"Truman's not going to be happy about this. Then again, neither am I." Cruller frowns and looks up at the constantly rotating swirl of newsfeeds in the air around them. "I really thought we had a clear shot at exposing him, or at least shutting off his cash flow..."
Milla, floating in midair while she pulls off her shoes and shakes the dust out of them, just shrugs. "I'm sure we'll have another chance. He has to slip up some time."
Cruller shakes his head, watching another report on the explosion float by. "Not soon enough. This is the fifth time he's tried to kill one of us in the past year; someday he's going to start getting it right again. You didn't get anything from his office, did you?"
"A few memos and financial reports," Milla says, easing a shoe back on.
"Probably planted," Sasha adds. "It's likely that Nick took as much money and research as he could and ran once he realized we'd infiltrated the company. You can look them over if you'd like, but they're probably worthless."
Milla hands the camera over to Cruller and then looks over at Sasha. He blinks; is it a reflection from the psitanium, or is she blushing again? "We'd better be going, darl--Sasha. Truman will be expecting a report any minute now."
"Right. If there's nothing else, sir?"
"Nah, you two go ahead...I'd better take a look at this film, just in case. I'll send a copy to headquarters for you."
They leave the sanctuary, Milla throwing Cruller sympathetic smiles over her shoulder as she goes, and both head to the main lodge to call headquarters. "It's too bad we didn't find anything useful," Milla says, wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the cool night air. "He seemed so disappointed."
"I imagine we all are." Sasha holds the door open for her and then follows her into the TV lounge, where Oleander has once again fallen asleep with the television on. He pulls the phone out of the cabinet while she turns the volume on the set down.
They call Truman directly and, as Cruller predicted, he isn't happy. They spend nearly two hours taking turns explaining things to him, with Milla doing her best to calm him down and Sasha occasionally making suggestions that maybe all this just means they're getting closer to capturing him, although he doesn't think that's the case at all. Oleander doesn't wake up once.
When the call finally ends, Milla yawns and stretches and sighs. "This isn't a very good start to the year, is it?"
"Hardly." Sasha rather wishes Truman had recalled them both to headquarters; he has no desire to deal with the small horde of hyperactive, psychically gifted children that's about to descend on them--particularly not when that horde includes Lili Zanotto, Truman's daughter, meaning that he'll be looking over their shoulders more than usual. He looks up to find Milla staring at him, and they both lapse into a sudden awkward silence until she points at Oleander and raises an eyebrow.
"Should we do something about him?"
Sasha shrugs. "He seems happy where he is."
"All right...well...good night, darling." She smiles awkwardly and then flees the room.
Surprisingly, that's the last time he talks to her for weeks. Once camp is back in session they hardly have a chance to cross paths; Sasha locks himself in his lab when he's not teaching classes, and when Milla isn't holding class out on the docks she's busy trying to keep the children occupied so they won't have time to kill each other. On the rare occasions when Sasha remembers to come out of the lab in time for dinner, Oleander dominates the discussion, and Milla seems preoccupied, so he tends to leave her to her own thoughts.
When camp ends for the year, Milla is due to spend a week as a guest speaker at the academy, so Sasha takes the jet back to headquarters instead of driving back with her like he usually does. And the day she's supposed to return to headquarters, Cruller sends him a new assignment, a possible lead on Nick. The mission comes to nothing--just as Sasha figures it would--but it still takes him five days and he doesn't get back until the weekend, so of course Milla isn't in her office, and he doesn't want to bother her at home for no reason.
What's even more surprising, for him, is that as the days wear on he finds himself missing her. It seems like forever since he last had such a long stretch of time all to himself to work on his experiments without suddenly being interrupted by her trying to drag him out of the lab for some reason or another, and at first he appreciates it, but after a while he almost wishes someone would interrupt him.
Finally, after pondering on this strange phenomenon for several days, he comes to the irrefutable conclusion that he has, somehow, gotten used to her flamboyant presence at long last, and he supposes it could be argued that he's also formed some sort emotional attachment to her, as ridiculous as the idea seems.
When Milla drops by his lab early Monday morning (completely unannounced, per usual) with a new assignment, she's rather surprised when Sasha smiles and asks her how she's been.
"How do I look?"
Milla sighs, putting her last earring on and brushing a few stray strands of hair out of her eyes. "Oh, honestly. Would it hurt you to just give me your honest opinion for once, darling?"
"I did give you my honest opinion," he answers, tugging the sleeves of his suit jacket down--they don't fit quite right. "You look perfectly presentable for the mission at hand."
She rolls her eyes. "Right. If you say so." Checking her hair and make-up in the rearview mirror one last time, Milla hops out of the car and makes her way across the parking lot. Sasha trails after her, still straightening his tie.
Not having official invitations per se--the president is willing to allow them but was unable to find them invitations on such short notice--they have to sneak in through the caterers' entrance and then move invisibly through the kitchen before finally disappearing into the crowd. Milla, predictably, heads straight for the wide dance floor, while Sasha stays near the orchestra--from there he has a clear view of almost the entire room.
He's only been scanning the room for a short while when Milla suddenly appears at his elbow and motions to some spot across the ballroom. "I found him--he's on the other side of the room, talking to the German ambassador. ...No, over to the left more, darling."
Sasha sighs. Clearly, their target knew to expect some kind of trouble. Not only is he lurking near some of the highest-ranking dignitaries in the room, but he's also keeping his back to the wall and an eye on the crowd. "We'll have to come at him from both sides. Milla, you--"
"I have a better idea." She smiles at him and he suddenly has a very bad feeling about this. "You know, Sasha, in all the years we've been partners you've never once asked me to dance."
"Should I have?" he asks, confused, and not liking where he thinks this is heading.
"Well, no...but you should now. We can get over to him faster that way."
He grimaces and slowly shakes his head. "I don't dance, Milla."
"Don't, or can't?"
There's a long pause. Then, "It's not that I couldn't, it's that I never learned how."
Still seemingly undeterred, she grabs him by the hand and pulls him out onto the floor before he can stop her. "Well, it's time you learned, darling. Here, I'll lead." She takes his hands and places one on her waist, then holds onto the other, gently interlacing their fingers. Her remaining hand she leaves resting lightly on his shoulder.
"Now," she says, taking a step back into the crowd, "watch my feet if you have to. It's easy; you should pick it up soon enough."
They move in an almost herky-jerky fashion at first; Milla keeps trying to pull him closer and lead him across the room, but he prefers a more comfortable distance and he's admittedly a little tense.
Finally, after one of them nearly steps on the other's foot for the fifth time and they've made absolutely no progress (nearby couples, however, are starting to stare and give them a wide berth), Milla stops him. "Sasha, I said to let me lead."
"I am," he says, secretly hoping she'll abandon this nonsense and agree to his initial plan.
"No, you're not. Here, I'll show you." She takes a step to start the dance again. Sasha follows and, already anticipating the next step, takes it. Their feet collide and they both stumble.
"You see?" She shakes her head, smiling despite herself. "I know I might be asking for the impossible, but I need you to give up just a little bit of control, darling. Just this once." She practically stares him down until he nods, doing his best to relax as she draws him in closer, readjusts his hands, and then leads him further out onto the dance floor.
At first he has trouble letting her control everything, but she keeps smiling patiently and leading him through the steps as best she can. After a few minutes they fall comfortably into a rhythm and he masters the basic steps well enough that she starts leading less and less, and by the time they're halfway across the floor, he's the one leading.
"You're quite good at this, you know," she says, breaking the long silence.
"Well, I had an excellent teacher."
She laughs and blushes almost up to the tips of her ears.
When they finally weave their way through the crowd and are near enough to their target, he brings them to a slow stop and disentangles his fingers from hers, although he doesn't move away just yet. Milla doesn't move either, and they stare at one another for a long moment.
"If you would be so kind as to distract the German ambassador..."
"Oh. Right." She slips away and out of his grasp--he realizes with a little embarrassment that he hadn't taken his hand away from her waist. Straightening his tie again, he moves up right behind the target just as Milla coaxes the ambassador out onto the dance floor much like she did to him. He watches them with a slight twinge of an emotion he can't quite place for a split-second before he remembers the task at hand and taps the man in front of him on the shoulder.
Already tense since Milla disappeared with the ambassador, he jumps a mile at the sudden contact and splatters a nearby woman with champagne. He whirls around to face Sasha and does his best to compose himself. "Jesus--you know, you really shouldn't sneak up on people like that."
Sasha smiles thinly. "My apologies. However, you are Maxwell Virago, correct?"
He starts backing up, instinctively searching for an escape route. "Yes...who are--"
"Sasha Nein," he says, taking a step forward, "and I'm going to have to ask you to come with me."
Virago laughs nervously, shoving a few stray strands of blond hair out of his eyes. "What? Why?"
"Put simply, you're wanted for known connections to a wanted psychic terrorist and suspected espionage against three different--four," he amends, remembering the German ambassador, "four different governments."
Virago hardly waits for him to finish before breaking into a run--Sasha grabs him telekinetically and starts dragging him back just as Milla arrives.
"Really darling," she says, blocking Virago's only other exit, "could you please come quietly? We'd hate to break up the party on your account."
They manage to get him out the back door with a minimum of fuss; he goes very quietly once Milla stuns him. He's handed off to a pair of junior agents waiting for them a few miles away, and then they drive the rest of the way back to headquarters in silence.
"That was fun," Milla says once, her smile half-hidden in the car's darkened interior. "We should do that again."
Sasha just snorts and shakes his head.
At three in the morning the day before Whispering Rock opens for its fourth year, Sasha takes a walk around the campground to try and clear his head. The Brain Tumbler experiments from the past two years have all backfired somehow or just plain failed to work, and his notes are of no help in trying to figure out the problem. None of the readings make any sense, and a third of them from last year show unusual interference that he just can't decode, particularly not after 2AM. So, he emerges from the psycho-isolation chamber, lights a cigarette, and decides to take a walk.
The night air is unusually cool, and the faint breeze blowing in off the lake makes it even colder. The grounds are empty and quiet; most of the forest's wildlife has retreated to their lairs rather than venture out into the unseasonable weather.
He wasn't expecting to run into anyone (except for Agent Cruller, who is for some inexplicable reason raking the grass near the GPC and mumbling about a contact lens), it being so late, so he's more than a little surprised to find a familiar figure standing on the beach. Putting his cigarette out, Sasha slowly makes his way down to the shoreline, making sure not to startle her.
Milla is standing just clear of the surf, her shoes sinking into the wet sand a bit. She's staring out at some point in the distance, arms wrapped tight around her chest, shivering in the cold. Her hair is slightly mussed, as though she didn't brush it after waking up, but she's still dressed in the clothes she was wearing yesterday.
"It's a bit late, isn't it?" he begins, since she doesn't seem particularly inclined to start a conversation any time soon, or even acknowledge his presence.
"Mmm. I suppose." She draws her arms in tighter and lets out a slow sigh. "So what are you doing out so late?"
"I was going to ask the same thing."
She flashes him a weary grin. "I asked first."
"I just needed to clear my head," he says, shrugging. He doesn't go so far as to explain the problems with the Brain Tumbler; she's still looking for excuses to argue with him about that. "I have a touch of insomnia, perhaps. And you?"
She hesitates, letting her feet sink a little further into the sand. "I...I needed to clear my head, too."
He looks at her with a raised eyebrow--something in the tone of her voice tells him there's much more to it than that. Nightmares maybe, or severe insomnia, given that she looks like she hasn't slept at all lately. He almost asks her if that's the case but stops himself, figuring that if she wanted him to know, she would have told him.
After a long pause in which neither of them says anything, Milla sighs and looks over at him. "Would you say precognition is actually possible?"
Sasha blinks, caught slightly off-guard by the spontaneity of her question, then thinks for a minute. "Well, it is officially recognized by the Psychonauts as a psychic power, yes, and if generations of famous--supposed--seers have anything to say about it it is...but I've yet to find any evidence supporting those theories."
"You've never had a vision? Not even in a dream or a nightmare?"
"No." He pauses, then adds, "Have you?"
She laughs, but it sounds somewhat weak and forced. "Of course not." Again, he has the feeling that she's not telling him something, but considering the late hour he's willing to let it slide.
She yawns, stretching a little. "It is late, isn't it?"
"Well, if you wanted to be specific, it's actually early morning."
He almost turns to go, then stops, hesitating again. "Are you...are you sure you're all right?"
She shrugs. "I'm fine, darling. Just tired and a little cold, that's all."
"I see." He tries to think of a reason why she wouldn't fix this situation, and then something finally clicks. He pulls his jacket off and drapes it over her shoulders, tentatively. A faint blush creeps over her face, but other than that she doesn't respond. "May I walk you back to your lab?"
Milla smiles slowly, and he gets the impression that he's at least gotten one thing right tonight. "I'd like that. Thank you." She draws his jacket tighter around her shoulders and then takes his arm, although he hadn't offered it to her.
"Have you seen my--oh, never mind, I remember where it is." Milla zips through the living room and into the kitchen, roots through a few drawers and cabinets, and then zips back through the living room to the bedroom. Sasha, sitting on her couch with his suitcase already packed beside him, sighs and rubs his temples.
"Milla, we're going to be late."
"I'm almost finished, I promise!" comes the all-too-predictable response from the other room.
"We should have been on the road two hours ago..."
"Morceau can survive without us for a little while, darling." She comes back into the living room and starts looking under chairs. "By the way, could you check under the couch for me? I'm missing a shoe."
Without even thinking--or wondering why on earth one of her shoes would be under the couch, of all places--he telekinetically pulls it out from someplace near his foot, shakes a dust bunny off it, and tosses it towards her. She catches it, grinning, before darting back towards the bedroom. "Thank you, darling!"
"I said I was almost finished, Sasha, and I meant it. Honestly, why are you in such a rush?"
He frowns and considers this for a minute--he's not sure why, exactly, but he's been more eager than usual to get to Whispering Rock this year, almost as if he's waiting for something important to come of it. Which is odd, as he and Oleander haven't exactly been on good terms lately, to the point that Oleander insinuated that he wouldn't mind if he and Milla didn't come back for the camp's fifth year. Furthermore, while the Brain Tumbler experiments have been showing marked improvement, he's never looked forward to dealing with the children and their occasional attempts to kill one another. Finally he just chalks it up to having accidentally picked up some of Milla's irrational tendencies, or perhaps some of her ridiculously infectious enthusiasm, and leaves it at that.
"I would just rather not be late. You know how Morry gets."
She laughs. "Morceau doesn't care if we're late, darling, and you know it. You, on the other hand..." A few minutes later, she emerges from the bedroom with two suitcases in tow. "There. I'm ready."
They bring the suitcases down to her car and load them into the trunk, and then they're finally on their way to Whispering Rock. There's silence for a while, as has become the norm between them on long trips, and then Milla starts looking for conversation starters.
"Has Morceau seemed a little...off to you lately?"
"I don't know...more reckless, a bit more...intense than I remember."
Sasha shrugs. "He's probably just bored. We likely would be, too, if we were stuck at the campground for most of the year."
"I suppose so. Well, it's probably nothing."
"More than likely."
"That kid's one in a million, Nein! And I'm not gonna let you turn him into one of your guinea pigs! I've got big plans for that mind..."
Milla sighs and shakes her head. "Don't be silly, darling. Razputin won't be participating in anything without his parents' consent. You know the rules--you wrote them."
Oleander stops and considers this for a minute, then rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Look, I've got work to do--lesson plans, you know. Why don't you call his parents, Vodello...and Nein," he adds, his one good eye gleaming dangerously in the light, "you just stay out of my way, understand?"
"I didn't realize I was in your way in the first place," Sasha answers, calmly lighting a cigarette. Oleander snorts and starts towards the cabins to enforce lights out. Milla, still smiling--although her smile is strained at best--loops her arm through Sasha's and gently steers him towards the main lodge.
"An odd start to the year, isn't it?"
"Highly unprecedented, yes." He glances back at the kids' cabins over his shoulder. "I've never seen mental defenses like that in any but the most talented psychics, and he's so young...it's amazing, actually."
She sighs, and the way her step slows and her attention turns more towards the forest below tells him she doesn't share in his enthusiasm. "I'm sure it is, darling."
He stops halfway across the bridge that separates the cabins from the rest of the grounds, turning to face her and forcing her to stop, too, or else run into him. "Milla. Even you have to admit that the boy is a prodigy--with the proper training he could easily become the most talented psychic of his generation."
"But he's only a boy," she says, shaking her head. "And he's not supposed to be here besides. Now, I have to go call his parents before Morceau kidnaps him or something--I don't know what he's capable of anymore."
She moves to go around him, but he reaches out and catches her by the arm, surprising both of them. He lets his hand linger at her elbow for less than a second before he draws it back and leans against the bridge railing. "Call his parents if you like, but you know Morry's likely to let him participate regardless of what the rules say. Would you rather I stand by and let him botch everything, or would you rather give the boy a chance to learn from the best instructors like the rest of the children?"
There's only a slight pause before she answers, glaring at him, "I'd rather you were there to put a stop to whatever madness Morceau is going to get him involved in. But since you're acting as reckless as he is, never mind." She spins on her heel and marches off towards the main lodge, leaving him standing there with eyebrows raised in her wake.
Hmm, he thinks, an argument. We haven't had one of those in years. For some reason he's not at all thrilled to remember those days, and he almost--almost--goes to apologize to her then and there. But then he decides to give her some time to cool off, instead, and then he forgets all about it.
"Okay, so these results are corroborated by that CAT scan, and..."
"Morry, is all this entirely necessary?" Sasha unearths his cigarettes from under pages and pages of psychoanalysis and lights one, raising an eyebrow at Oleander.
"Of course it is," he answers, hurriedly jotting some notes down on a brain wave analysis. "What, you don't want me to prove this was all just an isolated incident caused by lingering personal demons? I'm sane now, all right? I have proof, right here!"
He shakes his head, taking a long draw from his cigarette. "I was referring more to the third and fourth--" he looks at the papers scattered all over the main lodge and amends, "--and fifth opinions. I think you may be taking this to unreasonable extremes."
"Just don't want to leave any room for doubt is all," he says, then resumes mumbling to himself about scans and brain waves. Sasha sighs and leaves him be--he submitted his report to Truman hours ago; he has nothing to worry about.
Almost entirely unnoticed, Milla enters the lodge and picks her way through the mess to where they're sitting at one of the back tables, Armin--Razputin's father--following close behind her.
"What's all this?" she asks, taking a seat next to Oleander and not looking at Sasha at all. She's been strangely distant from him almost since they arrived at the campground, he's noticed--maybe he should have apologized for that earlier argument after all.
"I'm putting a full report and apology together," Oleander says, not looking up from his notes. "Hand me that CAT scan, would you? Thanks."
"It's a bit...it's a bit much, isn't it?"
"That's what I suggested," Sasha answers, shrugging, "but he doesn't seem to think so."
Oleander glares at both of them. "Pardon me for trying to prove my innocence. And you--" he points at Armin, who has taken a seat a few spaces away from Sasha-- "I think you're sitting on my supporting evidence."
He half-stands, pulls several loose pieces of paper out from under him, and hands them over with a slightly amused, "Sorry."
Sasha puts out his cigarette and turns to him. "By the way, how is Razputin?"
"He'll be fine. He may never eat meat again," he adds, chuckling, "but he should be fine besides that."
"He's sleeping," Milla continues, absently tugging on her gloves. "Like you should be, darling." She gives Oleander a pointed look, but he just shrugs it off.
"I'll sleep when I'm finished."
Milla smiles and shakes her head. "If you say so." She looks over at Sasha, directly addressing him for the first time that evening. "Have you talked to Agent Cruller yet?"
Sasha nods. "And sent my recommendation along to Truman."
"I'm still not sure it's a very good idea..." She trails off, eyes darting towards Armin. "But then, it's not my decision."
He shrugs, idly pulling another few pages of test results out from under a foot and placing them in Oleander's outstretched hand. "Your Agent Cruller makes a pretty compelling argument...so do you," he says, nodding to Sasha. "And I can see he'd be in good hands."
"Completely innocent hands!"
Sasha sighs. "Yes, Morry, we know."
"His mother's going to kill me for it," Armin continues, "but I think you're right. I had no idea..." He trails off, shaking his head. "I underestimated him. He's already outgrown everything I could possibly teach him. If you think headquarters is the right place for him then, well...I'm not going to disagree."
Milla looks slightly defeated, but she pats Armin's wrist anyway and promises to keep a close eye on Razputin. Sasha only smiles faintly. "You've made a wise decision. Thank you."
They don't leave the lodge for a few hours yet, until it's nearly daybreak and Oleander has passed out on one of his CAT scans and Armin is asleep on one of the couches in the TV lounge. The campground is eerily silent; the cougars have all retreated to their caves and the children have yet to wake up. The rubble of Thorney Towers is still smoldering in the distance, sending a lazy sort of fog drifting out over the lake.
"Morceau said he'd brought a few inmates in..." Milla says quietly, looking out across the lake. "I wonder what happened to them."
"Knowing Morry, he's probably got them writing testimonies for him right now." His attempt to add some levity to the conversation falls flat, however, and she just shakes her head at him. He sighs.
"If this is about Razputin, Milla, you should know his talent would be wasted here or at home. He's earned all of his merit badges and logged more hours in the field than most academy students do their entire education; that more than qualifies him for the rank--"
"I know, I know." She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "You're right."
His step falters a little as he blinks at her, both eyebrows raised. "Then...you're all right with our recommendation?"
She nods. "I did bring up a few concerns in my report to Truman, but you're right. It's a bit...odd, but since his father agrees and there's nothing in the rules against it, exactly..." She trails off with a slight shrug.
They walk in silence for a while before Sasha clears his throat. "Well...I should go update Cruller on the situation." He turns to go, then stops, looking at her. "Are you certain there's nothing else bothering you?"
For a split-second it looks as if she's about to say something, but then she just shakes her head again, offering him a faint smile. "No, I'm fine. I'm just trying to get my rhythm back--you know how it is, darling, getting your brain stolen."
"Too well," he says, turning to go again. "So long as you're all right--I'll see you at Morry's speech, then."
"Right. Goodbye, darling."
Milla is asleep on his shoulder, all of her slight weight pressed up against his side. Her breath is slow and even, and as uncomfortable as he is--his foot is asleep, her hair is tickling his neck, and his shoulder is getting sore--he doesn't want to disturb her by moving her. She hasn't slept in days.
Razputin slides down the wall to a seat across from him, letting out a long, slow sigh. His face and clothes are smeared with dirt and everything about him suggests exhaustion. "We checked--" he stops, sees Milla, and drops his voice down to barely a whisper. "We checked the whole building. It's clear."
Sasha nods. "Morry's taking the first watch, I'm assuming."
They fall silent; Milla's breath is the loudest sound. His shoulder is falling asleep. This closeness is becoming more than a little awkward, he admits, and he starts to contemplate moving her somewhere--anywhere--else. Razputin is staring off into space, half from exhaustion, half from a too-obvious distraction.
Sasha sighs. "You shouldn't think about her too much, you know."
Raz looks up, blinking. He seems confused, although Sasha has a feeling that he knows much more than he's letting on. "What?"
"Ms. Zanotto." Milla stirs, sighs, and digs her chin further into his shoulder. He flinches, then continues. "You're distracted. By, I would assume, thoughts of both her and the current state of your relationship."
Raz thinks about this for a minute, then shrugs. "Well, yeah, I guess...but what--"
"I've taught you to control your thoughts, channel your anger...love should be dealt with in much the same way. It's the hardest emotion to control, the most unpredictable and illogical, but you must at least make an attempt to deal with it. Left unchecked, it could prove to be a critical distraction. And considering the nature of our mission and the kidnappers we're dealing with, distractions are precisely what we don't need."
Silence descends again while Raz processes this information and mulls it over. Sasha catches a slight movement out of the corner of his eye and tenses up, but relaxes when he recognizes the shadowy figure on the catwalk above as Oleander. He's been edgy this whole mission, but whether it's from exhaustion, having the Grand Head of the Psychonauts kidnapped out from under everyone's noses, or from trying to adapt to a new team dynamic with Raz and Oleander tagging along, he has no idea.
Finally, Raz stops frowning contemplatively and nods. "So...stop worrying about Lili and whether or not she's still my girlfriend. Check."
"It's easier said than done, I should warn you," he adds, "but that's another lesson for another time. You should rest; it's going to be another long day tomorrow."
Raz rolls his eyes. "Yeah, that's what you said last night right before the ambush." He makes himself as comfortable as he can on the warehouse's concrete floor while Sasha, whose entire arm has started to go numb, gently eases Milla off his shoulder and onto the floor. She hardly even stirs, much less wakes, and he allows himself a quick sigh of relief.
"Um, Agent Nein?"
Sasha looks up--Raz is watching him with one eye open. His hand automatically snaps away from where it had been resting on Milla's arm. "Yes?"
"Could I ask you a personal question?"
"Oh. Okay. Um...never mind then." He looks at Milla once more, then rolls over and goes to sleep. Sasha blinks, momentarily confused, then dismisses the whole thing from his mind, finding a comfortable (and clean--relatively) spot on the floor near Milla and going to sleep.
They're creeping through long, empty corridors, phasing in and out of the visible spectrum as guards pass by, with Sasha doing his best to keep them from getting lost, when Milla suddenly clears her throat.
He stops and looks back at her. "What? Did we make a wrong turn?"
"No, I...I just--"
"Then can it wait? We have to find and disable the security system before Raz makes it through the ventilation system--"
"--and reaches Truman's holding cell, I know, I know." She sighs. "It can wait; I'm sorry."
"Good." They duck around a corner and then down another long, straight stretch of hallway before they finally find the door to the security offices. Sasha looks at Milla, nods, and then they both disappear. The door sliding open with seemingly no one there to open it takes away a bit of the advantage of surprise, but a quick confusion grenade tossed into the middle of the room gains it back tenfold. While the guards inside are still struggling to orient themselves, Sasha knocks them to the floor with a series of psi-blasts and Milla takes out the security console.
The lights flicker and go out for a brief moment before a generator kicks in somewhere, providing only emergency lighting. A few sparks fly from the shattered machinery as the generator tries to re-establish power on the security grid, but fails. "There," Milla says, but it's lacking her usual enthusiasm, and she's not smiling.
Sasha just motions to the door. "We should be going. Raz may need our help, and although I'll assume Morry's still trying to disable the back-up generators, we really should find him."
"Right." She starts to follow him out the door, then stops, letting out a long breath. "Sasha, I lied--it can't wait."
He stops in his tracks and turns around, eyebrows raised. "What can't--oh, right. I see. Milla, if we weren't in the middle of a rescue operation, I would be inclined to agree with you. However--"
"My promotion's finally gone through," she says, cutting him off. He blinks and stops, letting her continue. "Cruller told me just before the whole incident with Morceau started. I've made senior field agent."
"Well...congratulations, then. But we really should be going." He motions to the door again, this time with a touch of urgency.
"That means I can do whatever I want," she continues. "Transfer somewhere, pick a junior agent as a new partner...whatever I wanted."
"Yes, I know. Being a senior agent myself, I'm aware of the corresponding privileges. Now, we really should move." There are voices down the hall; they both turn invisible just as a group of guards come into view. Sasha starts down the hallway away from the guards, hoping Milla will follow.
He's pleased to see her behind him when they both reappear around the next corner. She still seems distracted, however. He sighs but keeps walking. "I assume you'll be trying a solo career," he says, making sure to keep his voice down. "Your promotion should have been approved two years ago; you must be anxious to try working alone."
She surprises him by nearly tripping over her own feet in a moment of utter gracelessness. "What makes you think that?"
"Logical reasoning, that's all." The conversation stops as they have to revert to invisibility to make their way past a group of armed guards rushing to the security offices. When they're visible and can talk again, he doesn't elaborate on his point, assuming that the conversation has been put on hold, if not finished.
Milla, on the other hand, isn't through. "What do you want me to do, Sasha?"
"Excuse me?" He looks back at her, not breaking stride. "If you want my advice--"
"No, I mean, what do you want me to do? Would you like me to stay, or..." She stops, forcing him to stop, too, rather than leave her behind.
He has to take a moment to consider her question. His first instinct is, surprisingly, to be completely selfish and illogical and ask her to stay. However, he stops himself just short of actually saying that. "Milla, you know I can't make that decision for you. While I have admittedly gotten used to having you as my partner, the decision is ultimately yours, and my opinion shouldn't decide the matter for you."
"But you do have an opinion."
"Yes, I do." He peers around another corner and then motions for her to follow once he sees the way is clear. "We've been partners for over six years now, Milla, of course I do."
"Then can I ask what it is?"
He shakes his head. "No. I told you, you need to make up your own mind."
She sighs. "Right...I'm sorry; I'm silly for bringing it up. We should be looking for Morceau and rescuing Truman."
He would say that he's happy to see her back to business, but he can't shake the feeling that he's somehow managed to disappoint both of them.
"Did you see the way I--"
"Yes, son, we did." Truman sighs a little impatiently and slaps a lukewarm ice pack over his eyes. "And we're all very impressed. Now, please. Migraine."
Raz frowns but quiets down, his enthusiasm and post-mission adrenaline cooling off somewhat. Milla smiles and pats his shoulder, then gets up and moves towards the back of the jet, motioning for Sasha to follow.
"Are we sure he's all right?" she asks, leaning over the jet's mini-fridge and casting wary glances at Truman. "I mean, we still don't know why Nick kidnapped him or what he did to him..."
"I've already submitted a recommendation for a full mental evaluation once we get back to headquarters," Sasha says, looking back at Truman over his shoulder. "I doubt there's anything wrong with him besides some post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep deprivation, but if there is, it'll be found soon enough."
She nods. "You're probably right." She sighs and starts to head back to Truman and the others when she pauses in mid-stride. "You know, if I do decide to take a transfer, this could have been our last mission together."
He's known her long enough to know a blatant attempt to lead him on when he sees one, and this time, he refuses to fall for it. "In that case, it wasn't a very successful last mission, was it? Nick escaped, Morry nearly got himself killed, and Raz had to rescue Truman after we let ourselves get distracted by an obvious diversion."
Milla grins, shaking her head. "We must be slipping, darling."
"I would hope not."
She goes back to her seat after that and they don't get a chance to speak privately again. When they land at headquarters they're both caught up in the media circus and general chaos of settling Raz in, convincing everyone that Oleander is in fact entirely sane, and making sure Truman is all right--which he is, aside from some lingering stress.
Sasha gradually retreats back to his lab, and when Milla doesn't come to drag him out like she usually does, he assumes the matter is settled--she must have decided to leave. He starts waiting for the new personnel file to land on his desk, and when it doesn't, he starts getting agitated. Twice he nearly goes looking for Milla to ask what's going on, but each time he thinks back to the conversation in Nick's hideout--and his first, irrational response--and thinks better of it. Besides, he has work to do and a new lab assistant to train.
The knock at his lab door comes right when Sasha is deep in the middle of an experiment--the results have just started coming back from a simulation. He doesn't even look up from the screen. "Sheegor, would you get that?"
Sheegor practically flies by him on her way to the door, almost knocking over one of the monitors. Sometimes he thinks she's too clumsy for his own good, but then again she's only been at headquarters for a short while, and he's hoping that she'll settle down, given time. He turns back to the experiment and starts picking through the results, completely tuning out what's going on at the door until Sheegor sneaks up behind him and clears her throat.
"Agent Vodello's here to see you."
He looks up, surprised. Milla, knocking? Maybe I've rubbed off on her more than I thought. "All right...tell her I'll be there in a moment." He pauses a second simulation currently in progress and looks over a bit more of the results in front of him, then turns towards the door.
She's done something with her hair, he notices--pinned some of it back and styled it more than usual. And her dress is longer, nicer, and of a more muted color than her usual, as if she were on her way to a dinner date. Actually, she looks quite lovely. He raises an eyebrow involuntarily. "Milla?"
She'd been staring at the floor and jumps at his approach, then nervously clears her throat and smiles. "Oh. Right. Hello."
He raises his other eyebrow at her sudden awkwardness. "You remembered to knock. To what do I owe the honor?"
"I, ah...you've been locked in here for days, you know." He nods. She fidgets a bit, smoothing out a wrinkle in her dress, then looks back at him. "So...I thought I'd...invite you to dinner. If you'd like to go, that is. Because you don't have to."
Now her dress makes a little more sense. He stops, thinking, and looks back at the simulation he left paused, the pages and pages of results he has yet to go through, and the analysis he has yet to finish. "I...I'm sorry, Milla, but I'm afraid I can't leave this experiment just now. Thank you, but...I can't."
She nods, already backing up towards the door. "No, I understand. Don't worry." She offers him a faltering smile and sees herself out. "I'll...see you on Monday, I suppose."
The door closes before he can reply. He sighs, turning back to the experiment. Sheegor is casting him a disapproving look out of the corner of her eye. "Please, don't start."
"Sorry." She squeaks and disappears around a corner, back to work. He starts the simulation back up and continues picking through the test results.
He's only been working for a few minutes, though, when he realizes that he's getting absolutely nowhere. He can't seem to find the focus to make any of the results mean anything, he can't think of a thing to add to the analysis, and the simulation seems to be taking forever and is making no sense besides.
For another minute he stares blankly at the screen, thinking. Then he pauses the simulation again.
"Sheegor, shut everything down and go home."
"I said to shut everything down and go home."
"Oh. That's what I thought you said, but...okay!"
He pulls his jacket on and heads out into the hallway, then breaks into a run. He catches up to Milla almost at the front doors; she has her car keys in one hand and her other hand is on the door handle. She stops when she sees him coming, blinking. "Sasha? Is everything all right?"
He pauses to compose himself and catch his breath. "I was wrong. It turns out that the experiment could be left unsupervised after all. If the invitation is still open...?"
She's smiling so much she's positively beaming. "Of course it is."
He opens the door for her, and this time, he's the one who holds his arm out for her to take. She does, and he smiles. They're almost to her car when he clears his throat to speak again. "Milla?"
"Pardon me for sounding selfish, but if you haven't already made up your mind, I'd...I would like it if you chose to stay."
She pulls herself in so close to him that her hair is almost brushing against his neck, sighing contentedly. "I had absolutely no intention of leaving, darling."