The black SUV had been parking there for half an hour. He still sat in the front seat, hands on the wheel as he watched them shaking slightly. This was a bad idea. He knew it, had known it all the time he had driven there. Half-hearted he thought about downing another Penderyn, the first Welsh whisky ever. Funny how that was what had remained from home. What did that say about him? And what exactly was that "home"? He snorted.
What did it say about him that he had driven two bloody hours alone to that bloody prison if he now was too bloody scared to get in?
Mick shook his head. He knew Cooper was right when he told him to let go. He respected the man not only as the best friend he'd ever had but also as his boss, because he knew there was reason behind his boss' words.
But just now he couldn't let go. Just now he had to get inside there and face was waiting for him, or these faces would never leave him.
He took a deep breath and then left the car, walking to the heavy iron door, becoming his easygoing self again with every step.
"Hey, guys, FBI." He held his badge out for the officers at the entrance to see. "Got to talk to Jason Wheeler. Nothing official" – nobody knew where he was going and he certainly wouldn't call for a search warrant, or whatever was needed – "I just got a few questions to complete our profile. Just in case someone like him turns up in the next ten years."
"You mean a copycat-killer?" One of the officers asked. "Jesus, why should anybody try to copy that? I heard you guys got him after two days!"
Two days, eight victims, thirty-four sleepless nights and a damn pager, you idiot. Mick managed a cold smile. "He still killed eight people, right? For some crazy brain out there he might be successful. Now can I talk to him?" "Of course."
So that was it. Being immune to any sort of claustrophobia was one of the reasons he had been the best SAS sniper. Mick was used to be in narrow rooms, and the phone cell was not the smallest thing he had ever been in – no reason at all for his heart to beat that fiercely.
When Jason was brought in, he found the agent totally calm. "Now look who's visiting me? The godfather himself!" The murderer grinned wickedly as he sat down. Mick's expression changed, the lines in his face grew harder, grimmer.
Simultaneously both men moved closer to the glass, their eyes locked. Right as they had before. And Mick was determined not to be the one that blinked. He watched the young man's smile fade in front of him as the other took the challenge. They were both snipers. Their fight was doomed to be a fight till the end, and the end meant death for one of them. Normally, this was just business. But this time it wasn't. Jason Wheeler had not only killed eight people, he had tried to make him responsible for the death he had caused. And though Mick hated to admit it, he had been successful. Mick felt responsible. For everything.
He took a deep breath. "Why?"
Wheeler sneered. "Why what, Mick Rawson? Why did I kill those people? Why did I send you the pager?" He shrugged. "Why not? I think it was fun, kind of. Well…I always knew you would come, Mickie."
Sighing dramatically, he looked away. Mick allowed himself a little grin, but it didn't reach his eyes. When Wheeler's eyes met his again, he moved as close as he could.
He left the building, completely drained. The sun had begun to set; its golden beams illuminated the parking lot, his car – and Cooper, leaning against another SUV.
As Mick saw him, he shook his head, but couldn't avoid a smile. Noticing his friend's smile, Cooper's face also lit up. He slowly marched towards the younger man. For a moment they remained silent, then it was Mick who unlocked the gaze. "I guess I should've known." "Yes, you should."
Mick nodded grimly. "I told you I was okay. I don't need anyone to babysit me, Cooper. Not even you." "I know what you said. I got that, Mick. But I also know that this was bothering you, more than you would admit. I won't let you go through this alone." His voice was warm, but firm. Mick knew him good enough to hear the end of the discussion in it."Fine." He closed his eyes for a moment, then turned around. Cooper was still standing right behind him, his eyes filled with concern and affection. And still he had not asked the question.
Again, Mick smiled, and this time it was honest. "Could need a beer or something…stronger." Cooper raised his eyebrows. "Stronger?" Finally starting to laugh, Mick opened the door and put out the Penderyn. Cooper winced. "Don't do that to me, Mick, not that stuff! Let's take a beer, right, I'll pay, but spare me this!"
"So what did Wheeler say?" It was almost midnight. After some drinks and going through good old times in Europe and bad old times in Fallujah, Sam felt safe enough to ask. Mick sighed, suddenly finding his almost empty glass very interesting. "You know", he eventually said, "It wasn't about me. Not at all." Cooper sighed in relief. "He told me", Mick went on, "that the only reason he sent me the pager was that he saw my face, checked me up by using his father's secret password which led him to the army files, and found me there. He just used me to… drive us crazy. He never really challenged me, Coop. He just… I mean, till now he's convinced he's the better sniper." He downed the rest of his drink. "Idiot."
"Him or you?" Cooper watched his colleague enquiringly.
"Now come on, don't you profile me!" Mick snapped.
"Hey, hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" Both men remained silent for a few moments. Then – "Sorry, Coop. Wasn't meant to… oh fuck!" Exhausted, Mick burrowed his face in his hands. "It just doesn't help", he murmured. Cooper leaned closer. "What do you mean?" "I still feel…guilty of it. I helped him. Maybe I was not the one he wanted to impress but I was still the one he could manipulate. I was the weakest link in this team, I was the one who…" "Now stop it, Mick!" Cooper grabbed his friend's hands and gently pulled them of his face, forcing the man to lean over the table until their faces were only inches apart. "This was not your fault. Nothing concerning that case was your fault. We were called there by Fickler because…" "Because he thought that my experience would help", Mick whispered hoarsely. "I could have get Gina killed." "No you couldn't. Gina could get Gina killed, and I've talked to her about it. This wasn't you fault, Mick, you can't control everything! Don't blame your past or your skills for your being human! You're a great agent. I wouldn't have called you in if you weren't. But you can't expect yourself to control everything, Mick. And trust me", he eventually let go of Mick's hands to lay his on the younger man's shoulders, "I rather would be worried if you hadn't been touched by that pager. It was your getting emotionally involved without losing your mind that showed me how great an agent you are. And I never had a doubt about that." He waited for his words to drop, and then gently let go of Mick and stood up. "And now I think we should go home, for I'm sure there's a new case awaiting us." He started to walk away. Mick stayed at the bar for second, trying to get his mind right, trying to secure Cooper's words in his heart.
"You know what I think, Coop", he called as he followed his friend out, "I think one day I'll make you love Penderyn!"