"Who is she…" Nancy wondered. José had just announced that they would be leaving Tekax soon, and she still wasn't able to place the woman she'd encountered some time ago. Usually if she knew someone, she was able to remember who that someone was within a few minutes. So ostensibly this meant that she probably didn't know the stranger.
Still, it didn't sit well with her.
Oh yeah. She had forgotten Sonny was there.
Nancy looked over to address him and immediately regretted it. There was an undeniable attractiveness about him that felt strangely like being home, at a home where she'd never been. His nose was in perfect proportion to his face. A playful quality wrapped around his smooth and supple lips. Even the purple glasses added something, very subtle and fine, to his appearance.
All these things she'd noticed before and was able to get away from.
But the eyes ensnared her.
They always had.
Nancy took a deep breath. She used power of observation to notice details. When applied to suspects, it was always to determine a possible incongruity between words and facial expressions to expose lies.
Not to ogle her client.
But Bess had definitely warned her about the eyes.
Maybe she should've listened to her. Maybe then she wouldn't have had to be so distant when she talked to him in New Zealand. Business was business, though. This hadn't been the first time she had to put things into context with some of the better-looking suspects.
It was, on the other hand, the hardest.
And speaking of business being business…
"That woman I saw earlier." She frowned. "I've seen her somewhere before, and she seemed to know me."
"Someone seems to know you?"
"Yes." Nancy said in surprise. "You mean you didn't see her?"
"Guess not." Sonny replied, stroking his chin. "But that formation of clouds is interesting." He pointed ahead. "See?"
"You're not focusing," she chided.
"On what? Some stranger who rubbed you the wrong way?"
"She wasn't just some stranger. I have a hunch."
"Oh." Sonny's eyes stopped on a cluster of people in front of them. Then he turned to her. "Well, that's different."
Nancy fought the temptation to roll her eyes. Anything remotely intuitive was valuable to him. "I watched a movie once that said, 'Detectives aren't allowed to believe in coincidences.'" She let the words linger in both their minds before continuing. It had always struck her, how honest and succinct they were. "I can't ever leave a stone unturned."
"That's…" Sonny shook his head and blinked. "Wow. Now I sort of get it."
Her eyes stayed with distant figures of the team. She was getting really far behind. "Get what?"
"What you do every day," Sonny replied simply. "Seriously, though? I wouldn't worry about it." His voice lowered in pitch. "You don't think she's dangerous, do you?"
"I don't know," Nancy said. "But I suppose if she actually knew me, she would have blown my cover right away."
"Likely," Sonny offered.
"So I saw that you mentioned a few specific rituals that the bowl could have been used for in your notebook."
He let out a laugh. "You're still reading my things?"
She shrugged. "Enough of them."
"How did you even know I brought one?"
Nancy slowed her step, moving behind him and reappearing at his left side. She lifted his hand and tapped the blue stain on the side of it. "This."
Sonny looked at her in confusion. His fingers involuntarily closed over hers.
"Besides," a grin spread over her face, "aren't you always leaving those things behind?"
"I don't know," he said blankly.
Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Nancy continued. "There's something special about that bowl; you're right. The fact that it's made of wood and it nonetheless survived—whole—is a point of distinction. I'm dying to find out what it's all about."
"And I'm sure you will, soon."
"Maybe." Nancy's focus shifted from the conversation to the whirring, cogitative vibes of her brain. Home for her was a speed, not a place. "I need more, I think. More finds."
Sonny nudged her shoulder with his. "You've got more finds. It'll happen in good time."
"I almost wish it wouldn't," She said to the horizon.
"Well," he said, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand, "I suppose I could hide all of the discoveries until you see fit to investigate them. You know, while you spend time here until you get sick of it. Except I don't know if I can resist taking a peek at the artifacts in the meantime. Sorry."
"Of course you can't." Realizing that they had stopped, Nancy started walking again, mind basking in the hypotheticals. "But if you spoil them for me when I get back, I'll be really mad, okay?"
He looked over, smiling, pleasantly surprised that she was playing the game. "I'm pretty good at not spoiling things," he said.
Instantly Nancy remembered his hidden agenda at Pacific Run. "You're too good at not spoiling things," she agreed. Redirecting the conversation to his notes, she spoke again. "I did want to hear more about that rough account you wrote about the Mayans, here, two thousand years ago."
"There used to be a Mayan civilization, older than any other. It was a large, thriving civilization, meant to last a long, long time. Remnants have been discovered for many, many years and continue to be dug up to this day."
Nancy watched as she listened. He gestured with his free hand as he spoke, resurrecting long-fallen buildings and people in his reconstruction of history, pointing to approximate locations where they would have stood if this were Usrique. His dark eyes were unchanging, the reflecting, simmering embers of the fire just above them. Every so often he would glance over at her, and she was as quick to look away. Every time the orange hair lingered in her vision, scorched onto her eyelids. Even it had grown on her. "Incredible," she murmured.
Her eyes snapped back into focus.
"You like my version of things?" Sonny asked with a hint of amusement.
"It's… captivating," she said with a light chuckle. "But also very, very unlikely."
"Not as unlikely as it seems," he replied ebulliently. "It might be true."
A few minutes ago this would have annoyed Nancy. Right now it didn't. Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe she was starting to respect his opinion.
No matter how far out in left field it was.
"And… about that… I've been curious about something for a while now, Nancy." He glanced sideways at her. "Why did you want to help me this time around? It's not like you believe in this stuff."
"I took it because…" She bit her lip. To tell, or not to tell? "I don't turn down cases," she admitted.
"That's the only reason?"
Sonny's eyes lowered to the road. "You've never turned down a case?"
After a moment of hesitation, she shook her head.
"So nobody has tried to use your skills for bad instead of good?"
"I've been lucky."
"Are you still thinking about if you're going to stop with the cases?"
"It's not a question of if." Her smile tightened. "It's a question of when."
"Shame," Sonny replied vaguely. "Then I'll have no reason to keep calling."
Her smile revitalized, and she looked up at him before she could think about what she was doing. "And what about your future?" she heard herself asking.
"What do you mean?"
"Are you going back to school?"
He let out a laugh. "You did read everything."
"You wanted me to," Nancy retorted.
"Pretty lame excuse. You would have read them anyway."
"Not if they weren't interesting."
"But everything I write is interesting."
"I doubt that."
One eyebrow slanted up. "Interesting enough for you to remember."
"In case you couldn't tell, I remember most things."
"Ah, but—" Sonny started to say. He paused, triumphant, mouth open to say something better, index finger in the air. Slowly his grin faded. "Hmmmmm." His eyes turned hazy and contemplative as they lowered to his boots.
Nancy crossed her arms and suppressed a smirk. Finally she had beat him at his own game. Catching people off-guard.
But somehow, watching him, she forgot to revel in her victory.
Wasn't her fault that he was so damned distracting when he was thinking hard about something.
"You've got me there," he said finally. Then he proceeded with the topic. "Until recently I was pretty dead set against going back and finishing my degree. But it might actually help. For credibility reasons."
"Yeah, a doctorate makes an alien expert seem much less crazy. Definitely see how that works."
"PhD, and yes, it does, actually. Studying extraterrestrial life is pretty complicated. Proving the existence of aliens isn't just, ooo, aliens," he waved his arms around for effect, "it takes an acute knowledge of astrobiology and/or astrophysics. And Udub has a graduate program geared at astrobiology. Of course I specialize in exobiology, the smaller group of that—"
Nancy would never admit she was lost. Instead she memorized the terms to write in her notebook, noting to herself to add an asterisk and a note: online.
Of course, most people would be lost in the ramblings of a madman.
"—and I'm sure that knowing more and having more to show for it would bring more people to the classroom—"
"—for more fake lessons," Nancy added.
Sonny sighed. "For more fake lessons in the bogus classroom, yeah, sure, but it might bring more people to S.P.I.E.D. and the support would allow us to do infinitely more, so much faster, and we might actually stand a chance. I wish I could do as much with a Masters, but let's face it, nothing beats being able to put 'Sonny Joon, PhD' on the cover of my next book."
"The artifacts have been assembled and the beacon has been sent, or so you believe. What more do you want?"
"To follow up on the results. Make sure that we're all capable of living with considerate…ness… is that a word?"
Nancy nodded quickly.
"—all capable of living with considerateness, not just a small number of us. Watch for the signs and make sure I'm where they want me to be, doing the things they want me to do." Sonny began to talk faster. "Hope that the impact is more than what I can see…"
Sensing the abruptness, Nancy waited for him to gather his thoughts and continue.
"I think, in a way, that's what we're all supposed to do. I see you doing it. Making sure injustices are exposed. As many of them as you can, if you can't even turn cases down."
"I can turn cases down," she retorted. "I just haven't learned how to yet."
"Fair enough," Sonny replied. "But point is, you don't have to believe in the Testers to want what I want. Nobody does. Jamila doesn't, and I know she believes in aliens about as much as most normal people do. Zilch."
"There are other ways to get there," Nancy said. "Why the need to make a good impression on the aliens?"
"Because the other ways aren't working; or at least they're not working fast enough. Sometimes you need belief as a catalyst to get other people to see the importance of your message."
Nancy stepped carefully around a pothole. "That can get dangerous," she said. She attended church with her father when she could. It brought her a solace she couldn't find in other places. But she remembered distinctly her history lessons, specifically the ones detailing the Crusades.
Sonny nodded. "It can. That's one good thing about S.P.I.E.D. being such a small group. People don't get out of control. It'd be nice to get a few more people, but I mostly like it the way it is. And it's not likely that we're ever going to get very many people, not enough to get a subset of extremists. Yeah, though, main point, lots of other people have the same idea."
Pondering this, Nancy stayed silent.
"It would be cool to meet them, though," Sonny mused. "All the rest of the parts of the story are there."
A few more seconds passed before she spoke. "So, being in the right place, staying until knowing it's the right time, since I assume that you have to get there before to make sure you are there when something happens. All very vague. Just as vague as when you first talked to me about this. So I'm asking, again, what exactly are we looking for?"
"We're looking for proof that Mayan civilization is older than we think, proof that this place has some sort of significance. To fulfill those roles set for us by being in the right place in exactly the right time."
"That's…" Nancy's nose wrinkled. "Not very specific."
"Does it need to be?"
"And it's almost exactly what you told me before."
"It's all I know."
"Running around without any idea of why we're here is dangerous. Even more so when the site is dangerous in its own right."
"If it gets too dangerous, we're outta here. But things are progressing. I think we'll find what we're looking for."
"And how will you know you've found what we're looking for when you have no idea what that object is in the first place?"
"Good question." Sonny stretched his neck toward his other shoulder. "I can only really say that it's always worked out before. I've always left a place with something I didn't have when I went there. I don't know what I'm looking for, but I know something's here."
The talking died down after that, and Nancy's thoughts lagged in the heat. For a while she might have even stopped thinking, simply allowing her mind to become a vessel for all of the sense-inducing elements of the city. Not until the vehicles were in sight did she return to case details.
She looked down at their still-linked hands, puzzled. How had that happened?
Oh, right. That had been her move.
Her face froze. What was she doing? Was she…
That did it. No more Sonny for the next week. At this rate it would take her that long to find something worth reporting to him, anyway.
With Ned, everything had been so simple. They always agreed, almost never fought, exchanged dorky text messages and quick kisses between planes taking her from one case right to another. And when she returned he was always there after the weeks or months she'd be gone, with open arms.
Everything about it had been perfect. Ned never annoyed her with weird questions. All his questions were straightforward, about the places she'd seen. And he'd never been to those places, so he was content just to listen. No follow-ups. No jealousy over her experiences. Just words and the cozy space between words, curled around them in easy chairs in the Nickersons' living room before a fire.
Even the breakup had been perfect. No questions afterward. No tears. Just a single truth that was perfectly sensible and shouldn't have gotten so far under her skin.
She missed him so much.
But somehow, here, she lost all of the words that were said that day to the easy chairs, the laze, the warmth.
Maybe, just maybe, things were less complicated than she was making them out to be.
No more Sonny next week… she reminded herself, halfheartedly.
A glow surrounded them with a quiet hum of energy that never abated. At any point it could grow more jagged, less smooth. Some days it would roar. But today it was halcyon, stagnant, like the heartbeat of someone at rest.