***Zane’s apartment, northern VA***
Zane Rogers hadn’t planned to do anything more than pick up the hard drive from the courier. But the moment he had seen her, he wanted answers. No, he needed them. He had spent five years trying to understand how this woman had captured his heart so thoroughly in less than half an hour. And why the hell she just ran like that. But he had not expected that one. ‘Our children.’
“Who the fuck are you?”
Her eyes swam with tears, and every instinct inside of him told Zane to pull her into his arms, hold her tight, never let her go again, and promise her anything to keep her. But his logical brain said otherwise. Five years ago, he had trusted his heart and gut, and look where that had gotten them. “I asked you a fucking question,” he did not shout, but in the enclosed space, it was loud enough to make her jump.
“I don’t know anymore. And that’s the truth.”
Those tears were ripping what was left of his heart out of his asshole. But reason held him back. “Nyet. At the airport, you said nyet. You said it that day too. Though you covered yourself with not yet. You’re Russian? A spy, I take it. Otherwise, why all the lies? Let’s begin simple. Why me? I’m not that valuable an asset.”
“We’ll stay here until I have answers. The world be damned. If that crazzy Doc as Daniel called him is right, then my career doesn’t mean shit anyway.” He half-laughed, “It’s all I’ve had the last five years, but I would have traded it all for one more moment with you.”
She shook her head, “You don’t mean that. It wasn’t real. It was the drugs.”
“Lady, if you drugged me, that is one helluva powerful aphrodisiac. You don’t need to be a fucking spy. You could be a billionaire selling that love potion.”
Not that Zane believed that for a moment. No drug could genuinely make a human do something that went against their conscience. Even the ones that his government experimented with to create super soldiers. You had to have it inside you, to begin with. The drugs only lowered inhibitions and allowed baser instincts to come out. And that afternoon had been his basest.
“No, I didn’t drug you. I took the drugs. Fertility drugs. Studies show that men are….”
“Most attracted to women who they subconsciously realize are fertile?”
She nodded but slunk back closer to the door. He was glad that he had brought a government car. It meant that he controlled the locks. Otherwise, he was almost sure she would attempt to escape. “So it was all just some cold calculated experiment for you, Kate?”
She turned so that he could not see her face at all. “Please, just let me go. I need to get to them.”
“Where are they? Where are my children, Kate? Or whatever the hell your name is.” His fingers were probably too tight as he jerked her around to face him. She had lost weight. Lots of it. Frail was the word that came to mind. But not enough to make him loosen his hold. “Where are our children?”
“I don’t know. Except for Zander. He was adopted by my friend Anya and her husband. I’ll start there. I have always believed that she knows more about where Zoya and Yana are than she’ll tell me. I have to convince her that this time….”
He had children. Three of them. A boy and two girls. Hearing their names made it real in some way. Zander. The significance wasn’t lost on him. And for the first time in five years, a tiny seed of hope grew in those shredded remnants of his heart. “Where is she? Another Russian spy, I presume? A higher value target?”
“Senator Cletus Montgomery’s trophy wife is a fucking Russian spy?” Zane laughed, despite the gravity of the situation. He could not help it. The chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and his wife was a Russian spy. “And we thought it was just the old man’s money she wanted.”
“I need to talk to Anna. I have to convince her to take Zander to Regenesis. And to tell me where to find the girls. But, please, please, just let me go. Not for me but for their sake. Please.”
Zane almost wanted to laugh. For a spy, she didn’t seem to grasp the intricacies of the situation. “It’s after one A.M. How exactly do you think you’re going to get ahold of your friend? Show up pounding on her door? Demanding that she hand over her child because the world is coming to an end?”
Those words left a bitter taste in his mouth. He had seen the boy once. His son. He had seen his son and not even realized it. Shouldn’t he have known somehow? He had hand-delivered some papers to the Senator’s office. Directly to the man himself. His wife and toddler were there. The man had left them alone while he escorted Zane out and questioned him.
“Fuck.” He sighed, but if the information on that hard drive was accurate, and his preliminary research of the bits that Daniel had sent indicated that it might be, then did it matter? Did any of the things he believed, had fought for, watched men die for, killed for matter? What were countries except imaginary lines that divided humanity? And if this were real, then it looked like Mother Nature would have the last laugh on all of humanity.
He shook himself; those were things he could contemplate later. He released her, and she slinked as close to the door as she could, her face turned to peer out into the darkness. He turned the key and put the car into gear. They drove in silence for several minutes. Until he pulled up to the security gate, lowered his window, and placed his thumb over the pad.
She turned then, “Where are we? I thought you would take me to our son?”
‘Our son.’ She said those words so casually, but they were still nuclear bombs detonating in his head. “No, we can’t go there now. If we did, if you did, the Senator would call the cops. You’d be arrested. Probably held for a psyche eval. Three days at least. Do we have that kind of time, sweetheart?”
“No, we don’t. I need to get to them now. I’ll take the risk. If I threaten Anya, tell her that I’ll expose her, maybe….”
“Trust me, the Senator won’t listen to anything you have to say about his precious Anna. The man has become a joke. That’s if you could even get through their security system in Georgetown.”
“Then what? And where are we?” She looked around at the tree-lined driveway with the brick buildings tucked among them.
“We’re at my apartment. I’m going to run some more tests on this simulation. See just how accurate it is. You’re going to get some sleep. After you eat. You look like shit, sweetheart. Like a stiff wind could blow you away, as my grandmother said. Tomorrow, if this shit is correct, I’m taking it to FEMA, NOAA, and the Joint Chiefs. Then we go after our children. Together.”
She shook her head, “No, we can’t waste time. Even if I convince Anya to take Zander to Regenesis, I still have to find Zoya and Yana. Knowing my government, they’ll be close. They’d want to keep the children near one another so that they could follow them more closely.”
He nodded his head. What she said made sense. Reluctantly, he admitted that his own government would do no differently with high-value targets. “Why, Kate? Why did you let them take our children?” He felt the tightness in his chest and throat as he forced the words out.
“I don’t understand that. You could have come to me. I told you that. Why would you let them have our babies?” He might be able to forgive this woman many things. Hell, he had done things for his government that his conscience said were wrong. He understood that kind of semi-blind loyalty. But this one? Allowing innocent babies to become pawns? His children. He wasn’t sure he could ever forgive that. Not even for her.
“You think I wanted to? I didn’t have a choice.”
“Bullshit, and you know it. I could have….”
“I could have protected you. And them….”
“Nyet. Not alone. And if I had told you everything, what do you think would have happened? Even if your government did protect us, at what cost? I would have been forced to betray my friends. Anya and others. If it were you, could you have done that?”
“And don’t think that our governments are all that different. It’s always about what’s good for a few people at the top. And they’ll leave the rest of us to fight it out amongst ourselves. Pit us against one another so they can control us. Capitalism, democracy, communism, socialism, it doesn’t matter. They are all the same.”
He wanted to argue the point with her. But he had been asking himself those same questions for years. The America that he had defended, the land of the free and home of the brave, was built on the backs of slaves and stolen from its indigenous peoples. Even today, those groups were persecuted and marginalized.
Instead, he got out of the car, walked around, and opened her door. She clutched a single small backpack tightly as she got out. “Please, Zane, I need to go.”
He shook his head as he wrapped an arm around her waist, “No, sweetheart. I don’t deny that some of what you said is true. But I have one final obligation. Not to my government but to the people of this country. Then we go after our children.”
He guided them down the path and up the stairs as he spoke, “Until then, get a shower, I’ll order a pizza, and begin those tests on the data you brought. Then you get some sleep. We’ll face it all tomorrow. Together. Like we should have for the past five years.”
He opened the door. The place was tiny. His needs had always been basic. And since that afternoon, the one thing he had avoided was roommates. The living room and dining area looked more like a computer science lab. The kitchenette was tiny and never used. He doubted the fridge held anything other than beer that he rarely drank.
He guided her down the hall with a hand at the small of her back. She really needed to gain some weight. Even though he missed those lush curves, he couldn’t deny that despite all the lies, he still wanted her. She was wrong. Whatever drugs or experiment wasn’t why he loved her. And yes, he still did.
He pulled one of his t-shirts from the dresser and opened the door to the bathroom, pulling out fresh towels. “Get that shower. Then we’ll eat.”
He could see that she wanted to argue, but she was just too tired. As she nodded and tried to brush past, he gathered her in his arms. He pulled her against him and did what he had wanted to from the moment she stepped off the plane, into the light, and lifted her face. His mouth took hers.
And for the first time in five years, Zane Rogers felt complete. Life had meaning. And he held that purpose in his arms. Yes, chances were good that the world as they knew it was coming to an end. And he wasn’t even sure that was a bad thing anymore. But he held the woman he loved in his arms. And tomorrow, they would find their children and get them to safety.
Nothing else mattered anymore. Maybe it never had. American. Russian. Iraqui. Chinese. Israeli. What did those even mean? Humans. Families. As she said, friends. Those were the only things that were real. The rest were illusions and constructs.
This mattered. Her taste. The feel of her body cradled and protected against his. He could stay like this forever. But he knew he had responsibilities to other humans. To the people that he had sworn to protect and defend. The woman he loved might be ‘foreign.’ But perhaps the biggest enemies had always been ‘domestic.’
It might seem strange for such deep philosophical questions to plummet his brain while his body enjoyed his woman, but it felt strangely fitting. He slowly pulled back, nibbling at her lower lip. Zane bent so that his forehead rested against hers. He kept one arm around her as his other hand drew hers to the front of his slacks. He pressed it against his hard cock, and they both moaned from the intimate contact.
“You want to tell me again how it wasn’t real, Kate?”
The shocked eyes that looked up at him held an innocence that no spy could fake. Yes, he still struggled with what she had done. Her decision, which she made alone, had stolen years with her and their babies. But her uncensored response gave him hope too. She cared enough to worry about his life. It was a start.
“Get that shower. The pizza doesn’t take long. Then you need sleep.”
“Where? Is there another bed? A couch?”
“No, Kate. Our bed. We’ll sleep together. From now on. Get used to it.” He kissed the tip of her nose before turning and heading back to the bank of computers in the other room. Ordering an extra-large pizza with everything on the way. He definitely wanted those curves back.