It had just been an all-around bad day. When were Mondays ever good?
Esther wasn’t back at work yet, so Sally was alone in a lab with a bunch of strangers, years behind on their work (and trying to match up their progress with her 21st century knowledge was an unexpected ordeal. Why she was surprised about timelines diverging again, she didn’t know. She should really know better by now.).
Even lunch time was its own nightmare. Sally would never describe herself as a ‘people person’, and she had terrible flashbacks to how alone she’d been in 1943 when she walked into the break room. She wished she could go home and call Anthony, but that felt a little ‘I miss my Mom’, so she sucked it up and ate at the same table as her coworkers. They greeted her politely as she sat down before moving back to their own conversations. Disappointed but not surprised, Sally thought.
She went for a walk once she was done eating, clearly not a part of the break time socializing, and wandered the foreign halls of ODAR in the daylight. They seemed a lot less threatening without the shadows and foreboding steps of guards on her tail. Instead, men and women bustled around with heaps and heaps of files in their arms, looking annoyed or frazzled or tired. Sally flattened herself against the wall to let a woman with a cart pass, then turned the corner only to nearly collide with another woman.
“Sorry! Sorry,” Sally said, reaching out to nothing with her hands. The pale-blonde woman had a good grip on her (massive, skyscraper-esque pile of) paperwork.
“Not at all,” she replied with a British accent. “Just a little difficult to see with all this.”
“Oh. Well, uh, do you want help? I don’t have anywhere I need to be.”
The woman tilted her head around her paper pile to look at her. Sally figured the woman knew who she was. She smiled weakly at the stranger.
“Alright, then,” the woman said suddenly. “I’d appreciate it.”
Sally took the top half of the pile and seeing the woman’s face in full, uninterrupted, made her realize who, exactly, she was talking to. She was someone who had been part of ODAR even before Sally arrived, someone who had never been far behind Bill Donovan. Someone who was probably very important nowadays.
Except Sally couldn’t remember her name. So, that was embarrassing.
“So, where are we taking these? If I may ask,” Sally tacked on quickly.
“To my supervisor,” the woman answered.
Sally’s stomach started to sink. “Oh?” she asked, hopefully as unawkwardly as possible.
“Yes, I prepare most of files that need his signature.” She started off down the hallway again and Sally followed. “He has quite the busy schedule, usually.”
“Uh huh,” Sally replied sadly. She made a face at her pile of paper. If she remembered right, this woman was Whickman’s right hand man. She really hoped she was remembering wrong.
The woman walked fast, and Sally had a tough time keeping up, what with all the paper in her arms. Sally had no clue how the woman had been doing it with the whole pile. Everybody around them made way for her, which Sally found admirable and also incredibly useful as she followed right behind her.
In the end, Sally’s hopes were for naught. She was scrambling to come up with some sort of excuse as they turned down the very hallway Sally had gone down during the break-in less than two weeks ago. They were ten feet from Chet’s office when the woman stopped in her tracks. Sally, relieved, stopped next to her.
“I just remembered, there’s a sign-off sheet he needs to be able to take these documents. Would you mind bringing in the lot while I run back and fetch it?” She was already heaving up her half of the pile towards Sally, who suddenly remembered the phrase, This might as well happen, as her companion plopped the files in her arms.
“Sure,” Sally said dryly to the empty space before her. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.” She inhaled deeply through her nose, then walked the last few steps to Whickman’s office. She stopped in front of the closed door, remembering Petra and lockpicks in the dark, then shook her head and kicked the door twice, in place of knocking.
He opened the door, looking baffled and annoyed, and then Sally got to witness the fastest mood change she’d ever seen in her life as Chet’s face went blank with shock, the colour draining out.
“Sally,” he said finally. “Hi.”
Sally would’ve rolled her eyes at how awkward he sounded if she wasn’t feeling so intensely weird about this herself. “Yeah, hi. I’m doing someone a favour, so here you go,” and she leaned forward to carry out the time-honoured tradition of plopping files into a person’s arms when you wanted to make a hasty retreat, but Chet wasn’t having it. He took three steps back into his office, and Sally, arms kinda noodly and feeling annoyed at the woman, at Chet, and at her coworkers, followed him right in, still trying to pass off her load of paper.
“Ah, desk,” Chet said, stepping aside to let her past him. She dropped them down with a groan, then shook out her arms. “Did you, uh—” Chet asked, “Was this Amelia?”
Sally’s eyes went wide and she spun to face Whickman. “That’s her name! I couldn’t remember her name, it was so awkward. But, uh, yeah. Pretty blonde? British? Wily and conniving?”
“She tricked me! Look at that pile!”
He looked. “That’s about the regular size of piles she brings me, Sally.”
“Well, I’m a doctor, not a weightlifter, Whickman.” Sally smiled at her own Bones reference.
“Sally, I, uh, I know you probably just quoted something, and I don’t mean to be rude, but today’s not a good day.” He rubbed a hand across his eyes. “I mean, at all.”
Sally took the opportunity to give him a second look, a real look, more than the usual split second glance-over she gave him nowadays.
His hair was wet, like he'd just had a shower, and his clothes were rumpled. Then, as he lowered his hand from his face, her mind snagged onto two details in quick succession:
1. That the skin under his eyes was purple with contusion, and
2. The skin of his palm was shredded and weeping blood.
"What happened?" she asked, a little too loudly.
"It's none of your business!" Chet replied quickly.
"Chet, can you even do anything with that hand? Are you right-handed? Then you're screwed. You did see the giant pile of paperwork I walked in with, right? And I wouldn't be surprised—"
"Sally!" Chet snapped. "Enough!"
Sally blinked and stared for a few seconds. Chet started shaking his head before she even started talking, like he knew he'd screwed up, or like he was that deep in denial.
"Uh, no! You don't just get to say 'enough' when I have had more than enough many times over the years, and yet you—"
“Today is really not a good day for this!”
“It's never a good day with you! Do you even know what a good day means to you anymore?”
"I wish I didn't know you!" Chet had to yell to be heard over Sally.
They both stopped cold. Her breathing went very slow and quiet, like she was sinking into a trance, and so she could hear Whickman's breath grow shaky and uneven.
Sally's thoughts started spiralling, all the way back to 1943 and the Eldridge and Polvo and all the lives that had intersected with hers, from then to now, from her neighbour who didn't mind her greenhouse to the receptionist at the hotel in New York, to Nikhil and June and Petra, to Partridge, to Amelia, to Chet.
Chet, standing in front of her, exhausted and injured, for some mysterious reason. She watched as he went to rub at his eyes again before wincing and switching to his left hand. He exhaled noisily. Sally leaned her hip against his desk and studied the floor.
"I think about where you'd be, sometimes," Sally said quietly. "If I'd never come here. Off of some coast, sailoring it up. You're what, thirty? That's still pretty young for a sailor, isn't it? You definitely wouldn't be in charge of something as big as this."
Sally counted the stripes in the rug for the twentieth time. Chet's breathing had gone quiet. Sally wondered if there had been a sign-off sheet for the files at all. She hoped Amelia would show up eventually, if only to help Chet with his stupid hand. She didn’t want to know what Whickman had done for him to look so awful, was in fact very carefully not thinking about it.
"I wish you didn't know me either, sometimes," Sally breathed.
Chet hissed suddenly, and Sally looked up to see his hands in fists. He stretched out his right hand, wincing at the pain. He looked...stable again, although Sally was sure that was the wrong word for it. He looked like the Director now.
Chet dropped his hands at his side and looked up at her, all business. "If you'll excuse me, Dr. Grissom, I have work to do." Yep. The Director was back. Sally sighed as she walked towards him.
"Whickman, how can you possibly work with that hand—"
He herded her out into the hallway before saying shortly, "I'm left-handed. I'll be fine," and slamming the door in her face.
Sally snapped her jaw closed. She glared at the door and resisted the urge to kick it again.
“Just on my way to the Director’s office!” Sally heard a bright, British voice say from around the corner. She did not wanna deal with that right now, so she turned and went down the opposite hall.
She'd had more than enough of the Top Secret Top Officers of ODAR today, thank you very much. She was gonna go find Bridget’s out-of-the-way office and complain with her for awhile.
It ended up being the only redeemable part of her whole day.