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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Covert Affairs fic: Reasons 2/3

January 7th, 2012 (10:35 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



PART TWO

Patience was paramount. Being slow and methodical was often the key to success in the field. Taking the extra time to be sure could be essential in protecting an asset or securing intel. It could even save her life. Annie had gotten accustomed to that, was even pretty good at it.

But this wasn’t an asset or intel. It wasn’t even her life. It was Auggie and Jai. It was her friends.

In everything she’d done – the missions she’d completed on foreign soil – she had rarely been this nervous. Not since being on the roof and seeing Ben go down…

Annie shook off the memory and focused her eyes on the road. She tightened her fingers on the steering wheel and reminded herself to stay on track. This wasn’t about Ben. This wasn’t a mission overseas. This was Auggie and Jai and she would fix it.

Glancing down, she eyed her map, which was clearly marked with the route Auggie had had approved. Eyes on the road, she took another turn onto the main highway through the countryside.

To think, Auggie had been so excited. Jai had been so reticent. Annie should have been there.

The thought was cut short when her phone rang.

Picking it up, she glanced at the number, both relieved and worried. “Hello?”

“Annie,” Joan’s voice returned. “I just got off the phone with our Berlin case officer.”

Annie felt herself tensing. “Is the asset secure?”

“Very,” Joan confirmed. “And there’s been no renewal of the asset’s line back to the States. It’s not going to be up and running until at least next week, maybe later.”

“So there’s no way that the asset contacted Auggie,” Annie concluded, her stomach churning.

“No,” Joan confirmed. “So I checked in with the previous case officer, who said that there’s been third party activity in the asset’s old stomping ground.”

“He’s been compromised?” Annie asked.

“Likely,” Joan said. “The only reason the asset’s not dead yet is that he may be valuable to a third party, both for relaying false information and for counterintelligence gathering.”

Annie’s mind worked and she found it difficult to keep her attention on the road as it began to wind its way through the countryside. “How did we miss that?”

“The transition made it murky,” Joan said. “And it looks like the details were lost in the paper-work, but we’re on it now.”

That was something, anyway. Annie took a tight curve and steadied herself with a deep breath. “So do we know who contacted Auggie?”

“No,” Joan said. “We’re still working on that.”

“What about the site?” she pressed, noting the speed limit sign and promptly ignoring it. “Any activity?”

“We’re working on pulling up the satellite imagery,” Joan said. “Current picture is vacant, but it’ll take us a bit longer to backtrack the recording to see who’s been coming and going.”

Annie frowned, turning the wheel for another bend in the road. “So we’ve got nothing?”

“We’ve got nothing,” Joan confirmed with resignation.

Annie sighed, feeling the tension build in her shoulders, threatening to create a headache pounding between her temples.

“I’ve got a team headed out to the site to perform an in depth analysis,” Joan continued. “I want to know who was there and why. It wasn’t picked at random.”

“What about Jai and Auggie?”

“We can have civilian medical assistance there, but we need to know where we lost contact first,” Joan said.

“Don’t we have GPS tracking?” Annie asked.

“We’re trying to see if we can find it for Jai’s car,” Joan said. “His switch to Special Projects has complicated things. He seems to have found a way to disable it in his phone and Auggie’s isn’t showing any signal.”

“We were talking when the line went dead,” Annie recalled. “It could be too damaged.”

“Which means we’re flying blind in reconnaissance,” Joan concluded. “I wish I had something more for you to go on.”

Annie did, too. Pulling the car into a straightaway, she really did.

“What’s your ETA?” Joan asked.

Annie glanced again at the map, noting the approximate distance. “Thirty minutes from the meet,” she said. “But they were on the road when I talked to them, so I should come across them earlier.”

“Very good,” Joan said. Then she paused, the note of hesitation suggesting an unusual vulnerability. “Call when you find them.”

There was uncertainty in her tone, but hope, too.

“Of course,” Annie said before the call disconnected. Putting her phone in her car’s center console, she narrowed her eyes on the road, pushed down the pedal farther and willed it to be sooner rather than later.

-o-

It was almost funny. In all his missions, Jai had never been in the hospital. He’d had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but he’d always managed to escape any real peril. His father liked to chide him about it – tell him that he played it far too safe to ever make something of himself – and maybe that was true.

Maybe it also wasn’t such a bad thing. Because lying at the bottom of a ravine with a car caved into his side certainly did nothing to make him feel like a hero, no matter how much it had been done in service to his country.

All it made him feel was pain.

Jai liked to think of himself as strong in the face of danger and agony, but the feeling of the metal biting into his flesh was making him seriously reconsider that assessment. It was an intense sort of pain, unrelenting and pulsating, flowing with the ragged edges of his consciousness as he took strained breaths with his back pressed against the seat.

If this was karma for his climbing the ranks so quickly at the Agency, then it was more than somewhat of a bitch. Not necessarily undeserved, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

Still, he forced himself to keep himself together and tried with all his self-control not to think about it. Dwelling on the pain wouldn’t do him any good. Neither would dwelling on his fail-ures or his faults. He still had a responsibility here, especially since Auggie didn’t look very good.

That mattered. Jai had learned the hard way that such responsibilities mattered.


The other man was conscious now, which was a real improvement. Jai couldn’t be sure how long either of them had been unconscious, but given the head wound Auggie was sporting, Jai had been somewhat worried that he would wake up at all.

Jai counted it as a testament to Auggie’s fortitude that he was awake and alert. Because he hadn’t been joking about the head wound. When Jai had first woken up to see the other man, he’d thought Auggie was dead. That much blood – that deep of a gash – it was serious.

And the other injuries – Auggie’s self-assessment had been honest enough, and if the man was downplaying things, then they were in even more trouble than Jai had previously thought.

Which really was saying something. Because Jai already knew they were in trouble. Jai couldn’t even see half his body and the pain in his leg was quickly burning out to numbness. He was no doctor, but when he couldn’t discern where his leg ended and the car began, he knew his own condition was less than ideal.

Of course, they’d been compromised somehow, which was really the primary concern as far as the mission went, and Auggie’s head and Jai’s leg only compounded the real mess they were in.

The thing was, he couldn’t fix any of that. He couldn’t assess where the line of communication had been compromised or who had tried to kill them. He couldn’t even properly get them out of this ravine and to any kind of medical attention.

It was a helpless feeling. Jai was tired of feeling helpless. As though everything in life was decided for him and all he could do was grapple along to follow orders as best he could. That was why he’d used his father to get himself the new position.

Not that it was doing him any good. He was the field operative here. He was the one who had the clearance and the training to deal with this situation.

And there he was, stuck.

Story of his life.

Wetting his lips, he kept his eyes on Auggie. They’d lapsed into predictable silence, and while that was to be expected on many levels, Jai knew it wasn’t probably good. Because Auggie didn’t look good. His eyes were opening and closing at seemingly random intervals, and although Jai knew Auggie couldn’t see, he also knew that the drowsy look on his face did not bode well. With that head wound, Auggie needed to stay awake.

Jai couldn’t get them out of here any faster, but he could do that. More than that, he had to.

Sighing, Jai worked to control his pain, willing away the tightness in his leg.

“So,” he said, rallying his strength and his social stamina, “is field work still what you remember?”

Auggie, who had been leaning against the seat, eyes blinking slowly, roused. He rolled his head back toward Jai and smiled half-heartedly. “Pain and peril in the name of my country,” he said. “All old hat for me.”

Jai forged a smile before he reminded himself that Auggie couldn’t see it. Not that a smile would probably do much to disarm the tension in the car anyway.

Which meant, conversation. Never Jai’s favorite thing, especially when it came to his fellow CIA employees. He was good in the field – he could take on a persona and lie with the best of them – but honest small talk, getting to know someone, had never paid off much for Jai.

But this didn’t have to be innocent chitchat. This was as much the mission as anything. He had promised Annie he’d take Auggie out and bring him back. Although she hadn’t been specific, he was fairly certain that keeping him alive was part of the tacit measures of success.

Somehow, that made it easier. “And you’re still not tired of it?” Jai asked, building on Auggie’s joke.

Auggie quirked his eyebrows. “What?”

“You’ve given more than your share to your country,” Jai pointed out. “No one would blame you for walking away.”

This made Auggie’s forehead furrow slightly, the jagged wound leaking fresh blood. “And what would I walk away to?” he asked. “I’m blind; I’ve found that my options are limited.”

“Well, you could always move up at the Agency,” Jai said, taking a breath and trying to resettle himself. A fresh nagging pain started in his side and he winced to keep it at bay.

Auggie huffed a laugh. “And you think that’s what it’s all about?”

Jai shrugged, letting his eyes drift toward the windshield. Outside, the view was limited to dirt and rocks, and the isolation felt all too familiar. “I think it makes sense,” he said. Then he looked back at Auggie. “Besides, you’d be good at it. You have the personality and the skills, plus a whole lot of practical experience to build on. You could go far; further than most.”

Auggie shook his head, eyes blinking again, a little slow. “I’m not in it for that.”

Of course he wasn’t. Guys like Auggie never were. It all seemed to come naturally to Auggie, even in the face of insurmountable odds. It was a seamless ease that Jai had aspired to all his life and never quite achieved, no matter what tactics he employed.

Maybe that was what had always been hardest to accept when it came to Auggie. That he could do what Jai couldn’t – and he did it without even trying. “Then what?” he asked, now with genuine curiosity.

Auggie’s lips turned up in a tired smile. “I could tell you to make the world a better place,” he says.

“And is that the truth?” Jai prompted, feeling breathless.

Lifting his good hand, Auggie swiped at his face. It came away bloody but he didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he shrugged. “Most of the time,” he said. Then he shook his head. “I mean, I know most people think that after going blind for my country, I’ve paid my dues. And I proba-bly have, but at this point, I don’t know if I have much else left to lose. I’m a part of this, whether I want it all the time or not.”

Jai could understand the ambivalence. “And that’s enough?” he asked, and he was too tired to hide his bitterness.

Auggie perked up a little, seeming to sense Jai’s shift in attitude. “Again, most of the time,” he said. “And when it’s not, I remember that it’s worth it.”

“For national security?” Jai asked.

“That and the people who serve here with me,” Auggie said. He sighed, shoulders drooping even further. “I gave more than my share, but not everyone has to. If I can make this job safer for someone else, if I can help save just one more life, then it’s worth it.”

It probably shouldn’t have been surprising, but still, somehow it was. After so many years of being played by good guys and bad guys alike, Jai had forgotten that some people still talked like that. More than that, that they actually believed it. Auggie had more reasons than most to be bitter, and yet, there he was, bleeding and trapped in a crashed car, blinking unseeing eyes and telling Jai that it was worth it.

Jai wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t sure he could even make sense of it, not with his aching body. Instead, he laughed.

Auggie blushed a little, though it was hard to see under all the blood. “What? Too idealistic for a tried and true veteran like yourself?”

“No,” Jai said, shaking his head and gathering his scattered wits. “Just – refreshing. There’s not too many people in the Agency who still talk like that. Most people do the job to make themselves more important, not because they think the job is important.”

Auggie sighed, letting his head loll back again. “Yeah, well,” he mused, gritting his teeth slightly. “The CIA is a strange place.”

Jai snorted at that, ignoring the lancing pain through his side. “Trust me, I know.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Auggie said. “I mean, how else can you explain the two of us, stranded an injured and alone an American soil?”

The words cut through the pain and lingering regret, and Jai was reminded of the mission at hand. They had come away empty handed from the meet, so getting back alive was still the paramount concern.

In the seat next to him, Auggie was wilting somewhat. Blood covered the side of his face now, and he was still bleeding. Jai didn’t like the drowsy pull of Auggie’s eyelids.

So he needed to keep the conversation up. He couldn’t spend his time dwelling on his own misgivings and darkened choices; he had to focus on keeping Auggie awake and optimistic.

Swallowing, he nodded, rallying his strength. “Well, we won’t be alone for long,” he said. “The CIA is always keeping tabs on its employees.”

“You talk like you know from experience,” Auggie commented, words starting to slur just slightly.

Jai’s lips quirked into a wry smile. “And you talk like you haven’t been on the other side of this situation more than once.”

“Ah,” Auggie said, smiling again. “Well, you may have me there.”

“So we won’t have to wait long,” Jai said with honest confidence.

“Of course we won’t,” Auggie rejoined.

Jai looked at him again, eyebrows raised. “And how can you be so sure?”

Auggie blew out a breath, letting his eyes drift shut. “Because Annie knows we’re missing,” he said. Then he opened his eyes, rolling his head toward Jai as his eyes looked blankly out the window. “And when have you ever known Annie to fail a mission?”

And Jai had to admit, with everything he was doubting in his life right now, he had no doubts in that.

-o-

Annie was good at surveillance.

As she drove, her eyes were expertly trained, darting from the bend of the road ahead to the scenery passing by. She was looking for some kind of sign – any kind of sign – that might tell her where Auggie and Jai were.

Skid marks, trampled grass on the shoulder; a dinged guardrail, debris. Something. Any-thing.

There was nothing.

This road was quiet, not well traveled. The pavement was worn, the line faded down the middle, and there was little traffic.

Around the curves, she hugged the shoulder, sitting up straighter to get a look into the steep cul-verts that dropped away from the road.

There had to be some kind of sign. She would find them. She had to.

Annie had had pressing missions before. There had been matters of national security, life and death, but this – this was different.

This was Auggie, his bright smile and friendly voice. Danielle was right; things were different with Auggie. She wasn’t sure what that meant, she wasn’t sure how to tell him; not when he’d been to Africa and taken a chance and come back with the promise for more. Auggie was her best friend but he wasn’t hers.

She could have his laughs, she could have his insight, she could have his car, but she couldn’t have him.

She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t pined for that, hadn’t regretted it, but it didn’t matter now. She’d take any part of Auggie just to make sure he was okay.

He had to be okay.

And this wasn’t just Auggie, this was Jai. Another friend, one she didn’t understand as well but one who needed the friend more than Auggie did. She didn’t pretend to understand him, but she knew what it was like to feel alone. And she could see it in his face, he felt alone. She’d been so tied up in her own things – in the fallout with Danielle, in her feelings for Auggie – that she hadn’t taken much time to listen to him.

She needed to have that chance.

They all needed to have their chances.

She just needed to find them – now.

Focused as she was on her search, she almost missed the turnoff. Jerking the wheel, the car swerved, tires screeching as the engine roared. The sound reminded her of Auggie – she won-dered if he could hear it now.

The irony wasn’t lost on her. Here she was, driving Auggie’s car while looking for him on the side of the road. He should be in this car; in a perfect world, without blindness and war, he should be driving. If not, he should be next to her.

But that wasn’t how it was. This was her car now and Auggie was with someone else and Annie had to find her friends.

She had to focus. She didn’t have time for distractions.

But when did she? Would she ever? She needed to learn to live her life, not just survive it. People around her had learned that lesson and were changing. Danielle was moving on from Michael. Auggie had flown to Africa and put his heart on the line. Jai had taken a chance and moved up in the Agency.

So what about Annie?

She didn’t know. Annie knew foreign languages; she knew the status of terrorist organizations around the world. She knew the geopolitical landscape and the status of various civil uprisings but she didn’t know anything about her life. She didn’t know how to make things work with Danielle. She didn’t know how to tell Auggie how she felt. She didn’t know.

Still, her eyes were sharp and burning as she scanned the woods. There was nothing, though. No broken trees, no signs of explosions –

And then she saw a house.

It came up on her so suddenly that she had to slam on the brakes. A cloud of dust rose around her, her tires digging into the dirt as she came to a lurching stop.

Fingers tight on the wheel, she heaved for air, staring blankly at the small home in front of her.

This was the site, she realized. Where the meet had been set but had never gone down.

She blinked, her heart thudding painfully in her chest.

This was where she’d been going, of course. But she hadn’t expected to get there. She’d been expecting to find Jai and Auggie first, to see signs of their car, of an explosion – something.

But there she was. At a complete stop and empty handed. Her stomach churned and she swal-lowed with effort. Because she hadn’t just run out of road; no, she’d mostly just run out of hope.

-o-

When Auggie went to the doctor to see if he could work to regain his sight, he had dreamed of seeing a lot of things. The flashing lights of a computer screen; the car he’d always dreamed of; the face of the girl he loved. Those were things he ached to see, had spent so long envisioning, building in his head. He would have given a lot to behold them again.

He hadn’t wanted to see himself at the bottom of a ditch, hurt and stranded with Jai Wilcox. But, as he tried in vain to mop up the blood of his face, he had to admit, a little sight right now might be a helpful thing.

Then again, given the strain in Jai’s voice and the dying engine outside, maybe blindness was a blessing. He didn’t really want to see in crystal clarity just how screwed they were.

And they were screwed. Because Jai was being nice – friendly, even. It may not have been a sure sign of the apocalypse, but it was a pretty good indication that Jai was worried about their predicament.

All things considered, Auggie might take the apocalypse. Especially if it meant less pounding in his head to contend with.

However, like most things in life, Auggie didn’t get a vote. He’d always been one to make the best of what he had, even when it sucked, so he drew a breath, controlling the pain in his chest, and forced a new smile. “So no that you’re moving up in the world, I bet you didn’t think you’d be in a place like this,” he said.

In the seat next to him, Jai shifted minutely. His breathing was forcibly controlled and the small grind in his voice denoted a real level of pain that he wasn’t acknowledging. Despite this, Jai kept his tone conversational. “Moving up is just as dangerous as staying put,” he said

“Car accidents don’t discriminate, huh?” Auggie pressed. Even the act of smiling seemed to hurt, and he found himself moving his wrist just to forget about the growing ache in his head.

“Or maybe they do,” Jai said, huffing a small laugh. “Maybe karma can just be a bitch.”

“Ah,” Auggie said, letting his head roll back a little bit. Relaxing the muscles in his neck helped alleviate the pain. “I don’t believe in karma.”

“Yeah?” Jai asked, sounding genuinely curious.

With a grim smile, Auggie turned his head back toward Jai. “I’m hard pressed to explain what I did in this life or the last to make this justified,” he said, using his good hand to gesture at his eyes.

Jai seemed to deflate slightly. “Sometimes life isn’t fair,” he agreed.

“Aw,” Auggie said, unable to stop himself from the obvious jibe. “Your trust fund not big enough for you?”

Auggie was blind, but Jai’s glare was easy enough to decipher by the chilly shift in the air. “You know nothing about my life,” he said. “Or my problems.”

He felt somewhat chagrined, but it had already been said. Besides, it was true.

Still, Auggie offered a disarming smile; he could only hope that the excessive blood on his face would sell the point. “From where I’m sitting, you have to admit, you seem to have a lot going for you,” he said. “I mean, powerful father, new position. New power. Not to mention field clearance and your sight.”

Jai sighed, clearly perturbed. “Some of that is true, yes,” he said. “But from where I’m sitting, you haven’t got it all bad either.”

Auggie lifted his eyebrows, ignoring how much it hurt. “Really? Jai Wilcox? Jealous of me?”

Jai’s was silent for a terse second. “You have people around you who care about you,” he said. “People who would put their careers, their lives, and their reputations on the line for you in a heartbeat. For anything.”

It wasn’t the angle he’d expected. The suddenness of it made him shift uncomfortably. “You have people—“

Jai groaned. “Don’t,” he said, cutting Auggie off quickly. “Just don’t.”

Auggie blinked. “What, I’m just trying—“

“You’re just trying to make me feel better somehow,” he said. “But you don’t have any idea.”

It was a valid criticism. “Okay,” Auggie said. The aching in his head made it too hard to focus enough for an argument anyway. “Tell me, then.”

Jai snorted a laugh. “Tell you what? That I betrayed my own father in order to get ahead at the Agency?” he asked, bitterness dripping in his words. “Or that I did the right thing only to benefit myself and that I have all aspirations to continue doing that until I get what I want.”

It was blunt and it was honest; the plainness of it left Auggie momentarily speechless. Wiping again at a stream of blood trickling into his eye, he frowned. “Why?”

“Why what?” Jai returned curtly.

“Why be like that?” he asked. “Why play the game and work the system when clearly it is so reprehensible to you?”

Jai shifted in his seat again and when he spoke, there was less anger in his voice. “What else is there?”

The question was hollow, and almost a little desperate. Auggie wet his lips. “Well, last I checked, there was doing the right thing.”

Jai scoffed audibly. “That’s easy for you to say,” he muttered.

“I’m blind and stuck in an office,” Auggie pointed out quickly. “Trust me, it’s not easy at all.”

Jai sighed, clearly chagrined. There was another lapse in the conversation before Jai continued. “I thought I could do it like that,” he said. “I thought I could do the right thing and it would get me where I wanted to be.”

“And where’s that?” Auggie asked.

There was a small laugh. “Trust,” he said. “I wanted to be part of the team, to be a valued member of the unit, doing the right thing.” He paused, his voice turning darker. “But no one’s ever trusted me. Not from day one.”

Auggie’s stomach churned slightly – this time, not from the pain or the head wound. Guilt was not something he was overly prone to, especially when Jai was involved, but Auggie knew that Jai was more than a little right.

Then it churned again, this time from what Auggie was becoming certain was a serious concus-sion.

“And then, to make matters worse, no one really wanted me here,” he said. “Arthur recalled me from London and then canceled my operations. Joan used me and then transferred me as soon as she could. Every time I try to make friends, I get turned on instead.”

“It’s not like that—“ Auggie started to say.

Jai scoff was more pronounced this time. “Really?” he asked pointedly. “So you’re saying that you haven’t harbored a grudge against me just because of my last name?”

Apparently, they weren’t pulling their punches anymore. “You have a point,” he conceded. “But you have to earn trust—“

“And I’ve tried,” Jai said sharply. Then he blew out a breath, deflating. “And when I failed, I looked for success in other ways.”

Which explained the promotion and his newfound animosity toward Joan.

And Jai was right: it did make for a less than ideal situation. It was hard to think about – being so alone. Auggie had never been forced to such solitude; there had always been people in his corner. Even now, for all that they were stranded, for as much as Auggie felt like his head might explode, he trusted that the Agency would be there for him.

He couldn’t say the same about Jai. People would come for him, too – the Agency looked out for its own – but it was different and Auggie knew it. Even with his headache, Auggie knew it.

It was an unexpected thing – having sympathy for Jai. Apparently, this mission was one for the books in a lot of ways.

And yet, it didn’t seem right to leave things there. Jai was bitter and he had done some less than savory things by his own admission, but if he really were a heartless bastard, if all he cared about was getting ahead, he wouldn’t be expressing these doubts and regrets. Especially not to Auggie while they were both trapped and bleeding in a crashed car.

Which meant he wanted a reason to stop, to change.

It went against his instincts, but Auggie had to help Jai.

He wanted to.

Sighing, he felt the pain weighing on him again but pressed on. “Well,” he said. “Maybe you’ve got a friend after all.”

“Annie doesn’t count,” Jai said.

Auggie rolled his eyes. “I was talking about me.”

There was a small silence. “Oh,” Jai said awkwardly.

“I mean, assuming you want to be friends with a charming and skilled blind guy.”

Jai laughed at that, short and pained but genuine. “If you can handle someone who has earned their place through nepotism and backstabbing.”

“Well, this is a good place to start,” Auggie said. He let his head loll back against the seat, breathing through the pain, which was still building in his stomach. He had to swallow back the nausea, but things suddenly didn’t seem as bad.

-o-

Annie wasn’t panicking.

In her car – still Auggie’s car, it would always be his – hands on the wheel, she wasn’t panicking. She couldn’t afford to panic. Not now. Not when she had to think.

She had to be a spy, see beyond the obvious and take the meager facts to make a less obvious conclusion. It was more important now than ever.

Killing the engine, she got out of the car. The trees surrounding the opening made her instinc-tively nervous, and she worked to control her breathing as she approached the house.

There was ample room for cover, and plenty of space to hide. Making a stealth getaway would be easy in this kind of location, which was undoubtedly why it’d been chosen.

Still, despite her nagging senses, she approached the house. The stairs were solid beneath her feet; the front door unlocked. Inside, it was furnished but a thin layer of dust filtered through the air. No one had been holing up here. Part of the ruse, no doubt.

Jai would have determined that, too. He would have seen this for what it was. Either a failed meet or a set up.

Walking back outside, Annie frowned, looking over the landscape again. Seeing Auggie’s car, she realized that was how they’d been compromised. With the vehicle exposed, there had been time to plant something – a bomb, probably, but to what degree, Annie couldn’t be sure. Not until she found them.

Which brought her back to point. How had she missed them? Had the explosive only momentarily crippled the car – long enough to pose an ambush? Had they been taken in the car and whisked elsewhere? What was she missing?

Her thoughts were disrupted by the ringing of her phone. Pulling it out of her pocket, she an-swered. “Tell me you have something.”

It wasn’t the most respectful way to talk to her boss, but in this case, she was pretty sure Joan would understand.

“I was going to tell you the same thing,” was Joan’s curt reply.

Annie breathed out, her frustration surging with her worry. “There was no sign of them,” she said. “I’m at the meet site now, and there’s no sign.”

“We’ve got people going over satellite imagery now,” Joan said. “But there’s no sign there ei-ther.”

“Did we get GPS tracking on the vehicle yet?” Annie asked.

“We’re still working on it,” Joan said, a hint of annoyance clear in her voice. “Apparently when Jai was promoted, his personal details were shuffled in paperwork. We’re working on clearance to pull his number and pinpoint the GPS signal. We can do it, but it’s going to take time.”

Time, Annie thought, blowing out a bitter breath. The one thing they didn’t have. “Well, there’s nothing here,” she said, turning her eyes to her surroundings again. “If we canvassed the woods, we might find something to follow, but there’s nothing to indicate where they are.”

“And that’s still our primary concern,” Joan said.

Annie moved down the path, back toward her car. She imagined them doing the same, imagined Jai scanning the area, Auggie listening. “Do we think they were taken then?” she said. “Could it have been an abduction?”

“Possibly,” Joan conceded. “But we have no evidence.”

Annie frowned. “Nothing on the road, either,” she said. “I drove that entire route. I couldn’t even find fresh tire marks.”

“How sure are you about a crash?” Joan asked.

“Positive,” she said. “There was a loud noise and then the line just went dead. Something hap-pened, and it would take a lot to get Jai and Auggie out of commission. There should be some evidence, but it’s like they weren’t even there.”

Which, Annie realized suddenly, maybe they weren’t.

Because if they had been tipped off by the abandoned location, then they would have taken pre-cautions. They would have tried to ditch a tail, to throw off anyone who had been following them.

They would have taken a different route.

“Hey, can you get a feed that would tell me the next best route from here back to Langley?”

Joan didn’t even hesitate. “An alternate route,” she concluded. “That makes total sense.”

Annie felt her heart rate build again and she moved closer to the car, pulling her keys out of her pocket.

“I’ll have a tech send it via text message,” Joan said.

“Great,” Annie said, sliding in behind the wheel. It was still a new thing, being in Auggie’s car. Different, but right. Now she just needed him in the passenger’s seat and everything would be right. “I’m on my way.”

Joan collected a small breath. “Find them, Annie,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” Annie said, starting the engine. “I intend to.”

-o-

It hadn’t been that long. Jai had a good sense of time – over the years, he’d honed it – and though there was a small lapse in his consciousness that he couldn’t entirely account for, he knew that they had been stuck for about forty-five minutes, give or take a few.

In the grand scheme of things, forty-five minutes was infinitesimal.

In the nitty gritty of reality, though, it could be so much more. Enough time to secure an asset or transmit intel. Enough time to make a clean getaway or break into a top secret facility.

Enough time to bleed out.

All important things, and Jai had been there and done that with most of those things, but the last was the most pressing. Because, all conversational tactics aside, Auggie was starting to drift. From the concussion or the bleeding or internal injuries, Jai couldn’t assess, but the impending result was becoming increasingly inevitable. They’d maintained a good clip of conversation for the first twenty minutes or so, but when it had lulled, Auggie had drifted and Jai found it harder and harder to pull him back.

And there he was, trapped in place, able to see it happen and not able to do a damn thing to stop it.

It reminded Jai why he’d finally taken the initiative to turn on his father and to use Arthur. Anything to get something done. At this given moment, he’d pretty sure he’d break the trust of a few more people if it meant getting Auggie out of here soon.

There was a sense of duty involved, but it was more than that now. Maybe.

Closing his eyes, Jai tried to focus through the pain. Trapped or not, he still had to keep himself together. If things didn’t hurt so badly –

Jai shook himself, opening his eyes and tightening his jaw. He had to blink a few times to clear his vision, and reminded himself that Auggie wasn’t the only one with injuries here.

Still, as he cast a look toward Auggie, his own injuries weren’t nearly as pressing.

It took some effort to swallow, but when he had a grip on his pain again he said, “Sleeping on the job? You don’t seem the type.”

The joke wasn’t even close to funny, but Jai figured given the circumstances, his lack of humor could be forgiven. Besides, it wasn’t like he’d made a reputation for himself as the Agency’s go-to guy for laughs.

Auggie didn’t laugh, but that had never been Jai’s intent. Instead, the other man shifted in his seat, eyes fluttering as he exhaled loudly. “Work hours are over,” Auggie countered. His voice sounded drowsy, words just slightly slurred. His neck relaxed again and his shoulders eased their stiff posture. “Since you seem so keen on keeping track.”

“The CIA isn’t a nine-to-five job,” Jai reminded him.

Auggie rolled his eyes slightly before letting his eyelids close. “Always on call in the name of national security,” he murmured.

Jai’s stomach clenched. Stuck as he was, he had no way of getting close enough to Auggie to do a thorough examination, but he didn’t like that head wound. That with the sleepiness – Jai couldn’t be sure, of course, but he was beginning to feel like things were going from bad to worse.

Which would be the story of his life, but he didn’t want the bad or the worse to include Auggie.

“Well, you’re the one who just reminded me why we do this,” he said, eyes trained on Auggie, watching for all the small shifts in his demeanor. “What did you say? Because it’s the right thing?”

Auggie smiled, tired but true. He shook his head somewhat but didn’t open his eyes. “Extenuating circumstances,” he said, huffing a small laugh. “Besides, I’m still not used to you giving a damn about anything I say.”

“Well, if you want it to last, stay awake,” Jai said, and it was as much a joke as it was an order.

Auggie roused a little, but still didn’t open his eyes. “Compelling,” he said vaguely.

When he didn’t elaborate, Jai raised his voice. “But not compelling enough?” he prompted. “What more do I have to do, grovel? Tell you how much you’ve shown me the error of my ways?”

Auggie’s mouth quirked into a smile. “That’s a start,” he said.

Jai wasn’t sure if it was the blood loss or if it was really just that funny, but it made him laugh. The movement ignited a fresh fire of pain in his side and suddenly his own consciousness was more tenuous than he expected. The pain had been building slowly but now he was keenly aware that it was reaching unbearable levels.

Still, he laughed through it, the noise harsh and choked as he grunted to reign in the pain. He nodded, letting the laughs taper off. “You really can be a self-righteous son of a bitch, can’t you?” he asked. The words were rough but the emotions sincere.

Auggie almost managed a shrug, the good nature on his face persisting. “Most people call it charm.”

Jai snorted. “You mean most women,” he said knowingly.

At that, Auggie’s face brightened somewhat. His smile broadened. “Well—“

It was probably going to be a frustrating boast, maybe a zinging jibe. But Jai would never know because Auggie’s face scrunched up with new pain.

Concerned, Jai straightened in his seat. “Auggie?”

Auggie’s jaw worked, his good hand going to his head. He groaned.

Jai’s heart skipped a beat and he tried to move, frustrated to still find himself immobilized. “Auggie, talk to me.”

Instead, Auggie groaned again, muttering something unintelligible, his entire body starting to writhe somewhat.

Jai struggled, ignoring the way the metal cut into his skin as he tried to scoot closer. “Auggie?”

Then, Auggie’s entire body went tense, the writhing turning into tremors, which began to eclipse his entire body.

A seizure, Jai realized. The diagnosis was clinical in his head, but in reality, it was anything but.

Auggie’s body jolted, limbs flailing somewhat as he was caught in the throes of the seizure. Jai was helpless even as he moved desperately against the car holding him back. But there was no give – nothing he could do – but sit there.

Sit there and watch.

Jai’s sense of time didn’t fail him; the seizure lasted less than a minute. Thirty seconds, maybe.

The longest thirty seconds of his life.

Then, as suddenly as it started to move, Auggie’s entire body went limp, head lolled forward and his arms loose by his sides.

Throat tight, Jai asked, “Auggie?” Desperate, he reached out his hand, trying to shake the other man. “Auggie?”

But it didn’t help. Nothing helped. Auggie was unconscious now, bleeding and hurt and possi-bly dying.

The thought sobered Jai, settling into the pit of his stomach. Dying.

Auggie could die.

In this car, in the bottom of this culvert, on a mission they still didn’t know enough about. Auggie could die while Jai sat there and watched.

Jai was helpless. It was all happening without him, against his will. None of his good intentions mattered. None of his progress made any difference. Jai was doomed to repeating the same pat-terns; doomed and resigned and—

He shook his head, gritting his teeth. He couldn’t accept that. Not anymore. He had to keep trying. He had to make it better.

Determined, he struggled with new vigor. The metal cut deeper and the pain skyrocketed, but he refused to give in.

Eyes set on Auggie, Jai just refused.

-o-

Adrenaline was a funny thing. It turned her focus razor sharp, allowing her to zero in perfectly on the details around her. Everything was happening quickly but she processed it in precision, moment by moment, for her own benefit.

To this end, Annie knew she was speeding. The car took the curves expertly and she handled them with aggression. But as fast as she was going, she was completely attuned to her surroundings. She wasn’t going to miss anything and she wasn’t slowing down.

Because Annie had to find them. They had taken this route – they had to have taken this route. It was the only viable alternative and it made sense.

And if they hadn’t –

If Annie found no trace –

It wasn’t even possible. She couldn’t make it parse in her head. She would find them.

Then, there—

Skids marks on the road, a smattering of debris on the shoulder. Slamming on the brakes, she pulled the car to a stop, dust flying up behind her as the smell of rubber filled the air. Killing the engine, she clambered out, heart racing with this latest clue.

In the open, the skid marks were more obvious. They veered both ways before disappearing off the road. Eyes trained, she followed the marks, making her way to way they disappeared into the dirt shoulder. There were tire tracks and matted grass right before the side of the road fell away into a steep culvert.

The entire area was hilly and overgrown, a line of trees not too far away. It wasn’t necessary a deadly drop but it was a definitive one, and Annie felt her heart lodge in her throat as she scanned the area for any sign of her friends.

Her chest was tight; her stomach hurt. She was afraid they wouldn’t be there; afraid they would be.

She was just afraid.

The fear built with the pounding of her heart, threatening to overwhelm when she saw it. The flash of metal, deep into the culvert.

Without hesitating, she broke into a run, managing her way down the incline with care and efficiency. As she approached, the car became clearer. It was at the bottom, through the underbrush and smashed into the first line of trees on the driver’s side. The roof was crumpled, presumably from rolling, but it still seemed to be in one piece.

“Auggie!” she yelled as she approached, almost tripping over a log as she got closer. “Jai!”

There was no reply except the pounding of her heart in her ears. Swearing under her breath, she pulled her phone back out, pressing redial as she scaled the last of the distance.

Closer now, the car’s damage was more obvious. The back was charred, the front badly bent. The rear tires seemed to be gone, and given the damage there, she could guess that was where the explosives had been placed.

“Annie,” Joan’s voice came on the other end of the line.

She offered no preamble. “I found them,” she said. “I need an ambulance right now; can you fix onto my GPS coordinates?”

Joan didn’t need more instruction. “On it,” she said. There was the slightest hesitation. “How are they?”

“I don’t know,” Annie said, carefully navigating the last way down. She couldn’t see through the cracked windows. “I need to go.”

She didn’t wait for approval; Joan would understand. If she didn’t, Annie would deal with that later. When Auggie and Jai were okay.

And they would be okay. They had to be.

“Auggie!” she yelled again.

And this time, there was a reply. “Here!” a voice called. “We’re here.”

At the car now, she approached cautiously, peering in as best she could. Her relief at hearing a voice was tempered because there, in the seat closest to her was Auggie.

With a glimpse, Auggie looked bad. No, he looked dead.

The blood was everywhere, coating his face and staining his shirt. The windshield was splintered; the window by Auggie’s head was in pieces, shattered over Auggie’s lap. It was a mess – a terrifying, surreal mess – and she didn’t know what to do.

Standing there, she was frozen. Paralyzed with fresh fear, breath caught in her throat as she stared.

“Annie,” the voice said. “You’re here.”

Annie blinked, her eyes going from Auggie to the driver’s seat. It took her a long moment to recognize Jai. There was blood on the side of his head, matting his hair, and he was scrunched awkwardly into the folded metal of the destroyed driver’s side door.

He looked positively relieved. “I was beginning to wonder,” he said, and even if his voice sounded weak and strained with pain, there was a reassuring hint of humor.

She couldn’t quite bring herself to smile. “You know,” she still quipped. “Quite the overachiever.”

His returning grin was almost drunken. “Good to see some things never change,” he said. Then he swallow, the action requiring some obvious effort. “Auggie needs help.”

Annie’s eyes flickered back to Auggie and she worked to control her reaction. “Is he--?”

“He has a bad head wound,” Jai reported the obvious. “He was conscious, though, and talking. Coherent, even, until about five minutes ago. Then he had a seizure and I haven’t been able to wake him since.”

Jai’s rundown was efficient and in-depth enough, but hardly reassuring. Still, as her eyes went back to Auggie, Annie could focus enough to see the right and fall of his chest, even under all the blood.

Wetting her lips, she looked at Jai again, trying to smile. “Help is on the way,” she said. “Shouldn’t take long for the ambulances to get here. I’ve got Joan pulling back up on this one.


Jai snorted at that. “I should be glad I’m with Auggie then,” he said, shifting in his seat with a badly concealed wince. “Because somehow I’d doubt I’d get the same kind of treatment.”

Annie scoffed. “It’s not like that.”

He looked at her.

She shrugged. “Not when it counts,” she said, hurrying the thought aside. “Now, how about you?”

Jai blinked, almost as if the thought hadn’t occurred to him.

“Can you move?” Annie asked, forcing herself to reapply her efforts. Finding the missing agents was only part of the battle; getting them out alive was the primary objective.

“No,” Jai said with a small grunt. “This side is pretty well caved in.”

Annie stepped back, gauging the car with fresh eyes. Not just for life-threatening damage, but for accessibility. The entire exterior was scraped and dented – undoubtedly from the roll down the hill. The driver’s side was far worse off and even at a glance, Annie knew she wouldn’t have much luck trying to approach from that side. But Auggie’s side wasn’t too badly damaged. The frame, at least, looked relatively straight, which meant it was possible she’d be able to open the door.

It was worth a try, anyway.

“Okay,” Annie said, mustering her wits and her strength. She flashed a smile at Jai. “I’m going to see if this side opens.”

If Jai had doubts, he didn’t express them. More than that, Annie didn’t wait to listen if he did. Instead, she put her hand on the handle, giving it a tug.

The metal whined, resisting. She gritted her teeth and yanked harder this time.

In response, the car groaned and the door popped open. She stumbled back but caught herself, moving quickly back toward the now open door. Her attention went immediately to Auggie, who was slumped against the seat, held upright only by his seat belt.

Grimacing, she tried not to let her fear show. She was a professional. She could do this. She would.

It wasn’t easy, though. Auggie’s head wound looked worse up close. The gash was deep, nearly two inches long on his forehead. It was still bleeding at a decent clip, and although it probably wasn’t gushing anymore, it was still draining too much after the time that had passed. It was true that head wounds generally looked worse than they were, but in this case, she wasn’t sure that was much consolation.

“He said his stomach and chest hurt,” Jai said, voice tight from the other side of Auggie. “And his wrist is probably broken.”

Annie glanced down, noting the swelling, but knew it was a secondary concern. The chest and stomach gave her pause, but there wasn’t much she could do about them except be careful. Moving Auggie without the necessary equipment to stabilize him would be a mistake right now, no matter how much she wanted to get him out of the car.

The best course of action was to wait – and hope like hell Joan pulled whatever clout she had and got help here fast.

Carefully, Annie reached her fingers up toward Auggie’s throat. The blood made her hesitate, but she pressed her fingers down anyway and waited for the beats.

Uneven and thready. He was clearly in shock, possibly worse.

She drew a breath and tried to steady her emotions.

“He’s bad, isn’t he?” Jai prompted.

Stiffly, she looked up, keeping herself composed. With a smile, she looked up at Jai. “Help will be here in no time,” she said, easily sidestepping his concern.

Jai didn’t look so convinced; he also didn’t look too healthy.

Carefully bracing herself, she nodded toward Jai. “What about you?” she asked. “How are you doing?”

Jai’s lips twisted into a grim smile. He was clearly in pain – a lot more than he was letting on – but he still shook his head. “I’ve had better days,” he admitted. “But Auggie—“

She edged in slightly, trying to see if she could get closer to Jai. “I’ve got it under control,” she said, and it was as much the truth as it was a lie. She’d checked Auggie, which was all she could do. The fact that it didn’t mean much of anything wasn’t something she needed to discuss, at least not with Jai right now.

Jai shook his head, sucking in a harsh, pained breath. “Stay where you are,” he said. “You shouldn’t jostle him.”

He was right, of course. There was no room to maneuver anyway.

Frustrated, she pulled back slightly. “Fine, but you’ve got to be honest about how you’re feel-ing,” she relented.

Jai just shook his head again. “He’s going to need to get out of here,” he repeated, even more adamant. “Soon.”

“You both do, by the looks of it,” Annie said.

If Jai was going to protest, he never had the chance. In the distance, the sound of sirens became clear.

Annie straightened, hope lighting in her with new ferocity. “Will you be okay here for a se-cond?” she asked. “You’re a ways down from the road; I want to make sure the ambulance finds us.”

Jai nodded tightly. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

She smiled, casting a lingering glance at Auggie. “I’ll just be a minute,” she promised.

At Jai’s nod, she pulled back out. The trip up the hill was harder than the trip down, the steep incline causing her to stumble. But she was fit and she was determined, and by the time she reached the top of the incline, she could already see the rig pulled up behind Auggie’s car.

“Hey!” she yelled, waving her arms and moving forward. “Over here!”

The two medics piled out, one opening the back to pull out the equipment. The other, with a bag in hand, came up to her. “We at the right place?” she asked.

Annie nodded, feeling slightly breathless. She nodded back down the culvert. “The car’s down there,” she said.

“Okay,” the medic said, glancing back toward her partner who had a backboard in hand. “Lead the way.”

Going down again, Annie watched her footing. At the bottom, she made her way back to the car, plastering a smile on her face as she looked in the open door. “Hey, see what I told you?” she said. “Help’s here.”

Auggie didn’t respond; Jai blinked at her, swallowing with effort.

Her confidence wavered, but there was no time to indulge any doubts. The medics were only a step behind her, moving into position so quickly that Annie didn’t realize she was being pushed aside until she was already a few steps back.

And suddenly, there was nothing she could do. Nothing but watch. She was a trained spy with experience around the world and the full backing of the American government, but she was helpless now. She’d done all she could, and it might not be enough.

There were always variables on missions she couldn’t control; sometimes those variables made all the difference. Sometimes they determined success or failure, life or death.

She’d accepted that. She’d had to accept that.

But now, watching the paramedics work on her friends, it was harder than ever. It was like being on the roof, seeing Ben bleed, only now it was Auggie and Jai.

And to think, she might never get to tell Auggie—

The thought was cut short as the medics carefully maneuvered Auggie out. His neck was stabilized in a collar and the two medics worked in tandem to lower him carefully to the waiting backboard.

In the distance, she could hear more sirens and voices. The cops were here, probably the firemen, too. Another set of medics arrived, and a flurry of conversation passed.

“We’ve got a serious head injury here,” the first medic reported. “Possible internal bleeding, but he’s stable enough for transport. We haven’t gotten in close enough for a good assessment on the driver just yet—“

The new medics nodded, one saying, “We can get it from here. Do we need an extraction?”

The first shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “I’ll send down the fire team just to assess the possibility.”

It was happening quickly now, and Annie was struggling to catch up. But as the first set of medics turned to move up the hill, Auggie strapped down on the board between them, she hurried after them. “How is he?” she asked, keeping pace over the uneven terrain.

The medic hardly looked at her as she navigated the hill. “He’s stable but there are some things we’ll want to get checked out at the hospital,” she replied vaguely.

Annie shook her head, not ready for the runaround. “But how is he really?”

The medic huffed a little, her face twisted with concentration as she neared the top. “Ma’am, I know you’re concerned, but I really don’t know,” she said. “Not until they run tests at the hospital.”

She worked in the shades of gray; she was used to spinning lies and half-truths to the people around her. But it was hard – much harder – being on the other end of such obscurities.

As they reached the top, the pace quickened as the medics guided them back to the rig. The scene was alive now – two cop cars, a fire truck, and another ambulance, just as Annie had suspected – but they weren’t important to her. Not now.

Breathless, she tried to keep up, the whirlwind of activity feeling almost as overwhelming as her uselessness in it.

The medics didn’t falter, though. At the ambulance, they hefted open the back and rolled out the gurney before putting Auggie on it. And Annie’s heart stuttered as she looked at him again.

His eyes were still closed, his dark hair a mess with blood and too little movement. The blood on his face made him almost unrecognizable and what little Annie could make out was obscured by the hastily applied pressure bandage over his forehead. His arm was splinted, his shirt cut open to reveal an array of bruises down his chest and stomach.

It was impossible to see if his chest was moving, but one of the medics was hooking up an IV, setting up a few leads, and Annie could only gape as the pair pushed the gurney back into the ambulance with Auggie firmly attached. There was an oxygen mask over his face now, his fea-tures too still and unmoving as the door was shut, the siren was turned on, and the ambulance pulled out.

Annie was left, literally, standing in the dust. Heart in throat, tears stung at her eyes and she tried to breathe. The reality of it was too stark, too hard. If she lost Auggie…

There was a fresh commotion coming up the way behind her and she turned in time to see the second pair of medics cresting the hill.

Remembering the second half of her makeshift rescue operation, Annie moved back, jogging toward Jai. As he was transferred to the waiting gurney, she nudged her way in, ignoring the medics who cast her a glare while hooking up an IV.

“Hey,” she said, smiling down at Jai. “See? I told you we’d have you out.”

Jai’s eyes were wide and his chest was heaving. His side was swathed with bandages, his leg heavily wrapped even as the medic worked to strap him down. “Auggie?” he asked, eyes desperate.

The intensity of his question surprised her and she fumbled her reply. “He’s already on his way,” she said. Her smile wavered. “He’ll be okay, just like you.”

But Jai didn’t seem to hear her; instead, his eyes rolled up, his breathing rate increasingly rapidly. One of the newly attached monitors started to protest.

“Whoa, looks like we may have an arterial bleed,” one of the medics said.

“Femoral?” the other asked.

Jai’s eyes fluttered closed and the medics shifted positions, one grabbing a tube and tilting Jai’s head back. It was a quick procedure and soon they had threaded the tube down Jai’s throat, before hooking up an oxygen bag and depressing it consistently.

“SATs are up a little,” the other reported, watching a small screen. “Should we?”

The other shrugged. “Not much choice,” he said. “If we don’t move, he’ll bleed out before we get there.”

Annie stared, feeling numb. First Auggie, now Jai. This time, she couldn’t even ask, couldn’t speak at all as they loaded him into the ambulance and pulled away.

That was that.

Success.

Only not.

Annie swallowed hard, her throat dry and her eyes burning.

It couldn’t be over. She wasn’t the type to sit by and let it all fall apart. She wasn’t the type to accept fate and not fight against it.

She’d found them, now she had to make sure they were okay.

No matter what.

Determined, she brushed by the rest of the emergency personnel, ignoring their requests to talk to her. Joan would sort it out; if she didn’t, Annie didn’t care. She had more important things to think about.

With that in mind, she steeled herself, climbing back into Auggie’s car, turning on the engine and finishing her mission.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: January 9th, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
Auggie-What

“I mean, assuming you want to be friends with a charming and skilled blind guy.”

Jai laughed at that, short and pained but genuine. “If you can handle someone who has earned their place through nepotism and backstabbing.”

You are made of win!

Oh, and the appearance of a seizure!!! I'm in luv.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 13th, 2012 04:27 am (UTC)
auggie jai

I was rather pleased with myself when I realized I could add in a seizure and it would totally fit :)

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