Author's Note: ok, new fic.  The rules are going to change a bit.  More info at the end about that.  For now, enjoy.  I know you're all eager to read.

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Washington, D.C. – October 26th

   Sands was still a CIA agent.  While he was semi-amazed by this, and resentful of the knowledge that he was going to have a very attentive eye trained on him for most likely several years in the future, he wasn't completely surprised.  The CIA didn't take a very proactive position when it came to torturing its own agents for information, and Sands was the only one still alive that knew all the cookies that had crumbled in the failed Day of the Dead coup.  Hell, as far as Uncle Sam was concerned, he had done his job.  El Presidénte was still alive, Marquez was dead, the leader of a powerful cartel and his successor were dead (to the best of anyone's knowledge), and the current Mexican government was apparently stronger than ever after the revealing of corrupt agents and the rally of the people around national identity.  It was enough to make Sands sick.

   No, I take that back.  These endless meetings are what're getting to my stomach.  The constant inaction wore on him.  Most of the time he could manage to distract himself; annoying whatever bigwig was questioning him, playing out different scenarios in his head, imagining what he was going to do should he ever be sprung from the cold, impersonal walls of HQ . . . .

   The past month had been nothing but meetings.  Meetings and debriefs and medical pow-wows.  It was almost enough to make him swear off women all together, because they were the ones that had brought him to this.  This is all Ingrid's fault.  Or more likely, her fault.  I'm tempted to track her down and make her pay for this.  It was a thought he'd been considering on and off over the past months.

   You've been considering it ever since you found out that she left.  That she left you alone, injured, and vulnerable.  It was one thing that she saw you in that condition; that she left in the care of strangers is nearly unforgivable.

   It was good that she left if I was being stupid enough to let myself be that dependent on her.

   You're still 'dependent' on her, or you would have forgotten her long ago.  You have a hard time remembering the names of old girlfriends.  You need to resolve the situation surrounding her.

   The only situation I need to resolve is the fact that they've got me sitting around on my ass all day long.

  The doors to the conference room opened.  Sands didn't bother looking up.  Instead, he took one last, defiant drag on his cigarette before snuffing it out in an ashtray.  He purposely did a poor job, allowing the cigarette to smolder, trails of smoke rising in lazy columns.

   William Colton sighed as he took his seat at the table.  Sands, while undeniably brilliant, had never been approachable.  Colton knew his agent could be outgoing when he wanted, but even then he wore a threatening air that kept people at an arm's length.  However, ever since he'd been retrieved from LA, his attitude had been strictly belligerent.  He was clearly dissatisfied, impatient for something.  Which was why this meeting was taking place.  Over the objections of the Agency doctors and some of the other directors, Colton had decided that it was time to send Sands back out into the field.

   "Agent Sands, it's good of you to be here this morning."

   "Cut the crap, Bill.  Why did you call me in?"  Sands finally looked up from his study of the table, squarely meeting his superior's gaze.

   Colton didn't even blink.  In the months that Sands had been back and raising hell amongst the ranks, he'd gotten used to the sight of the man's now hazel-green eyes.  This morning, Sands eyes were their former color of coffee brown.  "The doctors already informed me that you were ready to start wearing contacts."

   Sands grimaced, displeased when he didn't get the reaction he'd been hoping for.  Doctors . . . busybodies, all of them.  "I take it I'm not here for more chitchat?  Because I think I should warn you that I'm chitted out."

   "No.  Actually I – " the door opened as another man came into the room.  Paul Strauss, Colton's personal assistant, took a seat on the director's right, laying his leather portfolio on the table.  Once the man was settled, Colton continued.  "I have an assignment for you."

   Sands raised his eyebrows, interest making itself apparent on his face.  "It better not be busy work."

   "No."  The older man settled more comfortably into his chair.  "In the past three or four months, reports have been pouring in from our agents and contacts in Mexico."  Sands' face went blank as Colton continued.  "In the aftermath of last year's failed Day of the Dead coup d'etat, the Barillo cartel was believed to be . . . inconsequential.  Fractured.  Moribund.  However, attempts by the other local cartels to take control of the territory were all violently repelled.  Now our agents in Guadalajara and Mexico City are sending news that not only is the Barillo cartel intact, but it seems to be gathering its forces to take over more territory.  They have their eyes set on expansion . . . something that our government wants to see fail."

   Sands knew what was coming, and quite frankly, he was thrilled.  The chance to go back to Mexico and totally annihilate the Barillo cartel once and for all.  The ultimate revenge.  A part of him whispered that it was almost as good as getting revenge on her . . . on la niña.  "When do I leave?"

   "That all depends."

   Oh my god.  Please tell me they don't have a bunch of protocols for me to follow.  "On what?"

   Colton let his aide take over.  Strauss pulled a photo out of his portfolio and slid it across the table.  "We have reason to believe that you've come into contact with this woman in the past months."

   Sands looked at the man, then picked up the picture.  It was a black and white surveillance photo.  The woman in it was completely unfamiliar.  He might be bad with names, but Sands never forgot a face; he'd never seen the woman in his life.  "Hate to break it to you, but I've never laid eyes on this woman."  He tried to hand it back, but Strauss held up a hand to stop him.

   "I wasn't asking if you've ever seen her.  We know that much.  But you have met her.  That's Teresa Barillo, the woman who got you out of Mexico."

   Sands felt genuine and unpleasant surprise wash over him as he looked at Strauss, then back down at the photo, studying the female who'd done so much to throw off his equilibrium, even though she'd tried not to.

   As Sands tried to burn the image into his retinas, he thought that he should have recognized her even though he'd never seen her.  He'd felt the contours of Tessa's face the night before his surgery.  Even now he remembered the way her skin had felt.  And this picture . . .  There were hints of Barillo in her nose and cheekbones.  Her lips were full, but her mouth was wider that Ajedrez's had been.  "What does she have to do with all this?"

   Colton took over the briefing.  "She's the key.  Your way in.  Word is, the cartel has been conducting a quiet manhunt for her since December of last year – a month after you both arrived in LA.  We don't know why, that's why we need to get in contact with her.  We need to know why they're looking for her and if she can get us in.  The idea is to get her inside, working with an agent to discover just what her family has in store."

   "And that 'agent' would be me, correct?" 

   Colton nodded.  "We also want you to make contact with her.  We have reason to believe that she might listen to someone she knows.  If that doesn't work, we send in the secondary contact, and if that doesn't work . . . we'll try to persuade her to work with us."

   "So you're going to use her."

   Colton shrugged.  "The Barillo cartel cannot be allowed to gain that much power.  We have enough trouble even putting a dent into all the narcotics they traffic into the country.  If they take over the territory they have their eyes on, they'll be nearly unstoppable."

   Sands nodded, looking at the picture again.  "How long do I have to . . . contact her?"

   "We want to proceed with the operation by the new year."  Strauss slid a manila folder across the table. 

   Sands took it in hand and stood, tucking the photo inside his jacket pocket.  With an ironic salute, he left the room.

   Strauss leaned over to Colton.  "What did that mean?"

   "It meant he'll take the assignment."

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Ok, here's what I meant about the rules changing.  With 'Eyes' I was trying to write a story that did not end up with Sands falling in love with his caregiver.  I managed to do that.  However, with people telling me that Sands and Tess are meant for each other (Merrie especially), I'm going to start moving towards that territory.  It'll be a slow journey, despite some . . . physical interaction . . . and I doubt the word 'love' will ever come up in this fic.  If I can develop a story idea that will center mainly around Sands that takes place after this one, then perhaps we'll finally reach that, although I can't really see either of these two admitting to such a thing.

With that, I have a request.  No rated 'R' physical content will be going into this fic.  All smut will be toned down to a nice 'PG-13' level, simply because there are people who don't like to read smut.  Rated 'R' versions will be available if you e-mail me and ask for it though.  I also need someone willing to beta these scenes for me, since I'm bad at catching things like that myself.  First person to volunteer gets the job, so act fast, mi amigas.  ^_^

That's it, until I post again.  Please review.