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Chaos fic: Mandatory Counseling (1/1)

December 12th, 2013 (06:08 am)
cold
Tags: ,

feeling: cold

Title: Mandatory Counseling

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: Fill for my therapy square in hc_bingo. Beta by lena7142. This is set preseries, referencing heavy spoilers for Proof of Life. OC POV.

Summary: We don’t just fight alongside each other. We fight for each other.



-o-

“Dr. Weidman, please, sit down,” Director Higgins said, getting to his feet and gesturing to the chair.

Colleen smiled, crossing the distance and placing herself comfortably on the seat. “I’ll admit,” she said. “This feels a bit like being called into the principal’s office.”

Higgins sat down across from her. “I have a hard time imagining you as the delinquent type.”

“Few of us end up in the CIA for our flawlessness,” she commented wryly.

“Well, I have always been most impressed with your work,” Higgins said.

“One compliment is sufficient,” she said. “I assume there’s something important if it warrants a face-to-face briefing.”

Higgins hedged, biting the inside of his lip for a moment as he seemed to consider his next words carefully. “I have three operatives who have been formally debriefed following a mission in North Africa.”

Colleen nodded. It was her policy to keep up on all the important Agency missions, and it had been no secret that they had lost a man in North Africa. “Carson Simms,” she said. “Presumed KIA while investigating a counterfeiting operation.”

Higgins inclined his head. “So you have been keeping up.”

“I have a dozen current patients, many of whom knew Carson Simms,” she said. “The presumed death of an operative always hits close to home.”

“Yes,” Higgins said, handing over three files. “Especially for his teammates.”

Colleen took them, starting to flip through them. “Psychological evaluations are standard after these kinds of missions,” she said. “I’m still not seeing why you called me in. You could have just sent the files.”

Higgins drew a weary breath. “I felt compelled to warn you.”

Cocking her head, Colleen gave him a curious look. “I’ve been a psychiatrist for the CIA for almost a decade. I’ve assessed many of your top covert operatives and consulted on a number of foreign nationals and suspected terrorists. Didn’t you fly me to Pakistan last year for a consultation? And Iraq the year before?”

“It’s not a question of your skills,” Higgins said. He pursed his lips. “The ODS is not my favorite department under my jurisdiction. I’ve been hoping to disband them for years. I find their tactics dangerous.”

Colleen raised her eyebrows. “And you were right?”

“Perhaps,” Higgins said. “The official debriefing found no glaring operational errors in their mission -- they didn’t make any mistakes that warrant disciplinary action.”

“But you still suspect that something within their team dynamic could have led to this outcome?”

At that, Higgins sighed. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m sure if this is spun correctly, I could have them reassigned to different departments in the name of their own good. But...”

“But you’re not sure that’s the ethical choice,” Colleen concluded, knowingly.

Higgins smiled thinly. “Sometimes I forget why I hired you,” he said. “And it’s not just a question of ethics. It’s a lack of objectivity. No matter what my personal feelings regarding the ODS may be, they committed no serious violations on this mission. And, more than that, I know the loss of Simms has hit them hard.”

“My proceedings are objective, either way,” Colleen said. “You know that.”

“I do,” Higgins said. “It’s something I appreciate about your approach.”

“Which brings me back to the same question,” Colleen said. “Why am I here?”

“Because I fear that the ODS is not just in danger of being disbanded,” Higgins said finally. “I’m worried about their viability. Not just as a team. But as individual agents. They are not coping with this loss well. I may not want them working together, but I certainly don’t want to lose their skills or the benefit they bring to the Agency.”

“You’re concerned,” she realized. “You want me to take extra care to make sure they can be cleared for duty.”

“I lost one operative in North Africa,” Higgins said. “I would prefer not to lose three more.”

Colleen found herself smiling. “You’re getting soft after all these years.”

Higgins huffed. “Save the analysis for the ODS. Trust me,” he said. “You’re going to need all the energy you can get with these three.”

-o-

Back in her office, Colleen sat down at her desk with the files in front of her. She tested her coffee from the morning, finding it tepid but still acceptably caffeinated, before weighing the pros and cons of raiding her secret stash of chocolate so early in the day. Everyone had their vices, after all.

She opted against it for the time being. Vices were one thing. Extrinsic motivation was another. Colleen liked her job -- she had to like it to stay in the public sector for far less pay -- but she had to admit, it was stressful. True, she wasn’t out on the front lines, but she held the secrets and heartaches of some of America’s finest men and women. Most doctors had patients with tangible wounds. Colleen’s patients carried mental scars.

Worse still, by working for the CIA, most of them were trained to lie and subvert, which certainly made her job interesting. There were enough stigmas against mental health in the real world -- trying to break down barriers in the spy world was even more difficult. It wasn’t that her patients didn’t appreciate psychology -- when they were the ones using it. But any attempt she made at analysis was usually met with anger, frustration and sometimes outright hostility.

As if she were the enemy.

She wasn’t the enemy, though she couldn’t deny that she’d been the bearer of some bad news. Spies, as it turned out, were rather fond of shooting the messenger. It wasn’t her fault that they’d been sent undercover into the most dangerous regions of the world. It wasn’t her fault that they’d had to lie and cheat, that they’d destroyed their personal lives and risked life and limb for median wages and no recognition.

She was just the one who helped them understand the weight of it. And when she couldn’t help them with that, she was the one who pulled the plug.

Assessment after traumatic missions was standard in the CIA, and for good reason. In her work, she’d brought men twice her size to tears and made diminutive females resort to violence. She’d saved some lives in her office.

She’d also ended a few careers.

Ultimately, she’d seen it all.

Taking another sip of coffee, she opened the top file. “So let’s meet the ODS,” she mused to herself as she started to read.

-o-

Mission objective: Infiltrate counterfeiting ring run by Ernesto Salazar and his known associates. Stop a shipment of bills headed to finance terrorism in the Middle East while gathering sufficient intelligence to continue tracking Salazar’s operation for long term surveillance.

Status: Aborted. The team successfully infiltrated Salazar’s outfit by posing as alternative paper suppliers. Dorset was at point with Simms as his partner. Collins and Malick were in charge of surveillance and security. After gaining information regarding the sale of the counterfeit bills, the ODS set up a sting operation designed to catch local players and take the money out of the market. However, the meet never occurred. An explosion and subsequent fire ripped through Salazar’s production facility. Some fatalities reported, all IDs were low-level members of Salazar’s operation. There has been no signs of Salazar, though he is presumed dead. There is some intelligence to suggest that the exchange was diverted, which indicates that the cover operation was compromised in some fashion. All viable leads have been lost. Operative Carson Simms’ was last seen in the explosion, but his body was never recovered. He is presumed KIA.

Special notes: There was no obvious oversights made in the preparation or execution of the mission. Despite some unconventional choices, the ODS implemented appropriate judgment and caution in the field. The team has been cleared of wrongdoing. The team has expressed continued desire to return to North Africa to search for Operative Simms. They have also requested ongoing intelligence work regarding the remains of Salazar’s operation. Both requests have been denied, and Operative Dorset, Operative Malick and Operative Collins have been on mandatory leave pending standard psychiatric evaluation.

-o-

“You do realize that this therapy is mandatory, don’t you, Operative Dorset?”

The man in the chair regarded her coolly. “My presence is mandatory. My cooperation isn’t.”

Colleen shrugged. “Technically, you’re right,” she conceded. “However, your status as a field officer will only be approved with my signature.”

Dorset scoffed. “I can pass any test you give me.”

“Oh, no doubt about that,” Colleen said, flipping through the file. “You’ve already passed your medical evaluation, and there has been nothing to indicate that your performance was at fault for the outcome of the mission.”

“So this is just a formality,” Dorset said.

Colleen closed the file, offering a smile. “I’m afraid not,” she said. “It is my duty to assess your psychological status and see if you are emotionally and psychologically competent for active duty.”

“Like I said, throw any test you want at me,” Dorset said. “I’m great with the ink things.”

Colleen wasn’t amused. “There is no test to pass,” she said.

Dorset sighed, leaning back and crossing his arms defiantly over his chest. “Then why am I here?”

“You’re here, Operative Dorset,” Colleen continued purposefully, “because Carson Simms is dead.”

-o-

As team leader, Operative Dorset clearly blames himself for the incident in North Africa. He is subversive during sessions and often uses purposefully obtuse answers to attempt avoiding real answers. He finds it difficult to reconcile his role in the loss of his teammate, likely because he values his own skills as a means of protecting his own. He seems unwilling or perhaps unable to fully accept that he cannot control all elements of a mission.

The fallout from the mission has had a profound impact on his methods and modes of operation. In the past, Operative Dorset has displayed control issues and exhibit a healthy level of observational skills. In the aftermath of this event, he seems belligerent, as though he could have prevented the tragedy in North Africa with more attention and focus. His keen sense of observation is being skewed toward paranoia, and it is clearly affected all elements of his work and home life.

Because of this, Operative Dorset has begrudgingly admitted that his mission in North Africa has negatively affected his personal and professional life. He has indicated that his team is suffering and that his marriage is tenuous. He now responds to all forms of authority, including those within the CIA, as potential threats against his ever-increasing need for control.

These are not necessarily healthy response mechanisms, and it seems likely that this incident will continue to impact Operative Dorset’s life. While the impact on his personal life may be irreversible, it is too early to tell whether or not he can use his increased vigilance and efforts for perfection in a positive manner benefitting national security.

At this point, I do not think Operative Dorset is a security risk. I do question, however, whether his desperate attempts to control missions will ultimately bring more harm to himself. His inability to delegate or share information through proper CIA channels could lead him to be compromised in the field. While Operative Dorset is not looking for swords to throw himself on, he may ultimately decide to put the welfare of his team above his own needs -- and above the mission.

Further therapy would likely help resolve some of these issues, but since Operative Dorset is combative and closed off during sessions, I am not optimistic about his progress. In my opinion, clearing him for field duty would put him at increased risk and could jeopardize future missions. Field clearance is not advised.

-o-

Colleen smiled, pen poised.

Malick glared back.

“You know,” Colleen ventured, shifting slightly in her seat. “This would go faster if you answered the question.”

“No, the time would be equally painful,” Malick snapped. “I make a habit not to talk to people with inflated degrees.”

Colleen didn’t rise to the barb. “I only asked you to confirm your name for the record.”

“And that was your first mistake,” Malick said. “To start, if you need me to confirm my name, then this entire procedure is doomed to failure. You are the so-called expert here. You should be the one doing the official confirmations. And second, I never confirm my identity to anyone.

She had expected this much. She continued to smile patiently. “Operative Malick, there is no need to defend yourself here--”

“There isn’t?” Malick asked, eyebrows up. “Last I checked, your signature could make or break my application to return to the field.”

“It is my job to assess what is best for you and your team,” she said.

“What do you know about it?” Malick asked. “Cooped up in your comfortable office with your stupid hotel-room art?”

Colleen glanced vaguely at the watercolors on her wall. She had been meaning to change those.

“You are in no position to judge anything about me,” Malick continued, almost smugly. “I have more training and more experience.”

“Are you so sure about that?” Colleen asked. “It is true that I’ve spent the last five years working as one of the head psychiatrists for the CIA. However, I want you to know that I have several PhD’s in addition to my medical degree, with advanced training in counseling and clinical psychology.”

“All of which happens on stupid leather couches,” Malick said dryly.

“I get a lot of compliments on that couch, actually,” Colleen said.

“That’s not the point.”

“No,” Colleen agreed. “And I suppose it’s also not the point that I spent ten years serving the US military overseas. As a medical officer, I suppose it wasn’t quite the same as being in the front lines, but Afghanistan and Iraq are still Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Malick squared his shoulders indignantly.

Colleen pressed on. “But you’re right,” she continued. “That’s not the point. The point is that you went to North Africa. And you came back a man short.”

Malick stiffened slightly.

“You consider yourself the muscle of the team, is that correct?” Colleen asked.

“I am thoroughly trained in multiple methods of fighting and self-defense,” Malick confirmed brusquely.

“And you still couldn’t protect Carson Simms,” Colleen concluded.

Malick said nothing.

“That’s the point, then,” she said. “Isn’t it?”

Malick looked away, his jaw rigid as he refused to look at her.

Colleen sighed, shaking her head. “I’m not here to judge you, Operative Malick,” she said. “I’m here to help you. I want what’s best for you.”

“And you think you’re the best person to decide that?” Malick asked coldly.

“I’m afraid my judgment is not the one in question right now,” she said. “After all, I’m not the one who’s a man down.”

Malick’s gaze darkened, and Colleen knew the man was likely thinking of way to exact harm upon her. She did not normally provoke her patients, but she’d learned that CIA field agents were not always the most forthcoming individuals. Sometimes they required alternative tactics.

For their own benefit.

It was still a fine line. Operative Malick was grieving in his own way, and if Colleen pushed too hard, he’d close her out altogether.

But if she didn’t push him, he’d shut down without even trying.

“So,” Colleen continued, sitting back up primly and tapping her pen on her notepad. “Will you please confirm your name for the record?”

Malick glanced at her, then at her digital recorder. “For the record, I still think this is a waste of my time,” he said.

Colleen waited.

Malick took a breath. “Casey Malick,” he muttered. “My name is Casey Malick and I’m a member of the Office of Disruptive Services. I’m here because a month ago we went to North Africa on a mission to stop a counterfeit ring.” He took a breath, and glared again. “We failed.”

And that, Colleen knew, was the best place to start.

-o-

At first glance, I have never assessed a patient with more repressed rage and anger than Operative Malick. His ability to function with this much repressed emotion is nothing short of remarkable, and though his coping mechanisms are unconventional, they do seem to have some validity. However, I suspect that his tendency to revert to rage and anger is a symptom of a stronger repressive urge -- that of fear. Operative Malick is willing to admit to his anger, and he is willing to display his rage, but emotions like grief, regret, and fear are still taboo in his mindset.

This is problematic because I suspect the incident in North Africa elicited many such emotions. Operative Malick has no consistent personal ties with anyone outside his team. He does not admit it, but his record speaks for itself. He has been unswervingly committed to the ODS despite multiple opportunities to do solo field work over the last few years. This persistence suggests that he cares for their well being. Therefore, losing Operative Simms in action, has had a profound impact on Operative Malick.

His response is perhaps not unexpected. Operative Malick expressed a willingness to cooperate with my assessment. When I asked him about his future with the ODS, he deflected and talked about his career at large. He is aware that his team may be in jeopardy and is seeking self-preservation in terms of his career. Even if the ODS ceases to exist, Operative Malick has every intention of working in the CIA.

While Operative Malick’s coping mechanisms have warranted concern from psychiatrists in the past, it is my opinion that he has honed his repressed emotions well enough to be a vital asset in the field. His record may have numerous violations cited, but all of those are to the ultimate greater good of the mission. When personal ties are tested, Operative Malick reverts back to his job and his training.

Therefore, I do not see Operative Malick as any sort of risk in the field. To the contrary, there is evidence from our sessions to suggest that he would be even more effective in the field, especially in a solo operation. Field clearance is advised, though further analysis might be beneficial to determine of Operative Malick is best suited for team-based assignments.

-o-

Colleen looked up when the door opened.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Collins said, closing the door behind him. He smiled with an apologetic shrug. “I’ve never been good with appointments.”

Colleen glanced at the clock. “There are only fifteen minutes left in your session,” she remarked.

Collins blew out a breath, rubbing a hand on the back of his neck. “Well, if you’d rather reschedule--”

“This is the third time you’ve pulled this, Operative Collins,” she said.

“Well, in my defense, the two of those were official Agency business,” Billy said.

Colleen was unimpressed. “Sit down, Operative Collins.”

Collins looked from her to the seat, then back again. Finally, he smiled grandly. “With such a warm invitation, who am I to say no?”

Collecting her notepad, Colleen made her way around the desk, sitting down in the chair opposite the couch. Collins was grinning at her. She regarded him for a moment. “You seem awfully happy to be here.”

“What can I say?” Collins said. “I like people. Especially attractive women such as yourself.”

He’d made similar compliments since his first session, and no matter how little attention she paid to it, he still seemed intent on trying. Colleen sighed. “You seem awfully happy but never say anything.”

“To the contrary!” Billy said. “Last week, I believe I regaled you with a wonderful little story about a mission to Morocco.”

“From when you were with MI6,” she said. “It had no relevance to any of our proceedings here.”

“But isn’t it all related?” Billy said. “Or should I be starting further back? My mother did make the best Shepherd’s Pie--”

Colleen shook her head. “Operative Collins, if I may be blunt.”

Collins stopped short, expectant.

Colleen moistened her lips and continued carefully. “You have shown extreme contempt to this process.”

Collins’ face fell. “That is categorically untrue--”

She shook her head. “You are here to talk about the mission in North Africa,” she said. “You are here to discuss the fallout of leaving one of your teammates behind.”

At that, Collins’ face went blank. “Our debriefing cleared us of wrongdoing.”

“This isn’t about wrongdoing,” Colleen said. “This is about determining whether or not you are fit for duty.”

“I can pass your tests,” Billy said.

“I don’t have any tests,” Colleen said. “And let’s be honest here, are you even sober?”

Collins’ turned red.

“Shall we discuss your preparedness for duty? Because even if you’re not talking, your actions are telling me a lot.”

Collins’ jaw tightened.

Colleen opened the file. “You’ve been consistently late to work. You’ve missed entire days, leaving Dorset to cover for you. There is evidence of drinking, sexual promiscuity and a general lack of regard of policy, procedure and professionalism.”

“We’ve always marched to the beat of our own drummer at the ODS,” Collins said coolly. “That’s a big thing for you Americans, isn’t it?”

“Individualism, yes,” Colleen said. “Self-destruction, no.”

“What I do on my off hours has nothing to do with my fitness for duty,” Collins said, voice raised now.

“This isn’t a quirky hobby or unconventional lifestyle choice,” Colleen said. “This is alcoholism and an increased risk of compromise.”

Collins’ face flushed, indignant. “I would never--”

“You have and you are,” Colleen said. “And if you continue to treat these sessions like a joke, then I won’t be able to help you.”

At this, Collins’ posture changed. He snorted. “And what are you going to do? Deport me?”

Colleen didn’t miss a beat. “Without your job at the CIA, your work visa very well could be revoked. And with two strikes against you in the spy game, where are you going to go to sell your services then?”

The color drained from Collins’ face, leaving his bloodshot eyes glaringly obvious. He let out a heavy breath. “That would be the cherry on top of it all.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Colleen said, her demeanor shifting slightly. “Tell me about North Africa. Tell me about what happened. Your behavior is not an uncommon reaction to grief and regret. It can be dealt with. But only if you acknowledge it.”

For a moment, Collins’ face contorted. “Is that it, then?” he asked. “I talk about my feelings and you’ll sign off on me for duty?”

“I can’t make that promise,” she admitted, watching Collins carefully now. His facades were falling -- as tried and tested as they were, they were faltering now, and she saw a glimpse of a man who had lost a lot in his life. Her expression softened, imploring Collins to give this a chance. “But it’s a place to start.”

-o-

Operative Collins was the most vocal regarding his grief. Although he often tried to make light of his emotions, Collins eventually expressed honest regret and loss over the mission in North Africa. While this is a positive step, I do question whether or not Operative Collins has a sincere desire to find healthy coping mechanisms. His behavior since returning from overseas has been self-destructive, and he has a wanton disregard of his own value and safety. While these traits have been part of Operative Collins’ profile from the time we hired him, I am concerned that this loss will only heighten these responses to dangerous levels.

For Operative Collins, the loss of Operative Simms reinforces a pattern of loss and negative behavior in Operative Collins’ life. While he has proved resilient in the face of such challenges, each loss pushes him further and further away from the accepted status quo necessary to the ongoing efforts of the CIA.

More than that, if Operative Collins’ reckless behavior continues, he will be no longer physically capable of the job. His tendency to binge drink is problematic for a number of security reasons, especially when paired with the increased frequency of his admitted sexual partners.

I believe Operative Collins can recover from this self-destructive tailspin, but I am uncertain he will be open to changes from outside authorities. For Operative Collins, the loss of Operative Simms was like losing a family member, and without the support of the remaining members of the ODS, I do not see a successful future for Operative Collins in the CIA.

-o-

It was late when Colleen finished her last file. She’d put it off as long as she could, but Higgins was expecting her final evaluation and ultimate recommendation of the ODS in the morning. She couldn’t doubt her ultimate conclusions -- psychologically speaking, she’d had no other choice -- but it was still hard sometimes. Higgins would most certainly disband the team. Malick was well suited for undercover work, and Dorset would be a hell of an analyst. Collins could be put on a probationary period of light analytic work with a strict regimen to get his behavior back under control.

This was for their benefit, in the end. Michael Dorset needed to absolve himself of ultimate control. Casey Malick needed better outlets for his rage. Billy Collins needed a supportive and functional team structure to keep him from spinning wildly out of control. Given their current team dynamic, none of those things were going to happen.

It was for their own good.

She knew they’d take it hard.

Really hard.

Sighing, she reached into her drawer and snagged a piece of chocolate. She needed the pick-me-up as much as they would. Professional or not, it still was a hard call to make and she hated the thought of where it’d leave them.

Still, she didn’t get to her position by being soft on the hard choices. She’d made tougher calls than this, and she’d stand by this -- no matter what.

She downed the chocolate and collected her things, grabbing her files to take home with her. On the way out, she turned off the lights and locked up, leaving a few papers and notes on her assistant’s desk for him to go through in the morning.

There weren’t many people left on her way out -- she’d been pulling late hours with the ODS paperwork -- but she still nodded at the security team at the checkpoint on her way out. She turned on the radio for the ride home, and was contemplating opening a bottle of wine to go along with whatever takeout she still had left in the fridge. It wasn’t that she didn’t like to cook, but with as little free time as she had, spending it in the kitchen just seemed wasteful.

It was a short drive, and she was again grateful that she’d splurged for a place nearby. It wasn’t much, but she didn’t need much -- just a small refuge away from the stressors of work. She parked in the garage, closing it behind her, and she was just inside the door, taking off her heels, when something prickled on the back of her neck.

She stopped, and listened.

The house creaked. It was an older home, and it was prone to settling. But there was something different, a faint smell in the air.

Unarmed, she pulled her keys so they were pointed out, stepping gingerly across the wood floors as she crossed the mudroom and into the kitchen. In the dimness, she made out the familiar shapes of her appliances and the dim glow from her fish tank.

And then she saw the three figures, silhouetted in the dimness.

Her heart skipped a beat, and she lifted her keys higher as her mouth went dry. Her mind flashed to her training -- not the medical or psychiatric training, but the standard military protocols. Her days at boot camp were distant, but she’d stayed in shape. She could fight if she had to.

But the question was, did she have to?

She paused, tilting her head. Three dark figures; three strange men. But not strangers.

She sighed, keeping her keys tight in her hand as she flicked on the light.

“Gentlemen,” she said, almost in disbelief.

Operative Dorset smiled. “Didn’t figure you made house calls,” he said with a shrug. “So we decided to make one for you.”

-o-

Colleen had a lot of instincts. She considered, more than once, calling 911 and having these three idiots arrested for breaking and entering. However, she was a doctor first and foremost, and she could recognize the reckless action for what it was -- a cry for help.

An unconventional, dangerous and illegal cry -- but a cry nonetheless.

It was like she’d learned in medical school -- first, do no harm.

So she started a pot of tea and invited them to sit down.

Dorset accepted the invitation first, sitting in the middle of her couch. Collins followed suit, though he seemed a little jittery as he ducked his head and perched next to Dorset. Malick was clearly reluctant, and he alternated glares of total disdain between Dorset and Colleen while they got settled in.

“So,” Colleen said, sitting across from them in her chair. “Is there a reason you decided to break into my house?”

“Maybe we missed you,” Dorset quipped.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Colleen said. “Which is why you broke the law and Agency protocol. You could be arrested and kicked out of the CIA for this type of infraction.”

Dorset shrugged. “We just needed to talk.”

“You had a month of therapy sessions for that,” Colleen pointed out. Her gaze passed over to Collins and Malick. “And none of you were very good at it then.”

Dorset looked a little chagrined, giving a quick glance at his teammates. “We’re not exactly a conventional team.”

“I’m beginning to see that in first person,” Colleen said. “Normally people make an appointment instead of breaking into my home.”

“Like I said, we’re unconventional--”

“And reckless and criminally liable,” Colleen continued for him.

“You knew all that already,” Dorset said.

Colleen chewed the inside of her lip. “Okay,” she said. “So tell me something I don’t know.”

Dorset swallowed, and this time his gaze lingered. First on Malick, who sighed. Then to Billy, who reluctantly met his gaze before inclining his head in agreement.

Taking a breath, Dorset looked back at Colleen. “As a team, we’ve been together for three years,” he said. “That’s a long time in the field, and we’ve been through a lot together.”

“We’ve saved each other’s asses,” Malick added gruffly.

“More times than we can count,” Billy said, his voice rough but clear.

“And you’ve seen our file,” Dorset said. “We’re good at what we do.”

“I’m still waiting for something I don’t know, Operative Dorset,” Colleen said.

“The reason we work so well is because we each bring something different,” Dorset continued. “We’re different parts of the same whole. We’re not just operatives on a mission, we’re a team.” His mouth flattened. “And we lost part of ourselves in North Africa when that warehouse went up in flames and Carson never came out.”

There it was, then. The grief they shared but had refused to properly acknowledge. The sticking point that took them from functionally broken to irreparably damaged. Her expression softened. “Not to sound cruel, gentlemen,” she said. “But how does this change anything?”

“Wasn’t admitting it the first step?” Malick asked crossly.

“You did say we were repressed,” Billy said.

Colleen sighed. “It’s a first step, yes,” she said. “But even here -- I see no indication that you are going to change. You can’t just talk about what happened. You have to actively work to overcome it. You need to fix the psychological processes that have kept him in this state of flux. Dorset, you’re a paranoid bastard and you’re probably going to ruin your marriage because you think the answer is to try harder. Malick, you’re too damn frightening to cut loose but I can’t, in good conscience, assign you to another team. And Collins, damn it. Are you even sober now? Or did they actually have to drag you out of a bar to get you here?”

Collins lowered his gaze again, his shoulders slouching. Malick’s eyes burned with nothing short of hatred, and Colleen had to shake her head.

“Even now, you want to cut corners just to get what you want,” she said. “You blow off a month of mandatory counseling and think you can save it all by breaking into my house the night before my report is due. You can’t cheat on this. Not on this.”

“Look, we know,” Dorset said. “We know.

“Do you?” Colleen asked. “Then tell me what’s going to change. Tell me what you’re going to do. And I don’t want to hear that you’re going to plan better and fight harder. Because this has never been about your skill sets.”

To his credit, Dorset didn’t back down. “For starters, we’ll keep Malick from killing someone.”

“Contrary to the image he projects, Casey Malick is a teddy bear inside,” Collins said.

“And Billy -- we’ll make sure he doesn’t drink himself to death,” Dorset continued. “I know where he lives, and I’m not afraid to sit with him in his apartment every night.”

“We’ll also do our best to keep him from getting an STD,” Malick said. “Even if we have to neuter him.”

Collins lifted his gaze enough to glare at that. “And we’ll also make sure that Michael doesn’t become a completely paranoid bastard,” he said. “Granted, he’s already pretty close, but I think we can keep him on the brink and salvage his humanity.”

“And his sanity,” Malick muttered.

Collins made a face. “Though I make no promises on his marriage.”

“Especially if he’s crashing at Billy’s place to keep him sober,” Malick said with a shrug.

Dorset rolled his eyes. “The point is,” he interjected, “we’ll take care of each other.”

There was something reassuringly friendly in their banter. Something comfortable; something fond. Their barbs held affection. That affection reflected the vestiges of hope.

Still, Colleen shook her head. “That sounds good,” she said. “But it’s talk. I can’t make any recommendation based on eleventh hour deals.”

Collins paled, exchanging a worried look with Malick. Dorset leaned forward and looked at her intently. “If you’ve read our files as well as you say you have, then you know that we’re not just about a mission,” he said. “I can’t promise you about what will happen in the field. I can’t promise you that Casey’s not a raging maniac or that Billy won’t have liver damage in three years. I can’t even promise you that I’m going to figure out how to love my wife without making her hate me in the process.”

Malick squared his shoulders and Collins lifted his gaze higher.

“But we’re a team,” Dorset continued. “And we don’t just fight alongside each other. We fight for each other.”

If it was a line, it was a damn well spun one. There was some flourish involved with all this, but Colleen knew she was a good judge of character and intent. She trusted her instincts, even when they didn’t always make perfect sense.

And Dorset was telling the truth. They could have come here separately, each to save their own, but that wasn’t what they wanted -- not even Malick. They came together -- they put it all on the line together -- because that was the way they worked. It was why losing Operative Simms had hurt them so much.

It was also why they’d be able to overcome it in the end.

“We lost one man,” Dorset said, as if reading her mind. “We won’t let that be in vain.”

It was compelling. Which was why Colleen let out a long breath and got to her feet. “Thank you for coming by, gentlemen,” she said. “This was a very productive session.”

Malick’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it?”

Colleen shrugged. “My findings are confidential until I file them with the Director.”

Collins looked distressed. “But surely you can give us a hint.”

Dorset got to his feet, meeting her gaze steadily. “I think she already has,” he mused. He held out his hand. “Doctor.”

She took it, shaking it firmly. “Operative Dorset.”

He said nothing more, and when he let go of her hand, he nodded to his teammates. Collins followed, still not quite meeting her eyes on the way out. Malick gave her a stony look as he passed, and she heard the door open and then close.

She waited, then let out a breath. Moving to the window, she pulled the curtain aside and peeked out. The three men were at the end of her driveway by then, bathed under the glow of the lamplight. Malick was rolling his eyes. Dorset spoke to him and he sighed, as if in some tacit agreement. Then, Malick nudged Collins, who offered a small smile.

Dorset was more demonstrative, clapping the younger man on the shoulder. They stood there for a moment, the three of them. Standing alone and yet united. They were still three broken men, but for the first time in the month she’d worked with them, she saw them healing. They had a long ways to go, but as they piled into a car down the street, Colleen thought maybe there was a chance for them after all.

-o-

As their individual files explain, Operatives Dorset, Malick and Collins each present certain concerns in regards to fieldwork. The truth is, separately, I would be reluctant to consider any of them good candidates for high level teamwork within the Agency. Even Malick, who is well suited for deep cover, would need to be heavily restricted and monitored in order to be effective.

However, I do not believe I can base my assessment of the ODS on the individuals alone. The ODS represents a unique department within the CIA, one whose framework is not meant to be evaluated at this time. Rather, I can simply look at these three individuals as the surviving members of this department and assess them as a unit.

They have already been operationally cleared of any wrongdoing in the North Africa mission. Though they are unconventional, they have the right priorities to make missions work. More than that, their personalities and skills sets are so perfectly complementary that they have an innate advantage.

Therefore, while I stand by my individual assessment of each team member, I feel it is beneficial to add a group analysis for proper consideration of their field statuses. It is my opinion that these operatives can provide the necessary support and coping systems to function in the field. More than that, I believe there is a strong possibility that continued fieldwork as a unit will not only help them each heal individually but will eventually make them a more effective team.

Individually, I cannot clear each member for field duty. However, if the ODS is retained in its current form, I believe these three operatives can remain as active and viable assets for this Agency. It is my recommendation, ultimately, that Operatives Dorset, Malick and Collins be approved for fieldwork on a probationary status as long as they each remain assigned to the ODS. Further assessment can be conducted in six months to reevaluate their probationary status.

As a side note, I am enclosing a bill for lock replacements that I would like reimbursed promptly.

Thank you,
Colleen Weidman