Title: Such a Place
Series: One Line (3/26)
Characters: Michael, Jurgen, OC
Summary: It hadn't taken long to discover that he had that effect on people: that in his presence others felt a distinct need to please… He had, quite simply, charisma.
Word Count: 2,868
Disclaimer: I don't know you, you don't know me. Let's keep it that way.
Author's Note: This was originally written for the fanfic100 challenge on livejournal.
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.
Such a Place
Part three of the One Line series.
Looking up from her paperwork – there was always too much paperwork – the corners of Elsa Perlov's mouth twitched. If it had been someone else going through the knickknacks in her office she probably would have smiled, even if she knew it would annoy them. But Michael was usually too serious to make it any fun.
He picked up the crystal bell she'd gotten in Prague but was careful not to let it ring. Not usual. Her collection of Irish pottery miniatures were next. Then the double-line of elephants, Asian and African, collected from around the world. She was oddly pleased to see him studying the one she'd gotten in Delhi longest. It hadn't taken long to discover that he had that effect on people: that in his presence others felt a distinct need to please, to be in agreement with him – or, at least, to not disagree with him. He had, quite simply, charisma. And quite a bit of it.
Elsa had known more than a few compelling personalities in her two lines of work. According to twelve men and women, she was in possession of one herself. It had been a long time since she had actually been affected by one however – never by her material. But Michael could, did, on a regular basis.
"That one's my favorite, too," she said, smiling.
He glanced up and over at her. He carefully put the elephant back down, out of place.
He turned away.
Ah…so he'd finally worked up the chutzpah to ask her. Elsa smiled to herself, dropping her eyes to the papers loose along the open file. This always happened eventually, though with him…longer than she'd expected.
"How did you come to be in Section?"
She looked up. Straight to the jugular, that was her Michael. Elsa resisted the urge to divulge everything – his charm was just that compulsive – and settled on her standard, short-form version of the truth: "I was a social worker."
His head shot around. He blinked at her. He was very good at that. If he was to move up in their world, however, he would have to learn to stop blinking. "I don't understand."
"I was a social worker," she repeated, humor lacing her voice. "I worked with people and their problems."
"And…now you still work with people."
"And their problems."
Spreading her palms face up across her desk – careful to avoid the precarious placement of the loose papers – Elsa offered him a conciliatory smile. "Your problems are Section's problems, Michael."
He made a very Gallic sound and turned back to her knickknacks.
She restrained a laugh.
In his hand was a fine lace glove – no knickknack, it was a keepsake from a sister who had died from influenza, of all things, when they were children. When she held out her hand for it she knew that she had made a mistake. The calculation in his eyes was naked. Then it was gone. He handed her the glove. Sighing inwardly Elsa comforted herself with the knowledge that it likely wouldn't be an issue for much longer. And if things didn't work out... Well, Field Ops had a notoriously short shelf-life.
"So, if you're here to answer our problems why aren't you…" He seemed to think on it for a moment as he turned back to her collection, but Elsa knew that Michael was already three steps ahead of this moment. Another questionable quality in a Field Op. "…one of the psychologists?"
"Why do you think?"
That coaxed another Gallic snort. It might have even been laughter. "To manage us better?"
Elsa shrugged with one shoulder, going back to her work. "Sounds like a good reason to me."
"Is that why?"
"So many questions, Michael," she said to the tri-fold file open before her.
"Will you answer me?"
"I did answer you."
Lowering himself into the chair across from her glass desk, he made a rude sound. "A straightforward answer, Elsa."
She smiled into her work. With one hand she pushed back steely hair, with the other she flipped through the file. "This is Section, Michael. Why learn through honesty what you can learn by deception?"
Which garnered a short laugh. She saw him slide down in the chair with the upper edge of her vision and knew that he was gnawing on a thumbnail. It was a bad habit that had the nails on both thumbs down to the skin. She was surprised he hadn't—
Ah, yes, feet up on the glass desk.
The change was going to be harsh for him. But, if she could make it work, if she could make it work, it would be for the best. For him. For Section. But it would be perfect.
Making her final notation, Elsa closed the tri-fold file and pulled herself together. "Well you relax there if you want."
"Don't we have a mission tonight?"
Elsa nodded. "Six of us are going to be supporting Kimmich. Don't worry, I'll be back in time," she said as she swept his feet off her desk. Lips quirking, he took that as his cue to stand. Unless he returned after she was gone, Elsa had never seen Michael stay behind though her office was, literally, open to anyone.
Jurgen offered Elsa a warm smile as she set down her tray. "For me?" he asked, eyebrows up as she handed him a long tri-fold file.
"I thought you might want to have a point of reference," she said, seating herself.
"You know I'd like to know what, or who, you wanted to see me about some time before I go old and gray. Oh but I'm already going gray," he said softly.
"You mean be straightforward?"
"Jurgen, really. How could you suggest such a thing?"
He snorted. "Obviously you've been in the Section too long."
"And you haven't been here long enough." She jerked her head in his general direction. "Take a look at the file while I have lunch and then you can tell me what you think."
"Aren't you going out with Kimmich later."
"Mm hmm," she said around a mouthful of chicken tikka. She pointed with her fork. "Read."
Forty-five minutes later Elsa was warming her hands on her coffee mug, watching Jurgen as he studied the file and her loose notes. Her eyes passed quickly out over the cafeteria. Though there was a good crowd, she and Jurgen were ringed by empty tables on three sides with a wall at their back. Two senior operatives eating together? Elsa could understand the wariness.
"So… What do you think?" she asked, finally.
Jurgen looked up at her, set down the file and frowned. "I think I need a new cup," he said, transferring his frown to his coffee.
Elsa quirked an eyebrow at him.
"I also think he shouldn't have ever been given to you. Not even as primary material. No offense."
She lifted her cup. "None taken. He shouldn't have been placed as a Field Operative in the first place."
"I agree. But you can see why—"
"From the history and psych profile." She nodded.
"Yeah. Except they got his measure all wrong. All wrong." Jurgen picked up the file. "A long history of dissidence…banned from every school in his district because he had an 'inclination to start riots.' Never held a job for more than a few months for similar reasons. Hothead. Not usually the kind of person you want as a Cold Op."
"Too unpredictable, I know. Field Ops get a shorter leash."
"They're chained to the pole."
Elsa grinned. "Only if it comes to that."
"Which you'd think it would with this guy. But it never has?"
She shook her head. "Not even close. Don't get me wrong, there's a temper and an attitude I could do without, but that's lots of Field Ops. It's nothing I can't handle."
"It's just everything else," Jurgen said, studying a loose piece of paper. Elsa recognized it as one of her notes, as she repeated, "It's just everything else."
Jurgen murmured, "He's got a lot of potential. And it's all going to waste on you. Again no—"
"None taken, Jurgen. Look, do you agree with me that if something isn't done soon this whole thing is going to blow up in Section's face? All those 'incites riots'…pure force of personality. How many people, man or woman, do you know who can start a fight with three other people over some girl and end up with half a neighborhood backing him? Who manage to avoid jail time for as long as he did, all things considered. A common thug?" Elsa snorted.
"I'm with you on this, Els. There's a lot of raw, undisciplined ability that needs some place to go. And with you isn't it."
"But you think that as a Cold Op—"
"He'll get that discipline."
Jurgen sat back in his chair. "I don't know, Els."
"Not just anyone's material, Jurgen. Yours. It's just like you said: Raw. Undisciplined. Full of wasted potential. You've got the military background necessary to not just bend him to Section's will but to break him and reshape if that's what needs doing. And I think at this point that is exactly what he needs."
"Too soft on him, Elsa?"
She laughed, setting down her now-cold coffee. "Absolutely! For him at least. A 'common thug' I can deal with. Utter putty in my hands. But he is more than a thug or criminal. There is a supple mind in there that he is has been hiding extraordinarily well." Another, softer, smile came over her. "Nor am I immune to his charm. Which is—"
"Very. For both of us. I can't hop to his subtly plied commands and nor can he expect me to. Not as a Field Op, at least. But in a Cold Op…"
Jurgen nodded. "It's a different story."
"Completely different story. Now if I want to make him into a good Field Op, then that's something I've got to squash."
"But you wouldn't do that with a Cold Op."
Elsa shook her head. "No. You wouldn't."
"You'd nurture it," he continued. "Channel it. Teach him how to make that charisma work for him, and how it could work against him. But you wouldn't kill it. Give it an on/off switch maybe."
Elsa snorted, smiling. "No maybes with this one. You want him to turn that thing off, even if you'd be immune, Jurgen. You don't want him undermining power from the bottom. Imagine the kind of damage he could do if he got in good with R and D. He's nearly Level Two, Jurgen. Or he would be if he weren't a Field Op."
"But he's only been with us three years."
"Exactly my point. He's gunning for your record."
Letting his head drop back, Jurgen closed his eyes. "I was hoping you'd have something nice to tell me, Els, like you were inviting me to your house for dinner."
"I don't cook."
"No, but I love your pies."
"You don't think this is good news, Jurgen?"
He passed a hand over his face and sat up. "Still have to convince Operations and Madeline to switch his designation. The psych profile clearly puts him as Field Op."
"Madeline trusts me as much as she trusts anyone. If I say he ought to be moved, she'll look at his file again."
"Will fall into place if you say that you think he should be switched over."
Sitting up, he looked her in the eye. "Is that the real reason why you want me to take him on?"
"I already told you the real reason, Jurgen. You're the best man for the job. If I had to feed parameters into a computer, trust me, yours would be the name it would give me. So…"
"If Operations and Madeline agree to change his status will you take him on?"
Turning the tri-fold file back in on itself, Jurgen said, "The change is going to be brutal."
"That's what I'm going for."
Elsa stopped making moon eyes at Walter and turned to her material. "Excuse me?"
Standing well within her personal space, Michael said again, softly, "Statutory rape."
"Yes, I heard you the first time. Are you going to clarify that for me before or after the mission?"
"You. You were arrested for statutory and then Section One picked you up."
Elsa smiled at him, pleased. "Very good. And how did you find that out?"
"From that kid down at comm."
"From that kid…?" Elsa looked at him strangely before it all clicked. "Oh! Seymour Birkoff. How did you convince him to give you access to my file? Or did he just look up the information for you? He seemed rather introverted to me. I never imagined him as a security—"
"I threatened him." At her wide-eyed disbelief he said, "It was faster."
Groaning softly – "Poor Birkoff" – Elsa made a mental note to have someone look into giving the kid more self-defense and psychological trainings. Clearly he was still a lamb among wolves despite whatever training he had already been through. Perhaps Walter? He seemed to have taken a liking to the boy.
"Is it true?"
"You don't really mean that, Michael. You don't honestly think my file, sealed and coded against casual inspection, is lying. Do you?"
He stared at her, anger making his eyes hard.
"Well, since you brought it up, here's an impromptu lesson for you: Never look up or get involved with anything emotionally charged just before a mission. It's distracting."
Elsa smiled, cheekily. "That's my Michael. Come, we're going to be the late for Kimmich's last debrief." She pushed past him. He caught her upper arm tight in his hand. The stillness hummed like a razor in the moment before he said, "Why?"
"That's not a conversation for right now, Michael. We're going to be late. Let go of my arm."
Another mistake, and she knew it even as the words tripped out of her mouth. With a final squeeze he let her go and followed her out of the weapons locker.
Michael looked up from his toes, flexed, to his mentor as he moved to stretch in the other direction. Her steel gray hair, the long lithe dancer's body, the warm brown eyes didn't hint at her past. She was warm and inviting, understanding and compassionate, strict but without being domineering. There was no one in her roster that did not look up to her or trust her. He wondered how that would all change if he told them what he knew.
Michael had been sitting on the secret for three days. Three long days. He was just itching to tell someone, but…there was no one else to tell. No one it wouldn't hurt. That kid already knew. Walter had been part of Section so long there was no way he didn't know. The same had to be true of Madeline and Operations – not that he would approach them if he could avoid it. Who else was left? Another senior op? One of the other Field Ops?
It was the Field Ops he was itching to tell, particularly those under Elsa. They deserved to know. But he didn't want to be the one to shake their faith in her. In a place where it seemed like no one mattered to anyone but themselves, Elsa bothered to care. Michael had found it mothering and cloying but…
The weight of the secret hurt. It wasn't like all the other things he kept to himself. This was two-edged – dangerous on both sides. And he resented her for making him keep it.
Together they stood and went through the series of standing-stretches that signaled the end of their evening workout.
He tossed her a towel when they were done. Elsa handed him a stiff card.
"Your new assignment and passcode. Today was your last day as my material. You, dear boy, are moving on to bigger and better things."
He looked up from the card and into her warm eyes. "Is this—?"
"No." She scrubbed her hair with the towel. "This was in the works even before you went digging. The timing is pure coincidence."
Anyone else he wouldn't have believed. He didn't want to believe her, but, other than keeping herself to herself, Elsa had never lied to him. A small voice told him that he didn't have to worry anymore – the burden of knowledge was lifted now that he was being transferred.
"Cold Op will look good on you, Michael. Trust me."
He followed her almost blindly, reading the small card over and over again, memorizing it, as she crossed the training room to the door. It was her hand on his damp arm that brought him back. "You go that way, Michael, get your things and go back to your room. Tomorrow you start Cold Op training, tonight you have off. And I'll see you around."
She smiled, patted his arm and turned right, crossing him. When Michael looked up again she was gone.