he had just come back from months in space. She could keep it back, until she got home. . . .
She blinked again, and tears spilled down her cheeks.
The hand on her wrist tightened. She couldn't answer, couldn't force one word through her tight throat. She turned her face away, pressing her free hand over her mouth to hold in any sound. This would pass, if she just had a minute to get herself together.
"Megan." There was a thread of desperation in Larry's even voice. Megan hated herself for being the cause of it--damn it, she would stop, she would. . . . "What's wrong? What's happened?"
She couldn't say it. She couldn't even say it. His hands touched her shoulders, turned her towards him. "Megan," he whispered. It didn't sound like a question this time, and when his arms wrapped around her, pulling her against him, she let him hold her, and cried hot tears into the shoulder of his jacket. Tears for the reason she'd come, that she would have to try and find words to speak of; for all the things she would never be allowed to tell him; and for optimistic before-Megan, who would have found this much easier to do.
Larry didn't say a word, just held her and stroked her hair and leaned the warmth of his head against hers.
She ran out of tears halfway through a sob and turned it into a shuddering sigh. Larry's grip shifted, as if he wasn't sure what to do next. Megan couldn't give him any help. She let her head stay on his shoulder, not wanting to shatter the illusion of safety.
Eventually, her sniffles must have gotten the better of him. Megan felt him shift, and almost pulled away before a cotton handkerchief slipped into her hand. "It's clean," he assured her.
Megan gave a strangled giggle. She sat up and used the plain cloth, soft from many washings, to wipe the traces of tears from her face, to blow her nose, and to wipe down the sodden shoulder of Larry's jacket.
"Keep it," he advised her.
Megan regarded the damp and sticky handkerchief. "Thanks," she said, half joking and half sincere.
"You're welcome." There was a pause. Megan wished she could think of something to say, but the impulse to cry out, to tell someone, had washed away beneath the tears. It was Larry who spoke, asking again, "Megan, what happened? Are you all right?"
"I . . . No, I--" Megan closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There were still no words for this, no way to express what had been done. No way to explain two years which had never quite existed.
Larry's voice was low. "Is it classified? If you can't tell me, I understand. I only asked because--"
"No." Megan opened her eyes. Looking straight into his face, she said, "Everything I did when I was out of town: that's classified. But today, tonight--no." Larry's hand found hers, and she squeezed his fingers. "It's Colby."
Larry's expression was open, puzzled. All generous concern. "What happened to him? Is he all right?"
She shook her head, and couldn't stop shaking it. "He's a traitor."
The moment the word was out, Megan wanted to take it back, stuff it into darkness. She wanted to get up and run from it, down the road, far away. She wanted to turn and throw up all over the ground, get the poison of that word, that truth, out of her body and out of her mind.
Larry rubbed a slow hand across his forehead. "I don't understand."
Again, Megan found she could barely breathe. "I don't either. I don't either." Her voice broke on the last word. She buried her face against her knees. Colby and traitor were not two concepts that could occupy the same space, not until tonight. Not even tonight. Five generations of duty, honor, following orders, he'd told her, and she knew that was a decent summary of his family's military history. She'd seen some of their records. How did that turn itself upside down?
"Megan." Larry's hand settled on her shoulder. "Megan, I truly don't understand what you're telling me. Can you try again?"
She forced herself to pull in breath, once, twice, and lifted her head. "We found Colby's name on a list of double agents, compiled by a well-known spook. He's been--Colby's been--passing information to the Chinese government. For two years."
"How do you know he hasn't been set up?" Larry asked reasonably.
"That's what I asked." Well, what she'd asked after what the hell, Don? She'd helped backup secure the strike team, then bolted down the stairs to confirm the reporter's safety, to confirm Colby's safety. What she'd seen was Colby in cuffs, with David's gun trained on him. Don had given her the short version, and she'd instantly asked whether it had even crossed his mind that it could be a frame. His answer (we'll see) had felt like a strike to her diaphragm. "Colby and I were guarding someone at a safe house. He took the, the witness out of there without telling me. He left me there alone to face a team of assassins." Worse, when she defended him, Colby had refused to meet her gaze. "And then he confessed. To Don."
"Megan, I'm so sorry. And I am extremely glad you're safe." Larry's hug was tight and warm and exactly what she needed.
Megan returned it fiercely, knotting her fists in the back of his jacket. "Please." The words spilled out, surprising her, muffled against his hair. "Please, be real. Tell me I didn't imagine you the way I imagined Colby had my back all this time. Please."
He lifted her face from his shoulder and cupped it in both hands. The kiss was gentle, but also knowledgeable and earnest. Megan closed her eyes, welcoming the familiar intimacy of touch, finding herself responding as she had months before, the last time they'd been able to do this. After a long minute, she pulled back. It felt good, but wasn't even close to the certainty she craved.
His thumb wiped dampness from the corner of her eye. "I missed you very much," he said quietly.
"Me too. I mean, I missed you too." She kissed him this time, as deeply as she could, finding their rhythm again. When she spoke this time, her lips were still brushing his. "Come back to my place for the night?"
Larry hesitated before drawing back, and his tone was reluctant. "I've made a commitment here, and I'm expected back."
The wind swept between them, pushing away the warmth of their shared bodies. Megan swallowed hard. "Well--that's definitely the Larry I remember."
"More or less." He studied her face, poring over it as if it were one of his articles, or a star seen through a telescope. She wondered what he was looking for, if he could see the changes in her, if he was wondering whether this Megan could still return his love. "More, I believe now. I can feel true ground under my feet again, and I am no longer afraid of that." Larry scooted closer, settling his back against the wheel of her SUV. He put an arm around her shoulder, and she tucked herself against him. "I can certainly stay here a while longer, if you would like."
"I would." Megan slid one arm behind the small of his back, and rested her head on his shoulder. For a moment, she'd managed to put aside the shock of the night. She tried to keep it that way by listening to Larry's breathing, matching her inhales and exhales to his. By wondering why his jacket smelled like rosemary. Like her focus on initial letters, the trick didn't work for long.
But the memories that insisted on crowding her mind were older than tonight. The first time she'd met Colby, shaking his hand in the bullpen (a gesture of welcome that must have told the spy he'd made it in). Making a snap judgment about his military bearing ("duty, honor, following orders") and taking care to set that judgment aside. Colby's aggressive stance over that child molester, backing up her curse with his presence and his gun (so at odds with his footsteps running for the stairway in the dark). That ridiculously open grin, sharing secret delight and frustration with her over Charlie's equations. (Charlie. Shit. Had Colby passed on information he learned from him, too?)
Panic in his eyes when they found Don unconscious in that suspect's house.
Stoic blankness as he quietly reeled off the facts of his confession.
"Colby," Larry said, as if testing the sound of the name, to see how it had changed. "He was, he is, perhaps one of the last people I would have suspected of being other than he shows himself to be."
Megan pressed a hand to her temple; her head was beginning to ache. She knew what he meant, though, and the contradiction felt irreconcilable. Colby's sincerity had been the perfect cover. "I keep thinking that I should have seen this coming. There should have been signs that I would recognize--"
Larry's hand on her shoulder tightened. "Megan, you cannot blame yourself--"
She kept going. This wasn't something she could have said to Don, not in the white-hot midst of crisis. "There weren't. There were no signs. I could tell this latest case was bothering him a lot, there was a disconnect there, but before? Nothing, Larry. Even his loyalty to his friend, that read as a personal issue, nothing more. He confessed to betrayal, to espionage, he knows things he shouldn't be able to know. So there must have been signs. Except that there weren't." She broke off, feeling the argument in her mind wheel back around to the same place in the circle. There was no end to it. She shouldn't dwell on it.
She couldn't stop.
"Do you remember Ron Allen?" Larry asked, rather abruptly. Megan opened her eyes; he was watching her. "The research student of mine who turned out to be an imposter?"
She nodded. She'd never told Larry, but his impassioned defense of his assistant was one of the moments that cemented her view of him as a worthy man. A lovable man.
"He was very good. Even after the fact, I could find no reason I would ever have guessed that he was lying to me." Larry rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "The parallel is far from perfect. He was only my assistant and advisee. You and Don and Agent Sinclair have trusted Colby with your lives for two years. With our lives." That last thought seemed to sober him, and he paused, frowning at the earth beside them. "But I can say that I have known the feeling of the world shifting under me. It is difficult to hold onto trust after someone tears a hole in what we thought we knew about them."
Megan cuddled more closely against his side, wanting to translate warmth into meaning, into an antidote for her own words. "Disconnect. Distrust of self, not just of others."
"Disillusionment? Or is that too weak a word for the aftermath of betrayal?" After a moment, Larry sighed. " 'Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf's a flower; but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief . . .' "
Megan craned her neck to look him in the eye, and quoted the next two lines. " 'So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.' What a pessimistic interpretation, Larry."
He shrugged. "I don't find it inappropriate. We learn to trust early, most of us, and only slowly discover the complicated truth of human interactions to be fraught with danger."
She almost smiled at his phrasing, but this was something worse than the normal complications of humanity. Beyond what she had learned as a profiler, or her disillusionment with the job. The FBI wasn't supposed to be filled with the stories that plagued the intelligence communities. Her life wasn't supposed to be filled with knife-shards of uncertainty. "What do you do when dawn hasn't just gone down to day?" She wasn't sure if she expected him to answer, or if she just needed to ask the question. "Beauty is still visible during the day. You can trust your eyes, even if the early blush has faded. What do you do when day has gone down into darkness?"
The silence this time went on for so long that Megan expected no answer. The wind brushed past, tickling her face with strands of hair. Her back was beginning to ache. Larry's must be more painful, supporting her as he was.
"Look up," Larry said.
Megan blinked. "What?"
"That's what you do in the dark." He lifted his free hand, as though introducing her to the heavens. "Look up. In the darkness, you can finally see the stars clearly."
What would have sounded like a platitude from anyone else had a ring of truth coming out of his mouth, and Megan looked up. The stars glimmered, still faintly obscured by light pollution, by smog in the air. By the tears in her eyes. She blinked them away, and lowered her gaze to his.
"No, look up." Larry looked distressed, worried that she'd missed his point.
She reached up to brush her fingers against his face. "I'm looking up," she told him. "This is about as high as I can look right now. I'm looking up."