Sunday, May 06, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 17 - Things I've Seen

Standing on the hotel's heliport, Mark, Done and Rowena watched their lift depart for greener pastures; Rowena chanced a look at Mark's expression and gave him a look.

"Some day," Rowena said, "you'll have to tell me why you didn't kill him."
"Some day," Mark replied.

Then he turned to her and buried her in a hug.

Rowena was, as a rule of thumb, not someone who wore her feelings on her sleeve - she was far too professional and jaded for that. It wasn't just professional detachment; everybody around her was this way, even "plain and simple" Mark sometimes left her feeling that she was missing half his story. But this was raw and real and warm, and despite the heat, it was the kind of good warmth you couldn't get enough of. His frame almost buried her; there was a brief shock on her back when he touched her bandages, but that faded soon. Her head rested on his chest, with her ear right next to his heart. She focused on the thump-thump of it and imagined it like a small diesel engine, powerful and steady.

Finally, she let go; he took a step back and looked at her.

"Thanks," she said, he smiled, and that was that; she walked off towards the staircase, with Mark's look trailing her. Done stepped up to the side of the enforcer, grinning from ear to ear.

"I got myself a suspicion, Simmons. You're not really all that jaded."
"I'm as surprised as you are."
"And Rovy's stolen another heart. Ah, they grow up so fast."

The two stood there for a moment, caught between the simple and the complicated sides of life.


Given Rowena's hunger, it wasn't odd that she'd ordered seconds in the hotel's restaurant; given her appearance, it was understandable that Mark had paid good money to have the place emptied. His Filet Mignon was staring at him from the sparkly plate on the table, slowly cooling off while he said nothing. Rowena's steak had satisfied the worst of her hunger, and with her stomach no longer screaming for nourishment, she found her senses alert enough to pick up on Mark's lack of appetite - and the running count of his beers.

"Don't you like it?" she snuck between two pieces of sweet potatoes.
"Already ate today," he said, his eyes not anywhere near his protege and instead much closer to the skyline of the city.

Rowena said nothing for the moment, but twenty seconds later she had finished her plate and pushed it aside to rest her elbows on the table.

"What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing in particular, I'm just...thinking about what I want," he replied, and turned to face Rowena. Spotting her quizzical look, he elaborated. "You know how they say that you always want what you can't have?"
"Uh-huh. And?"
"I'm rich, deadly and sitting here with you. I have everything."

It's hard for a teenage girl to hide a blush. Rowena was no exception. Mark cracked a grin at that, but it soon disappeared again.

"So what am I looking for?"
"...redemption?" Rowena offered.
"I'm not done sinning yet."
"Hm. Fame, maybe?"
"Signed that one away. Secret agent."
"Right...ah, I've got it."
"Are you ready?"
"Yes, dammit."

Rowena blurted it out with a smirk, but she knew it was the wrong thing to say before she had finished saying it. To his credit, Mark's reaction was not nearly as violent as it could've been; absent-mindedly, he twirled the fork in his hand and stabbed it into the meat on his plate with a bit too much force.

"I shouldn't have said that," Rowena conceded, but Mark just shook his head.
"I gave up on love a long time ago. Lots of things that could've been...none that were. And enough of that."
"Some day?" Rowena asked; Mark nodded.
"Some day. Now eat your damn veggies."

Rowena showed him some tongue, but then went back to work her plate. Mark leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.


"Fancy meeting you here," Mark said, the suppressed Colt .45 in his right hand tremoring ever so slightly. His unkempt hair and five o'clock shadow revealed his lack of preparation.
"What are the odds?" Sharon replied with forced coldness; her Beretta 92 was shivering worse, though you couldn't see it in her face yet.

They slowly circled each other, testing the abandoned apartment they'd met in.

"This is silly," he said, but he didn't lower his gun.
"I called you yesterday, and today in the morning, and fifteen minutes ago. I know you heard me," Sharon replied, slowly shaking her head with its tightly-bound red hair.
"I'm not leaving."
"It's too late for that now, anyway."
"Do I have to shoot my way out, then?" he said with a weary smile. Even he knew that it wasn't funny.
"Stand down. For God's sake, Mark, stand down. I can save you, we'll get it bumped down to life, all you have to do is stand down."
"But it's not just that, is it? You want me to roll on the cartel."
"Your life, Mark. I'm saving your life here."

Mark knew how it felt to have your gun aimed at someone you absolutely didn't want to shoot but had to, and by the look she was giving him, Sharon knew it too. He couldn't find the courage to cry.

"I'm not coming with you, Shar. I'm going to walk out of here. I don't want to shoot...but I'll do it if I have to."
"No. You are not leaving." She put both hands on the gun, trying to keep those tremors in check. "Lose the gun, Mark. I won't say it again."
"I love you, Sharon. I do. I really do. But I can't come with you."
"I can't let you get away," she whispered, then added "I love you" under her breath.
"I know," Mark said.

Then they pulled the triggers.

Sharon's shot tore a chunk out of Mark's side, shattering his 9th rib and leaving him to stagger back in pain. He almost collapsed against the wall, blinded by pain for a second; then he got up and stripped off the light Kevlar vest under his shirt. Without thought, he turned toward the door and walked out, made it all the way to his car and started it. It was difficult to draw breath, but he'd survived worse. He felt the reassuring purr of the engine, like a soothing massage for the screaming voices in his head. He peeled the car out of its parking space and sped off. He made it three blocks before he saw a gaggle of police vehicles pass by in the opposite direction. Out of reflex, he switched his police scanner on.

"Officer down at 163rd and Riverside, I repeat, officer down..."

He turned it off again.


Mark opened his eyes to find himself 20 years older; Rowena gave him a strange look.

"You made that face again," she said. "You are thinking about something."
Mark shrugged, thought for a moment, then smiled. "You did good today, Rowena. Enjoy it while it lasts."
"...Rowena?" she asked. "Have I been promoted from 'kiddo'?"

His smile turned crooked.

"Well, it's about time, don't you think?"

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