“You know, there’s not much I can do to you with a whole cage between us. Could you at least loosen the cuffs?”
“I’m sure there is plenty that you could do.”
“Not scared. Just not looking to make my life more difficult.”
“Then you probably should’ve just let me be.”
Landon made eye contact with Hannah through his rearview mirror, and she smiled at him.
“When we first met, you weren’t scared either. Remember what a mistake that was?”
Landon chuckled. “I wouldn’t say that the lack of fear was my issue the last time we met.”
“So you admit, you were afraid?”
“I was new and stupid.”
“And now you’re seasoned and wise.”
“Now I’ve been fooled by you once. Shame on you.”
“You were concerningly easy to fool. I worry about the citizens of Rockford.”
“I don’t work for the citizens of Rockford anymore.”
“Oh? And who do you work for now?”
Hannah raised an eyebrow. “Now, I know that’s not true. Everyone answers to someone.”
Landon peered at her through the rearview again. They were at a red light. “And who do you answer to?”
Hannah smiled and held his gaze. When the light finally went green, he broke the eye contact. Hannah wasn’t sure how he’d been watching her and the light at the same time.
“You know, Landon, you’ve got me all wrong.”
“Yes. You think I’m some clever, quick- witted, gorgeous-looking badass that lies and cheats and steals and murders. Did you ever think that maybe I had, like, a really good reason for all of those things?”
“You’re not that clever.”
“That wasn’t my question. The traits I listed weren’t up for debate. Though I did notice that you didn’t refute my quick-wit and gorgeous badassery so 2 out of 3.”
“There are definitely a few more traits I would list, but most of yours are fair as well. Why don’t you tell me all of your reasons for committing crimes, then?”
Hannah smiled widely. “I would, but then I’d be confessing. And also, you’re not ready to hear them.”
Landon chuckled. “Hannah, I have been up more nights than I can count wondering where you were and what other crimes you were committing and why you were committing them. If you could tell me why, maybe I could get some sleep.”
Hannah shifted in the uncomfortable plastic seat, trying to relieve some of the pressure from the handcuffs. “So what you’re saying is that you think about me at night while you’re in bed? No wonder your marriage didn’t work.”
Hannah saw Landon’s hands tighten imperceptibly on the steering wheel, but the grin on his face never shifted even an inch. Hannah respected his ability to remain composed, even when he wasn’t. A skill he must have refined as an officer, though Hannah remembered admiring his composure even as a new cop. It was one of the things that she had struggled with at first. It had taken her years to school her facial expression to reflect indifference when inside she was experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. But she had honed the skill. She had nothing but time back then to hone it. And if she was honest, there had not been much else for her to work on because there weren’t many things that she struggled with. It was only natural with her ability.
“You know, Landon. You’re the only one that has ever caught me. I mean, after I was fully trained to evade capture.”
“I’m honoured. But I guess the amount that I should be honoured really depends on who trained you to evade capture?”
“The United States government.”
Landon laughed loudly. “I missed your outlandish stories.”
“I would say ask them, but I can guarantee that you don’t know anyone with a high enough security clearance to verify my story.”
“Besides, if you tell them that I’m here, I’m dead. Or worse.”
“You don’t want to know. It would seriously undermine your faith in this country and its justice system.”
“You might be overestimating my existing faith.” Landon sighed. “So is that what you’ve been up to since we last met? Missions for the government?”
His words sent Hannah back; far back to a distant past that was so completely removed from her life at present, and yet so shockingly clear that she could almost reach out and touch it. The memories surrounded her, and she blinked them away, focussing back on Landon.
Her voice was as smooth as butter, despite the trouble that she was suddenly having with taking a deep breath. The response was automatic, like someone else. She wondered if he noticed.
“Not since I was 13. If they got hold of me, I’d never be free again. They wouldn’t make that mistake twice. As for what I’ve been doing, it’s way more unbelievable than anything else I’ve told you before; but let’s just say I’ve been working with a team to keep a powerful object out of the hands of a corrupt figure.”
“Bet the US government regrets training you to evade capture now,” Landon suggested dryly, casually.
Hannah had spent countless hours asking herself that very question. Had she done enough for them prior to escaping, that even now, they would do it again? Were they abducting another child even as she had these thoughts? Though, she wasn’t sure that what happened to her could really be counted as abduction.
“Have I heard of this corrupt figure?” He pulled her back to the present again.
Landon snickered, but then, his expression got more serious in the mirror.
“You know, Hannah, you may not believe this, but I want to help you.”
“Oh yeah?” Hannah grinned.
Landon’s expression remained solemn. “Yes. But the only way that I can help you is if you’re honest with me. And I’m not just talking about what you’ve done. I’m talking about the stories. I know that you tell them to cover up something else. I need you to tell me what that something else is. You’re young. This does not have to decide the course of your whole life.”
Hannah felt her grin slip a little, but forced herself to keep it plastered on her face. She knew that as an officer trying to get a confession out of a potential murderer, he needed to say these things. Strangely, though, she still didn’t doubt his sincerity. And maybe that made her stupid. Gullible. But what difference did it make, anyway? He’d never believe her. “Thanks Landon, but the course of my life was decided when I was 5 years old. Sooner, depending on who you ask. But I didn’t know until then, so I guess that’s all that really matters to me.”
Landon furrowed his eyebrows. “Why 5 years old?”
“That’s when I became the property of the government. When my parents signed my life away.”
“You mean when you were put into the foster system?”
“Hannah. Please. I want to help you—”
Hannah felt a mixture of frustration and longing bubble up inside of her. But she maintained the grin. “You can’t.”
“How will you ever know that for sure unless you’re honest with me?” Landon sighed. “Tell me your name. Your real name.”
She let the grin dissipate into nothingness. “Hannah is my real name. The rest doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t find anything. I was erased from history a long time ago.”
Landon pulled the car into a parking spot at the station. “Okay. If that’s how you want it.”
“That’s how it is. It has never mattered what I wanted.”
Landon watched her for a couple more seconds in the mirror, then got out of the car to walk around to her door. Hannah sat there in the uncomfortable silence. She didn’t like feeling like this. She didn’t like talking about herself, or thinking about her past. It didn’t help, and it was miserable to remember. Most of it, anyway. Hannah had always avoided talking about it by deflecting the conversation somehow, like finding humour in situations that were often inherently horrific. But for some reason, Landon had always been able to bring it out of her, despite the very few and very brief encounters that they’d had. It was one of the only things that scared her, and a large part of the reason why she had avoided him for so long. It’s not that she was afraid of being captured; in fact, she had almost turned herself into the government many times just to end this. And she’d always assumed that when she finally made that choice, she would turn herself into Landon and let him have a win. But she was afraid of what she would say to him, and what he would hear, and what he would think. And she was afraid of what they might do to him if she said too much. She may have already said too much. She’d never told any of the others anything about herself, though she’d always suspected that Charles knew things he didn’t say. The only other person she’d told about her past was dead now, so no risk there. She didn’t want to risk Landon’s life, but it was like she had no control over her own words when they were speaking. She hated being out of control.
Landon pulled the door open and took her arm, pulling her out of the car gently. He wore an expression of disappointment on his face, and Hannah had to look away from it.
“You know, Landon. I’m sorry if I kept you up at night.”
Landon raised an eyebrow at her.
“I mean it,” she said. “It’s not worth it, staying up at night thinking about me. I’m sorry if I ever interfered with your career. I wish you hadn’t been the one to capture me, because then you wouldn’t have been the one to lose me.”
Landon gazed down at Hannah like he wasn’t really sure how to respond. Again, there was a long moment of eye contact, and Hannah felt exposed, like her eyes were giving too much away. A great terror rose inside of her. A terror she’d never felt. A terror that was born from the risk of losing control. Because Hannah knew, in that moment, that she would answer any question he asked; and that was very dangerous.
“Your case is what has kept me going in this career,” he finally answered, quietly, like he didn’t want anyone else to hear. But there was no one else around. “Most of what I see is petty crime, or horrific crime, and what I do is paperwork. I work to solve those crimes, and I hit a dead end. It’s damaging. And it’s exhausting. But I always come back to you. My first real mystery. Trying to unravel the puzzle of Hannah Doe is what has kept me fascinated. What has kept me going. Thinking that maybe one day I’d find you, and I’d—” he hesitated, and then seemed to decide he was finished speaking.
“Hannah Doe?” she asked.
“Well you won’t tell me your last name.”
“What do I get if I tell it to you?”
Landon laughed. “Nothing, now. Not after you’ve just informed me that it won’t tell me a single thing.”
Hannah smirked back, but felt her stomach drop. She’d already said too much without even realizing it. He knew too much.
Hannah took a deep breath, and Landon’s smile drooped. “Are you okay?” he asked. He’d noticed the change in her. Wasn’t she still smirking? Wasn’t she still playing the part?
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
Landon furrowed his eyebrows again, and then let out a slow breath. Then he turned his body away from the station and towards her, moving closer to her. He closed the car door fully and put a hand on each of her shoulders. This put him in a very vulnerable position. He must have known it. She knew it. She could get away, right now. Head butt. Knee to the groin. Heel of her foot to the instep of his foot. She could get him on the ground and into a choke hold. She could grab the keys and undo her cuffs before anyone in the station even realized what was happening. She could open the cruiser door again and use it as a shield so they wouldn’t be seen; she could leave him inside, and no one would even notice for a while. She’d have a decent head start. All of these things went through her head in a split second, and she could have sworn that he saw it in her eyes. But he did not move, and he did not break eye contact.
Hannah sucked in a breath. The way that he said her name was strange. Not what she was used to. She was used to hearing her name spoken like she was an authority, a leader, like she was a friend, or like she had done something exasperating. But he spoke it in a tender way. Not like he was asking for something, but like he was offering something. Something that she desperately needed.
She shut her eyes, because she didn’t want him to read her thoughts there. Logically, she knew it was ridiculous, because she’d know if he had an ability. And maybe it was all the time spent with the others, tricking her mind into seeing magic where there was none, but he seemed to have some sort of otherworldly ability of his own. Something she’d never encountered before.
“Hannah.” She wished he’d stop saying her name. “Look at me.”
Without really considering the consequences, she opened her eyes. And strangely, it helped. It didn’t make her feel vulnerable. It made her feel safe. Like maybe she could read his thoughts in his eyes. Like maybe he wanted her to.
“I want to help you. I do. I know I’m a cop, and I’m the enemy, and I know you don’t trust me. And I know I have you in handcuffs right now. But I do want to help you.” He hesitated, and she watched the war inside of his eyes. “And if you tell me your last name, no one else has to know.”
“Isn’t that some sort of crime?”
Landon smiled widely, and Hannah felt herself exhale. “Crimes require proof.”
“I think that’s convictions,” Hannah said.
He shrugged. “At the end of the day, what’s the difference?”