Lost and Found

"Aren't you supposed to know your way around every complex built using Federal guidelines?"

She couldn't see his face but she heard him smiling that aggravating, easy grin of his. "This was built in the last two years. They didn't have the plans when I was in the Centre."

"Shut up, Jarod."

They had been lost for hours. She suspected they had also been locked in, which only made matters worse. The base was being decommissioned by the Closing Act, which hadn't spared even the covert operation units. That hadn't bothered her; the Centre's contracts were intact.

What bothered her was being sent to oversee the clearing out of some godforsaken base in the middle of nowhere because someone thought some paperwork leading back to the Centre's project might have gotten lost. Might, not had. It should have been the job of some fourth-rate lackey or trainee, but because of her spectacular failures and aberrant behavior

(finding a conscience)

since Jarod had gone missing, she'd been sent to do the cleanup work.

"Are my batteries dying..."

"Jiggling it won't help. Here, you can use..."

"Shut up, Jarod."

She would never be trusted with anything of importance again. Even if she brought him back now it was useless. But she had never been a quitter, and if they weren't going to drum her out then she was damn well going to make the best of her situation. If she couldn't fix her mistakes, then she'd turn them into even a marginal success.

She tried not to think too hard about that word, marginal.

Jarod was walking beside her as though he didn't have a care in the world. The bastard could be calm and easy anytime, anywhere. Even locked in a secret military complex with potentially no food or water and nobody coming to look for them. She didn't know how he managed.

He caught her looking at him and glanced over with a curious, almost innocent expression on his face. Wondering, no doubt, why she was looking at him.

"How do you do that?" she asked after a minute.

"Do what?"

"How do you look like that? Like... a kid. After everything you did, for the Centre and out of it, and knowing what you helped th-- us. What you helped us do, how can you look so goddamn innocent?"

He smiled. "You almost said ‘them.'"

"Shut up, Jarod."

Her flashlight really was dying. No food, no water, and no light when Jarod's flashlight went too, which it would eventually. And no heat if the temperature dropped, although it was getting towards summer, and she wasn't too worried about freezing to death.

"I try to learn something new every day."

He'd almost made her jump. "What?"

"What you asked." He stopped and turned to face her. "About how I can look so innocent."

She didn't like the amusement, either. "What does learning something new have to do with..."

"If you keep learning something new, and you let it help you see the world in a different way... it's like waking up all over again. You get to start fresh. You get to see the world like a child does, something to discover every day. Grown-ups forget that kind of wonder."

She stared at him. "You're insane."

"Maybe. But I'm happy." He looked at her as if to say, aren't you? It was disconcerting.

It was easier to keep walking as she talked than to look at him. "What does that have to do with it? You're a wanted man, Jarod. You're going to be a fugitive for the rest of your life. What have you to be happy about?"

"I'm alive?"

There wasn't much she could think of to say to that, not when she'd just pointed out his hunted status. Their steps were becoming less hollow, more muted. She looked down and realized they were walking on government-issue linoleum.

"Being alive isn't all that big of a trick," she murmured.

He looked sideways at her, but she was more interested in following the linoleum to the front entrance. They only made the hallways comfortable in the places the administration was likely to go.

"It is if you want it to be."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Jarod looked at her. He wasn't smiling anymore, and she took a step back from him, two. Every time he looked this serious she always wanted some space between them, never sure what he was going to do.

"You're only going to get as much out of life as you put into it, you know that. If you go around looking for the lie..."

"Look who's talking."

"No, I'm looking for the truth. You're the one who expects everyone to lie to you. If you keep seeing the cynical, the harsh side of everything..."

"If you stare persistently into the abyss? Please, I gave up Nietzsche for Lent."

He chuckled. "All I'm saying is maybe you should lighten up a little..."

"Shut up, Jarod."

He laughed and pointed and she was on the verge of asking him what the hell he meant. Except she'd just told him to shut up, and she knew what he'd say to that.

Besides, the glass doors bending what little starlight was drifting down were taking up all her attention.

She ran to the door on heels that were in danger of snapping at any moment. Jarod followed, and she could hear him chuckling quietly to himself. It didn't matter. The goddamn maze of a military complex was not going to defeat her. She tried the door twice before slamming her now-dead flashlight into the lock until it broke. Several million dollars to build the complex, only to have it decommissioned two years later. What a waste.

"Well, what do you know..." He grinned at her as they stepped into the cooler air. "We're out."

She was so giddy she was laughing. Grabbed him around the waist and hugged him close, grinning up at him.

"Shut up, Jarod."

Go to the top! For you have reached the bottom.