Overview: This story was developed before the end of the season and does not take account of 4x12 – rather, I picked up where we knew that Carrie would seek Aasar's help during the search for Quinn. I meant to deal with themes that came up in episodes up to then, namely Aasar's clear hesitations with the moral compass of his own agency, and the manifest tension between him and lead character Carrie. Given this poor ship is destined to failure outside of an AU universe, this story takes a slight AU twist and assumes that Carrie, and her team, have some future in Pakistan.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, plotlines or episodes – Homeland universe developed by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and the real story belongs to Showtime. No profit intended, or copyright infringement.
The hall was giant, empty and dark, a shell of a place that looked like it had been some sort of hangar. She had come in through a side door in the corner and it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dark.
She hesitated to call his name, fearing someone else might be there. She noticed the walls were made of metal and struck the door with her knuckles. There was a faint echo and a voice reached her from the distant left: "Carrie?"
"Here," he called to her across the room. A light flashed across the hangar – it looked like the screen of a cell phone – and she briefly glimpsed his features in the blue light.
As she strode towards the corner, hands in her pockets, she wondered whether she'd fallen into a trap again. It felt like déjà vu: pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, no explanations given, an out-of-the-way rendezvous point in neighborhoods she'd never heard of before.
As she approached, he put his phone away and looked up towards her. She saw his eyes narrow and his chin raise, and felt a twinge of sadness. She wasn't sure why, but she enjoyed looking at his face and she sensed the direction her work was taking would make occasions like this rare.
"Well," she said, slowing down to stop a few paces from him. She noticed his open collar - he was wearing civilian clothes - then turned to run her eyes along the walls, sizing up the building. "Here we are again."
"How many of these places do you have?" she asked, still looking around the hangar.
"Enough of them," he said with a clip. He followed the direction of her gaze and then looked back at her. "…You can stop looking. No one is here."
She tightened her coat belt and turned her eyes on him.
"As I said…" he started. "I needed to see you in private. I hope it wasn't too much trouble."
She shook her head. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
"Our conversation earlier tonight."
"What about it?"
He looked off to the side. "I had to tell you something that... you didn't give me the chance to say."
She snorted. "Is this about work?"
She raised her voice. "Aasar, we really don't need to talk about this again. I offered you a job, and..." she shrugged. "You turned it down. You made yourself pretty clear."
"I'd like another chance to explain," he interrupted.
"Well, what in the hell is it?"
She noticed him flinch at her words. She regretted acting this way, but felt he deserved it. When he had refused to switch sides, it was coldly and without apologies; that had hurt, and it still did.
He looked through her for a moment and his lips tightened, as if he were searching for the right words. Briefly his gaze dropped to her mouth, then flicked back to meet her questioning glare. "Well, I have to tell you that—" he paused and took a half-step towards her. "Your judgment about my character is mistaken. You said I was a coward."
"I did," she replied, matter-of-factly.
"Well I'm not. ...You make it sound as if I'm trying to save my career."
"Yes," she said, raising her chin, "I think that's exactly what's happening."
"No." He shook his head. "You're misjudging my motives. Things are not that… simple."
Carrie felt anger rising. "What do you mean, simple?" The muscles in her jaw tightened. "What about this situation is not simple? The fact that your colleagues are... working with terrorists? Is that complicated in any way?"
"That's not what I mean at all—"
Carrie continued to interrupt him. "—You — you work with a terrorist-loving, fucked-up group of people and you know it. I'm giving you a way out. Now tell me, what is so difficult about that choice? Huh? You've shown me ten times that you don't like how business is done here. Well suck it up. You can come work for me – that's simple."
"Carrie, lower your voice!" He looked over his shoulder. "That's not what I mean at all."
"Will you give me a chance to talk?"
"Yes," she grumbled, after a moment.
"Please do. You're not thinking clearly." The silence that followed was overwhelming, and it shut her up.
She lifted a hand to her hip and waited and, and hearing nothing, glared at him and turned her back, walking a few steps away. When she looked at him again, his eyes were lowered. He seemed to sense her gaze and met her eyes, squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. "I need you to know that I'm not refusing out of loyalty to the people in charge. It's been hard enough to follow orders for the last fifteen years."
He paused, frowning a little, and she waited for him to continue.
"In our ministries and directorates, there's not a man or woman with the courage to sever our links to the Taliban or Haqqani. The means and the ends are as brutal as the other. I don't know how they do it."
"Give me an example."
"The drugs," he started. "You could have been seriously harmed. I can assure you: no one, no one in the meeting rooms raised their voice after the fact. ...Or what about a twelve-year old boy. You saw him, on the tarmac, with explosives strapped to his chest."
"What about him?"
"Every day we let – we train – boys his age to believe that C-4 is their passport to heaven. If this was your agency, your men, would you stand by idly? When they're asked to train Al-Qaeda operatives, to pay for their telephones, to protect their hideouts as thoroughly as our country's own diplomatic missions? Would you do it?"
"Yeah," she chimed, "your folks aren't exactly in bed with the nice guys. Which is why…" she snorted. "Which is why I really don't understand why you insist on covering their backs."
"I don't," he snapped. "But I don't have a choice. I can stay in my position or rise higher in this organization. I will get absolutely no pride from the rank, or the medals. But I can make things change."
"You're a hell of an optimist," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Then tell me," he challenged her, "what's your approach?"
"How's drop a fucking bomb."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Drop a bomb."
"Yes. And if your country isn't going to do it, just tell me where they are, Aasar. I know you have the information. We drop the bomb for you. No strings attached."
He watched her, considering her offer, as she stood perfectly still, meeting his gaze.
"I tell you," she said, "It's a hell of a lot quicker than becoming ISI Director."
"I won't become ISI Director. My rank and career exclude that possibility."
"So you see my point about practicality. For fuck's sake, Aasar, what's the issue?"
His eyes moved to the side before flicking back to hers; his mouth was pursed in hesitation. "It's hard to explain."
"Well," Carrie said, losing her patience, "Write me a text message when you figure it out. I'm way past the age of getting this kind of shit from assets. I know I'm right. I just need you to admit it."
"For goodness's sake, Carrie, do I have to spell it out for you?"
The strength of it shocked her. She heard him take a deep breath and saw his eyes fixate on some point behind her, before returning to meet with hers. Seconds passed as they stood apart, exchanging glances and daring the other to speak.
She noticed her heart rate rising and looked away, willing for the feelings to disappear. It crossed her mind that in the many times they had met, he had not laid a hand on her once. Not even to lay a hand on the small of her back, as they went through a doorway. The only thing he touched her with was his eyes. She sensed there were things he would say with them that he would never, ever manage to articulate directly.
When she looked back at him, a stray shock of hair had fallen into her eyes. She pushed it away and cleared her throat, breaking the silence. There was only one way to find out.
"Well," she offered, "Let me try to figure this out. What if I said it was because—" she looked to the side, hesitant. He was looking at her guardedly, half-waiting, half-fearing that she would wade into this territory.
She decided to say it another way. "If you worked for us, I would be your case officer, and that would make me very valuable as a target. More legitimate, too. Do you say it's not simple because of that? …Is that what you mean, that you – that you're afraid for me?"
"Yes, that's part of it," he said. He was clearly uneasy, and his eyes drifted somewhere off to his right.
"Aasar," she said softly, "I think...I think I should know." She paused, and he turned his attention back to her. "I need you to tell me if you… is this something personal? You think you can't do this because you..." She broke off, swallowing, and blinked. "Do have feelings for me?"
He squinted at her for a moment and then let it out, without a trace of emotion: "Yes."
Carrie arched her eyebrows and tried to imitate his voice: "Yes," she caricatured gruffly, making a face. "Well that's about the most… romantic thing I ever heard."
"It's not funny."
"Sorry," she ventured. "What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know–" he paused and frowned. "Tell me you feel the same? That you agree? That this is a bad idea?"
His posture remained impeccable but his eyes spoke of hurt and a touch of fear. She held the gaze for a few moments, watching the shadows that made him almost indistinguishable from their surroundings. She didn't know what he wanted to hear, and before she could say anything, he turned his face away and walked to the corner of the hangar, at some distance from her. Carrie watched him silently and struggled with how much to reveal. She wondered if she was right to believe that a liaison with him would not compromise their professional relationship; but she wasn't sure he was as brave, or foolish.
"You don't have anything to say?" He asked, loud enough for her to hear.
Looking at his face, she suddenly realized he was serious. "Aasar," she started, "I always thought you and I were colleagues. When I asked you to work for the United States government, it was on the assumption you liked us, not me."
He said nothing.
"But," she shrugged and smiled. "Maybe I was wrong."
She was hoping he would smile, but saw nothing to suggest it. She felt an impulse to bridge the distance and took a few steps towards him, reaching a more comfortable distance. At the sound, his hand dropped from the wall and he turned slightly towards her.
"I've never had a problem with the American station chiefs," he clipped after a moment of silence. "Not before you. But you made it extremely hard. The truth is," he said, not looking at her, "Around you, I'm not myself. I make errors in judgment."
"Like rescuing me off the street?" she asked indignantly.
His eyes flashed back at her. "That's different."
"Aasar," she insisted, beckoning him with her head, "If you're not willing to meet on some kind of regular basis, what do you want from me?"
He eyed her guardedly, maintaining the distance.
"I really can't do anything for you if you don't tell me what you want. And," she continued, "I have to say… I mean, it's nice of you to let me know but…" her eyebrows rose – "you're a little late."
He straightened his shoulders and turned his body towards her. "Am I?"
"Well, yeah. Our diplomatic relations are done. Over."
"I'm not asking for anything," he said, drawing closer. "Just for you to remember this. You've forgotten things that are true in the past, and you're extremely prone to saying things that have no relation to reality. You need to believe me when I say I'm not a coward." He paused for a moment and let the words sink in, willing her to understand. "ISI, the Ministry of Defense, the Afghanis, the Taliban have eyes on me after what's happened. A coward would leave the country. My duty is not to. Despite the risks, I am still in play. I know this organization top to bottom. The one viable action plan would be: stay clear of trouble, and leverage influence, everywhere I have it within the organization."
As he took a pause, he was distracted by the wisps of blond hair around her forehead, which caught a flash of light as she moved. A thin furrow had formed in her brow. His mouth constricting, he glanced to the side and collected his train of thought. "I've thought about collaborating with you, in some official capacity. And my decision has little to do with cowardice, common interest, or calculations of risk." He felt himself frowning as he expressed himself. "It's a matter of… integrity. Treason entails loyalty to the enemy. I take that definition very seriously. And I fear that working for you would have too much to do with you, and too little to do with loyalty to your country."
"So no, 'hey honey, Haisam Haqqani spotted in Rawalpindi, meet you at 1700 in the drone ops room'."
"No! What are you—" he looked at her and was struck by a teasing smile. When their eyes met again, she let out a small laugh. "What's so funny?" he griped.
"I just –"
"What?" he snapped.
"Nothing," she laughed despite herself, "Look - forget about work. I'm done talking about that. Let's talk about how much of a coward you are, in the personal department."
"Look at you. You run the ISI's counter-intelligence department. Don't you have to... imprison, torture, execute people? I mean isn't this what you do on a daily basis? I thought you were used to this."
He was caught off guard, and she found herself smiling at her effect on him.
"You say you're some big shot, and yet..." she rocked on her feet. "The thought of dating me is… scary?"
He narrowed his eyes at her.
"Aasar, why the fuck did you bring me here?"
His head held back, judging her features, he said nothing.
"I said," she repeated, "why did you bring me here?"
She shoved her hands into her pockets and squared her shoulders, standing as tall as her frame allowed, and challenging him with a half-smile. From where he stood, she was a good ten paces' distance. He kept a straight face for a moment, but finally a hint of a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. At that, he crossed the space between them and stopped a few feet away from her. He scanned her face and waited for a moment to speak. "Why did I bring you here?"
"Yes," she said.
"I needed you to hear my motives," he said, swiftly. "Perhaps also, to hear the same."
"The same? Tell you my motives?"
"Yes, or your feelings." He raised his eyebrows, asking her to continue.
She swallowed nervously. "There's no reason you and I can't be friends. We've been working fine on that basis until now. But, you seem to know something I don't — tell me, is there a rule I should know about, that says colleagues can't so much as touch each other? Is that forbidden in Pakistan?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "That's just for certain situations."
"Then prove me wrong, or at least make things clear." She took a step towards him. "I think you can handle it. Prove to me you really have to stay away from me, because you can't handle fucking someone you respect. Maybe you're right, and you can't be close with the U.S. station chief." She paused, licking her lips. "You tell me. How much do you want it?"
His eyes flinched with surprise and he swallowed, feeling his mouth go dry. Carrie watched the signs of hesitation grow on him, despite efforts to contain them – his nostrils flaring, and rapid breaths that rose and fell in his chest. With a glance to the floor, he took a small step towards her. He dropped his eyes to her waist, where she held her hands in her pockets. When his eyes lifted again, she saw his mouth move just slightly, as if he were contemplating saying something.
She bit her lips, waiting, unsure of his intentions. A moment later she felt a rush of adrenaline as his fingers appeared at her wrist, wrapping around it. Apart from her illness, it was the first time she felt him touch her.
Gently he pulled her left hand out of its pocket. She laced her fingers with his and held on to him tightly, gripping his knuckles and pressing her thumb into his palm. He responded with the same, making feathery and tantalizing circles on her skin. Without her noticing he raised his eyes to her face and lifted her hand, resting it on her neck where he could brush her with his fingertips. She shifted on her feet, dropping her hand and feeling the warmth of his palm wrap fully around her neck. Carrie had never been so close to him and could see his hazelnut-colored eyes were all impatience, desire, and disbelief. There was a sliver of hesitation, and then it was gone as he pushed his hand into her hair, leaned into her and kissed her, hard.
Carrie gave a small whimper of surprise - she had expected it would be gentle - but within a few seconds something uncontrollable took over and she forgot who she was, who he was or what they were doing and kissed him back with the same insistence. She grazed his inner lip with her tongue, and then he returned the caress, giving a slight groan and pinning her against him with his arm. Pushed back almost to the point of losing her balance, Carrie staggered back and opened her mouth to let him in, struggling, frustrated, to reach his face and hold him tightly to her as they kissed. Deep inside her she knew this wellspring of excitement came from loving someone else, and deep inside she doubted that Aasar fully knew – but she didn't care. Only when the tenor of his touch changed, as he began speaking to her in tender caresses, briefly looking her in the eye, his hands moving to cradle her face and his mouth exploring hers with tentative, wistful kisses that overflowed with longing - only then did she wonder if he was in deeper than her, and deserved better.
Feeling a sudden need to breathe, Carrie pulled away and swallowed, eyes wide open as she tried to register what had just happened. "Um–" she said, even as he started speaking.
"So– Sorry." He raised his chin, asking if she wanted to speak, but she shook her head. He swallowed, sighed deeply and took a step away from her. "Well, how have we done?"
She raised her eyebrows, trying to regain her thoughts. "Um, I'm –" she stammered. "Ah," she laughed uncomfortably, "...I guess your intentions are clear. Actually, no. No, I take that back. How ready are you to work with me?"
"At the moment," he said with a glance to the floor, "…not very much. Not for this. I think I'd need more than that. Maybe, for better pay," he said dismissively.
"Better pay? How much do you want?"
"I don't know…" he stared off to the side, active thought suddenly clouding his features. He looked like he wanted to touch her, but he stopped himself. "Carrie," he started, "Do you like chai? Indian tea."
She looked at him perplexed.
"I think this conversation needs to continue, but somewhere less cold, and less dusty. Over a cup of tea. Would that be all right with you?" he asked, rocking on his feet.
"Sure," she let out. "Did you want us to go to your house?"
"Yes. Another house. It's not the one you saw."
"Oh dear," she chanted, rolling her eyes. "Is it a dingy shack somewhere?"
"Not really. But there's no ISI men. ...Have you got a car?"
Carrie shook her head.
"Take a taxi, tell him to go to Fatih Ghazi Mosque and call me when you arrive. Good luck."
With a parting glance, Aasar turned away from her and headed for a side door that had escaped Carrie's notice. Carrie stared at him as he left, too baffled to even call out his name. The rattle of the banging door echoed for some time. Still stunned, she shook her head and pulled out her cell phone, dialed his number and began walking to the door she'd entered from.
She heard the phone ring dimly outside the hangar and pressed the phone to her ear.
"What?" he asked through the line.
"That was kind of sudden," she said. Her footsteps echoed around her in the hangar as she continued walking in the dark.
"I'd rather not stay on the line," he retorted. "Is there anything you wanted to talk about urgently?"
"You said something about better pay."
There was no answer, and she heard the sound of traffic and a lone car horn blow through the receiver. She wasn't sure whether he was hesitant, or willing to play the game.
"Yes. I think it's commonplace for assets to be remunerated. Is it not?"
Carrie stepped out of the hangar and lifted her hands to her eyes, struck by the lighting on the street. "Ah, yes," she grimaced, "yes, I think I could do that. That's right, we do remunerate our assets."
"Do you pay in kind? Or only in cash?"
She wished she could see him smile. "Well, what do you want exactly?"
"How about a U.S. passport? I need to travel."
She thought for a moment. "If you want a U.S. passport, you're looking at five or six years, or that many heads of al-Qaeda on a silver platter."
"What can I get for less?"
"For less…" she squinted at the street. "You can get whatever you want, in kind. Payday is every Friday."
"Friday," he said. She heard his car door open and close. There was a pause, and then the car engine started. "That's tomorrow."
"Well, they called the night prayers a few hours ago," she said, "So technically it's probably Friday by now."
"Ah yes. Islamic law. It's been Friday since sunset." She heard him clear his throat. "I gave you an address. Do you remember what it is?"
"Will you come?"
"Yes," she said, breaking into a smile. "Please tell me where to go afterwards, and I'll be there."
"Good," he replied. She heard a small cough. "Please come. I want to see you."
"I do too." Smiling, she closed her phone and raised her hand to hail a cab.
As she waited, she drew her hands together and made feathery circles with her thumb in her palm, trying to remember the sensation. It wasn't quite the same doing it by herself, and she wondered how many months it would be before her life took her to a new place, where only the memory of him would accompany her.