The building looked as ordinary as any other buildings on the block.
It was a 9-story grey rectangular piece, covered with tinted glass windows and a sign on the pathway to the main entrance that identified the building as 'Kent Advertisings, Inc,'. The time was 8.15 am on a regular Monday morning, and there were people milling around the lobby preparing to start a normal day at work.
Just like me, only I'm heading to a new workplace, and there's nothing normal about my day at work.
Ignoring the rampaging butterflies in my stomach, I drove my Honda City towards the basement, pausing to swipe my new ID card at the electronic check-in before entering the parking lot.
The parking lot was lit with fluorescent lights and dotted with a few other vehicles. I parked at the end of the lot, away from the other cars. After locking my car, I made my way to the building block where the lifts were.
I found the lifts easily enough, but I didn't enter it. Instead, I walked straight to the end of the floor and turned right to a small corner, where there was a door marked 'Janitor' on the near wall. Besides the door, there was a small electronic pad with two tiny lights at the side. One of the lights were red, the other white.
Using the same ID card that I had used to enter the basement, I swiped at the pad, and instantly the two lights turned green, and the door slid open silently. I waited until the door was opened all the way before entering into the darkness.
Unlike a normal janitor's closet, this room was large enough to fit at least 3 people in it, and it was completely bare. There was an outline of a door on the wall opposite of me, but there was no handle. Once the door behind me was shut, the room became illuminated with green light. I stood completely still in the middle of the room for exactly 2 seconds before there was a white flash, and the opposite door slid open, like the previous one.
I blinked a few times, adjusting my eyes from the white flash into the dimly lit corridor ahead of me. Then I realized with a startle that there was a guard sitting on a chair just beside the lift door. He nodded at me, and I nodded right back, my heart racing.
Taking a deep breath, I walked down the corridor until I came to a door that automatically opened, undoubtedly equipped with a motion sensor.
Although everything went exactly as the described in the briefing I was given last Friday – except for the guard, I wasn't told he would be situated there - it still didn't lessen the pounding in my heart as I stepped into the unfamiliar cavern – okay, office – and looked around to assess my surroundings.
I was standing at the edge of what looked like a normal office floor, except it was in a large basement floor with pretty much nonexistent decor. The walls were grey, like the outside, and there were about 20 people sitting at their desks or walking around doing important things. Most of them looked like they've been here all night, and I wouldn't exactly bet against that. The desks were separated by semi-transparent glass about 4 feet high, and at the end of the office, there was a row of rooms, one of them also covered with the same semi-transparent glass.
Uncertain of where to go, I took a few steps forward so that I wouldn't look like a fool just standing there when I saw an older man in a smart black suit striding towards me. He couldn't have been more than 60, yet his head was covered with thick white hair, ala-Richard Gere.
'You must be the new agent,' he said in a pleasant voice.
'Susannah Simon,' I introduced myself, shaking his hand. 'You can call me Suze.'
'Albert Dominic, Director of DN-9, and you can call me Dominic. Did you have problems getting here?' His blue eyes were kind, not as I expected the chief of a Central Intelligence Agency division would be like.
'Oh no, not at all,' I answered as he led me towards the row of rooms at the back. I was aware of a few glances towards us as we walked, but I pretended not to notice.
No way was I admitting that I was really, really nervous.
Weird how I had never been nervous sneaking into buildings and fighting with bad guys, yet I was anxious about working in a new office.
The room at the far end of the row was the one we entered, and I found out that it was Dominic aka my new boss's office. It was also bleakly grey with the necessary things like a desk and chairs available, but no decorations or any personal memento, save from a framed picture of a woman on his desk. He gestured for me to sit down on one of the two chairs in front of his uncluttered desk, and pressed a button on the black phone in front of me, saying, 'She's here, you can come in now.'
I tried to make myself look uninterested about who he just asked to come to his office, and instead looked at the framed picture. The woman appeared to be around her 40s, with long auburn hair and gentle blue eyes, and she was laughing at whoever was taking her picture.
Dominic picked up a grey file on his desk and handed it to me, not saying anything even though he saw me looking at the picture. Clearly he didn't want to talk about it, and I felt a little guilty yet also curious about whom the woman was.
Maybe it was his wife? His sister?
"That's the floor plan and the structure for the departments in this office, Susannah. Do you mind if I call you Susannah? I'm not so used to these modern names that everyone seems to have nowadays,' he said, a rueful smile on his face.
Relieved that he wasn't mad about me staring point blank at that picture, I said, 'Sure.'
Besides, he's, um, old and I'm sure he thought a name like Suze is weird. Like the other day, I was flipping through a magazine and there's this young new actress whose name was Alexiea Compton. Seriously. What's so bad about just Alex or Alicia?
I was about to ask him about the other officers in this division when there was a knock on his office door. He said 'Come in' and the person entered the room.
My first thought - I'm ashamed to admit - was, boy, he's hot.
The man was the living definition of tall, dark and handsome, because he really was…tall, dark and handsome. He looked to be around his 30s, with some Spanish blood if his coloring was any indication, and his dark hair was short and neat. The beige suit he had on fitted him perfectly, like he was born wearing it.
But it was his eyes that grabbed my attention from the get go – hypnotic pools of shadows, like beautiful black ink.
Now I know why I haven't met a single hot agent in all these years I've worked for the CIA. It's because all of them had combined to compose this man in front of me.
'Susannah, I'd like you to meet Jesse de Silva, a fellow officer here in DN-9,' Dominic introduced him.
I stood up, and even then he still felt too tall. He smiled politely at me and held out his hand, which was large and warm and made me feel a bit goosebump-y as I shook it, but in a nice way.
'Pleasure to meet you, Susannah,' Jesse de Silva said in a deep, smooth voice as he gazed at me, and the room suddenly felt toasty, even though it was cool a moment ago.
Get a grip, Suze, for God's sakes.
'Likewise,' I managed to croak out a word, my voice sounding like an 8-year-old's.
He didn't seem to notice though, and just continued to smile politely at me. Have I mentioned that his face has a really nice bone structure? I mean, they actually looked like they were sculpted by an artist.
I smiled back, my face a little flushed, and there was an awkward silence as we looked at each other.
Was I supposed to say something?
But Dominic solved the problem by asking both of us to sit down, and we did.
'Susannah, as of now, Jesse will be your partner. Jesse, you already know this,' Dominic looked at Jesse, who nodded, before looking back at me. 'Jesse's previous partner was transferred to Langley. Have you worked with a partner before?'
I was still processing the information that this extremely good-looking specimen was going to be my partner, so it took a good second for me to understand Dominic's question.
When I finally did, I answered in a rush, 'Yes, I have. I used to have a partner, Aaron Dallas back when I was placed in Langley. Then last year I worked with Sydney Bristow at APO, but she wasn't my partner, more like a mentor to me and I followed her on several missions before she became too pregnant and had to stay at the office. After that I followed the officer who was Sydney's partner, Marcus Dixon and another officer, Eric Weiss, on a few other missions but I wasn't on the field. I was just placed as the communicator and also at the extraction point. So I would say…yes, I've had a partner but not recently.'
There was a very silent silence.
Dominic looked at me, and I could feel Jesse's stare from where he was sitting beside me. I felt myself starting to blush, and I realized how foolish I must have sounded, babbling like that. But I couldn't help it! I always prattle on whenever I'm really nervous, which was exactly how I was feeling at the moment.
'Thank you, Susannah. I have your file, you have no need to explain anything,' Dominic said with that kind smile of his, but I didn't feel any better. In fact, I suddenly felt incompetent.
'Of course,' I said unnecessarily.
'Now, Susannah, I'm sure you know the protocols of working in a CIA division, especially since you've worked at APO, which basically had the same premise as our section. Here at DN-9, we have several other officers who are able to go on field missions, but our priority would be for the two of you. The others are here mostly for extraction and backups. Your job will entail mostly paperwork, until there is an order from Langley for a new mission, where you will take part in. Do you have any questions?'
'No,' I told Dominic, who then nodded like he expected me to say no and said, 'Alright then. Jesse will show you to your desk and if there is anything you need, please don't hesitate to inform me.'
I stood up and confirmed that I would, before walking out the office, Jesse holding the door open for me.
I smiled to myself, more due to relief after surviving meeting my boss without making too much of a mess, rather than realizing that I will be working with a gorgeous partner.
At least, that's what I told myself.
'So Susannah –' Jesse began as he fell into steps beside me, but I cut him off without even thinking about it.
'Call me Suze.'
He paused and looked at me for a second, before saying, 'Would you mind if I stick with Susannah?'
What was this, first Dominic, now Jesse, will the whole of DN-9 start calling me Susannah now? I mean, I don't have anything against my name – not much – but does Agent Susannah Simon or Agent Suze Simon sounds tougher to you?
Of course it's Suze. I mean, the 'Z' in it is enough to bump up my name from 'ordinary' to 'gangsta'.
'Well, I prefer you to call me Suze. Why, what's wrong with Suze? It's short, it saves time and effort.' Plus, the whole gangsta thing.
He shrugged. 'Nothing is wrong. I just think it sounds a little… vulgar.'
I stared at him, completely not believing what I just heard. 'Vulgar? When were you born, 1830? Since when is a perfectly good nickname vulgar?'
'I didn't see you protesting when Dominic called you Susannah,' he said pointedly, raising an eyebrow. I noticed the raised eyebrow had a white scar through it, and I would have asked him if he got that on one of his previous missions, if I wasn't actually starting to get mad at him.
'He's different. He's my boss, I can't say no to him. Besides, he said he's not used to modern names,' I said in Dominic's defense, which was strange, because I just met him. But there was something about him which made me feel… comfortable.
Unlike the person I'm talking to right now.
'Maybe he thinks Suze sounds vulgar too,' Jesse said, sounding amused.
'He does not!' I protested. Jeez, what was this guy's problem? 'He's just old, okay. The name Susannah probably was popular back when he was a teenager, so he likes the sentimental value or… something.'
Oh, I'm totally making perfect sense. Not.
'So he can call you Susannah, but I cannot. Am I right in saying that you have a double standard?' Jesse said in this tone that made me uncertain if he was being serious, or if he was just playing with me.
Somehow, I had a feeling it was the latter. Which did not, in any way, made me feel better.
I had no idea why I was feeling irritated over such a small thing. I mean, why couldn't I just let him call me Susannah? I was picking a fight where it's so unwarranted.
I guess I was just a little offended that he said my name was vulgar. Come on, that was beyond ridiculous. And the fact that he said I had a double standard, which I so do not.
'I thought partners are supposed to listen and compromise with each other,' I said heatedly, although I made sure my voice was low so that we would not attract undue attention as we walked across the large office. 'So why is it so hard for you to listen to me when I ask you to call me Suze?'
'Well, partners are not supposed to order each other around. And isn't that what you are doing…ordering me?'
Groaning inwardly, I said, 'I am not ordering you. I'm requesting that you call me Suze.'
'Requests can be denied. Susannah.' He was smiling now. Not with me, but at me, a definite sign that he was making fun of me.
I glared at him. 'Is this why your partner left you for Langley? Because of your fixation with his name? Her name?'
We were now standing in front of a desk that I assumed was mine, because it was empty apart from the worn-looking computer on top of it. But instead of telling me that as I expected, Jesse suddenly looked angry, his smile all but gone.
'Gerrard had to be transferred because he became permanently injured from a mission and was forced to take a desk job. He is a fine officer and has served this country well, even now, with his injury. And in all the times that I've known him, he had been a cooperative partner, and he certainly did not mention anything about my so-called fixation,' Jesse elaborated, his previously amused tone now sounding clipped.
The atmosphere was toasty again, but not for the same reason as before. I sure as hell wasn't thinking about how hot he was now. But I certainly was hot. I meant that literally, because I could feel sweat forming on my palms from the discomfort of where this conversation seemed to be heading.
Really, I felt bad for Gerrard, whoever he was and I was sure that he was – and is - a great agent. But would my massive pride allowed me to admit that? No. And was Jesse implying that I was an uncooperative partner? What the heck did he know about me to make such rash judgments?
So instead of backing down, I challenged, 'So you're saying that I should be a replica of Gerrard?'
His dark eyes flashed. Uttering his words slowly and concisely, he said, 'No. But you could show some respect.'
My face burned.
'Oh, I have respect, all right,' I snapped, feeling like I was in a freaking kindergarten being scolded by a teacher. 'I have respect for Gerrard, and for Dominic. I can't say anyone else I've met deserve my respect.'
Jesse stared at me, his expression unreadable. But I could see his jaw clenched, and I felt a mixture of white-hot anger and mounting regret over what I said.
I swallowed, thinking that I was so screwed for fighting with my partner the first moment I was alone with him.
But I didn't start all of this, okay? He did, with all his stupid refusals.
Before Jesse could form a reply, I said, 'From now on, unless there's any missions we have to carry out, let's stay out of each others' business, shall we?'
I'd like to think I was being tough, but I noticed my voice didn't sound as hard as it did before.
'Fine,' he replied.
'Fine,' I repeated.
There was a pause, and he said curtly, 'This is your desk.'
'I guessed that,' I retorted, dumping my bag and the file on the table.
Jesse just stared at me for a moment, then turned to go. But as he walked away, I swear I heard him saying some Spanish stuff under his breath.
Was he calling me names?
My anger returning, I watched him going to his desk, which was a few feet away and facing my own desk. Before he could turn and face me though, I sat down grumpily, making sure that my vision was obscured from looking at him by the semi-transparent glass, while contemplating about calling him names in the languages that I know, all 6 of them.
But he probably knew all of them too. Then when he hears me calling him names, he'd probably say I'm uncooperative and immature. I rolled my eyes, picking up the grey file to read it and take my mind off such disturbing thoughts.
Who knew someone that hot, could be that annoying?
You know what, I think having a partner is going to really suck.
As you can see this fic has a bunch of influences from the TV series 'Alias', with a few tweaks here and there. But it's okay if you don't watch the show, because only the concept is similar but the storyline is completely different. Also, Suze's situation and history is different from the Mediator books, all of which will be revealed in the coming chapters.
I'm quite excited about this story, and I hope you all are too! Please don't hesitate to give me feedback, I'd love to know what you all think.
Disclaimer – All Mediator characters belong Meg Cabot, while all Alias characters belong to JJ Abrams