Story: Give Me One Reason (chapter 8)

Authors: A Markov

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Chapter 8

Title: Learning to Fly, Four: Reaching Out

At the sound of her given name, Shego’s grin faded.  “You wouldn't!”


“In a heartbeat, El.” It was my turn for a smirk. I let her twist in the wind for a minute before I offered her a way out. “But I only get chatty in front of television cameras...”


“Touche!” She grimaced. “How about a chartered flight and I call off the media.”




“First Class.”


“OK, but I’m putting you on a red eye.  And you’re having dinner with me before you go.”


“I do declare, Ms. Director.  Aren't we forward?” She pretended indignation and fanned herself vigorously. “What makes you think I'm that kind of girl?”


“Can the theatrics, Scarlett. I never got a chance to say thank you...”


“Money is a great way to show gratitude.”


“I don’t want to just pay you off, I want a chance to sit down with you and--”


Her face shut down and she turned away from me. “I'd prefer money.”


What had I said?  I went over the conversation in my mind but I couldn’t put my finger on anything that would have upset her.  “What's going on, El?” She wouldn't meet my eye. It had to have something to do with the night of the accident.  I plunged forward, fishing for a clue. “Look, I know you said something to me that night.  Something important, but I don't remember it. The whole night is a big blur and I'm still trying to sort it out.” She just stood there with her back to me, staring out of the window. “It might help if I knew what was bothering you.” I could see the tension outlined in her shoulders as she fought some kind of internal battle with herself. I wondered what she could have said or done that would create this much tension.  It took all my self control to sit quietly while she decided whether or not to open up to me.  After several minutes of silence, she turned to speak but the door burst open and one of the attending agents stumbled into the room carrying an enormous overstuffed chair. 


“Where do you want this, Ma'am?”


I had to smile as I watched her mentally cross off the first three things that came to her mind.  I’m fairly sure they were the same things that came into my mind. “Put it down right over there... No, by the window.” She grabbed the white Styrofoam box that was sitting on top of the chair as he carried it by.  Opening it up, she wrinkled her nose and rounded on him. “Where'd you get this crap? You go digging in the dumpsters?  I said 'food.'” By the time she turned back to me, all traces of the tension were gone, hidden behind her public face.  She jerked her head toward the door “If you didn’t look like death warmed over, I’d bust your sorry ass out of this joint so you could buy me a decent dinner.  I guess I’ll just have to order in and make you pay for it.” There was still a little tremor in her voice, but she obviously preferred to act like nothing was bothering her, so I let it go. She pulled out a cell phone and began scrolling through her saved numbers.


“Hey, you’re not supposed to use your cell in the…” 


The look she gave me was priceless.  “Hel-lo-o…! Evil… Doy?”


“Right… nevermind.”


“While we’re waiting, you can arrange for my first class ticket to Narita.  I'm going to ply you with wine and song and when your defenses are down, I'm going to talk you into testifying as a character witness at my trail.”


“You want me to testify about what an upstanding citizen you are, so you’re going to get me drunk and try to take advantage of my good nature? You have a twisted sense of morality, El.”


“Again… Evil… I don’t have any sense of morality.”


“You’re pronouncing it wrong, dear; it’s not ‘Evil.’ It’s ‘Elv—‘”


“Finish that sentence and I won’t order any desert for you.” 


I considered pushing it.  Bantering with Elly is a great way to exercise your mind and show off your vocabulary.  But I could see she was still a little tense and it might get intense. I didn’t feel up to a full on Battle Royale of the wits.  So rather than go in with a disadvantage and get my preverbial derriere handed to me on a silver platter, I decided to concede before it even started.  “I was going to say ‘Elvis.’” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t buying it, but she didn’t push it either.  I made the necessary calls to get her booked on a red-eye to Narita while she negotiated with the medical staff about dinner, tried to negotiate, anyway. The woman, who could scare one of my security details into playing fetch for her, couldn’t get the nurses to budge one inch on hospital regulations.  As I watched the head nurse deftly handle everything Shego threw at her, I thought about GJ’s scouting policies and made a mental note to start actively recruiting from medical schools.  They even confiscated the bottle of wine she smuggled in.  Of course, she had a flask secreted somewhere else and maintained that the bottle had been a diversionary tactic. 


Dinner, from the onsite cafeteria, proved to be both awkward and comforting.  I was still having trouble using my left hand for everything and I often found myself trying to reach for something or make adjustments with the mangled remains of my right arm.  Shego kept up a running commentary on everything from current presidential policy to the results of recent sporting events.  All interspersed with her trademark sarcasm and dry wit.  A couple of times I noticed her start to reach out to assist me and stop herself.  I was torn between a desire to show that I was better off than I looked and wanting to just collapse into a puddle of jelly and have someone baby me.  The whole thing was very tiring but interacting with someone who was treating me normally was so nice I was reluctant to let it end. Dinner was interrupted occasionally by members of my staff who needed a decision and regularly by members of the medical staff who needed to run a test or administer medication.  It was during one of these interruptions that I noticed her glancing furtively at the scaffolding of struts and wires encasing my right leg and what remained of my right hand.  After each interruption, she seemed a little bit more subdued. Finally, she stopped pretending that she wasn’t looking and just stared at me. “What’s wrong?  Did I grow a third head?” I asked, trying to project cheerfulness.


She fumbled around for a few seconds, opening and closing her mouth, trying to find something encouraging to say.  Then she blinked a couple times and looked even more confused. “Don’t you mean ‘a second head’?”  She managed to blurt out.


I was suddenly very tired and I wanted… no, I needed to know what was going on.  I needed to know what she had said to me and why it was so important. I didn’t want to play any more games; I didn’t have the energy for them. “Elly, something is bothering you… and I’m not talking about me being hurt.” She stared out the window… at the floor… at the monitors… everywhere but me. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”


“What do you remember about the accident?” She asked quietly.  She still wouldn’t look at me.


I thought about it for a minute.  I was definitely still missing something.  The only thing I could come up with was that she had made some kind of confession and it weighed heavily on her mind. There was a small part of me that was very worried.  What if she had confessed to a heinous crime and was just waiting to find out whether or not I remembered it? Was she sitting across from me coldly calculating whether she needed to kill me?  I knew I was overtired, she wasn’t a killer.  Still, I answered carefully, “Mostly, I remember pain. I remember lying on my back. I remember you holding my head... You were talking.” I kept my eye on her face, searching for some kind of hint.  Her expression was anxious and somehow hopeful. “I remember bits and pieces of it... You were in a Canadian jail at one point... And I think you told me that you made crop circles with Fox Zanatos… But it’s all jumbled up, like a bad dream.”  I sighed.  “I honestly don’t know if any of the stuff I remember actually happened or not.  I do remember what you said when you snuck in here last week, though.”  She cocked an eyebrow at me.  I smiled. “I mean… I remember what you would have said to me if you had snuck in here last week.” I held her eyes. “And I think of you as my friend too.”  Her eyes dilated slightly, I plunged on, wishing I knew what that meant. “This might sound arrogant, but there aren’t a lot of people in my weight class.  Most of the people I meet are intimidated by me and all of them want to use me for some reason or another. I always looked forward to our debriefing sessions and I’m a little bit disappointed that I no longer have Ms. Possible’s progress reports as an excuse to meet you for coffee.” She relaxed slightly. “But don’t think that because I enjoyed our little chats I’m soft. Don’t think I won’t drag your sorry carcass kicking and screaming to justice if you cross the line on my watch.” 


“Ha! You’ll have to catch me first.  And I don’t think any of your little lap dogs has what it takes to keep up with me.”  Some of her fire had returned, I think it was the first time she’d fully relaxed since she came into the room.


“Then I’ll have to do it myself.”


She looked at me and the shock showed in her face momentarily. She studied me frankly. She didn’t even try to hide her worry.  “You really think you can come back from this, Betty?”  She wasn’t being mean.  She wasn’t trying to motivate me.  She was just asking me to be honest with her and with myself.


Tired as I was, I gathered up my energy reserves and growled, “You bet your green ass!” It would have been a lot more convincing if I hadn’t started coughing as soon as I finished saying it.


Her next words stunned me. “Want some help?” 


Suddenly, I wasn’t tired at all.

[End notes:

Next Time:
Friends like These


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