- Chapter 16 -
WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
Noah gently leaned his weight away from Sloan and onto his good leg as he knocked on L'ouppole's door. She looked at him curiously, but stood silently just a little ways behind him while they waited. He could hear a groan‒‒most likely L'ouppole trying to encourage himself to get up from wherever he had settled down to work‒‒and the solid footsteps of his gait coming closer. There was a pause, one in which Noah knew the other man was checking his self installed peep hole, and then the door opened up just as far as the equally old fashioned chain lock would allow. Noah rolled his eyes.
"What's the password?" L'ouppole asked, voice gruff and deadpanned.
That threw the younger man for a loop. Sloan looked at him expectantly as he rubbed the back of his neck, thinking.
"This isn't funny, L'oup. I've got someone important with me."
"Seriously, man? You're embarrassing both of us. She's embarrassed for you."
"Also not correct."
"Oh, son-of-a‒‒c'mon!" Noah said with an exasperated fling of his hands. He took a deep breath and tried to think of what would appease the older man's weird quirks. From beyond the door he could hear L'ouppole's old police radio garbling about the crash. He looked at the sliver of the man's face he could see through the crack in the door and shrugged. "…I didn't do it?"
The barking laugh that suddenly erupted from the other side of the door made Sloan jump. She looked at him with large eyes as the door slammed shut, only to be followed by the sound of the chain lock sliding free. Then the door opened again to show L'ouppole in all his late night glory‒‒worn trousers, untucked dress shirt, holey socks, and all.
"You're going to give me a stroke one day, kid. Please tell me you aren't involved with this shit," he said, jamming his thumb over his shoulder and gesturing at the radio.
Noah just shrugged sheepishly at him.
"Desperate times?" He tried.
"No shit," he said, and that's about the time he realized Noah hadn't been lying about having another person with him. He raised his eyebrows, surprised as he looked her over; taking in the blood, torn clothing, and ashen face. "Wow, you weren't kidding… I'm sorry, hun. Here‒‒"
Then L'ouppole gently put a hand to the young woman's elbow, barely touching her, and led her inside. As the two passed, Noah felt a small sense of relief wash over him, content that Sloan was now finally safe. They were safe.
He then hobbled his way inside and by the time he had managed to get in, close the door, and lock it again, the older man had already set Sloan down on his leather couch. Noah chuckled when he saw the surprised look on the woman's face at how sunken in the old couch was or the way she startled when it groaned as she moved. Noah didn't even notice it when L'ouppole was suddenly beside him, a firm hand pulling Noah's arm around his shoulders as he helped him to the armchair.
"The doc is going to kill you," he said simply.
"So I've heard."
The armchair let out a large whoosh as L'ouppole deposited him into it. With one pull of the wooden lever attached to its side, Noah soon found his feet up off the ground and into air. The sudden change from pain to relaxation caught him by surprise much like a mach truck can scare the shit out of a person when the driver lays on the horn. He tried not to let himself ooze into the comfy chair even though he knew the odds were against him.
"You like tea?" L'ouppole asked from the kitchen.
Sloan looked at him, then at Noah, unsure of what to do or who he was addressing. Noah just smiled and shook his head.
"If he's talking about tea then he's talking to you."
"Oh… Yes, then?" she said, then, "Thanks."
"So what the hell were you thinking," L'ouppole said as he washed the dusty kettle, "When you decided to team up with this dipshit?"
"I'm sorry," she said," Really, I appreciate the tea, and the couch, and everything, but…what the hell! We just broke out of a prison, got into a hover car crash, and now you're just having a good old time. That's not okay. I'm not okay! What the hell is going on?"
Noah raised his brows at him, for the first time taking in the fact that while this place always set his nerves at ease, the warm welcome was doing nothing to help settle hers. She was wound tight, hands in her lap and shoulders squared. She looked ready to dive for cover at the first sound of a gunshot or the backfire of a car. Noah thought back to the defiant woman he remembered from the video and knew she was still the same woman sitting on the couch now. Being abducted she had expected, though. Resolved herself to the possibility. All of this was foreign and implausible, and here he and L'ouppole were acting like it was no big deal.
"I'm sorry, Sloan. This really hasn't been very fair to you, has it?" He said. And he knew the answer to that. He remembered what it felt like after the Agency first picked him up. He wanted answers immediately and he was much more forceful and unruly about it than she was. Much more impolite.
She sort of bowed her head at that, trying to agree without upsetting him. Noah cranked his feet back down to the floor to address her properly, but didn't get up. He could tell from the way L'ouppole suddenly stilled that he wanted to tell him to put his ankle back up, but didn't.
"I'm sure you've got questions," he said, putting his elbows to his knees and leaning forward. "Fire away."
She was taken aback at first, but once she found the words to ask one question she found the rest. While he tried to explain about what brought the Agency to break into prison for her, L'ouppole appeared with a high tech medicine kit‒‒the only high tech thing in his apartment.
The chrome, air tight box was filled with sterile bandages, a mechanical stitching assistant, high quality disinfectant, a cauterizing laser, and various other things that made Noah wonder if he hadn't held up a hospital to get them. As they talked, L'ouppole remained mostly quite, only throwing out comments here or there as he cleaned them up. They had to pause briefly when it came time to cut a gash into the brim of Noah's pant leg to free his ankle from the pressure.
Now bandaged and iced up, L'ouppole returned to the kitchen just as Noah finally broke the ice and the told Sloan about Sandy and Chase. When he noticed the older man's sudden disappearance, he couldn't help but bitterly think 'coward'.
But the woman didn't start crying like he was afraid she would. What she did do was almost worse in Noah's opinion. She just sat there, staring blankly through Noah and at the wall behind him as she digested the news. Sandy and Chase had been murdered for helping her and her sister. They were dead.
"It's what they signed on for‒‒helping people. They'd make the same decisions if they could," Noah tried.
"But they can't, can they."
The utter barrenness of her tone was almost as bad as being left to squirm under the pressure of those wide, sightless eyes. He tried to put as much confidence into his body language as he could, but it didn't matter. She wasn't looking at him anyway.
He tried to breach the topic of what they could do come morning. Tried to reassure her with talk about his commanders, his team, how they could help her. How she'd be safe. In the end, the only thing she responded to was the steaming mug L'ouppole cupped her hands around and the offer of a hot shower. When she disappeared into the bathroom, drink in hand, Noah finally allowed himself to sag back into the arm chair.
L'ouppole handed him a drink too, steaming and too sweet smelling to be coffee. Noah wrinkled his nose.
"I don't like tea," he said.
"I put the same amount of sugar in it that you like to put in what you 'call' coffee," L'ouppole said as he forced the younger man's hands around the mug just as he had with Sloan. "You won't even know the difference."
Noah didn't refuse the cup if only for the fact that the warmth felt good against the calluses of his hands. He huffed, sending the steam into a wispy, frantic whirl.
"I need to call HQ," he said. The lack of conviction in his tone made L'ouppole look at him, searching.
"It'll keep. Just breathe for a second. You're a human being whose an agent, not the other way around. Don't forget that."
They sat that way for a while, listening to the sound of the shower turning on and the curtain rungs screeching against the shower rod. The sound made Noah's heart stutter inside his chest.
L'ouppole noticed, but let it lie.
"So, a hover car," the older man said, breaking the quiet. "What fool thought went through your head to convince you that was a good idea?"
Noah huffed again, this one more exasperated.
"It wasn't my idea, so we don't need to go through the whole 'death trap' talk again."
"Like hell we don't! It's just another reason why I'm right about how technology will be the end of us all. It's bad enough that people let their cars drive for them now, but flying cars? We had enough trouble when people were dying from not looking when they merged on highways. There's a reason why hover cars only lasted a year on the market before the US government banned them. There are no lanes in the air, kid. None. Just a whole lot of people and not a lot of space."
L'ouppole was full on grinning, lips stretched thin in mirth. Noah scowled.
"You're just excited because someone else out there actually agrees with you for once. So let's skip the whole I'm-ancient-and-I-used-to-peddle-cars-with-my-feet talk about the good ol' days," Noah said, then smirked. "It'd be a shame for you to have to repeat yourself later when someone writing a history book stops by for an interview."
"Oh haha, asshole," L'ouppole said, but he was still smiling.
Distracted by the conversation, Noah took a sip of his cup out of habit. He tried to warp his face into a mask of displeasure for appearance's sake when he remembered what it was, but just didn't have the energy to do it. He'd have to concede defeat again‒‒the tea was actually good.
The older man's lips quirked up in victory, but only a little. His mercy didn't go unnoticed.
"Did the others get out?" He finally asked, and then it was out there. The fact that a man he had barely known was extinguished in the flames of the wreck. The concept would never not turn Noah's belly when he thought about it. He was sitting next to a man for only a few minutes, and then that man was dead. In Noah's life, that man had only existed for minutes. For some, he never existed at all.
He laid his head back and stared at the ceiling.
"An IT guy didn't make it. Died in the crash."
L'ouppole grunted. Noah had been around the older man long enough to know he didn't offer comfort about death. "There's just not point," he could remember L'ouppole explaining once. "Death and comfort is like having a lemon and some sugar. Tastes sweet until the sugar's gone. Then it's just lingering and bitter like nature intended."
"When was the last time you slept, kid?" L'ouppole asked, pulling him away from his thoughts.
Noah looked at him and didn't answer.
The older man leaned back into the loud couch and took a sip of what he knew was coffee; the man didn't drink anything else. The eyes that regarded him over the rim of his mug were knowing.
"Well, you better call your Agency buddies now, 'cause in ten minutes that pill I slipped in your drink is going to kick in."
Noah spat out the mouthful he was about to swallow and stared at him agape.
"Knowing you, you'll want to stay up all night thinking about shit you can't even do anything about right now," the man said, "So you go call your people and tell them you're okay. I'll set up the couch while you do."
"You can't just go around sedating people when you feel like it," he snapped halfheartedly.
"Tick tock, Noah."
He pulled up the glowing tattoos on his forearm and pressed Z's number.
"You're not socially acceptable, you know that?" Noah said as he listened to the connection ring, waiting for Z to answer.
L'ouppole just smiled.
"God, the coffee's good tonight."
"I hate you."
Author's Note: I actually got something done by Wednesday! ...late on Wednesday, but still, huzaah!
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
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