azombiewrites: (Department S)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: The Man with a New Body
Fandom: Department S
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Angst.
Rating: PG
Warning: Whumpage
Main Characters: Stewart Sullivan, Annabelle Hurst and Jason King.
Secondary Characters: Sir Curtis Seretse.
Disclaimer: Based on the characters created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman.
Challenge: Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort
Prompt: #5 Pain
Chapter Word Count: 7,316
Total Word Count: 34,760
Status: Complete

Summary: In an attempt to keep a case unsolved, the agents of Department S are abducted. Kept hidden away in an isolated location. When two of them escape plans begin to unravel leaving one life at risk.




The Man with a New Body

Chapter Four



Words spoken. A conversation void of anything that made sense. Annabelle so exhausted, voice weak, throat raw. A constant barrage of words, unwilling to give in; silence the one thing Stewart didn’t need. Dialogue without direction, an attempt to keep his nightmares at bay . . . not always successful. His fear tearing through her every time he screamed . . . every time he begged them to stop . . .

Annabelle, stretched out on the left side of the bed, her ankles crossed, back resting against the headboard, brushed her fingers through Sullivan’s sweat soaked hair. She had to be close . . . had to stay with him. Not because of a promise but because of a need. She’d almost lost him.

He lay beside her, legs tangled in the bed’s blanket. Chest bare, right arm in a sling, broken finger strapped with professional care. Bullet wounds in his shoulder repaired, checked at intermittent intervals, Annabelle not inclined to give the Doctor room to work. She had to stay close. Permission given. Unable or reluctant to tell the truth, Seretse had spun a believable tale.

Sullivan moved, head turning to the side. Another nightmare on the way, Annabelle so sure. Palm resting against the side of his face, careful of the bruising, she turned his head further. Forehead against her hip, bringing him closer. The smell of her clothes, her perfume always helpful . . . not always enough.

A soft groan at the back of his throat. Neck taught, Sullivan buried his head further into the pillow. Turned his body . . . slumped back . . . not enough strength to do more. Settled. His breathing remained relaxed although shallow, broken rib a hindrance. Eventual nightmare retreating.

Annabelle let out a tense breath. Gratitude showing in her eyes, her expression. So much emotional turmoil when Sullivan dreamt. Attention focused on the right side of his face, she waited. Conversation paused. Wanted to be sure his sleep remained peaceful. Minutes passed. No movement. Fingers returned to Sullivan’s forehead. Annabelle receiving as much assurance from the touch as Sullivan. A constant movement, fingers moving across his forehead, Sullivan’s skin cool beneath her touch. Words returned.

She looked up and away when the door opened. Eyebrow raised in surprise, Seretse stepped into the room. Uncertain, Annabelle lifted her right hand away from Sullivan. Body shifting, she moved to sit up. Knew Sullivan would miss her touch, his body trying to move with her.

“As you were, Miss. Hurst,” said Seretse.

King moved into the room behind Seretse, a knowing expression on his face. Cigarette in his mouth, he closed the door. Settled into the chair in the corner of the room. Gaze shifting from Annabelle to Sullivan.

Relieved, Annabelle leaned back. Laid the palm of her hand against the side of Sullivan’s head, thumb combing across his temple. A subtle movement, not wanting to reveal too much to Seretse. Enough for Sullivan, pushing his face even further into her hip.

“How is he?” said Seretse, moving around the bed. A show of compassion, he pulled the tangled blanket from Sullivan’s legs. Lifted it up, covered Sullivan’s upper body, tucking it around his shoulders. Sat down on the edge.

Annabelle smiled. Not something, she had expected to see. Thought of Sullivan’s inevitable embarrassment when told of Seretse's concern, her smile grew.

Seretse, somehow aware of her thoughts, said, “That, Miss. Hurst, you didn’t see.”

She waited. Enjoyed the moment. Not enough of them lately. Not enough of them in their immediate future. Looked down at Sullivan. Couldn’t see enough of his face to satisfy. Eyes wet, looked back at Seretse. No words needed. Her expression explanation enough.

Seretse nodded in understanding.

King less willing to stay silent. “Physically he’ll be fine. Broken bones will mend. The bullet wound wasn’t as serious as we’d thought.”

A look passed between King and Seretse. A silent exchange. Annabelle frowned. Certain there was a silent ‘but’ at the end of King’s short and blunt account of Stewart’s condition. She wanted an explanation. Decided to wait. Now wasn’t the time. Wrong tone of voice enough to unsettle Sullivan. Calm assurance needed. Anything to keep the nightmares away . . . Her voice silent, Sullivan’s body shifted. Turned his head away from her. Dark bruising on the left side of his face revealed. An explosion of dark colours. Her fingers hovered, not sure where to touch.

“Annabelle.”

She looked up at King. He nodded at her. An act of encouragement. He understood. Been there often enough to see what the nightmares did to Stewart. Knew what kept him calm. Looked back at Sullivan. Rested her hand across his forehead. He flinched. Sleep not enough to keep him oblivious. Chest tight with anger, she could physically harm those responsible. Fingers trembling she stroked his forehead. Knew another nightmare was on its way . . . a quick, sudden touch bringing it all back. Began to speak, her voice soft. Conversation given a direction. Wanting it over. Not wanting Seretse here when Stewart dreamt. An audience not needed or wanted.

“Has Stanford been found?”

Seretse, more aware than she had thought, said, “Unfortunately, no. But we will.”

“Stanford failed. He’ll be on the run. Not only from us but from the people he works for,” said King.

Looked at King. “What about Sarah Townsend?”

King shook his head.

“We can’t let them get away with it,” said Annabelle, voice rising with anger.

“They won’t,” said King. Voice neutral. Assured.

“King, I hope you’re not planning a vendetta.”

King raised an innocent eyebrow. Looked at Sullivan. Smiled.

“That,” said Seretse, “I will not allow.”

“You’d think otherwise if you were there . . .” King stopped. Raised a hand in apology. “If Stewart decides to go after Stanford, I’ll be there with him.”

Annabelle smiled.

Seretse shifted his gaze. Looked down at Sullivan. “If he does it officially, he will have my support but if decides on a personal vendetta . . .” Words trailed off. Nothing more said.

“He doesn’t need your permission,” said King. A sudden show of anger.

“No but he will need my support. Make sure he understands that, King.”

King nodded. A mutual agreement.

“Did the leak in your office reveal anything helpful,” said Annabelle, pulling her gaze away from Sullivan to look at Seretse.

Seretse explained. “Cummings. He never met Stanford. They spoke only by phone. When Stanford was happy with the information given, Cummings received a healthy payment into his bank account.”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing that would help us find Stanford.”

“Has anybody been to see Mrs. Declan?”

Grimacing, King said, “Stewart was right. She had nothing to do with it.”

“Were you right?”

Gaze snapped toward Sullivan. A reluctant yes given. More confirmation Sullivan had been off his game. Original search of Declan’s small office not thorough enough. “I found more photos on either side of the book case. I’m sure their intent was to stop a complete search of the room. I found a recording device in the center of the bookcase. Another way of gaining information on Declan.”

“Declan wasn’t a blackmailer?”

“No,” said King.

“Why didn’t they remove it when they took Declan?”

“I assume they wanted to record the visits by the police and any one investigating Declan’s disappearance. To gain information on how the case was progressing.”

Annabelle nodded. “It would have told them we knew about John Finch.”

Sullivan moved. Rolled. Struggled onto his left side. His breath caught in his throat, catching, sharp noise escaping. Annabelle unsure if he were dreaming or waking. Wanted neither. Awake, Sullivan kept his distance, his eyes haunted, body language frail; not the confident man she knew. So hard to watch . . .

“Tell Sullivan I stopped by,” said Seretse. Stood to his full height. Walked around the bed. A nod to King. Opened the door. A glance back at Sullivan. Left the room.

Annabelle shifted further down onto the bed. Closer to Sullivan. Began to speak. Words a mess. Hoped the sound of her voice would be enough . . .

.
.
.

Stewart Sullivan screamed. Broken voice torn from his throat. Muscles tense. Body rigid. His mind caught in yet another violent nightmare. A second scream . . . strong emotions catching, the sound coming to an abrupt end. Eyes snapped open. Gaze blank. Unaware. A long, drawn out moment of silence. Sullivan’s gaze shifted. Hesitated. Roamed the room. Recognition taking too long . . . too long to remember he wasn’t in that room. White walls. The smell of disinfectant. Annabelle, so close, sitting on the side of the bed. He wasn’t . . .

Sullivan rolled his head to the side, his body moving with him. Knees drawn upward. Shoulders hunched forward. Body curled inward. A series of quick, shallow breaths. A deep, guttural groan at the back of his throat. Face pressed deep into the pillow, he began to tremble . . . entire body shaking with emotion.

Fingers fretted across the back of his skull, through hair becoming damp with the sweat of a nightmare. “Stewart?”

Managed to lift his left hand, a subtle wave. A silent voice telling Annabelle to back off. To give him time. Time taken, Sullivan made every effort to regain control. Couldn’t. With each nightmare, it became increasingly difficult, taking so much longer to gain control. Images taking too long to fade. The imagined pain, so real, always there. The smell of Brown Avon aftershave lingered for far too long . . . a shallow breath.

He could feel everything.

He wanted to feel nothing.

He wanted to forget.

Could remember everything. Every small detail.

A slow, deep breath. The pain gathering in his shoulder. His side. A deeper breath. The pain increasing. Not enough. His emotions still beyond his control. His chest ached, a painful, twisting knot of anxiety. Sadness so deep, so dark, he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the back of his mind, he knew he was losing the battle. To fight his emotions . . . it took too much effort, took too much out of him. Each fight left him emotionally drained, physically exhausted. He couldn’t keep fighting it . . .

If he stopped fighting, it would show a weakness he wasn’t yet ready to reveal . . . to others . . . to himself.

A hand on the back of his head . . . he flinched. A reaction he couldn’t control. It happened more often than he wanted . . . knew he’d been broken. A shattered bottle of aftershave doing so much more than the physical pain inflicted.

He was so tired.

Tired of everything.

So tired of fighting. Trying to stay in control . . . realised he no longer cared.

Decision made, Sullivan released his emotions. Couldn’t stop once he let go.

“Let me help.”

He didn’t know how she could help. A comforting embrace not enough . . . never enough . . . nothing she could do. Nothing she could say. A battle he had to endure alone. A battle he was sure he would never win. Mind broken beyond repair.

Seemed to take an eternity . . . mind finally shifting from emotional to numb, his body relaxing. Limbs too heavy to move, he could feel the exhaustion. Slumber pulling him back in. Dragged his eyes open. So difficult. He had to stay awake. Bit into his cheek . . . a well-used remedy. More alert. More aware.

He turned his head . . . a cool, damp cloth against his skin. The sweat and tears wiped from his face. Closed his eyes in frustration and embarrassment. Waited until she was finished . . . always waited until she was done. Noticed Annabelle was taking extra care this time, taking longer. Knew if he opened his eyes, he would see the hurt he caused. He could feel his body becoming more relaxed. Annabelle's gentle ministrations calming him further . . . snapped his eyes open. Looked up.

Every time he woke, Annabelle was there, always with him. It was too much. Time needed to be alone. None given. Always having to hide. No longer able. No fight left in him. Rolled onto his back. Grimaced. Right arm in a sling, Sullivan struggled to sit up. Gritted his teeth when Annabelle tossed the cloth aside and moved in closer. She took hold under his left arm, ready to help him up . . . breath warm against the side of his face. He froze, unable to move. Closed his eyes. Made a poor attempt to convince himself it wasn’t real. He wasn’t still in that room. He couldn’t still be in that room. Opened his eyes . . . gaze distant. Krasnoff’s voice, a frightening presence in the back of his mind . . . his aftershave a sickening odour.

Annabelle let go. Sat back down on the edge of the bed. Reached forward. Took Sullivan’s left hand. Held it tight, thumb brushing the back of his hand. Words tumbled out of her mouth. No particular order. Only her voice required.

Took longer than it should, Annabelle’s voice breaking through. Sullivan blinked. Swallowed the painful lump of emotion in his throat. He couldn’t keep doing this. Alone, there wouldn’t be any reminders. Alone, there would be nothing to trigger the flashbacks. Alone, he could keep himself awake . . .

Knew his words would hurt. The only way left. Her refusal of his suggestions to go home and rest giving him no choice.

“Annabelle, please go.”

The expected hurt appeared on her face, eye’s narrowing slightly. Only for a brief moment. Her emotions quickly hidden. She couldn’t hide from him. He knew her too well. As well as she knew him. He could see the hurt shift to anger, the skin too tight around her eyes, her shoulders stiff. He almost gave in.

“We’ve been through this before, Stewart. I promised you, I wouldn’t leave you alone.”

His own anger rising, about to protest . . .

The door opened.

Anger deflating, Sullivan turned his head.

Jason King stood in the doorway. “Am I interrupting?”

“Stewart was asking me to leave,” said Annabelle.

“Again?” said King.

Sullivan rolled his eyes. These two would be the death of him. Constant companionship driving him to the edge . . . he was ready to jump.

“Take her home, Jason.”

King stepped into the room. Closed the door behind him. Found the familiar chair in the corner of the room. Dragged it to the side of the bed. Sat down. Lit a cigarette, taking a deep drag. Made himself at home. Ignored Sullivan and said, “Change of shift.”

Sullivan glared at King, gaze unflinching. His gaze torn away when Annabelle leaned toward him. Afraid he would feel her breath on his skin, he leaned back, unable to create enough distance. Annabelle, reading his body language, stopped. Slowly moved back. She squeezed his hand. Lowered her gaze. Hesitated. Stood up. Without a backward glance, she walked away. Left the room, the door closing behind her.

He stared at the door . . .

“Stewart?”

Closed his eyes. Fatigue began a slow crawl . . . bit into his cheek. Tasted the blood. Opened his eyes. Found King staring back at him with a look of concern. Looked away. Use of his legs, heels pressing deep into the mattress, Sullivan pushed himself back and up. Body still lacking the strength required . . .

King stood up. Stepped forward. Reached toward Sullivan.

“Don’t,” said Sullivan, slumping back down onto the mattress. Position uncomfortable. Refused to accept help. Too afraid of the small things. He couldn’t understand how something as simple as a puff of breath on the side of his face could bring forward a memory that caused him so much emotion . . . so much pain. How a scent could send his mind into the past . . . how it could make everything so real. He couldn’t understand why he was still so afraid of something that had happened two years ago.

King sat down. A slow drag on his cigarette. “I’m sorry, Stewart.”

Sullivan wanted to close his eyes. Hide from the inevitable conversation. Knew sleep would take him if he did. Stared at the ceiling instead. He didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with this . . . didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with anyone. If they would just leave him alone.

“I’m sorry,” said King, “that you feel you can’t talk to me about what happened.”

He didn’t want to talk to anyone about what had happened.

“I know a professional who can help you. She’s very good.”

Sullivan’s gaze snapped toward King, angry retort ready . . .

“Don’t tell me you’re fine, Stewart. You’re far from it.”

Looked away, gaze returning to the ceiling. He knew he wasn’t fine. Didn’t need anyone to confirm something he already knew. Damaged by something he couldn’t forget. Confident a conversation couldn’t fix what had been broken. Knew he could no longer do his job.

“She could be here in an hour.”

“No.”

“Stewart--”

Turned his head. Expression angry. “If you want to help me . . . leave.”

“Why?”

Honesty would start a conversation he didn’t want. A lie would reveal its true intent. A distraction would only delay. If he closed his eyes, sleep would come . . . the nightmares would follow. Couldn’t get up and walk out . . . not yet, not enough strength. He needed time alone. Couldn’t be alone, not when there was someone always with him. They couldn’t see past the instinctive need to be alone. They watched him sleep. They watched when he suffered through a nightmare. Why couldn’t they leave him alone?

A change of direction needed. Anything that would stop a slip of the tongue . . . anything that would stop a conversation he didn’t want.

“Why are you here?” said Sullivan.

“We want to help you.” Emphasis on ‘we’.

“How is this helping?”

“It won’t work, Stewart.”

He knew it wouldn’t. “If I promise talk to her . . . would you let me be alone?”

“Why are you so insistent on being alone?”

Sullivan stared at King. Anger pooled in his gut. Wanted to wipe that innocent expression off King’s face. Couldn’t do it physically. Settled for a verbal slap.

“Two years ago I was tortured. You wouldn’t believe the pain I had to endure. I couldn’t answer his questions. People relied on me to stay quiet. If I talked, they died. I can’t forget it. I still have nightmares. I still remember.” On a roll, Sullivan sat up. Leaned forward. Body trembling with emotion. Weakness making it difficult to stay upright. “I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Three days ago . . . Stanford is an amateur. He didn’t know what he was doing but he made you talk, Jason, and he didn’t have to lay a single hand on you.”

Expression wiped off King’s face.

“This isn’t about you though is it? Given the right incentive, people talk. You talked because he threatened me, even though you knew he wouldn’t kill me. Money made the leak in Seretse’s office talk. If he put Annabelle in the room with me, I would have talked. But Stanford didn’t have Annabelle. He had something else. He knew, Jason. He knew what would take me back there. He knew what would put me back in that room with Krasnoff. I can deal with the physical pain. What I can’t deal with is the memories, the nightmares. I can’t deal with the fear. I can’t bear the things that bring it all back. The small things. Things that you’re not aware of. Things I don’t want to talk about. I need to be alone so the small things aren’t there. So I can’t be reminded. So I can’t be sent back to that room.”

“The smell of Brown Avon aftershave,” said King, nodding.

King’s verbal slap down far more successful. Angry expression dropped from Sullivan’s features.

“How did you know?” said Sullivan, falling back. Grimaced when the pain struck.

“Two things. I read your file. Secondly, at the scene you told me you could smell Krasnoff.”

“Seretse gave you my file.”

“Yes.”

Sullivan looked away. “This conversation isn’t going the way I thought it would.”

King stood up. Sat down on the edge of the bed. “You can say anything you want. Anything you need to say. Your words won’t send me running for the hills. I promise you that.”

“Does Annabelle know?”

“No.”

“You won’t tell her?”

“No.”

“I can’t do my job anymore.”

“You need time to heal, Stewart. Physically and emotionally.”

“No. After what Stanford did . . .”

“What did he do?”

“He did what Krasnoff couldn’t . . . he broke me.”

.
.
.

Uncomfortable beneath Seretse’s gaze, Sullivan shifted in his seat, looked away. Gaze searched for a distraction. Nothing in Seretse’s office interesting enough. Seretse never there long enough to give the room a personal look. Travelling more often than not. Hotels his main accommodation . . . much like Sullivan. Looked out the window, sky full of gray clouds. Rain on its way.

Looked back at Seretse. Anxiety, an unfamiliar emotion, had burrowed deep into his chest, unwilling to leave. There were times when he’d been nervous during a case and with good reason but this . . . it wasn’t a simple case of nerves. It was a fear driven by a memory he couldn’t forget. Something he didn’t know how to fix.

“I can’t accept this,” said Seretse, dropping the envelope, unopened, back onto the desk.

“I’m not giving you a choice.”

Seretse stood up. Walked around the desk. Sat down in the chair next to Sullivan. Leaned forward. Not too far. Kept his distance. He knew. “Why?”

“You know why,” said Sullivan.

“Knowing and understanding are two different things, Stewart.”

He didn’t want to explain. Didn’t want to tell another person he was too afraid to do his job. Too afraid of being taken. Too afraid of being strapped to a chair. Too afraid that something would bring it all back. In a situation where a mistake could mean not only his death but also Annabelle’s or King’s . . . if someone were to get too close, breath against the side of his face . . . if he were sent back to that room, no longer in the present . . . unable to defend himself or others. He couldn’t let that happen. Couldn’t be responsible for someone’s death.

“I made too many mistakes in the Declan case.”

“That I can’t argue with.”

“Then you accept my resignation?”

“Not yet.”

Sullivan stood. Ready to walk away. Balance surprised, he stumbled. Grabbed the desk before he fell. A hand on his elbow. Flinched away. Disturbed by his own reaction, he turned away, hiding his features. An expression of self-pity, of disgust at his inability to be comfortable in the presence of someone he trusted.

“Sit down, Stewart.”

Did as told. Sat down. Body grateful. Not long out of the hospital. Resignation on the forefront of his mind. Wanted it done and out of the way. After this . . . Annabelle.

“We’re both at fault,” said Seretse. “We both knew you weren’t ready to take on the case. We should have heeded your Doctor’s advice. You were still in pain. You admitted as much at the time.”

“My physical health wasn’t the issue. It was my state of mind. I wasn’t willing to accept that something was wrong. Not then.”

“Again, we were both at fault. At our meeting, I could see it in your eyes when I made the comment that the torture you suffered hadn’t broken you . . . I can see it now. If I had known what the future held for you . . .”

Unaware of what he was doing, Sullivan raised his left arm. Hid his eyes behind his hand, fingers shaking with the cruelty of Seretse’s honesty. Not intentional he was sure, Seretse only showing that he understood his part in what had happened.

“Stewart.”

Sullivan dropped his hand. Lowered his head. “I can’t do the job anymore. If you put me on another case . . . If I accept . . . mistakes will be repeated.”

“I told King not to underestimate you. Perhaps I was wrong.”

Looked up. Expression of acceptance turned toward Seretse. “Anyone can be broken, Sir Curtis. It was only a matter of time.”

“I apologise, Stewart, for not making sure your medical treatment was to the extent it should have been after your ordeal with Krasnoff.”

“I’m the only one at fault there.” Time to be honest. “I didn’t reveal everything. I kept some things to myself so I could be in control of my situation. I lost control with Krasnoff. I needed to get it back.”

“You never lost control. You would have given him the information he wanted if you had.”

Fingers played with the frayed edge of the sling. “To tell you the truth, Sir Curtis, if Krasnoff was here right now, I would tell him everything. I don’t have that control anymore.” A shattered bottle of aftershave had destroyed everything he had left in him in a matter of seconds. “I don’t trust myself. You know and understand more than you’re willing to say. You can’t take the risk of putting me back in the field . . .”

“A desk job--”

“No. I need to be detached from everything and everyone I know.”

Seretse rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. Steepled his fingers, deep in thought. A moment. Felt like an eternity to Sullivan. “I will not accept your resignation.”

Sullivan sighed, a throaty sound, his frustration and anger revealed.

“You’re too good an agent, Stewart. But, I am willing to compromise if you are.”

Suspicious gaze settled on Seretse. “Am I going to regret this?”

“Possibly.”

Sullivan smiled. Couldn’t stop himself.

“Six months medical leave. You will seek professional help to deal with your fear. We’ll talk again at the end of the six months. If you still wish to resign, I will accept without question.”

“You do know.”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Stewart, especially after what you’ve been through. Please, do everything you can to deal with this. You’re a good agent. One of the best. I don’t want to lose you over this.”

“By ‘this’ you mean my fear.”

Gaze confident, Seretse stared at Sullivan. “Krasnoff and Stanford took something from you. You’ll get it back. I’m sure.”

“I’m not sure I will,” said Sullivan. “Do you have anyone in mind?”

“I thought King had suggested someone.”

“He did. A woman.”

Seretse reached into a coat pocket. Removed a small card. Handed it to Sullivan. “He comes highly recommended. Your first appointment is written on the back.”

Sullivan turned the card over. Took note of the time and date. Put the card in his coat pocket. “He’ll report back to you?”

“No. At the end of the allotted time, the only thing I’ll need to know is that you’ll be able to do your job with your usual efficiency.”

“Before Krasnoff.”

“Before Declan,” said Seretse. “Your job performance didn’t begin its decline until that morning in the tearoom.”

Sullivan nodded in understanding. “Finch was my first mistake. I shouldn’t have hit him. I should have questioned him.”

“Declan was killed not long after he was taken. Don’t blame yourself for his death.”

Took a moment. Stood up. Kept his balance. “Thank you.”

Seretse stood with him. Shook Sullivan’s hand. “Take the six months, Stewart. Even if you feel you’re ready to come back early.”

“I wish I had your confidence, Sir Curtis.”

“Others may underestimate you, Sullivan. I won’t.”

Sullivan bit into his cheek. Not hard enough to draw blood. Painful enough to keep him focused. The conversation more emotional than he’d expected. Seretse understanding more than he thought possible.

“Go. I’m sure Miss Hurst is anxious to talk to you.”

Maybe, but it was a conversation he didn’t want. No choice. He couldn’t just walk away from her. Not Annabelle.

.
.
.

He put her off, not yet willing to have a confrontation with Annabelle. Couldn’t go back to his hotel. Knew she would be waiting for him. Instead, he’d somehow found his way onto the doorstep to the home of Alice Declan. He wanted to knock . . . a simple task so difficult. He waited. Gathered his courage. If he couldn’t do this . . . Knocked on the front door. A slow passage of time. Stepped back when the front door opened.

“Mr. Sullivan,” said Alice Declan. She looked like a woman who had just lost her husband. Features strained. Eyes red. Skin pale. She looked liked she’d aged ten years. She moved to the side. Made room. “Please, come in.”

He hesitated.

She waited. Patient. Her smile forced.

Suddenly realised he’d made a mistake coming here. Too late to turn back now. Sullivan stepped into her home. The cottage now too big for one person. Mrs. Declan closed the door behind him. Gesturing for him to follow her, she took him into the drawing room. Much larger than Declan’s office.

Alice sat down on the edge of the lounge. Bottle of wine and an empty glass on the small table in front of her. “I’d offer you a glass, but I assume you’re on some sort of pain medication.”

“Is that helping,” said Sullivan, nodding toward the wine.

“Not as much as I hoped it would. Why are you here, Mr. Sullivan?”

He looked around the room. Open space. Very little furniture. A large open fireplace. Pictures of Henry Declan on the wall. He didn’t know why he was here. Found he couldn’t lie to her. “I don’t know.”

“Are you going to apologise to me? Are you going to tell me you’re sorry because you couldn’t save my husband? Are you going to tell me that you’ll find the man responsible for my husband’s death?”

Bit into his cheek. This is why he came. He would take every deserving word. If she raised a hand to him, he would let her. She was angry. Desperate for an outlet for her emotions. He would give her one. She stood up. Came toward him. Stopped in front of him. He wanted to step back. Afraid he would feel her breath on his skin.

“I lost my husband, Mr. Sullivan, but I understand you almost died trying to find him.”

He lowered his gaze. Unable to look at her.

“They told me Henry died not long after he was abducted. There was nothing you could have done.”

He stood his ground. Lifted his head. Stared back at her. “I can’t tell you I’ll find the man who took your husband from you. But I can tell you that someone else will.”

She nodded. Turned away. “I understand. Once you recover you’ll have other cases.”

“It isn’t that simple.”

Alice turned back toward him. He kept his expression open.

“Sit down, Mr. Sullivan. I’ll make some tea.”

.
.
.

Fingers gripping the doorknob, Sullivan held his breath. Tried to calm his anger. He’d revealed more to Alice Declan than he wanted . . . more than he intended. Leaned forward. Rested his forehead against the doorframe. Closed his eyes. Unable to hide his emotions, Mrs. Declan had seen too much . . . understood all too well. She had vindicated him, removed the guilt from his shoulders. A case that shouldn’t have been difficult . . . he’d done everything wrong . . . endangered the lives of his colleagues. He wanted the guilt. The blame. He’d been at fault. Ramifications only he seemed to understand . . . consequences laid on his shoulders alone.

Couldn’t put it off any longer. Knew Annabelle was on the other side of the hotel room door. Waiting. Eager to talk him out of his decision. Opened his eyes. The door. Walked into the room. Closed the door behind him. Surprised to find his hotel room empty. Looked down at his watch. Hadn’t realised how late it was. Glanced toward the bed. No intention of sleeping. Sullivan sat down in the only chair, a slight twinge of pain in his shoulder and side. Body mostly numb, pain medication doing its job. Laid his head back. Gazed up at the ceiling.

Alone, his thoughts wandered; a confused mess, his mind couldn’t settle on one thing. Pushed everything aside. Tried to think of what he would do for the next six months. Still sure, he wouldn’t go back to Interpol, to Department S. Not certain professional help would give back what he’d lost. Remove what he’d gain. Fear had never been a problem for him. Comfortable with his work. Aware of the costs. The risk to his life. He got nervous in certain situations, something wrong with him if he didn’t. The fear so much stronger . . . so debilitating, an end to his career.

Bit into his cheek. Pain becoming too familiar. A momentary distraction. Thoughts returning. He was scared. Scared of everything. Of Krasnoff. Stanford. Scared of someone breathing against the side of his face . . . Two years ago, Krasnoff always so close, words whispered into Sullivan’s ear, threats made. Krasnoff’s aftershave, a smell Sullivan would never forget, terrified him. How could he admit his fear to a stranger?

He’d come so close to admitting it to Alice Declan, his words falling short. Unable to shut his emotions down, slow to react, still stunned that he’d almost said too much . . . his facial expression had told her what he couldn’t tell her with words. She had understood. Had expressed her sympathy. Unable to accept her gratitude of his honesty he’d walked out . . .

A knock at the door. Sullivan jerked in surprise and fear. Closed his eyes. Weak and vulnerable, Sullivan swore. Realised it could only be Annabelle. Deep breath. Pain in his side spiking. Breath released. Stood up. Knees weak, he waited until he was sure he could walk the short distance to the door. Afternoon conversations taking so much out of him. Body exhausted. Mind unwilling to rest. Not wanting another nightmare, sleep wasn’t an option.

The day not over. One more conversation required Sullivan made his way to the door. Opened it. Annabelle stood before him, hands full with mail. Her eyes red. She’d been crying. Knowing he’d done that to her, he turned away. Walked back into the room. Sat down in the chair. Gaze down, fingers of his left hand played with the fraying edge of the sling.

Annabelle followed him into the room. Closed the door, a little heavy handed, her anger showing. She sat down on the edge of the bed. Dropped the mail onto the mattress, a small package making a poor attempt to stay on top of the pile. She clasped her hands in her lap. Waited.

Sullivan refused to look at her. Should have known this would be one of his most difficult conversations. Didn’t know where to start. Waited for Annabelle to make the first move. She didn’t. Should have known better. Humour wouldn’t work. Straight to the point a better strategy.

“I can’t lie to you, Annabelle, but I can’t tell you the truth. Not yet.”

“You’ve been through worse, Stewart. Why is this so different?”

A snap of anger. “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

“Then tell me.”

Turned his head. Looked at the door. A sudden need to escape. Ignored the feeling.

“This is about Yuri Krasnoff, isn’t it?” She stood up. Walked toward him. Sat down on the edge of the chair. Her hand on his shoulder. She leaned down. A puff of breath on the side of his face.

Bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. The taste of blood on his tongue. Fought with everything he had to stay in the present. Fought to keep his fear hidden. Couldn’t. Feeling vulnerable, his position too much of a reminder, Sullivan stood up. Walked away.

“Stewart.”

Stopped in front of the window. Lowered his head. Covered his eyes with his left hand. Had no idea how he was going to live his life like this. Angry with himself, his lack of control, he wanted to throw something, break something against the wall. The smell of Brown Avon aftershave . . . Annabelle came up behind him. Wrapped her arms around his waist. Her breath warm against the back of his neck. He pulled away from her. Kept his distance. Moved back to the chair. Resumed his previous position, too tired to stay standing.

“You resigned.”

“Apparently not.”

A silent response. Finally looked at her.

“Seretse wouldn’t let me.”

“Remind me to thank him,” said Annabelle, sitting back down on the bed.

“You may not want to.”

“Why not?”

“I agreed to six months medical leave. At the end of that time if I still want to resign, he’ll accept my resignation.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me about it first?”

“You mean, why didn’t I ask you.”

“You don’t need my permission to resign, Stewart.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I was hoping you would tell me why.”

I lost my nerve.

“I did everything wrong on the Declan case. I endangered your life and King’s.”

“This isn’t about Declan. This is about Krasnoff.” Annabelle stood up.

Sullivan shifted in his seat. Afraid she would get too close.

She moved forward. Knelt down in front him. Crossed her arms over the top of his thighs. Looked up at him. “You don’t remember but . . .” she swallowed. “In the car when we were escaping . . . when I tried to stop the bleeding . . . you went somewhere else.”

He looked away. Stared at something else. Anything else.

“Jason said I had to bring you back. What did he mean, Stewart? Bring you back from where?”

She wasn’t stupid. Why couldn’t she figure it out on her own? He didn’t want to explain it to her.

“Don’t push it, Annabelle. Please. I can’t talk to you about this.”

“Why not?”

He couldn’t respond. Couldn’t tell her he was scared. What would she think of him if she knew he was so afraid of life? Of standing . . . sitting too close to another person. Afraid that the next man who passed too close would be wearing Krasnoff’s aftershave. How could he tell her he was terrified of going back into the past . . . back into that room . . . unable to return. Living his life in the past, in a memory instead of the present. She would think him a coward. Understood the thing he feared most was Annabelle’s opinion of him. He admired and respected Annabelle. Knew she felt the same way. Didn’t want to change her opinion of him. Knew he wouldn’t be able to stand it if she looked on him with pity. If she didn’t understand . . .

“I can’t talk to you about this.”

“I spoke to Jason.”

His head snapped up. Why did they keep surprising him? Noticed she still looked at him the same way she always had. She smiled. No hint of satisfaction.

“If you already know, why do you keep asking me to explain?”

“Jason didn’t tell me enough.”

“He shouldn’t have told you anything. He said he wouldn’t.”

“We only want to help, Stewart. Let us.”

“What did he tell you?”

“You first.”

“This isn’t a game, Annabelle.”

“No. It isn’t.”

Pulled his gaze away from her. Stared at the floor. Silence filled the room. She was going to wait him out. Would it really matter what she thought of him? Decision made, he was going to resign. No amount of conversation would change that. He couldn’t do his job anymore. The fear too strong. Resignation would end their friendship. Knew he couldn’t face her once it was official . . . so difficult to face her now. If he told her . . . if she didn’t walk away from him . . . he would walk away from her. He would never see her again. Maybe it was for the best. A quick, clean, hopefully painless end to both their working and personal relationship.

If she followed him . . . if he walked away and she followed him. A refusal to leave his side. He smiled. He would welcome her with open arms. Would know that her opinion of him hadn’t change. Confused, he wasn’t sure what he should do. Now afraid she would walk away . . . wouldn’t follow him if he left. Raised his arm. Hid his eyes. Emotions becoming too much.

“Let me help.”

A short, shattering breath. Felt her shift her position in response. Knew what she was going to do. Shut his emotions down. So difficult. “Don’t. Please. Don’t.”

“Don’t keep pushing me away, Stewart.”

Kept his eyes covered. “What did Jason tell you?”

“He told me that some things make you remember what happened with Krasnoff. That it’s so vivid . . . so real to you that you feel like it’s happening all over again.”

Sullivan nodded. “He always stood so close . . . I could always feel his breath on the side of my face.”

“The smell of his aftershave.”

“Strapped into a chair with leather restraints. Stanford knew. After you escaped . . . he recreated the scene. Used Krasnoff’s aftershave. I can’t do it anymore, Annabelle. I can’t be put in that position again.”

Long fingers around his wrist. She pulled his hand down. Revealed his emotions.

“That’s all you had to tell me, Stewart. I don’t need anything else.”

Leaned his head back. Stared at the ceiling. Blinked. A shallow breath. Her touch removed. She stood up. Moved to his side. A hand against his forehead. The touch so familiar. He looked at her. “I can’t give you anything more. Not right now. I’m not sure when.”

“Jason told me he’d given you a name. Someone to talk to.”

“I won’t be seeing her.”

“Why?”

“Annabelle, how can I talk to a woman Jason has--”

“Yes, I see.” Annabelle laughed, running her fingers through his hair. “Pillow talk.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” said Sullivan. “Seretse has made arrangements for me.”

“Remind me to thank him.”

“For what?”

“For giving you a chance.”

“To redeem myself?”

“To recover.”

“What are you going to do now?” Afraid she would tell him goodbye, we should do lunch one day.

“Give you your mail.”

He smiled. Grateful for Annabelle Hurst. How could have ever doubted her? A mistake he won’t make again. “Well wishes?”

“Jason would be jealous,” said Annabelle, smiling. Made her way back to the bed. Distance short. Lifted the small pile of mail. The small package. Moved back toward Sullivan. Surrendered his mail. He took it from her. Difficult with one hand. Dropped it all into his lap. Raised an eyebrow . . .

“I’m not your assistant. Open your own mail.”

He started with the package. Predominant hand struggling with something usually so simple. Tore through the paper. A small box beneath. Removed the lid . . .

Breath caught in his throat. Sure, his heart had stopped beating. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Fear gripped his chest . . . so tight.

In the box, a small bottle of Brown Avon aftershave . . .



The End



Author's Notes: SEQUEL! . . . Maybe.





Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


Master Fan Fiction List

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