I wake up in the morning and hear Ed talking. I feel a light touch on my belly and lift my head. He's touching and talking to my belly. I can't help smiling. Such a beautiful and pure scene like this. He is very excited about the pregnancy and doesn't hide it from anyone.
- Hey! - I call him sweetly.
- Hi my love. - He looks at me fondly. - I was here having a chat with the baby.
A few days ago I moved into his apartment. After everything that happened to Jane and Roman, and also the pregnancy, we decided that we won't waste any more time. I want to be with him. All the time. What we felt was not just a teenage passion. It is much stronger than that. Our connection is made in our differences. The beauty of our relationship is when we understand that we are not the same, and that difference completes us.
I gave my share of the rent to a friend of the girls with whom I lived, and brought all my things to Reade's apartment. There are still some things to organize and also decide where the baby's furniture will stay. Ed suggested that we hire a company to better share the rooms, because for now we won't be able to move to a bigger apartment.
We were fine, very fine. Edgar is always very attentive and concerned about me and the baby. I'm just over twelve weeks old and my belly barely shows up, but he's there, we could hear the little heart and see the small shape on the ultrasound when we went to the obstetrician. It was not our intention to have a baby now, but it happened and we are very happy with what was in the package. A life together with Ed. It's strange that we were friends for so long and when we were teenagers I never thought about him in that sense until we started dating. And today, after we meet again, I can no longer see myself away from him.
- Ed ... - I said sweetly sitting on the bed. - And did he say anything to you?
- Yes. - He brings his face close to mine. - He told me he has the most beautiful mother in the world.
I smile awkwardly and Ed puts his lips to mine and I melt at the contact. I love him so much, and every time we are together it becomes very evident. I don't even try to disguise it anymore. When he approaches me I feel a chill in my belly. It's good, but I'm afraid that feeling will make me suffer. I am afraid of losing it. He's all I have. And now we both will have a child.
- Marry me? - I hear Ed speak and I get scared.
- What did you say? - I choke on words.
- Me and you, married. - He points his finger at me and then points at himself.
- Ed ... - I'm still in shock. - I don't even know ... I don't even know what to say.
- Just say yes. - Ed smiles sheepishly.
- Yes! - I answer by throwing myself in his arms. - But with one condition.
- Which one? - He asks me expecting an absurd answer.
- After the baby is born. - I say looking deep in your eyes.
- Fine. - I see him smile from ear to ear. - But not long after.
He kisses me and I let myself go as the kiss becomes more voracious and our hands explore our bodies. I feel his touch on my breast under my nightgown and my body reacts. It has this power to bring an instant reaction to my body, but after pregnancy everything seems more intense, for sure it is the hormones.
- Ed ... - I murmur between kisses and touches.
- Um ... - He responds equally excited.
- We can't be late. - I'll explain. - We have the meeting with Mayfair and Director Pellington.
- I think we can try a record time. - He takes my mouth and keeps touching me.
I agree corresponding to your actions until we are consumed by each other.
- Ah, you woke up!
I arrived at the hospital room very early to see him. Roman had no memory since he was infected. But somehow he was very calm. We were doing our best to tell him the whole truth, because we didn't want him to be shocked if he found out something because we didn't tell him.
Somehow my connection to him was very intense. I came every day to talk to him and we talked for hours and I read to him, told him about my learnings in the field of science, talked about art, technology and many other things. Between our conversations we always touched and my skin felt like it would burn under his hand.
I stopped and took a deep breath before entering the anteroom of the cell doing a preview recap.
The last few hours felt more like an insane video game than real life. With each phase we passed, the next one seemed more difficult. We managed to dismantle the Sandstorm plan and Ellen is under arrest. However, the ZIP diffuser bomb was fired inside the van, hitting Jane and Roman. The two lost their oblitural memory entirely, but the procedural memory remained intact. "Zipped", we use that word to refer to what happened to them. Maybe one day I will turn it all into a successful app.
The news is that Jane was covered in tattoos. I found this very strange. With Mayfair's permission, I passed her through a total scanner. Now I have 3D images of all those tattoos. We also need to harvest a vast battery of exams to try to understand what the ZIP and the effects it will have on our zipped friends. Jane cooperated, despite being quite groggy. Roman, on the other hand, took a lot of work. He's very aggressive. Nas ended up ordering him to put him in that cell in Division Zero.
And here I am to calm the beast. If they gave me autonomy of decision, the first thing I would do was to get him out of there. But, they want me safe outside the cell.
"Courage, Patterson! And hold this crush for Jane's hot brother. " I tell myself and enter the room.
Roman was restless, pacing the cell, tense muscles, clenched fists, red eyes. Caged beast. Nas has great qualities, but fails to understand these brothers. A little empathy can do much better than strength.
- Hello, Roman. - The greeting with my best smile.
He slowly turns his head towards me. His look is somber, very different from the sweet and frightened Roman I met in high school.
- You don't remember me, but we met as a teenager ...
- I want to get out of here. - He says slowly still looking at me in that scary way.
- Well, that is not possible at the moment ... - And I am interrupted by the image of him projecting against the glass wall that separated us.
- I WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE! - He howls out of control as his fists hit the glass hard.
I shivered whole. Yeah, this guy always arouses strong emotions in me. But I stood my ground and decided to appeal to sincerity:
- I also want you to get out of there. That's why I'm here. - And his skeptical look broke me. He seemed to have no hope for another human being. And how to have it after everything you've been through Ellen? That's why I don't want to give up. - Look, I know it's very difficult for you to trust me, but we were friends once. - So I decide to use a totally unconventional strategy and start singing your favorite Back Street Boys song.
Upon listening to the music, he calms down. And me getting closer. I dared to sit back against the glass. If she wanted to be accepted, she needed to show confidence in him. I talked about games and puzzles. It worked. He sat down and started listening. Now and then he got agitated again. I asked them to bring muffins and pistachio ice cream, their favorites.
The trust between us was building. He listened attentively to everything I told and seemed distressed wanting to remember something that could help. I found that his memory was excellent for both board and electronic game strategies, he also remembered even advanced scientific principles. Wow!
A few hours later, the way he looked at me was totally different from the beginning, so compassionate and needy. Without measuring the consequences, I opened the door and entered the cell. Only inside did I realize the danger. But what I saw was Roman throwing himself into my arms, like a helpless boy looking for shelter. I tried to offer him the security he needed, snuggling him in my embrace and murmuring promises that everything would be okay.
The fear of the beast was gone, but I became afraid of myself. Having Roman so vulnerable and warm and with that delicious smell that only he had in my arms made me feel very inappropriate for the situation.
After much calmer, he continued to lie on my lap, watching me closely. Suddenly, his hand went up to my face, his fingers brushing my lips:
- You are beautiful. Thank you so much for coming and staying with me.
I feel my face flush.
- It's the least I could do. We're friends. Thanks for the compliment. And you are also beautiful.
We smile a little embarrassed and more awkward than in adolescence. Damn it, I really want you out of here, Roman. Will I ever have a normal "first date"?
The word nightmare defines my last days. Seeing Jane saying goodbye and reaffirming that she loved me while the ZIP haze overtook the van was experiencing a kind of death in life. I didn't even realize how much I screamed her name, or how much I struggled to get close to the vehicle and pull it out. Only now the hoarseness and the purple marks on my arms caused by the excess of strength of the agents that held me tell me that side of the story.
I thought I finally found my happy ending when I was told that she had survived. How much mistake. My distress was just beginning.
First I had to accompany her for hours outside that isolation room, unconscious. His body was covered in tattoos, I could barely see any remnants of the white skin that enveloped me so many times. Then I was dragged back to the SIOC, pushed to fill papers and more papers. And the last one showed me that it could get even worse: an arrest warrant placed Jane and Roman in the custody of ASN. The fury seemed to overwhelm all the pain I felt.
I invaded Nas's room in Division Zero, willing to do anything to guarantee the freedom of the woman I loved. I threw the paper on her desk and didn't hide my anger as I pointed to the words that summed up the dirty game she was playing:
- What does that mean?
- You know what it means, Kurt. He promised to stay out of it if I released the search for the child. I did my part of the deal, now do yours.
- Our agreement was based on the fact that Jane was definitely on Ellen's side and that's not what happened.
- Jane and Roman are Ellen's children and complicit in everything she did. Therefore, they are terrorists.
- It's not true and you know it! Jane had no choice. Ellen was with Avery and blackmailed her about it. Even so, they risked everything by sending us the necessary information. Without them, we would never have been able to stop Sandstorm's plans! - I speak almost screaming.
- They planted a ZIP bomb in Times Square, Weller, putting thousands of people at risk. The name of this is terrorism. - the woman remained unmoved behind that table, there was no commotion on her face.
Hell, Nas, they locked themselves in that van to stop the gas from spreading. None of them is the villain of this story.
- Suicide is common among terrorists. Security agencies don't negotiate with terrorists, Weller, remember? It's the law. And we need to respect that, don't we? You have always been an honest man and loyal to your country.
- I'm talking about Justice, Nas. Doing justice is more than simply enforcing the law. It is necessary to analyze the uniqueness of each case. And I will not give up on Jane.
She stood up calmly and walked around the table, placing herself beside me.
- There are things that are above me and you, Kurt. - hearing her put a loving tone in her voice made me even more disgusted. - Jane and Roman committed a crime and need to pay for it. You need to stop looking at everything from a sentimental perspective. In addition, they were zipped, all their memory was erased. She won't have any feelings for you. Probably neither will be able to have feelings for anyone else.
- There is nothing proven. - I argued. - And, if they were zeroed, they deserve a second chance, it is one more reason to exonerate them.
- See? You yourself acknowledge that they have been reset. There is nothing else there. Kurt, for your sake and that of your daughter, stay away from Jane. Put a stone in all of this. And sleep peacefully with your conscience: she doesn't remember the horrors of the orphanage or anything else she lived. He won't miss you.
- For everything she did, Jane deserves the chance to rebuild her life, be a normal person, create Avery.
- She'll never be normal, Kurt. Much less now with the body covered in tattoos. She left that sign for you, the tattoos are the mark that makes visible the vastness of the internal damage she suffered. - then she stopped and took a breath before continuing - I'll play fair with you Kurt for everything we've ever had. If ASN does not retain Jane's custody, the CIA will do so and her fate will be much worse. And I will be there, following the two brothers closely. I can't promise anything, but with the projection that the Sandstorm defeat will give me, I might be able to convince the board to use their procedural memory, turning them into top secret soldiers who carry out operations that our agents cannot carry out.
- So that's it ... You always manage to use people to achieve your goals. It is not pity or justice for them that moves you. You just want to use them to do the dirty work for your agency. It won't happen, Nas. I will not leave.
And when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the door opened and Mayfair came in with a tall, bald white man.
- Weller, I'm glad you're here. This is Tom Carter, director of the CIA. He's here to decide on Jane and Roman's fate. - Mayfair said calmly, but gave me a look that asked for caution. - Carter, this is Nas, who I told you about.
- There's nothing to decide, Mayfair. I will take them. Everything about Ellen Briggs and Sandstorm needs to disappear without a trace. - Carter spoke dry.
- ASN was instrumental in bringing Sandstorm down, Director Carter. Our agency does not give up on staying with the brothers. After the necessary interrogations, we can assign Ellen to the CIA.
- From the beginning, this was an FBI case. All Shepherd's plans were carried out on national soil. Therefore, the case was under our jurisdiction. So I think that Jane and Roman's custody should remain with us. - Mayfair insisted.
Before the discussion went any further, Patterson came in distress:
- Mayfair, you need to see this!
Mayfair and I accompanied her to her laboratory. Reade and Zapata joined us on the way. Boston and Rich were already waiting for us there. The led screens that surrounded us showed Jane's tattoos making different connections.
- They interact with each other. It's the most fantastic set of puzzles I've ever worked with: numbers, letters, drawings, references. This one, behind Jane's ear - said pointing to one of the tattoos - has the dialect of the devil, a rare language from Ancient China. And guess who knows that language well? Jane! She murmured words in that dialect when school patrons passed us and teased. I asked and she translated: With each stroke, justice will be done for the mother of the exiles.
- "Mother of Exiles" is a reference to the statue of liberty, in case you don't know. - Boston stressed.
- And, the Statue of Liberty is a reference for the whole country and its ideal of justice. Soon, each solved tattoo will help us to prevent a crime or reveal the real culprits! This is awesome! - Rich was excited.
- Jane and Roman wanted to give us everything they knew in case they were zipped or died on the mission. - Kurt reaffirmed. - But they had to do it in the form of riddles to escape Ellen's surveillance.
- It all started under Shepherd's nose. And behind the ear for us. - Reade says taking a sip of tea in his mug.
- Even with the memories erased, the help of Jane and Roman is essential. Without Jane's translation we would have taken days just to decipher this initial tattoo. They are part of that team, Mayfair. - Tasha insisted.
Mayfair heard everything with his head down, reflecting.
- Weller, come with me.
I obeyed and walked silently beside him towards Division Zero. I trusted Mayfair more than anything, I was sure she would not fail us.
- Agent Nas and Director Carter, the Sandstorm case is under the jurisdiction of the FBI. We will kindly hand over custody of Ellen Briggs to you. But brothers Jane and Roman stay with us. I just turned them into FBI assets for a new case that we're investigating and that has shown that both can be very useful. Therefore, you can now withdraw from the NYO. The task force that united our agencies is now closed, Nas. It was great to work with you. But from now on, we will go it alone. Once again, thank you, gentlemen.
I held the smile until we reached the safety of the corridor.
- I am extremely grateful, madam. I promise you will not regret it. - I thanked him.
- Leave it off, Weller. I know how much Jane means to you. We will be dealing with fire. Remember this when things get hot. Now, go and meet her before I regret having dismissed you without finishing that paperwork!
- Yes ma'am. Thank you.
I overcame the flying corridors. My instinct told me to invade the interrogation room where Jane was letting my love explode in action. But I stopped in front of the monitors. It had been a much harder day for her than it was for me. The agents updated me on the situation. I took her chart from the table, took a deep breath and went inside.
It was like being in free fall in an endless abyss. There was nothing there about my past that I could hold on to. They stripped me, photographed, scanned, punctured, scraped. I allowed it because my confusion was so great that there was no room for reactions. Sadness overwhelmed and suffocated me.
As if that weren't enough, they later called me on a machine and started asking question after question. I was already more lucid and willing to impose limits on what they were doing since no one seemed interested in giving me answers.
- Listen, this is going to take a long time. - I question.
- Miss, just answer the questions. - the agent in front of me insisted.
- Miss what? Miss who? The answer will always be the same: "I don't know!". I don't know my name, I don't know who I am. I let you pierce me, take pictures. But that's enough. I want to talk to the boss here!
They left me alone and I found that the loneliness was even worse than the repetitive questions of that agent. The emptiness in my head seemed to echo anything I thought about.
Suddenly, the door opened and he entered slowly. Straight suit, low cut hair, stubble, austere posture. He looked tired. And the way he looked at me ...
- Hi. I'm Kurt Weller, the agent responsible for your case. - He pulled the chair and sat perpendicularly, in a much greater proximity than the previous agents.
- I ... I need help ... - damn, I don't even know why I exposed my vulnerability that way, it was risky, I knew. But my instincts urged me to open up.
- I know. I'm here to help you. I know your memory has been chemically erased, but even so, I need to ask you a question: do you remember me?
There was a certain plea in his eyes and it scared me more than all the other things that have done to me since I woke up. I decided to retreat and close on the defensive:
- Not! - Said firm despite the familiarity with that man bothering me a lot at that moment. - And why should I?
He opened the folder in his hand, took a photograph and placed it on the table:
- My name, Kurt Weller, is tattooed on your back.
Everything was getting more and more confusing, so I insisted:
- I do not remember.
- I know. I also know that it was a difficult day. I know this must all be scary. But I need you to try. Please make an effort.
Something screamed that I should trust him. I slowly put one of my hands over his and brought the other to his face, waiting for the touch to say what my gaze was unable to reveal.
The texture of his beard between my fingers, his scent now that we were closer, the lips, the eyes, the eyebrow, the hair. In the limit to contain my emotions, I confessed:
- I ... I don't know who you are. But the details, the feel, is very ... familiar. - and I let out a sob, unable to contain the emotions that boiled in my chest. - You are someone very special to me ...
His lips curved in a crooked smile and a tear escaped his eyes, showing me that he was as emotional as I was. Then he took my hand and placed it on his chest so that I could feel the violent beat of his heart.
- We are very special to each other. I am here with you, Jane. And I will take you home.
It is very difficult to explain in words why I felt and what I did escaped rationality, but it was what I needed most at that moment. I glued my lips to his and we kissed. For several minutes I emerged from that sea of uncertainty and let the affection exchanged with him command me. As his hands wrapped around my face, then slid down my arms, the familiarity and security grew. I knew I could entrust my life to Kurt Weller.
And then he took me out of there, washing me in a much more comfortable room where he told me my whole story. I met Mayfair and listened carefully to his directions. She looked like a very honest and competent woman. I found Roman again and the love for my brother continued right there without memory. I got to know Patterson's laboratory and all its theories and algorithms for unraveling my tattoos. Kurt held my hand the entire time. Soon after, they said we could go home.
- Ah, I'll take Roman home. - the blonde said quickly. - He is more relaxed just with me ... - and soon after he was very embarrassed. I think she likes him. That's nice. So I agreed.
The Latina shook her head, unhappy with the way her friend opened up her intentions. Then she laughed and hugged the tall black man seriously, sticking her head around his neck. He enveloped her in return for the affection. It seems they love each other. The other two nerds also went hand in hand. It is good to know that I am among people who love each other. It makes me safe and happy.
As Kurt drove through the streets of NYC, I crossed my arms in front of my body, trying to ward off the wave of insecurity that swept over me.
- You two are very similar. - Kurt said smiling to try to calm me down. - Rich calls her Jane Junior. They also have a lot in common. Avery is always on the defensive with new people, but after a while he lets go. Just go slowly and the two of you will soon understand each other.
- Hope so. She never saw me and the tattoos can scare her. You shouldn't like me too much if I left you.
- You didn't abandon her, Jane. Ellen said that she had died. You only knew that Avery was alive recently. Since then, he has done everything to get it back. She's only 5, but they said horrible things about you to her. I tried to deny it and tell the real story about you, but she has been with me for a few days. So we have to go slow.
We arrived at the apartment and soon Kurt dismissed the nanny. I tried to smile when I said "hello", but the truth is that the tension kept my posture rigid and somewhat intimidating. Avery refused to answer the greeting. She looked for her father's lap and looked at me suspiciously, after all I was a stranger.
- That's Mom. Dad said he was going to get it, remember? - Kurt said trying to get us closer.
- I didn't like her. - Avery replied whispering in her father's ear.
After several attempts, Kurt gave up on intermediating our approach and went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I think he thought that maybe the food would be able to do what he didn't get. It saddened me. I know I wasn't acting the right way, but I didn't know what the right way was. There were so many feelings inside me. The little girl was so beautiful and the love I felt for her so strong that it paralyzed me. I ended up sitting stiffly on the couch watching Avery kneeling at the coffee table, drawing with crayons and looking quickly in my direction now and then. Every detail of her face enchanted me. That distance bothered me.
- You draw well. - I said trying to get closer, but I was ignored. I took a breath and decided not to give up. - I don't remember if I ever drew ...
She stopped and looked at me like a few friends:
- You were a child, so you drew.
It was a very logical conclusion. And I didn't want to go into details about my childhood at all.
- It looks like fun. - I insisted again.
A little irritated, Avery took a sheet and placed it beside her on the coffee table, then held out a crayon in my direction:
- Come and try. - Said still serious.
I sat next to her, feeling privileged to be there.
- What do I draw? - I know it was a silly question, but my head was so empty and confused that nothing occurred to me.
- Me because I'm your daughter. - she said without looking at me.
Okay, I thought and started. I discovered that drawing was a skill I had and it calmed me down a lot. There were long minutes of silence between us. I just watched it and reproduced it on the paper in front of me.
Some time later, Avery looked at my work. He stopped and looked at me:
- Hey, you're good. - took the sheet and ran to the kitchen. - Daddy, daddy, look at this! Mom knows how to draw.
I stood there trying to breathe to contain the tears for hearing her call me Mom. It was the sweetest sound on earth. Soon she came back galloping and asked:
- And that design on your neck?
- It's a tattoo. - said a little embarrassed. - I have many. - and showed my hands. Much of my body was covered by the long-sleeved blouse and pants.
Avery was smart and soon realized that the lines were stretching under the fabric and was pushing my sleeves to discover the skin. The expressions she did were the cutest thing I had ever seen. Then a shower of questions began that would leave FBI agents looking like amateurs in interrogation:
- Do not leave? Who drew it? What's your favorite? How many? Did Dad see it? Didn't your teacher fight over these tattoos? Did it hurt to make these drawings? Why did you draw?
I answered everything I could and asked for her help a few times. Contrary to what I felt at the FBI interrogation, it warmed my heart, I just wanted more.
- Why did you get so many tattoos?
- I think it was to help people.
- Can a drawing help people?
- Yes, the right design can work wonders for people. The drawing you did helped me. I was scared and seeing you drawing something so beautiful calmed me and made me have the courage to start talking to you.
- My teacher always says that I'm good at drawing. I think I'm just like you. It is like mother and daughter, isn't it?
- I think it is.
And suddenly, she was perched on my lap, comfortably occupying all the rightful place, letting her scent of peace calm me down even better and the sound of her laughter transform that day that started so terrible for me.
- Will you teach me how to draw a bird like yours?
- We can make all the birds you want.
- Wait, I'm having an idea ... - she said tapping her index finger on her cheek. - Dad, can mom draw a tattoo on me?
God, my heart felt like it was going to explode when I heard her referring to me as Mom again and wishing for a tattoo like mine.
- Of course you can. - Kurt's soft voice just made everything even more perfect.
Of course, the choice was the bird on the neck, a difficult task that I did with all the love and care. Kurt soon joined us to follow the moment. I think I laughed more in those moments than I had in my entire life.
Finished work, we took pictures and got a kiss. The dinner snacks were served on the living room floor to remember a picnic, after all that day was very special for our family.
It was the first of many tattoos that I reproduced on Avery's skin each day that followed. It was the first of the many kisses that we exchange each day. The three of us were fully in tune.
From then on, at the end of the day, after each complicated case we faced to bring down crimes and corruption in our country, we found refuge in the love we shared. The apartment took on new colors and an entire chalkboard wall in Avery's bedroom. Our life has also gained much more color and flavor. And, after the long list of games and homework, I still have the warmth of Kurt's body enveloping me and showing me how wonderful love is.
My memory gradually returned, small flashbacks that were assembling a complex plot. It was a journey of great action and peace. Our team has become a true family.
Kurt and Avery brought me something that I had never experienced in my life: happiness.