It's A Nice Day Out
rating: +35+x

Agent Richard Tennison cracked open another beer from the cooler. He sipped from a comfortable position against the wall as he watched his colleagues mingle and laugh. Richard allowed himself a smile.

"What're you up to all by yourself?" Stephanie asked as she took up a position next to Richard.

"I'm really not cut out for this sort of thing."

"I mean, that doesn't make it less weird. It's your retirement party. These people are here to see you off."

Richard shook his head. "I know, I know. I'm just not great with attention."

The two stood there for a bit, just taking in the crowd. Eventually, Richard's eyes stopped focussing on the people, and drifted around. His muscles loosened so much that he almost lost his grip on the beer bottle.

"You're spacing out," Stephanie said.

Richard snapped back to reality. "It was that obvious, huh?"

"Yes. Yes it was."

"Maybe my old age is getting to me."

Stephanie elbowed Richard in the side softly. "What were you thinking about?"

"Oh you know—"

"Stuff?"

"Why did you ask if you already knew the answer?"

"We've gone on how many operations together? Like forty? At least? I know you never answer this question seriously the first time."

Richard couldn't help but let out another smile. "Fine. Although I'll tell you somewhere quieter. Hard to think with all the noise in here."

Richard and Stephanie both slipped out of the break room and took a stroll down the halls of Site-19. They walked in silence, just letting their footfalls against the tile floors echo around. It was nice. A serene little journey down nostalgia lane.

The two passed by some pictures that hung in the hallway. Just a couple of commemorative shots of contained anomalies, along with the people who brought them in. Richard had his place in more than a few. There was one with Richard and ten other agents in front of the 682 acid vat. Took that one after they recontained the lizard during a containment breach a few decades ago. Thirty names were carved around the frame of the picture; they were the rest of the agents who got caught up and killed in the breach.

They both turned left at the fourth intersection. It led to a small balcony that overlooked a garden behind the Site. The garden was built four years ago for morale purposes, but since it was early November most of the flowers were dead and the trees were drooping and orange. Richard liked the spot. He used to come here to smoke before he quit.

Both Richard and Stephanie forgot to bring their jackets from the party, but their professionalism kept them a few feet apart, so they each shivered in solidarity, too dignified to ask for the warmth of the other. Richard thought about that warmth as he stared at the withering garden. He didn't mind the cold much. In fact he'd grown used to it over the years. But now, he just wondered what it would feel like if he didn't always need to remember to bring his own jacket.

"Richard, you're spacing again."

"Right."

"So, what's on your mind?" Stephanie said as she leaned against the railing.

"You really want to know?"

"I mean, if you're not going to tell me I'll head back inside."

Richard let out a sigh. "Fine. I was thinking about my job."

"That's fair. You are one of the best. You were reliving the glory days?"

"Nah, I wasn't thinking about my old missions. Nothing that nice," Richard said at last.

"Then what were you thinking about?"

"Just wondering if uh… well you see, I'm still not married."

"You're feeling lonely?"

"Not exactly but— I also used to play guitar. Back many, many years ago. Haven't picked it up in forever and I'm not sure my hands will let me work the strings the way I used to."

"So, you're lonely and you want to play guitar?" Stephanie tried to hide a snicker, but failed. Richard punched her lightly in the shoulder.

"Let me finish. I'm not married, I don't really have any hobbies or like, useful skills outside of this. I've been working at the Foundation since I was in my mid-twenties. Just to become the best anomaly-wrangler out there."

"And you are."

"But why? Why am I that? Why did I… why is that what I thought my life needed? I abandoned so many opportunities to start a new kind of life in pursuit of that. I just… was it worth it?"

Stephanie looked Richard once over. It was probably the first time she'd ever seen him this distraught. He wore a faded smile but it was obviously just a disguise. He was looking down at his hands like he didn't even recognize them. He looked like a lost fifty-year-old man, struggling to come to grips with the fact that he was about to lose a job opportunity because he missed the train. He looked frail.

She slid next to Richard, and put an arm around him. Together they both slid to the floor, with their backs against the balcony railing. Richard didn't move or react, but that's just because he felt surprised. He had forgotten what warm felt like. Come to think of it, he hadn't touched another person in any significant way in four months, when he last flew out to see his brother.

"Richard, Richard, Richard. You did something very few people can do. You set yourself a goal, and you pursued it, and you never lost sight of it. For thirty years. That's an act of perseverance that probably borders on anomalous itself. And you did it."

"I know, but was that the best use of the last thirty years? Could I have spent my time better? Could I have just… been happier?"

"I don't know. Are you happy now?"

"I don't know. I don't know anyone who really knows how happy they are. I don't think we can really answer that question. Maybe some people can. But I can't."

Stephanie took Richard's head and pulled it against her shoulder. She did it out of some mixture of obligation and instinct rather than a conscious decision. Like the old man just needed a shoulder, and hers was the only one around.

"I think you were happy. Hopefully you'll one day agree."

Richard heard her, but it never quite registered. His eyes lost focus and he swept back into day dreaming again. Just imagining a life without the monsters and the shadows. Just him, on a couch. Next to him the woman who he met during a stint uncover in New Jersey, and two kids on the floor in front of him.

It probably would have been warm there too.

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