This week’s snippet Sunday is a little different. You see, there are characters and ideas that gnaw at the back of my brain and won’t go away until I get them down on paper. This is the case with the characters you’re going to meet in this week’s snippet–a pair that don’t have a solid place in the UNSETIC universe beyond knowing that they’re there and doing things.
Two vaguely connected scenes in chronological order below the break.
She looked up from the tablet in her hand when she heard him groan. It took exactly three steps to get from the chair to the couch. His eyes blinked open as she leaned over him, his expression puzzled as he met her worried gaze.
“Cait? What the hell is going on? I thought someone—”
“We’re in the program,” she interrupted. “Adamson made me do it, Thad, I’m sorry. He didn’t give me a choice. I had to do it.” She swallowed hard. “I didn’t have a choice.”
Thaddeus levered himself up on an elbow, pausing for a moment and putting his hand to his head, looking woozy. Caitlin put her arm around him to help him regain his balance. He leaned into her, taking a few deep, ragged breaths before he sat fully upright. “Then there really is something going on and that wasn’t a mistake,” he murmured, staring at his knees.
“Are you okay?” she asked in a bare whisper.
“Dizzy,” he said, “but otherwise, I think I’m okay. If that’s all the bleed I get from the real world, I think I should consider myself lucky.”
“Yeah,” she said, voice shaking. God, he looked awful. “You didn’t look too good. What happened?”
His hand found hers and he squeezed her fingers so hard his knuckles went white. “You don’t want to know, Caity. Trust me.”
But I do want to know. I need to know if I’m going to help you, Thad. Don’t shut me out. “You don’t have to protect me anymore, Thad. I’m in over my head already. Above my pay-grade and all that shit.” She shook her head slightly. “By the time this is all over, they’re going to have to read me into all of it. They won’t have a choice.”
He stared at her for a moment. “I didn’t want that for you,” he croaked, reaching up with his free hand to touch her face. “That’s why I tried to keep you out of things. You’re supposed to be an innocent.”
“What I’m supposed to be and what I am are two entirely different things,” she said, voice gentle as she leaned into his hand. It felt so good to be touched like that, especially by him. “My family knew that when they agreed to the arrangement. They knew I was going down the rabbit hole and they may never get me back.”
“I promised them I wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” Thad whispered. “God forgive me.”
“Nothing’s happened yet,” she said, “and they’ll forgive you. I know that they will.” She let go of his hand and cradled his face between her palms. “You need help to do this. I’m here because I didn’t want you to be alone.” She rested her forehead against his. “And because I care about you. You know that. I love you.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “We shouldn’t be saying this here,” he murmured. “They’ll know.”
“They won’t,” she said. “I’ve got a way to control the environment from in here. I’ve been working on it for months, just in case something like this ever happened. It’s what the tablet’s for. Andra’s watching the boards. I promised we wouldn’t do anything important for an hour after I got loaded in. I didn’t want to rush you. I knew that this was going to be a big enough shock as it was.” Her thumbs brushed away the tears that had started to run down his face. “I didn’t want you to face this alone.”
“I’ve been alone for a long time, Caity,” he murmured.
“I know, but this time you don’t have to be. I’m here, and I’m going to help you whether you want me to or not.”
He swallowed hard. “Thank you.”
She hugged him close for a moment. His arms slid around her and he crushed her against his chest, holding her tightly until a few deep, shuddering breaths calmed him down. Then he kissed her shoulder and her neck before letting go and straightening up.
“How much time do we have before Adamson starts watching?”
“About fifteen minutes, give or take. I let you wake up slowly.”
Thad smiled a tremulous smile and nodded. “Thanks.” He leaned in, lips brushing hers tentatively at first, then moving in for a harder, deeper kiss. Her breath caught and her lips parted slightly against his until they were sharing one breath between them.
I should have asked for longer.
She let him crush her against his chest. She felt a slight tremor run through him despite the strength of his embrace.
Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here.
“I’m here,” she whispered against his lips. “You don’t have to be afraid ever again.”
He shivered, pulling back. Looking into his eyes, she momentarily wondered who he took after—his mother the FBI agent or the father he rarely spoke of. She kissed the tears that welled from his hazel eyes and smiled bravely.
“We’re in my dominion now,” she said. “I’ll protect you.”
“I love you,” he murmured, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs.
Caitlin nodded, tracing his jaw with her hand, feeling the light rasp of stubble against her palm. It was him. They were really here. They were together. “I know.”
“I think my dad tried to warn me that this was going to happen,” Thad said as they sat side-by-side in the cab’s slick backseat. His fingers tightened so tightly around hers that she made a soft sound of discomfort. He flushed and loosened his grip with a murmured apology.
Caitlin frowned, thoughts awhirl. He never talks about his father. “What do you mean?” I didn’t even realize his father was still alive.
Thad’s throat convulsed as he swallowed, eyes focusing on something she couldn’t see. “He called me last night, left me a voicemail. That should’ve tipped me off right there, but I wasn’t thinking straight. Not because of…of what you and I were doing last night, but because I was too busy starting to make the connections on this damn case. I didn’t see it coming, but he did and he tried to warn me.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. “He told me Mom said to be careful. How would he know that? Mom’s at Quantico right now. I had dinner with her two days ago.”
“Thad,” she said quietly, an edge of desperation leaking into her voice, “what are you talking about?” He’s not making any sense.
He shuddered and sucked in a raspy breath. “No,” he murmured. “No, of course not. I never told you. The…did you ever wonder who came up with the scenarios?”
“Of course I did, but I know it was you, Thad. I hacked the system. I found your write-ups months ago.”
His lips barely moved as he spoke. “Did you ever wonder where I got the ideas for them?”
Why am I thinking that this is going to be a deeper rabbit hole than I thought? “Should I have?”
A tear leaked from beneath his eyelids. “Maybe. Caity, I…they came from my head. From things I saw.”
“Things you saw,” she repeated, heart starting to flutter like a trapped bird. What is that supposed to mean? Are you—you’re not—are you? “Thad, are you saying that you’re—”
“I’m a precog,” he whispered. “Grade ten on the Kanton scale. Only one other primary precog that’s stronger and that’s—”
“Your father,” she breathed.
He nodded, looking miserable. She squeezed his hand.
“It’s okay, Thad,” she said. “I’m not going to run away screaming.”
“Of course not,” he said, though his voice still carried doubt mingled with relief. “I never thought you would.”
She let the lie pass and leaned against him. He relaxed a fraction.
“How many people have you saved with what you do?” she asked in a whisper.
“I lost count,” he said, resting his head against hers. He relaxed in inches, in fragments as she stayed near him, didn’t let go or pull away. Her heart ached for him. “A lot, I guess. I never really thought about it.”
“Maybe you should sometime.” Her lips brushed against his cheek and he opened his eyes, staring down at her. He shook his head slightly.
“I don’t deserve your loyalty. Or your love.”
“Too bad,” she said. “You’ve got it anyway, whether you like it or not.” She reached up and laced her fingers through his hair, giving him a little shake. “And after today, I don’t think it’s going to matter what anyone wants except for you and I. But we have to get through today first.”
“Today first,” he murmured, nodding. “This case.”
“Exactly.” Her lips brushed against his and he squeezed her tightly for a moment, exhaling all his tension in one single, long-held breath.
“It won’t be long now,” he said, glancing out the windows. “We’re almost to where I was going when it happened.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to simulate what should have been happening?”
After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I think we will.”