Impressions

Summary

Sometimes first impressions are not the best impressions as agent Williams discovers. What could possibly be special about the Hardys right?

Disclaimer : I do not own anything of the hardys but I do own this story.

Warning for language in a couple of places

Rating : K+

Author note: Frank and Joe are older than canon. Joe is 26 and Frank a year older. They both work for a covert agency which is even more of a secret than the network. This is a light one shot and complete. For those of you who are following 'what you see is not what you get' fret not, that will go on as usual. This is just something that took residence in my brain in the meantime and was clamoring to be let out. So here it is for your interest.

Claudia strode and not as much as walked through the lobby with her head held high and her heels clicking on the polished tile. She was angry and resolved to set things right at the earliest. Years of service at the most secretive agency in the United States of America should have placed her as a team leader for this mission.

She had proved her mettle time and again and knew that she was categorized as one of the top operatives. At least if she was being placed on a team with performers like Jack or Russell she would not have minded. They were absolutely top brass and ranked above her and with them it would have been a learning experience.

Instead she had a meeting with two men barely out of their teens riding on the coattails of their father. Fenton Hardy had built his reputation on years of hard work and his sons were now in this organization for the power of the name Hardy.

At least the elder one Frank seemed to have some brain cells from what she had read in his files but the younger one seemed to be there for all the frivolous work. He was the one they needed for the liaison with the women she supposed, well there had to be some benefit to the good looks that he seemed to be endowed with.

Anyway she will show them caliber she decided. She will show them why she had to be the team leader and she will make sure that Joe Hardy knew that he held no respect in her eyes. She arrived in the corridor where she was supposed to meet them and announced herself to the front office lady/secretary who happened to be middle aged and named Rose something. She was directed to a seat until the Hardys arrived which did not help her frame of mind. They were also tardy and therefore one more black mark against them.

Soon there were male voices and she turned to see the infamous Hardy brothers stride into view. She could not deny that they both had exceptional good looks and carried themselves well. But that was not enough to be a good agent right? Even as she watched Joe went up to the front desk and leaned over with a warm smile.

She could not hear the words but she did see the blush on the older woman's face as Joe kissed her cheek and handed her a long stemmed rose from the lapels of his jacket. Oh come on! Claudia rolled her eyes, this was supposed to be a top notch covert operations agency and here were the operatives behaving like teenagers in high school. This only proved that her earlier instincts about the younger Hardy were bang on and she smirked. He was making this way too easy.

Soon she was asked to enter and she got to her feet. Tossing her blond locks and straightening her skirt she walked into the room. She had assumed that Frank Hardy would lead the interview and the younger would be on the sidelines but she was surprised to see the opposite. It was Joe she was facing and Frank sitting to the side of the table with a laptop open in front of him.

She noticed that her file was on the desk and understood that they must know about her. Good! She thought, they would not underestimate her.

"Hi, I am Joe and this is Frank. We are sorry that you had to wait; the earlier meeting ran later than expected. Please take a seat and make yourself comfortable" Joe said holding out his hand and rising to his feet. She clasped the firm grip once again mildly surprised at the strength she felt in the grip and turned to do the same with the other Hardy.

"That's quite alright and I am Claudia Williams as you know" she responded as she took a seat. Once seated, she turned an assessing gaze to the younger Hardy. She had to admit that he was exceptionally good looking with the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. They were so bright and luminescent that she felt he was seeing into the depths of her very soul with that straight gaze. Coupled with the aquiline nose and the very kissable lips …yes he was damnably handsome and the file shots definitely did not do him justice.

But again all this would be offset by his dumbness she thought almost regrettably and was determined not to accept the fact that his eyes had depths to them that she could not fathom. Shaking herself out of her thoughts she waited for the meeting to begin and almost unconsciously turned towards the elder Hardy. But to her irritation it was Joe who spoke.

"Miss Claudia Williams, we have your file here and I have to say that we are rather impressed by the work you have done" Joe started and Claudia snorted. Joe however carried on as if nothing had happened "you see we are in need of a competent handler for our next mission. We need someone who has had experience in the field and can think for themselves. Your name came up when we discussed the matter with Jack and we wanted to see if you would be interested in joining the team" Joe said looking coolly at the woman in front of him even as he leaned back and toyed with the pen in his hand.

"Well you would definitely need someone who can think for themselves" Claudia muttered under her breath and Joe glanced at Frank sharing a loaded look. Frank sighed inwardly 'one more of those' he realized and looked at Joe to see how he would want to take this. A smile crept onto his face at the knowledge that Claudia Williams would soon be in for a rude shock crossed his mind.

Joe however pretended that he had not heard her comments and looked at her steadily "So are you interested?" he asked and she shook herself out of her stupor. "No" she said bluntly "I am definitely qualified for more than a handler and I am not interested in working for someone who cannot pull their own weight. When I consented to this meeting I envisaged a rather different role for myself and I am afraid this is not it" she further clarified.

Joe closed her file with a sigh "Good, you have made it rather easy for me as I was not planning to have you on my team anyway" he said as a flash of rage crossed Claudia's face. "And you don't have anything to say about it?" she asked sarcastically as she addressed Frank. Frank shrugged "For this mission he is the boss" he said casually with a smile before adding "and in case you are wondering I am with him on this".

"How dare you?" she hissed turning to Joe "how dare you sit judging those far more qualified than you? I have put in years of work here and in all fairness it has to be me leading the team and not you"

"You have every right to your opinion Miss Williams and I have a small correction to make. There is no boss and subordinate between Frank and me. We take the lead depending on the nature of the assignment" Joe said "Anyway.." the intercom buzzed cutting off what he was going to say.

"Joe, it's eagle one. I am patching you through" the secretary's voice floated in. "Give me a minute Rose" he said and turned to Claudia "I am sorry Miss Williams, I need to take this. If you can see yourself out.." he pointed out and Claudia got to her feet reluctantly. She was not done she thought and walked as slowly as she could.

She was halfway across the room when she heard the voice of the president of the United States on the intercom. She froze and almost turned at the doorstep when she heard Joe respond with "Mr. P, Joe here". He called the president Mr.P? What the hell? She wondered as she exited the room.

She ran through different scenarios and decided that she would hang around albeit outside the room to see what on earth was happening. Her curiosity was now fully aroused and she was an investigator at heart first of all and a world class spy as well.

Decision made, she decided that she would just act like any other employee and perched herself on one of the chairs outside the room. That Rose lady didn't know what happened inside and she could always say that she had to go back in once the phone call was done.

Within the next few minutes however she was surprised to see Jack arrive at the corridor. Casting her a curious glance he opened the door and went inside. Claudia took a furtive look at the secretary who seemed to be totally focused on a flurry of calls and took the chance to walk to the door.

Pretending to search for something that she had dropped on the floor she quickly put an eye to the keyhole to see what was going on. The three of them seemed to be poring over some sheets of paper laid out on the table and she just heard the words "code red". Satisfied with the view she walked back to her chair and pondered over her discovery.

Why was Jack talking to these two? He had his own highly efficient team plus the fact that she was sure that it was the president's voice that she had heard. Nothing made sense. Soon she heard the click of the door and straightened up as Jack and the Hardys came out.

She heard Joe call out to Rose "Rose I need Tim and Hagen. They will accompany Jack" he said and added "full tactical gear. This is recon" he instructed. He then turned to Jack "Jack, ETA one hour?" he asked and when Jack nodded he added "we will be ready. And Jack…be careful" he warned as Jack nodded and jogged off at a fast pace.

Frank then turned to Joe and whispered something to which Joe nodded seriously. Joe turned to Rose again "put on Dalton for me and page me through" he instructed and disappeared into the room to talk to 'Dalton' while Frank waited outside. He noticed Claudia and walked to her "The meeting is over Claudia. It's; a shame we cannot work together but I wish you all the best" he said.

Claudia got to her feet "maybe I can be the handler just for this mission" she said as she was now curious as hell. Frank smiled thinly "I speak for Joe when I say this. We can work with someone who does not agree with us on the way we do things. In fact we welcome the different thought processes they bring. But we can never work with someone who does not have trust in our abilities and the job of a handler is blind trust. When we say we need something it has to be done no questions asked. It is the difference between life and death as you very well know and I don't think you have the faith in us to carry them out. So maybe at a later time when you think we are up to your standard we can talk but for now all I can say is sorry".

"I could trust you" Claudia said and she meant it...Frank sounded alright. But Frank simply smiled "we are a package deal and if you can't trust Joe it's not on" he said and Claudia could not understand for the life of her as to why. "But why? You are different individuals. Why let him bring you down?" she asked and realized that she had gone too far judging by the anger that flashed in those brown eyes. In that instant she realized that he was no daisy flower, he was the coiled snake in the plant and she wished she could take back her words. Nothing was going according to her plan.

"You won't understand Miss Williams and I don't really have the time or the necessity to explain. All that I can say is that you don't know a damn thing about Joe and I am sorry I need to go now" he said noticing that Joe had come out of the room. He joined his brother and the brothers walked swiftly away from Claudia leaving her even more confused than before.

There was only one thing that she could do and that was to talk to Russell. She was fairly sure that he could tell her more about what was brewing with the Hardys. But even before she could move to her destination she saw Russell walk in to the reception.

He hailed Rose "Rose I need to meet Frank and Joe right now" he said and waited as the lady said "you will need to call them on the cell. Julia is not around". "Alright" he acquiesced before calling Frank "Frank you need to come down. It's important and both of you need to be there" he said urgently.

Few minutes later saw the Hardys striding in with Joe in the process of pulling on the holster in his tactical gear while Frank carried his helmet in his hand. Both of them carried cases with them. Frank had a metal briefcase while Joe had a long case slung across his chest.

Claudia's breath hitched and she had to admit that the brothers looked absolutely deadly in the outfit. Not only were they absolutely dashing but they had an air of danger that made Claudia doubt herself for the first time. These were not greenhorns, they were complete professionals.

It was in the way they moved and it was in the way they held themselves. It was in their chiseled and toned bodies and in their absolute focus. For the first time she acknowledged that these were men who were masters of playing with danger. She had seen their kind in the field, had tangled with men like that and sometimes come out the loser.

"Tom" Frank called and soon the three were sequestered in the room. Once again Claudia was left wondering why Russell would work with these two. He was the top brass. Perhaps he was here to pass on the instructions she told herself. As she stood wondering what the hell she was doing hanging around instead of getting on with her work she saw Russell peep outside. Silently he beckoned her inside.

Once seated, he addressed her directly "I am going to say this just once. I would not do this if not for the fact that we are in dire need of a handler. We need somebody to hold the fort here and send in reinforcements if needed… without question. I understand you have some misgivings about the Hardys but I don't care a shit. I am naming you handler for this mission and it's an order. Are we understood?" he snapped and Claudia looked up startled. She had never heard Russell speak to her that way and she gulped nervously. She had made a mistake and she had to set it right. Silently she nodded her assent.

"Good. Now this is what I need you to do. You will set up a radio base; you can probably take over what Julia had. You will be receiving reports from me, Jack and the Hardys. You will be the liaison between all of us and if necessary you have the authority to take decisions as required" he said.

"Can I ask what the mission is? I do have top level security clearance" she pointed out with a mite of deference. Russell looked at Joe and Frank for permission and after a few minutes Joe nodded sharply. His blue eyes were piercing and Claudia could see the wheels turning in his mind and for the first time she wondered how she ever thought he could be frivolous. "Joe, give her a break will ya…" Frank said in a light tone and Joe relaxed and turned to her with a smile as he muttered "sow as you reap thing" even as Russell laughed aloud.

"Okay... Claudia here is the thing" Joe said looking at her and she squirmed under his powerful gaze. Now she was the one feeling like a teenager and she fought to stay aloof as he spoke.

"The president's daughter has been kidnapped and we are on the mission to rescue her" his voice washed over. "There has been no ransom note or demands yet and Jack is doing the initial recon. Once we have an idea of the area where they are holding her Frank and I will move in. You got this? Any questions?" he asked.

"If there is no ransom demand, how do we know that she is kidnapped and why you two? Jack has a good team for himself" Claudia asked. "Well, Rebecca had gone for her dance class and never returned. The chauffeur and the bodyguards are dead and she has not reached home. Combined with scenarios of struggle near the car it was a logical conclusion. And as for us…we have run missions for the president before. He trusts us" Frank answered with an 'unlike you' hanging in the air.

"Okay" Claudia said unable to think of anything else when the intercom buzzed and Rose's voice came across "Patching through Jack". "We really need a handler, this com is not secure at all" Frank muttered as Joe leaned forward.

"Jack please tell me you have Intel?"He asked and cursed when he heard the answer "Its Al-Rousasa all over again Joe. But the good news is we have a fix on the location. I am sending across schematics of the building. I am marking x s where the men are stationed. Its' your call buddy and Frank you need to be there".

"How much time do we have?" Frank asked as Joe was already getting to his feet "Not more than two hours" Jack replied as Joe butted in with "heading out. You get out of there". "Yeah. I am already out it's on to you now. Bring the bastards down Joe" Jack's voice floated over the speaker. Frank in the meantime had already downloaded the schematics and they were now poring over the building specifications.

Joe took over the laptop and using a pen he idly marked points on the map. Claudia was puzzled but decided not to ask yet another ignorant question. Frank however noticed her confusion and smiled wryly. "No Claudia he is not loopy although he could be at times" he said eliciting a mock glare from Joe and explained "he is plotting his positions to take out the terrorists".

Seeing Claudia's still confused expression Frank said simply "Joe is a sniper Claudia. The best in the business" he added. Claudia sucked in a breath; she hadn't expected that even when she saw the rifle case. If that was a rifle case, what Frank was carrying…she turned to him to see the acknowledgement on his face. "Yep I am the resident bomb expert" he said smiling before turning to Joe "shall we?" he said and Joe got up.

Slinging the gun case, he shook hands with Russell, gave a mischievous blinding grin in Claudia's direction and followed Frank out. Stunned by the turn of events, Claudia turned to her friend who was also her boss "well, I need to set up the radio station. Whom do I ask?" she enquired. Russell was already gathering up his papers "I will ask one of the boys to give it to you. Dalton and Liam would be going with Frank and Joe I am sure in which case I will ask Mathews to help you out" he said.

They walked to the door and Claudia stopped just inside of the door. Hesitatingly she asked Russell "Tom, Do you think they can get her back?". Russell gave her an assessing glance. "Have you heard the name shadow?" he asked her in return.

Claudia nodded fervently "of course, everyone in this business has heard the name. He or she for that matter has been responsible for blowing up so many terrorist cells. It is rumored that no one knows the person and that he or she has never failed a mission so far. It's a revered name but what has that got to do with anything?' she asked and then gasped as it clicked.

"No…no…it can't be" the prospect was mind boggling and not what she wanted to entertain. "Don't tell me that one of the Hardys is the shadow" she said and her eyes widened further when Russell raised an eyebrow with a smile.

"It's Joe hardy?" she asked tentatively and her heart sunk when Russell's grin became even wider."Bingo, you got that right in one. And you didn't want to work with him" he teased mercilessly before adding in a stern voice "but remember the only reason you know is because I did not want you undermining his authority at every turn and digging your grave deeper. You are a good agent and I rather you remained that way".

Claudia felt the heat rush to her face and all she wanted was for the floor to open up and swallow her. She felt like the world's greatest chump and she was sure that she could never look him in the eye again."I really did it this time didn't I? What about what was in his files? They were just normal...you know like any other agent" she asked totally embarrassed only to hear a chuckle confirming her worst fear. "Someday if you win their trust ask them for their real files" he said much to her chagrin.

"He calls the president Mr.P?" she asked unable to still believe that even if that left her feeling chumpier if ever there was a word. "He does" Russell replied "and only he can get away with it. Believe it or not he takes pizzas to the white house and gets the president to eat it too".

"Shoot! I have truly dug my grave this time and Tom the next time I make an ass of myself like this just tell me to shove it okay?" she said as Russell again chuckled. "Sure" he said and then became serious "we better keep our end Claudia. We can't let them down and by the way your call sign is Robin" he said as both of them hurried to set up the radio base. "Robin?"she snorted 'really that is so corny'.

Claudia approached "Mrs. Rose? I am going to be the new handler for the Hardys. Can you direct me to someone who can help me set up the radio?" she asked. Mrs Rose looked up "yes of course. I will ask young Mathews to help you out" she said and put in a call to the aforementioned youth. "Young Mathews" turned out to be a rugged six footer with blond hair and grey eyes somewhere in his late twenties. Mrs. Rose explained the situation and he gestured for Claudia to follow him.

Soon she was setting up the communication gear with the young man helping. "So, you are a part of the Hardys team?" she asked the young man curious about what the Hardys were like. "Yes mam and you can call me Mike if you want" he offered. "Okay Mike, I am Claudia and how long have you been with the Hardys?" she asked.

"Couple of years now" he said easily with a smile and Claudia had to smile back. He was a very pleasant person and conversing with him came easily. "I normally work with Jack Hagger's team and this is the first time I will be working with the Hardys" she offered and elicited a soft "Ah! Okay. But you don't have to worry about anything. They are really very cool. They take care of their own" in response.

"But we are all experienced agents and we should not need anyone to take care of us. We should take care of ourselves" she said with utter conviction. "Yes, we are experienced but when we are a team and in the field we have to watch each other's backs and no one puts themselves out there like the Hardys" he softly argued his voice filled with passion.

Claudia decided not to argue further and get into a spat "you are really loyal to them aren't you?" she asked with a smile. "Yes mam …it tends to happen when you owe them your life" he said with a serious expression. Claudia looked at him intrigued "can I ask what happened?" she asked in a quiet voice more in an effort to spend the time waiting for news to trickle in over the radio.

Mike had a distant look in his eyes as he slowly nodded "well we were on a mission and wound up going into the jungles. Suffice to say that there were some skirmishes and I was shot and lost consciousness. When I woke up in a coherent manner it was in a hospital where I came to know that Joe had carried me through six miles of pure jungle terrain while being chased by the bad guys. He was also hurt mind you, but somehow he got us both to the place where we were airlifted out by Frank" he said with awe in his voice.

"Frank Hardy is a pilot?" Claudia asked surprised as Mike chuckled "among other things" he said. They then spoke about other random things and the other members of the group while forwarding messages from those in the group. Both of them did not acknowledge the tension they were beginning to feel with the passage of time and it was with relief that they finally received Joe's message.

"Robin, target retrieved, no losses, minor casualties and ETA 30 mins. Request medical assistance immediately". Claudia wasted no time and accordingly coordinated with the medical team who had been on standby. She also went ahead and informed Jack and Russell that the team would be returning soon.

Half an hour later Frank and Joe swaggered into the reception flanked by the other members of the team. Joe was carrying a girl around 13 years old and looked windswept with a bandage around his upper left arm.

He took a minute to shake hands with Jack and Russell before going over to Mrs. Rose and enveloping her in a hug, having placed the girl on her feet earlier. "Oh Joe" she breathed as she cupped her hands around his cheek and looked into his eyes "you are hurt" she said stating the obvious. "It's nothing and I am fine" he assured her even as she wiped her eyes free of her tears "I was so worried" she said.

Frank stepped up to her and gave her a hug of his own "he really is fine this time Mrs. Rose and you better keep your cookies ready. You know how he is" he stage whispered as Mrs. Rose smiled and reached down for a box of cookies. Joe immediately pounced on it and tucked it under his arm. "Now I am all ready to send this little princess home" he announced to the laughter of the others as the little girl he rescued came up to him and hugged him around the waist.

Sensing that the little girl was feeling the effects of her ordeal he gently carried her to the sofa and crouched down in front of her. "I know that was the scariest thing you have ever experienced and I am not going to say forget it and move on. But, what I will promise is that you are safe now and you will move on in a few days. You will put it behind you and begin to have fun alright? Am I making sense to you?" he asked with a soft smile and the girl nodded with a smile of her own. She then leaned forward and put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek as he hugged her back warmly.

Claudia stood watching the whole scene unfold and she felt like she was in a world of unceasing revelations. She knew nothing for sure anymore except that her knowledge of Joe Hardy was raising more questions than answers. Ever since the morning she had seen more sides to the man than a kaleidoscope and against her will she had to admit that she had been completely wrong. He seemed to be an enigma and she had to admit even if it was only to herself that she was completely drawn in. He was the ultimate mystery.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she had not realized that Joe was now speaking out loud in his usual voice "So Rebecca what do you say? Shall we call your dad?" he asked whipping out his phone with a flourish while at the same time turning to Mike and saying "Mike could you get the little lady a chocolate milkshake please?".

Mike nodded with a smile as the little girl giggled and nodded eagerly. Soon Joe held up a hand for silence as he called the president's personal number. "Hi Mr. P? I have a little princess here who wants to talk to her daddy" he said as Rebecca squealed and took the phone that Joe handed to her. Everyone discreetly turned away to give her some privacy and then she was calling out for Joe "my dad wants to talk to you".

Joe took the phone "Mr. P? Sure Frank and I will bring her over. Aww Mr.P you know me. I will get the pizzas and yes you know I would die for Mrs. Hannah's apple pies. Frank gets his chocolate mousse too? Great! We will be there soon sir and our kind regards to the first lady" he said terminating the connection. He looked up at the rest of the room just as Mike returned with the milkshake.

"Since I have a special little lady here and because I am getting my delicious apple pie later I will share these cookies just this once" he declared with his eyes twinkling in Rebecca's direction. Frank however snorted. "How generous Joe. Guys, are you really letting him get away with this?" he incited the group as Joe mock glared at him. The rest of the team hooted as Frank grabbed the box from Joe and started distributing the cookies.

He did a round of the room and came to Claudia "Good work Claudia" he said quietly before looking at her and acknowledging the fact that she was now wiser for the information but deigned to keep quiet. Only the mischief in his eyes let her know that he knew that she now knew!

By now Joe was talking to the team congratulating them on work well done ending with an order for pizzas from Prito's for everyone plus extras for the white house. As everyone joked and laughed away the tension Mrs. Rose interrupted with "Joe, its Vanessa" and that caused another round of hooting and teasing.

"Who is Vanessa?" Claudia asked Mike and he turned to her with a grin "his fiancée" he replied. Joe shushed the group and took out his cell phone to see the missed calls from her and face palmed dramatically. "Shit! I have silenced the calls by mistake...Frank you might need to rescue me" he whined as Frank called out much too gleefully "sorry Joe you are on your own here". He then beat Joe to the receiver and took the call "Van, he had the cell phone on him the whole time...just letting you know" he said innocently as Joe pushed him away with a "traitor".

After that it was a whole lot of 'yes honey' and 'no darlings' and Joe got off the phone to see a grinning group of men. He narrowed his eyes at Frank "what goes around comes around big bro…remember that" he mock threatened as Frank smirked "we will see about that little bro". Claudia stood shell shocked as her world was once again rocked by how carefree and normal all this was and she was hard pressed to remember that this was 'the shadow'. Which was the real Joe Hardy? She wondered.

After some more jesting where the pizzas arrived and Claudia was introduced to the other members of the group Joe got up "so little princess shall we go home?" he asked holding out his hand. The young girl held onto him and waved a goodbye to the others as Frank fished out his key but Joe stilled him. "Not your junk for the little girl, we will take my queen" he quipped as he hoisted the girl onto his back and took out his car keys while Frank rolled his eyes and kept back his keys.

With the Hardys departure, the band of men quickly disbanded. The men who had been on the field were herded off for their debriefing while the others went off to catch up on their own work and Claudia made her way to her own office. It had been one hell of a day and she wondered what the future would bring being a part of the Hardys team.

FINIS

I would love to know your views on this so do read and review! Thanks.