Disclaimer: The characters of ‘The Equalizer do NOT belong to me, never have, never will, although I wish. L No copyright infringement intended.

Out of Control

Control. The very title implied that its bearer had the ability to manage the untamable, regulate difficult affairs, appropriately utilize power and exercise authority over others with or without their knowledge. It was incredibly pompous to give such a title to one man in an organization like the Company. He decided that it was pompous, ill-conceived, and in his one moment of hesitation, utterly disastrous could now be added to the list. Control shook his head: disastrous in his opinion, but he knew that would not be the view of those above him. They would consider this afternoon’s screw-up to be unfortunate, but certainly not warranting the emotional turmoil and regard that it was eliciting from a man in his position.

He slammed his eyes shut against the vivid picture in his mind of the scene from Central Park as it mercilessly continued to play out in his head, forever burned into his too-long memory. He thought he had taken care of every contingency: hell, it was his job to take care of every contingency. But he hadn’t counted on a little girl chasing after a ball that had been thrown over her head to land in the middle of a defection gone bad. The image of her small body being smashed by the speeding car turned his stomach. Why hadn’t he completely cordoned off the entire northern park? Because he thought he had the situation under control; it would have been laughable if it were not so tragic. And yet when he reported what had transpired, his direct superior merely said, “It’s nothing for you to concern yourself about, Control, it is regrettable, but acceptable collateral damage considering the big picture.”

The big picture. How he had grown to despise those words. What good was a big picture without consideration for all the people who were supposed to be a part of it? The walls of his office were suddenly closing in on him; he bolted from the chair and out of his office, and stormed past his secretary without a word. He didn’t bother to grab his overcoat nor did he care that it had begun to snow outside. He made no eye contact with any of the agents that he walked past in the hall, including Kostmayer, as he kept moving toward the main exit of the building. All he could think of was getting out, getting away: away from the images in his mind; away from all the problems of the Company; away from all of the death. He walked out onto the street, ignoring his security detail’s pleas for him to stop and get a coat. Within a few blocks he managed to lose his detail, and by the 20th block, he no longer noticed how cold it was.

As he continued walking, his mind wandered back to his most recent argument with McCall, a week or so ago, when his oldest friend accused him of having no conscience and no feelings or regard for the very people that he was sworn to protect. Control suddenly realized he was walking on the footpath up the East River, and as the conversation with McCall replayed in his mind, the tears stinging his eyes made him stop and grip the frozen rail by the water.

“You don’t give a bloody damn about anyone or anything anymore, Control, and you haven’t for at least the past ten years.”

“Robert, that is just not true and you know it, old son. I told you before, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you with more information, but my hands are tied.”

“And now my client will have to fend for himself against a huge corporation. Don’t you realize that a firm as large as this one could well have him killed? Don’t you bloody care about that, Control, don’t you feel death anymore?”

“Robert, stop being so dramatic,” Control ground out, looking hard at McCall. “I’m sorry, really I am, but there’s just nothing more I can tell you about Carlson or his firm.”

“Can’t or won’t.” McCall snorted in derision, “Bloody hell, I don’t know why I bothered to come to you in the first place. It’s not like the old days when I would have trusted you with my life; now I have to weigh each and every little thing you say to me as though it were a lie told by an agent from the other side. And most of the time, lies are all that come from your mouth.”

“Robert—“

“--No! I’m finished with this, Control. And as a matter of fact, I’m finished with you and your so-called friendship.”

McCall had stormed out of Control’s office, madder than hell, and it still hurt a week later. And the irony that Robert wouldn’t believe him even if he told him that it hurt was not lost on the man. Robert’s ability to saturate his voice with righteous indignation that could still ring days after the words were spoken never ceased to amaze Control; the man had been that way for 30 years, and as far as Control knew, probably his entire life. His body began to shake with cold and sadness as the tears rushed unbidden down his cheeks. Shoving his hands deeply into his trouser pockets, Control once again began walking uptown, his conscious mind completely unaware of where his subconscious was leading him.

Robert stood near the window of his apartment as the gray, snow-filled sky turned silently into soft twilight. He sipped from his crystal cut tumbler, allowing the amber liquid to coat his throat smoothly. The fire crackled in the background and he turned to stare into it. The sudden shrill ringing of his phone caused him to start.

“Bloody hell…..” he muttered to himself as he crossed the living room over to the kitchen counter where the phone sat. “Robert McCall,” he said brusquely into the receiver.

“McCall,” said the deeper voice, “it’s Kostmayer.”

“Hello, Mickey, I hope you’re in a nice warm place somewhere… it looks rather beastly outside.”

“Not exactly…… I’m out searching for Control.”

Robert’s heart skipped a beat. “Searching? What do you mean by ‘searching?’ Where is his detail?”

“They lost him.”

McCall felt his heart rate begin to rise. “How in the hell did they manage that? Surely someone thought to call him. He’s probably sitting at home by a warm fire right--”

“--He did it purposefully, McCall.”

McCall swallowed hard. “What are you saying, Mickey? Control wouldn’t do something that stupid purposefully.”

“Yeah, he did.”

“What in the hell’s going on?”

“I don’t know exactly, McCall, nobody here seems to. His secretary said that when he came back from a job late this afternoon he seemed a little stressed, but she thought it was just normal workload stuff. But then he raced out late this afternoon, didn’t say a word to her, or to anybody – I saw him in the hallway, McCall, he blew right past me like I wasn’t there. He looked……. Weird.”

“Weird? Can you be more specific?”

“Haunted maybe. I don’t know. He just didn’t look like Control. His agents said he walked right out of the building without even putting a coat on. He lost them a few blocks later.”

“Damn,” McCall muttered. “And nobody knows what happened this afternoon?”

“Nope. Or if anybody does, nobody’s talkin’……”

“All right. Keep looking for him Mickey. I’ll try and reach him.”

“McCall, we’ve already tried all his numbers.”

“Yes, well, he and I have our ways…..”

Kostmayer shrugged on the other end of the line. “Whatever you say, McCall. I just hope he at least had the good sense to go inside somewhere.”

“How long has he been gone?”

“At least two hours.”

“Very well. Thank you for calling, Mickey.”

“Sure. I figured if I didn’t, you were likely to get a visit later from some agents anyway.”

“Quite right.”

McCall hung up the phone, worry filling him. He dialed a number and when the beep sounded, punched in a code and hung up. He waited, staring at the phone. Several minutes went by, then ten, then twenty. If Control was all right, he should have called immediately. It was not a code Robert had used more than twice in 30 years, as it was their private way of letting each other know that there was a life or death situation on the brink. Worry quickly turned to panic.

“Oh Control, what have you done?” Robert muttered to the empty room.

McCall’s mind began to race with the possibilities. Control might have finally decided to leave the Company, but surely he would have called on McCall to help with such an undertaking; he could have been taken by the other side, a possibility that both of them had always lived with; or a third possibility that McCall hesitated to even consider. What if Control had finally gone over the edge? What if the pressure of the job and the stress of lying constantly and turning a blind eye and deaf ear to things that Robert knew ate away at Control’s conscience had finally taken its toll? What if he was no longer acting with a balanced mind? Robert’s thoughts shot back to the week before when he had read Control the riot act, finishing it with the announcement that they were through. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes, rubbing a hand over his forehead. He hadn’t meant his parting shot, not really. Surely Control knew that. How many times over the years had McCall’s volatile temper caused him to say things of that nature to his oldest and dearest friend? And their relationship had never been permanently damaged by it. Or had it?

McCall was shaken from his contemplation by a soft knock on his front door. He sighed heavily and glanced at his watch: he had expected it to take a few more hours before the Company had become desperate enough to seek out his help in the search for Control. He walked over to the door and opened it, his eyes widening at the sight before him: Control stood in only a suit and tie, thoroughly iced over with snow, icicles clinging to his bushy eyebrows and hair, his body shaking profusely from the cold. He was pale and drawn and the dark circles under his eyes were from a lengthy period of lack of sleep. But it was the profound devastation in the soft blue eyes that were normally cold and devoid of emotion that struck McCall like a knife in the heart.

“What the hell happened to you?”

Control didn’t say a word; instead he just stood there, arms folded over himself, shaking from cold. McCall frowned and gently reached out a hand to pull him inside. Numbly Control moved with the hand drawing him forward. McCall closed and locked the door and stared at Control, waiting for some sign that the man was cognizant of where he was or what he was doing. But it didn’t come.

“Control?”

The distressed blue eyes looked glazed over, and never made eye contact with McCall.

Robert put his hands on both of Control’s arms, gripping his friend tightly in his hands. “Thomas? Can you hear me?”

Finally the overwhelmed blue eyes slowly turned to look into McCall’s grey ones, and the two men stood there for a moment, just staring into each other’s eyes. McCall’s trying to indicate openness and strength, and Control’s displayed helplessness and vulnerability.

“Tom?” Robert asked, “are you all right?”

Such a simple question, but one Control couldn’t answer. Yet the sound of Robert’s voice; a voice that represented righteousness and spirit, and most of all, safety, finally broke through Control’s stupor. He grabbed a hold of McCall’s arms tightly with his hands.

“R-Robert?”

“Yes, Tom, it’s me…..”

And then Control knew that his own subconscious had led him straight to the only person who could help him.

“Robert…..”

McCall frowned as he realized that his friend couldn’t voice what it was that had gripped him so with a force that leveled his mind. Control shivered violently then, and McCall knew that he should start with the physical necessities first.

“Come on, old friend, let me help you…..”

McCall gently pulled Control over to the fireplace and made quick work of stripping him out of his wet, cold clothes. Throwing an afghan on the floor in front of the fire, and wrapping his friend in a wool blanket, he gently helped Control to sit down. He shook his head at the amount of weight Control had lost – he was able to hide it fairly well with clothing, but having just seen the naked truth, McCall was even more concerned.

He knelt next to Control, pulling the blanket tighter around him. “You thaw out a little and I’ll find you something warm to wear, although your height could prove a bit of an issue…..”

Robert went into his bedroom and rummaged around until he found a pair of sweatpants and a sweater that belonged to his son, Scott. He pulled a pair of heavy wool socks from his sock drawer and walked back into the living room. Control was sitting exactly as McCall had placed him, staring listlessly into the fire. Robert gently dressed Control, and his friend’s lack of interest in his own well-being settled as worry in McCall’s chest. Once he had dressed him, McCall rewrapped him in the wool blanket and headed toward the kitchen to take care of the next priorities. He put on a fresh pot of coffee and then picked up the phone, dialing a number.

“Kostmayer,” came the crisp response after only one ring.

“Mickey, it’s Robert. He’s here with me.”

Kostmayer sighed heavily into the phone. “That’s a relief. I’d hate to spend any more of my evening walking the streets of New York looking for him.”

McCall smiled slightly at what he knew was Kostmayer’s show to cover up the genuine concern that McCall had heard in the younger man’s voice earlier. “I’ll take it from here with Control, Mickey, but I do need one last favor.”

“If I can….”

“Keep the Company away from here for awhile, will you? I don’t want them descending upon my apartment.”

Kostmayer picked up the unvoiced concern. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes and no, Mickey. He’s here, and he’ll be all right…. Physically.”

Kostmayer swallowed hard. “It finally got to him, huh?”

“I don’t know yet. He has been rather…..untalkative so far. But he came to me for a reason, Mickey, and I want to give him the chance to get whatever is bothering him off his chest in the privacy and safety of my presence alone without worrying about Company interference.”

“You got it, McCall.”

“Thanks, Mickey. I’ll owe you one.”

“Control’ll owe me one….”

“Very well.”

“See ya, McCall.”

Robert hung up the phone and poured a mug of steaming coffee for Control. He carried it into the living room, and gently placed it in between his friend’s two hands.

McCall kept his voice soft and low, as though he were talking to a child. “This will help warm you up. Drink it slowly though, it’s hot.”

Control said nothing, but his eyes glistened with unshed tears as he looked at his oldest friend. McCall frowned at the reaction, but decided that moving slowly was the best course of action. He sat down on the hearth very close to Control.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Control shook his head as a heavy shiver caused his body to tremble. McCall wasn’t sure if it was the residual cold or something else. He placed his hands gently on both of Control’s arms and softly rubbed them up and down trying to warm the man.

“You’re safe here, Thomas, you do understand that, don’t you?” Control nodded slowly as he stared into the depth of the warm grey eyes. “That’s why you came here, to me, isn’t it?” Another slight nod followed by a swallow of the coffee. Some of Control’s color was returning to his face, along with his normally calm demeanor, and Robert dropped his hands from Control’s arms and looked down before speaking gently. “You know that that business in your office last week—“

“—is long forgotten, old son,” Control’s uncharacteristically soft and defeated voice finished. Robert’s eyes darted up to Control’s and the older man continued, “At least I had hoped you didn’t mean it.”

“I didn’t,” Robert answered quickly, then added, “at least not that last bit about our friendship. I should never have allowed it to get personal”

Control nodded, sipped the coffee and looked away. Not trying to hide the relief he felt that Control was apparently still in possession of his mental faculties, Robert put a hand on the man’s shoulder, rubbing it slightly as he spoke.

“You caused a bit of a panic at the Company with your little disappearing act, you know; they’ve had the full complement combing the streets for you all night.”

Control snorted angrily, “Yes well, they had it coming.”

“Did they now?” Robert coaxed. Control’s eyes landed squarely in McCall’s gaze, a silent understanding of old friends passing between them. Robert moved his hand up to Control’s neck and rubbed it gently. “Whatever it is, Tom, you know you can tell me.”

Control forced his voice to remain nonchalant as understanding took place. “When I arrived tonight, you weren’t sure whether or not I’d gone over the edge.”

It was a statement, not a question.

McCall sighed. “I did not know what to think, my friend. You show up on my doorstep after I receive a call from a very concerned Mickey Kostmayer about how you purposefully lost your security detail, you’re frozen to the bone, despondent, and barely recognizable as the man I know to be Northern Control. I had to consider all the possibilities, albeit that was the last one in my mind until I saw you.”

Control took a long sip of his coffee. “Let me guess, the other two scenarios that you considered were that I was trying to get out of the Company by running – and I’m sure you couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t called you for help; and the other was that I had been taken.” The slight smile on McCall’s lips confirmed that Control knew the man extremely well. Control broke away from Robert’s grip then, stood and walked over to the window, shedding the blanket to the floor as he went. “And right now you’re trying to decide if I really am still in control of my mental faculties; you’re trying to reconcile the calm man standing here now with the man who arrived at your door an hour ago.”

“Yes,” came the simple response.

Control turned back to face McCall, leaning against the sturdy wood side table in front of the window. “I can’t even explain to you what was going in my mind at that moment. Frankly, I can’t even tell you that I consciously made a decision to come here; I was walking along the East River and the next thing I knew, I was at your door.” He set his empty coffee mug on the furniture and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry for that, Robert,” he looked down.

Seeing the vulnerability in his old friend return, McCall stood, went to Control and put his hands on his friend’s shoulders, allowing his face to loom very close to Control’s. “I’m not sorry for it, Tom. As a matter of fact, I’m thankful for it.” Control’s eyes lifted quickly to meet McCall’s. “I was beginning to think that the man I knew and worked with all those years as Thomas Donohue had been completely obliterated by the man who’s become Control.”

Donohue’s voice was soft, “It’s what the Company wanted.”

“It’s what the Company required,” McCall corrected. McCall released his friend and stepped away to stand next to Control. “I’ve been very concerned about you for sometime, truth be known.”

“Really,” the annoyed tone was readily apparent in Control’s voice.

“Yes, really,” McCall snapped. “Can you stand there and look me in the eye and tell me – not as Control, but as my oldest and dearest friend Thomas – that you can really live with everything that you’ve had to do since you became Control?”

Uncomfortable, Control put more distance between them. “That man no longer exists, Robert.”

“The hell you say, he showed up on my doorstep tonight with a devastation and desolation so present in his eyes that I could barely look upon him because it so wrenched my heart.”

Damn his own weakness that brought him here. Control began pacing in front of the kitchen counter. “It was just one brief, passing moment……”

“Oh why don’t you tell me the truth, Control, just this once? Something happened earlier today, a job this afternoon that went wrong, and something about it must have struck a chord with you; it was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. You loitered in your office until you could no longer stand to relive whatever it was over and over and you bolted from that prison we all call the Company, and you ran. You ran in an icy snowstorm for two hours while every available agent searched for you. And you wound up here. Are you actually going to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, that nothing’s happened?”

McCall stared at him, hard, until finally Control had to look away. The older man sat down on the couch, exhausted.

“I……I don’t know what you want me to say, Robert. I’m too tired to play games with you.”

McCall stood behind the couch where Control sat and began massaging his shoulders. “Why don’t you just tell me what happened, hmmm?”

Control moaned softly as McCall gently worked out the tension that had taken years to build into knots, and when he finally spoke, his voice was low and soft.

“It was supposed to be a standard defection, Robert, nothing out of the ordinary. A Russian scientist who had cut a deal for himself, that’s all. We did all the standard checks, all the standard preparations. It should have been smooth sailing.”

Control swallowed hard as the memory engulfed him, and Robert dug in a little deeper on the man’s muscles with his hands. “What happened next?”

After an uneven breath, Control said, “We met in Central Park, in the north quadrant, you know the place. The area had been swept, it was clean, there was no one around because it was so cold; it was only a few hours before this storm was supposed to hit. I saw the car, it was parked in the tunnel, hidden from plain view.”

“Why were you out in the field on a standard defection job?”

“It was the only way Cheryenkov would do it. He insisted on surrendering himself to me, and me alone. He said he couldn’t trust anyone else.”

The little hairs on the back of McCall’s neck were standing out warning him that he was not hearing the whole truth, but all he said was, “You went in with no backup?”

“There was backup, Robert, it just wasn’t in plain sight.”

“This doesn’t make a lot of sense, Control, I mean, normally the Company would never send you on a job like this, not personally.”

Control’s voice lowered further as McCall’s hands continued to relax the muscles in his upper back. “That’s true…..”

“Then how do you account for it?”

Control’s head dropped slightly as McCall rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it. The order came from pretty high up on the food chain, so I didn’t question it.”

McCall’s hands stopped abruptly. “You didn’t question it?”

Control turned to look at him. “Well, no Robert, I didn’t.”

“Since when do you not question things no matter how high up it comes from? That is not like you at all….. Tell me more about what happened,” Robert said as he once again began to rub Control’s neck gently.

“I was approaching the car when I heard a commotion from the other side of the tunnel. It was four or five KGB agents. I don’t know how they knew about the meeting, but there they were…. Oh my God, we were set up…..”

Robert’s hands ceased the massage once again as he set them squarely on Control’s shoulders to keep him still. “It does sound that way, the only question is by whom…”

“When the KGB agents appeared, it obviously scared off Cheryenkov, and he floored the gas pedal of the car—“

Control’s voice was suddenly choked off with emotion as the memory of the little girl flooded his mind. McCall frowned and walked to the other side of the couch, sitting on the coffee table in front of Control.

“Control?” But the man’s face was now buried in his hands, and Robert couldn’t imagine what could have catapulted his old friend into the emotional state he was now witnessing. McCall touched his arm softly. “Tell me what happened, Control.”

“I…..I can’t, Robert, please……I can’t keep reliving it….”

McCall gently pulled Control’s hands from his face, and saw the tears flowing freely down his cheeks. Deep concern washing through him, Robert softly wiped the tears from his old friend’s face.

“Don’t keep this inside, Tom, it’ll tear you apart. You came to me Thomas, because you knew it would be safe to tell me, don’t lose your nerve now, old friend.”

Control grabbed McCall’s hands with his own. “I came to you, Robert, because my heart is going to burst from the guilt of doing a job that tells me I’m not to feel guilty about anything I do if it suits the Company’s interests: and you’re the only person I’ve got left who cares about me enough to listen. The Company line was already given to me. I was told not to worry about anything and that they expect the occasional collateral loss, even from me.” He took a shaky breath as a sob escaped his lips. “But I couldn’t have anticipated it…….. it shouldn’t have happened.” He looked desperately into McCall’s eyes, “Robert I swear to you, I tried to stop it, but I…. I…..”

The man broke down into sobs so desolate that they convulsed his body. McCall moved to the couch and pulled the man into his arms and held him tightly against his chest.

“It’s all right, Tom, just let it go”

“She was only six years old, Robert,” Control sobbed, “she wasn’t supposed to be there. She shouldn’t have been there. My men told me the area was clear….. My God what if all of it was a set-up?”

“You’re wondering if the Company would go this far to either test your ability to cope….”

“Or to test my loyalty.” His eyes flooded again and a sob caught in his throat. “But to use a six-year-old child…… I…. I can’t live with this, Robert. Not anymore….”

McCall rubbed a soothing hand over Control’s back, trying to keep his own emotions in check. “What happened to the little girl, Thomas?”

It took a few moments for Control to calm down enough to speak. “Cheryenkov stomped on the accelerator just as she was chasing a ball. I ran for her to shove her out of the way, but my detail tackled me before I could get close enough to prevent the car from smashing her into pieces.” Control’s voice once again broke into heart-wrenching sobs, “My God, Robert, the force was so strong that it tore her apart, right there in front of me. And I couldn’t do a thing. Not one God damned thing. God forbid anything had happened to me while trying to save a little girl – no, the Company was clear with me that my agents did the right thing in stopping me from risking my own safety; that I’m too important to the Company to risk no matter what the cost.” He pushed away from McCall then, wiping his face with his hand. “My God, Robert, they didn’t give a shit. A little girl is dead because of us; a family is left to grieve their only child; and all my superiors could say was that I shouldn’t have even thought of taking the risk to get to her and that it was an acceptable loss.”

Control was shaking with anger, and more tears fell from his eyes, tracing a path down his face. “And now here I sit, having ‘run away’ from the big, bad Company, and all I can do is weep on the shoulder of my oldest friend who has to sit here and listen to me lose complete control of myself like some kind of ten year old—“

McCall grabbed Control by the arms, hard. “—That is enough, Thomas. You have every right to feel the emotions that you’re feeling, and it is not shameful to show them, least of all to me, an old friend who…….cares for you very deeply. I’ll not sit here and listen to you berate yourself for behaving like a human being. And that is what you are Tom, a human being. And I thank you for showing me your heart and your humanity, because dear old friend, I was beginning to wonder about you……I was beginning to think that perhaps the Company had completely destroyed you and any remnants of the man I was once honored to call my partner. If we were to be completely honest with each other, Tom, you’d have to admit to me that there have been many times in recent years when the Company was revealed as having acting with impropriety, you were the one behind the scenes exposing it. And we wont’ even begin to discuss your other rather humanitarian activities that have only recently come to my attention…..”

“You make it sound as if I have one foot out the door of the Company already.”

“Given what we have deduced regarding this set-up, my friend, you would do well to have a plan in place; if the Company is questioning your loyalty based upon knowledge they may have of some of your activities, you might consider it. I don’t relish the idea of finding your dead carcass on my doorstep some morning.” McCall saw the sparkle in his old friend’s eyes then and it hit him. “Oh bloo-dy hell. You do have an exit strategy ready to go.” A small smile tugged at the corner’s of Control’s mouth. “Just when the hell were you going to inform me about this, because I can’t imagine you managing it all on your own—“

Thomas put a light hand on McCall’s face, cupping his cheek and ending the tirade. “You’re gonna get me fired with talk like that, old son, or worse.”

McCall grinned then. “Well, there’s always a place for a sod like you in the Equalizing business, you know that.”

“What, you think I should retire and save the world with you?” Control snorted, “That’ll be the day.”

“Yes it will, Control. It most certainly will.”

McCall stood then. “I’m guessing that you haven’t eaten a damned thing all day, have you?” Control shook his head. “Tell you what, I want you to lie down for awhile, rest, and I’ll make something for us to eat.”

Control shook his head. “I appreciate it, Robert, but I should really go,” he looked away, “I’ve taken up a lot of your time and energy for one evening. Besides, if I don’t report in soon, they’ll realize where I’ve gone and come break your door down for harboring an awol Company man.”

McCall smiled. “No, I already took care of any Company interruptions.” He pushed Control gently down into a reclining position on the couch. “You lie down,” he covered him with a blanket, “and when you wake up from a nap, everything will look a little better, hmmm?”

Control reached out and grabbed McCall’s hand. “Robert……. I don’t know what I would have done without you tonight.”

McCall frowned at the cryptic statement. “You almost make it sound like you might have done something desperate, Control.”

The older man squeezed the hand in his, hard. “I couldn’t keep it in any longer, old son, the lies, the indifference to death; not for appearances, not to save my own skin, and certainly not for the Company.”

McCall’s voice was soft. “I know.”

“The feeling of losing your humanity and integrity; is that what drove you to leave, Robert?”

McCall smiled sadly. “Mostly, yes.” Control frowned at him, and he squeezed the hand holding his. “I also couldn’t stand watching it happen to my best friend; in some ways that hurt more than what was happening to me.” Control had to close his eyes to keep more tears from falling. He felt McCall let go of his hand, then felt his best friend’s warm palm rest momentarily on his chest as he whispered, “Welcome back, Thomas. I missed you more than you could know…..”

Control felt the hand lift from him and heard Robert retreat into the kitchen, and with tears slipping quietly down his face, Thomas Donohue fell into the first quiet and restful sleep he’d had in years.

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