Disclaimer: I do not own G. I. Joe, nor any trademark names in this story. I do own Megan Catrenski and any OCs that may appear, unless stated otherwise.


EPILOGUE

Hawk waited until the end of my debriefing to tackle me.

I was exhausted. It had been a big day, and he, Duke and Stalker had been very thorough in their questions. I was ready for bed, but now Hawk was asking for privacy from the other two men, and they were leaving the office. It was suddenly very, very quiet in there. The clock ticking on the wall sounded very loud in the silence.

"A Viper defected while you were away," Hawk said conversationally. I smiled briefly. I could still remember the temper-tantrum Cobra Commander had thrown when he had heard the news. I had had the good fortune to be within earshot: I had laughed so hard I nearly ruptured something. He had been a step away from collapsing to the ground and drumming his hands and fists against the floor. "He told us that you joined Cobra to kill a man named Dermish," Hawk continued.

I looked at the clock and nodded. "That's the cover story I used," I murmured.

He swept on, ignoring me. "That was apparently a very convincing cover story. In fact, so convincing, that it made me wonder about your reaction when I showed you Dermish's picture six months ago. There had been something off, you understand. Nothing obvious, but clearly something had affected you. To be honest, I thought it was just stress about your first field assignment going wrong."

I nodded again. Hawk saw too damned much.

"Cheshire, who is Dermish?"

The clock ticked in the silence. I didn't answer.

"We ran the most comprehensive search we could, and we didn't find him under that name. We found him under the name Alan Renard. Romalian father, American mother, six big brothers who all grew up in Romalia. He abandoned that persona ten years ago, though."

I nodded again, not trusting myself to speak. The clock's hands were moving so very slowly.

"Cheshire," he leaned forwards, real concern etched on his face, "Megan, who is Renard?"

The minute hand jerked around the face of the clock. I felt like I was barely breathing, but this question had to be asked, and out of everyone in the entire world, Hawk was probably the one I would answer it honestly for. I felt a stir of sudden misgiving. Why did I trust him so much?

"Why did you hire me?" I asked abruptly.

"Because I heard you were excellent at what you did." He smiled slightly. "I didn't hire you out of guilt for getting you kidnapped, Cheshire. I heard you were good, and had you down here, and you were as good as they said." He leaned back in his chair. "I'll admit, I wasn't impressed by Duke's initial account, but I was impressed by the way the others described you during the rescue mission. You didn't lose your head."

"I spent a lot of time putting it back together fifteen years ago. I wasn't going to throw it away because some idiot in a mask snatched me."

"Which segues neatly into my next question, or rather, my first question. Who is Renard to you?" He paused, then added, "Cheshire, I can't trust you without knowing this."

The clock hand kept moving. The silence returned. I enjoyed it for a moment, then took a deep breath. "I haven't told anyone this, ever. If I tell you now, I want you to promise that I'm only doing it to save my place as a Joe. I don't want to be satisfying your sense of curiosity."

"You have my word that if this story doesn't answer all of my questions, and reassure my doubts, you'll be out on the streets in no time," Hawk told me seriously. He wasn't kidding.

That was fair enough. He deserved the truth. The other Joes did too, I suppose, but I wasn't going to give it to them. If I stayed, then I might tell them that I really had planned to kill Renard. But I wouldn't tell them why.

Everyone has secrets. Some keep them better than others, some keep them poorly, some keep them so well that you don't even know that there is a secret involved. I was one of the third category. I had been since I was ten. I planned to be for the rest of my life.

With the exception of Hawk – and probably, after he heard exactly how messed up I was, he would feel the need to involve Psyche-Out too – I would never tell this story again.

Never.


The Interrogator entered the cell, looking at the man tied down there. His face was battered and bruised – apparently the Dreadnoks who had finally laid hands on him hadn't done it gently. He was also gagged.

The Interrogator leaned forwards and removed the gag. "You are Dermish," he said.

The man stared at him, and nodded. "I was."

"You have agreed to the Commander's terms?"

"I have."

The words sealed a deal that had been two days in the making. Though Cobra had dictated the majority of the terms, Dermish had proven himself to be no light-weight when it came to using the intelligence and skills that he possessed to polish the deal to his advantage. The Interrogator inclined his head once, paying tribute to that. "What name do you choose?"

"Crystal Ball."

The Interrogator may have smiled. "How fitting."

THE END (For now)