Adam West laid in his bed having just woken up, tired. It didn’t matter that he’d just had the first proper sleep that he’d had in weeks, it wasn’t because of the healing injuries on his body- the horrible burns and the myriad of gashes- it was that he was worried and recollecting. Emma Stewart, the girl he was working with, his only friend at current, seemed off. Of course, after what had happened in Mexico, it was expected. Seeing so much death, so much destruction, it was expected that the two of them would be affected with terrible memories, maybe borderline PTSD, but that didn’t mean that Adam wasn’t allowed to worry anyway.
The night, day, few hours before- whenever it was when the two of them had collapsed into their beds- Emma had begun crying. Maybe she thought that Adam hadn’t noticed, but he had, and he was worried. His first guess was that she was reliving what had happened in mini episodes, maybe that she was revising the events as if that would prove to herself that it had happened: the kidnapping performed by The Secrecy- the organisation they were working for,- the task they had to fulfil, the mass death they witnessed in Mexico, the stressful situations, the near-death experiences- even to Adam, it felt hard to believe that it had happened. But it had happened.
Adam slid out of his covers, pulled the wardrobe open and grabbed some of the provided clothes. As he pulled on some blue jeans and a black t-shirt, wincing as the jeans pushed the bandages into the burns on the front of his thighs, he went over another possibility as to why Emma had been upset: the confirmation of their new lives.
Since being kidnapped by The Secrecy and told that they had to solve an extortionate number of kidnappings in Mexico, the two of them had simply followed what was laid out for them. Maybe Emma had been holding onto hope that they would finish the task and return home, or maybe be given new homes, but, of course, that hadn’t happened. Instead, they’d been told that they would have some time off to heal from their injuries before they would resume their usual routine which mainly consisted of training. Afterwards, whenever something suitable would come up, the two of them would be debriefed with another mission and sent off to fulfil, or try to fulfil, the task.
Adam ran a hand through his dark blonde hair, brushing it away from the base of his eyebrows as he let out a sigh. In truth, he was slightly scared to walk out of his room and face Emma. But, at the same time, he was almost excited. In a world with no family, practically no comfort and vivid, terrible memories, Emma was all he had. He was all Emma had.
He stood, pulled the door open and walked into the open area of the living quarters. It was a decent room with two couches, a smart-looking coffee table, a fancy TV, two large desks and a small area with snacks, a kettle and everything to go with it. Being honest, Adam knew that the only reason neither he nor Emma had gone insane was because they had the ability to watch DVDs and TV shows in their spare time while at the headquarters.
It took a moment for Adam to notice that Emma was slumped on one of the couches. He only didn’t see her at first because the couch was facing away from him.
Walking around the seat, Adam glanced at Emma before dropping onto the couch opposite her. She wasn’t crying, but she looked disgruntled.
“Morning,” Adam said, looking around the room awkwardly. She hadn’t been doing anything, she wasn’t asleep, just slumped on the couch, looking as if she’d been hugging her knees, curled up into a ball for a while before she lost her grip. Her turquoise eyes were slightly glossy and some of the fringe of her light brown hair was stuck to her face, slightly wet. Adam wondered if she’d been crying before he’d entered the room.
Emma didn’t reply. She didn’t even look up.
Confused and worried, Adam stood and moved closer to her. He bent over her slightly, resting his hands on his knees to support himself. “Are you okay?” He asked.
Not knowing what to do, Adam began to kneel on the hard ground, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling in his kneecaps before he placed a hand on one of Emma’s and squeezed. “What’s wrong?” He asked softly, not expecting an answer.
“I’m just…” Her voice faded away slightly. It almost seemed as if she didn’t have the strength to talk. For a moment, Adam doubted that she’d finish her sentence, though she managed it. “…remembering.”
Adam averted his gaze for a moment, looking around the room as if he were looking to the structure of the building for inspiration as to how to help.
“Try to distract yourself,” he suggested, not knowing what else to say. He squeezed Emma’s hand again, though she pulled it away after a moment.
“I’ve been trying,” she replied quietly.
Looking into Emma’s eyes, Adam could see that wasn’t going to cry again despite the glossiness, she just looked quite empty in a way. She almost looked as if she’d been awake for weeks straight, a dejected gaze the only thing which she could manage. It wasn’t very reassuring for Adam.
Adam leaned in and gave her a loose hug, taking the hint from when she let go of his hand, guessing that she didn’t want him to touch her very much, but he wanted to at least give her something which could make her see that he was there for her.
Emma didn’t do anything to hug him back, but she didn’t immediately push him away. It was only after a few moments when she lightly guided him away from her, giving the smallest flash of a smile as if to thank him for the effort.
Not knowing what else to do, Adam moved back to the other couch and sat down, turning the TV on, hoping that it would help to distract Emma. It seemed to help a little as she turned her attention to watch, but Adam knew that it wasn’t the solution to her problem, just a minor aid. He guessed that she wasn’t even watching it entirely, just searching for something else to focus on, even if only a little.
While watching, Adam would occasionally flick his eyes over to Emma, checking on her, making sure that she wasn’t going to start crying. Still, she never looked back at him.
Throughout the rest of the day, Emma remained distant. When the guard came to escort Adam and Emma to the cafeteria for breakfast, Emma sat on the far end of the table from Adam, picking at her food but making sure to eat something.
When they returned to their living quarters, Emma went to her room, muttering something about wanting to sleep a little more, not answering Adam when he asked if she were okay.
Emma walked into her room and pulled the door closed slowly, not slamming it as if she were angry, not closing it as if she were fine. She hadn’t looked tired, she hadn’t looked upset, she hadn’t looked angry and yet she hadn’t looked fine.
For a few moments afterwards, Adam stared at the door, wondering what was wrong with her, what could have happened to make her so… different, even what was different as it wasn’t entirely clear. It could have been the fact that she was remembering their experiences in Mexico, it could have been that she was angry with The Secrecy for pulling them back into their grasp after dealing with something which teenagers weren’t supposed to deal with only to wait a little while before throwing them back into the world. All that Adam knew was that Emma was acting different, something which scared him slightly. Then, after a moment, he began to worry. What if he were going to lose Emma, too?
By the time the second day off arrived, Emma’s state had worsened. Worsened a decent amount, to the extent where she’d developed a habit of avoiding Adam entirely and ignoring him whenever she couldn’t.
Adam and Emma had just been escorted back to their living quarters after breakfast when Adam plucked up the courage to try something different.
“So,” he started, trying to psych himself up. “What do you think we’ll end up doing next time?”
He knew that it was a little insensitive: making Emma think about going through something similar, or even worse, but Adam’s idea was that he could distract her with worry for the future, making her forget everything about the past. In his eyes, he believed that it would be easier to distract her from something upcoming rather than something which had already happened. “Time can heal all wounds” was a phrase which Adam disagreed with. Not only was there the possibility of Emma falling into a form of depression via remembering and reliving the horrible events from their time in Mexico, but there was the possibility that she’d never be able to climb out of the deep, dark hole.
Emma looked at Adam for a second, a quick glance, a slightly confused and hurt look on her face, though she played it off as if she’d felt an itch on her cheek. Still, she ignored him, so Adam soldiered on.
“I mean, we’ve dealt with kidnapping,” he said, trying his best to sound as if he were coming up with everything on the spot, looking around the room as if he were trying to find inspiration. “We could end up dealing with murder,” he suggested before contorting his face. “Nah, that doesn’t sound right- maybe theft?” Adam shook his head, stopped, and looked at Emma as if he’d just had a revelation. “What if there’ll be a ten-foot-tall baby which spits acid and wreaks havoc on Madrid?”
The joke had been entirely improvised. Adam noticed that with every mention of a serious, plausible situation, Emma shifted in her seat a little, uncomfortable. Though, even when the ridiculous idea came out of Adam’s mouth, Emma didn’t even crack a smile. She still wasn’t looking at him, staring at the coffee table. For a moment, Adam wondered if she’d zoned out completely.
“What do you think?” He asked, trying his best to make her say something, though nothing came, so he tried again. “What do you think we’ll have to deal with?”
“Just shut up!”
It came almost as a screech. It startled Adam more than anything. After all, he was only trying to help. It wasn’t as if he were intentionally looking for a reaction out of her- well, a bad reaction, anyway.
Emma stared at him, her expression not faltering even a slight amount. She showed no remorse for the outburst, didn’t look as if she were about to apologise. If anything, the longer she stared at Adam, her eyes chanting about her anger, it almost seemed as if she were growing more and more unapologetic.
Adam averted his gaze quickly, looking around the room, not wanting to see Emma looking so frightening. He stared at the coffee table, then at the bathroom door before, with a sigh too light for Emma to hear, he stood up and retreated to his room.
He hadn’t wanted to escape. It was what Emma was constantly trying to do, after all, and Adam wanted her to stop. It wasn’t that he was getting annoyed that she wasn’t talking to him or that they weren’t laughing and cracking jokes all the time, it was that she was clearly changing. She wasn’t changing to be a stone-faced killer. If anything, she was changing into something which would hurt Adam more than someone about to plunge a knife into his lung. She was changing into someone who didn’t want to be his friend.
Adam remained in his bedroom until the guard came to escort him and Emma to see Becca. Becca, as they’d found out directly after being picked up by The Secrecy when they were in Mexico, was the head nurse. She had scheduled appointments with them everyday at the same time until their injuries healed enough for them to return to their regular routine.
As they walked down the halls of The Secrecy’s headquarters, taking the recently learned trek from their living quarters to Becca’s office: past the gym and a shooting range, taking a right and following the hallway until they were about to reach the secret entrance to the White Room before entering the last door on the left, they stayed silent. It wasn’t any different to how they’d been treating the journey the day before, but there was an awkward aura in the air.
Upon entering the office, the guard leaving as soon as they did, Becca greeted the two of them with her increasingly familiar and sweet smile.
“You two okay?” She asked immediately, gesturing for Emma to sit down. She moved a strand of her blonde hair which had managed to come loose from her bun, brushing it behind her ear before she nodded towards the space behind a privacy curtain. “Adam, you first,” she said, giving him a small smile.
Adam nodded and walked behind the curtain, Becca following him and pulling it until they were completely concealed.
They went through the same process as the day before. Adam first removed his shirt to allow Becca to inspect the healing wounds on his back. The glass had made a few deep gashes, but the majority of the cuts were healing fairly well.
Next were the burns on Adam’s thighs. Of course, Adam had to pull the jeans down and past his knees to allow Becca to remove the bandages, inspect the two grotesque injuries and then replace the bandages, making Adam feel uncomfortable and awkward but also thankful for the privacy curtain.
As soon as Becca had finished replacing the bandages and after Adam had pulled his jeans back up, he whispered if he could ask a question.
“Well,” Adam started in a low voice. “It’s Emma. She’s been distant and really unlike herself since we got back from Mexico and I just-”
“You’re worried about her,” Becca replied in a hushed voice, cutting Adam off, though it didn’t matter as he was about to say the same. “It’s normal that she’s being evasive and- I’m guessing she’s snapping at you?” Adam nodded. “Well, it’s normal. After experiencing what you went through in Mexico, anyone would be affected with some form of PTSD.”
“PTSD?” Adam replied, worry filling his veins within a few milliseconds. “As in permanent PTSD?”
Becca looked solemn. She shrugged. “It’s hard to tell,” she said. “I’m going to talk to her, though. I’ll see where she is mentally and I’ll try to help any way that I can,” Becca said, placing a hand on Adam’s forearm in a way which comforted him almost immediately. “She’s a tough girl, you know,” she added, smiling. “I’m sure it’s only temporary with her.”
Adam nodded but stopped himself, ready to voice the biggest concern he had.
“But what if it isn’t?” He asked, almost feeling guilty for being so worried. At this point, it wasn’t that he was worried about Emma’s mental state as much, it was more that he was worried that it would change her and their relationship.
“Only time will tell,” Becca replied. “I’ll do my best to help, though.”
Adam nodded and stood up. He genuinely felt guilty that he wasn’t expressing his worries purely because of Emma’s health.
After walking out of the privacy curtain, he took a quick glance at Emma and noticed that she gave him a tiny glance as well. Her expression didn’t seem as nonchalant but slightly upset as it previously had. She looked almost as if she were pitying him. For a moment, Adam wondered if she’d been listening to his brief conversation with Becca. Then he wondered if she even cared that it had happened in the first place.
Adam knew that Becca was right. Only time would tell if Emma would improve, remain the same or get even worse, but Adam didn’t like the idea of having to wait and deal with the worries while doing so.
As soon as he and Emma left Becca’s office, being escorted back to their living quarters by the same guard who had brought them in the first place, Adam tried his best to ignore Emma’s presence after checking to see if there was any difference.
While he’d been waiting on the other side of the privacy curtain, he’d heard a stifled sob and guessed that it stemmed from Becca asking Emma about what was wrong. He didn’t know if Becca had mentioned that he’d been the one to bring up his concerns, but it didn’t seem to matter either way as Emma didn’t say a word to him, continuing her silence.
In a few ways, it had been slightly comforting to hear any sound coming from the girl he’d grown close to over two to three weeks, even if the noise had been one of sadness. Adam felt strange acknowledging that fact, knowing that it was slightly odd to be comforted even if she were upset, but he justified it with the notion of having not heard a peep out of her since the outburst an hour or so before.
Progressing down the corridors and approaching their living space, Adam began to wonder what the next mission could actually entail. Of course, he’d made a joke out of the concept before in an attempt to make Emma smile and in an attempt to distract her from the pain she was feeling, but he hadn’t properly considered the topic. In Mexico, they’d dealt with mass kidnappers. Where would they go next? What would they be doing next? Would they be lucky and have to wait for a while before anything would crop up and force them out of the slightly more comfortable atmosphere of The Secrecy’s headquarters?
They entered the open-plan living room and let the guard disappear. It didn’t take long of standing in silence for Adam to decide to escape again. He’d picked up a book from the library in the headquarters the day before after lunch, and without anything else to do, at least, anything else without involving Emma in some way, it seemed like the best way to not only escape from the awkward, slightly tense and upsetting aroma in the air surrounding Emma, but it would also act as a decent distraction for him.
After walking into his room, Adam flopped onto the bed, slid the book from his bedside table and, after taking a second to stare at the cover as he processed what Becca had said, he opened the book and continued where he left off.
Even though he was trying to read, trying to distract himself, Adam couldn’t help but think back to what Becca had told him: “I’m sure it’s only temporary with her.” What if it wasn’t temporary? What if it was a permanent change, a new piece of her, something which helped to define her as a person? What if she’d get over it but be different in the future? What if she became angrier, feistier, much more aggressive for no reason? Would Adam still be able to be friends with her? Would they be able to continue the relationship they’d built over their time in Mexico? What would happen to their new bond? Would they be able to move past it? Would Adam be able to accept it? Would Emma be able to pretend as if everything were okay when she’d be distraught? Would Adam be able to tell when she’d be pretending?
He closed the book having not been able to read a single sentence and focus on it. He’d read the same words over and over, trying to decipher the meaning, but he wasn’t able to. The questions were echoing in his mind along with Becca’s words. “I’m sure it’s only temporary with her.” “I’m sure it’s only temporary with her.” “I’m sure it’s only temporary with her.”
Adam slammed the book onto his bedside table so hard that the surface wobbled and Adam had to shoot his arms forward to stabilise the lamp which was precariously balanced close to the edge. It was just too much. Too much to think about. Too much to consider, too much to question, too much to comprehend.
Adam wondered if he was feeling similar to Emma, but for different reasons. While she was mauling over the details of every stressful, gruesome moment which took place over the course of their first mission, Adam was mauling over the destructive concept of himself without Emma, of himself with a different Emma, and reminding himself that the possibility, the probability of her changing, was high. Too high to be ignored, though it was all Adam wanted to do; ignore it, mark it as a slanderous idea. Emma was a tough girl. Becca had said it, too. She wouldn’t give in so easily.
But she was.
Frustrated, upset, confused, Adam rolled onto his stomach. The left side of his face was pressed into the pillow. He was staring at the wall opposite him. With his right hand, he almost stroked the blank side of the pillow which was in front of him, wishing that it could have been his old chihuahua, Brittney. She’d been a comfort for him whenever he’d get stressed over school in the past, so much so that he’d go to her at least once a week whenever he’d feel himself getting angrier and more and more impatient, wanting her to fix him, calm him down. But now, now that he couldn’t stroke her soft fur, Adam realised how much he’d taken it for granted in the past.
And, with a sudden lurch in his stomach, Adam remembered the fear he’d felt the day before: What if he’d completely lose Emma like he had lost his family, his friends, his dog, his life? Then, what if Emma remained in such a bad state that he’d be partnered up with someone else, or, even worse, sent alone? He’d recognised the fact that Emma was all he had previously, countless times, but the impact of that realisation only hit him as he longed for comfort.
Adam rolled onto his back again, overshot the mark and fell onto the floor with a loud thud, but he didn’t get up. He remained on the floor with his hand curled in front of his face as if he were trying to catch his breath. He didn’t want to move, couldn’t find the strength to.
In his mind, he felt worse than how Emma could have been feeling.
Two days passed and Emma wasn’t very different. Adam wanted to trick himself, make himself believe that she’d gotten better in some way, in the most miniscule of ways, but he couldn’t. Maybe there was some improvement, but Adam couldn’t tell if there was.
It had gotten to the point where Adam was so worried that, even though Emma wasn’t speaking to him and would constantly have an annoyed look on her face if he tried to strike up a conversation, Adam felt guilty leaving her alone. He’d tried, at one point, to stay in the living area with her for an hour, not saying a word, just sat on the opposite couch while reading his book. It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes, for her to stand up and go to her room to hide.
Adam, out of patience and wanting some type of answer to his recently developed fear of being separated from Emma, made a request to see Linda. He’d asked Becca if she could pass a message along when he and Emma had gone for their check-ups the morning of the day before, asking if she could have Linda arrange a time for them to meet and discuss “something important.” Needless to say, Linda’s reputation of being a cold-hearted leader was reenforced as she told Becca to make sure that Adam understood that she “wasn’t his mother” and that she “wouldn’t be putting time aside to help him with every tiny problem.”
Of course, Adam had expected nothing else, but was pleasantly surprised when Becca informed him that, having heard that Adam wanted to talk to Linda about something, Scotty volunteered to schedule a meeting time in hopes that he could help instead.
Adam was waiting in the living area for the guard to come to retrieve Adam. Even though Scotty’s office was literally outside of his and Emma’s living quarters, the door just on the right directly outside of the area, Adam had to be escorted there. He didn’t understand it but made a mental note of the organisation that The Secrecy had and was upholding.
Fifteen seconds before when the meeting had been scheduled for, the guard opened the door and gestured for Adam to follow him. Immediately after exiting, they took two steps forward, turned to the right and opened the door to Scotty’s office.
The guard remained outside, most likely ready to escort Adam back, while Adam entered. The room was maybe twice the size of Adam’s bedroom, a cosy size. It was smart, the furniture, limited to a fair-sized desk against the wall on the right and four armchairs making a rhombus shape in the far left corner, was black and sleek, a fake Ficus bonsai on the desk with a larger breed which Adam couldn’t recognise taking up the far, right corner of the room. Adam also noticed a mini fridge tucked underneath the desk, something which Scotty was opening before he noticed that Adam had entered the room.
“Evening,” he said, giving Adam a light nod before, after waiting for the door to close properly, pulled out two bottles of beer from the fridge, surprising Adam slightly. “One for you,” he pulled out a bottle opener from a drawer, popped the cap and handed the beer to Adam, “one for me,” he finished, taking the cap off his before taking a quick sip.
Adam didn’t know what to say. Not only was he confused having been handed a beer upon entering, but he hadn’t expected that Scotty would be allowed to keep alcohol in his office. Though, after a moment of considering that he’d waited for the door to close, Adam guessed that it was a secret. Then, with a strange pang of an emotion he didn’t recognise, he realised that Scotty had openly shared that secret with him of all people.
“Sit down,” Scotty said, gesturing to the armchair opposite the one he’d moved to. Adam did so, his back to the door. “I like to have a beer in the evenings. Helps with the stress,” Scotty explained, holding the beer in the air as he mentioned it. “So,” he said, pausing to take another sip of his drink, “what did you want to talk about?”
“Well,” Adam started, not knowing how to put it into words effectively. Sure, saying that he was worried would get the point across, but he wasn’t just worried. He was petrified, though he didn’t want to use that word. It would make him sound weak, vulnerable, as if the organisation had complete control over him. “I’m concerned about Emma,” he said lamely, not able to think of any other way to put it.
Scotty nodded absentmindedly before he took another sip of his beer, prompting Adam to do the same, feeling slightly awkward not drinking something he’d been given. The bitterness in the drink was something which Adam didn’t mind, and he loved the taste of everything else about the liquid, but he didn’t want to drink too much, too fast. He’d learned a year before that he didn’t have a high tolerance when it came to alcohol.
“She’s having a tough time, clearly,” Scotty said, considering his next words. “You’ve talked to Becca about this, I’m guessing?”
“Well, I’m sure she’s explained it better than I could, but Emma might have long-lasting effects from your time in Mexico,” he explained unhelpfully.
“Yeah,” Adam said quietly, taking another sip of his drink as he thought about how to say what he wanted to say next. “But does that mean that she won’t be coming with me for the next mission?” He asked, fearing the answer.
“It depends,” Scotty replied, shrugging. “If she improves, then she’ll probably still be working with you but, if not, it’s hard to say.”
“Okay,” Adam started. “What do you think Linda would do, then?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if she doesn’t care enough to see me personally, then she can’t care enough to consider the mental state of one of her agents, right?” Adam asked, feeling the anger coming in small waves, waves which were building. He took another sip in an attempt to give himself time to relax before continuing. “Do you think she’ll send her with me anyway, even if Emma’s finding it hard to cope?”
Scotty looked perplexed for a moment before he shook his head. “Maybe normally, but you two are precious. You’re the only new recruits we’ve had in months, so I doubt she’d be so reckless.”
For a moment, Adam almost felt proud until he realised that neither he nor Emma were valuable for anything they’d done, just because they were some of the last new resources the organisation had.
Adam took a large gulp of the beer, sucking so hard that the rim of the hole stuck to his lips due to the laws of suction. He pulled it off and almost dripped some of the beer on his shirt.
“Listen,” Scotty started with a much softer tone. “There’s a reason why you two managed to survive in Mexico,” he said, catching Adam’s attention. Scotty paused to take another sip of his drink. “You two are determined, you’re brave and you’re strong. Those attributes don’t succumb to PTSD very easily,” he said. “Emma could be an exception, only time will tell if she is, but from where I stand, it seems as if she’ll improve at least somewhat within the next week or two.”
Adam stared at Scotty for a moment, then at the ground by his shoes. He didn’t know if it would be wise to believe the man. Of course, Emma was strong. That was something which Scotty, Becca and himself had recognised, but was it enough? No matter how strong a person is, no matter how determined someone is to get over a memory, an occurrence, it’s never guaranteed that they’ll succeed. Adam understood that Emma could have been like him, affected by what happened but not drastically, she could have been much, much worse, or she could have ended up exactly as she did. It almost seemed like luck of the draw, almost like she didn’t have any say in what would happen and, in truth, she didn’t. And that scared Adam. The thought of the uncertainty and the loss of control. And, what scared him even more, was the idea of never being able to grip control again.
“Is there a chance I’ll be sent alone?” Adam asked quietly. His thoughts were almost distracting, but he needed to know if he needed to be scared or not.
Scotty paused. “No,” he said after a moment. Adam didn’t completely believe him because of the hesitation, but he accepted the answer.
“Will I be partnered with someone else if Emma doesn’t get better?” Adam proceeded to ask, looking up to see Scotty nod.
Though it scared Adam: the thought of leaving Emma behind, he knew that he’d always be able to return to the headquarters to see her. And anyway, knowing that he’d be gone and that she wouldn’t know if he’d survive until he’d return or be pronounced missing or dead by The Secrecy would incentivise Emma to fight even harder, wouldn’t it?
Adam nodded. “Thanks, Scotty,” he said, taking a moment to finish the beer even though there were two thirds left. He felt a light effect of the hasty consumption of the alcohol immediately after lowering the empty bottle again and, for a moment, Adam was distracted from the worries. It was nice, but it didn’t take long for everything to come rushing back as if the thoughts were individual drops of water gushing out of a broken dam.