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Make Amends With All My Shadows

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The Lifeboat popped into the old barn, kicking up a few small puffs and whirlwinds of dust, the whoosh of air snarling Denise’s hair, which provided a welcome breeze in the late June heat. She hadn’t forgotten how the greater Chesapeake region got so sticky and humid in summertime compared to the California coast. At least here, five miles from Gettysburg and tucked away in the valley with the ridged spine of the green, rolling mountains in the distance, it was slightly cooler than the Potomac region was, but menopause made anywhere in summer miserable to begin. Not like stress made the hot flashes any better, at that. "You’re running yourself too hard," Michelle said over the phone last night. Trouble was, they all were. "Are you still taking your meds? It’s been a month, and you should need a refill by now."

Ten thousand other things to worry about, so that had slipped to the bottom of the list. Of course Michelle had to remind her. "No, I’m out, but I have an agent I need to take in tomorrow for a follow-up on an injury. I’ll get them to write me a refill then."

"Promise?"

"Michelle, priya, I promise." She’d talked to Mark and Olivia, assured them that she hoped she’d be home soon, knowing it for the lie it was. She’d called Johns Hopkins and dutifully made her own appointment.

The door spun open and the four of them climbed down, eighteenth century clothes a bit blood spattered, and her heart started racing at that. “Are you--”

“Just a tavern brawl. It’s not our blood,” Wyatt said, shaking his head, and looking away as he made to walk past her, presumably to head off to his room again. Wanting to be alone with his thoughts, as he so often did these days. Jiya glanced back over her shoulder, as if still hoping for Rufus to climb down from that hatch behind her.

Lucy, holding Denise’s gaze, gave a nod. “We figured it out. They were after John Peter Zenger--he was a publisher. Printed criticisms of the royal governor of New York later in 1733. Gets arrested, tried for libel, and eventually was cleared by proving that it’s not libel if it’s true.”

“In summary, he kicks off the very fashionably American ideal of thinking it’s both good fun and honorable patriotism to criticize your government overlords,” Garcia joked. But she noticed how he leaned heavily against the Lifeboat after descending the stairs, skin pale and forehead beaded with sweat that couldn’t have come from them being in a New York February. Face lined with strain, shoulders set too tight beneath that wine-colored frock coat: yes, he was obviously in pain.

He probably shouldn’t have gone on the mission--not with that arm, not so soon. But he’d said he could, and with them jumping into an unknown situation, two soldiers were clearly better than one. She should pull him from subsequent missions for at least a few weeks, for his well-being, and if he wasn’t totally solid and healed up, that could be a critical liability to all of them if his shoulder gave out at the exact wrong moment. But she wasn’t sure she could afford to do so. Garcia at 80% or so was still the best--only--option she had aside from leaving it all in Wyatt’s hands, and he obviously was in no shape mentally to carry the whole load himself. God, the brutal choices of being a federal agent sometimes. Hopefully he hadn’t messed up the shoulder more.

There had been no time this mission, but she should at least demand to see him shoot, and make sure those weakened muscles were recovering well enough to let him loose with a gun. If his right arm wasn’t solid enough for him to hold the gun steady to take the shot, especially a heavier and unreliable pre-1880s firearm, that was a definite liability. She’d been unable herself for a couple of weeks after Reagan, and she’d only been lightly clipped on the outside of her arm, not shot in the chest.

“Rittenhouse tried to start a riot in the tavern,” Wyatt offered gruffly. “Sleeper was all ready to stab Zenger in the confusion. We got arrested along with a dozen others, unfortunately, and that cost us another, what, 18 hours?”

“So many lice in that jail,” Lucy said with a shudder. “So, so many.”

“Aw, cheer up, at least in only 18 hours we couldn’t die from typhus,” Garcia quipped. Wyatt glanced at Lucy as if to confirm that.

“If you’re not feeling well over the next few days, tell me,” she said, her tone making it obvious she would brook no argument on that front. “Days?” she asked, glancing at Lucy, trying to confirm. Not like typhus was something in her own database of knowledge.

“I’m...really not sure,” she said awkwardly. “I know histories of epidemics, but the specific epidemiology…”

“It’d be a week,” Garcia said coolly. “Maybe two. You’ll have a rash first.” He shrugged, glanced away from Lucy. “We saw it in Somalia, Syria too in some of the refugee camps. But at least it’s easily treatable with doxycycline.”

Trying to cut through the awkward moment, Denise told them, “All right. It was unpleasant, and we’ll monitor you over the next couple of weeks in case. But you’re back, and I’m glad you figured it out. And that you’re all OK.” Not that any of them were OK. Not really. Not with the missing space where Rufus used to be.

The silent moment hung there, all of them not sure what to do or say next. It had been like that since they got back from Chinatown. “I’m gonna get back to work on the Lifeboat,” Jiya said, nodding. “Lucy, want to come help get me out of this?” She nodded to her dress.

“Of course.”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Rittenhouse jumped while you were gone,” Connor told them. “Probably activated the sleeper and then scurried to the Mothership to go do some more damage.”

“We can’t chase them for twelve hours at least,” Lucy said tiredly. “We need to recharge.” Denise wanted to say it wasn’t only the Lifeboat that needed to recharge.

“Gee, it’s really too bad someone just handed Rittenhouse a Mothership with unlimited jump capacity,” Wyatt said, glowering at Garcia, who didn’t visibly react. Denise looked at the two of them, uncertain what was meant by that. Mothership with unlimited jump capacity? What the hell was he talking about?

“Yeah, well, with friends like you, Wyatt, turns out we apparently really don’t need enemies,” Jiya muttered darkly, yanking at the ties of her deep purple cloak while looking pointedly at Wyatt. Wyatt flinched, and looking at the other three still in their colonial garb, looked as if he’d say something, but then closed his mouth, nodded, and turned to go.

“Enough,” Denise said, not loudly but with the tone that would brook no argument. They couldn’t all go on like this. She’d thought that future Lucy and Wyatt showing up had helped bridge the gap by showing them that Wyatt had worked his way back to being a trusted teammate and friend, but apparently it was only a Band-Aid slapped over a festering infection. “They jumped to Baltimore, 1975, and then 1993 and 1996, then back to 1975 again. Then back to Los Angeles, 2018. All in quick succession.”

“All recent,” Lucy said, brows drawing together in concentration. “Which means it’s likely something to do with one of us. Wyatt, would those dates mean anything to...to Jessica?”

Wyatt turned, looked somewhere past Lucy’s left shoulder as he answered. “No, Jess...never left Texas until after we got married. She didn’t have any people that far north either. I don’t know why she’d be interested in Baltimore. Makes no sense.”

It was Garcia who broke the silence, lifting his head and looking directly at Denise, something bleak and empty entering his expression. “You read my personnel file when this all started. Tell me, have I ever been married?”

Of course she’d read Garcia Flynn’s jacket when she needed recruits for this project. He’d been perfect. Impeccable service record, a bevy of modern languages, interest in history, and a trusted NSA asset. But strange that he’d put it like that. They’d talked enough over the last two years. She liked to think that they’d gotten a little closer than her simply being his supervisor familiar with his file. Like the rest of them, he was a friend--no, family, like she’d told Connor--not just an asset she managed. She couldn’t help but look at him quizzically. “No?” Listed next of kin was a half-brother, Gabriel Peter Thompkins. Twelve years older than Garcia, and an architect living in Paris. Saved by Garcia in 1969 as a six-year-old child from a would-be fatal allergic reaction to a bee sting. Houston--the Apollo 11 mission. She’d reprimanded him and Lucy for going off-mission on that one and taking a side trip, but her heart really hadn’t been in it.

He didn’t have a wife, and she wouldn’t say it in front of them. Nobody had wanted to push them too much and wreck the whole thing, but one of the bets in the bunker before that Chinatown debacle was on exactly how long it would take Garcia and Lucy to stop doing their awkward dance, and when the ever-decreasing, tightening spirals they turned around each other would finally meet. Especially these last few months, now that she and Wyatt were apparently through after Jessica’s return. Rufus had joked that when it happened, Denise had better move those two to a hotel for a week and let them get it out of their systems so the rest of them wouldn’t have to worry about the noise.

He laughed, a guttural and wrenching sound, closing his eyes for a moment and shaking his head. “Of course.” Eyes opening again, he lifted his left hand, tapping his ring finger with the index finger of his right hand. She spied the thin band of a wedding ring there. Oh, hell. Something changed. What, and how big is it? The last Rittenhouse bomb that happened, she’d ended up with Wyatt bulling his way into the bunker with Jessica, and look how well that all turned out. “Looks as though we figured it out. I...I need to run a name. Please. Find out whether she’s...alive or dead or...never existed.”

So Garcia was--had been--actually married. And apparently, she’d just disappeared. Her heart twisted, hard, thinking of Michelle, of those photographs she’d put into the Lifeboat in Lucy’s care, the desperate fear that she’d lose them. Thirty-five years of hope and unbearable longing and fear all at once, simply waiting after 1981. She looked at him for a long moment, seeing the agonized tension running through him galvanizing him through the exhaustion and pain, and nodded. “Garcia, you come with me. Let’s go figure this out. The rest of you--get some rest. That includes you, Jiya. It’s after midnight. The report, and work on the Lifeboat, can wait for later.”

Nobody pointed out that it was after midnight for her and Garcia too, obviously sensing that wasn’t an argument that would fly. Garcia turned to Lucy for a moment, bent enough so that he could say something right in her ear, and said something in a low murmur, pointing back at the Lifeboat. Lucy nodded, scrambled back up the steps, and within a minute she came back with the small waterproof bag from the hidden compartment in the floor that held what Rufus had dubbed, tongue-in-cheek, the Memory Cache. Her own flash drive that had started it all. Lucy’s two tiny locket-sized pictures of Amy. Wyatt hadn’t yet put pictures of Jessica back in there. And Garcia...obviously he had something in there too--some pictures or mementos of a wife.

Lucy handed Garcia the bag, and Denise watched as she hesitated, hand hovering near his arm for a moment, but then she backed away. Going to the computer, Garcia following in her shadow like a giant fretful tiger, she sat down and signed into the DHS database. “If we don’t get enough here, we should have you sign in over on the NSA.” Government agencies not fully playing ball with each other--hurray. But it helped them often enough to have an NSA agent on her team who had access to a different portfolio of information without her having to call in favors, especially since “Denise Christopher” wasn’t a favorite name with everyone over at the NSA after having taken down Jim Neville and a dozen others.

He sat down gingerly in the chair beside her, brow drawn into creases of confusion, hands fiddling the drawstring of the Memory Cache. “I still have NSA database access?”

She looked over at him, more seeds of suspicion starting to sprout in her mind, but there wasn’t enough yet to create a clear picture. Suffice it to say, something had definitely changed from those Rittenhouse jumps while they were there in 1733. “Why wouldn’t you? You were an asset for eight years, and then an active agent for the last two after I recruited you to the team.”

He shook his head almost unconsciously, muttering something lowly that sounded like a Croatian curse she heard him use. Whatever yeh-boh-tay meant, but she could guess. His eyes flicked back to the screen, the blinking cursor waiting for the data input. He put the Memory Cache aside, laying it carefully on the Lifeboat console. Arms folding over his chest, he took in a deep breath, and suddenly his tone was all business, the brisk habit of a man who’d been in the covert ops business himself for years. “Right. Name: Lorena Claire Valaitis. Claire with an E, and V-A-L-A-I-T-I-S. DOB April 14, 1976, in Baltimore. Parents are Lawrence Donald and Nancy Ruth, nee Trappe.”

She rapidly typed in the information and ran the search. The two of them sat in silence, Garcia practically vibrating with tension next to her. One result popped up, and she clicked on it. “This is her? Y--” She almost said, your wife, but stopped herself.

He looked at the photo of a woman with wavy, chin-length cinnamon-brown hair and dark eyes, a hint of a mischievous smile, and nodded. Sensing a man both transfixed and terrified, who wouldn’t--couldn’t--look away from the picture, couldn’t bear to look at the data himself, she scanned the essentials. “She’s alive.” Good news. “Lives in Baltimore. Works as a nurse practitioner. She’s married.” Bad news, because the man's name was definitely not Garcia Mihajlo Flynn. “To...a Timothy Lee Wrangell. Married on June 19, 1996.”

She didn’t read the next part for him, sensing how deeply it would cut, but he leaned in and read it aloud himself, voice almost eerie in its flat calm. “Four kids. Samuel Andrew, February 6, 2008. Holly Christina, June 4, 2009. Jason Luke, November 20, 2011. And Marissa Rose, July 10, 2013.”

She shouldn’t ask, but she knew if Mark and Olivia had been wiped from the face of history as casually as erasing a chalkboard, she would need so much in that moment to say their names, to insist that they existed, they mattered, they were real, Goddammit. And she’d seen how much he cared about children, how good he was with them, had always thought it was a bit of a shame he wasn’t a father himself. Just never found the right person who was able to put up with me, sadly, he’d usually quipped. Just never found a person I connected to deeply enough to love, and it’s not worth being lonely in a relationship, he’d confessed one night last winter over a beer. She’d spared his feelings and not mentioned Lucy, especially given Jessica had come back only a week before, and seeing both the giddy happy couple, and Lucy’s depression, obviously had to be a rough one-two punch. “Did you two have--”

“One. A daughter. Iris Maria.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “June 8, 2009.” He didn’t have to say it. She noticed the painful coincidence that Holly Christina Wrangell was only four days older. And though he’d put the bag aside, not opening it--maybe unable to open it now--she knew with a bone-deep certainty that some pictures of Lorena and Iris Flynn were in the Memory Cache. Maybe he’d wanted to look at them, or maybe he’d brought it as proof for Denise. She didn’t need it. She believed him.

“I don’t know how it happened, but they definitely didn’t go erase your existence, because I remember you--”

“No, them going to Baltimore in those years would have nothing to do with me. Lorena and I didn’t even meet until 2005, in Darfur. Before that, I'd only ever been in the US as a kid to visit Mom's family in Texas. Tim Wrangell was Lorena's childhood sweetheart. Killed in a car accident graduation week when he and a friend were drinking and drove.” He gave a humorless smile. “1993, in fact. I imagine Rittenhouse made sure he got home safe that night. How very responsible of them. The rest followed from there. Maybe they nudged them again in 1996 to get them married while they were still in college.”

She wanted to ask Why? but sensed there were no answers there. Either he didn’t have them himself, or he wasn’t going to share. He stood up, swaying a little like a man who was at the very end of his limits, physically or psychologically or both, left hand gripping the chair back tightly. “Thank you for looking, Agent Christopher.” Something in her hurt to hear him address her so formally--they were closer than that. He’d called her Denise along with the rest. “Do I still have an appointment down at Johns Hopkins tomorrow morning, or did that change while we were gone?”

Dragging him down to Baltimore where his never-wife lived seemed like twisting the knife, and then another thought popped into her head. She glanced at the screen, under the professional information for Lorena. “You do. And it looks like her primary assignment isn’t Johns Hopkins, but I’ll search a bit more and see if she works there at all.”

“I think that it would be for the best that she doesn’t.” Somehow, he looked even paler and more done than when he’d climbed out of that Lifeboat.

Deciding it was best to be honest, she told him, “They’re the best in region, and we need that, but if she does, I’ll make sure any further appointments are on a day she’s not there. And maybe I’d reschedule in general, given this news, but that injury was bad enough, and you obviously had a rough mission too soon. So I think you should keep the appointment if possible. We need you back in shape.”

He nodded, chewing his lower lip. “It’s for the best.” He said it half to himself. “Good night. I should get some sleep.” With that, he walked away, though she noticed he had his arms crossed over his chest as if to protect another wound. She saw the heavy bright blue poly of the Memory Cache still on the console where he’d left it, half opened. Picked it up and hesitated. She wouldn’t look. It felt too invasive of his privacy. Tugging the drawstrings closed again and redoing the airtight flap, she headed back towards the Lifeboat to replace it.

“I’ve got that.” She heard Jiya’s voice behind her. She should have figured Jiya wouldn’t listen. “What’s up with Flynn?” She nodded towards the figure just now disappearing from the barn towards the house, carefully closing the door behind him. Jiya then took the Memory Cache from Denise’s hands. Handled it with all the precious care of a newborn, because her own pictures of Rufus were in there too.

“Didn’t I tell you to get some sleep?”

Jiya clambered up the stairs into the Lifeboat and crouched, carefully redoing the spring mechanism on the trapdoor in the floor. She looked up at Denise with an unflinching stare. “Denise, seriously, we’ve got 130 years of wear, decay, and erosion on this junk bucket while it was sitting there after I crashed. It was still shaking like a bad amusement park ride on the way to 1733, and it’s not gonna fix itself. That means we replace every single part, piece by piece, in between chasing Rittenhouse, and that’ll take months, because half of it we’ll need to build or machine ourselves. That’s before we can even get to doing the Lifeline capability upgrades, and those will take months once we get there. Plus I need to start training the others as pilots in case I’m ever injured or...out of commission.” Her eyes narrowed. “I know what I can handle. If that means I go hard for six months or so, then that’s what I do. I’ll sleep plenty once we have Rufus back.”

She’d changed in 1888, and that was only to be expected. Nobody could have been left totally alone for 3 years in a rough area and emerged unchanged by that fire. But Denise couldn’t help but think there was something of obsidian about Jiya right in that moment, dangerous, shaped into a fierce edge sharp enough to cut, but so brittle.

“You can sleep while I take Garcia to his follow up in Baltimore tomorrow,” she allowed. “But promise me you will sleep then, Jiya, and let Connor take over. You’re our pilot, and our friend. And Rufus will never forgive us if we don’t make sure you’re taken care of until we get him back, right?”

Jiya smiled a little, and her air softened at that, the angry tension leaving her shoulders. “So, Flynn?” she asked again.

“His wife apparently married someone else ten years before they ever met.”

“That’s...yeah, OK, that’s a tough one. Well, at least she’s alive. Though maybe that makes it worse.”

“Alive? She wasn’t before?”

“Hand me the 7/16” socket wrench,” she requested. “Yellow tape on the handle.” She scraped her hair back from her face, grabbing a ponytail holder from her wrist. “Rittenhouse really did a number on this one, huh?” She shook her head, grabbing the wrench and fitting it to a nut on the control panel. “You probably should talk to Lucy, ‘cause it’s not like Flynn and I have epic heart-to-hearts on the regular. But let me try for the Cliff’s Notes version. Flynn finds out Rittenhouse has been funding Mason Industries and the time machine in 2014, one of his NSA bosses lets Rittenhouse know, so they come to his house at night that fall, kill his wife and kid, and he barely gets out alive, Flynn goes total Rambo psycho determined to take out Rittenhouse to bring them back, he storms Mason Industries in October 2016 and steals the Mothership with Anthony’s help, goes to 1937 to blow up the Hindenburg for whatever insane reason he thought that was a great idea and would affect Rittenhouse, you assemble us all and get Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus chasing him through time for close to a year, though we slowly figure out although he’s seemingly nuts and likes to go after history with a flamethrower he’s actually trying to go after Rittenhouse which is a much bigger threat, he finally agrees to cooperate with Lucy--because they’ve always have this thing between them that none of us really can pin down--rather than blow up an entire building in 1954 full of Rittenbosses, we take down 90% of Rittenhouse and it’s not enough, we find out Emma Whitmore has been a backstabbing Rittenhouse bitch all along and steals the Mothership Flynn was surrendering, you get Flynn arrested as a terrorist and thrown in solitary, but then Rittenhouse dumps sleepers all over history, you break Flynn out about five months ago to help work with us and you pin it on the Iranians, right around then there’s a brief weird detour of Lucy and Wyatt being together for about a day before Rittenhouse brings Jessica back and she turns out to be a backstabbing Rittenhouse bitch too who kidnapped me, I escaped but the Lifeboat was damaged and I crashed it in 1885...and three years later for me, like the same day for you lot...the Chinatown mission...happened. That’s about where we’re at right now.”

“I knew about Emma and Jessica being Rittenhouse. That...that happened. Chinatown happened.” It sounded like almost everything was the same, except that Garcia--it said a lot that they still called him Flynn--had a rather different role. Not the NSA covert operative with connections, copious field experience, and the like brought in as a linchpin of this time-hunter team. He’d instead been the enemy they’d been chasing, before they realized it was all Rittenhouse. Trying to reconcile that whole picture honestly gave her a headache. “So it was his wife and daughter’s murders that started this whole thing.”

Jiya gave a grunt, finally nudging a stubborn bolt loose, and ratcheting it out. “What happened here? In this version of things?”

“Rittenhouse slid under the radar. They stormed Mason Industries in 2016 because they had Connor over a barrel, they killed Anthony Bruhl and took Emma Whitmore as a quote unquote ‘hostage’ to be their pilot, and then they vanished with the Mothership. Connor immediately turned to us for help and admitted everything, because he was terrified of what they’d do. So I went out and I recruited Lucy and Wyatt. Garcia too. Because Rittenhouse had dug footholds into our entire intelligence network: FBI, CIA, NSA, DHS. He was an NSA asset recommended to me who I could trust as an intelligencer, and who’d also be a valuable field operative to work in tandem with Wyatt to protect Lucy and Rufus.”

Garcia was also finishing up a “removed from field ops” medical leave at that moment after recovering from wounds suffered on a mission in Ukraine. She’d noted in his file that they were thinking of benching him a bit longer and keeping him at a desk for a year or two given he’d had some psychologically torturous years in Syria, Ukraine, and Russia, and didn’t really have the family support system to help keep him grounded. His being benched at that moment had made it easy to get them to second him to her for her operation.

Garcia being Garcia, and thus about as capable of subtlety as a Force 5 hurricane, he’d lasted about ten minutes into the briefing before dramatically insisting he was fit to go fight in the field, and given they had no idea of what they were getting into, and when or where Rittenhouse would appear, it was a waste of having an experienced fighter simply clicking computer keys and making phone calls. Wyatt glared at Garcia as if offended they thought he couldn’t do it alone, Garcia made his usual snarky remarks, and the two of course ended up on the wrong foot. Soon enough, the whole Lucy angle hadn’t helped that either, and the joke about Wyatt and Garcia was sometimes the team really couldn’t tell whether they wanted to kill or fuck each other. Connor had sighed, started working with Rufus and Jiya to fit a fourth seat in the Lifeboat, and that was that.

“They knew Wyatt’s weakness. They brought Jessica back to get Wyatt to insist on bringing her here, so they could plant her as a mole.” She noticed Jiya couldn’t quite keep the bitterness from her tone. “But Flynn’s wife, she’s alive again, but she’s married to some other guy. What’s the angle here? Maybe they’re both Rittenhouse? Maybe she’s supposed to dump the current hubby, and snare Flynn?” She shook her head, reaching for a pair of wire snips, but her voice was full of that cutting, merciless obsidian edge again. “I don’t mean to be hard here, but Denise, seriously, do not let Flynn go after her. We all saw what happened the last time a guy was so happy his dead wife was alive, and so determined to fix his marriage, he forgot everything and everyone else. I swear...” Her voice lowered to barely more than a whisper. “I get it, you know. If Rufus suddenly appeared here...but I’d know I couldn’t trust him. I can’t. I won’t. Not unless it’s us that takes out Emma and brings him back.”

Denise nodded. She didn’t say that Jiya had overlooked something important, but it was understandable. She knew all about the agonizing loss of a lover, but she wasn’t a parent, couldn’t comprehend the idea of losing a child. They’d brought back Flynn’s wife, but not his daughter. They’d apparently wiped his record clean too. There was something at work here she couldn’t quite put her finger on, but she knew it would bother her until she figured it out. She’d played chess with Garcia, reprimanded him, verbally sparred with him, made jokes with him. He’d met Michelle and her kids, eaten mustard chicken at her dinner table with her family, because she knew he and Lucy both had no close family ties left. But apparently this man was something, someone, quite different. Someone she’d thrown in prison as a terrorist, but then grudgingly broken out later. What was he to her now? Reluctant asset? Trusted ally? Verging on friend? “Jiya, he’s obviously different from the man I recruited. Can I trust this Ga--Flynn?” She wouldn’t ask Lucy, because Lucy was too close to the question. She needed a less biased opinion.

Jiya breathed in deeply. “He’s still kind of a dick sometimes, but...I guess we didn’t really hang the welcome banner either. Not that he deserved it then. But every time we’ve needed him since you busted him out, he’s had our backs, and then some. He almost got killed himself on the Chinatown mission. So I think he’s earned our trust.”

So long as he doesn’t go rogue over this, Denise added silently to herself. She wouldn’t expect a frantic rush to go insert himself into Lorena Valaitis Wrangell’s life from the Garcia she knew, but maybe this man was capable of very different things? She’d have to keep an eye on him tomorrow on the trip to Baltimore. “Good night, Jiya. Please get some sleep.”

But at 3 AM, there she was herself at her bedroom window in the old farmhouse, looking out at the clouded blue-black sky, with only the faintest glow of moonlight peeking through the edge of one of the clouds. It was midnight in California right now. Michelle would probably be watching Golden Girls reruns, sleepless as ever. Wanting to call Denise, but also not wanting to be a bother. Proud, but terrified. Mark and Olivia with their questions, asking Mom wondering where Maan had gone, when she’d be back. So much she’d missed over the years, and she’d miss more now too. She couldn’t decide whether she’d need to bring them into the next safehouse so Rittenhouse couldn’t get to them, or whether that was pointless, because they could go kill Michelle in the past and there was only the breathless hope that her team, her chosen family, would be able to stop it. Would bringing them into the safehouse help protect them, or simply her indulging her own selfishness by bringing them into this insane firestorm that was her life? Wasn’t it better that they got to live their lives away from all this Rittenhouse darkness, even if they had to bear up the pain of her not being there?

She’d brought them all together, asked them to sacrifice so much for this impossible fight. Lucy, Wyatt--and yes, she still felt responsible for Garcia, because despite what Jiya said she couldn’t remember it otherwise--Rufus, Jiya. She’d drawn them into this madness, and here they were, two years later, all of them either breaking or broken. Wyatt, having gotten his wife back and fathered a child, hopes ripped away by discovering Jessica was Rittenhouse all along, and that she chose them. Lucy, who’d lost her sister, her mother, and come back from that Chinatown mission sometimes radiating cold, wintery waves of don’t fuck with me. Rufus, who never came back at all. Jiya, who’d lost three years of her life, lost the last of that giddy innocence, and came back a more-or-less widow forged tough as steel. Garcia, who’d apparently had his wife and daughter murdered in front of him, who’d seemingly lost himself fighting Rittenhouse, who’d now been given the agony of a living wife married to someone else, and a daughter still missing. Connor, who’d lost his company, felt the weight of his dead employees, the responsibility of having helped Rittenhouse get to where they were now. How had it been only a few months ago she’d laughingly called Jiya and Lucy Cagney and Lucy, thanking them for saving her future? Had it ever seemed like things were actually getting better? The cracks were there in all of them, and she wasn’t sure what she could do to help them bear up underneath the relentless burdens still ahead.

Closing her eyes for a moment, pressing her forehead to the window frame, she turned back and closed the curtains. Her eyes went to her phone for a moment. Michelle would be up. She’d want to talk, to listen. A part of her ached to dial that number and pour her heart out, and probably say far, far more than national security would allow. But she was so tired of the polite fictions, the half-truths, so maybe it was easier to say nothing at all.

Besides, her own work was waiting for her too. That meant finding their next quarters, preferably before winter. This place near Gettysburg was remote and quiet enough to hide for a while, but it wasn’t secure enough for the long term. She was hoping for somewhere in California to come through, but that was selfish too. Maybe that remote site up in Alaska was the best bet after all, and she’d best have at least one more temporary site all ready in case ASAP they ended up on the run in a hurry. She opened her laptop, ready to research more details. She couldn’t take back what the fight against Rittenhouse had stolen from them, what she’d asked them to give, and they’d handed over so freely, so trustingly. The best thing she could do for all of them right now was fight to protect them, and keep them safe.