THE ONLY WAY for me to get through this one is to go over the top with the melodrama. To be clear, this is uneven, incomplete, and so melodramatic it should come with its own branded tissue.
Near the end of Act III
There were things Denna loved about December. The way the air smelled before it snowed. The holiday lights in every window. The smiles adorning the faces of even the most hardened of citizens.
The darkness that descended so early in the day wasn’t on the list. It was halfway through DC’s cocktail hour, but the sky was already black as midnight. It made her feel like the bad guys were winning.
She wondered what that portended for the evening.
Denna had scoped out the address in advance, as usual, but had found only signs of an artsy neighborhood favored by young middle-class families. The St. Francis apartment building was like most in the area – decades old, four stories tall, stone and brick and wood. The door was set back from the street creating a U-shaped floor plan, and a wrought iron gate guarded the walkway that stretched from the street to the entrance.
The gate was wide open. Denna walked down the cobblestone path toward the door, checking all the corners and windows for threats as she did. Oddly, all of the windows were dark as if unoccupied, though the lobby appeared to be well-lit.
She didn’t bother with the intercom. Denna entered the code she’d been given on the keypad and the door clicked to allow her inside.
It was warmer inside, though not by much. Denna didn’t like the idea of taking the elevator, but the idea of walking up four flights of stairs didn’t appeal to her either. Still, she wasn’t taking any chances.
On the fourth floor, she stopped to calm her racing heart and told herself it was from exertion.
Before this mess with Zephyr, the last time she’d received any communication from Katja was to arrange a meet with Penelope. Now, she wondered if that was when they’d figured out the Thanksgiving escape nonsense.
The last time she’d seen Katja had been when Marsh had ambushed her in the park. She’d been so focused on Marsh that she’d barely looked at Katja had the time, but had seen one brief glimpse of her in the dark fog before Katja had disappeared.
That had been months ago.
She stood outside apartment 4D for a long minute, catching her breath. Denna started to knock, but since Katja had promised to come alone, she didn’t bother. After one more slow, deep breath, she opened the door and let herself in.
The apartment was silent. Barely furnished,
It felt like it’d been forever since she’d seen Katja like this.
“You look much better.”
The tone was bland, but her eyes sparkled. Denna’s heart leapt in response, but that only made her mad.
Katja looked as untouchable as ever, dressed in dark clothes and no doubt armed to the teeth. She always looked as if she could suddenly break into violent action, but her dark looks did nothing but attract Denna more.
Denna fought it down, trying to maintain her composure. She was scared to death that she’d just cave and leap into Katja’s arms, and she did not want to give Katja that kind of power right now. She schooled her face to reveal nothing.
Katja seemed put off by Denna’s lack of response. “I want to thank you for letting me see Pen.”
Denna scoffed. “So you two could plan how to spring her?”
Katja looked taken aback at Denna’s vitriol. “She didn’t know anything about that. That was all me.”
What was this? What was Katja doing here? Something else was going on, and as moved as she was by Katja’s presence, none of this made sense.
“Why are you even doing this? And don’t tell me it’s some sort of newfound altruism, because that’s utter bullshit.”
Katja sighed. “You think you’re the only one who loves this country, don’t you?”
That gave Denna pause, and she didn’t know what to say.
Katja continued.“You heard about the intel Foster and Marsh got from their secret connection on the inside? That was the Falcon. Pen and I were the mole in Renault’s organization. Every tip Foster had came from us, not that he knew it.”
Denna must have looked incredulous, because Katja nodded. “We were plotting to destroy Renault’s business one brick at a time. There was no way we were going to let that son of a bitch help his shady contacts attack the US. Not on our watch.”
“Did Rayner know it was you?”
Denna tossed her hands to the ceiling and let them fall. “So why not tell her? You don’t need to go through all these, these…ridiculous machinations. You don’t have to deal with me as your handler. If what you’re saying is true, just tell her! You don’t have to pull me back into all this…this bullshit!”
Katja stared, and Denna was surprised to see sadness fall across her face.
“You don’t want to work with Zephyr?”
“No! It’s just like Foster all over again.” She paced a small strip of carpet along one wall, her arms crossed over her chest. “People with motives of their own outside of the objectives of the mission. I’m sick of it, and I don’t want any part of it.”
She whirled on Katja. “So all this is about your own twisted patriotism?”
“No.” Katja answered immediately. “I wanted to see you.”
“What?” Denna nearly laughed. She knew she was bordering on hysterical. “You didn’t have to go through all to see me again. You could have just sent a message. You didn’t have to involve Rayner or Zephyr to do that.”
“Would you have come?”
Denna didn’t have an answer for that.
“So now you see. This was the price I had to pay to see you.”
Now Denna did laugh. It was all preposterous. The Falcon agreeing to work for a government-sanctioned para-military organization just so she could see her ex-lover.
But Katja looked hurt, and turned her back on Denna, but not fast enough that Denna didn’t see the flash of grief in her eyes.
At that, Denna’s laugh broke off with a mild choke. And then silence held reign again.
Katja looked out the window. Her voice was so small, so faint, Denna could barely make out the words.
“Is it so hard to believe that I wanted to see you again?” She turned around, her eyes glassy in the low light. “Are you really so naive? Can’t you understand – don’t you see why I agreed to any of this at all?”
Katja took another step toward her, and Denna stepped back until Katja stopped.
“They’ve tried everything they can think of to get me to do this. They’ve threatened jail time – but they’d have to catch me first, and I’m not that easy to catch.”
She took another step closer. Denna felt her heartbeat thundering in your ears.
“They offered to move Pen to minsec or put her in the hole forever if I wouldn’t play along, so I sprung her altogether.” She held up her hand to ward off Denna’s immediate reaction. “I made sure that wouldn’t come back on you, but I had to get her out of there.”
Katja was even closer now. Denna could hear her own breath huffing. She wanted her, but she didn’t, damn it.
“They want me. Badly. And I’m not sure why. But I made sure to leverage the only thing that matters to me. If they want me, I want you.”
“I’m not some sort of token, some prize to be -“
“Goddamnit, Denna! I don’t care about them, or what they want, or any part of their whole fucking agenda! I have my own ways of catching the bastards who are a threat to me and mine. I don’t need fucking Zephyr to do that.”
She closed the distance, until there were nothing but inches between them.
“I only care about you. I only need you. I did all this just to get you alone for five minutes so I could tell you that-“
“No.” Denna turned and headed for the door. “I’m done playing games. I can’t do this.”
She didn’t wait for a response. She fled to the stairs, her self-preservation kicking in, and raced down them as fast as she could.
She wanted no part of this. Not Zephyr, not another bizarre assignment where she had to watch her back constantly and where everyone’s motives were suspect.
She was leaving now, and she was all this – Rayner, Zephyr, Katja – behind and never looking back.
Denna didn’t get five steps before the tears blinded her and she had to stop walking.
If she took another step, odds were that she’d never see Katja again.
She felt the exact moment that thought broke her heart, and she nearly cried out.
This time, Denna took the elevator.
Katja was stunned by how much it hurt. She felt like something in her chest had exploded but somehow remained contained and just throbbed with urgent agony that she couldn’t alleviate.
Denna was gone. After everything Katja had said, all that she had revealed – Denna had turned her back and left.
She had left Katja behind.
Katja couldn’t even move. She stood, frozen, afraid that if she moved an inch, she’d collapse from the grief she felt.
Denna didn’t want her.
The gasp surprised her, and she felt a wail coming. Penelope was gone. The purpose she’d had for herself for years had vanished into the air. And now, the only person she’d ever let into her heart had left her bereft.
A low thumping was her only warning, and she didn’t have time to draw her weapon.
Denna threw the door open, and slammed it behind her. She fell against the door, hands clenched in her own hair.
“I don’t know what to do, Katja. I swear I don’t.” Her voice was thick with her own sobs. “But I can’t let you disappear again.”
The relief whooshed through Katja’s so strongly she was surprised it didn’t make a noise.
Yet the tension returned when she saw the torment on Denna’s face.
“I don’t want to do this again. I don’t know what I want for certain, but I know this isn’t it. But how else can I see you? How else can this work? I’m a former analyst and will likely be on a watchlist for the rest of my life. You’re an assassin wanted by a dozen government agencies. How do we do this?”
The tears streamed down her face, and Katja felt tears in her own in response.
Denna pushed off the door and came closer. “I don’t know how to be with you, but I can’t bear to be apart either. I can’t do what you do, and you won’t quit. What are we going to do?”
Katja wiped the tears from her own cheeks. “I don’t have to do it. I can renege on the agreement with Zephyr. I don’t care what Rayner threatens. She has no real hold over me.”
“Why would you do that? You told them you would. Why break your word now?”
Katja reached forward to grab onto Denna’s jacket and pulled her closer.
“You. You, Denna.” She sniffled and tried to find a smile. “I dream of the way you look at me. That stare of yours that sees right through me.”
Katja didn’t mean to kiss her, but couldn’t hold back anymore. As softly and gently as she could manage, she brushed her lips against Denna’s and tasted the salt of her tears.
Denna pulled away, but didn’t go far. Katja took that as a good sign.
“Can we please figure it out later?” Katja asked. “Tomorrow, even. I don’t want to put it off forever, but I’ve missed you and I want to be with you for just a little while before we have to figure out how to save the world without losing ourselves.”
Perhaps that was an exaggeration, but she didn’t think it was by much.
Denna stared at her for a long time. Katja had missed those eyes, and the way they seemed to see everything.
“You want to get some dinner?” Denna’s voice was small and tentative. She reached toward Katja, then pulled her hand back.
Katja didn’t want that. She reached back, pulled Denna’s hand in hers and squeezed, and tried not to show how relieved she was that Denna had come back, that she hadn’t run away, that she was here.
She sighed and mustered up a small smile.
“I could eat.”
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