I was shaking. I had never seen Max angrier than this in my entire life. The silence that stretched between us seemed to last for ever, and it dragged me down until I felt smaller than a pinhead.
Max sat opposite me on a chair which he'd dragged across the room. He leant forwards with his elbows on his knees, scrutinizing me as I rubbed the place on my arm where he'd grabbed me.
"So are you gonna spit it out, then?" He said finally.
"Spit what out? There's nothing to say. If there was a way for me to apologise at the level I want to, I would. But there isn't."
"If that's the case, we may as well tell Boss what you've done before he finds out." He shifted to see my reaction.
I restrained myself from yelling out like a child. "That... we don't need to do that."
"Oh?" He laughed once. "Scared of losing your job now? Maybe you should have thought about that before you screwed up."
"There wasn't any information on him anyway."
Max raised his eyebrows. "But that's the point though, isn't it? Because if you hadn't hidden the picture we'd have been able to get the information about him from you. Am I wrong?"
"No," I fidgeted, his closeness making me uncomfortable. "You're not wrong."
"Well then, I have a way to get around it."
I met his eyes involuntarily and I could tell that his "way" was not in my favour at all. "Can't we just not tell him? I promise not to do it again."
"You think you can get out of it that easily? No way in hell. How am I supposed to trust you now?" A form of betrayal passed swiftly over Max's expression. My chest constricted and I couldn't form the words I wanted to say. "I have a proposition."
"OK," I gave in. If anything was going to let me escape, disagreeing at this point wasn't it.
"Right. You need to tell me everything. Everything you've kept from me. Ever. Secrets are not helpful in our job, and they are not helpful for us getting along either. Notice how it's you who screwed up? That's because I don't have secrets." he sighed and leant back. "So. You need to tell me why you felt the need to protect your ex."
"Because otherwise I can't trust you."
I closed my eyes. "I wasn't protecting him. I just... I can't tell you why I hid the picture because I don't know." When I opened my eyes, Max's face was only a few centimetres away from mine. "I can tell you... I can try to tell you why I won't talk about him."
"Go on then." Max softened his tone.
"I... I..." I shifted uncomfortably. Max got up and pushed his chair back before sitting next to me on the sofa. "OK, right, right. I'll not start from the beginning 'cause it's far to long. I'll go from where the important stuff comes in. So... I was... I was completely in love with him. There was literally no-one in the world I'd rather have been with. And I'm one of those defensive types, so if anyone said something against him - and they weren't messing around - I'd be all defending of him and everything. And he loved me as far as I knew.
"Anyway, he kept having to go out to work. Always. He'd leave a note that said something like 'so sorry but I had to rush off. I promise to kiss you when I get back'. At first the notes gave me some peace of mind but I got used to them after a while and stopped reading them. I always had Harrie to talk to, so I wasn't really lonely. I just... well, I would've liked to have seen him more.
"He'd always come back really late at night, or really early in the morning. He'd kneel next to my bed and stroke my face, and when I woke up he'd kiss me. Then I'd move over and we'd sit with me leaning against him and just talk about random stuff until we fell asleep. But he'd be gone when I woke up.
"So one day I woke up as usual. He'd left the usual note. I remember very clearly what it said: Briony, I'm so sorry but I had to leave early again today. I might not be back until tomorrow, but don't worry, all right? I'll have lots of hugs and kisses saved up for you then. Love you so much.
"I showed the note to Harrie, and she joked and said I should just leave him if he couldn't spend a weekend with his girlfriend. She offered for me to come 'round to her house 'cause she was moving and wanted me to help transfer her stuff to her new flat.
"When I got in the night - I think it was around ten or eleven - there was a woman waiting for me in the hallway. She seemed very... well, her expression was ominous. I invited her in and offered her tea but she said she couldn't stay long. She said she had a very important message for me about Joe. That's his name. Joe. And then she said I'm really sorry, but Joe died while he was at work. He got shot. A complete accident, of course. He told me to tell you that he loves you and that you shouldn't grieve too much for him. I'm sorry.
"And that was it. He was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. I remember a pain spreading and growing in my stomach, and my knees hit the ground. I was crying. I couldn't stop crying. I cried for weeks. At his funeral I was the only one there.
"I... missions were the only thing to take my mind off him. And then this one came along and I saw the picture and... and I... can I stop now?"
At some point during my speech, tears had begun leaking down my face. Now my voice was shaking and I knew I wouldn't be able to continue.
Max nodded silently.
"Max," I said when I had control of my voice again. "I'm sorry I hid the picture. I guess I didn't want to admit it to myself. I thought he was alive, that he hadn't really died, that it was all a big mistake. But then that stupid note came through my door and I worked it out the other day and d'you know what it says? It says I know that you are hiding from the truth. You had all the evidence to prove it. I know why you hid it. You were always like that. Do you know who I am yet? I'd bet this isn't so anonymous any more. What if you just admit it to them. That would be so much easier. Just a thought.
Max was still silent. He appeared to be thinking very hard. He was tapping his feet against the floor.
"Max?" I wiped my eyes and sniffed. "Are you OK?"
"I'm really angry," he said.