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Cassie doesn’t think the word now means anything anymore.

For example:

 The Witness-- Olivia-- is out there. She is a real threat now .

 Her son is innocent now.

Jones is living on string and a prayer right now…

She can feel it buzzing in her veins and beneath her skin, threatening to burst out of her head. Her heart thunders with every step. The walls of the facility are suddenly much too blue and dark and close for her liking.

So she walks with long, controlled strides. As if she had a purpose other than whiling away the in-between. For having anything other to do than waiting.

She doesn’t know what time it is, but she figures it’s always a good idea to visit Jones. So she goes. Her feet take her there on autopilot.

Jones is lying on a cot near the corner. She looks pale and sunken, her eyes closed in fitful rest. 

Cassie figures she should feel more guilt for what she did. Betraying her. Lying to her. She’s the reason Jones got this way. There wasn’t much time to talk it out-- there never is with these people-- and they came to an agreement that if they survive this, there will be a very serious talk about family and obligations.

She’s so lost in thought that she doesn’t notice Deacon sitting by Jones. How could she?

He’s silent and still like she’s never seen him. Not with a gun in his hand, not listening to orders. Even when at the table with Jones he’d be fidgeting with something, the hem of his shirt, his sleeve, the beads on his many bracelets.  

He’s nearly perfectly still. His jacket is hanging off his shoulders.  He’s got a book large enough to be a bible in his lap. In his hands, it looks small. From here, she can see the gold leaf on the cover, only because of the clip light. 

It’s one of those airport bookstore types, made from wire that you can bend into place, with rechargeable batteries and all. The ones you could forget about in the bottom of your bag and find them, still working, months later. It sits nice and pretty on the back of the book, allowing him to turn pages at leisure.

From his carefully maintained nonchalance, he’s  pointedly ignoring her.

Cassie gets why. She’d went and tried to save her son, and hilariously, her going off the rails was what it took to get Deacon on them.

So here he was. Keeping vigil at Jones’ bedside, the woman he’d held at gunpoint a few years ago.

He’d become a part of this facility, a fixed point. He was always there, striding through the hallways or sitting and writing at tables. Regardless of where he was, his presence was known, and now, even after everything that’s happened, she can’t imagine this place without him.

Funny how people worked that way.     

“How do you do it?” She asks quietly.

Deacon raises his eyebrows without looking up from the book. “Do what?” He sounds incredulous. He flips a page, and the brief rustling is the only sound for a while. “Books didn’t die in the apocalypse, Cass.”

She meant be there. To be in the moment, be present, be cool and calm and collected when everything was going to shit. Especially then.   

He knows exactly what she meant. He’s too observant not to.

“I meant relax,” she murmurs instead, exasperated. Still, she’s glad for it. Anything to distract her was a blessing. Even Deacon being an ass. “How can you just sit there? Jones is down. We’re back to square one. We don’t know what to do or where to go next--!”

 Deacon stops mid page, but doesn’t look up. “Welcome to the club,” he drawls. His fingers twitch on the books cover, like he was itching for the neck of a whiskey bottle.

“How are you so calm?” Her voice is much louder than she intended it to be. “How can you just sit there doing nothing?”

 It comes out harsher than she thought it would, and loud .

Jones stirs, but doesn’t wake. 

Deacon sighs gingerly, as if even that hurt. The bruising is suddenly stark in the low light, angry blues and reds hiding just beneath his skin.  He winces. “You done?”

With a start, she remembers that Olivia threw him around like a rag-doll.

“Deacon, I--" 

“No, you’re right.” He doesn’t raise his voice, but his shoulders draw up, he looks at her straight in the eye. “When have I done anything worth doing by myself?”

Saving me in Titan, she wants to reply. Helping Cole. Working with Jones. Being kind to Jennifer. Trying to be better.

“I’m the bad guy,” Deacon continues. “Fucking things up is what I do.” The book is forgotten in his lap. “The rest of you are  big damn heroes, with a purpose!” There’s a biting bitterness to the word. It comes out at a growl.

“Then there’s me. An angry screw up with daddy issues who just happened to be there.” He isn’t loud. Everything he carried around had ignited. Most people exploded under stress and it left them tired and worn out. Not him.

Deacon’s a combustion engine.

“I’m not you Cass. You’re irreplaceable. All because your kid sat down and wrote out his shopping list for the apocalypse,” Deacon scoffs, caustic. His words have an edge Cassie has a hard time placing, but it works.

“The rest of us are just redshirts to him!  As if he would know, the pompous prick. Why? Because time said so.”

Cassie gapes, speechless. Most of what Deacon says takes a while to percolate through her brain, but when it does, it comes with a trickling, freezing horror and dawning realization.

Deacon was right. In his own stubborn, angry way.

Cassie blinks. This is what happens when you spend too much time with Jones.

“Didn’t leave us much choice when you ran off.”

She said that aloud. Great. “Where’s this coming from?”

“Where do you think?”  Deacon shakes his head and looks away. “Nothing better for introspective soul searching than choking on your own blood. Ever wonder why I was on Titan, Cass?”

 Honestly, it never occurred to her. He hadn’t brought it up, she never asked.

 “‘Course not. I wouldn’t. We honor time with patience, and all that,” Deacon recites glacially.

The words sound familiar, like he’s spent time with them, but they’re alien in his mouth. Cassie knows it isn’t him speaking, and it scares her. A shiver goes down her spine.

“Well, time doesn’t deserve jack shit.  It takes more than it gives. It needs to think, so it takes people like Jennifer and makes their lives hell. It doesn’t care about anyone. Nobody belongs anywhere or lives long enough to make a difference.” Deacon sighs and looks to Jones, all the fire going out of his body at once. “But that doesn’t stop us from trying.”

Sharp trills of worry rise in Cassie’s stomach. “Deacon… What happened to you…?”

Deacon looks at her, and his eyes look like they’ve aged a thousand years. A bit of that old indignation flares from somewhere behind those cool green irises. “You know, that’s the first time anyone’s asked me that.”

Jones wakes from her fevered sleep with a gasp, as if she’d been in the throes of a nightmare. “Mr. Deacon--”

“I’m right here Doc,” Deacon says tiredly. He looks to Cassie. “Dr. Railly was just leaving.”

Cassie meets Jone's clouded eyes with her own and nods, before turning and leaving the way she came.