Title:Do You Remember
Series: One Line(1/26)
Disclaimer: I don't know you, you don't know me. Let's keep it that way.
Summary: Eight months after Simone's death people have begun to notice Michael's changing mood.
Word Count: 15,574
Characters: Michael, Walter, Birkoff, Elena, OCs
Feedback: it's like air.
Author's Note: This was originally written for the fanfic100 challenge on livejournal. If you would like to read the complete story (where it is broken into 9 parts) please visit my website.
AN2: The One Line series is in progress, although this story is complete. The series and the accompanying short stories get their names from the song "One Line" by PJ Harvey.
Do You Remember
First in the One Line series.
The gun is cold against her temple, even through the shielding of her thick hair where it's come loose from her ponytail. It moves with the his gentle intake and exhalation, shifting against her skin. A textured irritant. She focuses on this: holding on to this: making this her reality. With another, distant, part of her brain she hears the lilting of his accent. The words register more distantly still. "Tell me what I want to know or your grey matter gets splattered along the floor."
The woman in question turned in the doorway. "Something I forget, Walter?"
"Not exactly, Sugar." Glancing around quickly, he gestured for her to step back inside.
Amana gave the room beyond Walter's deceptively small area her own, seemingly cursory, once over before joining him. "What's up?" she asked with a brief smile.
"You're close to Michael right?"
She blinked at him. Hard. "Michael. Michael whose office is down the hall. Michael who is inscrutable on a good day and likely to shoot you between the eyes on a bad one Michael who broke a trainee's arm last week. That Michael?"
Walter rolled his eyes. "Ya don't got ta be so dramatic about it."
"Who's being dramatic?"
"Shh, shh, Sugar. Calm down."
"I am calm!" But Amana did lower her voice. "And Michael really did break some trainee's arm last week."
"Yeah I heard. But I also heard that it was an accident."
"Then how come—"
"Look he didn't break your arm did he?"
Amana shrugged. "I wasn't there. I don't think that counts."
"Does he bite your head off?"
"We hardly ever have two words to say to each other."
"He doesn't ignore you."
"Because we hardly ever have two words to say to each other!" Eyes wide with annoyance and disbelief, she said, "I heard you prided yourself on only smoking the good stuff, Walter."
No small amount of humor flooded the old man's lined face. "Don't talk about a man's bad habits. 'Less you wanna become one," he added with a friendly leer.
Rolling her eyes, Amana shook her head. "So what's this all about, Walter? You know that as a Level Three Op, Michael is as far from me as I am from a civvie. Near as I can tell, from the time that I've been here at least, he doesn't talk to a whole lot of people. And when he does have something to say it's all Section."
"Yeah well…" Walter took a deep breath and let it out in an audible woosh. "He's been going through somethin' extra special lately and I was wantin' to get a little insider information."
"Yeah, I heard about Simone," she said. Her eyes widened. "And there are no— Wait, me?"
Smiling in a grandfatherly fashion – a lecherous grandfather – Walter patted her hand where it rested on a tall table. "Not you in particular, sug, but someone. Thought I saw you two exchangin' words on Monday."
"Two days ago?" She thought about it for a moment. "Just passing along some information, if I remember right. Something Birkoff wanted handed off."
"And Michael took it all right?"
She shrugged. "Yeah. No reason not to, I figure. And he wasn't any more or less expressive than I'm used to seeing him. Well…yeah I guess you're right. Even before the thing with the trainee, people have been talking about how…how…" She moved her shoulders back and forth as if to loosen the sleeves of her grey and black motorcycle jacket. "…tight he is. You know like there's a string in his body that's being pulled in one direction and he's trying to walk in the other direction and there's just all this – tension." She shook her head.
A cheeky grin taking over the grandfatherly look, Walter said, "But you're not afraid?"
"Not enough to not do my job. What's he going to do? Break something? He's not that bad," she added with another eye roll.
"Maybe this'll work out after all," Walter said, rubbing his hands together.
Michael looked up. He placed the woman standing in his door, waiting for his acknowledgment of her presence, at about twenty-three years old. Though she was slouching against the doorframe, he put her at just above average height for a woman. Her dark hair, dark eyes, and golden tan so late in the season suggested that she was of either Latin or Mediterranean origin. If he remembered right there was a curl to her hair – the kind that seemed to gain volume with handling. He'd spoken to her a few days ago.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
She took it upon herself to step inside. "Mind if I talk to you? No," she said, shaking her head. "Don't answer that. You'll say no. Which wouldn't help me. So…are you busy?"
Tempting as it was to say yes, and true though it may have technically been, Michael knew that he wasn't busy enough. "No."
"Good. I can have a seat then," she said helping herself to the guest chair. It had only just been brought in by Acquisitions that morning. He'd only just gotten the office a few days before—
Michael's mind split around that thought, like water around a submerged rock, and converged on the woman in front of him. Amala? he wondered. He must have said it aloud because she was shaking her head. "-mana. Not -mala. Amana."
He felt compelled to incline his head toward her, to acknowledge her correct name. Then he discarded it. Useless. A waste of time. "What do you want, Amana?"
"I can see you're big on preambles," she said to her blunt fingernails, playing with her feet. The words should have come out as biting or sarcastic. Michael detected only nervousness and some fear.
"Look," she began again, raising her eyes to meet his, "Walter asked me to ask you if you're all right. Okay so…" she shook her head, "not like that. I think he was looking for a little, a lot, more finesse. Some subtlety, sure. I'm also pretty sure he didn't even mean for me to ask you." Her eyes dropped down to her short fingernails. She toyed with what was left of them. "Subtlety is not my thing. At all."
Eyes raised and dropped again. "Madeline says I'm bright and all but that that's not good enough."
He may as well have not said anything, because she kept going: "That if I keep it up I'll stay a Field Operative for the rest of my unfortunately short life." Eyes narrowed as she remembered, Amana nodded to herself. "Yeah, I think those were her words exactly – 'unfortunately short life.' Anyway…" She shook herself. "It prompted me to do some research on the lifespan of a Field Op. Two months to two years. Post training of course. But—"
"I may not be occupied at the moment," he said breaking in, "but I have other things to do. What did you want?"
She seemed startled at first, as if she too had forgotten her purpose. "Oh. Yeah. That. I mentioned it before, remember? Walter wanted me to find out how you are. Y'know, considering. And I think I was supposed to be covert about it, but I do covert about as well as you do preambles." Sitting back in her chair, regarding him from lowered lashes, with her head tilted to one side, Michael wondered at the change in demeanor. Had something he'd said or done put her more at ease? Perhaps because he'd allowed her to ramble on without interruption. Something to correct in the future.
He realized then that she was waiting for his answer. "I would think that Walter has more important things to do than to worry about me."
Shrugging she said, in agreement, "So would I, but he did ask and he's going to want to know what I found out."
Ready to put the whole, strange, conversation out of his mind, Michael picked up a sheaf of papers and began quickly scanning them. "Tell him whatever you'd like."
She made a brief, annoyed, sound. "I'm sure those instructions would be enough to send anyone else scurrying out your door, but that won't work for me. Not that I wouldn't like to go. I have the distinct impression that breathing—"
"The point, Amana."
"Right. If you don't give me an answer to give to Walter then I'm going to be my straight forth, outspoken self and give him my opinion," she calmly explained. "It's not a very rosy opinion. It's actually a shaking in—"
"Tell him that I'm fine."
"That you're fine?"
Michael looked up at her from the paperwork.
"Right, that you're fine." She stood. "Got it."
Turning back to the papers in hand, he watched surreptitiously as she smoothed curls behind her ears and ran a hand over her hair. "Thank you for your time, Michael. I'm sure it was trying," she said as she stood.
She paused and turned around. Hands behind her back, feet shoulder-width apart, she would have been ready for military inspection if not for her black and grey motorcycle jacket, grey T-shirt and blue jeans. "Yes, Michael?"
"Take this report to Madeline?" he said extricating a stapled set of papers and quickly scribbling out a note.
"Requesting my cancellation? And though it seems unlikely, cancellation's only the second most likely cause of death for Field…" she trailed off as he looked up, stapled report in hand. "Right." She nodded.
At the door, she paused. "I'm sorry about Simone. I know—"
Her shoulders ache from holding her hands up in surrender. Her knees ache from being on the cold concrete. Her arms burn from the strain. If she looks up she will see the world taking on a sharpened reality as endorphins are dropped into her system to compensate for the extended pain. As her breathing begins to synchronize with her captor's she changes her focus to these things: the aching knees, the aching shoulders. And so it is still with a distant ear that she hears: "Did you hear me?"
Tired, beat up, a little bloody and more than a little smelly, Amana knew that Walter – who had met the returning team at the airlock – wasn't talking about the experimental sights he'd put on her and Thorne's rifles. At least that wasn't all he was talking about.
"Need some more research Walter. And sleep."
"And debrief," Thorne called out as he trudged wearily past them.
"Mmm, that too."
He saw her fidgeting on her feet, waiting for something from Birkoff, as he passed Central. He watched Birkoff turn to look at her over his shoulder and speak. She stopped fidgeting.
As they moved out of his peripheral vision he saw that she was in motion again.
Michael wondered what she'd told Walter.
"Don't you ever stop moving?"
Amana paused midway through rocking on the balls of her feet. She lowered herself slowly. "Just when I'm on a mission," she drawled.
"Well let's pretend it's one of those."
"If you'd get me the information little bit sooner, Birkoff, then you could get rid of me."
He snorted. "Trust me. I'm working on it." He deigned to glance up and over his shoulder at her. "This isn't exactly common knowledge you're looking for, Amana."
"I know," she said, slowing swaying from left to right.
"Why couldn't Walter just ask for this himself?"
Amana was certain that the bespectacled genius wasn't talking to her, but that didn't stop her from saying, "He probably wanted deniability. Field Ops are a dime a doz. I get found out with something I shouldn't…Operations will either chalk it up to curiosity and have me reprimanded or just have me shot between the eyes. If Walter gets caught with some—"
"It was a rhetorical question."
Shaking his head, Birkoff spun around in his chair, a mini-disc held out between two fingers. Amana turned her head slowly, the angle sharp, first to the left then to the right, cracking the bones. She took the disc. "Thanks."
Walter watched Amana over the rim of his stark white coffee cup wondering if he was seeing a true reflection of her personality in the set of her dark eyes and the tension in the fingers holding her own stark white cup. In his limited dealing with her, he had seen many faces of her personality. She could be flighty, impetuous and mouthy…quiet, calm and considerate. He wasn't sure yet if one character set was a cover for the other, or if she was simply a complex person. Walter was hoping it was the latter. There were too many cookie cutter operatives in Section in his opinion. Not enough life.
"Like I said, he says he's fine," she said, fingers tightening on the handle of her cup. "Or, not really. He did tell me to get out."
Walter's eyebrows rose. "And why was that, Sugar?"
"I mentioned Simone—"
He groaned. "What are you, nuts?! She's only been dead a few months."
"I was offering condolences!" she said quickly. Realizing just how loud that was considering the paucity of people, she gave the cafeteria an appraising visual sweep. There were four other operatives, not including various service people, scattered across the room.
Walter smiled. "Don't worry, Sugar. Nothin' you said should raise any flags."
She snorted. "Call me paranoid." Sighing she went on: "Anyway I didn't get anything useful out of my encounter with him which I'm sorry for."
Shrugging, Walter said, "Not your fault. Michael's good people. Or he was until Simone was lost in that mission."
"So I hear from the ops I've been sounding out. That Michael was a decent guy, a good leader but after that…" Amana shook her head. "I bet there's no chance of getting Madeline and Operations to give him some down time to deal with his grief."
"Ha! They weren't exactly set on the marriage in the first place."
"I see." Her eyes narrowed. "I don't like mysteries, Walter. I don't like closed doors. I'm like a cat. I keep trying until the door swings open."
It happened so fast.
One moment she was driving down the deserted suburban street, glancing over into the passenger seat looking for a rubber band to pull her curling hair out of her face. The next moment a small child was running in front of her car.
She slammed on the breaks so hard she was shocked the airbags didn't activate. Her heart, on the other hand, was doing it's level best to climb out of her chest. Perhaps to see if she had hit the child? Well she could help it along.
Get a grip, Amana. Can't lose it now, especially if that kid needs a doctor, that always composed, always calm part of herself told her as a string of curses and prayers came spilling from lips. With trembling hands she tried to undo her seatbelt only to find that she was shaking too much. "Ai Dios Mio!" One jerk short of whipping out her sidearm and shooting the thing it released.
She was out of the car and around the front almost before she knew that she was free.
The child was still standing in front of the car, staring at it with the large doe eyes of the young. Clearly she wasn't the only one feeling a bit shocky. Crouching next to him, she gently took his narrow little shoulders and turned him toward. "Are you okay, Papi?" she asked him, her voice hoarse with both emotion and the lingering effects of a cold.
He stared at her with those wide eyes, blinked, then flung himself into her arms wailing to the high heavens. Unprepared, she nearly fell on her rear but caught herself with one hand on the car bumper. "Ai, bendito, it's okay. Shh, papi," she soothed, steadying herself enough to stand with him in her arms.
One hand on his back, the other stroking his hair, she settled him on her hip and turned in a slow circle next to the car. "Where do you live, mijo? Can you tell me where you live?" she asked though she wasn't sure he was old enough to say more than a few words. She even repeated the question in Spanish.
He sobbed against her neck.
"Okay. We'll see who looks like they've lost a kid. Somebody's got to notice you're gone by now." Shifting him a bit in her arms, she walked back to the car and locked the door, only mildly wondering when she'd had the sense to grab the keys out of the engine.
A sudden wind blew her hair around her head and, likely, into the boy's eyes.
She whirled around. Hair blew in her face.
He can see her clearly through the gun-sight. He can hear every word she speaks, or doesn't speak, through his comm. He can hear the things her captor says as well, though distantly. "I heard you," he hears her say.
Michael hadn't known time could stop utterly – not like this. Not leaving this feeling that he had lost his self and yet would have to live in the hulking mass of his body, missing it forever.
And then he'd heard the wail.
And he'd run around the front of the house.
And there he'd seen his son in the arms of a stranger.
He didn't remember yelling Adam's name, but he could only reason that he'd said something because the boy looked up just as the stranger turned with him in her arms – a woman of above average height, below-the-shoulder hair whipping about in the breeze of the unseasonably humid Spring afternoon. "Adam," he repeated, jogging toward them.
The boy twisted in the woman's arms. She obliged by dropping to one knee and releasing him. Scooping him up, Michael buried his face in the boy's longish hair feeling as if he'd regained something lost…something he hadn't realized he could lose.
It felt like a hand pulled his head back by the hair to make him look at the stranger. To thank her. Adam's short, sharp baby nails digging into his neck further served to ground him. "Merc—" Michael stopped himself, realizing that he'd been going on in French and that they were in England.
"Thank you," he said thickly. "Thank you for saving my son."
Every instinct snapped into red. "You know my name."
She had pulled her car over and was waiting inside when he came back out. He hadn't thought that she literally would not move when, arms wrapped tight around his son, he'd ordered her not to – but he hadn't actually thought she'd stay in the near vicinity either. Putting Adam down for a much needed nap, Michael had already been running scenarios to control the damage. The easiest would have been to simply call Section and report that his blood cover had been blown. It wouldn't have mattered where she'd gone, it wouldn't have mattered if she stayed. At some point in the very near future Amana would have been picked up and cancelled. And his cover would be safe.
Standing on the front lawn, he didn't know why he hadn't done just that.
"Look at me, Amana."
She picked her head up from the steering wheel and looked at him, crouched by her window. "You're not going to kill me," she said with the same calm certainty with which she'd said his name moments ago. "You live in this neighborhood, your s-son is in that house… There's no secure place for you to get rid of me."
"I'm not going to kill you."
"You're going to have Section cancel me."
"I've thought about it."
She turned to look out her windshield and nodded.
"Park the car, Amana. Come inside. We're attracting attention." She nodded again, putting her car in gear.
Inside he felt her eyes following him as he moved around the kitchen while she sat at one end of the oblong blond wood table. He asked her what she wanted and she answered. The tray was set between them and he took his seat. "How did you find this place?"
"Preamble." Lifting her cup from the tray, she added a small plethora of miniature marshmallows, cream and cinnamon to the hot chocolate she'd asked for. Michael had the feeling that she thought this might be her last meal. He wasn't sure that it wouldn't be.
"Remember, last winter, when I came to see you. After…"
His coffee lay untouched as he watched her. Waiting.
"Well, you know I wasn't exactly satisfied with your answer. Neither was Walter. Not that he has anything to do with this," she added quickly. She sipped her chocolate. "I…don't like secrets. Half of what got me in Sec—" Michael watched tension pass across her face.
"I made you my personal project," she continued, "finding out what was going on. So I got Birkoff to give me your information. Where your offsite quarters are. And I went there. I thought you'd…" She shrugged. "…be more relaxed in your own setting. But you were never there. So I followed you. Or I tried to," she said, an exasperated breath puffing hair out of her face. "I've been tracking you since…the day after I confronted you in your office.
"And this… This was an accident."
"How do you mean?" he asked her finally, hands hovering outside the coffee mug. They were still unreasonably cold. It was all he could do not to raise them to his face, his neck – also cold.
She put her matching mug down, self-consciously licking her upper lip. "I didn't mean to make contact. When you were never home I just assumed that you were at a bar somewhere drowning your sorrows – or perhaps several different bars. Or maybe enjoying the company of a good prostitute. I didn't particularly care, I just wanted to be able to give Walter a satisfactory report. You're a real hard guy to track, you know."
Michael ignored that last bit, focusing instead on: "Why did you feel compelled 'to give Walter a satisfactory report?'"
Shrugging, she said, "Because Walter took it upon himself to bothered about me when I got out of training, so now I'm taking it upon myself to be bothered with you on his behalf."
"What else did you mean about 'accident?'"
He watched her mentally backtrack, mug halfway to her mouth. Then she nodded, took a sip, and began speaking: "I was literally just driving through the neighborhood. I'm just coming from an appointment in town. When I mentioned that I'd gotten completely turned around last time the secretary gave me directions. Through here. I didn't mean to nearly hit him. Adam. That's what the baby's name isn't it? He just…sort of appeared." There was a certain bleakness around her eyes. Michael ignored that too.
"Did you know he was my son?"
"I didn't know you were allowed to have a family in Section, let alone a son. But he's too old—"
"Why didn't you drive off when I went inside?"
Had she been standing she might have stumbled, he thought, but as it was she managed to jump mental tracks with him. "Like I said in the car, you weren't going to kill me. Not here at least."
He let the look on his face ask the question.
"Because either this is your family that you're keeping secret from Section and so you wouldn't want to draw attention to it in any way, or this is your family that…" Michael watched the mental balking, watched her force herself to acknowledge strange possibilities. "…Section is keeping secret…from everyone else? And they wouldn't want any more attention drawn to your situation than you would. Although I suppose this could be a mission and Adam isn't really yours."
"You don't believe that," he said. From her quick glance into her cup he knew he'd read her correctly. "Why not?"
Still looking down into the cup, she slowly shook her head. "That wasn't Michael the Operative that shouted for that boy or ran out into the street to snatch him up. You weren't… You'd dropped into French when you picked him up. Same as I'd dropped into Spanish when I thought I'd hit him."
Reaching across the table, he lightly grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger and lifted her head. He turned her head left then right. "You've lost a child?"
"I'd rather not talk about it," she said, pulling herself from his fingertips.
It was in him to slam his coffee cup on the table and demand that she would talk about it. Nine years of discipline nearly out the door.
"You didn't answer my question," he said instead.
The look of bleakness was back around her eyes, quickly smoothed over when she noticed that he had seen it. "Which question? About why I didn't drive off?" At his nod she said, "I did answered that one. I'm safer here with you. You won't kill me here, lest you draw attention to yourself. Whether you're avoiding that for personal reasons or because Section is behind this…" She shrugged. "I figured I'd be safe until I was a few miles out of the village.
"Just because the court's official ruling was that I'm psychotic doesn't mean I have a death wish," she added sardonically.
They fell into tense silence. She scooped a spoonful of mini-marshmallows into her hand, carefully avoiding Michael's eyes, and began to eat them. His coffee had cooled sufficiently for him to drink comfortably. And he watched her.
"Did Simone know," she said, meeting his eyes finally. "About your son. And wife."
He held her eyes and let the silence persist. When he felt her about to waver, he took a breath. "Yes."
"And she was o—"
"You ask too many questions," he rasped, setting his cup down.
She nodded. "I should probably go." Standing in the doorway she asked: "Did you call anyone? Section?"
"Would you believe me if I said no?"
"Get in your car, Amana."
"Michael… Michael…? Michael where are— Oh!" Elena pressed her hand to her heart, nervous laughter bubbling up as Michael came silently around a corner. Her hands were warm, pressed against his chest as his arms encircled her waist, and her laughter breathy against his neck. "Sometimes I think I should put a bell on you. Now I know where Adam gets it." Her arms snaked up and around his neck. She tugged him close, fingers threading through his hair.
Michael brushed his lips across hers. "Welcome home."
Her smile was wide and bright, lighting her eyes as he answered her smile with one of his own. "How was it? Watching him."
"Good. There's something—"
"Who was the woman you were talking to? The woman who left in that blue car?" she asked casually, turning out of Michael's arms.
He caught her at the elbow, his hand trailing down her arm until he had her hand in his. "I have to tell you something."
She was looking down at their joined hands, so it was possible that he missed her rapid blinking or her sudden rush of nervous heat. It was possible. She looked up, eyebrows arching delicately. "Oh?"
"Come," he beckoned, his face open and mild as he led her out of their foyer and back toward the bedrooms.
"Just to see Adam."
"I'll see him in a moment. I want to know—"
"This will only take a moment." He turned and looked as they neared their son's room. "I promise."
Elena rolled her eyes. "You're being strange, you know."
"You love me anyway."
"Going to hold that against me forever, are you?"
He winked. She laughed and wondered why she worried.
Michael pushed open the door to Adam's room, simultaneously releasing Elena's hand. As if moving in a dream, she drifted from the hallway into the room and toward the crib. "Michael, he's dirty."
"I didn't have a chance to change him," he was saying as he once again caught her hand, pulling her toward the hall.
"After all of that, I just get to see that my son is sleeping in his dirty play clothes and then you want me away?"
"Yes," he said and there was a smile in his voice. Outside in the hall he said, "I have to talk to you."
"What about?" she asked with only thinly veiled wariness.
His arms once again slipped around her waist. From his superior height he looked down on her, catching her eyes and attention. "While I was outside with Adam, I received a call," Michael told her softly as if whispering a secret. "He was in his jumper so I thought little of leaving him outside. I had not planned to be on the phone very long."
"Michael I don't—"
"Somehow Adam managed to slip his holder. He ran out of the backyard and into the street."
Her eyes widened with terror. "Is he—"
He caressed her hair. "That's why I wanted you to see him first before I explained. The woman you saw nearly hit him, but she stopped her car in time. I came out only a moment later. If she hadn't stopped I would have…" His voice cracked. "I would have seen the accident and been too far away…to do anything."
"But she stopped," Elena said with restrained fervency.
Michael nodded. "She got out of her car, picked up Adam and began looking for me. For someone. I told you I came out a moment after it happened. I invited her inside when it was clear that she was as badly shaken as I."
"And Adam's all right?"
"He was frightened, but he is fine. He fell asleep almost in my arms."
"And the woman?"
"I gave her some of your hot chocolate. We sat and talked about…nothing for a little while, then we sat in silence for a little while longer."
"Did you thank her."
"Well, in the heat of the moment you may have forgotten," she reasoned with her husband as she relaxed into his arms. "Did you even get her name?"
Michael shook his head, then said, "No, I didn't," when he realized Elena could no longer see is head. "I was just so happy—"
"Of course," she cut in quickly, "I completely understand. And you are a man," she added, smiling against his chest. "You don't think of details like that."
He made a rude, very French, sound and she laughed.
Her hands tightened convulsively on his biceps. "What if she hadn't stopped. Michael? What if she hadn't stopped?"
"Even if she only tapped him. He's still a baby, Michael. And he's walking so early and—"
Michael ran his hands slowly up and down her back. "I know, Elena."
"What would we have done?" Her jaw clenched and she choked out, "I love him more than myself, Michael…"
"And you…I don't know if you could survive losing him."
"Shh, Elena, he's all right."
"Not so soon after losing your sister. Michael what—"
But his arms tightened around her and he was bending down to kiss her. Kiss her and the salty tears she cried for him.