Author: Frea O'Scanlin PM
It should be easy: Matthew Crawley, after all, has a spotless record. But not everything is as it seems at the mysterious organization that calls itself The Abbey, and even worse, the spy he's assigned to bring in from the cold wants nothing to do with him. Now it's Matthew vs. Mary in a battle of lies, spies, and double-talk, and they'll need all of their wits to survive.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Matthew C. & Mary C. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 58,110 - Reviews: 123 - Favs: 56 - Follows: 94 - Updated: 11-19-12 - Published: 06-11-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8206736
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N the First: So I no longer know how many chapters this is going to be. They need to create an Overwriters Anonymous support group for people like me. "Hi, I'm Frea, and I've never met a maximum word count I obeyed." "Hi, Frea." Right now, the prognosis looks like six, but with my ability to get distracted by shiny things, who knows?
Thank you for all of the wonderful feedback and reviews! And even more thanks to my beta reader, mxpw, who, despite the fact that he hasn't stopped laughing at me since I told him that I wouldn't be able to wrap up in three chapters, is a marvelous human being and an even better beta reader.
"John Bates is a spy," Mary said, taking a curve in the road so fast that Matthew was thrown up against the car door. He could only thank whatever deity that happened to be listening that his gunshot wound was on the left, but he banged his elbow on the door nonetheless. It hurt.
"Yes, I know that. He works for the Abbey. I met him the night you got the drop on me."
"No, no." Mary gave him an impatient look. "No, he's a spy."
Matthew stared at her, perplexed. The satellite phone call had woken him from a deeper sleep than he cared to admit—though if pressed, he'd blame the horse tranquilizers—and from then, things had not improved. Though Mary appeared outwardly calm, there was a light in her eyes that he hadn't noticed before, not even when he'd been bleeding all over the floor: she was scared. She'd buried most of it behind that lady of the manor mask of hers, but there was clearly a sense of panic to everything she did now. Including, Matthew thought, her driving. And that was a bit worrisome, as he was in the car with her.
"I don't get what you—wait a second, are you saying that—for whom?"
"The Soviets. Who else?" Mary tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and, hitting an open stretch of French road, shoved her foot down on the accelerator. "Well, that's not fair. He was a spy. He's not one now. Not officially."
"Officially?" He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that the Abbey had a mole in its midst. Matthew stared at Mary, aghast. "You've been sitting on information that one of your colleagues is a Soviet spy?"
"Used to be a Soviet spy."
Matthew just continued to stare until Mary sighed. "It's a long story," she said.
"Everything seems to be a long story with you."
"It's a good thing we've got ten hours in a car together for me to tell it."
"Wait, are we driving back to England?" Matthew asked, puzzled. "Why not fly? I've got Branson waiting for me back at the airstrip."
Mary gave him a look. "Like I'm going to fall for that."
"Fall for what?"
"The minute I get on that plane, you'll drag me back to the Abbey, and I'm not going back."
"You're going back to Anna," Matthew said. "Anna's part of the Abbey."
"Of course I'm going back to her. She needs my help. And since they put her on suspension, she's not part of the Abbey. Not really." Mary stomped on the accelerator once more. The engine whined in reply, and Matthew gripped the door handle.
"How do you know it's not a trap?" he asked.
He saw a muscle in her jaw work in the light reflected from the rearview mirror. The roads were understandably clear at just shy of four in the morning. "It's not," she said.
"You trust her that much?"
"With my life."
"And you must get back to her as quickly as possible?"
"Then let me call Branson. We'll take the jet."
He could see her resolve flicker; cutting down their travel time by a good eight hours was obviously attractive to a woman so dead-set on helping her friend. But she hadn't been born yesterday, and surviving as long as she had in the world of espionage, she'd clearly grown careful. "I want your word," she said. "Your word that you won't trap me into going right back to headquarters."
"How about a compromise? We take the jet, you help Anna, and afterward you come back with me."
"I'm not going back."
"Your parents and your grandmother want very much to see you," Matthew said, pushing at the point where he'd learned she was most likely to break.
Instead of conceding, however, she hunkered forward over the steering wheel and her jaw firmed up. This went deeper than just espionage. There were family issues buried in there, Matthew realized, and wondered why he hadn't seen that before. "No."
"What happened, Mary? What caused the break?"
For a long time, she was quiet, the stony silence that women knew how to wield well, in Matthew's experience. "So many things," she said at long last, and it was almost too quiet for him to hear.
Matthew gripped the door harder and considered. He wondered if she knew that there was a wealth of pain in her voice or not. She was a spy, so maybe she did. Maybe it was even calculated. But if it wasn't…
"I'll give you my word," he found himself saying.
She flicked a startled glance at him. "Your word that you'll do what, exactly? "
"We take the jet back to York, and to Anna. I won't trick you into going back to the Abbey. When we're done helping her, you go your way and I go mine." He was telling the truth, Matthew realized. It had taken him forever to learn how to lie, as the spy business required it, but right now, every word was laced with God's honest truth.
She stared at him in outright disbelief. "Why?"
It was the question he had been asking herall night. Matthew had to admit that it did feel nice to have the tables turned. He put his hand on his side, even though it made him flinch. "I owe you one, that's all. This clears the ledger."
"You'll let me go. Just like that."
"Sure," Matthew said, and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "I found you once before. I've got every assurance I can do so again."
She snorted, but her voice sounded a little shaky when she said, "I think you overestimate your own abilities, Matthew Crawley."
"Perhaps. Or maybe you underestimate them, Mary Crawley."
Mary slammed on the brakes, doing a U-turn. Given that it was four a.m. in the French countryside, there wasn't anyone about to run into, but Matthew still jumped. "What are you doing?"
"Call Branson," she said, and left it at that as she sped the opposite direction, back to where the party had been held.
Matthew didn't bother to ask how she'd known where the jet was, as the answer would probably frighten him. Once he'd roused the Irish pilot—who did not sound at all happy about the prospect of flying at such a beastly hour—Matthew slipped his phone back into his trouser pocket. "So we're to be allies."
"For a time," she said.
"Why's it so important that we get back to Anna?"
"Because it's too convenient." Mary's fingers tapped the steering wheel, restlessly. He almost reached over to grab her hand, but he suspected that as tense as she was, he might draw back nothing but a nub. "Vera Bates shows up murdered now, right as Pamuk and Patrick come back from the dead?"
"You think the same person is behind all of it?"
"Vera Bates wasn't a smart woman. Oh, sure, she was cunning, but she wasn't smart. And she was too vain to have fallen on her sword to make Bates's life hell, so to speak." Mary's fingers kept tapping. Tap. Tap. Tap. "You've noticed how much older Bates is than Anna."
"Yes," Matthew said, bewildered. "What of it?"
"He married Vera when he was young. Eighteen, maybe, nineteen. I don't recall the exact details, and it's not like they matter anyway. She got mixed up with the Soviets, back when there were still Soviets." Mary took a hard right, and Matthew flinched as it jarred his side. "Bates was serving with my father at the time, in the RAF. Back when my grandfather still ran Crawley's."
"Vera told him she was being threatened by the Soviets, so Bates…Bates agreed to pass on information to them to keep her safe. They had no idea that the Abbey existed. They thought Bates was just a soldier with access to some intel they wanted. The other spy agencies, though, they knew about the Abbey and when information started getting linked from somewhere close to my father, they assumed it was coming from the Abbey. Never mind that he wasn't actually part of the Abbey yet." Mary's scowl deepened for a fraction of a section. "Back then, you served your time in the military, then you joined the Abbey. That was when the Abbey started separating itself from the other agencies. Going off the grid entirely. Officially, the Abbey doesn't exist to most of the others."
That made a lot of sense. "I worked for Dauphine for four years," Matthew said, "and I'd never heard of them until they grabbed me."
"That's the way they prefer it."
"So John Bates gave information to the Soviets?"
"Yes, I'm afraid he did."
"Then he should be in prison!"
"It's not as cut and dried as that. I think, but I can't prove, that Vera forced his hand. But he managed to leak the exact same information to the Abbey at the last second, so that they would know what the Soviets knew. He made it look like an accident."
"How did your father react?" Matthew asked.
"He doesn't know."
"What? But you said Bates worked—works for him."
"He never knew. My father left the RAF shortly afterward and went to work for Crawley's full time. He helped them 'transition' to becoming only a bank, or so it looked like. Part of it was his disgrace, you know."
"Oh." Matthew rolled that around in his mind for a moment. So Robert Crawley had been suspected of being a double agent, and Crawley's had used the inherent shame to "close down" their intelligence agency. It was...incredibly crafty. "Why do I get the feeling that your grandmother was behind that 'transition?'"
Mary scowled. "Smarter than you look, aren't you?"
The last thing he expected was for Mary to sigh in contrition. "I'm sorry," she said. "You mustn't pay any attention to the things I say when I'm like this."
For a split-second, a worried look flittered across her face. Matthew remembered how calmly Anna had faced him, in that alley by her flat, and the polite card she had sent about his wellbeing after his encounter with Mary. He'd never met anybody quite so ethereal and serene. "I'm sure Anna's holding up," he said.
"Oh, I'm sure you're right. I just don't like this. Something's up, and I can't figure out what."
"Keep telling me your story. If your father doesn't even know about Bates's duplicity, how do you? Did he tell you himself?"
"Richard Carlisle told me. I haven't even seen Bates since he did, either, as it was—it was right before I went after Pamuk. Or Pamuk's double. Whoever the hell it was that I killed." For a second, a shadow passed over Mary's face. "I'm not sure I want to face him."
"How did Carlisle come across the information?" Matthew asked. "And how can you be sure?"
"I've no idea. Carlisle found them through one of his sources—a weasel, no doubt, they're all weasels—and I've no reason to doubt their veracity, other than to suspect it was really Vera behind all of it. She's a nasty piece of work. She's made life hell for Anna." Mary's fingers tapped once against the steering wheel. "I'm not sorry she's dead. I'm just sorry Anna's suffering for it."
"Do you know how she died?"
"No idea, but if somebody killed her, it wasn't Bates."
"How does her being dead tie to Patrick and Pamuk not being dead?"
"I don't know. God. This is like a game of twenty questions that will never end!" Mary hit the steering wheel in frustration.
Matthew set his teeth and reminded himself, very calmly and very slowly, that neither of them had gotten much sleep. When that did nothing, he took a deep breath, and another. "I'm trying to put as clear a picture as I can together," he said. "We can't do anything if we don't know the facts."
Mary let out another sigh, again contrite. "I don't know," she said, over-enunciating, "what the hell Patrick and Pamuk have to do with Vera Bates, other than the fact that the timing is suspect. There. Are you happy?"
"Quite," Matthew said through his teeth.
"For all I know, maybe it's a life for a life," Mary said darkly, "and somebody else I know is dead in reply."
"I highly doubt it's that fantastical," Matthew said. Looking ahead, he spotted the sign for the airstrip where the Abbey's jet awaited, and he couldn't help but be relieved. Branson's flying was bound to be safer—and much easier on his wounded, aching side—than Mary's driving or her temper.
Mary's knees went weak at the sight of the jet. Homesickness was foolishness, she knew, but she couldn't quite bring herself to push the feeling away. For all that she'd wanted her independence—to be a proper spy, one that could be taken seriously on her own merits and not because she was the daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley—being ostracized from the Abbey as she'd been, she'd learned that loneliness had a thousand different flavors, each more poignant than the last.
And lord, she really must be tired for her thoughts to turn in such a maudlin direction.
"Need any help?" she asked Matthew as she turned off the engine. She had to remind herself that it wasn't his fault that he didn't know anything. He'd been tossed in to the deep end of the pool right away. Of course he would have questions.
But did he have to have so bloody many of them? She could barely think.
"I'll be fine." His voice was curt.
She took him at his word and climbed free of the rental, striding toward where Branson waited. He was wearing his pilot's uniform, but he didn't look happy about the early hour. Nor did he seem particularly overjoyed to see her.
"Andromeda," was his only greeting. "Coming home with your tail between your legs, I see."
"Set a course for York," Mary said, and climbed aboard the plane.
Matthew climbed aboard a minute or so later, followed by Branson. Matthew settled into the copilot's seat as the plane engines started up, though there were plenty of seats in the cabin. "York?" Branson asked Matthew, and Mary bristled to hear her orders questioned.
"Right away," Matthew said.
"Be a couple of hours," Branson said.
Mary ignored both men and headed to the back of the cabin, strapping herself in at the computer console. She'd have to wait for the plane to get going before she could get any work done, she knew, but she could at least prep her thoughts. Gwen and Anna had worked to kit out the company jet for all of the various Crawleys that might be using it. As a result, everything Mary needed was right there. She felt a pang at that, but she pushed it aside to pull out her favored notepad and pen.
"Cruising altitude," Branson called back, probably more of a reflex than a courtesy.
Mary nodded and powered up the computer. Anna's Abbey-link was active, she saw right away. She clicked it open.
Instead of Anna's face, however, Gwen's filled the screen. The redhead jumped back in surprise. "Mary!"
"Hullo, Gwen," Mary said. "What're you doing on Anna's computer?"
"She rang me up, and I was already in York, so." Gwen peered at her suspiciously. "Are you on the jet?"
"On our way to York."
"Does this mean you're back?"
"I'm helping Anna," Mary said, and left it at that.
That turned out to be good enough for Gwen, for she shrugged and filled Mary in. Vera Bates was most assuredly dead. She'd flatlined in her flat, apparently, which looked like a proper wreck. "Whoever killed her, they roughed her up some. They found her last night, but it looked like she'd been there for hours."
Pictures began appearing on the screen, replacing Gwen's face. Vera's flat, Mary saw. It almost sickened her: furniture was knocked over, knickknacks strewn messily across the floor. Vera hadn't gone without a fight—a brutal one.
"Does Bates have an alibi?" she asked when Gwen's face reappeared.
Gwen shook her head. "No. They're taking him to London and—"
Anna's face appeared behind her. She looked like she'd been crying, but her eyes were clear now. She, also, Mary noted, looked as angry as it was possible for Anna Smith to look. "He didn't do it."
"I know that. But if he has an alibi—"
"He says he was home alone. None of his neighbors saw him," Gwen said.
Mary sucked in a breath. "Any other suspects?"
"None," Gwen said.
"But they haven't looked very hard." Anna scowled.
"He didn't do it," Mary said.
"That's what I've been saying all along! And now they're on about him being some kind of—of Soviet spy—"
"Now that, he did do," Mary said.
Anna's mouth dropped open in shock.
"I can't explain over the link. We'll be in York in a couple of hours. Can somebody come pick us up at the airfield?"
"We? You and Branson?"
"And Matthew," Mary said. At the shocked looks of her friends, she nearly rolled her eyes. "We've agreed to work together. For now. Gwen, have you checked the surveillance round Vera's flat? Expand past the normal circles. It's a slim chance, but it's all we got."
"All dark," Gwen said.
"I figured that. Keep an eye out on the old Soviet channels; focus on those that were active in the early 90s. If there's any chatter..."
"You weren't kidding," Gwen said, her eyes widening. "Is he really—"
"It's complicated. I've some research to do. See you in a couple of hours."
She logged out and hunkered down to bypass the computer's security. If she was going to do some digging, she didn't want it on record. She started on Patrick first. If coming back from the dead was anything like resurfacing with a new identity—one the Abbey couldn't track—it had to be expensive. His accounts had been shut down in the event of his death, his wealth going to a distant cousin unrelated to anybody at Crawley's. On a whim, Mary checked into that cousin, and her frown deepened. The cousin didn't exist. The money had vanished completely.
This was more of a job for Thomas than it was for her, she knew. Thomas, the Abbey's investigator, could sniff out hidden money better than anybody. It was the only reason they kept him on, under Carson's watchful eye. He had a nose for money and the sticky fingers to match, after all.
She tracked the money to the Caymans, where she lost it again. With a sigh, she sent Thomas a note to look into it, hoping that the intrigue would get past his natural insolence.
Once that was done, she set up a search for badly burned victims being admitted to burn wards all across England and a few other countries, just to make sure. That would take a couple minutes to run; she leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.
From the cabin, she heard murmured voices. "What happened to you?"
"Ouch. Did she do it?"
"No." There was a pause from Matthew. "No love lost between the two of you, I see."
"Dare I ask?"
"Don't date one of her sisters, and you'll be fine."
Well, that was nothing of interest to her. Mary went back to her research. There was frustratingly little on how Patrick might have survived that explosion, or recuperated, or where he had been all of these years. Had there been some other reason for him to be at that party? Had he been meeting somebody else, or trying to prevent Mary from doing so?
She hacked into the Davenport's security and began to download the security videos from the house party they'd attended earlier to the Abbey's server. As she did, the urgent message light began to flash on her phone. She checked the name and instead of calling back, opened up the satellite link on the computer again.
This time it was Anna sitting at the computer. "There's a problem," she said.
Mary felt ice begin to coat her insides. Anna was far too calm. "What is it?"
"Gwen found some chatter on one of the old Soviet channels. Yekaterina Derevko has put out a hit on John."
Mary stared at her friend in stunned silence for a full ten seconds before it processed. She held up a finger toward the computer screen to tell Anna to wait, and turned toward the cabin. "Change of plans, boys. Reroute to London."
"What?" Matthew's head appeared over the back of his chair. "What for?"
"What else? A prison break."
The feeling in Matthew's side had migrated from a dull-yet-insistent throb to outright pain by the time that the Abbey's jet touched down on the tarmac, but he gritted his teeth and followed Mary out of the plane. Branson stayed behind to run post-flight checks and wait for Anna and Gwen, which meant that it was only Mary and him that jogged across the rain-splashed tarmac to the waiting car, which he'd ordered ready to go the minute Mary had launched her ridiculous plan.
They were going to break a man out of prison before the Russians could kill him. When had Sir Ian Fleming started narrating his life?
Mary took the driver's seat and his side hurt so much, he didn't protest. "Where are we going now?" he asked.
"We'll set up at Edith's. Won't she love that." Mary kept her gaze forward, apparently focusing on pushing this car past its limits. Matthew wondered if she had a compulsion to do so for every rental car she encountered, and made a silent promise to keep her far from his own beloved Audi. "How's your side?"
"Hurts like nothing else I've ever encountered, thanks for asking."
Mary nodded, as though she'd expected that, and pushed the car even faster. "Sybil will be there. She'll have good drugs."
"If you say so," Matthew said. He was having a hard time focusing. It was a mixture of interrupted sleep and international travel while grievously injured, a combination he looked forward to never experiencing again. "So what's the plan, then? I've never broken a man out of jail before."
"Me either. I don't want to repeat it fifty times so I'll wait until everything is together before I fill everybody in."
Matthew nearly shrugged, but thankfully remembered the fact that he'd had a hole blown through his side at the last second. "Very well," he said.
Apparently Mary Crawley could feel guilt, for she sighed. "I don't know what it is yet," she said. "The plan, I mean. Not entirely. I just know we'll have to move fast. The Derevko sisters are…notorious. Surely you've heard of them, working at Dauphine."
He hadn't, actually, but that didn't surprise him. He was rapidly approaching the point where a bear could stand on the hood of the car and tap dance, and it wouldn't surprise him. All in all, though, he hoped that wouldn't happen. It would be hard to explain the scratches to the rental agency.
"No? You're probably better off. Two of them haven't been heard from in a couple of years, but the third…" Mary shook her head. "I haven't had any run-ins with her personally, and I'm hoping to keep it that way. She's put a hit out on Bates, which tells me he either knows something or they're scared that he knows something. They'll move quickly, especially in London. So we have to be faster."
Which was why Gwen and Anna were heading to London in the chopper and why Mary was currently breaking every speed law in England, Matthew surmised. He leaned back, hissing through his teeth a little at the blistering pain in his side. "Did we get here soon enough to grab him in transit?"
"No, but they're transferring him to a different facility in three hours." Mary punched through to avoid a red light, looking over in concern when Matthew swore. "Best hold on. Time is of the essence."
"So are traffic laws!"
Mary laughed, a long, rich chuckle. "If you think this is bad, just wait until you see Edith drive."
Thanks to Mary's lead foot and luck, they made it to Edith's flat in what Matthew suspected to be record time. It was in a nice neighborhood, nothing remarkable. The doorman expressed his surprise at seeing Mary, but she breezed right by with a smile, a limping Matthew in tow. He gave the doorman an uneasy salute and followed Mary onto the lift.
"He probably thinks it's a walk of shame," he said without meaning to.
"What?" Mary glanced askance at him.
"Well…look at you." She still wore the clothing she'd borrowed from William. The regal bearing and posture of course told the world that she was a proper lady, but the trousers and button up shirt simply swallowed her slight frame whole. "You do look a bit…"
"Ugh," Mary said, rolling her eyes at him. "Don't remind me. Oh, this is it. She'll already be awake—she's one of those infernal morning people."
Mary gave him an unimpressed look and led the way off the lift.
Edith Crawley really was a morning person; she answered the door wearing yoga pants and a tank top, looking as though she'd been awake for hours. She blinked at the both of them. "M-Mary?"
"I really hope you aren't on one of those awful cleanses where you've given up coffee again," Mary said, pushing past her sister into the flat.
Edith remained there, blinking in shock at Matthew. "Hi," he said, feeling horribly awkward. "Can I…"
"What? Oh, sure. Come in. I…Mary? What are you doing here?" Edith followed after her sister, leaving Matthew to his own devices at the entrance of her flat. It was tidy, he realized, but not the same lived-in tidy that Anna's flat had been. This one was meticulously neat: the bookshelves were all lined with books ranged by size and color, the art was precise, the furniture was angular and unforgiving. There was a yoga mat on the floor, neatly squared off. A little perturbed, he trailed after Edith through a sitting room and into a small kitchen.
"Oh, thank God," Mary said. She reached into a cupboard, withdrew a mug, and proceeded to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot by the stove. "You're an angel, you are."
"I'm confused is what I am. What are the two of you doing here and why do you look like that?"
"Long story," Mary said. "Is Sybil here?"
"In the guest bedroom, still sleeping. What are you—"
But Mary waved a distracted hand at her sibling as she headed off, no doubt to roust the youngest Crawley from sleep. Matthew was left awkwardly standing in the kitchen with Edith.
She turned to him. "What on earth is going on?"
"Mary's right in that it is rather a bit of a long story." Though he longed for coffee, he wanted to sit down more. He gestured at the table. "Do you mind if I…"
"Oh, sure, go ahead." Edith sighed and got down more mugs from the cupboard as he lowered himself into the chair, gritting his teeth. The noise must have alerted her, for she looked over in concern. "Is something the matter?"
"Not much. Got shot, and I'm afraid it's not agreeing with me."
"Mary shot you?"
"No, she prefers flinging knives at my head. It was—"
"That's quite enough," Mary said, coming back in. She flashed Matthew a pointed look, and he drew back in surprise. Was he not supposed to tell others about Patrick Crawley's miraculous revival from the dead? Mary addressed her sister. "I'd make more of that, were I you. We've got quite a few people coming. Anna and Gwen should be here shortly, and Branson even before that."
"Tom's coming over?" Sybil Crawley, in the process of finger-brushing her hair back, wandered into the kitchen. "Why?"
"There's a situation with Bates."
"Does Papa know?"
"Not that I know of."
"He's in Hong Kong, he and Mama both," Edith said, casting a puzzled look at Sybil.
Mary nodded. "Sybil, would you be a dear and check Matthew's gunshot? He's been making the most awful faces since we got off the plane and—"
"You shot him?" Sybil asked, clearly aghast.
"For the last time, no, I did not." Mary rolled her eyes.
"Is there something I should know about you that people keep assuming you've shot me?" Matthew asked.
"She shot Carson once, is all," Edith said.
"What?" Matthew asked.
"It was a BB gun. And it was in the foot. Also, I've apologized to him for it about fifty times already." Mary scowled. "I was twelve. Let's move on, shall we? Bates is an ex-Soviet spy, he was arrested for killing Vera Bates last night, and the Russians have put out a hit on him."
Edith and Sybil Crawley stared. After a minute, Edith looked down, slowly, into the coffee cup she held in her hand. "Yes, what is it?" Mary asked her, patience clearly snapping.
"Just wondering what's in your coffee that isn't in mine."
The Crawley sisters really were a striking trio, Matthew realized. After their initial shock, they were all very quick to move: Sybil pulled him over to the couch so that she could examine his side, Edith opened up various cabinets and revealed computer monitors all over the place, and Mary cooked breakfast, though she complained bitterly about it. "You know I'm an awful chef."
"It's just eggs and ham. Even you can't screw up eggs and ham," Edith said from where she was typing away at a laptop.
"Don't see why I should be the one to cook when I'm the one in charge of the mission."
"You're still officially a rogue spy, I'm the better hacker, and Sybil's patching holes in your boyfriend."
"I'm not—" Matthew said at the same time as Mary protested, "He's not—"
They shared an uneasy look as the awkwardness settled around them.
"You're not that good of a hacker," Mary said to Edith, as if that settled anything.
"If it wasn't Mary who shot you, who was it?" Sybil asked Matthew as she inspected the wound.
"I'd rather not say at the moment."
Sybil pulled on a set of latex gloves. "So what you're saying is that it was really Mary, and you're protecting her," she said. "This will hurt a bit, but I want to make sure."
Matthew yelped when she touched his side, wincing away, but Sybil was merciless. When she was satisfied that she'd given the injury a good look, she put a fresh dose of disinfectant on the wound and bandaged it once more. "You need plenty of rest for that, you know," she said. "Not to be hopping all over the place following my sister. She'll put anybody who tries to do that in an early grave."
"I heard that," Mary called from the kitchen.
"William gave me some drugs for it," Matthew said. "It'll be fine."
"It'll get infected."
"How can it, when it's bandaged so well?" Matthew said, attempting to sound charming.
Mary shoved a plate of runny eggs, ham, and toast into his hand. "Stop flirting with my sister. She's taken."
"Okay, I think I've got an idea about how we could do this," Edith said as the rest of them joined her in the dining room. "You said we'll have Branson, Gwen, and Anna, correct?"
"Yes. I don't want to bring anybody else in, so we'll be rather short-staffed, I'm afraid."
"We can make it work. Here's what we'll do…"
Matthew was surprised to find himself teamed up with Anna. He'd had to argue to come along in the first place, as nobody wanted to risk his injury worsening, but there was no way that he was going to miss out on this. So when Mary had finally given in and snapped, "Fine, you stay with Anna and if anything happens to her, I really will shoot you," he counted it as a victory. Then Anna, Gwen, and Branson had arrived, and Matthew realized that Mary hadn't been talking about babysitting so much as she had been talking about containment.
Anna Smith was furious and even worse, she was armed. She strode into Edith's apartment in full mission gear: black tactical suit, gun holstered at her side, a helmet dangling by its strap from one hand, duffel bag swinging from the other. Matthew blinked, but the vision didn't change. She had an actual crossbow slung across her back, like some sort of medieval warrior transplanted into modern times. It wasn't anywhere near as frightening as the sheer determination on her face.
"We brought some of your old things," she had said, handing the duffel bag to Mary.
Mary had nodded, as if she'd expected that. She had given her friend such a long, steady look that Matthew wondered if either was going to speak ever again. But all she'd said was, "You okay?"
"Let's do this."
"Guess that answers that." Mary had disappeared into Edith's bedroom with the duffel bag and had emerged a few minutes later, kitted out very much the same as Anna but minus the crossbow.
Matthew was still marveling at said bow an hour later.
"I'm not very good with guns," Anna said, and Matthew tore his gaze away from the medieval weapon. "So Mary suggested I learn some other weapon."
"Mary wanted you to learn how to use a crossbow?"
"I think she was hoping I'd use a taser," Anna said, a small smile crossing her face. "I do have one, and a gun, too, but overall…" She patted the crossbow with one gloved hand.
"I see," Matthew lied and returned to peering through the binoculars.
They were stationed atop a two-story building about three blocks from where Bates had been transferred. The argument had raged between the Crawley sisters about whether to grab Bates while he was being transported or not. Ultimately, Mary had won: the Russians might be expecting that the Abbey would try for the easiest way to extract their agent. It was more difficult and riskier to extract Bates while he was still being held in the facility, but they worked for Crawley's. They didn't believe in doing things the easy way.
It rankled Matthew somewhat to be away from the action, but it couldn't be helped, not with his side on fire the way it was. So he waited next to Anna, kneeling behind a low wall, and keeping a look out for everybody.
"So," Anna said. "What'd you do to Mary to make her shoot you?"
"You people really are fixated on that."
Sybil's voice crackled over the comm. "Underwood and Nightingale are in place."
Underwood, that was Gwen, Matthew remembered, though that was a strange name. She was set to override the station's security system, with Sybil watching her back.
"Lucky's set, too," Branson's voice said. He sounded less than thrilled by his handle, and Matthew didn't blame him.
"Copy that. Buffy and Perseus are good to go."
"Buffy?" Matthew asked.
Anna rolled her eyes. "Sybil's a fan. Thinks it's a great joke."
"Andromeda here," Mary said. "Bonneville needs another minute. Hold please."
When Matthew looked over, he saw Anna's lips moving, though no sound emerged. It took him a few seconds to realize that she was praying. "He's going to be fine," he said, a bit uselessly. "We'll get him out of there and to safety."
"Can't hurt to have extra help," Anna said, and settled behind her crossbow to wait.
"Bonneville here," Edith said. "Set your watches. Go time in five…four…three…"
"Two…one," Edith said, and Mary burst from where she'd been tucked away in the alley. She took two running steps and slammed the battering ram through the glass door of the tobacco shop belonging to one Mr. A. Milsner and his son. The door cracked and blew inward. Mary dropped the battering ram, swung her M-16 up in the same movement, and surged inside.
It wasn't a large shop, just the one main room, a back room, and the apartment above, she imagined. Shelves were lined with magazines in all languages, imported junk food, and other knickknacks. Behind the counter, floor to ceiling shelves held cigars and cigarettes and various other forms of tobacco and alcohol.
Mr. A. Milsner jumped when she came storming in. Mary gave one short apology in her mind before she shouted, "Down on the ground! Hands on your head!"
"Please, please, there's no need for violence—"
"Get on the ground!" Mary repeated, twitching the gun.
Mr. Milsner went the color of ash and obeyed, though he continued to babble that she could take anything in the shop, that he wouldn't fight her, that she please didn't damage anything. He lay on the floor behind the counter, quivering.
"We are go for Bonneville," Mary said over the comm. "No sudden movements," she told Mr. Milsner as she pulled a set of cable ties out of her pocket. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Oh yes?" he asked in Russian. "You are here for Bates, no?"
Definitely not the very-British Mr. Milsner, Mary realized a split-second before the man swung around onto his back and did a flip-kick to his feet. He kicked the M-16 out of her hands right at the same time as Mary's training kicked in. She dodged backwards, her elbow deflecting off of a dusty rack of postcards. Cards and metal clattered to the floor as she backed out of the way of another kick.
Not-Milsner lunged at her, hoping to grab her, no doubt. Mary snatched her silenced pistol from its holster and shot him twice. There was a look on his face as he fell to his knees and then over, clearly dead.
Edith came into the shop and took in the chaos. "And you wondered why we all thought you'd shot Matthew," she said, and hurried into the back room.
"Might want to hurry. They may have heard that."
"Why'd you shoot him?"
"He wasn't Milsner," Mary said.
It was Edith's turn to go the color of ash.
"Head's up, team," Mary said over the comm. "Derevko's team might know we're here."
"How do you know?" Sybil asked.
"They had a look-out in the shop. I took care of it, but I suggest we move quickly."
"Almost done," Edith said. She was the resident munitions expert at the Abbey. A young love for engineering and engines had translated to a frightening competency at, as Gwen had put it once, things that go boom. Now she closed up the heat scanner and began to line a doorway-sized space in the wall with what looked like gray rope. "He's in there, and he's on the other side. Let's hope he stays there."
Mary crossed herself.
"Ready," Edith said. "Nightingale?"
Mary and Edith went back into the main room of the tobacco shop and crouched behind the desk. Mary held her hands over her ears; Edith fiddled with the remote control console. "Three," she said. "Two. One."
The force of the explosion shook the floor. Coughing at the sudden influx of dust and debris, the two sisters looked over the edge of the counter and into the stunned face of John Bates. There had been a wall between them, but thanks to Edith, that was no longer the case.
He recovered rather quickly. "Anna?" he asked as Mary raced into his cell.
Mary hooked a giant padlock around the cage bars to prevent the cell door from opening. "Cell's contained. Go, Underwood!"
"Waiting two blocks away," Edith told Bates. "C'mon!"
The three of them raced over the rubble and into the tobacco shop right as the station's alarms began to shrill. Every cell door containing a prisoner slid open at once—Gwen's work—save for that of John Bates, which would prevent any of the police from following them through the giant hole in the wall that they'd created, provided they could get through the chaos of the unleashed prisoners. Though the door strained against the metal of the padlock, it was no match for Mary's work. Mary, Bates, and Edith hurried out to the curb, where Branson had just pulled the SUV.
Edith and Bates had already climbed in when the first shots erupted.
A/N the Second: the code names are a hodgepodge of references. Edith's code name isn't a reference to Hugh but to the Bonneville Salt Flats. I felt it was fitting for somebody who likes to go fast and blow things up, both of which you can do (sometimes at the same time) at this legendary racing site. Underwood's obviously a type-writer, Buffy is an indulgence to my Whedonite self, and Lucky will probably get me banned from Ireland forever. Hope that helps!
Oh, right, and if you're an Alias fan, you might recognize the Russian with a vendetta against our poor Mr. Bates.