Saw that coming…
For years, the people he hung out with, went on missions with, risked his life with and for, wore brightly colored costumes and tried to come up with cool catch phrases. Tim had never tried to make one up, but as many times as he found himself repeating it, this was as close as he ever got to one.
Saw that coming. Those were the words that passed through his mind when he stumbled for no reason and ran into a woman he barely recognized. It was crazy how much a couple of years change someone, especially when they’re young. Of course her physical appearance was largely the same. A bit leaner here and there, but for the most part the same striking features. It was her eyes that were unfamiliar. He had learned to see so much more than the outer shell of a person in recent years. In one glance, her eyes told volumes. The most recognizable was the visions of the tragedy they shared. She thought she buried it so deep, but he could see those memories right on the surface hammered and welded into place like plate armor.
He had been expecting someone. The surprise was that it was her. He had prepared himself for the most emotional of chance encounters. Piper, Jamie, any one of the other directors; but he hadn’t thought it would be her. Just days ago as he and his fiancé moved their stuff into the house they would share in a few short months, they came across the box. It was a foot locker from the old days. It was painful explaining the bullet holes and blood stains in the stack of monochromatic shirts and pants, the shredded tactical vest. He almost cried when he picked up the goggles.
She called him that name again. “Back-up?”
The light southern accent came naturally; the smile was forced. “Sorry ma’am, I think you have the wrong man.” Now it was his turn for his eyes to tell their story. “I’m not him.” Even unsaid, the word ‘anymore’ hung loud in the air.
“It’s Tim.” He shook her gloved hand once, “I guess I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
She answered in silence.
Café Du Monde was just around the corner. “Coffee?” and seeing how covered up she was, “iced coffee?”
Right. Of course. Don’t use call-signs outta costume, moron. ”Of course,” she said aloud, with a smile and apologetic shrug. “Tim.” She’d known him fairly well, back in the old days, but not quite well enough for the first of his names to come to mind for her to be his given one. Looking at him she saw Back-up.
And she wondered, for a moment, what to introduce herself as. Wondered whether he still remembered her given name, which she’d dropped years ago when she’d left California, or if she ought to tell him the latest in the string of aliases she’d adopted.
His offer of coffee cut into her musings, and for a second all she could do was stare as a new set of questions sprang up. Wait, he’s not mad I ran off? Should I go with, or leave? Do I really want to catch up, after all this time telling myself that part of my life’s over with?
And she found that actually… yes, she did. Moving as she had from place to place these past years hadn’t left a lot of room for cultivating friendships, and Back-up was a friend. What would it be like to just sit and talk for a while again, like a normal person?
And he was offering cold drinks.
"Sounds good," she replied, smile brightening. "Lead the way." They started off, descending into silence for a minute, and Mnemonic looked up and down the street as they did, still taking the scenery in.
"So, Tim," she started. Then she paused, not entirely sure what to say. "Ah… didn’t expect to run into you out here… thought you’d still be out on the West Coast, I guess," she tried. "How… how’ve you been?"
The more diversity you find in people, the more you realize how enormously alike we all are. People are predictable, even without precognitive abilities. It’s funny how those with so much to tell, with such a burden to let someone in and really know them, always seem to put up the biggest walls to prevent that. And they always ask the same question. How are you?
How are you? As if anyone actually wants a real honest answer to that question. As if anyone actually wants to give it.
“How’ve you been?”
Tim had always been a think before you speak kind of guy. It was common for him to pause and ponder his answer for a few seconds.
He chuckled, “Well, you know how it goes. Some days are good, some are bad. But days are made up of moments and you get good and bad versions of those too. In the end though, the bad moments remind you to squeeze as much enjoyment as you possibly can out of the good ones.”
He paused to let that sink in. Maybe it would give her a booster shot of hope. They turned the corner from St. Peter to Decatur headed toward Café Du Monde in silence.
“I haven’t been out west for a while. New Orleans was always my home. Trying to help the helpless in my own backyard, ya know? I still get the occasional villain but around here, people’s worst enemy is themselves.”
He picked a path through the perpetually crowded sidewalks between Jackson Square and the Levee, weaving around oncoming pedestrians and dodging local artists selling their works and carriage drivers looking for a group to take on a tour all the while making sure she was close on his heels.
“Plus, Tanner didn’t need me anymore, so I took my leave.” He had to strain to be heard above the jazz band playing across the street.
Waiting at the corner across the street from the famous coffee shop, He lowered his head and his voice. “To be honest, there was an over abundance of bad moments before I…before either of us left. You never really get over losing people. And betrayal…well…”
He felt the cold shiver of grief wash over him. He hated remembering those times. He blamed himself, probably as much as she blamed herself. It wasn’t a contest though.
Without looking at her, he inhaled sharply and stuffed the emotions back behind the dam that threatened to break every day and asked the question one asked in this situation. “So, Courtney…Is it still Courtney? I know you’ve never really liked that name. You can see it all over your face every time someone used it. It wouldn’t surprise me if you changed it since then. You look like you’ve lived more than a few lives since the last time I saw you…Maybe you’re living a few of them right now.”
He paused again trying to remember what the original question was.
“How are you?”