And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts
Hot ashes for trees
Hot air for a cool breeze
Cold comfort for change
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage
--Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
He walked through life as if North Korea hadn’t happened. As if he hadn’t been strung up and tortured. As if he hadn’t witnessed the taking of another life.
Danny brought it up briefly one sunny day as they sat on a wall overlooking the ocean having lunch. He was met with a tired sigh and words that amounted to the event being nothing that hadn’t happened before. The rest of them had a silent agreement not to bring it up unless he did, knowing full well he never would. Hoping he’d deal with it in his own way, in his own time.
The silence that surrounded them - pouring off of him - was deafening.
The truth was, he remembered to forget her in passing, but it was in dreams that she came alive. Was alive again.
And he didn’t know what that meant.
Or if it meant anything at all.
The first time he saw her in his dreams was the easiest, merely getting used to the idea that she was there.
“Are you real?” He asked, walking slowly toward her as he caught sight of her on the beach.
She was wearing a dress that flowed around her like the sea in waves of green and blue and white. He noticed that her hair was a little longer as she held up her arm with a wry smile. A handcuff dangled there.
“Did you forget?” She asked, as if continuing a conversation. “Did you ever find the key?”
He frowned and felt his shirt pocket, wondering where he’d left it, knowing it was there somewhere. “Sorry about that. I thought I’d let you go awhile back.”
She laughed and held out the cuffs that were now in her hand. “Not yet, but you will.”
She placed them in his hand and turned and walked away, and the tide slowly filled the tracks of her bare feet until there was no sign she’d been there.
He’d barely closed his eyes but could feel her behind him. Pacing but seemingly calm, distracted maybe. Her hands were fumbling with a satellite phone as if trying to remember a number she’d long forgotten. He turned and pulled his own out of his pocket, dialing her number without looking at the keys, watching her face as it lit from the inside.
“It’s me, Jenna. I’m here.”
She nodded, her dirty, rumpled, bloody body sagging as if in relief. “I know.”
“Where are we? Jenna, look at me.” He said, eyes now on hers, seeking, searching, satisfied when he found no pain, no fear. He could only hear her through the phone despite their close proximity, “I knew you’d come. I told him you would.”
“Who? Who, Jenna? Josh?”
She lowered herself to the floor, sitting to one side, with legs spread out to the other. He’d seen her that way before but couldn’t place where.
“No, Josh isn’t here.”
She looked away then, lowering the phone to her lap. But he could still hear her words, “It doesn’t work that way.”
They were walking together along a busy street in companionable silence, and her hands kept busy pulling petals off a flower one by one as they avoided cracks in the sidewalk.
“You put me in danger.” He said, and for awhile the only indication she’d heard was the stilling of her hands.
“I put both of us in danger. Who had the better chance of survival, Steve? You or me? "
He laughed at that, “That matters?”
“It should. I chose you for a reason.”
“I know, I know, I’m a survivor. A fighter, right?”
“I knew from the moment I met you that you were his best chance. His only chance.”
He stopped their progress with a hand on her wrist, fingers circling in an almost too firm grip as flowers fluttered and fell to the pavement below, “Do you hate me because I couldn’t save him?”
She looked at him with sad eyes before turning to walk away, “No, Steve. I hate me.”
It’d been a particularly bad day, bruises and extreme fatigue keeping him from sleep until almost morning. He hoped she’d be waiting, and when he saw her she was smiling and young. Probably around Grace’s age if he had to take a guess, with pigtails and glasses and flowered overalls with holes in the knees.
He knew it was her on sight because she was awkward in a way that was familiar, but with freckles across her nose that weren’t. He assumed she’d grown out of them.
“Are you here to save me, Mister?” She asked, glaring up at him with hands on hips, “Because to be perfectly honest, I don’t need saving. I can do that myself.”
He crouched down so he could see her eye-to-eye and her scowl softened as he introduced himself. “I’m Steve.”
“Jenna Kaye.” She said, sticking out her hand in a rush, “You do know it’s archaic to think the Princess has to be saved, right?”
“That I do.”
“Because really, the Princess can save the Prince you know? Here, give me your hand.”
He smiled indulgently and held out his hand, palm up, “I certainly do believe that, Miss Jenna.”
“Good,” She said, nodding as she placed a bright shiny, thin piece of metal in his hand, “Because if I was writing it, that’s exactly the way it would happen.”
He clasped his hand tight around the pin and closed his eyes, knowing she wouldn’t be there, knowing he’d awaken when he opened them.
She was different this time, distracted and wild-eyed, not quite there with him as she looked around in fear.
“He’s here, he’s here.” She said in a ragged whisper, trying to twist away as he grabbed her by the arms in an attempt to reassure her, “He’s not, Jenna. He’s not. Wo Fat isn’t here, he’s still alive. He can’t hurt you here.”
But she twisted and turned, grabbing her chest as blood started seeping through her fingers.
“I’ve got to find him. I’ve got to….got to find him. I’ve got to save him.”
Steve tried to make her meet his gaze, to make her know they’d find him, he’d help her find her Josh, but she was relentless, pulling free finally to run away from him yelling his own name instead, “Steve! I’m coming. I’m coming.”
His fingers tingled and burned with her absence.
There was a crash and her hotel door flew open, popcorn flying, falling as the sound of splintering wood filled the small area. This time instead of arguing with him, she merely fell to her knees, picking up the pieces one by one as she put them back in the bowl as if he wasn’t standing in front of her.
“Jenna?” He shifted from side to side, uncertain as she continued to slowly gather the popcorn that now blanketed her floor in white.
“Hey,” He said, crouching down beside her so he could see her eye-to-eye. He held out his hand, “I’m Steve.”
“Jenna Kaye.” She said, grabbing his hand to shake it. Quick and professional. “Why are you here?”
He laughed as he lowered himself to sit next to her, “I don’t know, Jenna Kaye, you haven’t told me yet.”
She shrugged as she went back to picking up the pieces, “That’s the problem, Steve. I can’t tell you that.”
“Why not? You’re the reason I’m here, right?”
She looked at him and shook her head, “No Steve, you’re the reason I’m here.”
His fingers were around her neck fueled by the pain of too many hours of torture and fear and betrayal. He could feel her breath on his face, bursting from her in pained gasps before he finally broke free, putting as much distance between them as possible to save her from his anger and hurt. He doubled over then fell to his knees as he struggled to catch his own breath and startled slightly when he found himself on a too-familiar floor, looking over to see his wrist shackled to the wall.
“Jenna?” His voice was hoarse, a whisper, and with wild eyes he looked toward where he knew he’d find her hanging from the ceiling, her shirt torn open, her toes barely skimming the floor.
“It’s okay, Steve.”
“It’s where I need to be.” She said, her shoulders adjusting slowly to ease the weight of her body.
“I’m going to get you out of here, do you hear me?”
She shook her head, eyes never leaving his, “I’m gone, Steve. Don’t you see? You can’t save me. You never could.”
He fumbled in his shirt pocket for the pin, the pin he knew should be there, but it was empty and his fingers burned in its absence. “Why didn’t you use it, Jenna?”
“The pin. You could have kept it, used it on yourself. You could have at least tried. You…” His voice trailed off at the look on her face, “The pin was for you, Steve. It was always for you.”
He nodded at that, his fingers searching for and finding the gold chain around his neck instead, “When did you know?”
“That I was dead?”
Her body swayed a little, a mesmerizing dance, “When I saw Josh. When I threw the phone out the window. When I first shook Wo Fat’s hand.”
He tried to make his eyes focus, her body now shaking shimmering as she began to cry, “It doesn’t matter. I’ve been dead all along.”
He was filled with rage at that, his body straining as he attempted to rise, attempted to break free from his shackles, her shackles, “Don’t you say that, Jenna. Don’t you dare say that.”
“You matter, god damn it, you mattered. You mattered to me.”
His body pivoted with the force of his anger as he looked up at his arms strung above him, hanging from the ceiling, then down at her huddled body sitting on the cold wet cement. Her fingers pulled something shiny and thin from her shirt pocket.
He looked at her in wonder and sadness as she slid the pin toward his dangling feet, “It wasn’t for nothing, Steve.”
She was walking toward him on the beach, her hand reaching out toward him, “I thought you might need this.”
He smiled and held out his own hand, palm up, and in it she placed a small key. “Thanks, I thought you said I’d find it.”
She shrugged as he fell into step by her side, “I guess I was wrong.”
“No, you weren’t. You were right, Jenna. I...I never got a chance to thank you.”
She turned her head to look at him, “What for?”
“For saving me.”
“The pin didn’t save you, Steve.”
“No, but the phone call did, Princess.”
“Who you calling Princess, Mister?” She laughed and ran down the beach ahead of him, her bare feet leaving foot prints in the sand.
She turned back briefly to shout into the swirling sound of the surf, “It’s okay, Steve. You can let go!”
And as he awoke from what he knew would be the very last time, he could still hear her laughing.
She was at rest.
He let go.