Charlie hears laughter, high and clear. It cuts through the white noise if the restaurant like wind chimes on a cold fall morning and there's something about it that makes him feel like he's come home. He leans back in his chair, but the dining room is crowded and he can't find where it's coming from.
Liv elbows him in the side. "Hey. We're not here to sight-see."
Charlie ducks his head and throws back his drink. "You're just jealous cause you don't see anything you like."
Later, he runs into her on his way to the men's room; he's coming, she's going, and they do that little dance people do when they're both trying to politely sidestep through a tight space. Shuffle to the left, shuffle to the right, and a few I'm sorrys and Don't worry about its thrown in for good measure. A little polite laugh on the last one. The hallway's dim, but he can tell it's her.
Somebody opens the washroom door and light spills out. The woman is blond, cute the way Mona is with a quick smile and that sparkle Charlie's grandmother always warned him about. But she doesn't bubble, or trip and tumble over her words in her eagerness. This woman simply puts a hand on his bicep and interrupts their awkward pas de deux. "I'll just stick to the right," she says.
But her smile freezes when she looks up at him. She gasps, brings her fingers up to her mouth, and whispers, "It's not you." The she shoves past him and disappears.
Charlie lingers over coffee with Liv and the others, but he doesn't hear that sparkling laughter again.
A week later, Olivia holds out a slip of paper with a phone number. "Sonia asked me to give you this." She looks him straight in the eye before letting go, and for a moment it could easily be his Liv staring him down, all fierce and protective, but then she softens. "She knows what happened with her Charlie. She wants to see you anyhow."
The rest goes unspoken, but the warning is clear: don't hurt her.
Charlie folds the paper carefully into his wallet, behind the driver's license they'd issued him for when he's over here.
It's not a date, Charlie tells himself, but he still fidgets as he waits for her to answer the door. He would've suggested somewhere neutral, like a coffee shop or a pub, but Sonia'd insisted that she'd like him to come by her place. She didn't leave room for argument. Charlie wonders if he usually gave in to her so easily, or if he's just eager to meet her and see what she's like. See if it's true that each of us has a type.
The house is older, but sturdy and well cared for, just starting to show signs that it's going to need a new coat of paint soon. There's a small fenced-in yard, the kind that should be filled with ride-on toys or a swing set and a little garden. No toys, but she keeps it neat. The grass is trimmed and the flowerbeds are tidy. It reminds him of the home he grew up in, and where his parents still live.
It's the kind of place Charlie would've picked if he were thinking of settling down and starting a family. He reminds himself not to make comparisons. Too easy to get suckered by false assumptions.
Sonia answers the door, more composed than the last time he saw her, but the slight tremor when she holds out her hand to take his jacket gives away the nerves she must be feeling.
"Nice place," he says for lack of anything better. And it is a nice house on the inside too. Just empty feeling, like it's waiting for its family to get back from that three week summer vacation so they can throw open the windows and breathe some life back into the place.
Or maybe more like a shrine, he thinks as he passes hallway walls full of photos of dead Charlie Francis in a uniform, or dead Charlie Francis and his lovely wife Sonia on vacation somewhere tropical and flashing three-margarita smiles for the camera. They really were happy.
"Thanks," she says as she leads the way into the living room. "It's small, but Charlie always said that once… " but she trails off, stumbling over the absurdity of talking to her dead husband's double.
Charlie reaches out and puts a hand on her shoulder. "Sonia?"
She turns, but doesn't quite meet his eyes. She fiddles with her wedding band and he thinks that maybe coming was a mistake. Hell, calling her was probably a stupid idea in the first place.
"Why did you ask me here?"
She finally looks up at him. "Why did you come?"
Fair enough. "I was curious, I guess." He shrugs. "I wanted to see what it could have been like, you know? They gave me his file, little bit of background, so I guess I wondered, after we ran into each other at the restaurant and Olivia told me who you were."
She nods, satisfied, like she's been comparing him and found him to be close enough. "Is there… are we…" she starts and stops, shakes her head. "Is there anyone? Over there." She bites her lip, almost afraid of the answer.
Charlie hesitates. He hasn't seen enough of Mona to be considered exclusive, as old fashioned as that sounds, and he's not sure where that's going anyhow, not with him over here all the time. And then there's work, and Lincoln and Liv, but he thinks Sonia would understand how it is with partners. How sometimes they're like family, and sometimes they're more. He's noticed the way Olivia squints at him when he picks at her for details about her Charlie or her Astrid, like she's deciding if she should circle the wagons. Some things are universal.
"Not really," he finally settles on. "Why?"
"I know what happened to my husband. Now." She pauses. "After I saw you at the restaurant, Agent Broyles came by. He brought some papers for me to sign." She takes a step closer and suddenly, she's in his space and he can feel her vibrating. "And since I'm not allowed to tell anyone about you, I'd like to ask a favor."
He's about to agree without even asking what he can do, when she reaches up. Her fingers are soft as she pulls his mouth to hers. Gentle at first, then deeper, and urgent, like she's drowning and he's her last breath of air. Charlie closes his eyes and he can almost pretend he's that someone else she's wishing for.
But it's too fast and all wrong, and he promised himself he wouldn't hurt her.
"Sonia," he says and pulls back. He licks his lips and he can taste her kiss, sweet and light, and full of the promise of all the things he could have had with her. "This is… We shouldn't do this. It's not right." He says it because he's supposed to. Because it's the gentlemanly thing to do, even though his body is trying to answer otherwise.
She cups his cheek, strokes her thumb across the corner of his mouth, and it takes him a minute to realize that her hand is covering his scar. Her Charlie never had a scar, not there. She's watching him with those huge eyes of hers, studying him. Looking for something he knows isn't there.
"I know you're not my Charlie." Her voice is close to breaking. "I know you're not him, but the last time I slept with my Charlie, it wasn't him either. And I couldn't even tell." She touches her lips to his, gently. Almost chaste. Charlie doesn't stop her, even though he thinks this might be a bad idea on so many levels.
Sonia brings her eyes up to his. They're so deep and so sad that he knows he won't refuse. "But you are Charlie Francis, even if you're not mine. So please?" She runs her index finger along the ridge of scar tissue. "Let me pretend? One last time?"
Grief really is a funny thing.
Charlie leaves her in the morning, but not until she's awake. She lies in bed, with her sleep-blurred eyes and mussed hair, and watches him dress like she's trying to burn every last detail into her memory. He doesn't say anything until he's ready to leave, doesn't want to ruin the illusion for her. Then he rounds the bed and kisses her once, slow and deep. And for the last time.
He doesn't promise to call. That's how she wants it.
Olivia corners him some months later. "So," she says in a way that feels kind of like the opening gambit in an interrogation. They're in the break room and he has a feeling she's been waiting for this chance to get him alone. "I ran into Sonia the other day."
"Oh?" Charlie answers, as casual as he can force it. He already knows where this is going. He might not be from this side, but he's been an investigator in some capacity long enough that he knows how to keep tabs on somebody, and to look out for them, at a distance. "How is she?"
"She's… good. Tired. Baby's due any day." Charlie feels her eyes on him while he fusses with the sugar and the creamer.
"Good." He nods. "That's good. She happy?"
She's watching him, waiting for him to say more, maybe cop to the deed. Out of everybody he knows over here, Olivia's probably one of the few who might understand. Charlie didn't pull the trigger and kill Sonia's husband. He didn't slip into their marriage, into their bed, and pretend like nothing had changed. But it was Charlie's side that fired the shot that made her a widow. He just offered himself to her as penance.
And that's her secret to keep if she wants to.
Olivia picks up a cup and reaches across him for the coffee pot. She's still watching him out of the corner of her eye even though she's eased off a bit. Not quite as intense. "Yeah, I think she finally is." There's a lot more that goes unspoken, but Charlie was right; Olivia gets it. Now that her curiosity and her sense of duty have been satisfied, she'll leave it alone.
"Good." Charlie sips his coffee and turns towards the door. "Then I'm happy for her."