Tony pushed open the front door of the hospital and stepped out into a cloudy afternoon. It was chilly for the time of year, and he broke into a trot as he crossed the parking lot on the way to his car. His test results were tucked safely in the inner pocket of his jacket. Abby would want to see them.
"You're clear." It was the same thing Dr. Weiss had said each month for almost a year now, with her usual warm smile as she handed him the printouts with all the right numbers in the right spots. The first month she'd walked him through each test, explained what they meant, how they all came together to indicate that he was still in remission. No cancerous cells; no hot spots on any of the scans; none of the markers that could point to a tumor too small yet to see. After that first time, she simply told him he was clear. He knew what it meant.
At least, he thought he did. Clear could mean so many things. Pure. Easily seen. Distinct. Free of something - of blemish, of confusion, of darkness. It came alongside words like bright, and clean. It found its way into idioms: Crystal clear. Clear as day. In the clear.
To a special agent, clear often meant safe. A clear building; a clear scene. It meant no one with a weapon was waiting just around the corner. It meant someone had your six, and you had theirs. It meant it was okay to keep going and maybe, even, relax your guard a little.
Yet every last one of them knew that clear was never a guarantee. There were too many variables. Too many possibilities for hidden dangers - explosives, sniper fire, idiots who were just too damn good at keeping out of sight. Clear could only mean that at that moment, you were as sure as you could be of making it through to the next obstacle.
That kind of clear, Tony could understand.
And for him, month after month, clear did not mean it was over. It would never be over, not really. Remission was one thing, but it would be years before the word cure would be uttered, and then only tentatively, in passing, as though saying it too often or with too much confidence would make it less likely. Until then, there would be more tests, and more waiting. More wondering if the reprieve was only temporary, if the whole thing was about to start all over again, all the worse this time for knowing what lay ahead. And even if, years down the road, he was finally given the coveted title of cured, what he had experienced had changed him. For better or worse, or maybe some of each - he didn't know. Like so many things, that, too, remained to be seen.
Tony slid into his car and slammed the door against the cold. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he touched the corner of the folded paper. Clear. He thought of lowering the gun, of taking another step. Of knowing that, for the moment at least, he was safe. Of knowing that people he trusted were behind him.
He could work with that.