Chapter 250

                So far as anyone in town could tell, they were little more than a pair of tourists that stopped off for gas and supplies. Older folks, not the spryest in mind or body, but polite people all the same as they filled up their tank and purchased some sandwiches from the case inside. Folks passing through was all the town really got these days, and even that had shrunk over the last decade. It was a nice break in the monotony, even if it was brief. In less than twenty minutes the pair had driven off in their worn, yet well-cared for, sedan. Ten minutes after that there was no sign they’d ever been there as the clerks at the station already began to let the memory of them slip away.

                As for the pair, they didn’t linger around the area for long. They drove some ways further, out of the state just to be on the safe side, before turning off into an abandoned field. Once there, they got out of the car and a ripple ran over them as the illusion fell away. Globe and Clarissa stood where the old people had once been, and while the car still looked the same it would no longer run without him forcing it along. Scrap cars were easy to cosmetically fix up with a power like Globe’s, but it wasn’t worth the effort to redo the whole engine. Making sure they were both far enough back, Globe made a single motion with his hand. Soundlessly, by his will, the car crumpled in on itself, crushing inward until nothing but a cube of metal remained.

                “Let’s drop this at a junkyard on the way.”

                The cube floated up from the ground, always staying close to Globe, as Clarissa opened a tear in space through which they could easily stroll. The air was filled with static and the scent of burning Ozone, but in a location this remote the chances of it being noticed were negligible. Shimmerpath had an incredible ability; the only drawback being that it was extremely identifiable if one knew what to look for. Seconds later they were across the country, dropping off the hunk of former car in a pile where it would probably go unnoticed for years, if anyone ever saw it at all. From there, they stepped through to another location.

                Globe didn’t recognize this one, but he wished he did. It was lovely, a hilltop overlooking a meadow with luscious trees to shade them from the day’s final hours of sunlight. Waiting for them was a picnic blanket and basket, along with an ice cooler and a plastic bin to hold their trash.

                “You set this up?”

                “That, or someone came along and took the time to make a lovely dinner spot only to hightail it for some reason. Probably wolves.” It had been a long time since Globe heard Clarissa let out a genuine laugh, but a small one escaped her lips as she made her way over to the blanket.

                “Good thing a few wolves wouldn’t be a problem for you and me.” If only errant predators were the biggest concern facing them, that would have been quite a lovely situation compared to their current one.

                “Most of what’s in the basket are side-dishes I sealed extra tight on so they wouldn’t attract ants. I didn’t expect that gas station to have decent looking food, thought we’d have to make a trip for that, but I guess small towns have to appeal to every market they can.” Clarissa set the sandwiches in the basket, then pulled out clear plastic cups. From the cooler, she produced a chilled bottle of white wine and held it up. “Didn’t bother packing a bottle opener. Be a dear?”

                It barely took a thought for Globe to will the cork out of the bottle, and Clarissa went to work filling both of their cups. When she was done, she handed one to Globe, holding onto the other for herself. Patting the blanket to signal him it was time to sit, Clarissa waited until Globe had complied before speaking again.

                “Before we get to dinner, there are some things I need to say. Things I should have said a long time ago, if I’m honest with myself, but somehow even after I thought I’d lost you once, I still found ways to keep putting it off. There’s no deluding myself out of this one, though. After tomorrow, you’ll be gone from me. Behind bars for years while they figure out whether you’re a criminal or not, at the very best. So there’s no backing down from it this time, it’s quite literally now or never.”

                Shifting on the blanket, Globe chose his words carefully. “You don’t need to say anything, I know how you feel, and I think you know-”

                He was cut off by Clarissa laying a delicate finger across his lips. “Hush. This is my picnic, my night, and I’m going to speak my mind, because I think there are things you don’t know, Phil. Like the fact that while it’s not much of a secret that I love you, and have since we were just a pair of kids in the HCP, that’s not why I agreed to help with all of this. If it were, do you really think I’d be on board with a plan that costs you what little scraps of life you have left? I want you to understand that I’m here, in the midst of all of this danger and chaos, because I’m a Hero and it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I’m going to stick to the plan and see our mission through; even if I have to watch you die in the process. You need to know that, to understand that when push comes to shove and things get bad, you can still count on me to put the mission first. None of us is more important than exposing the truth, not even you.”

                “Well, I suppose you were right. I didn’t really know that, and I’m glad you told me.” He took a long drink from his wine, hoping to gain time as much as courage. “And, about your feelings toward me… I hope you understand after all this time that they… are… not unreciprocated.”

                Clarissa’s gaze lingered on him before she let out a dense sigh. “I’m truly glad that Vince doesn’t take after you in every aspect. My heart would break for the poor women who love him if he was as bad at expressing his emotions as you.”

                “I’m not good at talking about this kind of thing. It’s hard. I’ve spent so much of my life working for the sake of other people. Keeping my family safe, when my dad was around, then trying to pitch in and help mom keep us afloat when he passed. After that was college and the HCP, which was all about fighting for the sake of people who needed protecting, and even when I lost that I found Vince to care for. From the beginning, it’s always been about helping everyone else. I haven’t had much experience wanting anything for myself; especially not something as complex as love.”

                His wine glass floated away from his hand, freeing up his fingers to carefully rest on top of Clarissa’s. “But I try to show it, as best I can. You’re right, though. This is the end of my line. It’s not fair to leave you behind with nothing but small gestures and acts to piece together. I do love you, Clarissa. More than that. I need you, I depend on you, I trust you in a way I can’t seem to trust anyone since my brother betrayed me. You say you came aboard this mission out of duty, not love, and I believe that. However, you should know that without you here keeping me above water and pointing out my potential mistakes, we would have never made it this far in the first place. You, as much as my own power, are what has made even this slender chance at victory possible.”

                Slowly, Clarissa took his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders as she leaned in; laying her head against his chest so they could both look out at the meadow. “Just think of where we might be if you’d managed to say that decades ago.”

                “We were making headway, despite my poor communication skills, before Charles tricked me into killing Intra. One more thing he’s stolen from me.”

                “Not quite. I’m still here, you know.” Clarissa squeezed his hand, dragging him out of the past and into the moment. “And we have a delicious meal, which will be followed by a lovely sunset. For just this one evening, put Charles out of your head. He’s taken so much from you, and tomorrow he’ll end up taking more, but this moment is still ours. One good memory to hold onto, no matter what comes after.”

                Phil smiled, squeezing her hand right back. “See what I mean? I could never get through all this without you.”