The Trapped Assassin
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone still reading. :-)
Disclaimer: I do not own CHUCK. I'm not making any money from this.
She busied herself with packing for the next hour and a half, though it shouldn't have taken that long. She couldn't take much with her, after all. Spies traveled light, and assassins traveled even lighter.
She took clothes for a few days, maybe. Some toiletries. Shoes. Anything that fit in one bag. The rest would be provided by the CIA. She'd snuck down into the lobby to print out the email with her directions for the meet. She still didn't know anything about whomever she was meeting, except for what he'd be wearing.
She didn't think about the man she'd left behind, asleep in his bed. She didn't think about the double date from the night before.
And that was a complete lie.
Because try as she might, that had been the only thing she'd thought about since she stepped into her own suite and shut the door behind her.
The more she thought about how good those people were, the more she knew she couldn't have them. Somebody like her couldn't have people like them. They had no idea just how little she deserved their kindness.
A few times during the night, she'd caught her eye over the table, or over the rim of her glass. And they'd shared an inside joke, something the men hadn't been privy to. And it was something Sarah'd never experienced with another woman. It was normalcy Sarah's existence had never afforded her before. Ellie had actively shared…moments with her.
With an assassin.
If she'd had any idea…
God, Ellie was a life saver. She was marrying another life saver. And here she was figuratively embracing this woman she'd barely just met hours before, not knowing the woman she embraced was a life taker.
The more she thought about Chuck and his family, the more she knew she had to leave. She had to go. She had to get out of this world she didn't belong in, go back to her world. The more she wanted this, the more she needed the normalcy this last week had provided her, the more she strove to rip it away from herself.
She thought the same thing last night, but she felt the need to repeat it again, over and over and over again: Chuck, Ellie, Devon…they were the people she protected. They were the people she made sacrifices for. Agent Walker, as she was now—the Ice Queen, as she was the rest of the time—was one of the best spies the United States had in their arsenal of masterful spies. She was the best killer they had at their disposal. She was the most efficient, the most clandestine, and the most intelligent.
The country needed the Ice Queen. Not Sarah Walker. She needed Sarah Walker. She needed a lot of things.
But an old friend who was in the same business had once told her that the country's needs had to come before their own. They'd made a choice to give up on that part of their lives. Granted, the guy had a wife and a grown daughter, so Sarah had taken it with a grain of salt at the time.
There was still the fact that what she did didn't always sit well with her. That she still had nightmares about the people she'd killed during her illustrious career. She smirked to herself at that. For her career to be called illustrious, she actually had to get credit for what she did—at least, more than a pat on the back from Graham and another assignment from the folks above him. Nobody actually knew who she was. Nobody cared to know.
She was the Ice Queen to her colleagues at Langley. One of her superiors had even slipped up during a debriefing once—started to call her "the Ice Queen" and quickly retracted it to call her the name she'd been given for that particular assignment.
She didn't blame him at the time, and she didn't now. It was hard to remember all of the names that floated over her head, depending on the mission. If she could just keep Agent Sarah Walker…
But that would make things difficult, wouldn't it? Because every time someone said it, she'd remember the way it had sounded on his lips. The way it sounded when Ellie said it, even. And Devon. She'd remember what she'd experienced. This spot of absolute heaven in an otherwise hellish existence.
And then she shook her head at herself and rolled her eyes, walking up to the window and looking out at the French Riviera down below. Now wasn't the time for melodrama. She'd allowed it before. She wouldn't now. Self-pity had no place here.
She had free will. She'd exercised it over and over again.
And that was why she didn't deserve to have more than this bright spot of heaven. It would remain a spot, not much longer than a week. And she would remember it fondly. Always.
While packing and piling anything she wasn't taking in a neat enough way that it wouldn't be too much of a hassle for the hotel staff, Sarah fluctuated between leaving Chuck a note and not leaving him a note.
She couldn't see him. That much she knew. But he deserved more than just her disappearance.
He deserved more.
She just didn't know if she could chance it. It was potentially dangerous to tell him…well, anything. And she refused to lie, even if it was something that made him feel better. Either way, she'd made a mess of this. Either way, he was going to be hurt. But she wouldn't leave him with yet another lie.
But she also didn't want him hating her. She couldn't bear the thought. Worse than that, though, was the thought of Chuck being afraid of her. And he surely would be if he knew the truth about her, about what she'd done. About what she would continue to do if she went back to the CIA.
And there it was again…
A voice in her head that was still fighting the decision to go back to what she knew. It was still there, and still loud…She'd pushed it away for awhile, but it still urged her not to give up yet. There was still time. She was meeting her contact soon, but she still had time to weigh everything. As the voices in her head battled, she had a thought that perhaps a psychiatrist appointment was necessary in her near future.
By the time Sarah was ready to go, having followed the instructions to a tee down to the large sunhat she'd had to buy from the hotel gift shop, she'd managed to stifle her mind. She had to focus now. This was a mission. She had a contact to meet. Even if this was the last mission of her career, she needed to take it seriously.
She turned at the door and swept her gaze over the room. She looked at her luggage that she was taking, and at everything else she wasn't taking. When she walked back into this room the next time, it might be the last time.
And with that dismal thought in her mind, she ducked out of her suite and made her way to the elevator.
God, it was beautiful here.
The weather was undeniably perfect. There was a bit of heat, but it was refreshing after the rains and the chilly breeze that had come through Nice the past few days. The air was still, the streets full.
But not so much here. Here, it was a little quieter. She looked over her shoulder, eyeing the large hill behind her. It was the same hill she'd climbed before, about a week earlier. Things had been so different then. She'd had time. She'd been having fun, enjoying herself…enjoying a man she had no right to enjoy.
When she'd been climbing up the path with Chuck that gorgeous day, she hadn't realized just how deep he'd get inside of her. How thoroughly he'd burrow his way under her skin, lodging himself in her chest. In the organ that resided in her chest.
She huffed and turned back around, catching the eye of the waitress. She ordered a club soda with lime, not sure she could stomach anything else. Because all of this was making her feel rather sick.
Or maybe it was the whole not eating yet today thing. It didn't matter, though, because she didn't have time to eat. She glanced at her watch.
Her contact was meeting her in less than 3 minutes. She sipped the club soda she ordered and paid for. And then her nerves started kicking in—nerves she'd never felt before a mission.
Sure, she'd been nervous in her own way. But this was different. These were the sort of nerves that made her want to get to her feet and run. Never come back. Disappear somewhere and not go through with this.
Not out of a fear of death. But out of a fear of the decision she was making.
The assassin downed her club soda, then took a bite out of her lime. And it was as lime juice trickled down to her chin that she spotted him.
At first she was shocked. But only a millisecond passed before she felt a smile start. He was facing away from her but she knew him almost inherently. In spite of the foolish disguise—the typical American tourist. When would spies realize that disguise was ineffective if you had less than 20% body fat?She stymied the smile and slipped the lime wedge into the empty glass, dabbing her chin with the napkin and standing up from the table. She looked left and right, carefully crossing the street until she came to the island in the middle. And then she dashed again to the other side of the street, looking past her contact, down the long path that led to the lighthouse.
She didn't want to appear fixated on her contact. They weren't supposed to be chums. And she knew how conniving the top brass was in U.S. intelligence circles. There might be someone watching. A third person who would report back on this meeting that Graham must have purposefully constructed. He knew her history with this operative.
What was Graham's angle sending him? Maybe he didn't know just how deep of a bond they'd formed. Maybe he thought she was incapable of forming deep bonds with anyone. That seemed the most likely. Ice Queen.
She supposed she'd find out in due time.
Sarah walked slowly, crossing her arms, moving closer and closer. The ridiculous shirt he wore was white with a tannish-grey flower pattern. And his hat looked right out of Weekend at Bernie's. His khakis were cotton and black, and his flip flops were horrendous. If she never saw him in flip flops again, she'd be fine with it. It was…weird. To say the least.
His profile showed discomfort and annoyance. And then he shifted and moved to the railing, looking down past the rocks into the water so that she couldn't see any part of his face, just the tension in his shoulders.
In spite of him not looking at her, or even in her general direction, she knew he was aware of her.
So it was no surprise when he said, "Nice hat."
She snorted and leaned against the railing a yard away, trying not to move her mouth much. "Could say the same to you, but I'm more interested in those retired realtor with no fashion sense pants you're wearing."
He turned and glared at her. "S'wrong with my pants?"
"Where do I begin?"
"Hmng." He looked out at the French Riviera again and thumped his hands against the railing. "And what'm I callin' you this time?"
"What?" he asked when she'd paused too long.
She shook her head.
"Simple question. You ain't on the mission anymore, are ya? No harm in tellin' me yer cover name. Or I can always call ya IQ like the dipshits at Langley do." He shrugged, and she knew that he knew she was bothered by that damnable nickname.
"Walker," she said, squinting out into the sea.
"Works fer me. Let's get outta here, though. I got a place we can go to talk."
She didn't move. "Or you can just give me my orders and we can be done with this."
This time he paused. She kept herself from squirming in discomfort as she felt his searching gaze on her profile. "Pretty big rush you're in, huh? Can't even spend a few minutes with an old friend?" He sniffed in amusement. Probably at the part where he'd called himself an old friend. Things were much more complicated than that. And then they weren't at the same time. With him it seemed a lot of things were actually rather simple.
"Why'd they send you?"
"I d'no. All I know is your CIA hack of a director specifically called the general to make me do this. Any reason why he'd tag a friendly face to give you your next mission?" He folded his arms and faced her.
She shook her head. "Can't think of any."
"Just a few minutes, Walker. C'mon. I know you got the time to spare. And I'm not sure you want what I got for ya just yet."
The assassin sent him a quick, searching look, calculating in her study of him. He smirked. "It ain't a bullet," he clarified. "But it ain't a stretch for you to think that. You CIA bastards are…well, bastards." He patted his lower back, something he must've had tucked under his shirt. "Got your assignment."
"Oh." She licked her lips and looked over her shoulder at the street, watching the cars rumble past them. "Alright."
And she followed behind him, letting him hail the cab. Every part of her screamed for her not to get in with him.
And then she got in with him.
The drive was quiet and quick. And in spite of everything, her hand rested on her knives on her thigh, under the brim of the hat she'd taken off and laid in her lap. She knew he'd peg her as having her hand on her knife if he could see her hand.
The taxi slid to a halt against the curb and they climbed out after paying, watching for a moment as it drove away again.
Then he tilted his head towards a path that seemed to lead up a shaded hill path. She merely stared at him, not budging. She'd followed him a few times before. She'd once even followed him into certain death. It was why he was here now…why he was ever anywhere. Because she'd followed him that night a few years back.
"The hell is this, Casey?"
He sighed and took his hat and stupid dark sunglasses off, slipping the glasses into the pocket of his shirt, shoving the hat in his back pocket. "We gotta talk."
"What is there to talk about? You hand me my assignment, we shake hands, we split up. Only to meet again a couple years from now in…fucking…Bogotá or something like that." She shrugged.
He snorted quietly and shook his head, walking away from her towards the path. When she still didn't budge, he asked over his shoulder, "You comin' or what, Blondie?"
She clenched her jaw and glared at him.
Then he turned to face her, walking up the path slowly, backwards. "Drop the damn act, too. That's my act and I resent you tryin' to copycat."
The assassin trapped her lip between her teeth in an attempt not to smile.
And then she followed him.
They only climbed for a few minutes before they emerged through the trees and Sarah found herself at the top of a green hill that looked down over part of the city and the Riviera.
"Oh my God," she breathed, looking out at the scenery. "This is beautiful."
"Yeah." He nodded. "Found this place during my honeymoon. Went all over France."
Sarah crossed her arms and nodded. "How is she? And your daughter?"
He shrugged. "Fine."
"You see them lately?"
He gave her a flat look this time and she smirked. Then he sighed and shook his head. "Went straight from a mission to here. So…not for a bit. No."
"Sounds about right," she said with a nod.
They were silent for a bit and then she pushed through her hair with the hand that wasn't holding the hat. "Casey, will you just give me the assignment, please? Please."
Casey just looked at her, then he grunted in that way of his. Like she was only a few years older than his daughter. And she thought that was probably true. She didn't know for sure. She'd never seen pictures…or really even heard all that much about his wife and daughter. She just knew they were out there. Somewhere.
"Why you so eager to get the assignment and go?" he asked, flipping his shirt up and pulling the sealed envelope out.
It looked thin. That meant there wasn't much information, probably a dossier or two, a place to be, plane tickets, and nothing else. This would be a tough assignment, and she knew that thin envelope also meant a lot of research. Damn it, what did they even have analysts for? Or were the top brass punishing her? Purposefully challenging her for her slip-up in that last assignment…?
"I'm just ready to move on. They stuck me here for weeks without telling me anything. I've been suspended."
"They tell you that?"
"No, but I figured it out. They've never kept me off a mission this long."
"Sounds about right," he repeated back to her with a quiet pfft at the end.
"John." He looked right at her. "Please. Just give me the envelope." Then he was almost smiling a little, and it was disconcerting. "What?" she asked, fighting not to squirm in discomfort.
"You think I just came here for the meet-up to hand you your assignment and go, huh?" She frowned. "I'm a spy, Walker. Before that, a military man. I don't go into a mission, even one like this, without doing some surveillance first." A chill went down her spine and it must have shown on her face because he let out a soft amused grunt. "You're slipping a li'l, aren't ya? I could read everything on your face right then."
"I'm not slipping. Give me the envelope." She moved to snatch it out of his hands but he easily held it away from her.
"I've been watching you for three days now, and I don't think I have to tell you everything I've seen." She didn't need him to say anything else. She knew if he'd been following her for three days that he had seen her with Chuck. And he'd most likely even seen her with Ellie and Devon.
It made her cold. Not because he'd ever harm innocent people. John Casey's moral code was much stronger than her own. Chuck, Ellie, Devon…They were all safe from him. But the thought of the NSA agent seeing her so unguarded…so sincere and…God, so happy…
"And?" she snapped.
"You seem pretty eager to leave it all behind, dive right back into the CIA's pocket."
"It's my job."
"You're enjoying yourself, though." She didn't say anything, crossing her arms and staring out at the scenery. "Might seem like I don't know anything about people, but I know what happiness looks like, kid—I've been lucky enough to enjoy it here and there myself—and you looked pretty damn happy."
"You don't know me."
"Hey. Walker. Cool it, will ya?" He was quiet for a few moments, and then he stepped in closer, crossing his own arms. "I wasn't supposed to look in this, but I did," he finally said, shaking the envelope back and forth. She sent him a wide-eyed look and he grunted, shrugging defensively. "What? I wanted to see what kinda mission you were going on. So sue me."
"If they knew you did that—"
"Yeah, I know, but I did it anyways." He shrugged again. "They're sending you to the deserts of Iran. Isfahan Province. Needless to say, the guy you're supposed to assassinate has layers and layers and layers of security and guards. Basically a fuckin' suicide mission. No U.S. forces or personnel within hundreds of miles of the place. I know 'cause I checked."
Sarah shrugged, ignoring the chill that went through her. "I can do it."
"Well, if anyone can, it's you. But I don't think anyone can." He shook the envelope again. "I dunno what they're playing at, but I don't trust 'em."
"Is that why you had me follow you onto this hill?"
"If we were bein' watched before, we aren't now. Here's the thing." He stepped closer and lowered his voice. "Pretty sure they know 'bout how you saved my life. And you know Graham's aware I owe you a debt. Maybe he thinks we're friends. We're not," he said quickly when she smirked. "But he might think that. Either way, you can bet he's got my dossier on the brain and that's why he sent a loyal soldier like me to give you your mission. He doesn't want you to go, Walker. He needs his wildcard enforcer."
Sarah narrowed her eyes. "You think he tagged you to hand me my assignment because he thought you'd persuade me to stay with the CIA." Her annoyance with the CIA Director and his superiors combined with the softening of her hard exterior over the last week and a half…and she found she couldn't stop herself. "You don't owe me any debts, John. I saved your life because I needed you for the mission. I needed a partner."
Even though he'd been a sullen, mostly quiet, grumpy asshole for the first few days of working together as a team on that mission in Veracruz over 4 years earlier, he'd still been…different…from everyone else she'd had to work with. He hadn't been patronizing. There'd been no disbelief that his new teammate was a woman—and a young woman at that. Maybe he'd heard about her record, or maybe he had her dossier somehow. But he hadn't questioned her abilities. He'd just expected her to do the job right.
Maybe that had been why she'd followed him into danger instead of waiting in the van like she was supposed to. They had the intel already, but there'd been an innocent teenager inside. She hadn't known about Major Casey's teenaged daughter then, but when she found out about Alex later, she'd realized that had been what sent him back in.
Together, they'd saved the girl, but he'd taken a bullet, and she'd dragged him out to safety and got him to the U.S. Embassy.
Casey had received a medal from the president in a quiet ceremony in D.C. and the Ice Queen had slipped back into the shadows.
He never forgot, though. And he made sure of it. He'd been looking out for her in his own way for 4 years now. And now, she knew, he was here to do it again. How much of that did Langston Graham know? She had no idea.
"This isn't some sort of conspiracy, Casey," she continued. "They're not trying to get me killed. I've handled difficult assignments like this before, I can do it again."
"Well…That's if you take the mission." She looked away. "You still haven't decided, have you?"
"I keep asking you for the envelope, so yeah, I have decided."
"You're sayin' you decided but you haven't. You're trying to force it. I know what that's like." She glared daggers at him and he held up his hands defensively. "It's true, I do. I've had to choose between my family and my work consistently for over 20 years, kid, and every time I waffle up until the very last second."
The assassin stayed quiet, lowering her gaze.
John Casey had a wife, a daughter. Their lives weren't easy, she knew. They couldn't be easy. Casey had moved them all over the place for his work with the NSA. And she assumed he disappeared often. He'd even confided in her once that he'd missed a lot of Alex's childhood. It was just a part of the job, he said. They understood that. But Sarah wondered what it was like for Casey's family to watch the man they loved go off on some other "trip" that he might not come back from, waiting for word from him.
"Look, Casey…I know you're trying to help." And it meant a lot, knowing he cared enough. "But I don't need a pep talk. I really don't. I can make this decision on my own."
"Ah, so you haven't decided." He looked pleased with himself. She let him have it.
He chuckled and shook his head. "Had a feeling you'd say that."
"Again, you don't know me."
"Maybe not. But I know spies. 'It's complicated' is such a cop out. Think having a family when you work for the NSA isn't complicated? Almost ruined my marriage ten times over, hasn't been great between me an' my kid much either." He shuffled his feet. "First time I've admitted that out loud. Don't feel special or nothin'," he growled at her.
But she couldn't help feeling a little special.
"Don't be." He surprised her with a sincere, long, hard look. "Because it's worth it. They're worth it. The time I get to spend at home between all the…"
"Saving the world?" she offered with a wry smile.
"Yeah. Sure. Call it that," he said, a tinge of bitterness in his voice. "My family's worth the complication. And hey, I'm putting my kid through college so there's that."
"So what are you trying to say here, Casey?"
"That it's okay to be human. It's okay to have connections."
"You don't live in the shadows, Casey. It's different for you. I'd be killed if anyone knew what I did for the CIA. If anybody knew my…my real identity. The only reason I'm able to be so successful is that nobody can pin me down." She shrugged. "I can't have that kind of connection with other people."
"And yet, that's exactly what you did, isn't it?" He raised his eyebrows. "The kid doesn't seem your type, I gotta say."
"What do you know about my type?"
"Guess I don't. Just assumin'. He's a string bean, though. Seems like a dope." He grunted in dislike and she glared.
"He isn't a dope." She didn't want to talk about Chuck, though, and she found she was hugging herself, shuffling her feet. She quickly lowered her arms at her side. And she knew that had made it even more apparent that she was uncomfortable.
She was grateful to Casey because for once he wasn't teasing her about it. He'd made his point about her slipping and he didn't have to make it again.
"Listen, kid. I know you don't need a pep talk. But I'm gonna be on the level with you. This isn't fair."
She shifted her weight. "You once told me the country's needs have to come before our own. We've chosen this life, to give up that one."
"Did you?" He looked at her closely.
"Did I what?"
"Choose this life. Did you? Or did you not really have a choice?"
She gave him a suspicious look. Nobody knew about how she'd gotten into the CIA. Only Director Graham knew, because he'd been the one to do it. He'd found her. He'd bribed her with her life, with her father's safety.
"I've got my ways, kid," he explained, like he could read her mind. God, she was slipping. Another symptom of spending so much time with Chuck Bartowski, the man who could coax a clam to open at the sound of his voice. "It ain't fair. You deserve a bit of sunshine here and there, too."
"Don't." He shrugged in question. "I know what I've done, what I've been, and what I deserve."
"We all have imperfections."
"Being a murderer is a bit more than an imperfection," she snarked.
"Don't use that tone with me, Walker. You ain't my fuckin' daughter." He pointed at her and shook his head in annoyance. "You had less a choice than anybody I ever seen in this business. Entrapment don't sit well with me. And now you actually get a choice. Don't waste it."
"Don't tell me what to do, Casey."
"I ain't—" he snapped, and then he pulled back and grunted. "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm not telling you to decide one way or the other, at least. All I'm sayin' is you owe it to yourself to really figure out what you want. 'Stead of forcing yourself to do what you think you should do."
Sarah was silent for awhile. She moved to the edge of the hill and lowered herself to sit down with her legs dangling. "He's a good guy," she said quietly.
"Seems that way."
"What do you mean?" She looked over her shoulder at him.
He came to sit next to her, looking uncomfortable in doing so, is massive limbs all bunched up.
"You do a background check on him?" she asked, and he chuckled.
"No. Didn't deem it necessary. Kept an eye on him, though. That his sister? The brunette? One you had dinner with last night. And the beefhead."
"His sister and future brother-in-law," she felt comfortable enough to tell him.
"You like him. I could tell."
She snorted. "Yeah. Didn't realize I was being watched."
"That's the point, isn't it? You thought no one else could see how you look at him. You sure you're ready to run away from that?"
"I'm not running away."
"I have a duty to—"
"Don't. Spare me the line about duty. I wrote the book. You been putting the country—your boss that stuff shirt sociopath Langston Graham—before yourself for a decade. You were 16. A kid. Too young to be tossed into the Farm."
Sarah looked away. She didn't want to know how he knew about her beginnings with the CIA. It was mortifying. She wanted to slither away into the nearby bush and hide.
"Anyways, that don't really matter now. It happened. The decision now is whether or not you think you've paid your dues. I'm not sure you owed them anything in the first place, if I'm really bein' honest."
"Now you are telling me what to do."
He held his hands up. "No. Choice is yours to make."
"But you think I should leave the CIA."
"Kid, I'm not gonna tell you that. Do you know who you're talkin' to? I left a good post with the marines for the NSA. It took me away from a good life. This is important work. We save lives. We topple crime rings. Do away with tyranny. Upholding freedom around the world."
If it suited them, Sarah silently added. Not everything was as rosy and selfless as Casey's idealistic portrait of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
"You've got a thankless job, but you've probably saved millions of lives in the last decade."
"Murder is murder, Casey."
"True. And if it don't sit well with you anymore, you gotta take that into consideration. I ain't judging you for it," he rushed when she gave him a hard look. "But if you keep doing something that makes you hate yourself…it'll eat ya alive." He shrugged. "I have no problem putting a bullet in a tyrant's head. Ain't nothin' they wouldn't do to me if the tables were turned. And if it saves innocent lives, all the better."
"But I'm not you. Is that what you're saying?"
"Only you can really know that, Walker. You gotta figure out who you are, what you want, all that shit. I'm good here. I'm good doing this. My girls know that. They're…tryin' to accept it. Still." He shook his head. "You need to know where you're good. Where you wanna be."
She didn't answer, letting his words sink in.
"For what it's worth? Even if I don't get what the hell you see in that kid, you looked pretty good there."
"I felt good there," she breathed, just loud enough for him to hear. "But I don't belong there."
He grunted and looked out at the sea. "Well, then…that's somethin' you have to grapple with, if you really think that. My thinkin' is…if you felt like you belonged…maybe…uh, maybe you belong." He looked grumpy then, shifting his weight. "You get what I mean."
Sarah bit her cheek to keep from grinning at him. He was opening up, giving her advice, being a mentor in a lot of ways. He'd opened up before, but she thought he was really making an effort to help her now, protect her. And she thought that…for once…For once she had a real friend in the intelligence community. One who didn't need to know her name or where she came from to care. One who, once he actually did find out where she came from and why, what she'd been through in training, decided to look after her.
The envelope was in front of her then, gripped in his large strong hand. "Take it. Look it over. Take 'til tonight to decide."
She snapped her gaze up to him, a little confused, surprised. "What?"
"I said take 'til tonight. I'll stall with Graham if he calls. Don't answer your phone or anythin'. Just think about what you want—what you really want. Ignore the voice in your head telling you what you should do. And for once in your life, kid, do what you want. Fuck that Ice Queen shit. You're a human being. We all are. We ain't machines on someone's leash. You decide for yourself."
"I have a duty, Casey."
"You were blackmailed into this job, kid. Far as I'm concerned, your only duty today is to do what the fuck you want. Take a few extra hours."
Her fingers curled over the other side of the envelope tightly and she pulled it away from him, looking down at it. "Okay," she whispered.
And Casey proceeded to tell her the plan.
The music was nearly deafening, she was so close to the massive speakers at the front of the dance floor, but she didn't care. She just danced mindlessly, bumping up against the damp bodies of the Frenchwomen who'd picked her up at a bar earlier on in the night.
She could've immersed herself in the nature of Nice, she knew. But she'd decided on something louder, something that made it harder for her to get lost in her head, second guessing her second guesses, and then third and fourth guessing that. So she went to a bar, had a drink, made friends with some local women, and went with them to the club.
She'd laughed, met people, heard stories. She saw the nightlife of Nice up close and personal, and she got lost in the excitement of it. It was just fun.
An hour passed, then another. All the while, she had a few drinks and danced the alcohol off. With women, with men…She didn't care who was around her, only that she was with people.
And as she broke off to walk to the club's restroom, waiting in the short line to get in, Sarah found her legs were almost like jelly. She leaned against the wall, and the moment she was far enough away from the dance floor, she heard that voice in her head that said this was it. Above the ringing in her ears, the voice was reminding her this was her last taste of freedom.
That had been why she chose the loud, distracting route instead of a quiet beach or a hike. Or maybe she'd just wanted to have fun, be with people. Be normal for one last night.
Maybe that was Casey's goal. Encourage her to have a bit of fun before she went off to Iran for what he'd called a suicide mission. And Casey didn't say suicide mission if he didn't mean suicide mission.
As she moved up in line, she defiantly answered the voice. Why shouldn't she have fun? Enjoy? Even as an assassin with the CIA, she could go dancing. She could drink. She could be around people.
But if she continued to spend her days and nights killing for her country, she wasn't sure she'd be able to enjoy anything at all.
It would go back to how it was a few years ago, when the rollercoaster that was her bond with the CIA was at an all-time low, when she was numb to everything all the time. The blood on her hands had seeped into her skin permanently, it felt like, and it had made the killing so much easier.
Even then, she had to admit, though the killing had gotten easier, she'd never enjoyed it. Casey did enjoy it, if he was killing someone bad enough. She'd seen it in him, the joy he got when he picked up a big enough weapon and used it. But she thought, perhaps, that she would never enjoy it, no matter how used to it she was, no matter how desensitized she was. She would never like the feeling of ending a life.
She always did as she was asked, though. Like a machine. Program her and let her work.
But she didn't want to be like that anymore. She wanted autonomy. She wanted…this. She wanted fun. She wanted to enjoy life. She wanted to choose her path instead of letting others forge it for her.
She didn't want to just go through the motions.
She wanted sex. And not just get-your-rocks-off sex, but the kind that made her feel invincible for a little while, like her whole body came alive—an out of body experience. She knew it was possible now that she'd felt it for herself.
Even just dancing like she didn't have a care in the world wasn't anything she'd let herself do before. She always had one eye on the exit, taking in her surroundings, making sure nobody was watching her in that quiet, dangerous sent-to-kill-her sort of way.
Before Nice, that had been her night out. Dancing, drinking, but never letting her guard down. Being obsessed with the idea that someone in the bar or club was there to assassinate her the way she assassinated people. She knew the business, the ins and outs of it, and she knew how easy it was to kill someone whose guard was down.
After the restroom, she glanced at her watch and saw it was nearing midnight.
Casey was giving her the night. She had until 11 the next morning to give him her final answer. He'd gone over the plan with her over and over before they said their goodbyes and parted ways.
She couldn't lose herself so badly that she couldn't think or move at all, though, so she went to her group, said her goodbyes, and walked out into the Mediterranean night.
The area was flooded with lights, and so many people were still out and about. She didn't feel as naked without her knives, having left them in her hotel room this time. Not because she felt she was safe enough not to take them, but because she wanted to try it out.
Could she even handle walking around without a weapon?
She walked back the entire way to her hotel and knew she could. She had.
Sarah was especially careful as she slipped through the hotel the back way. She'd run less risk of running into the Bartowskis if she took the stairs, but her legs were wiped out and she just wanted to climb into an elevator and let it take her up to her floor.
It wasn't until she was finally locked inside of her suite that she let the tension ease out of her. She sighed, stepping out of her heels, leaving them there as she moved towards the bedroom.
She stopped dead at the sight of her suitcase sitting on the bed. And the duffle next to it.
For a moment, she'd forgotten she was leaving. A cloak of darkness swept over her. Depression assailed her heart.
She pushed her hands through her hair and turned to look at the clothes and shoes she was leaving.
The assassin hadn't bought any souvenirs, knowing she wouldn't be able to take them to her next destination. And now that she knew what her next mission would be, she knew for a fact she would be traveling even lighter than she'd thought.
Anyways, it wouldn't do to keep something around that might tell someone digging through her luggage where she'd been. Or…
She stopped at her nightstand and turned on the lamp. The wood was illuminated in the lamplight, along with two little drink umbrellas, one blue and the other yellow. She could fit these souvenirs in her bag, she knew. And then she wouldn't forget. Every time she saw them, she'd picture the way Chuck had looked with them tucked behind his ear, how he asked which ear it had to go behind the signal to the Frenchwomen that he was single. She'd had to remind him that was a Hawaiian thing, and applied mostly to women. She could still picture the way his face went blank and the "Oh" he'd emitted.
But souvenirs meant you had an attachment to a place, didn't they? In a way? And if someone found these, someone who meant her harm…They would know it had meaning for her. And somehow they would figure out she had a weakness, wouldn't they?
She couldn't afford that. She couldn't take these.
There was a lot she couldn't take.
But Casey had been right. This was her choice. She hadn't given him an answer even though she'd been ready to give him the answer Graham wanted. She'd even asked Casey for the envelope. He just hadn't given it to her. Instead, they'd had a long, in-depth conversation. He'd opened up. She'd opened up.
He seemed to think she deserved a lot more than she thought she deserved.
But she was also very aware of the fact that Casey never said she was capable of living outside of the constraints of the CIA. She hadn't exactly asked him. But if he could do it, could she?
He'd been about the age she was now when he'd hopped over from the marines to the NSA. Maybe a little younger. And he'd chosen that path. He hadn't been blackmailed or threatened. And his training hadn't been like hers. Nobody's training had been like hers. Graham had made sure of that. Her trainers had made sure of that.
Casey knew how to live a normal life because he had his wife and daughter to keep him tethered to his humanity. She had no tethers. Her only tether had abandoned her for most of her life, refusing to allow her to be a tether for him.
What if she couldn't do it?
The work she did for the CIA was so important. So so so so so important.
But it was killing her slowly. Perhaps if she went on this mission to the deserts of Iran, it would kill her quickly. She'd decided not to look at the contents in the envelope. Not yet, anyways.
Instead she kept it hidden in her suite.
Either she took it to the drop off point for Casey to pick up, or she took it with her when she got on the plane that would take her to Tehran.
Sarah walked away from the nightstand completely, looking out of the nearest window. She raised her eyes to the sky, and as she scanned it, she found there wasn't even a wisp of a gray cloud in sight. By the time she turned away from the window, she knew.
She knew what she was going to do.
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