After two nights of minimal sleep and an over eleven-hour drive, Henley felt sufficiently exhausted. She didn't necessarily want to sleep, but her body was screaming at her to. It was still relatively early; the sun had barely gone down and it was still light out thanks to the lengthening days, but as soon as Nick showed her the room she would sleep in, Henley dropped her bags and collapsed on the bed.
Her nightmares that night were different than what she experienced in the past. There were elements from her past dreams, but they were more complex than reliving her first experience of attempted kidnapping.
Getting dragged into a van became the baseline, but now Henley was in a void of smoke, in a crowded room, or outside the C.O.D.E. San Francisco headquarters. She would scream, but everyone would ignore her. Blank faces would walk by as she struggled against a million hands pulling her backwards. Nick's face would stare impassively at her before he turned his back, walking in the opposite direction.
When Henley jerked awake, she knew she had let out a yell. Her clothes were damp and her heart beat imitated that of someone who had just finished running a marathon.
Henley swung her legs down from the bed, putting her feet on the floor. She heard rapid footsteps coming toward her room, and a second later Nick barged through the door, firearm in hand.
He visibly relaxed when he saw that an unharmed Henley was the only one in the room. Henley, however, couldn't look him in the eye. She didn't want to see the worried, concerned expression on his face.
"Do you want a tour of the house?" Henley was thankful he didn't ask if she was okay.
"How long was I asleep?"
"About ten hours."
Henley didn't feel like she had been asleep for ten hours. She felt more tired than when she collapsed onto the bed. "I need a shower. But then yeah, I'll see the house."
The shower definitely helped. Calming down from the dream and finally feeling the positive effects from the, albeit restless, sleep, Henley could now take better note of her room in the safe house. It wasn't dissimilar from the one in Lake Tahoe, but slightly plainer. Henley was also very aware of the lock boxes in each corner of the room; they were identical to the one she and Nick had carried from hotel to hotel. Henley still wasn't that big of a fan of guns, but knowing they were there and that she could get to them did make her feel safer.
Dressed in fresh shorts and a t-shirt, Henley headed downstairs. The house was definitely smaller than the one in Tahoe, but the large grounds that Henley caught glimpses of out of the windows made up for it. She wondered if the safe house security measures would allow her to at least sit out on the front porch.
Nick sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee. He slid a mug over to her as she approached.
"I was promised a tour." Henley took a sip from the steaming hot coffee.
"As you've probably noticed, there's not too much to see."
It was true. Upstairs, Nick's room was directly across from Henley's, and the shared bathroom was down the hall. On the ground floor, there was a kitchen, a small living room, and another bathroom, but that was it.
Henley thought it had a lot of character, despite the fact that it was a top secret safe house.
"Honestly, it seems like a normal house," Henley commented.
Nick put his coffee mug down. "Come on," he said. "I want to show you something."
Sadly leaving the coffee behind, Henley got up to follow him. He went over to a door that Henley assumed was a closet, but when he opened it, he revealed a staircase leading down to a basement level.
"Oh my god," Henley gasped as they reached the bottom of the staircase. "Did I just walk into a James Bond movie?"
Screens covered the entire far wall of the basement. There was a control panel in the middle of the room that had double-screened computers on either side of it. There were weapons cages up against one of the other walls. Enough non-perishable food was stocked up to last probably a year.
"What do you think?"
"I think I walked into a James Bond movie," Henley repeated.
"This is footage of the entire perimeter of the safe house's forest area and then the entire field that surrounds the house," Nick explained. "If anything larger than a deer crosses through the eyeline of any camera, it sets off an alarm telling us exactly where someone is coming from."
Henley eyed the pictures. The various squares of forest and field looked incredibly quiet, not even a squirrel.
"This controls all of the safety measure of the compound." Nick walked forward and gestured toward the control panel. "All of the windows and doors have steel sheets that can slide down over them. That includes this door." He pointed to the one at the top of the stairs that he and Henley had just walked through. "From here, I can also send distress signals, so if someone does get through the perimeter and decides to pay us a visit, I can lock the whole house down and wait for an army of C.O.D.E. agents to get to our location. Most of the Houston office doesn't know exactly where this house is, but they know we're close by. If I send them a distress signal, they'll get the location and be able to get her within half an hour."
"And if they don't, we'll be able to survive in here for decades," Henley stated, eyeing the food.
"That's the idea."
Henley appreciated what Nick was doing. It did make her feel a little bit better knowing that the security on the place was so tight, and if need be, they could transform it into a nuclear bunker and wait for an army of backup. What still bugged her, though, was that theoretically, anyone could find the house and drive up to the front door.
"Let's go back upstairs," Nick suggested.
Henley nodded and followed him back to the kitchen. Her coffee was fortunately still warm.
"Something's still bothering you." It was a statement, not a question. "I know it's not perfect," Nick said. "And I don't blame you for being jumpy. But you're safer here than anywhere else. I won't let anything happen to you."
Henley believed him. "Yeah, I mean, obviously I'm still bothered by the entire thing," she began, "but, it's more than just the people after me."
"What is it?"
"I told you I trust you, and I do," Henley said. "But you haven't been completely honest with me. You didn't tell me about Phoenix right away, you still won't tell me what actually went down there. I still don't know what led you to shut me out for those couple days. There's so much uncertainty with me right now; I really don't need any more coming from you."
Nick was studying her carefully. Henley really didn't expect him to give her any answers, but she needed to tell him what was going on in her mind. She was shocked when he launched into speech.
"There was another person under the protection of a C.O.D.E. agent in Phoenix," Nick began. "Like I said, a completely separate case, and I don't know the details of that case, but they were on the move, just like we were. And just like us, they were caught up to.
"The agent was severely wounded, but the person they were protecting managed to get a way, at least for a bit. He was on the run for a few hours, but was eventually kidnapped and taken. Fortunately, the agent had managed to call for backup, and so C.O.D.E. was looking for him. They were able to get to him before any permanent damage had been inflicted, but that doesn't mean he wasn't hurt."
"That's horrible," Henley said. The sugar and creamer in her coffee suddenly wasn't sitting well in her stomach, and her mouth acquired a sour taste.
"Yeah," Nick agreed. "On these types of assignments, things can go south very, very quickly. I didn't tell you because the case was too close to this one. One agent, one person being hunted. I knew you were already having nightmares; I didn't want to make them any worse by worrying you about another case with a completely different set of circumstances."
Henley nodded. She could understand that. "But why would you shut me out after all of that?" As trivial as it seemed, Nick deciding to turn a cold shoulder in that moment was what bothered Henley the most. It hurt. It felt personal.
Nick looked straight at her. He was frowning, and a muscle was working in his jaw. Henley also saw something flicker behind his eyes. Regret, maybe? She couldn't tell.
"I know." Sadness. That was the emotion Henley was unable to read on his face, but it was betrayed by his voice. "I didn't tell you about Phoenix because I worried about how much it would affect you. But it also affected me. A lot." He paused, but Henley didn't want to interject. "I suddenly began to question every single decision I had made since leaving San Francisco. Tahoe, Vegas, I made those decisions because I didn't like seeing you unhappy. I figured there wasn't any harm in allowing you small freedoms if they helped you feel happy. But I didn't do that because it was what was best for your protection, I did it for you.
"So, then I heard about the other pair, and I knew that I couldn't make those calls anymore. So I shut you out. If I didn't, there's no way I would have been able to see you cooped up in hotel rooms all the time, trying your best to not be miserable. It would have killed me."
Henley's breath hitched slightly at his last words. "Why?" she asked softly. "We aren't friends, we can't be."
"No, we can't," Nick agreed. "But, when I talk to you, spend time with you like a normal person, I really wish we could be."
Henley didn't really know how to respond. It's not like she hadn't given a fair amount of thought as to what her and Nick's relationship could be like if things were different. But she didn't think telling him that would particularly help the situation.
"But, clearly, it didn't work." He looked miserable. "They still go to you."
"Which, as we reminded ourselves, isn't either of our faults," Henley said sharply. "I do have to ask though, how did you know I was in trouble?"
"Henshaw messed up. There was a small mirror on the wall that allowed me to watch the back of the restaurant. He was staying out of sight, but he briefly moved in and out of my vision once, and I knew. If I had gone straight back there it would have caused a scene and a lot of people could have gotten hurt, so I went the other way, noticed the flat tires on the car, took the bike, and went to the back. You know the rest."
Henley nodded and looked down. She didn't enjoy remembering. "So, what am I allowed to do here?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Maybe we should lay down a couple of ground rules."
Henley's mouth formed her first genuine smile in days as she reflected back to the beginning of this whole mess when she pushed Nick to allow her out of the car at gas stations. "And what rules would those be?"
"You're not a prisoner here," Nick said, "and I really don't want you to feel that way. We have enough security here that being outside is fine. That was part of the point of bringing you here. So outside on the porch and close to the house is fine."
Henley felt relieved. Yes, she was still shaken and nervous over her close call of getting recaptured, but given that she and Nick would be in this house for potentially quite some time, Henley knew that being able to get some fresh air was essential.
"And if you want to go farther, closer to the trees or a little way into the forest, that's fine, but you have to let me know so I can come with you."
This was honestly better than Henley could have imagined. There wasn't a pool, but there was fresh air and space for her to stretch her legs. "I'm guessing food requests are out of the question, though? Given that we have enough to feed a large army in our basement."
"No margaritas or mojitos are on the menu in the near future, no," Nick said.
It was an insignificant price to pay. Henley wasn't about to risk having their location discovered over a beverage.
"You seem to be doing okay."
Nick had avoided asking Henley about her emotional state up until now, but Henley wasn't too shocked to hear he was curious.
"I deal with things by not dealing with them." Henley let a small piece of bitterness creep into her voice. "I'd rather think about a lack of alcohol in this house or being able to go outside without worrying about being harmed or how I'm almost done with my ridiculously long book. I don't want to think about the four psychopaths who just tried to kidnap me for a second time."
"I know, but if you ever feel like you want to talk—"
Henley didn't want to be rude, but the last thing she needed was to open up her darkest and most private feelings to Nick. She knew he was struggling with wanting an actual friendship and not being able to. Henley wanted a friendship too, and a small voice in the back of her mind questioned if she truly desired only friendship, or something a little bit more. But that was completely out of the question, and Henley was doing her best to squash that voice. Opening up and showing vulnerability would not help with the squashing process.
That evening, Henley went out onto the porch to do some reading. The house faced west, so while Henley intended to make a large chunk of progress with her book, she ended up distracted by the beautiful sunset. After the several days of chaos, the magnificent colors that swept across the sky was incredibly calming.
Henley looked up and saw Nick holding out a mug. She accepted it and took a sip. "Apple juice?" she asked in surprise.
He shrugged. "We have water, coffee, and apple juice. Don't ask me, I didn't do the shopping."
Henley gave a slight smile into her cup. "Hey, Nick," she said, "I kinda forgot to ask, but when we got to Albuquerque and you were on the phone with C.O.D.E., what did they say?"
"Why do you want to know?"
Henley shrugged. "I don't know, I guess maybe if I know that if someone out there is working on fixing this mess, it'll make me feel better. Or maybe it won't. I don't know." She clasped her cup with both hands and stared down at the liquid.
"I basically just told them what happened," Nick recounted. "The restaurant and the motorcycle and all that. Honestly, I was trying to get out of them how we could have missed them. They were driving that same stupid van around, someone should have seen it, but no one did."
"Hmm, yeah, that's not super comforting."
Henley shook her head. "No, it's okay. I want to know."
"So we argued about that for a bit. Then they just told me that I should get you here as soon as possible and told me where to pick up a new car in case the one we took out of Santa Fe was being tracked."
"Not very talkative, you people."
"I thought you would have learned that by now."
They sat outside for a little while longer, in silence, watching the sun go down and listening to the crickets. Henley had never been one to be afraid of being outside at night, but she was now feeling slightly uncomfortable, even with Nick sitting three feet away. She didn't like only being able to see a few feet in front of her.
Just as Henley was about to excuse herself and go to bed to get away from the pressing darkness, Nick made it clear he had a different plan.
"Here, follow me."
Reluctant but curious, Henley got up, put her mug down, and followed Nick down the steps of the porch. He waited for her at the bottom of the stairs and then led her away from the house just slightly.
"I bet you don't get that in Berkeley. Or Boston. Look up."
Henley did, and any thoughts she had about the suffocating nature of the night dissipated. As her eyes adjusted, she found that it wasn't really that dark, as the night sky was lit up by millions of stars, more than she had ever seen in her life. The house wasn't emitting that much light, and the nearest major city was miles away.
"It's beautiful," she said.
"Trust me, a view like this never gets old."
Henley believed him.
It was these stars that Henley continued to stare at once she was back in her room and getting ready for bed. They weren't as impressive from her bedroom window as they were standing outside in the middle of field, but Henley could still see more than even on the clearest night in Berkeley.
While Henley appreciated Nick talking and being nice to her again, she was also becoming more and more confused. He made it clear that no matter his personal preference, there could be no personal relationship between them. Henley could understand that. What she couldn't understand, however, was how stargazing fit into a strictly professional relationship.
Henley snapped her blinds shut, pulled back her covers, and crawled into bed. "Men," she muttered quietly to herself, shaking her head.
Steeling herself for complete darkness, Henley turned off the light and hoped she would get some restful sleep.