Tasha holds Reade’s hand between both of hers.
Long after the video has finished, when it’s just white snow on the screen, she holds onto him. They’d ended on something nice, little Reade on the field, playing his damn heart out. Turning to beam a gap-toothed grin straight down the camera. After everything else on the video, Tasha doesn’t know why it had concluded like that. She doesn’t want to picture an old man sitting down to watch this.
She can’t imagine what it would be like to look at that screen and see herself. Missing moments of her life.
Reade clears his throat.
“No, don’t,” Tasha says quickly. Her hands tighten around his. “Don’t say anything. Not yet.”
He sits back against the couch and Tasha tries to look at his face. Can’t make herself do it. Reade’s face shows everything that he thinks and feels, and Tasha doesn’t want to see that, not now. She’s seen so much already and she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forget. His baggage is her baggage, now. It’s funny how normal that seems.
“Tasha,” Reade says quietly. He tries to pull his hand away.
She doesn’t let him. “Reade, don’t.”
“I should never have made you watch it.”
Tasha swallows hard against the lump in her throat, feels the tears matting her eyelashes together and drying on her cheeks. She knows Reade sees it. “You shouldn’t be alone,” she says, looking up at him. “I’m glad I’m here.”
He turns his face, avoiding her gaze. “How can you stand to look at me? After-”
“No,” Tasha interrupts, “god, Reade, no, don’t think that.” But he’s still not looking at her and his hand is stiff, sandwiched between her own.
All she can think to do is get up on her knees on the couch and crawl into him. Bodies close together, her arms loose around his neck. For a second – a brief, horrible second – she wonders if this is okay, now. If it’s somehow a violation, her invading his personal space like this. They’ve always touched as partners; hands on each other’s shoulders, a playful shove, a hug. Tasha doesn’t think she could stop-
Well, no, she could. If Reade asked her to. Only for him.
She wants to ask if this is okay, starts to open her mouth, then feels Reade’s arms as they come up around her. Heavy, warm weight over her back. A hand splayed between her shoulder blades. He pulls her in close, holding her tightly. Tasha can feel Reade’s every breath; the rise and fall of her own breath in tandem to his.
Reade’s shoulders start to shake.
Tasha swallows again and tries to think of something to say. Anything. Nothing comes. She presses closer to him instead; that’s all she can do. God, they’re so close that Tasha is practically in his lap, and it still doesn’t feel like enough. She puts a hand on the back of Reade’s head, the other wrapped around his shoulder, and his tears run beneath the collar of her jacket and onto her skin.
They sit like that for an eternity.
“Hey,” Tasha says softly, lips against his ear.
Reade has to clear his throat before he can say, “Uh-huh?”
“We should go for a walk.”
“Yeah,” Tasha says. “We should go for a walk. Right now, come on.” She pulls back a little, finds herself sitting in Reade’s lap. It doesn’t matter in the same way it would have last week, or even last night.
“But it’s dark,” Reade protests, “and it’s freezing, Tasha, and the city is-”
“Screw the city. We’re going for a walk.” She slides backwards off his knees, stands up and holds out her hand. “Come on, Reade.”
He grabs her hand. “I’ve got a busted rib.”
“That’s okay,” Tasha says, hauling him to his feet. “I’ve got your back.” She tucks her chin to her chest and zips up her leather jacket, glances around the apartment for something Reade can wear. “Where’s your coat?”
“Grab it, come on.”
Reade moves towards the chair his coat is draped across. He’s going slowly, so slowly, hunched over as he walks as if he’s aged a hundred years in the past hour. It hurts Tasha to watch him, and she wonders if maybe she’s pushing him too hard. But he slides his coat on and goes to get his shoes and turns to her and says, “Where are we walking?”
His face, god, it’s so open. His heart out in his eyes for anyone to see. Tasha watches his lips turn downwards, sees the pain there. There’s something different, too. A part of him which had been lost and now is found.
“Anywhere,” Tasha says, and she opens the front door wide. “I don’t care.”
“Cool,” Reade says, walking out. “Me neither.”
Tasha locks the door behind them, sticking the keys in her pocket. They walk along the hall together, down the stairs and out into the street. Reade grabs Tasha’s hand and laces their fingers together.
Hand in hand, they walk.
It hits Reade again while he’s halfway through a mouthful of rice and he thinks, oh my god, I was molested and he understands now why they say something feels like a bolt from the blue. Because he’d forgotten, and he’d been eating, and talking to Tasha like everything was normal and-
It’s not normal and it never will be again and yet somehow he’d forgotten or even just not thought about it for a second, a minute. How could he have thought about anything else?
“Are you okay?” Tasha asks, leaning forward over the table. She reaches for his hand.
Reade watches their hands on the table. Tasha’s is so much smaller, but she curls it around his fingers anyway, and hangs on until her knuckles go white.
He swallows the rice. “Yeah, I’m okay.” He looks up at Tasha, meeting her eyes. “I’m okay.”
She knows that he’s not okay, Reade can see that. She says, “Good. Me too. I’m okay, too,” and Reade knows that’s a lie as well.
“You’re staying,” he asks suddenly, “right?”
“I’m staying,” she confirms. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Reade says. He clutches at her hand like a lifeline. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”
“Me neither. We’ll stay up and watch movies.”
“I don’t care.”
Zapata looks up at him, soft brown eyes and curling lashes. She smiles, just a little. A sad smile. Reade lets his eyes roam over her face, taking everything in. She’s still the same. Still here for him, just like always. Some things don’t change, he thinks, and that’s good.
He doesn’t know if he’s still the same person anymore.
“Hey,” Tasha says. “Are you finished?”
Reade looks down at his half-empty bowl. He doesn’t think he can stomach any more. “Yeah.”
“Okay. Are we – do you want to talk?”
“I don’t think so. Not right now.”
“All right. We won’t talk.” Tasha gets to her feet, stretches her arms over her head. She’d tossed her jacket in a corner and the shirt she’s wearing rides up when she moves, flashing a strip of skin above the top of her jeans.
Reade watches and then wonders why. Is he twisted, somehow, by what Jones had done to him? Have any of his thoughts or feelings been his own? He feels the new knowledge stretching back over his life, tainting every memory.
Tasha turns on the TV and sprawls on the couch, patting the cushion beside her. “Reade, come sit.”
He sits and then he stands again, and it turns out the couch is tainted too. “I can’t…”
Tasha stands with him. “Okay,” she says.
She’s tiny with her shoes off. So small in front of him, and Reade wants-
-wants to kiss her, mostly, but do more than that as well, and he wonders if this is Jones talking. If this is the abuse, and the trauma, somehow giving Reade feelings that he shouldn’t be having towards his partner.
But it’s more than that with Tasha and the thought calms him down. It’s different with her. It’s not just the want, and it’s not all physical, either. Reade loves her, is the thing, so damn much. Has done for a long time, and he’s not sure when it turned into something more than platonic; something deeper and stronger and impossible to crush down.
He wishes he hadn’t kissed her, last time. He’s not going to make the same mistake again.
They climb into the bed and Tasha says, “Is this okay?”
“Yeah.” Reade’s voice is thick. He fumbles for her hand above the blankets and holds it tight.
The room is dark, and cold. Tasha rolls onto her side, bringing their linked hands up to press against her chest. She tucks her bare feet under Reade’s legs.
“Sorry. My feet are cold.”
“Yeah,” Reade says, annoyed, “I can feel that. They’re like blocks of ice!”
“Do you want to talk now?”
Reade says, “No,” and Tasha sighs, but then he adds, “I think I should, though.”
“I kinda think so,” Tasha admits.
“Can I still be the same person, after this?”
“Straight into the deep end, huh,” Tasha says wryly. She readjusts her grip on Reade’s hand. “No one is ever just one person the whole way through life, you know. Everything changes you. Even little things. Little changes.”
“I feel like every choice I’ve ever made has been because of Jones,” Reade tells her. “Because of what he did. I mean, did I start chasing after girls too early? Is this why I struggled to make friends? To keep friends? Why I quit football? Hell, why I joined the FBI?”
“You can’t boil your whole life down to one reason, Reade.”
“Can’t I? And why’d I forget it all, huh? Freddy never forgot. He-”
“He’s not you.”
“I guess not.”
“You’re still the same person. Nothing’s changed, you just… know the truth now.”
“I’m sorry I dragged you into all of this.”
“Are you kidding?” Tasha says. “I wouldn’t give you up for anything, okay? You’re my best friend.”
“Thank you,” Reade says, “for being here.”
“I am always going to be here for you.” Tasha pauses, considers her words. “I mean, unless I die, or you turn into a total druggo. Then I’ll be somewhere else, obviously.”
There’s a scratchy laugh from Reade’s side of the bed. It’s a pathetic sound that hasn’t been used in a long time, but it’s there and it makes Tasha feel warm inside. She shifts a little closer on the bed, putting one hand out to rest against Reade’s chest.
“No more drugs,” he says. “I’m done with escaping from my problems.”
“Yeah,” Tasha agrees. “I think you are. How’s the rib?”
“Sore, but I’ll live.”
Quietly, she says, “I believe you.”
Reade wakes with a start from a tangled web of dreams. He’d hurt a child and he’d enjoyed it; he’d been the one to kill Coach Jones, driven the knife in and then knelt down and cried over the body.
He’s breathing fast, as if he’s been running. It takes a moment to separate dream from reality, to find himself again on the bed in this dark room.
Reade says, “Tasha?”
“Still here,” she murmurs. Her face is against the back of his neck and she presses a kiss to his skin, close-mouthed and half-asleep. It makes a shiver run down Reade’s spine and he turns in the bed, pulling Zapata into him. His chin brushes the top of her head, her hair tickles his throat and her hands come up and curl into fists in the fabric of his t-shirt.
She’s warm and real and she’d sat there and watched that entire video with him and hadn’t flinched away. She loves him, Reade thinks, and he wonders how he got so lucky. Tasha doesn’t care about what happened to him then; she cares about what happens to him now.
“Thanks,” Reade whispers.
“Mm-hmm,” Tasha mumbles, shifting towards him. “Sleep now.”
They wake in the morning and their faces are inches from each other. Tasha’s hair is everywhere, messy and sticking to both of them. She’d fallen asleep in her jeans.
She says, “Hi.”
Reade says, “Hi.”
There’s a silence. Just breathing, and their eyes locked together, memories spilling in, minds and bodies preparing for a new day.
And then Tasha asks, “What’s for breakfast?”
Yawning, Reade sits up, tipping the blankets off his upper body. “I dunno. What do you want for breakfast?”
“Eggs,” Tasha says, decisively.
“I guess I’ll make eggs.”