Date: April 19, 2010
It was a damned good run.
Bonus track: Cruel to Be Kind
"Cruel to Be Kind"
Midtown, NYC - 1701 - Prestige Midtown Apts.
Jack has never been particularly good at waiting.
After being released by his nameless, faceless captors, he had to resist the futile urge to tear the city apart in search of Trina. Instead, he bolted for their shared apartment. Not the safest place in the world under the circumstances, but a better choice than the Den.
Someone beat him here. Every stash spot, slick, and hidey-hole he's created has been found and torn out. Priceless papers, incriminating photos for emergency blackmailing purposes, and small valuables have been scattered on the counters and the floor. Untidy piles of gold Krugerrands are nestled next to crumpled polariods. Polariods are wedged against discarded file folders. The entire mess is covered with a thick layer of dust. Whoever was here, they have long since come and gone.
The tall, muscular man is waiting in the center of the mess. He's reversed a chair to straddle it, as is his way. Somewhere between his release and his arrival, he's gotten his hands on a flannel shirt, fitted jeans, and a pair of work boots. Coupled with his unkempt appearance, it makes for perfect camoflauge. Just another guy who has waited a few days too long between shaves.
Jack may not be very good at waiting, but there are some moments that require waiting. That necessitate it.
Deposited on the far side of an unfriendly city without money or car, Trina had to rely on old tricks to hitch a ride back to the center of town. The apartment isn't the first place she searches. She goes to the Den first, with its front window covered now in some street gang's grafitti, before making her way back to Jack's place.
Her feet feel heavy as she chooses to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and then she plods down the hall. She's free. That's what she wanted, wasn't it? To be free of that horrible, horrible place and the straps that bound her for so long. She's gotten something she'd wished for, and yet she does not smile.
She stares at the numbers for a long time when she finally reaches Jack's door, and then her hands pull out her keys and begin the shaky attempt to set them into the lock.
When the doorknob rattles, Jack probes the inside of his mouth thoughtfully with his tongue, but he doesn't rise from his seat. What little light there is in the apartment glints off of the pistol he holds tight against his side. He thumbs back the hammer, producing a metallic click that is ominously loud in the otherwise silent space.
In the rattle of keys, Trina can't hear a click. Instead, she simply hunches over to finish putting the right key into place. Her features are momentarily lost behind a curtain of dark, stringy hair.
But then the tumblers tumble and she is quietly pushing her way inside from the hall. Shoulders slouched, skinny arms made even skinner from captivity, she barely looks like herself. It isn't until she's inside, until that door is shut closed, that she turns her attention towards the room. Blue eyes look for Jack and lock on the familiar form of him once they're there.
And then she doesn't say anything at all.
Girl. His girl.
Jack's heart skips a beat, but he still raises his weapon. Solemnly, he lines the sights up with her pert nose.
What little inclination he had to blindly trust has vanished.
"Where were we going to retire?" he asks, his voice flat and cold. No mercy. No margin for error.
Trina doesn't blame him. He raises that gun, and all she does for a long moment is stare at him. Her jeans are dirty. Her shirt stinks. The apartment's a wreck; someone's been here. Jack's holding a gun. Then, quietly, as though she were delivering a grocery list in shameful secrecy, her voice drawls a reply without bothering to hide a Georgian upbringing. "Was North Dakota." And then there's a sharp sniff.
An unspoken dare, hidden in the resignation of exhausted blue eyes: If you're gonna shoot me, just do it and get it over with.
Slowly, very slowly, Jack lets the hammer down on his pistol and sets it aside. All the while, his eyes stay locked on Trina's. When he unfolds his body from the chair and stands, he towers over his tiny counterpart. Like a scarecrow, his features seem fixed into a single, permanent expression. One of awed disbelief.
"You're alive…" he exhales. Unconsciously, he reaches out for her with his long, spidery fingers a-twitch. "God, you're alive."
He sets the gun aside, and a pale gaze watches his hand. He stands, and that same gaze watches him rise. Unyielding, unwilling to give anything away, Trina simply watches.
That, of all things, brings a twitch of a smile to the corner of Trina's lips, but it can't come until he speaks. His voice, that is the key to a lock of an entirely different sort. There is the release of a pent-up breath, escaping all in a rush. With it, there is the crumbling of some of the girl's hard-won stoicism, and her voice trembles as she offers back: "So are you."
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
What was once natural now has to be prompted by conscious thought. Jack cranes his neck to wipe sudden, unexpected drops of sweat from his forehead. By the look of his shirt, this isn't the first time he's repeated the process. Not by a long shot.
He takes a step closer.
"I am…" he verifies, letting his hands drop to his sides. His pause lasts just long enough for him to collect his thoughts and wet his cracked lips with the tip of his tongue. "…and I've missed you."
He missed her. It takes Trina time to process the words, and she plays them over and over again to make certain that she has indeed correctly deciphered the meaning of the syllables spoken.
And then she's forward in a rush, feet pounding against the floor as they carry her so she can smash her face directly into his chest and feel his heartbeat with her own hands.
And possibly her nose.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles there in a barely coherent string of sound, in the safety of his shirt, where he can't see her. "Gawd, I am so sorry."
Jack lets out a quiet 'oof' and catches Trina. As he cradles her against his body, it becomes apparent that she's not the only one who has lost weight. He's never had much to spare. Now he's all angles and sharp edges and protruding bones. Still, he squeezes her close and nuzzles his whiskery face against the top of her head. "Shhh," he murmurs reassuringly. "Hush. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Trina's fingers ball up in Jack's shirt, as though he might disappear beneath her hands if he weren't pulled up tight. "I didn't know," she sobs there. "I didn't know they'd…" That they'd make Jack's very worst nightmare a reality. And somehow, even though he says she doesn't have to be sorry, it's her fault.
Because she called for him.
Because he came.
"Are… Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Jack replies, his voice pitched to be low and soothing. Her words are a spark to his pool of gasoline, though. Unconsciously, he stiffens.
He doesn't say it. Not out loud. He doesn't have to. The grim set of his jaw and the sudden hunching of his shoulders speaks volumes.
Told you so.
It's an accusation that rings loudly, echoing in her ears like a gong. She has no right to cry, and Trina takes a moment to internalize that to the point that she can stop herself. Once she's collected, she moves to pull herself away, wiping furiously at her eyes. "Who's been here? They do this?"
Letting her go is one of the hardest things Jack has ever had to do.
He steps back.
"I don't know," he replies, answering both questions. "They were thorough, though. And they weren't after money." Absently, he nudges a stack of gold coins with the toe of his boot. One is dislodged. It rolls away from its fellows and clatters noisily against the floorboards. "That scares me more than anything else," he continues, looking everywhere but at Trina. "Place has been tossed, but nothing's missing."
Trina can't quite look at Jack, either. She looks at the floor, at the point where the gold coin comes to a stop upon its board. Hands go, useless, to plunge into her pockets. Then her booted foot moves to set down on that coin, and she slides it in Jack's direction. "Penny for your thoughts," she tries, an attempt at light-heartedness.
The heavy coin is trapped under the thick treads of Jack's stolen footwear. The half-man hesitates, then shakes his head and kicks it back over to her. "It's not safe here. Not anymore. Look around." Hands spread, arms held wide, he spins in a slow circle to indicate the mess. The tattered remnants of what he's accumulated since he arrived in New York. "This place is three safehouses deep and has more false paper covering it than even I can remember. If someone can find us here, they can find us anywhere."
"Then… Then we need to make ourselves harder to find." Trina lets herself sneak a gaze up in her fiance's direction, and then she swallows, hard. "Baby… I…" Wide eyes moves back to Jack after a reassuring look to her shoes, and then she turns to face him more fully. "We're easier to find together. 'Specially now that they know we're together." Her brow crinkles, and then she continues. "Right?" It sounds right. It sounds, to her, like what Jack has likely already thought. Is possibly thinking now. She just needed to be brave enough to say it first.
Jack's face is hard. Cold. Unyielding. Like an Easter Island statue, he stands with his eyes slightly narrowed and his mouth pressed into a flat, unwavering line. "We are easier to find together," he acknowledges.
No emotion. Feelings are a luxury. A failing.
The hard-learned lessons of his youth are coming back to him with uncanny clarity. He reaches behind his back and pulls a thick envelope free from his belt. It's heavy in a papery way. "Take this," he says briskly, offering it to her. "There's enough in there for you to start over. Just take it and go."
"I… I don't want your money, sugar." Trina's not nearly so practiced at calloused, and her breaths fall unabashedly in rapid succession over even faster heartbeats. Her fingers drop down to her keys, pulling them back out so that she can start wriggling off the key to the building's front door, the mailbox, the apartment.
It doesn't matter that he likely will never step inside the beloved walls again. There is a specific ceremony to these sorts of things. A way for this to be done. She is nothing if not diligent in its observance.
Slow, lazy blink. Jack looks down at the keys, but only for a moment. His next glance is for the envelope. The one he knew she wouldn't take. With a heavy, wet-sounding slap, he drops it on what's left of the kitchen counter. It lies between them, a stark, unpleasant reminder of what's happening. What's to come.
"Fine," he says blandly. Detached. Uncaring. "Have it your way. Look, we had a good run."
Then he crosses his arms over his chest and turns his back on her.
"We did." One, two, three. Three keys, set beside the money. He turns his back, and that is a mercy. It gives her privacy much needed as she sets them so tenderly and neatly down, three dying dreams all in a row.
And then the worst of it, the twisting of the adornment on her left ring finger. "Was a damned good run." There's a look up to the loft, the mess of the loft, and then she seems to give up any hope of pulling her belongings together. She couldn't do it quickly enough to seem at all fair to either of them.
She looks at the ring once more, smiles a thing bittersweet, and then sets it down as the fourth and final item to be collected with all of the reverence that such a sacred trust deserves.
"So. I… I guess that's it."
"That's it," Jack repeats. He sounds… he sounds bored. He sounds bored and irritated.
When it comes to situations like this, you have to be cruel to be kind.
He won't even look at her, and it hurts. It hurts.
Still, in the end, Trina has no right to insist. He did things her way, and look what it got him. It is now her turn to swallow her pride, to abide, and do things his way.
She walks now towards the door with her chin held high and shoulders square, hips swaying like it was just another trip to the corner store. "Bye, baby." It's not until she's to the door and its hanging open that she pauses. From her place in it, there's a quiet murmur, over her shoulder. "Keep in one piece, hm?" Then, because she cannot leave without having it as the last thing said, a final confession. Though, by this point, it's not really a secret, is it? "I love you."
And then? The door shuts.
As soon as he hears the slam, Jack crumples to the floor in a boneless heap. Somehow, the pistol has found its way back into his hand. He's holding it so tightly that his knuckles pop and crackle. He lifts it, pressing the cold, rough grip against his cheek. There's a smack-smack-smacking sound as he taps it against his face. Then, recklessly, he tosses it across the room.
A single, forlorn tear drips from the tip of his nose and splashes to the dusty floor.
"I love you, too," he whispers to no one.