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Covert Affairs fic: Just Another Mission 1/2

January 7th, 2011 (01:21 pm)

Title:  Just Another Mission

Disclaimer:  Not mine.

A/N:  This goes out to the wonderful sendintheklowns , who is celebrating a birthday tomorrow.  I could not ask for a better friend who puts up with me day after day throughout the year, so for one day, I’d like to share back a little of the love with her :)  So for her, my first foray into Covert Affairs fic, because it’s never a bad thing to stop and enjoy Auggie.

A/N 2:  I know nothing about CIA missions.  So if this plot is completely silly, then I hope you can suspend belief.  It’s not really about the plot anyway :)  Much thanks to geminigrl11  for beta'ing.

Summary:  Just another mission, she keeps telling herself.  It’s been her mantra in the weeks since.  It’s been her saving grace to get her back in active duty.  Post finale.

-o-

Annie thinks, this is just another mission.

She stands in her room, in front of her closet, and considers what to pack.  Something versatile, that she can move in.  Something tasteful, but not too trendy.  Revealing, but certainly not risque.

She wants to pack her tennis shoes. but they won’t fit her cover.  She’s on business, after all.  Pumps and open toes; stylish but tasteful.

Picking up her favorite black pair, she mourns the snapped heel.  She broke them on a mission last week, and hasn’t replaced them yet.  For a moment, she considers borrowing a pair from Danielle, but she doesn’t want to try to explain why they come back mangled from a business trip.

Annie packs her other black pair.  She doesn’t like them as much, but they’ll do.  If a chase ensues, she’ll just have to ditch them.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

She keeps it light, but diverse.  Picking up a book, she throws it in for good measure.  Her fingers linger at the bedside table, just shy of the photograph of Ben.

Her memory flashes.  The hut in Sri Lanka.  Ben’s warm body next to hers.  Blood all over her hands when they told her that there was nothing they could do.

All these years, all this time, finally knowing the truth, and there’s nothing they can do.

Annie swallows, fighting back tears.  She turns away, raises a shaking hand to her head.  Ben’s bracelet slips down her wrist and she closes her eyes.

Just another mission, she keeps telling herself.  It’s been her mantra in the weeks since.  It’s been her saving grace to get her back in active duty.

Just another mission.

-o-

Annie dreams.  She dreams of hand-to-hand combat and gunfire.  She’s on a helicopter and the pilot keeps saying they’re almost there, they’re almost there...but when Annie finally sees where they’re going, something blows them out of the sky, and she wakes up.

The girls whine about breakfast.  Danielle makes them all toast and eggs.  Annie snags a piece of toast, kisses her nieces, and apologizes with a smile because she’s got to hurry if she’s going to make her flight.

-o-

It’s an international flight, and being CIA means flying without any perks.  She’s got her cover with the Smithsonian to get her out of the country without suspicion, and when they land in London, they’re all going to meet up with a nervous turncoat Russian who may have something pertinent to them.  The London meet is supposed to be neutral ground, and Jai is at point in the negotiations while Auggie is there for technical support.  Annie’s playing backup on this one, and it seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a traitor that may or may not be an asset.

Plus, she’s tired of airports, especially with long lines at the check in counter and the triple checks through security.  By the time she gets to the gate, she’s been wanded and had to empty her purse, and she’s sort of wishing she’d taken time for the eggs or at least another cup of coffee.

Jai and Auggie are already there, sitting side by side.  Jai is fiddling with his phone and Auggie is bobbing his head with earphones in his ears.

She smiles when Jai looks up and waves at her, and she walks over, taking the seat between them and parking her carry on in front of her.  “What’s with security today?” she asks, because it’s the best small talk she can think of.

“I didn’t have any problems,” Jai says.

“Everyone is naturally less suspicious of blind guys,” Auggie informs her with a measure of satisfaction.

She has to fight the urge to pout.

-o-

Their flight is delayed.  Something about a thunderstorm in Ohio, which Annie can’t quite understand in connection to a flight to London out of D.C.

She wonders if she’ll ever get a cover that doesn’t involve flying in coach.

Jai seems oblivious to their plight, and Auggie can’t stop smiling.

“What’s with you?” she finally asks.

Auggie turns his head toward her.  “What do you mean?”

She shrugs.  “The smiling,” she says.

On her other side, Jai snorts.  “He’s been at it since I picked him up this morning.”

Auggie’s smile didn’t flicker.  “Not even you can steal my happiness at this moment,” Auggie informs Jai proudly.

“And why’s that?” Annie prods.

“Aren’t you excited?” Auggie presses.  He leans closer, his voice dropping.  “I mean, field work.”

Annie smiles, even if she doesn’t really feel it.  Instead, her stomach is uneasy and her hands are cold.  “Just another mission,” she tells him.

Auggie shakes his head, the grin widening even more on his face.  “Not just another mission,” he says.  “Field work.  How much have I missed field work?”

Next to them, Jai snorts a little.  “It’s not a picnic,” he says.

“No,” Auggie readily agrees.  “Even better.  It’s a mission.  Best damn mission ever.”

“You do remember that your job is to stay in the back,” Annie reminds him.  “You only have to verify the package.”

“I’m not going to split hairs about this,” Auggie insists.

“You know,” Jai says suggestively, leaning closer to Annie.  “If we call Joan now, we might still be able to convince her that we can do this without him.”

Auggie makes a noise in the back of his throat, but even the gentle ribbing can’t take the smile off his face.  “You could try to convince her, but she’d never go for it.  This package will contain one of the most advanced file encryptions we’ve ever seen.  It could be forged a hundred ways that even a normal tech geek wouldn’t pick up on.”

Jai sits back up and seems to consider rolling his eyes.  “And to think, you’re not even the rookie on this crew,” he says.

Annie squawks in protest.  “I’m not a rookie anymore.”

Jai’s smile is a little condescending.  “You still seem that way to me.”

“I hate to agree, but you seem that way to me, too,” Auggie says, and there’s a hint of apology in his voice.

Annie straightens her back indignantly, tossing her hair a little.  “I’ve been on missions before,” she says.  And she still remembers them all.  Remembers the car ride in South America.  The fight by the docks in D.C.  Going rogue in Sri Lanka.  She squares her shoulders, trying to feel confident.  “Lots of missions.”

Jai pats her a little on the arm.  “And you’re good at it,” he assures her, but it feels contrite.

Auggie leans closer to her.  “The more you defend it, the less anyone will believe it.”

Annie rolls her eyes and sighs at them.  “Whatever,” she says.  “You two are the ones acting like school boys competing for the spelling bee.”

“He’d totally win at spelling,” Auggie says.  “That is one area that I’m perfectly proud to admit a deficiency.”

Jai snorts.  “The only one you’d admit, maybe,” he says.

“Who was it that Joan specially cleared for this mission?” Auggie says back.

Next to her, Jai shifts in his seat.

Auggie settles back, a huge grin on his face once again.  “I thought so.”

-o-

Auggie argues with Jai to get an aisle seat, his logic being that a blind guy can’t appreciate the view anyway.  Jai doesn’t look overly thrilled about it, but he agrees and trades places.

Annie sits between them, and she’s not sure if that makes her feel safe or claustrophobic.  She understands just how important trusted backup can be, but she’s seen firsthand how limiting it really is.

Jai sleeps for a few hours and Auggie listens to his iPod loud enough that Annie can hear the beat.

Annie closes her eyes for a while and lets her mind drift.  She goes through her training drills from The Farm, then mentally recites all the specs of the mission.

Name of contact:  Alek Ivanov.

Reason for Contact:  Ivanov has worked for the government in Russia for a number of years. When he unearthed documents regarding the circumstances of his father’s death, he became disillusioned and is now seeking asylum in the United States.

Potential Value:  In exchange for asylum, Ivanov can offer high level top secret Russian documents.

Purpose of Mission:  Meet with Ivanov; assess the documents.  If they check out, Ivanov can will be transported back to the United States and undergo a thorough debriefing and then assigned a new identity through witness protection.

Importance:  Potentially high. 

Risk:  Average.


The thought makes Annie pause. 

Risk: Average.

She thinks of Ben’s blood, all over her hands.

Risk:  Average.

She doesn’t know what that means anymore.

Mouth dry, she turns her attention to her hand-to-hand combat skills, thinking through a forward attack, a rear attack, a sideways attack.

When the plane lands in London, Jai wakes up and Auggie smiles at her.  “Nice rest?”

She forces a smile back.  “Yeah, it felt great,” she lies.

-o-

Things don’t really improve when they get out of the airport.  Auggie is wired from a lack of sleep and Jai is clearly straining to hold onto his temper with it all.  Annie feels like she’s sleepwalking, but she’s felt that way ever since Ben died, so she’s not sure what to make of that.

Ultimately, they’re professionals.

At the rental car station, Jai is unfailingly polite, even when the girl behind the counter seems to have lost their reservation.  She takes awhile to find it, and asks what they’re doing in England.

“A business trip,” Jai tells her with a smile.  He nods toward Annie and Auggie.  “We’re with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.”

The girl smiles back, but it’s clear she’s never heard of the place.  “That sounds lovely,” she says, then she looks at her screen frowning.  “Are you sure you made a reservation?”

Jai is pulling out his paperwork, and Annie stuffs her hands in her pockets, turning to look out at the rest of the airport.  This can’t be a good sign, she thinks.

Auggie leans in and says to Jai, “Ask her if she has a red car.”

Jai nods and holds up a hand to placate him.

Annie fixes him with a look.  “You can’t see the car anyway,” she says.

Auggie shrugs, settling back on his heels.  “I can still tell.”

“You can tell the car color?” Annie asks, more than a little incredulous.

Auggie nods readily.  “Some things you just know,” he tells her.  “No matter what.”

Even though it’s the stupidest thing she’s ever heard, somehow Annie wishes that she could feel that way about something in her life.

-o-

They set up at a British safe house.  They meet a CIA contact, a nondescript man in his 40s who works at a grocery store.  Jai has a conversation with him about celery and how to find blueberries out of season before he takes them all to the flat.

Auggie sets up in the back bedroom while Jai double-checks the building’s security.  It’s a quiet street and the building is old and simple and it seems like they have it to themselves.  Annie checks in on her secure phone back to Langley, and everything is still a go.

Jai double-checks the files and makes sure his gun is loaded.  Then he smiles at Annie.  “You ready for this?”

From behind them, Auggie snickers.  “Just another mission,” he says.

Annie feels her face flush slightly and she plasters a smile on her face.  “I’m good.”

“Great,” Jai says.  Then he glances over at Auggie.  “This place has basic security--”

“But nothing for the blind, I got it,” Auggie says.  “Two buzzes and three knocks.  Then I’ll flick the front light.”

“The meet is only two blocks away,” Jai continues.  “We’ll all have our phones on, but no wires.”

Auggie shakes his head.  “You’re worrying too much,” he says.  “The place has been swept and secured.  Hand picked by British intelligence.  It’s called a safe house for a reason.”

Jai nods.  “Still.”

Auggie’s smile fades and he nods resolutely.  He pulls something from his pocket.  “CIA grade rape whistle and mace,” he says.  “They don’t trust blind guys with guns, but objects of discomfort can be effective, especially since I don’t need great aim.”

That’s something, and Annie knows this has been thought through.  Auggie’s blind, but he’s not helpless, and she knows the alarm system has been rigged with verbal commands, but somehow it’s hard to trust anything these days.

Still, she can doubt her orders, but it’s hard to refute Auggie’s smile.  She nods, smiles back.  “Okay,” she says.  “And you can call, you know that.”

Auggie rolls his eyes.  “Yes, mother.”

-o-

Outside, Annie glances back at the house nervously.  “You sure he’s okay in there?” she asks. 

Jai smiles.  “He’s right.  The house is secure.  As long as that much is true, we haven’t got a thing to worry about.”

Annie glances over her shoulder again, and tries to quell the uneasy feeling in her stomach as they move down the street.

-o-

Sometimes, Jai impresses her.  He seems to move seamlessly, easing in and out of the population with a disarming smile that is endearing and forgettable all at once.  When they have eyes on their mark, Jai engages him in the proper chitchat, slipping in conversation about all-natural green tea leaves just that easily.

Their asset is somewhat less smooth, but he returns a volley about organic coffee beans from the Philippines and they all know they’re in the right place.

Annie keeps her eye on the exchange, but looks warily at the crowd around them.  It’s a busy street in London, and people are shopping, eating, talking, walking.  There’s a man with a long trench coat, clutching a briefcase, who glares at her when he walks by.  There’s a pair of teenage girls laughing as they skip down the street.  There’s a mother pushing a stroller, but she spends more time fussing with the baby’s blanket than anything else.

Potential threats, Annie thinks, and looks for something definitive.  But the businessman walks by.  The teenage girls laugh until they’re out of range.  And the baby starts to cry and the mother stops and scoops her up for a moment, offering comfort on the busy street.

Jai touches her arm gently.  “We’re ready,” he says.  He smiles.  “Tea?”

She smiles back, eyes flickering to the asset.  “Tea.”

-o-

Alek is younger than she expects, even from the intelligence photos.  He’s on the small side, with blonde hair that he wears slicked back and a skinny frame.  He may work in intelligence, but at first glance, Annie knows he’s not a spy.

If this surprises Jai, he doesn’t show it.  Instead, he smiles professionally and inclines his head after ringing the bell twice and knocking three times.  The front light flickers in response.  “Sorry for the trouble,” he says, opening the door and gesturing cordially.

Alek flinches a little, swallowing convulsively.  “No, it’s good,” he says, looking around uneasily.  “A little security goes a long way.  You’ve doubled-checked the building, right?  It’s safe?”

“British agents secured the area before our arrival,” Annie assures him with a smile.  “We’ve had a man stationed here all day.  It’s as safe as it can be.”

Alek steps through the door, but doesn’t look convinced.

Jai holds his arm out and lets Annie go in front of him.  “The hard part of this is already over,” Jai assures them all, as he brings up the rear.

-o-

“This is everything I have,” Alek says, holding out what looks like a thumb drive.  “It’s heavily encrypted--”

Jai nods politely, taking it.  “We have the facilities to check it.”

Alek looks around nervously, his hands rubbing on his jeans.  “Here?”

Annie looks around, sees the drab couch and the sagging recliner.  The coffee table has a long scratch in it and there’s a coat of dust on the windows.

“Yes,” Jai says, without missing a beat.  He glances at Annie, handing her the thumb drive.  He turns back to Alek.  “We will just need to verify the information and then we’ll look into your transportation back to the United States.”

Annie holds onto the thumb drive.

Alek swallows.  “Just like that?”

“Well, it’ll take us a minute to check the information,” Jai allows, he looks at Annie as if for confirmation.  Then he nods again.  “But yes, just like that.”

“It took me months to download that information,” Alek says, his voice lilts nervously. “Months just to decide that I wanted to do this at all.  And you can verify it, check it, and we leave, just like that.”

Alek looks terrified standing there, young and fidgety, but he doesn’t doubt them. 

He’s making the biggest decision of his life, and it all comes down to this.  Somehow, Annie knows how he feels and yet she’s envious of him all the same.  He’s got a whole new world ahead of him.

This is why Annie joined the CIA, but almost a year in, she’s not sure her hope was correctly placed.  Because she’s traveled and she’s seen things and she’s defended her country, and somehow none of it seems to make her feel better.  She’s still living with her sister, mourning the one relationship that really changed her life.

Looking at Alek again, she doesn’t know whether to envy him or pity him.

“Annie,” Jai says.

Annie blinks, turns her attention and smiles placidly.

“I’ll talk our guest here through the next step if you would be willing to take the package back and see if it checks out,” he says, and it sounds like a suggestion, but she’s been in the CIA long enough to know the difference between a choice and an order.

She nods brightly. “Of course,” she says.  She looks at Alek.  “I’ll just be a few moments.”

-o-

Auggie is practically vibrating when she gets to the back room.  He’s perched on the edge of his seat, staring at the door.

If she didn’t know Auggie, it might creep her out.

As it is, it still impresses her how he knows it’s her before she’s even in the door.

“Finally,” he says.  “I thought you were going to make small talk forever.”

She can’t help but smile; missions are harder to understand, but she holds close to the people who are left.  Sometimes, when she’s having lunch with Jai or getting drinks with Auggie--sometimes, she forgets.

Not entirely, not enough, but a little.

Seeing his face light up, seeing the excitement in his eyes, breaks through her barriers, if only for a moment.  She saunters up to his makeshift work station with a lackadaisical walk.  It’s an impressive piece of improvisation, with computers and Braille keyboards and a simple security system making muted beeps in the background.  “What, you missed me already?”

“Positively pining,” he says, looking in her general direction.

She frowns a little.  “You know, I might be flattered if I thought you were interested in me,” she says, a little coy.

Auggie scoffs.  “I don’t have problems picking up girls,” he says.  “I do have problems getting myself into actual field work, so for now, let’s just stick to business.”

He’s not being unkind, and she knows he’s right, of course, but she feels herself stiffen anyway.  Swallowing, she holds up the thumb drive, brushing it against his hand.  “Should be here,” she tells him.

His fingers lock around it and he pulls it away.  He feels his way to his computer console, slipping it intuitively into the appropriate drive.  “Let’s see what this baby has to offer, then,” he breathes.  He grins up at Annie.  “Nothing like a good encrypted file of Russian secrets to get the blood moving, huh?”

For a moment, she’s glad Auggie’s blind.  That way, she doesn’t even have to pretend to smile.

-o-

In all of Annie’s training, there two things that she hasn’t been prepared for.

First, that she would care about the people she worked with and that losing them would hurt.  Of course, no contingency in her mind had involved meeting Ben again and discovering that the reason he broke her heart was because of the agency she just pledged herself to serve, but that’s neither here nor there.  She had, of course, been instructed to maintain an appropriate distance from all her colleagues, but Ben made that impossible, and the idea that the agency could ever prescribe emotional distance as a way to prepare its agents for loss seems foolish, at best.  Shortsighted, at worst.

Second, that spy work is often boring.  Yes, she gets to do the exciting things, like car chases and secret meetings and the like, but her time behind a desk, fact checking and researching, is a far more common plight.

Even now, for being in London, sitting there watching Auggie work seems tedious.

But this is what spy-life is.  This is what she signed up for.  To live in moments of terror of losing the people she cared about and whittle the way the rest of her life in total monotony.

“Almost there,” Auggie reports, and he still somehow manages to sound gleeful.

“That’s great,” Annie says.

Auggie pauses a moment, tilts his head in her direction.  “Hey, are you okay?”

She blinks.  “What?  Yeah, I’m fine,” she says quickly, as nonchalantly as she can.

“You’ve seemed off lately,” Auggie observes.

It doesn’t surprise her that he’s noticed.  It does sort of surprise her that it’s taken him this long to say anything.

She’s had her list of excuses and casual distractions in mind for awhile, just in case.  “I think all the traveling’s finally catching up to me,” she says with a shrug.  “I mean, how many years did it take for you to get used to it?  Not always knowing what time zone you’re in?”

Auggie considers this.  “That was always my favorite part,” he replies.  Then he hesitates, fingers moving on the keyboard.  “You know you don’t have to lie to me.”

She swallows hard, hears the compassion in his voice.  She nods a little.  “It’s just been a crazy year,” she admits, her voice strained ever so slightly with emotion.

He spares a moment to chuckle, shaking his head.  “What, they’re teaching the art of understatement at The Farm now?”

She can’t help but laugh.  Even when the rest of her life seems fake, there’s something authentic about Auggie that she still gravitates toward.  She doesn’t know how to share his enthusiasm the same way, but she’d do well to remember that Auggie isn’t as happy-go-lucky as he sometimes wants people to believe.

Auggie’s her friend, even when she hasn’t been much of a friend to be around.  That matters.  It’s the first thing that’s really mattered since being in Sri Lanka with Ben.

Her expression softens and she gathers a breath.  “Yeah,” she agrees.  “And you know me--always the overachiever.”

“At a CIA training facility, that’s really saying something,” Auggie says.

“What, and you weren’t?” she asks, a bit coy.

Auggie considers that with an incline of his head while he works.  “I knew how to walk the fine line between motivated and brown-noser.”

Annie feigns hurt.  “I think you just insulted me.”

“Aw, come on, Annie,” he cajoles.  Then he flashes a grin at her.  “You shouldn’t have to think on that one at all.”

She laughs, a little harder than she probably should.  The sound is foreign to her ears, harsh in her throat, but she needs this, she thinks.  She still needs this.

-o-

Life with the CIA seems to be a process of one step forward, two steps back.  The intelligence game is hit and miss, and it takes awhile to accept that for every home run the team hits, they strike out most of the time.

The fact that this is true for all intelligence agencies around the world is some consolation, but now that Annie can measure success and failure in blood, it’s really not much of one.

So maybe she should have seen it coming.

As it is, she doesn’t see anything.  It’s her hearing that tips her off.

There’s a small sound, distant and minimal.  Squeaking metal, a soft padding--

She straightens to listen--

And then the first gunshot goes off.

There’s a yell--briefly--and another volley of fire that is cut off abruptly.

Whoever it is, they move fast.  Annie reaches for her gun and barely has time to draw it before she sees the movement at the doorway.  “Gun!” she yells out of instinct no matter how redundant it is, and she fires once before dropping and rolling.

“Annie?” Auggie barely has time to ask before his voice is lost in the melee.

The wall behind her seems to explode with gunfire, and she’s ducking blindly.  She grapples to get her bearings, and finds herself behind Auggie’s makeshift command center.

There’s no time, though.  No time to think.  She’s on a mission, and she’s been on missions before.  She remembers them all, each one.  She remembers the British turncoat in the States.  She remembers the corrupt millionaire in South America.  She remembers Ben on the cement floor in Sri Lanka.

Her eyes burn and her throat hurts and she’s better than this, she’s better than all of this, and at this point, she’s not sure what else she has to lose.

Gun in hand, she pushes to her feet, firing on her way up.  The returning gunfire stops, but she doesn’t stop firing until her gun hits on empty and there’s nothing but a clicking sound in the sudden eerie quiet of the safe house.

There’s a dead man in the doorway, armed with an array of guns and ammo.  His bulletproof vest is shredded but it’s the hole in his forehead that’s important, and the brain matter spilling out behind him tells the rest of the story.

She doesn’t know if he’s alone or where he’s from, but his face looks Russian if she had to guess, and she thinks that maybe Alek was right about double-checking.

Annie tries to control her breathing, but her heart is still pounding in her chest.  With shaking fingers, she reloads her gun, just in case.  “We’re going to have to move,” she says breathlessly.  “Contact our British liaison and see what happened and try to salvage this--”

Her voice trails off.  Her hands go cold. 

Behind her, Auggie is sprawled, head turned to the side and eyes closed.  His long legs are tangled in his chair, which is tipped over with him on the ground.  He’s still holding the disk in one hand, and his chest is stained red with blood.

Annie blinks and tries to swallow.  Blinks and tries not to scream.

Because Auggie is bleeding, Auggie’s been shot, and this is just another mission, and she should have known better.

She really should have known better.

-o-

For a second, Annie is just a twenty-something girl in way over her head.  She could work for the Smithsonian or a school or a grocery store.  She lives with her sister and her family and she’s the youngest daughter of two working class parents.  She traveled the world and got her heart broken and now she doesn’t know what she really wants to do with her life.

For a second, that’s all Annie is, and all her training, all her missions--none of it means anything.  She’s just Annie Walker, a girl who saw the love of her life gunned down in front of her eyes, and she’s in a drab flat in London that’s riddled with holes and her best friend is lying in a pool of blood and she doesn’t know what to do.

Except that’s not completely true.  Because she does know what to do.  She has been trained for this. 

It’s only been a second, maybe ten, maybe twenty, and there isn’t time to lose.

First, secure the scene.  She’s no good to anyone if she’s still vulnerable and while she is certain that the gunman is dead, she can’t be certain he’s the only attacker. 

On instinct, she kicks his gun away, making a visual sweep of the room and peeking her head out the hall.  The room is secure, which is enough for now.  She can’t worry about the rest of the flat (can’t worry about Alek, about Jai, about the mission...focus on the here and now, no matter how much she doesn’t want to).

Second, call backup.  There’s no noise from the other room, and she can’t risk leaving Auggie and putting herself in jeopardy.  No matter what the situation is, the mission has been compromised and she needs backup.  Her fingers are trembling as she pulls out her phone.  Normally her first call would be to Auggie, but that’s not an option now.  She’s not sure if it’s the tone of her voice or the way she hisses that the mission has been compromised, but the operative on the other end promises her immediate backup.

Third, help the wounded.  It sounds so easily--almost clinically so--but as Annie stares down at Auggie, there’s nothing easy or clinical about it.  This is Auggie, her best friend.  The guy who flirts with every woman he meets and charms half the men he comes into contact with as well.  The guy who geeks out over the latest technical achievement and can patch her into any phone system in the world.  The guy who is her first call in times of crisis and her confidante when she’s getting drunk.  The guy who will sleep with the enemy to get any intel and beams like a little boy the minute he gets any chance to work out of the office.

Auggie.

But now he’s on the ground, vest shredded and blood spattered all over.  His face is turned away, but his headpiece is still on.  She doesn’t know if he’s alive, and for a second, she’s not sure she wants to find out.

She’s not sure about anything.

(Except she’s been here before.  In Sri Lanka.  On the roof of a building and it’s Ben who’s dying, Ben who’s bleeding, Ben who she finally knows just in time to lose all over again.)

“Annie,” the voice on the other end of the phone says.  “Can you tell me how badly Auggie is hurt?”

The question is perfunctory, and Annie realizes that she doesn’t know who she’s talking to.  She supposes it doesn’t matter, but this is always easier when it’s someone she knows.  Someone she trusts.

(It doesn’t matter, though.  The mission matters.  The mission matters most.  Agents die. Assets fall through.  But the mission matters most.  She’s told herself that since Ben died, told it to herself again and again and again.)

Someone like Auggie.

“I need you to assess his vitals,” the voice explains.

(Ben lost a pulse so quickly, bled out nearly on the spot.  She didn’t feel Jai’s arm around her or understand what the medics were saying.  It was too late.  Too late.)

Annie’s not sure what to think, so she figures maybe it’s sort of nice that sometimes the CIA doesn’t pay her to think, but to follow orders, and this is one order she would rather not fail at.

-o-

The phone is cradled between Annie’s chin and her shoulder, which makes it hard to move, but there’s not much she can do.  At first, she doesn’t even want to touch him, and when she presses her fingers to his throat, it takes her a minute to get past the warmth of Auggie’s blood to feel his pulse beating.

He’s alive.

“Annie, can you please tell me what’s going on,” the voice says.

Annie ignores it, and focuses with new vigor.  Auggie is alive.

That single truth permeates her awareness and she clings numbly to it.  This isn’t Sri Lanka, she tells herself.  This isn’t Sri Lanka and Auggie is not Ben and the blood on her hands looks the same, but isn’t the same at all.

She’s trained for this.  She has first aid training.  Like most things at The Farm, she excelled in this. 

It comes back to her, like a cover story she’s memorized or an intelligence briefing she’s heard too many times.

She lifts her chin and lets the phone clatter to the floor.  She doesn’t have time for this--she doesn’t have time for anything.

Airway.

Auggie is pale, but he isn’t blue.  There is no sign of obstruction, and recovery position is usually preferred to ensure an open airway.

Bleeding. 

It’s hard to know where to start, so she runs her fingers along the frayed edge of his vest.  The rounds must have been high grade, because they’ve ripped the vest entirely.  There’s a bullet hole in the right shoulder and another just below in the chest.  She finds a third one on the upper abdomen, and recognizes them as successive shots.

Auggie wouldn’t have had time to move, even if he’d seen it coming.

The thought leaves her cold, but she knows she has to do something to control the bleeding.  She searches, feeling helpless in the makeshift ops center Auggie created.  Perfect for double-checking top secret Russian files.  Useless in a crisis.

But her training isn’t for the best case scenario; it’s for this. 

She reaches for Auggie’s jacket, which is still slung on the table behind them. 

It’s not easy to rip, but Annie only looks like an average girl.  It gives way to her desperation and when she has two passable strips, she wads up the rest of the jacket and ties it into place.  It’s awkward work, maneuvering the strips under Auggie’s torso, but she gets it done, tying them tightly into place as best she can over the wounds.

It’s efficient and it’s effective.  Annie sits on her heels and tries to feel satisfied, but this is Auggie on the floor, Auggie’s blood on her hands.  She can still hear him, telling her how happy he is to be on a mission.

Suddenly, she wants to throw up.

She can’t, though.  There’s someone talking at her, yelling actually.

Then she remembers the phone.

With shaking fingers, she goes to pick it up, pausing to wipe the blood on her hands across her pants.

It doesn’t help.

Her fingers latch onto the phone and she holds it to her ear.

“--I need you to answer me,” he’s saying, and there’s a hint of frustration in his voice.

“Sorry,” she breathes.  “I administered basic first aid.”

She glances at Auggie, wishing she could know if it made a difference at all.

“Fine,” the man says, a little terse.  “Now you need to secure the rest of the area.  Where is your team leader and the asset?”

Jai and Alek.  It hasn’t even occurred to her.  She remembers the initial gunfire, but hasn’t heard anything from the other room yet.

She doesn’t want to think about what that means.

“Annie, you need to assess the scene before backup arrives,” he says, more forcefully now.

Annie looks at Auggie.  She remembers his smile.  She remembers Jai rolling his eyes.  She remembers how young Alek looked.

She nods. “Okay,” she says.

Getting to her feet, she feels shaky, like a rookie on her first day out of The Farm.  But she’s a trained agent and she can do this and she needs to make sure Auggie is safe and this is her job.

This is her job, she tells herself.

There’s no indication of trouble, but Annie remembers to pull her gun anyway.  She shifts the phone and pulls out a new clip, loading it with numb fingers while the person breathes on the other end of the line.  When it’s loaded, the gun feels heavy and warm in her hands, and she holds it out with one hand while holding the phone to her ear with the other.

“Annie?”

“Heading into the hallway now,” she whispers and she doesn’t look at the dead man in her way as she tries to avoid the puddle of his brain matter.

The hallway is empty, just like expected.  She forces herself to breathe and keeps her walk steady.

One foot in front of the other.

She can hear breathing on the other end of the line and keeps her finger on the trigger, just in case.

The hallway is short, and she can see the light from the windows in the main part of the flat.  It’s probably almost dinnertime.  Auggie wanted to eat someplace interesting.  Jai thought he might know a place.

She swallows it all back, and steps into the light.

The scene is there, plain to make out. 

Her breath catches in her throat, ending with a stifled sob, and she almost drops the phone again.

Because there are three bodies here and none of them are moving and there’s so much blood--so much blood--that she doesn’t know whether to cry or throw up or just run away altogether.

“Annie?” the voice on the other end asks, but she can barely hear it.  “Annie.”

She takes a strangled breath and holds onto the wall to brace herself, her hand leaving a smear of blood.  “There’s a second gunman who’s down and the asset is, too.”  She curses under her breath and she feels lightheaded.  “The team leader is down, too.  They’re all down.  All of them.”

-o-

It takes a minute before the voice on the other end starts making sense again.  Despite the fact that she’s been unresponsive for a few seconds, maybe more, the voice is remarkably calm.

“Annie, I need you to fully assess the situation,” it says.

It might as well been telling her, Annie, you’re late for school.

Or Annie, your hair looks so nice like that.

Or Annie, isn’t the weather nice outside?

All things considered, Annie wishes this was that simple.  That she was late for school, having a bad hair day, or that it was raining outside.  She could make casual chitchat when she was living a life.

But she wasn’t late for school, she was standing in the middle of a massacre--her friends, bleeding on the floor.

And her hair could look good or bad, it didn’t matter--because she was the only one still standing and all of this was left to her.

And the weather?  Rain or shine, what difference did it make?  What difference did any of it make?

“Annie,” the voice says again.  Simple.  Unyielding.

Something inside her snaps, and she feels awareness flood over her again, warm and tingling throughout her body.  Her heart skips a beat and the adrenaline begins to mount.  These are her friends and there’s no one else to do this job, and it was sunny when she lost Ben and it can’t be sunny when she loses Jai and Auggie and the whole damn mission.

She swallows.  “Yes,” she says, moving forward again.  “I just need a second....”

The gunman doesn’t have a face anymore, so she doesn’t waste her time.  Alek is closest to her and he’s on his stomach with a shot to his back.  He was running--for all the good it did him.  Heroes and victims still bled the same, and she wonders if the news to Alek’s family will be any different whether he’s dead or simply defected.  She kneels over and presses two fingers to his throat and feels the thready pulse there.

There’s still a chance, and though his wound needs pressure, triage is more important.

Swallowing, she steps over him to where Jai is sprawled on his side.  From the position he’s lying, it’s hard to make out the injury, but the pool of blood collecting steadily on the floor is a strong indication. 

Tentative, she reaches out, trying to get a better view of his face but before her hand can make contact, his entire body startles with a railing breath.

The surprise of it makes Annie jump back, stumbling over an end table and she flails in shock.  Something shatters behind her but she doesn’t have the time to see what she broke when Jai is on his back, eyes wide and mouth gaping like a fish.

He doesn’t say anything, but his mouth is moving as though he should.  The entire left side of his body is covered with blood but she can’t clearly see the bullet hole between his torn vest and his once-blue dress shirt.  He’s on his back, hands moving weakly at his side, and his face has broken out in a sweat.

He’s looking at her, and that’s enough to finally jar Annie back into the moment.  She moves forward again, going to her knees by his side, feeling the blood on the floor dampen her pants.

“Just--relax,” she says uselessly.

Jai takes a gasping breath.  “Mission was...”  his voice trails off with a painful sucking sound in his throat.

She shakes her head and tries to shush him.

He doesn’t seem to notice.  “Mission was--compromised,” he says.

Annie stares at him, words of encouragement falling dead on her lips.

She looks at the second dead gunman.  She looks at Alek.  She remembers Auggie in the other room and the brain matter in the hallway.

Her mouth closes and she nods.  “I know,” she says, no matter how needless it is.  But she holds his eyes and nods again.  “I know.”

-o-

Not even a minute goes by.  Jai is laboring for air, eyes open to the ceiling, and Annie is trying to find a way to stem the blood from Alek’s back.  She doesn’t know how Auggie is doing anymore.

It feels like a lifetime.

Two agents arrive.  One is an American, but Annie doesn’t know him.  The other is British, and Annie doesn’t know her either.

The British agent is concerned with the safe house.  She is checking the windows and the exits, and she asks Annie how the gunmen approached.

“I don’t know,” she admits.  “I was in the back room.”

The agent frowns and goes back to her work.

The American pulls her aside.  “We’re posing as federal investigators,” he says.  “Your cover can hold.  Your business trip took a bad turn.  This is a robbery gone wrong.  You don’t know anything.”

She looks at him hopelessly, then looks at Alek and Jai and remembers Auggie in the back room.  “They need help,” she said, her voice feeling strained.

“We called for an ambulance when we arrived on the scene,” he says, and his voice is rushed.  “They’ll be here any moment.  You have to understand, however, that this situation is delicate.”

Two of her best friends are dying and her asset may already be gone.  Delicate doesn’t seem to do it justice.

The agent smiles a little, patting her on the arm.  “You’re going to do fine,” he says.

-o-

When the ambulance arrives, everything happens quickly.  The two agents slip into law enforcement mode, and Annie finds herself huddled to the side to play witness.

All things considered, playing shell-shocked isn’t all that hard, especially not as she watches the medics tend to her friends.

Alek’s shirt is cut away, and the gunshot looks worse when it’s exposed.  It’s not bleeding as much as the others, but the ragged hole looks unnatural, and when the medics bandage it and roll him over, Annie is struck by how young his wan face looks in the London sunlight.

Jai is still conscious, but Annie’s not sure he’s really aware.  He seems to answer questions, head rolling back and forth occasionally.  Once, he seems to look at her, and she tries to smile, but his eyes unfocus but then his head rolls back to look at the ceiling.

The medics working on him are cool and efficient; they barely look at Jai as they bandage his wounds and hook him up to a pair of IVs.  When they whisk him away, Jai’s eyes are still open, dark and distant.

Auggie takes the longest, and even if Annie can’t see anything with him, she can hear it.  There isn’t yelling, but the voices are loud and clear, with firm orders and barked requests.  When they come back out, they’re moving at a brisk clip, not slowing for anything on their way out the door.

In all the commotion, Annie barely has time to see Auggie, his dark hair brushed across his forehead, his chest exposed and stained with red.

The agent taking notes flips his notebook closed.  “Thank you, Ms. Walker,” he says, and he looks at her until her eyes meet his.  Then he nods purposefully.  “We’ll be in touch.”

The other agent edges in, eyes softer.  “Would you like a ride to the hospital?”

Annie blinks and then remembers where she is.  Nodding readily, she says, “Yes.  I’d really appreciate that.”

The two agents exchange a look.  Then the American looks back at her.  “I just need to finish some things up here...”

Things like hiding evidence, making sure things were secure.  The place is swarming with London police, and the risk of an international incident is something Annie knows should bother her more than it does.

The mission, after all.  The mission is why she went back to a crime scene to get her shoe.  The mission is why she posed as a girlfriend to track a South American criminal.  The mission is why she was with Ben in Sri Lanka...

She hardens herself.  “Well, if you have any questions,” she says, looking at the first agent purposefully.  “You’ll know where to find me.”

Her tone does not have room for argument, but she knows this agent could invoke some if he saw fit.  He gauges her, a little wary, but finally nods.  “We’ll be in touch, Ms. Walker,” he says again.

Annie doesn’t doubt that, but doesn’t have time to think about it as the other agent leads her out of the flat.

-o-

Patience is a virtue, but Annie figures that as a CIA agent, virtue is pretty low on her list of priorities.  Of course, there’s things like honor and valor, courage and patriotism, but she’s lived this life long enough to know that the ideals that frame the agency are hardly the day to day foundations of her job.

She lies, but for a greater good.  She deceives, but to save lives.  She kills, but only because she has to.

It’d all be easier if this was a job with black and white, but it’s all in shades of gray, every last bit of it, and just when she thinks she had it figured out, someone comes and washes it all with red.  Ben’s blood made it hard to understand, but as she sits in a waiting room in London, scratching at the blood under her fingernails, it’s just getting harder.

Every mission, it just gets harder.

She doesn’t know if it’s Auggie’s blood or if it’s Jai’s.  It could even be Alek’s for all she knows, or one of the assailants’.  There’s no way of knowing.

She’s not sure if it matters.  If one of them bleeds, they all bleed, and she’s been hemorrhaging for months.  Ever since Ben died, it’s been a slow bleed, and now with Auggie and Jai, it’s all pouring out of her, faster than she knows how to deal with.

She signed on knowing she had to risk her own life, and she’s made her peace with that.  It doesn’t scare her to stare down the barrel of a gun.

But she’s watching the people around her fall, she’s got their blood on her hands, and none of it seems to make sense anymore.

Just another mission.

Assessing risks.

The greater good.

These things should make it easier to accept, but the greater good won’t bring Ben back.  Another mission won’t make Auggie survive.  Assessing the risks won’t take the bullets out of Jai’s body.

Her friends are dead, her friends are dying, and Annie’s in a waiting room.  Just another mission gone wrong, she thinks again, letting her head drop forward and her eyes close.

Just another mission.

Continued in Part Two

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: January 8th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
Auggie & Jai

This totally rocks!!! Can you hear the squee from over here?

*hugs*

I love your Auggie to bits. But you knew I would.

*hugs you again*

*hugs your beta*

*skips off to read part two*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 8th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
auggie jai

The fact that you liked it is making me smile immensely. On your birthday, you deserve this and so much more!

2 Read Comments