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i am coming home to you

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In Greece, Nelle dons a silvery blond wig and a French accent and shadows him around ancient ruins. He's fascinated with the history behind the piles of rubble, but all Nelle sees are old rocks. 

History had never much interested her, least of all her own. These old dusty places were no different.

She gets a room at the same hotel he's staying at, under an assumed name. He knows all her usual aliases so she picks a couple names off the cover of a glossy People magazine.

Nelle Herron—brown haired, mousy Nelle Herron—is no more. Nelle disappears behind the glamorous blond façade of Scarlett Reynolds.

Scarlett slides an expensive cherry-red pair of sunglasses over her face and flips silver-blond hair over her bare freckled shoulders.

She’s decided that Scarlett is the daughter of a plastic surgeon and his socialite wife, pampered and moneyed. The kind of woman Nelle—no, Scarlett knows Damon would never be able to resist.

Some men cultivate a weakness for aged whiskey or rare vintage, flashy cars, or private jets. Some prefer their vices wrapped up in designer clothes and borrowed gems, teetering on stiletto heels.

So that is who Scarlett has become.

Damon is so close her nostrils practically prickle with the scent of his pungent cologne.

He'll be hers. It’s only a matter of time. She's certain of it.

***

Scarlett's second night in Mykonos, she observes a frosted blonde in a shiny red bandage dress slip out of Damon's room as the sun begins to peek over the tops of the surrounding trees.

Scarlett savagely rips a cigarette from her nearly empty pack and lights it. Puffs on it like it's the last one before she goes in for a lung transplant.

Damon lingers in the doorway, watching after the blonde as she sashays down the hall.

Scarlett snaps some photos, camera whirring away.

Knowing all she does about Damon, about his habits and tells, she thinks she’ll place herself in his path in the morning. Of course he’ll take the blonde to some of the local tourist traps. Maybe he’ll take her on a private tour. She seems like the type who’d be charmed by the quaint tour boats, and Damon is a charming tour guide.

Scarlett frees a cigarette from her crinkled pack, one-handed, and tucks it in the corner of her mouth but doesn’t light it.

Damon lingers in the doorway of his hotel room, backlit and glowing like a golden god. His eyes glimmer in the dark, flickering like candleflame.

Scarlett shivers. For a moment, she feels as if he can sense her hiding amongst the ruins. Then he turns slightly, eyes staring right down the barrel of her camera lens.

He can’t possibly see her in the dark. But she still feels seen.

***

Mission aborted. Nelle is certain he knows she’s there.

That morning there was a knock on her door but when she answered it, the hallway was empty. He’s the best she’s ever worked with; of course Damon realized she was following him. Of course she was made. It could only have been him.

Nelle slips out of her costume, tosses the blond wig in the trash can next to the dresser and stuffs the costume jewelry and faux designer dresses at the bottom of the hamper.

After she’s discarded the last remnants of Scarlett, Nelle grabs her travel bag and shoves her sunglasses on.

She slips out of the room and creeps down the hall, careful, careful, on light feet, as light as a little mouse.

Nelle gets to the elevators and stabs at the down button. There’s a sound behind her, a huff of breath maybe, and she turns.

Damon.

Of course.

She turns back around and clutches the handle of her travel bag even tighter.

Nelle had been foolish to think she could have fooled him. That she could have gotten away without his knowing. She must have given herself away. 

Nelle bites hard on her bottom lip to keep the peace. If she opens her mouth she knows she’ll just say something to upset him.

“Nellie,” he says. “What are you doing here? Are you following me?”

Nelle turns to face him, still clutching her bag against her chest. “Of course not,” she says.

“I saw you last night,” he says. “I thought we talked about this.”

Nelle turns from him and clings onto her bag, trying to shut out his words. Trying to deny the truth to them. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The elevator doors whoosh open with a spritely chime and Nelle steps in. She pushes at the big red button to close the doors but Damon slides between them before they can shut him out. Nelle leans back against the railing. Her brain feels stuffed full of sickly sweet elevator muzak.

Nelle cuts her eyes toward Damon before shifting them away again.

“I told you I was done playing your games,” he says, shuffling a little closer. “What’s it gonna take to get you off my case?”

Nelle stares at the linoleum underfoot, at the scuffs and stains and basically anything that isn’t him. This isn’t how the mission was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to give herself away. This wasn’t how Nelle imagined it going at all. Her superiors were going to be so disappointed.

“I wasn’t—” she starts, but Damon won’t let her finish.

“Stop following me, Nellie,” he snaps. “I said I was done.”

The elevator doors open and he strides out, not even so much as sparing a glance over his shoulder at her.

Nelle slinks out of the elevator and scurries off for the parking structure.

Back to the drawing board. At least Damon is predictable. And Nelle is nothing if not dedicated.

***

Nelle—Ana, now—leans against the cool metal railing and closes her eyes. A cool breeze stirs her hair and pinches her cheeks. When she opens her eyes, she can hardly see anything through the thick gray fog that hovers over the water.

Water laps at the shore, almost soothing in its repetitiveness.

Ana glances around, searching for those familiar dark eyes, the mop of black hair.

She hasn’t seen him in a month. She misses him. She misses the games they used to play.

Ana clings onto the railing, savoring the cold as it seeps through her skin, chills her down to her marrow. Winter lingers, refusing to cede to spring, the air nippy and hateful.

Her heart aches in her chest for him.

Ana heads back to the hostel she’s staying at. It’s a small cramped room, stuffed with bunk beds and cots. The fellow travelers she’s sharing the room with are friendly enough, college-aged women setting off on one last adventure before graduation forces them apart.

But when Ana gets back to her room, it’s empty. She climbs onto her bunk and swings her legs over the edge, letting them dangle. She feels like she’s sitting on the edge of the known world.

Ana reaches up and plucks off her earrings, then her false eyelashes. She sheds bits and pieces of Ana, until Nelle emerges whole, like Athena emerging from Zeus’ head fully grown.

It’s easy to lose herself in a costume or a character, to pretend to be someone else in her endless pursuit of Damon.

She’s beginning to think she’ll never quite catch up.

There’s a sharp rap on the door. Once, then twice.

“Come in,” Nelle says, pushing her hands through her hair.

The door clicks open and Damon lets himself in. He flicks his eyes up on Nelle as he shuts the door behind him.

“Didn’t think you’d still be here,” he says, leaning against the door. “I watched you at the harbor. I thought you would’ve just gone home when you realized I wasn’t coming.”

Nelle climbs down the ladder and approaches him, slowly, stopping a couple feet away from him. Part of her isn’t sure he’s actually here, part of her thinks she’s imagining this.

“I knew you would come back,” she says.

Damon sighs. “Is that what this was about? Getting me to eat my words?”

Nelle inches closer. “Of course not,” she says. She reaches out, brushing her fingertips lightly over his wrist. “We’ve been partners for so long. When you left…”

“I had to think about things,” Damon says. “Figure some things out.”

“And what did you figure out while we were apart?” Nelle asks.

“You—you’re my partner,” he says with a defeated shrug, a slight roll of his shoulders. “We don’t work well with anyone but each other.”

“Are you coming back?” she asks.

Damon grows quiet as he mulls this over. He sifts a hand through his dark hair. “Yes, I think so,” he says. “I think the time apart helped me see how much we need each other. To be complete.”

Nelle smiles up at him, feeling like a flower on which the sun has decided to shine its beams of light. “Good,” she says, reaching up, slipping her arms around his neck.

Damon rests his hands on her waist, neither pulling her closer nor pushing her away.

“I missed you, Nellie,” he says.

Nelle tugs him closer, pulls him down until she can kiss him properly. Then she steps back and rests a hand over his chest.

“We’re a team,” she says. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Damon says. He reaches up and claps his hand over hers on his chest. His fingers lock around Nelle's wrist like a shackle. “We’re a team.”