The Contingent

Good Talk

Sometime before the mission to Tennessee

Alex, I slept with Natalie.”

The words hung heavy in the air of Alex’s fifth-floor apartment. Aaron had been working up the courage to say them for hours, but the time hadn’t seemed right before now. During the car ride from the airport, he and Alex had been occupied with catching each other up on what had happened while she was in Prague (and, okay, making out at stop lights). During dinner they’d turned to discussion of Aaron’s latest dream visions, trying to make sense of the omens he’d glimpsed. Alex seemed particularly interested in the details about the dark-haired woman in the white gown, but didn’t elaborate on why—and Aaron had been so consumed by the guilt gnawing at his stomach that he hadn’t really given her ramped-up curiosity much thought.

After a quick walk around downtown to unwind and work off dessert, he’d driven the company-issued Audi back to her apartment and she’d invited him upstairs.

He couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Alex closed her eyes in the wake of Aaron’s revelation, not speaking for several long moments. When she opened them, she dug a pack of cigarettes out of her handbag and walked to the sliding glass door leading out onto her porch balcony overlooking a coffee shop. “Come outside,” she said softly.

He hung his head and sauntered slowly toward the door. Alex sat cross-legged in a canvas-back chair, lighting a cigarette and inhaling deeply. He sat down across from her with his elbows rested on his knees; she offered him the pack and lighter. He took one, an indulgence he rarely afforded himself, and waited.

She finally looked him in the eye. “Well, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised.”

Aaron closed his eyes, preparing himself for the worst part. “It’s not just that, Alex. I need you to understand that…that I’m still in love with her, too.”

“That’s been pretty obvious, too,” she said.

He opened his eyes, brows raised. “That transparent, huh?”

She laughed curtly. “Oh yeah.”

Aaron took a drag off the cigarette, leaning back into the chair. “It’s important to me that you understand that this doesn’t change how I feel about you. I love you just as much as I did the day you left for Prague. I know that’s weird, and I understand if you can’t accept it or deal with it. So if you want me to go—if you just want to end this and move on—I get it. I’ll leave. I’m so sorry, Alex. Hurting you is the last thing I’d ever want to do.”

“Aaron Mathias, how many stupid things have I done in the time you’ve known me?” He was pretty sure there was a trace of a smile behind her sternness now.

He did a quick mental review of the last year of their life together. “Um. A few very minor things spring to mind.”

She took another puff and exhaled as she spoke. “I used destructive magic on one of my best friends back when I still had my powers. I’ve rushed into dangerous situations several times—and one of them got you shot up pretty badly. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, too, Aaron, and you’ve stuck by me through every one of them. So I’m not planning on giving up on you for one screw-up.” She stubbed out the cigarette and moved to perch on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Because you haven’t given up on me.” She kissed him.

He held her by the hips, subconsciously pulling her closer. “Alex…I appreciate what you’re saying, but I want to be clear: I can’t write Natalie out of my life. I can’t turn off my feelings. For either of you. Is that something you can live with?”

“Aaron, you wouldn’t be the person I’m in love with today if it wasn’t for Natalie. She’s good for you. Hell, she’s good for both of us. I’ve never had two better friends in all my life. And the nature of the work we do means that we’re going to have to spend time apart. It’s unavoidable. The world is a big place, and apparently it’s not gonna save itself.” She drew closer to him, pressing her forehead against his, shutting her eyes. “So if I have to share you, at least I’m sharing you with someone I love and trust, who I know will look after you when I can’t.”

Aaron pulled her back by the shoulders after a moment. “I gotta say, this really wasn’t the reaction I was expecting from you. You don’t know the dread I’ve felt all week.” He stroked her cheek with his right hand. “I really am sorry, Alex. I owe you better.”

“All I ask,” Alex said, “is that you be honest with me. If you’re going to spend time with Natalie, just tell me about it. I don’t want secrets and lies between us. I’ve had enough of that in the last two years to last a lifetime. I love you, Aaron Mathias. And you’d have to fuck up pretty bad to change that, considering everything we’ve been through together.” She hopped off his lap, pulling the sliding glass door open and sashaying back inside, slipping off her shoes as she stepped over the threshold. “And if you really still feel guilty about it, then I’d suggest you follow me to bed and start figuring out how to make it up to me.”

Aaron stubbed out his own cigarette in the ashtray and stood to follow. “How exactly would I accomplish that?”

She tossed a devious grin back over her shoulder, unbuttoning her shorts and letting them fall to the floor in her wake as she pulled off her top and cast it onto the arm of the couch. “Oh, don’t you worry—I’ve had ten hours on an airplane to come up with some ideas.”


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