"Are you sure about this?"
Kimball Cho's eyes are serious and unblinking as he stares across the table at Debra. He's leaning forward in his chair, forearms resting on his desk, hands joined almost like he's praying. Debra represses a shudder at the thought, wonders how long it's going to be before she stops seeing things through the prism of Religion, alternative and otherwise.
"Sir?" It's the safest response, she knows, respectful and deferential with just the slightest hint of honest to goodness confusion. Which has the added bonus of not being faked - she thinks that Cho would know the difference.
"Parker, you were head of your own unit," Cho reminds her, leaning back in his chair and she knows when she's being sized up. "You think you're going to be able to take orders from me?"
Debra doesn't bother pointing out how her tenure as head of Alternate Religions ended; she'd rather not think about that, even if she can't stop. "I never enjoyed the whole 'being in charge' thing." Which is only partly true, some aspects she’d enjoyed very much. "The paperwork, the politics, the bureaucracy..." She gives him what she knows to be a weak smile. "And I've definitely had my fill of cults." This time, she doesn't hide her shudder.
He doesn't either, which she finds interesting.
"I need a change of pace... a change of scenery. I don't know if I'll fit in here..." She's surprised when she hears herself admit that out loud. "But I'd like to try."
Cho holds her gaze, steady and strong and Debra sees the decision in his eyes before he nods, stands up. "I'll get the paperwork started," he tells her, extending his hand to her. "You start Monday. Don't be late."
His hand is warm while hers is cold, steady while hers has an oft-present tremor, but he doesn't flinch and Debra thinks, without knowing why, just some feeling deep down in her gut, that she's going to like working with him.
“Are you sure about this?”
Cho looks up from the report Debra has just handed him, the one she’d been up half the night working on. Which isn’t as big a deal as it sounds - she’s not a great sleeper at the best of times and the case that they’re working on, the one that screams cult in huge neon letters, has given her enough heebie-jeebies to banish sleep completely.
“I’m sure,” she tells him and she’s proud that her voice is mostly steady. “We’re looking at a cult, and that’s the profile of your leader.”
Cho takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. He looks as enthusiastic about the idea of a cult as she does, which is to say, not at all. “All right then,” he says, standing. “Let’s brief the team.”
The team’s reaction isn’t so much a lack of enthusiasm as a lack of belief; their scepticism is palpable. “You buy this, Boss?" Wiley actually asks Cho that in front of Debra, and time was she would have ripped his head off for doubting her like that, much less for doing it in front of their boss. But that was before Havenport, before Joe Carroll, before her hands trembled so much sometimes that she could barely hold a pen, so she looks down at her shoes, presses her lips together while she tries to find the right words to say to convince him. Convince all of them that she's right, that she can still do this job, that she still has value.
Turns out Cho beats her to it.
"Parker's forgotten more about Alternative Religions than the rest of us will ever know," he says crisply. Her head snaps up to see him staring down Wiley, fairly daring anyone to contradict him. "I trust her."
She holds her breath, waiting for the qualifier, the addition of two words - "on this" - that will let them know he understands their concerns, that while she may be a well hidden basket case most of the time, there are times that she can actually do the job she's paid to do.
It never comes.
Instead he says, "Work the profile. See what it turns up. Any questions?" There are none so he nods once. "Get to work."
They do as they're ordered and when they finally close the case, get their man, it turns out Debra's profile was right on the money.
She doesn't say "I told you so," but she swears she can hear Cho think it.
“Are you sure?”
Cho’s voice is full of barely veiled impatience and Wiley almost wilts under his boss’s narrow eyes glare. “I’ve checked every security camera in the mall,” he says and the strain on his face certainly speaks to that, as does the way he rubs at the bridge of his nose. “There’s no clear angle of the man we saw... not even one we can enhance.”
“How is that possible?” Cho’s not even trying to hide his impatience now and all Wiley can do is shrug helplessly.
“Try this.” Debra interrupts the conversation, holds out a sheet of paper between them. Both men look down at it and Wiley's eyes go wide when he sees what it is, his mouth opening. Cho even blinks.
“That’s him. That’s our suspect.” Wiley is staring at her, amazement stamped all over his face, which quickly turns to admiration as he makes the connection.
Cho, though, is the boss, needs to make sure. “Who did this?” he demands, taking it from Debra and scrutinising it as if to check for any obvious flaws that could result in them not getting an ID from it.
Wiley gives a low whistle, shakes his head at Debra’s quiet words. “With talent like that? You’re wasted in the FBI.”
He’s so obviously sincere that Debra feels heat coming to her cheeks. She doesn’t bother telling him that she hadn’t sketched since she was a teenager, had only taken it up again recently at the suggestion of her therapists. She’d been surprised to learn she still had an aptitude for it, even more when she realised that the only times her hands didn’t shake was when she was drawing.
She thinks Wiley might be about to ask her more questions - it’s the only time he’s ever learned anything vaguely personal about her and she knows he’s curious - but Cho doesn’t give them a chance. “Get this out to every agency you can think of,” he commands, shoving the page at Wiley. “When you can’t think of any more, let me know.”
Wiley's not the kind to refuse any order, especially one issued in that kind of tone and he’s moving away quickly to do what needs to be done. Debra’s about to head back to her own desk but Cho’s voice stops her. “He’s wrong, you know.” Unsure of what he means, Debra tilts her head and frowns at him. “You’re not wasted at the FBI.”
By the time she’s assimilated his words, he’s already back in his office. Once she has, her cheeks are warm again and there’s a strange expression on her face that might even be a smile.
Her hands aren’t shaking either.
Just like they don’t shake that night when the mindless doodling she’s doing turns into a face that looks very like Cho’s.
"Are you sure about this?"
There's a federal marshal outside Cho's door and every agent in building is either looking at one of the tv screens around the walls or the windows of Cho's office, trying to see what's going on inside. Debra knows that and she hates it, hates how weak she feels, how scared and helpless. She promised herself nearly twenty-five years ago that she'd never feel that way again; the last twelve months have brought back all her old memories.
"Debra." Cho's voice, some strange combination of crisp and gentle that she's never heard before, would have said was impossible to pull off, brings her back to reality. "You should go with the marshals."
She'd been afraid he was going to say that, shakes her head violently. Her hands tremble again, worse than usual, and it's almost painful because for the last couple of months, working here, making a new life, the tremors had started to ease. "I don't want to do that."
Cho sets his lips in a thin line. "Debra, if Joe Carroll's people are coming out of the woodwork... You know what happened to Sara Fuller."
Autopsy reports and crime scene photos dance across Debra's memory and she fights not to throw up with everything she has. "I'm in the FBI building," she points out. "Surrounded by people I trust."
Cho's lips grow even thinner. "Because that worked so well the last time." His flat intonation takes some of the sting out of the words but Debra still flinches. No-one has spoken like that around her for the last twelve months, though she's pretty sure plenty of people have thought it. "Look." Cho leans forward and his voice, when he speaks, is more gentle. Debra prefers it the other way. "It's been a tough couple of weeks for you, the anniversary coming up today, and now this..." The scenes from this morning's news, slaughter on the subway and "Joe Carroll Lives" written everywhere, come back to Debra and nausea burns the back of her throat. "Maybe some time in a safe house..."
"Would drive me mad." It's probably not the most politically correct thing to do, interrupt your boss, and it's probably not the best thing to do it when your voice is shaking like hers is. To her horror, tears aren't far off and she stares down at her hands as she twists her fingers together, the discomfort providing an anchor, as well as a way to stop the shaking. "Cooped up all day, nothing to do but think about it...about what happened last year..." Her throat closes up, just like it did in the trunk of the car, just like it did when she was lying in the coffin listening to earth falling on top of it. "I need to keep busy... I need to work." She looks up then, above and to the right of him because she sees sympathy on his face she just might scream. "Kimball, please."
Maybe it's the use of his first name, the first time she's ever done it, that convinces him. Maybe it's the way she said it, a desperate plea that couldn't be faked. Maybe he'd always intended to let her stay. She doesn't know but when Cho nods, she doesn't care. "Ok," he says and she's looking at him then, into his eyes.
"Ok?" she echoes and he nods again.
"There's going to be a detail on you at all times." It's spoken like an order and she has no intention of disobeying him. "A mixture of the marshals, the FBI and people from the outside that I trust." Debra nods. "You're driving a desk until we know more and you don't move from that desk without informing at least two different people." Debra nods again, eager to agree but his eyes are almost fierce as he adds, "I mean it, Debra... you don't go to the ladies room without letting someone know."
Coming from anyone else, it would sound amusing. But the way Cho is looking at her, combined with memories of the previous year, Debra knows it's no laughing matter.
"Yes, Sir," she says simply and Cho reaches for the phone on his desk.
"Get to work," he says and she does.
"Are you sure about this?"
Debra's hands are shaking again but she looks unblinking into Cho's eyes. "I didn't come all this way to not see it through," she tells him. "I need to see him die with my own eyes... It's the only way I'll be able to sleep at night."
Instantly, she knows she's misspoken. Cho crosses his arms over his chest, tilts his head and levels her with his best boss stare. "You've been working with me almost two years," he points out. "I've read all your psych evals. Why is this the first I'm hearing of this?"
Debra looks down, scuffs her toe against the dark prison linoleum. "It's a figure of speech." The paltry attempt at explanation wouldn't fool an infant and if the noise that comes from the back of Cho's throat is any indication, it certainly doesn't fool him.
"You know the brass are going to make you see someone when we get back, right?"
She wasn't expecting him to say something like that, although once the words are out there, they make perfect sense. "What, to make sure I'm not about to lose my mind?" A thought occurs to her. "Is that why you came here with me?"
Cho actually huffs and for a man with his considerable sangfroid that's tantamount to hands being thrown in the air. "I'm not here as your boss, Debra." His voice is almost flat. Almost, but she's heard him enough over the last two years to be able to pick up on the tiniest inflection. "I'm here as your friend."
Surprise loosens her tongue. "I don't have friends."
His lips twitch. "I noticed." He's completely deadpan and, despite where they are, and why, she feels her shoulders relax. "And yet, here I am."
There's a lump in her throat all of a sudden. "I'm glad," she hears herself say and for her, that's the equivalent of a three page speech of emotions and thanks.
Cho's lips twitch again and he opens his mouth to speak but before he can, an announcement is made and they're brought into the execution chamber. It's crowded with reporters and the families of Joe's victims and Ryan Hardy is front and centre because of course he is. Debra doesn't go near him, she can't, and he's so focussed on the window in front of them, on what's going on behind the curtain, that he doesn't look around, doesn't know she's there. It suits her fine so she makes her way to the back, sits down and waits.
Her heart is pounding, her throat dry. Pins and needles prick her skin while the back of her neck feels clammy. She jumps when the curtain is pulled back, inhales sharply as she looks, for the first time in two years, at the face of the man who ordered her buried alive in a Maryland forest.
She must make some sort of noise because, out of the corner of her eye, she sees Cho's head turn sharply in her direction. She can't look away from Joe though, stares at him looking for some sort of... what? Remorse? Regret?
There's none of that. There was never going to be.
She jumps again when Cho's hand closes over her clenched fist. His hand is warm while hers is freezing cold, steady while hers trembles and Debra concentrates on the warmth, lets it be her anchor.
Soft cries fill the viewing chamber as Joe's chest stops rising and falling and for the first time in two years, Debra feels like she can breathe.
Ryan never comes near her.
Cho never stops holding her hand.
"Are you sure about this?"
Cho's eyes are serious and unblinking as he stares across the table at Debra. He's leaning back in his chair, she sitting on the edge of hers and her transfer request papers lie face up on the table between him. He hasn't touched them since she put them down there and he'd seen what they were.
If anyone was looking at them now, could see his expression, they'd say he was stony-faced, impassive. But Debra can see his eyes, has learned over two and a bit years how to read him like a book and she can see the confusion there. "It's for the best."
"For who?" He fires the question at her. "I thought you were happy here... I thought the team was working well."
"I am. It is." She bites the inside of her cheek to stop her talking, takes a couple of seconds to gather her thoughts.
Cho fills the silence with another question. "So why the request to transfer onto-" He leans forwards, finally looking at the papers. "Watkins's team?" Debra can hear the disdain there, even if barely anyone else would be able to.
Which, after all, is the whole problem.
Because somewhere along the way over the last three years, Debra Parker, who doesn't do feelings or relationships or any mushy emotional stuff, found herself forming a friendship with her boss. Which was fine, except that on her part, things hadn't stopped at friendship. Somewhere between him looking out for her on the anniversary of the worst day of her life and sitting beside her in a prison viewing room holding her hand, she'd caught a bad case of Feelings, the kind that, once noticed, can't be denied.
She's forty-two years old and she's never had that before. She's not entirely sure she's happy about it.
Especially when she doesn't know what he's thinking. Because as good as she is at reading him, he's better at hiding what he really doesn't want her to see. There have been times when she thinks she's caught him, times when she turns her head and meets his eyes and there's something there, a smile, a twinkle that disappears so quickly she can't be sure she hasn't imagined it.
But she's forty-two years old, too old to be playing high school games especially when she knows more than most about how short life is.
So this is her, stepping up to the plate. If she transfers, they're free to pursue whatever the hell might be between them. And if he's not interested, well, she'll still see him every day but at least it won't be as frequent.
She takes a deep breath, rolls the dice. "I think you know."
He stares at her for so long that she thinks she's misread the situation entirely.
Then a muscle in his jaw ticks.
Then he nods.
Reaches for his pen and signs the papers.
"It'll take a couple of weeks for the paperwork to go through," he tells her. It's not really necessary because the one thing she remembers from her time heading up Alternative Religions is that the wheels of FBI bureaucracy turn slowly. "But once it does, it won't be as inappropriate if I ask you out to dinner."
There's that twinkle in his eye again, the one she's only glimpsed briefly up until now. This time it lingers, the same way his eyes linger unashamedly on her, and she feels a smile tugging at her lips.
It feels good.
"Are you sure about this?"
It's not the first time Cho has asked her that question in the last three years they've been working together although Debra supposes that, in view of current circumstances, she might be forgiven for thinking of him as Kimball. After all, at the moment they're in her apartment, it's late at night and she's lying on her back on her couch with him lying on top of her. Their clothes are askew, her fingers are in his hair and his tongue's just been inside her mouth and she thinks that if he stops, if he walks away from her, she might actually scream.
She tries to answer him in actions rather than words, slides her hand to the back of his neck and pulls him down to her again but he resists, holds his position with a strength that she wouldn't have guessed he was hiding under those sharply ironed shirts of his. "Debra," he says and she can hear the strain in his voice. "I need to hear you say it."
Debra moves her hand from the back of his neck to his cheek, rests the other over his heart. She stares into his eyes and nods slowly. "Kimball," she says and damn if she doesn't actually feel his heart leap as she says his name. "I'm sure."
And she is. Because four years ago she might have told Ryan Hardy that she doesn't do relationships but Kimball Cho has been by her side for the last three years and he's seen her on good days and bad days and on the worst days without flinching once. She might have trust issues, she can't not have trust issues with her upbringing, but she knows she can trust him, knows he's a good man who would never hurt her. She might still have the odd nightmare and her hands might still shake but right here, right now, it's the good kind of shaking and her hand is as warm as his skin underneath it as she caresses his cheek.
"Take me to bed, Kimball." For once, she's the one giving the order and the rare and wonderful smile he gives her is enough to make her weak at the knees, make her glad she's lying down.
"Yes, Ma'am," he tells her and it's good that he's a man of few words because they don't need to talk after that.