“We look like we’re going to prom.” Curt said as he and Barb boarded an S-train to join the rest of the formally-dressed crowd heading towards the airport. Curt was wearing his last clean suit and not-as-clean dress shoes, and Barb was wearing a red-and-black patterned dress and kitten heels.
“You were probably busy studying in high school or something, but prom is like a big dance-” He continued before Barb cut him off.
“I know what prom is, Curt! I’ve never told anyone at the agency, but I was actually prom queen junior year.”
“Huh.” Curt let that fact sink in, trying to imagine the woman sitting next to him wearing a big plastic crown. “So were you not always such a, uh-”
“A nerd? Nope, I was the same back then as I am now. But I guess... people must’ve liked me anyway.”
She looked away and there was an awkward beat of silence before Curt realized he might’ve fucked up a bit. Maybe he’d gotten so used to jabbing back-and-forth with Owen that he’d forgotten the regular beats of a conversation. So instead of letting it lie, he cleared his throat until Barb looked at him and then shot her a smile.
“You know, Barb, I think I know how they felt.”
She didn’t say anything, but smiled even bigger in return and Curt realized it was kind of nice that not everybody liked to jab back.
The train ride was short but the plane ride was going to be a long one. A few minutes after they had taken off, Barb had fallen asleep thanks to her own invention- a pair of noise-cancelling earmuffs. Curt looked at her, drooling on his shoulder, and found himself a bit annoyed he’d given her the window seat, but soon found his thoughts drifting back to the post-mission haze of yesterday.
Curt had rested easy as soon as he knew that Owen would be alright (the other spy had insisted on dressing the knife wound himself, locking himself in the bathroom with the first aid kit and a cigarette) and that there was nobody coming to kill them. He rested so easy that he fell asleep with the lights still on, and was woken early the next morning by a gentle shake of his shoulder.
He had snapped awake, suddenly aware of a dark figure sitting on the edge of his bed, and instinctively scrambled for his gun on the bedside table. But the feeling of someone touching his arm made him hesitate.
“Glad to see you’ve got your wits about you, Mega, but it’s just me.”
“Owen.” Curt laughed out of relief. “God, what time is it? Are we already leaving?”
“No.” Owen said. “Well, you’re not. I just got off a call with M16 and they’re sending a plane to fetch me.” Curt was suddenly aware that Owen’s hair was slick with wetness, as if he’d recently showered, and that he was fully dressed, backpack included.
So, here it was.
Curt knew the inevitable goodbye was coming since the mission started- it always came, and he always wished there was a part of the briefing on how to say goodbye. But he probably wouldn’t read it anyway. He forced a smile and replied.
“Oh well, till we save the world again, then?”
“Yeah,” Owen’s smile back looked a little forced too, an observation confirmed by how quickly his expression became neutral. “And, erm, there’s just one other thing.”
“M16 thinks it’s best if we take some... missions apart for a while. And I’m inclined to agree with them.”
Even sitting in his plane seat now and just remembering the conversation, Curt’s stomach dropped the same way it had in that hotel room. He remembered the questions he’d wanted to ask, why? being the first one and what did I do? being the second one, but all he’d managed to say was “oh.”
But Owen kept talking as if he hadn’t spoken, as if he’d planned what to say beforehand no matter how Curt responded. “...And I know we get on well and had a great winning streak going, but no one is exactly pleased about how this turned out.” He looked down at Curt’s comforter, where his hands were twisting the fabric around nervously. “Again, myself included.”
“Look, it’s not our fault what happened at the mansion.” Curt said, managing his first full sentence since the news.
Owen sighed and looked back up. “It was my fault, Curt, okay? I let my vices get the best of me, and I cocked it all up, and my supervisors recognize that. And it pains me to do so, but I do too. Can you?”
Curt just nodded back.
“Thank you. It’s a shame, old boy, because you’re a great agent, and of course I’m glad to be part of a team with you, but...” Owen squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the area between them. “God, pardon me. I’m getting sentimental.”
“No, it’s fine. Keep going.” Curt said. He wanted this conversation to go on as long as possible, if would really be the last one. And, he thought, it was the first time they’d ever talked like this, gently and honestly and without a drop of alcohol in either of their bloodstreams. “Please,” he added when met with silence.
Owen caught Curt’s eyes again with an intense look, and Curt was almost sorry he’d pushed the issue. “It’s nothing personal, but there’s a side of me you seem to bring out that I’m not too fond of.”
Curt’s heart rate sped up but he tried to sound as calm as possible. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean, is, when we’re together all damn day... well, you’re observant, aren’t you? I get meaner, and more competitive, and sensitive. I’m inclined to care more about whatever little verbal game we’re caught up in than the lives at stake. And that might make for a fine friendship, but I don’t like feeling this... out of control in a partnership. I’ll- we’ll get ourselves killed playing around like that.”
Curt reflected on the past few days with his still-sleepy mind, and it was like trying to piece together an anxious dream. The strange, unspoken grudge Owen seemed to waltz into the mission with. How many times he had been close, then distant and then all-too-close. The taboo things he had paraded in front of Curt’s face, as if daring him to object. To fight back. It’s nothing personal? Then what was it? What was the point of this whole performance? Curt didn’t know, but he felt a bit hurt by all of it.
“I think I know what you mean.” He replied dryly.
“Then you understand why this is for the best.” Owen got up from the bed and extended his hand for a shake. Curt grabbed his wrist but before the shaking motion even started, he found himself feeling very vulnerable.
“Will I ever see you again?” Curt immediately grimaced at how pathetic the words sounded, but he needed the answer like air. He kept his hold on Owen’s wrist.
“We’re still the two greatest spies in the world. And we made it that far by working together. If the agencies are smart, they won’t keep us apart for long.” Owen said. He hadn’t let go of Curt’s wrist yet, and finally gave it a firm shake. Curt shook back. There were so many other things he wanted to do, and say, but he settled for one last squeeze before pulling his hand away.
“Take care.” Owen had said, and then he was gone.
On the plane, Curt looked at the Autosport in his lap and felt like he had only pulled his hand back just seconds ago. It reminded Curt of how he and Owen had started this trip, pretending to be strangers. But even then, they hadn’t kept their distance. And now Curt would have to pretend all over again that Owen was just a stranger. So much for "for the best".
One thing’s for sure, Curt thought as he crumpled up the magazine. He’d never need to ask himself again whether he’d been to Denmark, because the memories of the mansion exploding, the basement door sliding off at the loosened hinges, and the best cheap whiskey he’d ever drank would not soon leave him. And then he remembered Owen in his stupid scarf, smiling at him from across the crossword puzzle like he was the most important person in the room. Curt wished he could will the rest of the weekend to fade away, until that moment would be the only thing behind his eyes when someone mentioned “Copenhagen”.