Los Angeles

It's been a week since the discovery of young Victor's body. And still I couldn't forget his little face staring hopefully at me, excited at the prospects of meeting his very-much-alive father. I couldn't understand why, I've mediated many, many, many ghosts before, big and small, young and old, and I managed to forget about them soon after.

It's different with Victor. I don't know why. Okay, maybe I know why. It's because he was the first case I took on after supposedly losing my 'gift'. It sticks, you know? Helping him reminded me of everything I hated - and admittedly, loved - about mediating.

Once I found the body (truthfully it wasn't even a body anymore but let's just pretend it was for the sake of my depleting sanity) I went back to Victor, and told him to sit quietly on a bench while I talk to someone who'll find his father. He complied dutifully, innocent and trusting. It was all I could do not to sit with him and cry my eyes out but hey Suze the mediator never cries, does she?

I found a payphone and gave an anonymous tip about finding 'something' in the bushes of Disneyland right behind the closed building. I made sure to speak with my back to the camera - I was sure they could trace the call to this very phone and I didn't want them trying to identify me, finding a witness, etc etc. How the hell could I explain how I found the body? "Oh yeah, that? Victor's ghost told me where to go and voila! Found it! Do I get a prize for solving one of your most notorious missing-child cases?"

God my life is depressing.

After making the call, I went back and sat with Victor. He asked me if his dad was coming, and I lied. Again. Said yes, his dad was coming to pick him up and take him home. What's yet another lie on top of another? And then I made him tell me about his friends at school and the mischief they used to get up to. As I listened to Victor happily recalling the time when he and his friends put a fake spider on a poor girl's notebook, I heard the distant sound of sirens. I turned to him as he paused, looking confused.

"I feel strange," he said. He had started to shimmer. I knew then that I didn't have to watch them bring the forensics team and all that CSI stuff because they will find him, and my job was done.

"It's only temporary." I was bullshitting, obviously, but whatever. "Maybe you should close your eyes. You'll feel better soon."

Wow, did I just recite a line from The Ghost Whisperer? Now if Jennifer Love Hewitt's mediator actually existed, I'd love to meet her. So that I can punch her fake happy face.

Victor closed his eyes. Suddenly he said, "Thank you, Suze. I had a good day today."

I opened my mouth to reply, but he was gone.

I was relieved, and sad. Sad about Victor. And sad about how no matter how I tried to run, it seems that I couldn't escape mediating.

Why did it come back, though? My mediating skills, I mean? I thought once it was gone, it's gone permanently. How logical would it be to disappear and come back at a whim? Not logical, and highly inconvenient.

Maybe this is just a blip. I'm glad I helped Victor, really I am. It gave me a little thrill, I admit it.

But the idea of mediating while spying is ludicrous and I just won't entertain it.

I spent the trip back home trying to avoid bumping into ghosts again, which is difficult because to me ghosts and humans are the same except for the glowing thing. Yet to avoid them I had to look for them in the first place. Have you ever actively tried to look and avoid something at the same time? It's freaking difficult, let me tell you. Carl asked me if I was okay in the plane because I kept my eyes closed the whole time - if I can't look at anyone, I can't see if they're ghosts, rights?

Yeah, Suze, great way of living!

The night I reached home Cee Cee was watching CNN and I saw Bixente holding a press conference thanking the French police for their work. I couldn't deal with the conflicting ideas of Bixente as both a bad guy and a grieving parent, so I told Cee Cee I was tired and went to bed early. Instead of sleeping though, I beat the crap out of my punching bag, trying to tire myself out even more so that I could fall asleep and not have to think about anything relating to ghosts and dead children and bad guys selling weapons.

Fat chance. I ended up spending the whole night trying to sleep and failing, my heart beating like mad in fear of hearing that familiar tinkle of ghost materialising, the way it had been when my old bedroom was like the Grand Central Station. Ghosts would come and go, asking for help like my life's entire purpose is to help them.

I didn't miss that part of mediating, that's for sure.

The rest of the week passed by in a blur. I was apprehensive that Carl might somehow link my being at Disneyland to the discovery of Bixente's dead son but he didn't mention it, and I was happy to let it go. We didn't have any missions and I made sure to keep to myself, typing up paperwork and going to meetings without as much as a sarcastic remark. It's hard to be sarcastic when one is constantly wishing for ghosts to not appear.

I even forgot to be mean towards Jesse. I think that's a mark of how far gone I was. When yet another meeting passes without me complaining or trying to be funny, even I didn't fail to notice the subtle shift in atmosphere between everyone in the room. I ignored it. As long as I was doing my work, they couldn't say anything, could they? It's not like they paid me to have a personality.

Or to be a mediator-in-denial, but that's a completely different matter.

- A. M. A. I. -

Friday arrived. I had come back from lunch - alone - and was looking through some files when Jesse came to my desk. Things had been cool between us since our heated exchange before my trip to Paris, but I didn't give it any thoughts because I had more important things in my mind. I looked up, mentally composing myself to not react at the fact that he was looking as annoyingly gorgeous as ever, and said, "Yes?"

"Meeting in room five."

"Be right there." I stacked the files on my desk and reached to key in the password-lock for my computer, when I noticed he still hadn't left. I looked at him again, raising my eyebrows in question.

Jesse appeared to be struggling internally, like he wanted to say something but at the same time is telling himself to not say it. I know that feeling. I also know that if he says something infuriating like how I'm stacking my files wrongly, I would just stand and walk away. I didn't have the energy to argue these days.

He sighed. "Never mind." Then he walked off.

I stared after him. Am I angry? I have no idea. I couldn't care less. I made sure my computer was locked, took my notebook and a pen, and followed him into room five. I passed David on the way, and he glanced at me worriedly. I smiled reassuringly at him (or so I tell myself). I'm sure he was guessing that something was wrong with me because I've turned down his invitation to lunch with him and his buddies every day this week. I reminded myself to come up with an explanation. PMS sounds like an acceptable excuse. No man would argue with a woman and her monthly visitations, right? Right?

Carl and Dominic were already there as we entered. I sat beside Carl, opened my notebook and clicked my pen, trying to ignore that fluttering feeling of anticipation of a new mission. I didn't know why I thought we'll have a new mission, but the serious faces of Dominic and Carl, the fact that we haven't had a mission since Paris, the way sometimes I just knew, the way I knew when I figured out how to send a ghost on his or her merry way, added to that feeling.

What is wrong with me? Stop thinking about ghosts! Stop sending the idea to the universe! The universe will hear and think it's a form of a prayer and actually send ghosts to me!

"Susannah?"

I looked up, and realised that I'd been clicking my pen non-stop, disrupting Dominic's briefing. I dropped my pen, and said, "Sorry," my face burning.

Dominic gave me a small smile then continued talking. I hadn't been listening to him since coming in. I chided myself, and refocused my thoughts.

"This man is Felix Diego."

A picture of a grumpy man, late thirties or early forties, with dark hair and an impressive moustache, flashed onto the screen in front of the room. He appeared about to enter a car, his face locked in a furious expression. I'd never seen him before, but I had no doubt that this was a dangerous man. Really dangerous.

"Diego is believed to be a key member of the Russian mafia. Three weeks ago, we received intel that he has acquired the codes for a nuclear weapon in Pakistan. Since then, we have been trying to get close to him, not only to retrive the codes but also to find out how he managed to have the codes in his possession in the first place. Sources have been scarce. He has many enemies, but few are willing to talk."

"Unfortunately for us, we are not the only ones who have heard about Diego's acquisition of the nuclear weapon codes. K-Directorate has sent an agent to infiltrate his party, and it would appear that they are successful."

Another picture flashed, this time of a woman. Curly dark hair, a smile on her red-lipped lips, her face turned towards Diego whose arm she was hanging onto. Beautiful. And from my personal experience, vicious.

"Oh god," I groaned, before I could stop myself. Everyone turned towards me. Dominic nodded. "Yes, Susannah. I heard you have had some, uh, encounters with Miss Maria Espinosa. Perhaps you could briefly share with us what you know about this agent."

Encounters? That sounds like I met her in a corner coffee shop in Manhattan. I think "fighting until one of us kicks it" would be more appropriate.

I sighed, and reluctantly started to speak.

"Maria is one of K-Directorate's best agents. She was born in Cuba, raised in Russia. She is the go-to officer for them in wetwork and active measures. She is an excellent marksman, and as much as I hate to say it, well-versed in hand-to-hand combat." As I rattled on, I thought about the last time we met, about three years ago, when I broke my wrist after she pushed me down the stairs while we fought for an intel. I refrained from mentioning this, however, as I didn't want them to think that I was incompetent.

"Now, we know that K-D has tons of great agents. What makes Maria different is that she's willing to do anything, and I mean, anything, to get her intel. She will torture you, murder your family, sleep with a target, anything. She's like the complete agent. The complete assassin." I stopped, looking down at my notebook. Honestly, I wasn't looking forward to meeting this bitch again.

The room was quiet. It felt ominous. And I had a feeling the bad news will keep coming.

Dominic cleared his throat. "Thank you, Susannah. That is precisely what Espinosa seems to be doing, pretending to be in love with Felix in order to get information for that."

Pretend to be in love to get intel? I could do that. Sleep with a random strange man to get intel? Not a chance in hell.

It's probably why I'll never be half the agent that Maria is. Being an agent has to mean not owning a conscience, surely. It's why she's so good at what she does.

"What is working in our favour is that it seems that while Espinosa has successfully infiltrated into Diego's inner circle, she has yet to obtain the codes. While Diego possessing the codes is dangerous, we absolutely cannot afford to let them fall into the hands of K-Directorate. We've received word that Diego will be holding a grand celebration of the 10th anniversary of his auto enterprise - cover for his illegal operations - at his estate in Moscow. I'm sending both of you, Susannah and Jesse, to first conduct a surveillance on Diego and his team, and during the celebration, infiltrate and acquire the codes. It is believed that K-Directorate will also make a move during the celebration. It is imperative that we get the codes before they do."

I felt my heart pounding. Though Dominic didn't say it, I knew the implication of his words. If it happens that Maria got to the code before we do, we'll have to fight her for it. I will have to fight her for it.

As I was trying to rein in my panic, Carl stood up, taking over from Dominic.

"I know, I know, infiltrating a Russian mafia's circle is never easy." Carl smiled at me, and I felt the heaviness in my heart lifted a little. Trust Carl to always know how to make things feel better, even with his awful ties.

He clicked on the remote, and yet another picture flashed. This time it's of a handsome man with brown hair, and arresting blue eyes. He had a slightly arrogant expression on his face. Attractive face. God, Suze, get a grip. When you start thinking a criminal is attractive perhaps it's time to get laid, or quit the CIA.

I actually think it's easier for me to quit the CIA than to get laid these days. But I digress.

I looked at the information besides his picture. Paul Slater. Current employer: Felix Diego. Affiliation: Unknown.

Unknown. That doesn't sound good.

"So we have zeroed in someone who we believed can let us in. He's Diego's security director, and he's currently looking for someone to add to Diego's security detail. The last man who worked for Diego was killed."

"Protecting Diego?"

"Actually, killed by Diego himself." Carl smiled ironically at Jesse's question. Jesse and I exchanged a look. It wasn't planned, it just happened. Both of us quickly looked away, but I had to admit, it was nice to know that we were on the same wavelength.

"So Jesse, I'm sorry to put you in the firing line but you will be the person who will be in Diego's security detail. We'll make sure the other applicants aren't successful, and Diego will have no choice but to hire you due to the impending celebration." Carl handed Jesse a file. "Here's your cover."

"What about me?" I asked.

"You'll be taking a backseat on this one, Suze," Dominic answered. "Jesse will be the face of the operation, and you are to provide backup to him. If, however, things don't go as planned, you have my permission to be in the forefront. I trust the both of you will make the right decision."

Jesse glanced at me, as if he was expecting me to start protesting. The truth was, I had no problems with that. For once, I don't mind sitting in a van somewhere, relaying the security camera feed while Jesse does the heavy work.

I swear I'm not a coward!

I seem to be denying a lot of things these days.

After Jesse and Carl had discussed further details about the operation, the meeting adjourned. Dominic asked me to stay. When the door closed, he turned to me.

"Susannah, are you alright? Can you perform this mission? I can find someone else if you don't think you can -"

"Hold up, hold up," I interrupted him, even though it is totally rude to do so, I know. "Who says I can't do it? I am perfectly fine with this. I can do it."

Dominic looked at me hesitantly. "Well, your history with Maria Espinosa might prove to be a hurdle. I'm not saying you cannot do the mission, but lately it seems your mind is elsewhere and I really want to know if I can trust you on this."

I paused, wondering how much I should tell him. In the end I relented. A little. "Alright, you're right. I'm not very happy with the idea that I might have to meet Maria again. But don't worry, if everything goes well, I won't even have to see her. It will be fine. I promise, I will do my best for this mission."

Dominic seemed to accept my assurances, but he still said sternly at me, "Please don't give Jesse a hard time. I know you and him haven't been on good terms, but I hope you can put your personal feelings aside."

I laughed. "Dominic, I really can't be bothered to give him a hard time anymore. Really." I realised it was true, to my surprise. I guess being angry at Jesse was too tiring. I'd rather spend all my energy telepathically telling ghosts to stay away.

To his credit, Dominic didn't look as confused as I thought he would at my flip-flopping behaviour. He just said, "Good", and stood up. I stood too, turned to walk to the door, then stopped. Something was bugging me.

"Dom, this Paul Slater person. Do we have more information about him? It's just, you know, 'affiliation, unknown'...?"

"We don't, unfortunately. But it doesn't matter. The target for now is Diego. We will focus on Slater later, if we have to." Dominic smiled, and exited the room.

He was right, as usual. I looked at Slater's picture again, included in our briefing notes. There was something untrustworthy about him.

But like Dominic said, it doesn't matter. My business is now with Diego. And Maria. Especially Maria. I have a score to settle with her.

She may have won the last time we met, but I'll be damned if I let her win again.


Wow. So. Hi! I know it's been years, literally years, since I last updated. But today I found my old notebook with all the notes for this fic and I just thought to myself, why not? Even if no one's reading this anymore, the least I could do is try to finish it. I can't guarantee that I will finish this fic, but I do want to try to keep writing it. I've decided to fast forward to the crux of the fic, hence why Mr Summer of Carmel made a cameo here.

I haven't touched any of the Mediator books in ages, so my apologies if the characters seem a little off.

Thanks for reading and reviewing.

Much love, Aina