Disclaimer: Nope, I'm still not making money! At least I'm not making money by writing this story, though considering the word count I'm starting to think at this point maybe I could actually write a book. If only I could come up with characters of my own I loved long enough…
Thanks, everyone! Special thanks to the reviewers and to texamich- you've kept me and this story going.
Nicky had grown visibly weary of playing both driver and passenger shortly before they had reached Aswan and considering his violent outburst earlier in the day Jason didn't have the heart to force her to continue on beyond the point of simple weariness. They had pulled into the tourist section of Aswan and bedded up in a slightly questionable hotel. The accommodations were suitable for them, but from the room to Jason's left he could hear another young American couple complain loudly to someone about a large bug in their bathroom. It was probably best the bug was large, he reflected. Here it was really the smaller ones that packed the bigger poisons.
Their bags remained packed but overturned, laid out in a perfect row on the floor at the bottom of the bed. Parsons was the first to shower and change after Jason had quickly checked out the bathroom. He tried to do so in a manner that looked as casual as possible, which seemed to amuse her to no end. There was still an odd unmentioned tension between them since his outburst, and it was a relief to them both when Nicky disappeared into the shower, offering them a tiny glimmer of privacy. Bourne said nothing about what had triggered him and Parsons now knew better than to ask. She hadn't dared ask another question the rest of the day, instead steering the conversation into forcefully light subjects such as football and abstract art. They had done an admirable job completely ignoring the gigantic bruised elephant in the room and while at least she fully intended to ignore it further, she hoped Jason would open his stubborn, damaged mouth and talk about what happened.
Over the sound of the feeble water pressure, Nicky could hear Jason still shuffling around in the room. He was unzipping and re-zipping the bags, searching for something or perhaps just trying to find something to do. As she rinsed the last trace of shampoo from her hair, Nicky called out. "Can you get me a towel?" She had her gaze fixed on a threadbare monogrammed towel resting on the sink, but she was more interested on whether he was earnestly looking for a lost object or if he just needed a mission to accomplish. Despite the fact she hadn't worked for the Agency in well over a year, she couldn't shake the compulsion to know the mental state of those around her at all times.
The rustling stopped abruptly and then started again, this time at a renewed and fevered pace before all noise stopped. The door to the bathroom popped open just far enough for a hand to snake inside, grab the towel, and flick it toward Nicky's head. "Right in front of your face," Bourne muttered as he shut the door again, leaving Parsons with a mixed answer and an immediate need to fumble with a swatch of fabric lest she drop it into the puddle of water at her feet.
Senka was lost in a sea of chatter she, at first, didn't understand. Now it was simply overwhelming noise she had to tune out in order to keep the last dregs of her sanity. Her lungs burned as did her legs as she pushed through the dense afternoon Cairo crowd, plowing into bodies, bile surging into the back of her throat in a purely physical gut reaction to the pain collision caused. A side-effect from detaching mind from body in order to push past the unbearable pain of a broken body was, she was discovering, the obvious: she was finding it hard to think, hard to concentrate, hard to focus on anything in front of her as real so as she ran full force into a small hunched lady peddling fresh produce on the sidewalk she was very nearly shocked to find herself spinning from the momentum.
A glance back over her shoulder told her she had lost her police trail a block behind and somewhere from the recesses of her mind surfaced the common knowledge that since she had distance she now must fade into the scenery. She slowed instantly from a sprint to a leisurely walk, and though her lungs screamed for more oxygen she slowed her breathing as well. Her ribs sent piercing pain through her chest with every deep breath she took, but she had to breathe deeply to make them count. The fingers of one hand hooked invisibly around a brooch as her arm swung gently in its natural arc and she palmed the jewelry, thumbing the clasp open. She turned down one street and then another, working away from the strip of retail and toward a small cluster of apartments. She stopped at the nearest window and peeked in, seeing the lights off. After pressing her ear against the door and hearing no sound, she tried the knob. It was locked but a quick jiggle of the brooch's needle in the tumbler was enough to manipulate the lock open and she slipped inside.
It took nearly five minutes for her to be certain the apartment was empty, but once she was sure she was very sure. The food in the fridge was rotting and fetid and an entire family of rodents was living out of the bathroom. She wouldn't be bothered any time soon. She stopped and lowered herself carefully onto a wooden kitchen stool and silently began working on removing the second half of the handcuffs around her wrist. She had taken a mental inventory of her injuries while she lie cuffed to the bed in the hospital, but that was as much as she had dwelled on just what hurt. One wrist was hastily casted in off-white plaster and the whole back left side of her ribs felt tragically abused. The small of her back tensed in spasm any time she stayed still for more then a couple of minutes and the back of her head was stitched together in a fashion that would make only Humpty Dumpty proud. It also beat out an awful cadence that threatened the contents of her stomach with every throb and gave moving objects an odd halo shine. She knew for a fact sleeping was out of the question, but that went without saying. She was certain that at least if the gunshot wound she had received from Paz had gotten infected it wasn't her biggest worry anymore.
She had lost her phone and she had failed her mission. She couldn't even explain why she had failed it. She had simply hesitated and that was unacceptable. She was desperate to catch up and anxiety lapped at her heels as she sat and allowed minutes to pass without action. She stood and winced as her lower back tensed in protest. She had no choice but to freeze for a moment until her muscles were free to move again. After raiding the abandoned bedroom for a dusty change of clothes, she vomited violently into the sink as a cluster of skinny rats stared at her indifferently. Then she again took to the streets in search of a phone.
Dread had crept up on Waynesboro in insidious waves. Before she even knew it was there it had settled over her mind like a damp, wet blanket, stifling all other rational thought. The mission had failed and their agent was down. She was sure of it, and it was all because of Martin's rash and overconfident thinking. He had assumed it would simply be a sprint; he hadn't planned on the possibility of a marathon, and now they were completely screwed. She taking her lunch break at an outdoor café, waiting for Rike to meet her and rehearsing her speech. While she wanted to rip out his eyes and play pool with them, she knew she had to be significantly more diplomatic. After all, once this was all over and done with she'd go home to sleep in the same bed with him and a sightless boyfriend would be- to put it lightly- complicated. She knew herself well enough to know she wasn't so much angry with him to begin with. She was simply worried and frustrated and more than a little concerned they would spend the rest of their prime years in prison.
Martin's timing couldn't have been more impeccable. He descended on her table with a faint business smile and seated himself just as Kelly's pocket began to chirp. Recognizing the ring tone immediately, Rike's hands went to his own jacket and felt around but he froze as a guilt blush flooded Kelly's face. "I don't want to know why you have it. Just give it to me." He held his hand out expectantly while Waynesboro's mouth worked soundlessly. She reached into her own suit and pulled out the phone but, rather than passing it over, she fought back a surge of shame and flipped it open to her own ear.
"Senka. Code in, please."
A pause came as Martin's jaw clenched and he sat back in his seat, his gaze flicking around to their surroundings in an obvious check to see just how big of a scene he could make without drawing too much attention to them. "We've met before, Senka. My name is Alice. Two-four-four, alpha tango five. We've never spoken on the phone, but this is important. Code in." As Martin started to come across the table, Kelly held out a finger, a brow raised ominously as she pointed to the phone. She shrugged as though helpless, mouthing the words "She can hear you" to the seething man.
"Great, thanks. I'm glad you called. We were starting to get worried for a while. How'd it go?" Kelly watched Martin purposefully put on a neutral expression as he exchanged a couple of words too, whispering "What the fuck?" to her.
"Oh," with a cringe, Waynesboro instantly set Rike on edge. He was forward again, making another grab for the phone. This time she barely had enough time to lean backward and avoid his grasping hand to keep the device away from him. The slap of her hand batting his away was the only noise generated by the exchange. "…You're alive, though. That matters. So…" Kelly paused, staring at the point between Martin's eyebrows where the wrinkles really started. "You're going to need a new location for the two. We can get that for you. They're probably still too shaky on air transport so they didn't go east. Um…" Kelly glanced at Martin who gave an inaudible sigh and peeked at his watch. He held up three fingers and she nodded with an apologetic smile. "Give us three hours then call back. Stay where you are for now and rest."
After hanging up the phone, Kelly stood to abandon the rest of her lunch and Martin stood to abandon the prospect of lunch. There were now officially more important things to do than eat. "You don't know how to handle agents," Rike muttered as they went to part.
Waynesboro let out a quiet laugh and slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket, shaking her head. "You don't know how to handle people."
"I knew her."
The words, the first real sentence of substance of the night, cut through the air like a knife. They lingered over them and the bed, over their makeshift dinner of Nubian take-out and vending machine desserts before finally the weight of the words forced Nicky to speak in response. She could, of course, change the subject or act as though she didn't know which "her" he was referring to, but those would both be forms of lies and considering the glassine fragility of the subject itself she knew instantly choosing to play aloof would send them both down another bad path. Choosing to directly confront the issue, however, didn't mean she had to look at him while doing it.
"How?" She started to pick at a stale, dark cupcake, stuffing broken-off bits into her mouth pensively while peering at the wrapper as if expecting it to answer.
"I don't know," he shook his head, digging his plastic fork into the Styrofoam container. It gave an angry squeak in response and he instantly stopped as if alarmed or offended.
Nicky's pause between his answer and her next question was longer than necessary, but she was frantically trying to figure out his mindset and predict his reaction to what she might say. She was painfully aware the wrong comment might permanently place this subject out of reach forever, and she knew more than anything he needed to talk about it. Finally, she mentally steeled her nerves and looked up at his face. "No. You know. What did you see?"
Bourne's cheek twitched and for a moment Parsons was prepared to be punched, but instead he glanced up at her and stared. She met his gaze with unwavering false courage for nearly a minute until he faltered first and closed up his box of food, shifting around in discomfort. "Okay. I saw a burning house and cops. And I saw a picture. It was like a family photo. It probably was a family photo. I was in it, and I thought it was her, but the more I think about it the more I realize it wasn't. It looked like her but it wasn't… The end." He let out a breath he had been holding in and then pressed his hands against his thighs, blinking rapidly.
"Uhhh," Nicky droned for a moment. "Uh, no. Not the end. That's not the end. Hold on! Was that a memory or was that something you associated with a memory? Do you think your brain just shoved her face into a memory you already had? Has that happened before?"
"No, that's never happened before but I've never killed a fucking kid before either!" Bourne launched himself off of the bed and was suddenly pacing like a caged tiger. Nicky briefly considered going quiet, but he was moving and he was angry. She should be more concerned once he stopped showing emotion.
"Your kid?" she pressed, shrinking down on the bed to make herself all the more unthreatening. Bourne's nostrils flared and the whites of his eyes flashed for an instant as his head snapped to stare a hole through Nicky. If it weren't for the sparkle of tears to soften his eyes, she would have wished she could crawl underneath the bed.
"What? I didn't say anything about that part! Where the fuck did you get that from?"
"No! I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that you probably came from similar backgrounds and she was used like you. You helped father the program that bred the person she is now is all, you know? You were the first. You're now getting to a point in your life where you just want balance and predictability where she probably wanted adventure and-and honor. She probably got fed the same bullshit you did and… it was a stupid analogy," Nicky floundered before she stopped, her head tilting to one side. "Wait, you didn't say anything about what part?"
"Nothing… the kindred spirits in adventure and killing people part," Bourne muttered, his expression melting away to stone cold neutrality as he gathered up the trash and dumped it piece by piece into a garbage bag.
Caution tweaked out its warning in the back of Nicky's skull. The emotion had been pushed onto a back burner now. She knew that while he still behaved like a caged animal he was no real danger to her, but now that he was fighting back feelings he was indeed a cornered wildcat. She had to be careful whether or not to press on, but curiosity was both her strength and weakness. "You actually meant a flesh-and-blood child, which is why you thought that's what I meant. That's not what I meant. I meant it figuratively… Jason, was there a kid in that picture?"
"No," Bourne had run out of disposable things to throw away so he grabbed the cupcake straight from Nicky's hand and chucked it into the bag. That only took care of his idle hands for two seconds. He needed to get out.
Nicky didn't buy into his half-hearted lie. "How old? This could be really important, Jason!"
"I said no." Parsons stopped mid-motion and watched as Jason yanked the door open. "I'll be in the hallway." She didn't follow as the door closed behind him with the quietest of clicks. She heard the same tone she'd ignored in the car and she wasn't going to make that same mistake twice. She pushed herself up to sit in the middle of the empty bed and turned her gaze to stare at her bag. Inside was her laptop and beyond that was a world of information. Perhaps hidden within that world was some tiny paragraph she might be able to use to ease his mind. She wanted to tell him it was just stress playing cruel tricks with his memory. For once she wanted to tell him he was crazy. After staring at the unresponsive door for as long as she could stand, she peeled herself up and grabbed her laptop, plugging it in and booting it up.
Landy wasn't used to walking in chains, but it wasn't the fact that she was walking in chains that irritated her most. It was the fact that the chains were entirely unnecessary. She had been an ideal prisoner, smiling and congenial to everyone. She'd made an effort to be extra kind to those that were the worst to her, not because she believed in some golden rule but because she was acutely aware that every move she made was being watched and recorded for posterity. Every move she made was also being made a hundred times more difficult by bureaucratic hand-wringing and ego-slinging. It had taken an agonizing six hours to finally make that phone call and it was another ten hours until a meeting to approve her meeting could be approved. A day and a half later she was led down long prison hallways, her shoes reflecting on the pristine federal floors while the suited agents surrounding her at all sides were made brave by her handcuffs. "Hey, Pam Landy? You think the women's place is this nice?"
"I'll bet it's a lot cleaner," jeered an agent from her right rear. She could hear him toying nervously with his ID badge as if someone might take it away from him and leave him to be mistaken for a prisoner.
"I'll bet it's a lot quieter," Landy said without pause. The two agents to her left gave adolescent moans of delight in response to her quip, while the last agent to talk suddenly became very stoic and professional.
They were forced to pause at security gate after security gate before finally coming to a stop in front of a narrow-windowed visiting room. The lights within were impossibly brighter than the lights in the hallway and a small surge of nerves tweaked at the pit of Pamela's stomach. She toyed with the reason at the bottom of the anxiety, coming up with a simple lack of knowledge. She didn't know who she was up against. A tiny blurb in public newspapers and a cleaned up Agency file was nothing to base judgment on. He, however, could have had access to her personal files for months prior to his capture. If she were to be perfectly honest with herself, the way his mind worked unsettled her. She was a brilliant strategist and she was unerringly confident in her abilities to outthink nearly any opponent, but to prefer to brainwash and kill rather than maneuver and capture was beyond her. She had seen the results of his life's work firsthand and the effect was devastating.
As the door was opened and her eyes adjusted to the flood of light, her mind stalled and she went into autopilot in order to step into the room without too much of a visible hesitation. What she saw wasn't anything like she'd expected and in a very childlike way she wished she'd been warned. Propped up in his chair like an abused rag doll was the waxy shrunken figure of Albert Hirsch, his cheeks pasty hollows, his collar dampened with sweat. Upon seeing her, he reached a shaking hand to his face and peeled the plastic oxygen mask from his mouth, revealing teeth that looked to Landy two shades more yellow against his ashen skin. He was grinning and Pam's heart dropped as she slipped into a chair. She could only hope she hadn't lost the game before it had a chance to start.