There was a fire crackling in the fire place, bathing her whole living room in a warm orange glow. Carol sat down on her beige sofa in front of the fire, a glass of chilled white wine in her hand. Nelson, her grey cat, jumped onto her lap and kneaded her thighs with his claws before he settled down, tail wrapped around his body. Carol smiled and reached for the book on her table. An illustrated book about Tuscany. She loved the atmosphere of the landscapes. One day, she'd have to go there on vacation.
What was he doing there? How did he get here?
Tony couldn't remember consciously choosing to get to Carol's place. She hadn't come to see him since she had come back, so why would he seek her out now?
Because you need her. Because you screwed up. And because she always takes care of things you screw up. Face it, you can't function on your own. You need someone who takes you by the hand.
Shut up! What do you know?
I am you, you fuck-up. I know you. You need your Mummy, like you always do. So you come running to the one cronk who's most like your Mummy. You're nothing, just a middle-aged Mummy's boy.
Just shut up! Please...
Tony closed his eyes in anguish and leaned a hand against the door frame to steady himself. With a shaky hand, he rang the bell.
The chime of her door bell cut through the silence. Carol frowned and checked her watch. It was past 11 pm and she didn't expect any visitors. She was not due back at work for another week, so who could it be? Certainly no-one from work. And salesmen didn't visit people at this hour. She sighed when the bell rang again. She put her glass of wine down, pushed the book aside and moved Nelson from her lap. He hissed in disagreement.
„Sorry, Nelson, but someone demands my attention,“ Carol said apologetically and got up. She crossed the living room on bare feet, switched on the light in the hallway and peeked through the glass inlay of her front door. She drew in a deep breath; she couldn't believe who stood there on her door step. Carol opened the door and there he was: Tony Hill. Wet as a dog, dishevelled, head hung low, shoulders drooped. He looked awful.
„Tony? My God, what has happened to you?“ And when had it started raining?
She ushered him into the hall. He was shaking all over, but didn't meet her eyes. His dark blue suit and white shirt were drenched and dripping onto her parquet. His brown hair was plastered to his head.
„I...I...“ he stuttered, unable to say anything more. His teeth were shattering.
He couldn't say it. If he said it, it would become real. He couldn't even face Carol. How could he tell her what he'd done? Could he bare her disappointment?
If you can't bare to look at her, what the fuck are you doing here then? Can't even bring up the courage to tell his girl how much you've fucked up this time. Told ya!
Had he been crying? Despite the fact that they hadn't seen each other in years, Carol's stomach tightened and her heart ached when she saw her friend like this. Like a lost boy ready to hide under his bed from the horrors of the world. She snapped into action when he wouldn't move.
„For crying out loud, don't just stand there! Take off your jacket, your shoes and go into the living room. It's warm in there. I'll get some towels before you catch something.“
Without waiting for a reply, Carol hurried into her bedroom and got some large towels from her closet. Passing the body length mirror next to the door, she stopped for a moment and checked her appearances. She wore plain denims and a white woollen jumper and not her pyjamas, thank God! Her blonde hair was a little awry and not styled, but that couldn't be helped.
„Get a grip, Carol,“ she scolded herself when she realised what she was doing. This was neither the time nor the place for flirtation. Something had happened and Tony was more than just a little off. And he had come to her in his time of need. She couldn't help but to feel flattered.
Carol allowed herself a flicker of a smile before she hurried back into the living room. Her heart missed a beat when she saw Tony standing in the middle of the room, near to the fire place, head low, shoulders hunched – the picture boy of misery, from head to toe. The shivering had somewhat receded, but trembling he still was. She stepped closer, unfolded one large maroon towel and gently placed it around his shoulders.
Tony flinched under her touch and stepped away.
He longed for her touch, but he was afraid. Afraid he would fully crack and break down. He wanted her close, but being close would mean his defences would crumble and fall. He didn't have the strength any more to uphold them. Not tonight. Why did it hurt so much? Silently, he begged Carol to take away the pain. To tell him it was alright, that he did what he had had to do in order to survive.
Stop kidding yourself, you sissy! There's no excuse for what you've done. I've told you all along you were no better than them. Now you finally proved it to yourself. You are a failure. You need to be locked away. And the key thrown away.
He turned around and Carol saw his red rimmed eyes. So he had been crying. She wanted to just hug him and hold him tight and tell him that everything would be alright again, but she couldn't. She knew Tony too well to do that. So she waited. Her whole being screamed for him to tell her what had happened to him, but she also knew that he would eventually tell her. On his own terms and in his own time. Carol could do nothing but wait. And watch him pace up and down before her.
Minutes passed in silence. Carol stood rooted to the spot in the middle of her living room, between the hearth and the sofa. Only the crackling of the fire could be heard. The thick carpet swallowed the sound of Tony's steps. Then, at last, he drew a deep shaky breath and stopped pacing. His voice was barely more than a whisper when he spoke:
„I crossed the line.“
That was all he said. Carol frowned.
„What do you mean, Tony?“
Yeah, what do you mean Tony? It was never a matter of a line dividing good and evil. It was all a make believe, a smoke screen to make you feel better. You're a fraud, you always were. It's a wonder nobody ever saw through this. Go on, tell her what you did. Let's see if she really cares about your fucked up existence once she knows.
Tony's eyes filled with fresh tears.
„I killed him.”
He drew another breath as if to work up courage. “Well, he tried to kill me first, but I just couldn't stop. My hands wouldn't...they wouldn't...“ Tony looked down at his shaking hands, spreading his fingers in front of him, palms facing upwards. Carol followed his gaze. There were tiny cuts on them, skin scraped off at the knuckles. Dried blood. Signs of a struggle. She took a step closer, wanted to reach out, but Tony stepped back, once more maintaining the distance between them. He smiled awkwardly.
„I always said that the only thing that separated me from them was that I had never killed, that I never crossed that line,“ Tony went on, his voice rising. „Now that Michael's dead...I'm no better than them.“ He lashed out an angry hand towards the door. Towards „them“ - the killers, the abusers, the psychopaths.
„And it makes me wonder, Carol.“ For the first time, he addressed her directly, his eyes suddenly serious and...hopeless. There was no life in them, no sparkle. „Maybe I never was better than the scum you put away. Maybe it was all a lie, from the beginning till now. Maybe I was only better at hiding it. Maybe...it was all in here...“
Hey, don't blame me for being the fuck up you are, Mister! You did this all on your own.
Tony raised his right hand and hit himself on the side of the head. Again. And again. “Shut up,” he hissed. “Just shut up!”
Carol closed the distance between them in two long stride.
„Stop it, Tony!“ She yelled and grabbed both his wrists. She had always been stronger than him, but this time, Tony struggled against her grip. „Stop it,“ she repeated, manoeuvred herself behind Tony and grabbed him in a police grip. Tony tried to get free and stumbled, making them both fall backwards against the sofa. Only then did he lay still.
Did you just let yourself get wrestled down by a woman? What kind of man are you? Oh right, you are no man to begin with. You are a fraud, someone only passing for human. Why don't you give up, eh? Get it over with. Make everyone's life easier. Nobody would miss you anyway.
No, you're wrong! I help people. I...
You break people! Alex saw right through you at the beginning. She told you not to damage her as you damaged Carol, remember?
I didn't damage anyone! I didn't damage Carol!
Then why is she here with you, 'tard? Why isn't she still in South Africa on assignment?
Carol slowly released the grip. Tony's body was pressed against hers, her back pinned against the front of the sofa. She acted on instinct and wrapped her arms around Tony's limp body. All life seemed to have left him. Only a violent tremble showed her he was still conscious. Carol realised he was crying and it broke her heart. She had seen so much trauma, death and destruction in her life as a police officer and as an undercover agent, but nothing had her prepared for this. Never had she thought that Tony, her rock in a stormy sea, would break down like this. She cradled him in her arms, like a mother would cradle her child, ignoring the dampness of the towel Tony was still wrapped in.
„You are nothing like them, Tony.“
Carol spoke in a quiet voice, calming, reassuring. „You have something they don't have.“
„Yeah? What's that?“ Tony sniffled, angrily wiping away the tears.
„Compassion. You could never kill just for kicks. You feel too much for that. You are no soulless killer.“
You hear that? Carol understood, he knew she would. Do you hear that? Tony felt like he finally had won out against the voice. But of course, he had no such luck.
She just tells you what you want to hear, don't you see? You are so easily manipulated, even she can do it.
No! Not Carol!
Tony scrambled into a sitting position and looked at Carol, hope beginning to sparkle in his eyes. Despite the earnestness of the situation, Carol smiled lovingly. „You are a good person, Tony. No matter what your mother told you, no matter how much you say you only pretend you pass as human – you are good people.“
„But I...I killed someone, Carol. I took Michael's life. Even when he was already out cold...when I should've stopped...I just kept squeezing...and squeezing...“ Tony's hands mimicked the strangling motion and his voice broke. He covered his face with his hands. “I just couldn't stop...I was...so damn angry.”
Carol reached out and took his ice cold hands into hers. “That was the adrenalin. That wasn't you. Not the real you. You said yourself that he tried to kill you first. I know you, Tony. You wouldn't harm a fly.”
Is she serious? If you could, you would take out half of Bradfield. They are only safe because you're such a wimp. There's so much anger in you and finally everyone could see. Michael didn't stand a chance.
Tony shook his head forcefully and drew his hands back. His lips pressed together so they were nothing more like a bloodless thin line. “No,” he pressed. “No, I wanted to harm him. I wanted him to pay!”
A shudder went through his body. He wrapped his arms around him and cradled himself back and forth. “Oh God, what have I done, Carol? What have I DONE?”
Carol couldn't hold back her own tears any longer. She pulled Tony close again and just held him tight. No more words. No more platitudes. Just closeness. His body against hers. How she had longed for this closeness before. She had never imagined it to happen like this. That it needed a breakdown for Tony to end up in her arms. Her tears ran freely down her own cheeks now, hot and salty. She felt his trembling decreasing, but still she held him tight. She didn't want to let him go ever again. It hit her harder than she expected – she had missed this socially inapt, usually out of his depth, fidgeting, chaotic man. She had never stopped loving him. It hurt her to realise it only now when he was at the verge of a nervous breakdown after he had killed the man that had haunted him ever since he and Michael had met.
This felt...nice. After all these years, this was the most physical contact they ever had. Funny that it needed the worst experience of his life to come to this.
Don't get used to it. You can't be with a woman, remember? Can't get it up long enough to please anyone.
Him and Carol? They were just friends. She was just being a friend.
A friend with benefits if left to her own devices. You need to get out before this goes further and you'll add another disappointment to the list. “The disappointments of Tony Hill, by Carol Jordan” - how does that sound?
Couldn't that voice just let it be for once? That closeness felt nice, he wanted to enjoy it just a moment longer. He...he...
“Carol, I can't breathe,” she heard Tony's muffled voice as if from far away. She eased off and smiled foolishly.
Tony gave her one of his boyish grins, but it didn't reach his eyes.
“I should be sorry.” He scrambled to his feet, unsteady. “I...I should never have come here. I...no, I need to leave. I shouldn't...” He turned to go, his mind already elsewhere, the towel discarded on the thick birch coloured carpet.
Carol jumped up and held him back. “Don't be daft, Tony! Your clothes are still wet, you're tired, you're in shock, you're....” Carol realised she was stalling and running out of arguments. She took a deep breath and said what she really wanted to say.
Tony turned around and faced her, a look of bewilderment on his face.
Did he just hear her right? She wanted him to stay? He studied her face. Had he ever realised how beautiful Carol was? The way her hair was pushed back behind her ears. Her beautiful greenish-brown eyes. Was she crying?
“You're crying, Carol....” He raised his hand and wiped away the wetness on her cheek.
She smiled. “So are you.”
She cupped his face with her hands. The years had been kind to him, only a few more lines were etched into his features, especially around his eyes. His hair greying at the temples. His eyes were as blue as the sky, even if they were now red from the tears. They locked eyes. Neither of them spoke. The air around them seemed to be filled with electricity. Slowly, oh so slowly Carol inched closer to Tony's face, her eyes never leaving his. Tony's gaze wandered down to her lips and up again. Only mere centimetres separated them. Usually, one of them broke the spell at this point. But not this time.
Don't screw it up this time, Tony. You only have one chance! Take it!
Tony closed the rest of the distance and at last, their lips met. Carol couldn't help but moan in delight. Tony tasted salty from the tears, but there was another taste beneath that. What was it? Coffee? No, caramel. He tasted like caramel. Tony's lips parted and her tongue followed that invitation. His hand wandered towards her neck, pulling her closer. Her hands moved through Tony's thinning hair, still moist from the rain. Their kiss became more eager, more passionate, more intimate. All of their bottled up sexual tension became unleashed. Their hands started to rip at clothes, their breathing quickened. Carol grabbed Tony's hand and without breaking the kiss, she manoeuvred him towards her bedroom.
The bedroom? Oh nonononono. Not the bedroom. He couldn't go in there. He wouldn't stand a chance. He'd be a laughing stock.
But you want it too, don't you? You want to finally get what you had always wanted since you met her. You want to be with her.
Yes, he wanted that, but he couldn't give her what she wanted, what she needed.
Then you better stop it right there.
Tony broke the kiss, panting. His shirt was already unbuttoned, his vest pulled out from his trousers. He stopped dead. “Carol...I can't...we shouldn't...”
Carol pulled him towards her and put her index finger on his moist lips. “Shhh. Don't think, Tony. Don't think at all. Just follow the flow.” She nodded and smiled. “I wanted to do this since the day we met.”
Tony raised his eyebrows. “You did?” He asked, disbelief in his voice.
“Well, not really on the day we met. But yes, I wanted to do this for years.” She smiled broader and leaned in for another kiss. This time, Tony grabbed her eagerly and pulled her close, all the while pushing her towards her bed. Surprised, Carol's heart missed a beat. But she was strangely attracted to this somewhat wilder side of him. He started tugging at her jumper and pulled it up. Carol quickly broke the kiss to get rid of the obstacle. She in turn pulled Tony's vest up and over his head. It got tangled with his shirt, but it didn't matter. Some pulling and some force and off it was. Carol knew that Tony was subconscious about his sexual stamina, so instead of undressing him further, she pulled him down onto the bed with her. Her fingers interlocked with his as they lay side by side, panting, faces heated with excitement and arousal. Carol met Tony's gaze. God, she could drown in those bright blue eyes. She studied his face, the face she got to know so well in all their years working together, during the time they were there for each other. She studied every wrinkle, every line. The dark shadows under his eyes. The dark stubble on the lower side of his face. And further down went her eyes. She drank it all in. The dark hair on his chest, peppered with grey. His pink nipples standing out. Her eyes wandered up towards his again. For once, she was not mentally putting together an Identikit picture. Tonight, she wasn't a police officer, she was a woman. A woman with needs. And right there and then, she needed Tony Hill.
“Did I pass the exam?” Tony whispered. He sounded half amused, half scared.
Carol smiled. “With flying colours.”
Tony frowned. “You see I never understood why people say that...”
“Shut up, Tony.”
Yeah shut up, Tony! Take a hike, Mr Overthinker. He had just to do as Carol said – to just follow the flow. Carol knew him. She wouldn't judge him. She wouldn't be disappointed. She wanted to take this path. He just had to lead!
Carol's lips searched for his again. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warmth next to her, the sensation of Tony's tongue searchingly moving into her mouth. A warm tingling went through her and settled in her nipples and her love triangle. She longed for him to further undress her, to caress her, to make love to her. She wanted to feel him inside her, to fill her out, to fuck her mindless. Just as she wanted to make the first move, she felt Tony pull her hand towards him. She felt it being placed on his crotch. She felt him. And without breaking the intense kissing, she started stroking his cock through the fabric of his trousers. She heard him moan and felt him stirring into hardness. Gently, she opened the zipper and continued caressing him. Her fingers found their way past his pants.
She was so gentle. It felt so...comforting, liberating. She seemed to enjoy it too. He just needed to go on, he needed to not screw this up.
Forgotten what it feels like, have ya? When was the last time you did this? When was the last time you were this hard and it wasn't because of some fucked up play of phone sex? And when was the last time it wasn't a patient who got you up?
Tony tensed when she found his naked skin and Carol withdrew slightly. She didn't want to ruin it, not this time. So instead, she went on caressing his thigh until she felt Tony's body relax again. Only then did her fingers find their way back towards his cock. The rough fabric of Tony's boxers was in stark contrast to his soft skin. He got harder and Carol's longing grew. Her insides were on fire, sparked by lust, longing and arousal. She felt Tony's hand move. Gently, he pushed her bra up and exposed her breasts. Wherever he touched her naked skin, her skin tingled. His hands were softer than she had imagined. His touch was gentle, caring, careful even. When he teasingly played with her hard nipple, Carol cried out in ecstasy. Her fingers scurried underneath Tony's boxers again. This time, Tony didn't tense. She found the tip of his now fully hard dick and gently let her fingertip encircle its tip. Tony threw his head back and moaned. She opened her eyes to watch him. Forgotten were her need to be taken. All she wanted to do was to give him the pleasure he deserved. For now, that was all that counted. He looked so relaxed in that very moment, she could have cried with joy. His hand was still on her breast, just resting there. It was the greatest feeling in the world for her. She gently pushed Tony down on his back and went to open his belt.
You better stop there, pal. You won't be hard enough anyway. You will not be hard long enough. Not enough to fuck her the way she deserves. You just killed someone, you shouldn't be having fun with your girl. What's wrong with you? You don't deserve to be caressed, to be loved, when Michael's corpse is growing cold and starting to decompose in that van where you left him. Where you killed him.
Suddenly, Tony looked up, his eyes bright in fear.
“Carol, please...don't...” he pleaded, his voice hoarse.
Underneath her hand, she felt him go limb again. Her eyes saw the tears welling up in Tony's eyes. His face fell. The hand on her breast withdrew and covered his face. He let his head fall back onto the covers.
“I'm sorry, Carol...I'm so sorry,” he sobbed.
Carol's eyes misted over. This was so unfair. Tony deserved some happiness. Her needs were not important any longer. She laid back down and drew him into an embrace, his face cradled against her chest.
“Don't be sorry, Tony. Please...I...I shouldn't have pushed you. I am so sorry...” she whispered against his head. Tears were running down her face. She had wanted it all. And she had lost.
“I am so sorry.”