Notes: The second part! I'm trying to keep them at relatively the same length (this one's just a few hundred words off the first chapter), but it's not always possible.
Here we get a much better look at Knox, Yale's young partner, and a brief glimpse into Hayden's home life. We also see the threads beginning to unravel.
Max slams the door open on his way into the house, not sparing a second glance for Katrina or the girls where they sit at the kitchen table. He stalks to the bedroom, where he slams another door, and begins changing clothes, tossing his laundry in the general direction of the hamper.
The hush from the other room indicates that his opening lines were sound; a knock on the door a second later tells him that he wasn't overacting.
"Hayden?" Katrina asks as she steps in, closing the door behind her. "What's wrong?"
Pulling on a dry shirt, Max says, "Nothing," in a tight, sharp voice. Katrina is good at taking verbal cues, so her next lines are just what they're supposed to be.
"If 'nothing's wrong, then stop scaring the girls." Her own tone is frustrated. Max can hear the corners of her mouth twisted downward in disapproval. She has little patience for her oft-absent husband and his closed-mouth mood swings tonight, which is all for the better.
With a well-timed pause, he says, "I'm sorry." He carries on as if she isn't there, taking his glasses off and half-tossing them on the dresser. He is sorry, and Young would have been sorry in his place, too. Sometimes he doesn't even have to pretend.
She doesn't leave right away, lingering at the corner of the room and watching him. He can feel her gaze, heavy and unhappy with realization. Their marriage - Young's marriage, goddamnit - is falling apart, with every door slammed and every night spent at the office. It comforts him a bit to know that Young would have ruined it, himself, in due time. Maybe he's even doing Young a favour. No sense in feeling guilty about shit that doesn't belong to him. The kids aren't his, the woman isn't his. She isn't even his type.
"Can I do something else for you?" he asks at last. In the mirror, she straightens, jaw setting with anger at the unexpected lash-out.
Her sarcasm stings more than expected. "No, Hayden. I wouldn't dare ask you for anything, considering how much you do already."
"You have no idea how much I do."
"No?" She's raising her voice a bit, now, moving away from the door and toward him. "You work, Hayden. You work and you work and every now and then, you come home for dinner, and you're gone before I'm even awake in the morning."
Here, he might have made some snide remark about the sex they had after those dinners, but Young wouldn't, so he doesn't. She carries on, anyway, with no pause for him to retort.
"I work. I work six days a week, and I bring my work home with me. I make sure the girls are clothed and fed and go to school every day, and I help them with their homework and I remember their birthdays and I'm here every second that I can be, because you never are. Don't you dare talk to me about how much you do."
It's resoundingly, surprisingly painful, the truth of it all. Katrina's eyes are bright with tears. This has been a long time in coming. Maybe before Max ever set foot in this house.
Or maybe he's just finding ways to feel less guilty again.
Here, he thinks, Young would apologize. He would look at his wife, at the woman he married, the woman he loved, and he would buckle under the guilt. He would sit down for dinner, help the girls with their homework, and he'd show up late to the office just to see them off to school.
Young is a good person, Max reflects as he reaches for Katrina.
"I'm sorry." Her cheek is wet where she presses it into his hand, and he brushes his thumb over her cheekbone to catch the tears. "I'm sorry," he repeats, sounding defeated entirely by accident. "I don't mean to leave you with all of this. I really don't. You - I hope you know that."
She wraps her arms around him, her face buried in his chest, and he wonders if his heartbeat sounds right; if she can tell. That's stupid.
Max holds her close, stroking her hair, and whispers comforting words there. Whether any of them are true or not, he has no idea. What matters now was that he's staying for dinner, staying for bed, until she falls asleep, and that he'll be back before morning to take the girls to school and see her off to work.
Compared to the place he just left, the looming shadow of the beachhouse is all but comforting. Max had slipped away from Katrina for a post-coital shower, hoping she'd fall asleep while he was out of bed, and he'd gotten lucky. He'd hit the road immediately, and it's now leaning on one o'clock as he pulls up the drive.
The lights aren't on, but Max didn't expect them to be. Young isn't supposed to be here, if you ask anyone else. Poor guy must've been sitting in the dark for hours now. Max doesn't feel especially sympathetic.
"Olly-olly-oxen-free," he says as he flips on the light in the entrance hall. The idea is to avoid getting shot. It seems to work.
Lifting his head from where he lies on the couch, sprawled in a decent impression of nonchalance despite the gun aimed Max's way, Young says, "Took you long enough."
"Believe me, I'd've slipped away sooner, but your wife got clingy on me," Max shoots back before he can stop himself. He knows Young wasn't trying to start shit, but he's on edge.
If Young's expression is anything to judge by, he's suitably taken aback. Max watches him rack his brain for a response. 'Is she okay?' must be on the tip of his tongue, but he goes with, "She does, now and then. Occupational hazard."
Sitting up, he props his feet on the coffee table, Max without meaning to be. Max takes care not to fold his hands over his crossed knees when he takes a seat, himself, mirroring Young's position instead. He laces his hands behind his head.
"Figure out who set you up the bomb yet?" he asks conversationally. Young's mouth quirks in an annoyed way.
"I don't suppose you know any Armenian explosives experts?"
Armenians? No, Max can't think of any. "What, did they stop to chat? Thought they tried to blow you up."
Young delicately pulls a folded, slightly damp piece of paper from his breast pocket. "This was in the loft when I swung by to grab some things."
"You went back?" Max can't help but laugh as he reaches to take the paper. Young really is as crazy as he is, to go back to the loft right after something like that. The feds had people swarming all over that place not ten minutes after the explosion.
"'Sasoun' is a place in Turkey," Young supplies, but Max's mind has already jumped elsewhere.
"It's also a bakery in L.A." He frowns at the string of numbers. "They weren't tryin' to kill you, not if they left you such a nice little clue."
Young leans back on the couch again. "I gathered as much. What do the numbers mean?"
"Shit, I dunno," Max answers, stuffing the paper in his own pocket. "I'll figure it out." His brain is already trying to sort the numbers through filters. He pushes them aside. "Someone wants your fuckin' attention, though, that's for sure."
"Someone wants your attention, you mean," Young corrects, sounding a little edgy, himself. "Whatever this is, I'm certain it's some repercussion of your actions."
Yeah, since Young's been such a saint this whole time. Max chooses not to answer that, instead tapping a cigarette into his palm and tucking the pack away again. Young is too classy to smoke in front of family or colleagues, so Max has been forced to seriously cut back. At times like these, it seems like more trouble than it's worth.
He lights up and takes a long drag. "Knox thinks you're goin' rogue." It's both an endeavour to change the topic and a jab at Young's little 'you-not-me' game. "Thinks you're leakin' info to my enemies to get me blown up." He waits for Young's frown to deepen before adding, "That, or you did it yourself. After all, three years gives you plenty reason to just want me dead."
For the first time, Young fixes his eyes on Max, sharp and suddenly wary. Max seems to have successfully sown the seeds of suspicion. If the feds think Young did it, why couldn't 'Young' have done it? After all, three years gives a guy plenty of reasons to want someone dead. Perhaps this was all Max's elaborate plan to steal Young's life out from under him, start all over. Special Agent Hayden Young, with his wife and daughters and stable job and house on the beach, and the only person who could blow his cover scattered in fragments across the streets of Las Vegas.
Silence weighs in, sinister and heavy. The waves outside are deafening.
Finally, Young says, "You didn't double-cross the CIA to become Special Agent Average Joe."
"No?" Max asks, unable to stop himself. He feels like kicking a bee's nest, waking a sleeping beast. "Why'd I fuck with the spooks, then? You tell me."
"I don't know." Young sounds as aggravated as Max suddenly feels. "I don't know why you're doing this, but you started before you even knew who I was."
"Did I? Maybe I was watchin' you before you even knew I existed. I was a fuckin' spy, remember?"
Young shoves the table with his foot as he sits forward. "You didn't try to kill me, because you need me alive for security purposes. Fingerprints, DNA - I'm a fucking fed; you can't fool technology, so you-"
"No, you're not a fucking fed," Max sneers. The words that come out next are meant as much to harm himself as Young, but they happen, anyway. "You're an ex-spook con artist who sells America's secrets for as much as your mom ever made on the streets."
Just like that, Young is on his feet. Max anticipates the gun to his head, but it never happens. Young skirts around the couch and out of the room before Max can even react.
"What the fuck?" Max rises to his feet to follow, but is stopped short. The front door bursts open, slamming back on its hinges.
Truth be told, if it weren't for the reflection he saw in the window - someone coming up the steps, something glinting in the light - Hayden might have lost the very last bit of patience he had for Nicholson. These roundabout games are the best and worst of him, and Hayden can't take anymore sideways answers.
But he knows better than to get caught with Nicholson. It would mean the end for both of them, in every way possible. The second he spotted movement in the glass, he was on his feet and on his way out, gun drawn. Nobody could be good news.
His mind races. Did Katrina follow Nicholson here? Maybe she thinks he's having an affair. Maybe the FBI has a tail on him, since Knox suspects Nicholson - suspects him - whatever.
"What the fuck?" he hears Nicholson say as he slips around the corner, out of sight. All of their questions are answered when the door is kicked open.
"Don't fucking move!"
The new voice is young, rough. Hayden places it ever-so-vaguely as the rookie agent that Yale had been saddled with upon joining Deadwater. Figures he'd be the one to throw a wrench in things.
"Knox?" Nicholson demands, and now he's Hayden, voice deeper by an octave and smoother by a mile. It makes Hayden feel like crawling out of his skin, hearing himself in there. "What the hell are you doing here?" He recognizes the warning note in his voice, too, sharp and even like shards of glass.
"Where is he?" Knox snaps.
"Who?" Nicholson returns, the edge growing longer. "There's nobody else here."
A pause follows, and then, "Don't fucking move." Hayden hears Knox's careless footsteps on their way across the room, and quickly circles around through the kitchen, keeping his own feet quiet like a good agent should.
Nicholson hadn't fucking moved, because he's still there when Hayden creeps through the hall and picks up Nicholson's cell phone from the table. They watch each other as Hayden walks out the open front door, Hayden accusing and Nicholson belligerent. This is Nicholson's fault; Knox must have followed him from the house, but as usual, they have everything covered - assuming Knox hadn't brought backup. (Then again, he reflects, almost amused, if there were backup, Knox would be the backup.)
There is only Nicholson's - Hayden's - car in the drive. At least Knox had thought to leave his car at a distance, even if his shadowing skills are less than desirable. He skirts around the side of the house, flipping Nicholson's phone open and going backward through the phonebook. 'Yale' leaps out almost immediately. He hits 'send.'
One ring and Yale picks up, sounding suitably sleepy for the hour. "Young?"
For a terrifying second, Hayden freezes up, caught between Nicholson and himself. Is Yale an enemy or a friend? He struggles with it, but recovers. "Yale," he says, picking up the same agitated edge Nicholson had worn just minutes ago, "I'd appreciate it if you'd come get your partner."
Yale is quiet for a second, probably trying to sort out what Hayden even meant. "Knox?" he asks. "Where are you?"
"My beachhouse," he replies, suddenly loathing the distance between Las Vegas and San Clemente. By the time Yale got here, he and Nicholson could've killed Knox and covered it up, but Hayden just blew that plan. "It's in San Clemente, just off the coast highway. Yearwood knows where."
"What the hell is Knox doing there?" Yale says. Hayden can hear fabric rustling in the background, probably clothing and blankets.
Is Yale aware of Knox's suspicions? Hayden doesn't know. Nicholson hadn't been specific enough. "Following up on his paranoia from earlier today," he answers, winging it.
The sound of a gun's magazine being dropped and reloaded is loud, close to the phone. "Fuck," Yale says, sounding as irritated as Hayden feels.
Frowning, Hayden offers, "I can put him on. Maybe he'll listen to you."
"Not fucking likely," Yale hisses. Hayden hears a deep murmur in the background, and the image of Shepherd, climbing out of the bed beside Yale half-clothed and sleep-tousled, strikes him with alarming clarity. "You have my permission to detain him, but don't let it get out of hand."
"Thanks," Hayden says, unable to keep the dryness out of his voice. Yale rubs him the wrong way most of the time. He's glad he hadn't worked with him much at all before the switch.
"Be careful, Young," he warns. "Knox is still under close watch by the Bureau; he's had issues with violence ever since the Academy."
Hayden snaps the phone shut and pulls the sleeve of his shirt over his hand, using it to quickly wipe the phone clean. Then he delicately lays the phone on the windowsill above him and makes quickly for the beach. He has to be out of here long before Yale and Shepherd arrive. They won't miss his car parked off the road.
As he starts his car, wincing at the sound of the ignition, however quiet, he pulls out his own phone. He texts Nicholson on his way back onto the road.
ordrs frm sac
With any luck, Nicholson will see the text in time to delete it, and Knox will be none the wiser. Either way, though, it isn't Hayden's problem anymore. He's done all he can to fix Nicholson's mistake, and he's on his way out of California.
Best of luck, jackass.
Knox clears the whole house before coming back to the living room, still looking pissed as all get-out. Max had stayed put, as instructed, more out of a desire not to draw attention than anything. Young stole his cell phone, and Max can only imagine he's making a phone call. If he knows what's good for him, it's a helpful one. Max isn't keen on tangling with Knox, but it looks like that's what's happening, here. He doesn't have much choice.
"You weren't here alone, Young. I heard you fucking talking."
Max summons up the most disdainful expression he can manage. "I was on my phone, Knox," he states, all ice and righteous anger.
"I heard him fucking talking!" Knox snaps, and Max supposes he should just be glad he didn't ask to see his phone, because he isn't too sure where it is. "Nicholson!" he rages on. "He was here, I fucking know it!"
"You wouldn't know Nicholson if you heard him!" Max growls back. It's all he can do to keep himself in check, not to mention in-character. Knox's determination makes him want to throw the real facts in his face. "Now make up your goddamn mind, kid! Am I trying to kill the man, or am I having covert beachside meetings with him?"
"I don't know!" Knox gestures wildly, bringing Max's attention to the gun in his hand. "But you know more about this than you're fucking telling anyone!"
Max keeps his eyes on the gun. "I sure as hell know more about this than you do," he cuts back, lip curling. "I've been on this task force for three years, longer than you've been with the Bureau!"
He would have gone on, but Knox interrupts. "So then tell me who the fuck tried to blow him up. If that wasn't you, who was it? Who else knew?"
"I don't know, maybe the people he was meeting?"
"We had them in custody!" Knox seethes. "Don't play fucking games!"
Max throws up his hands. "Who knows how long the bomb was in that building?! Maybe they planted it the day before he found the documents! The investigation into those papers isn't even finished yet!" He backs up suddenly as Knox stalks toward him, bringing the gun up under his jaw and forcing his back to the wall. "Watch your fucking gun, kid," he hisses through clenched teeth.
Knox's eyes are glinting, a little wild. The depths of them are reminiscent of a hungry animal, and the barrel of the gun seems to grow colder and harder under Max's jaw. Feeling along the wall, he finds nothing but the windowsill for assistance, and he can't hit Knox over the head with that.
"Shepherd may think you're a saint," Knox growls, "but I'm not buying it. You're fucking hiding something, and I'm gonna figure out what it is."
Across the sill, Max's fingers hit something. He creeps his hand over it, keeping his gaze on Knox's. His phone? At least Young brought it back, for all the good it'll do him. He palms it carefully, then flips it open behind his back.
The left button is the phonebook, and in alphabetical order: Ackerman, Allen, Fletcher, Harrison, Hunt, Ingalls, Kingston and Knox. Send.
"No one's fucking leaving this place until I get to the bottom of this," Knox is vowing when his phone hums in his pocket. He stares Max down, falling silent. Slowly, he removes his hand from Max's chest to take his phone out and slide it open. "Knox," he says, terse.
Max takes his chance, slim as it is. With one arm, he knocks Knox's gun hand out of the way and grabs his wrist in the process. Knox is quick to drop his phone and grapple.
The coffee table hits the back of Knox's knees just so when he's shoved backward, and he loses his balance. His grip on the gun fails when his back hits the table, knocking the wind out of him. Immediately, Max is on top of him, punching him in the face again and again and again. He punches him until Knox isn't moving anymore, until the warm wet slide of blood over his fingers where they hold Knox's jaw snaps him out of it.
Shit. He stumbles back, shaking his hand and sending drops of blood flying. Knox looks like he misread a 'do not walk' sign. Blood is draining from his nose and lips, and welling on his cheeks and around his eyes, where the force of Max's fists split the skin.
There's no point in hiding it; they'd been the only two here, so Max just wipes his hands on his pants. If he's being honest, he'd needed that. Young doesn't get into fistfights nearly often enough for his tastes, and the little almost-scuffle with Knox earlier that day had given Max a measure of two things: how much steam he needed to blow off, and just how much he wanted to pulverize Knox's punk ass.
He crosses the room to pick up his phone, dropped next to Knox's. The most recent call before Knox is Yale, confirming his suspicions. There's also a new text message, from Young himself (Max still recognized his own phone number, even after so long). Seems like Yale wants Knox detained.
Well, he's fucking detained.
Max deletes the text, but not the call to Knox. He'll need it to back up his explanation of the whole fight. He's tucking his phone into his pocket when he hears tires on the gravel drive and car doors slamming.
Yale? No fucking way. Las Vegas is three hours away at best. He couldn't have gotten there that fast, even with the way he drives. Max turns to face the door with Knox's gun in hand, and levels it at the man coming in.
The man puts up his hands, gun held loosely in his right. "Young," he greets, sounding surprisingly cordial given the situation. His eyes wander to Knox's prostrate form on the coffee table. "I see you've taken care of yourself. Good." Carefully, he looks back to Max's still-aimed gun. "You can put that down now. Shepherd called me."
Although loath to, Max lowers his gun. He has no clue who the fuck that is, and he has the nagging feeling that he should. The man seems to know him, or Young, at least.
In the doorway behind the man, a massive figure looms. The man steps aside, letting the figure in. He's as large as he'd looked, filling the entrance completely, and his hand is on a gun at his hip. The man himself holsters his own pistol - fed issue, if Max isn't mistaken - before coming further into the room. He approaches the coffee table to check Knox's pulse, grimacing almost comically at all the blood.
"He's alive, anyway," he declares, sounding rueful. "You certainly did a number on him, though. And here Shepherd was worried you'd need backup."
Max snorts. "He's not so difficult, if you catch him off-guard." He hadn't, though, had he? Knox had been watching him so carefully; he must have expected Max to make some half-assed attempt.
But he'd probably expected him to make it with his right hand, hadn't he? Max's eyes darken as he replays the scene in his head. He'd moved his left arm across his stomach and swept it up to knock Knox's arm out of the way... grabbed his wrist with his left hand... and punched the hell out of him with his left fist. He wonders if Knox will notice, or at this point, remember.
While Max is watching the slow-motion replay, the man settles onto the couch with his phone to his ear. Now Max hears him say, "Shepherd? Ashwell. Your partner seems to be perfectly able to hold his own; you shouldn't mother him so much." He chuckles. "The boy was unconscious when I got here. He's fine."
Ashwell. Max has heard the name but once or twice, tossed back and forth between Yale and Shepherd. To his recollection, Ashwell is an agent based in L.A., and Yale and Shepherd hold very drastically differing opinions of him. Shepherd must have called him because he was closer.
"Nonsense," Ashwell is saying, drawling and a little pointed. "I couldn't go back to sleep now if I tried. Besides, when have I ever passed up the chance to see you, Shepherd?" The little purr in his voice is half-mocking. "And Yale, of course. I'll be waiting." He smiles at Max, satisfied, as he tucks his phone away. "Besides," he adds to no one in particular, "Young here is excellent company."