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Within a Tight Grasp

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Lima, Peru, 2009

The thing is, Kara had understood from the beginning that she was crossing boundaries, but those boundaries seemed tailor-made for other people. It hadn’t been a line that she’d fed Reese—they do walk in the dark. Going through a mark’s phone, doing a little catfishing—they were the least of the things she’d do for her country. It hardly made a difference to do them in order to slake her own curiosity.

She’d dialed the number without giving it much thought. Reese had been in the shower, doing whatever it was he did when they weren’t on—jacking off to his own self-righteousness, probably. She hadn’t really expected anyone to pick up.

“Hello?” a female voice crackles over the shitty international line.

“Hi, is this Jessica?”

Now the voice grows wary. “Who is this?”

“A friend of John Talbots.”

“Oh my god. John, is he…? I mean, he’s alright, isn’t he?”

“He’s fine,” Kara reassures her. “He couldn’t call you himself, but he actually asked me to check on you.”

“Oh, well that’s… I’m fine. Sorry, that’s just very—”

“Unlike him?”

“Yeah,” Jessica says. “Something like that. Sorry, you are…?”

“Kara,” she says. “Think of me as a friend.”

“Well, Kara, you can tell John that I’m just fine.”

The silence grows long and awkward, and Kara sits with the phone pressed against her ear, listening for the sound of water shutting off in the hideously old pipes. “I’ll do that,” she says finally, cutting it off before their conversation can grow ponderous.

She hangs up without bothering to say goodbye.

Afterward, she taps the phone thoughtfully against her lip, turning the conversation over in her mind. There was nothing gained, really. If anything, speaking Reese’s name over an unsecured phone line is a security risk. Still, she thinks she’d like to do it again.

 

New York, New York, 2014

“Well if this doesn’t feel like old times,” Kara says, eyeing Reese next to her.

He keeps his eyes front, fixed on his binoculars, and doesn’t deign to comment. It’s a cold day—only 47 degrees, but the windchill is hell, and Kara can feel it cutting at her fingers even through the gloves. It’s not that she’s opposed to a little physical hardship, but she’s hardly a masochist.

“We could just go inside and take them out—smash and grab. Half of them aren’t even trained, and it wouldn’t be hard to extricate Armstrong.”

It’s a well-worn argument at this point, but Kara still doesn’t understand why he insists on all this extra recon.

“Because,” Reese says with his faux patience, as slowly as talking to a child, “We don’t kill people, Kara.” He adjusts a dial on his binoculars a half click. “And we certainly don’t torture them.”

He sounds like a grade schooler proudly reciting new lessons.

“Pity,” Kara says. She chafes her hands together and sticks them beneath her armpits, watching the far east corner of the building for movement like she’s supposed to.

“Is that why you stayed in the game?” she asks a while later. “You finally found a handler that’s as soft as you are, is that it?”

“He’s not soft,” Reese says, surprising her by rising to the bait. “He’s good. I wouldn’t expect you to know the difference.” He stows the binoculars in his duffel and pulls out an MP7. “Alright, time to go.”

She stands up and stretches out the crick in her neck, reaching for her piece as she goes. She really doesn’t need to be told twice.

 

Tacoma, Washington, 2009

Kara was prepared for it to be harder to find Jessica. She’d combed through the conference itinerary, taking note of keynote speeches that would likely pique Jessica’s interest: “Attitude and Practice of Standard Precautions Among Healthcare Workers” and “The Influence of Stress on Work Behavior Among Nurses.”

She wasn’t planning to find Jessica seated alone at the hotel bar, stirring her drink idly and smiling at the bartender whenever she came around asking if Jessica needed anything, but well. Waste not, want not. She looks tired, Kara thinks.

Kara takes a seat at the far end of the bar and orders a gin and tonic. She sips it slowly, taking her time until Jessica glances her way. Her heart speeds up a little with the thrill of the game, and Kara lets herself feel it, fully inhabiting her body without letting it show.

“Business or pleasure?” Kara asks from across the bar.

She asks like she doesn’t know, like she isn’t here on purpose. Like the annual NACNS conference isn’t taking place in Washington state this year, in this very hotel.

Jessica looks behind her like Kara might be talking to someone else. “Who, me?”

Kara laughs, low and pleased. “Yes, you. Business or pleasure?”

“Ah, a little bit of both, I guess,” she says, a little wistful. She seems a little embarrassed and pleased to be noticed.

Kara smiles. “A woman who enjoys her work. I like that.”

“What about you?” Jessica asks.

“Oh, pleasure. Always.”

“Always, huh?” Jessica picks up her drink and slides into the empty seat beside Kara.

A little initiative, that’s lovely. Kara always appreciates that in a person.

“Wish I could learn the trick for that.”

“I’m sure you could,” Kara says. There’s an obvious flirt there, but Kara sidesteps it. She’s never been much of a blunt object. More of a subtle knife. “Anyone can. All you need to do is let go.”

Jessica doesn’t have an answer for that, and Kara sips her G&T.

“I’m a nurse,” Jessica says after a while.

“I’m not.”

They finish their drinks in companionable silence, and Kara orders them another round. From the look on Jessica’s face, calculating and a little sly, it seems she likes a little initiative too.

Kara brushes her drink against the back of Jessica’s hand while sliding her the vodka cran because she’s subtle, but not that subtle.

* * *

She didn’t think that Jessica would invite her to her room, but then, she also didn’t know what she wanted. To lay eyes on Jessica, certainly. She has stopped believing that Jessica is a puzzle to work out, that Jessica’s tenuous hold on Reese is the reason she’s doing this. This feels personal in a way very few things have in the last several years.

Kara covers Jessica’s ring finger with her hand, feeling the bite of cool diamond below. I know, the touch says. I know you are, and I’m not afraid.

Jessica flinches when Kara touches her. It isn’t terribly obvious, probably, to most people, but it’s there in the way she pulls back when Kara touches the back of her neck. The way she tenses before going still when Kara grips her wrists and pushes them above her head.

Kara stops what she’s doing, pulling her face away from the sweet-smelling hollow beneath Jessica’s ear. “What’s up?”

“Ah, nothing. Sorry. Sorry, I’m fine.”

She tries on a smile that fits oddly on her face, and Kara frowns. She’s not the right person for this. She doesn’t have the patience for this.

Kara wraps her fingers around Jessica’s wrist again, stroking her thumb down the tender skin above her radial pulse. “You don’t like when I do this. So you want to try that again?”

“Bad memories,” Jessica says. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

Dad or boyfriend? Kara thinks but doesn’t ask. If this was an interrogation, she’d know just where to push.

“You got it,” she says, because this isn’t an interrogation, and she isn’t this woman’s mother or therapist.

She grips her by the shoulders when they kiss, careful not to push too hard.