One more drink led to three, but Chase kept it under control. Louisa liked to talk—and drink—and Chase made a habit of just listening most of the time. The two shared much in common, not the least of which was their intertwined past. Over the past few months, in which they’d spent much time together outside of the clinic, Chase had learned that Louisa had elected to stay in Franklin for most of her life, and had only moved to Virginia after getting married. The woman had also admitted that her problems with addiction had mostly manifested after moving away from the comforts of her home town. But unlike Chase, Lousia’s husband and children—two—had stuck by her to this very day.
Brad, on the other hand, had accepted a job in Sweden and had taken Felix with him.
Chase tried not to hold any disdain for the man for what he’d done—she’d come to realize that both of them were better off without her when she was still struggling with addiction—but sometimes… sometimes she hated him for leaving. Sometimes, the way she missed Felix made her physically ill.
Sometimes, she missed Brad’s kisses and caresses.
Stitts’ lips against mine, his soft, gentle touch…
When she was working, Chase was working. Her mind was fully and completely dedicated to solving the heinous crimes that the Bureau stuck her with. But now, what with her ‘regulated downtime’, she missed them more and more each day.
And yet, when Brad had reached out a month or two ago to see how she was and to try and reestablish a line of communication between Chase and himself—or, if she wasn’t interested in that, just with Felix—she’d never called him back.
I’m not quite ready yet, she told herself. I’ll only fuck it up again. I’ll relapse, put them through hell once more.
Chase could lie to Louisa, but not to herself. The truth was, she was scared. Scared of letting them down,
scared of how they might handle her, scared of just going back to the way things were.
"Ever think that there is some almighty power out there?" Louisa asked suddenly. The question was so
unexpected that Chase was drawn out of her head.
“Almighty power?” Chase asked, eyebrow raised. What almighty power would let a five- and eight-year old be abducted by two sadistic assholes? What almighty power would give young children bone cancer? Brain cancer? If there’s an almighty out there, he’s a real fucking asshole, she thought, but didn’t say.
Louisa must have seen something in her face, because she quickly clarified. "I don’t mean like a God, or anything like that. But some sort of… I dunno, an attraction between people. I mean, think about it; what are the odds that you and I both end up in Virginia, all these years later? You could've been anywhere in the world, and yet, we were drawn here for very different reasons. Shit, we could have been anywhere in Virginia and never run into each other—not once. But no, of all the—"
Someone bumped into Chase's arm, jostling her beer. The man’s bare flesh only just grazed her hand, but this was enough to spark her brain.
Only, unlike the man who had hit on her, Chase didn’t see so much of a narrative this time, but more just a jumble of feelings. A sense of despair, depression, self-loathing. The sensation was so powerful, in fact, that Chase nearly dropped her drink.
"Jesus, watch where you’re going," she almost gasped. The man started to turn, and Chase’s mouth fell open. "Stitts? Stitts? What the hell you doing here?"
The man looked disheveled, his face unshaven, with thick dark circles under his eyes. He reeked of booze and cigarettes. Chase reached out to him, but he pulled back and staggered.
"Same thing you are," he slurred. "Gettin’ drunk, forgettin’ my problems."
Stitts's gaze failed to focus on her, and the only way Chase could get him to look directly into her eyes, was to grab his face between her palms.
The feelings of remorse and depression immediately returned, but she refused to let go.
"It's Chase, Stitts. Fuck, it’s me.”
Maybe he recognized her face, or maybe it was her voice, but whatever it was, Stitts blinked several times as if he'd been lost in some sort of reverie, then seemed to come to.
"Sorry," he grumbled, his face turning the same red as his bloodshot eyes. "I'm just tired."
"Bullshit," Chase shot back. "I’m just tired, you’re hammered. Come on, let me call you a cab."
Stitts started to protest, but he must've seen the look on her face, because he quickly gave up. Chase hooked an arm around his waist, careful to not touch his skin this time, and then looked to Louisa.
“I’m—” the grin on the woman’s face caused her to hesitate. “I’m taking him home,” Chase finally managed. “Gonna make sure he gets in a cab.”
Louisa raised her eyebrows several times in succession. If Chase wasn’t pre-occupied in making sure that Stitts didn’t keel over and take them both down, she would have punched her friend.
“Have a good night,” Louisa said as they passed. Chase did manage a weak elbow into the woman’s soft side.
“One time thing,” Chase whispered as she passed. “You gonna be all right on your own?"
"I'm a big girl; I can look after myself. We'll catch up tomorrow."
Chase watched her friend intently as she spoke. Louisa was on the plumper side, carrying a little extra weight around her middle and on her hips and ass, but during one of their gab sessions, she’d bragged about just earning her Purple belt in jiu-jitsu. Yeah, she could take care of herself. But Chase couldn't help but notice a flicker of doubt cross over Louisa’s face, something that she recognized in herself from time to time.
There was a feeling of helplessness that accompanied trauma experienced as a child that neither of them had ever really gotten over. Even as they aged, this feeling remained, like an intractable smell.
Chase doubted that if Louisa became a 10th degree black belt that this would ever go away, because Chase knew that no matter how many bad guys she put behind bars or beneath dirt, she too would doubt. The fear of being that helpless again had changed them in ways that no amount of training could ever take away.
"Thanks for the drinks," Chase said with a weary smile. Then she tugged on Stitts’ waist. "Come on, Stitts. Let's get you you home."
For the first time since returning from Washington, D.C., Chase slept poorly. Only it wasn’t because of what happened all those years ago, or even because of what went down in Franklin.
It wasn’t even because of Brad or Felix.
No, it was because of Stitts.
Stitts, and the mistake that they’d made. One slip up, a single regression to her previous ways of dealing with things that should have never happened.
We were both emotional, him because of his mother’s death, and me because of my father’s. It was just one night, one mistake… I didn’t mean anything.
Only there was more to it than that, and Chase knew it.
Stitts had been there for her, had stood up for her when no one else would. Shit, he was even the one who had introduced her to her own strange abilities.
Chase liked Stitts, really liked him, but she’d given up the right to these feelings. Dr. Matteo had not so subtly informed her that she dealt with her issues by implementing one, or more, of three less than desirable techniques: numbing her feelings using exogenous compounds, throwing herself into her work as a form of distraction, and using her body to trick herself into a false sense of control.
Dr. Matteo had told her that in order to get better, to truly get well again, she had to abstain from all three.
But Chase couldn’t do that, because for her entire life, she’d wanted to become an FBI Agent. No matter how much sense the doctor made, or how much encouragement or support she had, Chase simply couldn’t let go of that. This need was part of her, much the way her ability had become intractable with who she was.
But this had come at a cost. Chase couldn’t express what she felt for Stitts, nor could she act on it… again.
“Fuck,” Chase whispered, while staring at the ceiling.
There was also guilt. Guilt, because she was still, in fact, married. Chase closed her eyes then, hoping to see nothing but the velvety blanket of darkness.
Instead, she saw Stitts the way he’d been when the cab had dropped him off, so drunk that the man could barely stand. This brought about a memory of what she’d felt when their skin had touched: Stitts’s depression, his self-loathing.
Check back for Chapter 3 TOMORROW!
Chase opened her eyes again.
“Please, Director Hampton, give me another case… give me another case so that I can forget all about this other shit that doesn’t matter.”