He walked into the bar slowly, wondering what the hell he was doing. He should have just ignored the message. That would have been better for everybody. Dredging up the past and trying to relive it almost always resulted in more trouble than happiness.
But he couldn't. Instead, he had listened to it again. And again, staring at the chip on the answering machine as her voice came through the speaker. And finally, he had called, leaving a message of his own. Meet me at Mickey's tomorrow at noon, he'd said. Like her, he'd turned off the video. He wasn't sure why, exactly.
He had purposely chosen a bar that he did not frequent. Again, better for all concerned if things didn't work out. Nobody knew him there, so nobody could point her in his direction. The fact that she knew where he lived didn't register on his mind.
When he entered the bar, a bit early, once more he noticed that she had preceded him there and was waiting for him. This time, though, he recognized her right away. She did not look a great deal different than she had the last time they had seen each other: still wearing jeans and T-shirt, although now the T-shirt was covered with a dark green leather jacket instead of a black one. She'd had her hair cut shorter, too: it now just touched the top of her collar and swept back from her high forehead in a no-nonsense style that was tantalizingly attractive on her.
She smiled, rose as he approached. "Ocelot. Hello."
He nodded, smiling a little but trying to keep any emotion from displaying on his face. He could already sense the beginnings of the same feelings coming back. "Kestrel."
She looked down, taking a deep breath, and resumed her seated position. "This is awkward, isn't it?"
He paused, then sat down across from her. "Yeah. I guess it is."
"I'm so sorry," she said, reaching across the table to take his hand in both of hers. "I really am. I didn't want to hurt you like that. I didn't want to hurt me like that. But—"
Ocelot squeezed her hand. "No, don't. No apologies. It doesn't mean anything anyway. Biz is biz. Let's just let the past go, and start over, whatever the hell that means. Okay?"
Her gaze came up to meet his, and he noticed something new in it. It was hard to read, but it seemed to be something a bit more—settled. Content. A little of the daring wildness was gone, replaced by a certain serenity. "Okay," she murmured. "I was kind of hoping you'd say something like that. I was afraid you'd be angry with me. I thought you might not even answer my message."
"I thought about not answering," he admitted. "But I'm not mad. It happens." He punched an order in for a beer and waited for it to arrive before speaking again. She had one, untouched, in front of her already. "How long are you in town?"
She looked at him as if gauging his response before replying. "I'm back," she said. "For good, I hope."
"What about the team?"
This time, she didn't meet his eyes. "Things—didn't work out."
He frowned. "What does that mean?"
"I—I really don't want to talk about it, if you don't mind," she said. "How about you? How have you been?"
"Same as always." He shrugged. "Still with the same group. We just finished up a run, and now we're getting ready to take some time off."
Kestrel nodded slowly. There seemed to be more on her mind, but she didn't volunteer anything else. A bit hesitantly, she said, "I meant it when I said I wanted to see you again."
Ocelot watched her for a long moment. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to see you," he said at last. From inside his head, it almost felt like another consciousness was drawing the words from him, using his voice.
"I know it can't be like before—"
"Why not?" Ocelot said. Again, the disembodied voice was speaking for him.
She shook her head. "It's been two years. Things have changed. We've changed. Maybe we can get it back again. Maybe—" she looked away "—maybe we can even find something better together. But—" She shrugged, then met his eyes. "I'd like to give it a try, if you do. I've thought about you a lot in these past two years. But I want to start fresh. Not compare things with the way they were before."
Ocelot paused to stare down into his beer glass. "You might have to leave again. Who knows—I might have to leave. Can't count on much in this business."
"I know that," she said quietly. "That's what I mean. Let's not count on anything. That was our problem—or at least it was mine—last time. I'd like to just take things as they come and see where they go. I take it—" she took a deep breath "I take it that you're not...involved...right now? I guess I should have asked before I started all this."
Ocelot thought about all the women he'd slept with since he'd last seen Kestrel, and how little any of them had meant to him. "Involved?" He made a harsh, unpleasant little laugh. "No."
She sighed, touched his hand again. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he said, shaking his head. "I'm not." He drained the rest of his beer and leaned back in his chair.
She nodded. "Okay. Enough about the past. I'll come right out and say it: would you like to come over tonight?"
"Yeah," he said slowly, after a pause, and smiled. "Yeah, I would." This time it wasn't the disembodied voice. He'd meant every word of it.
The lovemaking was as perfect as he'd remembered it; this time, though, it had a slower, more sensual, less immediate feel to it. It was as if before, they had both been subconsciously trying to fill every moment because those moments were finite. Now, though, they took their time, savoring the experience. As they both lay back on the soft sheets in Kestrel's small townhouse, her head on his shoulder, he murmured, "I know you said things didn't work out before, and that you didn't want to talk about it. That's okay. But are you back here looking for a new team?"
She shook her head, playing idly with his long, dusty-blond hair. "No. I'm—sort of semi-retired now. I really don't have to do this anymore."
"So you came back to Seattle?"
"And you don't want to talk about why?"
"Hmm mmm." She kissed him. "You're a bright boy," she said playfully. "I think that's why I like you."
"Really? I thought you only liked me for my body," he said, grinning and kissing back.
"Well, now, let's see," she said as she rolled over and pulled him toward her.
Ocelot's wristphone beeped.
Kestrel sighed, exasperated, rolling back over and taking most of the sheets with her. "You'd better get that, I suppose."
He nodded. "Yeah." Rummaging around in his clothes, he muttered, "This better be good." After a moment, he found the source of the beeping and hit the button. "What?"
The balding, jowly face of Harry the fixer popped on to the tiny video screen. "Hey, kid. Catch ya at a bad time?" Harry grinned, shifting his cigar to the right side of his mouth.
Ocelot looked down at his state of undress and pulled up the sheet. After all the times they had caught Harry in a similar state (Harry had the same philosophy with regard to commercial affection as Ocelot did, and as a result was rarely without an attractive woman—or more than one—sharing his bed), he supposed that he couldn't protest too hard about it. "What do you want, Harry?"
The fixer was going to milk this for all it was worth. "Maybe I should call back later—?"
"What, Harry?" Ocelot growled.
"Okay, okay. I was just callin' to see how the run went, and see if ya wanta set up a meet to get rid of anything? I heard things might not've gone so good. So sue me if I wanta make sure you guys made it through okay." Harry affected a put-upon look.
"So why'd you call me? You usually call `Hawk about that stuff."
Harry grinned and shifted his cigar again. "I guess `Hawk's smarter than you are, kid. He ain't answerin' his phone. Maybe he's just nicer to his company than you are."
Ocelot chose not to reply to that. "We're fine, Harry. And I, for one, would be a hell of a lot more fine if you'd get off the phone now." From the other side of the bed, Kestrel chuckled. She was propped up on one arm, watching him. "Call one of the other guys to set up the meet. I'll be there."
"Right." Harry pitched his voice a bit louder. "Sorry to bother you, Miss. Whoever you are. Carry on." He hung up before Ocelot could say anything else.
Kestrel pulled Ocelot over again, and in a moment he had completely forgotten about Harry.