This is the eighth installment of my PoI series. If you're just now checking it out, I highly recommend starting with "Dark Horse" and moving on from there. It's getting to the point where you have to know at least some of the history to understand everything. I know... this has gotten way out of hand. :P
This particular story is still in the works, plot wise. So, it'll probably be a little slower going than my usual fare.
Thanks for reading and enjoy!
I still felt the impressions of the handcuffs on my wrists. I rubbed them absently as he approached me and placed two long fingers under my chin. The pressure of them lifted my head. I was forced to look up at him.
His bright blue eyes narrowed with concern as he examined my face. At the moment, I only felt an abnormal warmth where I was hit on my cheek bone and just above my eye. His other hand delicately touched one of the bruises, and that's when the pain came. I winced and tried pulling away from him, but he held me in place.
"Sorry," he said.
"It's okay," I replied, grateful that I was out of that mess. "I didn't think you'd come back for me."
"Shan," he said disdainfully. "You know better than that."
He actually risked a small smile. Jack's smiles were so rare that I tried to take a mental photograph of each one. This one was a little one, but hit reached his eyes for a moment as he took a closer look at my injury.
"I told you before that if you ever needed me I'd find you." Jack stepped away from me, breaking that small moment. "Sit down. I'll get you some ice."
"Something amusing, Mr. Reese?"
John glanced up from what he was reading, unaware that he'd been smiling. Finch stepped into HQ, draping his suit jacket over the desk chair. John held up the printed pages in his hand. "Just catching up with a serial."
Finch lifted his eyebrows. John couldn't be sure if it was surprise on his face or if Finch was impressed.
"You have a story? I never took you as one for reading modern fiction, Mr. Reese."
"If it's good…" John shrugged.
"Is it good?" Finch sat down in the chair, inputting his password into the computer. He looked over and glanced at the pages John held.
"Ah, that's Mad World isn't it? The adventures of Shannon Holden and Jack Priest. That last installment is a bit of a cliffhanger."
"Hey, spoilers, Finch," John said, lifting his hands up helplessly. "I never took you for reading modern fiction either. Or modern anything for that matter."
"If it's good..." Finch mimicked John's shrug. "I find it interesting that you of all people would become involved in an online published story about an ex government agent and a woman he happens to come across." Finch's tone was light, but John felt the weight of his words as though he'd been beating an anvil with each syllable. "I would have thought you'd easily bore of a storyline like that."
"This one has managed to keep my interest."
Finch lifted his eyebrows, looking like a large bird about to pounce on an insect. "I've done some research on the author."
"There isn't much to find."
"There wouldn't be, would there? It's a pen name."
Finch smiled. "A very romantic one at that."
John shared a look with Finch. They both knew who they weren't talking about. It hung in the air like a great balloon about to burst.
It had taken a little while to track Angelina Chambers down. For Finch, it probably didn't take quite as long. John had gone through countless articles and stories before finding the right magazine with the right style of storytelling. Somehow, he knew that she was still writing something, somewhere. After reading the first paragraph of the first chapter of the online magazine serial, John knew who Angelina Chambers really was.
John read the new chapters that were posted on website every week. Some of the stories were close to the actual truth, others were more fabricated. But in every single one, Sam's sense of humor was constant, refreshing. Perhaps that's why he kept reading them. She had been gone for over two months after all. Reading her writing was like having a bit of her around at times.
Shannon, the main character in the serial, spoke and acted just like Sam. And it was interesting, to say the least, to see how she portrayed him, John, in the character of Jack Priest: the tall, intimidating ex CIA agent with trust issues and a dangerous left hook.
John stared at the printed pages in his hands, but no longer saw the words. Sam knew about the machine and, therefore, he knew that ever since she left, Finch was tracking her, keeping tabs on her whereabouts. If John asked him, he probably could pull up her exact location right there on one of the computer monitors. But he never asked.
"You'll have to bookmark it for now," Finch said, derailing John's thoughts. "We have a new number."
The following morning Samantha Watts, once known as Samantha Tudin in another life, stared at the white ceiling above her bed. The room was dark and quiet. It was early morning, the sun just barely above the horizon.
Since returning to New York, Sam hadn't slept a lot. She'd get two hours in here, and hour in there, like a cat. But most of the time she'd lie awake, her dark hair spread out on the pillow, her eyes staring at nothing as she lost herself in her thoughts.
This morning didn't appear to be any different until someone tapped lightly at the door. Sam didn't answer. She knew who it was.
Alina opened the door a crack and came in, shutting the door behind her.
"Good morning," she said. Her hair was in large rollers, and she wore a hot pink bathrobe
"Hey Alina," Sam said without looking at her.
"I wanted to see how you were doing." Alina smiled, a lovely white smile against the backdrop of her dark, satiny skin.
"I'm good," Sam answered without thinking about it.
Alina sat down on the bed, facing Sam. She reached up and started taking the rollers out of her hair one by one. Sam watched; each section of ebony hair bounced back up in a thick curl once it was released.
"I was thinking about what you said when I first brought you here."
"Oh," Sam said.
"Do you even remember how long ago that was?" Alina asked.
Sam thought for a second. "A week, maybe?"
"Two weeks, Sam. You've kept yourself holed up in here like a hermit. I haven't seen you go out once since you've been back. It's not that I don't like having you here. I do. It's nice to come home and see a friendly face. But this," she waved her finger vaguely in the air at Sam, "is not the same woman who helped save my life a little while back." Alina wasn't accusing Sam of anything. She spoke out of concern, and Sam couldn't take offense at that.
"I don't know what to do with myself anymore. Every single morning I have to talk myself out of going out there to look."
"It's not just him," Sam said. "I was helping people, really helping people. Now that I'm back, and I can't do that anymore, I don't know what to do."
Alina eyed Sam for a moment. "Who says you can't? You are the same woman who dragged that man out of a building that just exploded. I think you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. What was all that traveling for anyway? I thought you had your head on straight when you got back."
Sam bristled a little at Alina's scolding. That wasn't exactly the sympathetic reaction she'd been hoping for. "I thought I did too. But that never happens."
Alina finished with the curlers and poked at Sam to scoot over. She got under the covers and lay down next to her.
"I wanted to rush back into everything the moment I set foot here," Sam continued. "It was almost like I was never away."
"Why are you forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do?" Alina turned on her side and propped her head up on her hand. Her hair cascaded over her shoulder and her arm like a silky waterfall. "Sam, making yourself do something because you think it's right isn't always the right thing if it makes you miserable."
Sam sighed as she reached over the edge of the bed. She found her purse and pulled a few strips of paper out of it.
"What is that?"
Sam handed the photo booth pictures of herself and John over to Alina, who looked at each one in turn. She laughed lightly. "These are pretty cute. Were you guys arguing?"
"Some of the time. That's really all I have left from that whole time, working with him, helping people…" Sam watched as Alina finished with the fourth strip. "Wait. There are supposed to be five."
She pulled her purse onto the bed and rummaged through it. "Great! I lost one. I haven't pulled those out since I left, so I don't know where the last one went. It's probably in the UK somewhere."
"Sam, why don't you just go and find him?" Alina asked.
"I don't think it would matter to him if I did or not."
"That's the risk you take, honey. And it's better than lying in my guest room in the dark, kicking yourself. You need to go back to your life, Sam. Or make a new one. The choice is yours, but you have to figure it out before you drive yourself crazy."
"I liked my old life. Well, it was actually my new life – I liked that one. I don't want to start over again."
"Then start where you left off. Do what makes you happy. It took me a long time to start living by that, Sam. Does helping people, working with John, all of that make you happy?"
Sam had the same argument with herself the entire time she was gone. Even when she was wandering around out of the country, she thought of little else. There were a few times when she believed she had figured it out, and made a decision, one way or the other. The next day, however, it would all go back to square one and the argument would start over again. The bottom line, unfortunately, was that she wanted to know what she needed, and she didn't know where to start in figuring that out.
But what made her happy? What really made her happy? When John looked at her and she knew she was making him laugh, but he was hiding it in that solid way that only he was capable of; when she and John finished a job, and they walked away together, talking softly, and looking forward to sleep; reading a good book that Harold recommended – Wait, no! She had left all of that behind for good reason. What was the reason again?
"John doesn't believe he deserves to be happy," Sam laughed bitterly. "How batshit crazy is that? He thinks everyone else in the entire world deserves happiness, but him!"
"What do you think?" Alina asked.
"I think he's crazy." Sam forced herself out of the bed, placing her feet firmly on the floor. "He's crazy for doing what he does; he's crazy because he's in love with a dead woman; he's crazy because - "
"Back the truck up. Dead woman?"
"He acts like he's the king of all baggage," Sam said as she changed into jeans and a cotton top. "Like he has the monopoly on being messed up," Sam pointed specifically at her head and rotated her finger around. "That's almost egotistical, conceited… in a backwards kind of way, isn't it?"
"Could be," Alina agreed.
"The thing is though," Sam said in a calmer voice. "That is why he understands… everything, basically. He's been through hell, but he's still – " Sam sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "He's the best man I've ever known. And you know," her voice grew louder again, "I use the word "man" very specifically, because not all of them fulfill that definition, if you know what I mean."
"I hear that."
"John, I think, is the first adult male I've met who basically fulfills the definition of a man."
Alina studied her for a long minute. "You miss him."
"I miss him," Sam confirmed. "I miss talking to him. I miss Harold's word use, I miss getting thanked by strangers I've just helped. I thought that I could somehow shut John and all of that out of my life, and keep going. But it doesn't work that way, does it?"
Sam sat down on the edge of the bed. Alina sat up behind her and began gently combing her fingers through her hair.
"I guess I thought that if I went far enough; if I gave myself enough space that it would all go away. But it's like it was all waiting for me, and as soon as I got back… Maybe if I just leave for good and go somewhere…"
"If you run away; if you get a half a dozen haircuts; if you get a tattoo – if, if, if," Alina said, putting her arm across the front of Sam's shoulders. "If you come back; if you see him again; if you found out that he missed you – "
"He doesn't miss anybody," Sam said firmly.
"What would you do if he did? If he took notice of the fact that you were gone, what would you say?"
Sam laughed bitterly and shook her head as she got up. "I have no idea, because he would never admit to such a thing. And stop talking about him. It's not just him!"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, Alina. The bottom line is that I don't think going back where I left off would be very healthy for me." Sam pointed her finger at Alina, a triumphant look on her face. "And I didn't get a tattoo."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to go for a walk." And if I find John in the process, maybe I can shout at him for a little bit. And maybe that will make me feel better. "I just want to feel better." Sam opened the door, but turned to look at Alina once more. "I'm crazy too, though. That's part of the problem."
"The more immediate problem is the fact that you haven't showered in three days!" Alina yelled after her.