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We Keep This Love (In a Photograph)

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The first time he finds the photo is the day after the food festival. He arrives to the Claw late, rushing to shove his jacket into his locker and get to the kitchen before George notices his absence, when something crinkles unexpectedly in the pocket. Reaching in, he pulls out the polaroid - a bit wrinkled, the right corner completely folded over - but still in one piece even after the events of the day before.

He stares at it for a moment, crouching in front of his open locker, trying to recall when he had acted on the impulse to grab it off the coffee table in their rush to leave, and before he can stop to realize what he’s doing he’s studying the picture’s subject instead. Hair falling into her eyes, dirt from the tunnels still smeared across her face, her features set in an expression of determined focus as she dug into the box of files Carson had procured for her, still looking so perfectly…Nancy. A small grin crosses his face as he remembers her amused reaction to the flash of the camera turning into a sincere smile as Carson told her how proud of her he was -

Because of her testimony. The grin drops off his face as the memories of the rest of the day rush back into sharp focus. The sense of uselessness he’d felt as he’d dangled from that railing and watched his life be traded for the lives of countless others; the terrifying amount of finality he’d heard in her 'I couldn’t lose you.'; the way there was no doubt in his mind about what 'favor' Celia had asked for in return - a favor that for all he knows Nancy could be fulfilling right this moment.

As if summoned by his own despondent thoughts, the door to the storeroom suddenly bursts open and Nancy rushes in, her coat hanging on by one arm as she fastens her hair into a hurried bun. Her mad dash stops short upon seeing him, and as their eyes meet he’s suddenly overwhelmed by all the things he wants to say to her; all the things he held back the day before while Grant was around. The questions of 'How could you -' and 'Why would you -' and the arguments of 'This will ruin your -' and 'I’m not worth -' cycle around each other in his mind, and he can tell that something’s about to slip out his mouth but he can’t make the connection between them to know what it’ll be -

And then suddenly he doesn’t have to. George’s annoyed voice rings out from the kitchen, and he’s never heard the phrase ‘saved by the boss’ before, but after this he might consider adopting it. He quickly crumples the photo into a ball and tosses it into his locker, following it with his jacket as if burying the image would help him bury the feelings it brought up. He gives Nancy a curt nod, avoiding whatever he might have seen in her eyes as he turns and heads towards the stairs, knowing there was a difference between delaying something and running away from it, but not quite sure which side this was falling on.