Years pass, things change.
Not Jim’s honest determined heart, or the timbre of his voice when he says my friend, partner (or Karen. she, of course, stays too). But a lot of things.
The city of Neo-Domino is a microcosm of the world— or maybe, the other way around: it happens one place, it happens everywhere. Walls go up, travel gets hard. The world gets hard— gap cleaved between the rich and poor gets cemented in rules, border checks. The black mark a crime leaves on someone’s record isn’t good enough anymore, and it gets branded in neon highlighter on a criminal’s face, where everyone can see. O’Brien gets Jim a real eye-patch, so its clear the bandages have nothing to hide.
But mostly, he follows his lead. He’s a doer and a planner, but not a decision maker. He makes the right calls on getting them in and out of places, not leaving traces, but it’s Jim that decides which causes they’re not going to call lost. Even now, especially now, Jim wants them to do the right thing, so they do.
For a while.
It takes them a good fifteen years, before the punishment for their good deeds catches up with them. It comes in the form of a psychic-duelist, some petty small-time crook that’d been exploiting people who couldn’t afford it, who both of them could beat with very little trouble except they’re both wounded and tired from the collapsing office building, and getting the kid that tipped them off out of there alive.
O’Brien sizes up the situation, between the two of them Jim is more mobile, more likely to complete the mission. (Between the two of them, he’ll be less lost, on his own) In this slum, there’s very little chance of treatment for his own internal wounds, the out of place ribs have already punctured something vital and it is a matter of there being not much time. He will buy them what he can.
"This is no place to be delayed. I will rendezvous when this obstacle is cleared and I am able."
Jim looks back, and by the look in his eye— he already knows what the odds are that O’Brien will be able. But the kid leaning on him is breathing, he can’t abandon him, and they aren’t unfamiliar with the power of sacrifices, miracles. He’ll hope. He’ll hope, and save who he can. ”Thanks, O’Brien. I’ll be counting on you.”
O’Brien draws his disk and blocks the path— he won’t let the psychic-duelist pass. His mind should be clear, focused, and it is— but he spares a thought. A week ago, the back of their car. Breathing hard, exhausted and exhilarated from the last of a dying adrenaline rush. Like the kind of teenager O'Brien never was, with all the passion of youth that didn't quite believe tomorrow was coming— that now was forever, the only time that counted. Karen in the front seat, waiting for them to finish, as they wrapped arms around each other and pressed their bodies and lips close. That’s probably going to be the last time…
It feels like enough.