Nancy was relieved Carson didn't answer her call. He was worried about her and she knew he had a right to be. But his worry wouldn't change a thing.
She swiped away a few meaningless notifications on her phone before turning it off and setting it beside her atop the picnic table. It was a cold night and although the wind carried an unpleasant scent of fish, Nancy wasn't quite ready to go home.
Nancy turned at the sound of the familiar voice. Ace stood at the start of the decking beside the Claw, his hands in his coat pockets. His coat was unzipped, leaving the pink shirt he wore beneath it exposed.
"I didn’t mean to scare you."
Nancy shook her head. "It’s okay, I’m not scared.”
She watched as he walked closer, stopping a few paces away from her. He made no move to sit beside her, and she ignored her disappointment that he didn’t.
“I know you did what you did to save my life. But it’s not like you to work with the Hudsons.”
Nancy drew in a breath. Already at the mention of the Hudsons, she felt tears prick her eyes. “I don’t know what you want from me.” She closed her eyes briefly, and when she opened them she was surprised to see his expression mirrored the way she felt.
Ace tilted his head slightly. “I want… to know that you’re okay. You’ve been different lately.”
On any other night, she would have laughed. Different was a light way of putting it. She had watched as her best friend faced death, and she had made a deal with one of the very people she swore she'd take down just to prevent his fall. And that was only the most recent addition to the list of what made her different.
“It’s been an intense couple of weeks," she said. "Wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t think Gil’s the best person for you right now.”
Oh. The thing was, Nancy already knew that herself. "Get a girlfriend and now you’re a relationship expert?”
Ace grimaced. “He’s controlling. And he takes up a lot of energy. You’re dealing with a lot already.”
But he was also a distraction. A no-strings-attached escape from everything else. Both sides could be true. “I’m fine. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Ace dipped his chin. “Okay, you’re right. Not my place to say.” He turned his back to her and began to walk away, yet she wasn't ready for him to go.
Nancy blinked back her tears. "Are… are you okay?"
He stopped for a moment before turning back towards her. This time, he sat on the bench of the table she perched on. But he was careful to sit a few feet away, and Nancy couldn't help but feel the distance was both literal and metaphorical.
"I'm fine." He didn't look at her when he spoke, and Nancy believed him no more than she imagined he believed she wasn't scared.
"Is it about Grant?" She watched for his reaction, but he didn't move. "It's okay to miss him."
"I—" He glanced at her. "I do miss him."
"There's nothing wrong with that, you know."
"I just... keep wondering what if." Ace paused and then sighed. "What if I had known twenty-one years ago? I never thought much of being an only child growing up. But now, I can't help but think about what I was missing. I've had an older brother my entire life and for most of it I had no idea. And now I might not ever get to see him again."
"But maybe you will. Someday, when the time is right."
"I only knew he was my brother for like a week." Ace looked at her more fully, his eyes glassy. He wiped his nose with his coat sleeve.
"You don't have to know someone long to miss them. Sometimes you don't even need to have met them at all." Nancy had spent plenty of time dwelling on what-ifs of her own. What if Ryan knew he had a daughter from the start? What if Lucy hadn't died? Ace was lucky in that way. He still had time.
"I'm sorry," he said. "You don't have it any better." She watched as he opened his mouth and then closed it, unable to find any more words.
"It's fine," Nancy said quietly. "He's your brother."
Ace nodded, holding his gaze steady.
Nancy pulled her eyes from Ace to the dark waterfront, listening as the weak waves lapped at the wood. She felt his eyes still on her, but when she looked back at him his head was turned in the other direction.
"I don't want to work with them," she said, breaking the silence. "Do you get that?"
Ace turned back to her. "I do, but—"
"But what?" Nancy curled her fingers around the edge of the table. "Celia… she's pushed me into a corner. This is my only option. The only chance I have at fixing everything."
"Everything that happened because you saved me."
Nancy closed her eyes for a moment. "If it was me hanging over that ledge, tell me you wouldn't have handed over the names."
"I would have."
"Then what do you expect me to do?" Her voice cracked on the last word.
"I don't know." He shifted so that he was sitting closer, cutting the distance between them in half. If she stretched out a hand, Nancy thought maybe she'd be able to reach him.
"If I don't work with them, I lose a chance at the one opportunity I have left to get back the upper hand."
"I get that."
"So why are you still mad at me?"
Ace winced. "I'm not mad at you."
"I don't know if I believe you."
"It's not you I'm mad at. I promise." He bounced his leg a few times. "If anything I'm mad at myself for being the reason you're in this situation."
Nancy shook her head. "You shouldn't be."
"Maybe." Ace shrugged. "But it doesn't always work like that."
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before her tears could fall.
"It's not always that easy."
Nancy moved down from the top of the picnic table to sit on the bench. She left a few inches between them. At the paper mill, she had hugged him tight. If she touched him now, she wasn't sure if she would be able to let go. “I want us to be okay."
His gaze softened. "I just want to know that you’re okay."
"I will be," she said, taking a shaky breath. "But if I'm going to do this, I need you."
He shifted closer, his arm bumping into hers. "I'm here."