Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed! I truly appreciate every one of them. This is the final chapter. Yes, I am fickle but I AM resolved that this TRULY is the last chapter of an intended short one-shot that spiraled out of control.
Again, thanks! If anyone has suggestions for improvement, I'd certainly be happy to hear them.
Joan strode to Auggie's room, fuming inwardly. Since when was it acceptable to just barge in a private office? She and Arthur might have been discussing secrets or, well, embracing each other tightly.
The tiniest part of her conscious, however, remembered Stephanie and Brad's expressions of chagrin with a hint of smugness. Maybe even enjoyment. Not that she would admit that even to herself.
Really, though, there was no excuse of "inexperience" to justify not knocking on someone's door before barging in. Where were their kindergarten teachers? More importantly, what happened to their parents?
Joan greeted Auggie and settled into a chair. She watched Annie and Sarai from a hacked surveillance feed as they chatted like old friends in a lobby on the ground floor of the Dallas hotel. Occasionally, Annie would move her hand to her face, to scratch her forehead or pull her hair out of her eyes. Each time she did so, a tiny camera embedded in her ring would snap a high-resolution photo of the building's entrance and anyone using said entrance. Hopefully, Annie had been right about the wiretap. If she was, their suspected terrorist had arranged a meeting that day and they could nab any associates.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Joan moved her head slightly in annoyance. Kevin was tapping his fingers on his computer again. Tap. Tappity-tap-tap.
Lovely. He was improvising new rhythms. What a budding musician.
Annie scratched her ear and Joan's gaze flitted over to the entrance. She caught her breath.
She knew that she recognized the man stepping through the doorway. Separated by more than a thousand miles, Joan squinted at the image, heart pounding. She knew him, and for some reason, it seemed critically important that she remember where.
She gritted her teeth. Where had she met him? There was a flash of red hair in the faint memory that swept across her mind. It was her own hair, she remembered. And then the sensation of bright sunshine—
Joan shook her head to clear it. The sunshine—
This was ridiculous. Kevin needed to stop or she just might have to hide his body in a dark alley. She could ask him to stop, but that just seemed petty and degrading for some reason.
She strove in vain to recover the fleeting thought. The red hair, whipped by the wind across her face and the sunlight beating down… And drunk Germans, she remembered, there were a lot of drunk Germans.
That did it!
"Will you stop that?" she snapped with outward irritation that was extremely uncharacteristic.
Kevin jumped and dropped his hands into his lap, flushing and muttering. Annie and Sarai flinched. Auggie blinked rapidly and turned his sightless eyes in Joan's direction with an intensity that made it seem as though he could truly see her.
"Are you okay?" he asked calmly.
If Joan were the type of person to blush, she'd be about as red as a cherry. "Yes," she murmured disgustedly. Where was her self-control today?
"A word to the wise," Auggie said mildly to Kevin, "Don't distract people who are directing a mission. Or Joan, in general. Don't annoy her ever or you might find yourself missing a limb."
"Shut up, Auggie," Joan demanded without any real force, thoroughly irritated with herself.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, falsely contrite.
The red hair, the sun, the drunken Germans…An outdoor café in the heart of Berlin. The man, she remembered suddenly with surprising clarity, was a German national she'd worked with while she was the station chief in Berlin.
He was also a spy.
Which was a problem.
"Get out," Joan ordered quietly but intensely, "get out now."
A single startled glance passed between the two field operatives before they quickly acquiesced. Auggie was already moving up the transportation schedule and coordinating with another department. Only Kevin was foolish—or perhaps naïve—enough to argue.
"Why?" he demanded.
Joan turned to him in shock. "Excuse me?"
He stubbornly held his ground, "The operation is going fine!"
"Perhaps you've missed the memo, Kevin," Auggie gritted out as he continued multi-tasking, "but she outranks you. Now get over here and patch this notice through the main lines because for some reason, I can't seem to see all that well today."
Joan watched Kevin scuttle to do Auggie's bidding, and felt a touch of embarrassment. Auggie was so patient, even after working with the irritating blonde man for a full day already. She took a deep breath, "The reason we need to get out," she explained as patiently as she could, "is that one of the men who just entered is MI-6. Now, he shouldn't be on our soil, but we really shouldn't be on our soil. You don't want your enemy to have leverage against you. We'll send a tip to counterintelligence, they'll source to the FBI and that'll be it."
Kevin nodded sharply, too proud to look her in the face.
Sarai, jogging alongside Annie down a faraway sidewalk couldn't help but join the conversation, "Won't CI ask how we know?"
"No," responded Joan, watching the GPS feed in Annie's phone travel steadily down the street, "They would rather not know."
Several moments passed in relative silence. Annie and Sarai had cleared the area and were speeding away in a chartered taxi.
Joan took advantage of the moment to collect her thoughts. She needed to take control of the situations around her and she needed to do so immediately. No more visible irritation. No more overheard conversations in offices or bathroom stalls. No more permitting disrespect and disagreements.
Infuriatingly enough, the line between let's-be-patient-and-accommodating-for-the-brand-new-employees and you-are-so-out-of-bounds-here-that-it's-ridiculous wasn't as clear as convenience might dictate.
She left Auggie's office and returned to her own, completing some badly-behind work that had been neglected throughout the course of the day.
Some time later, her stomach twisted hungrily, disrupting her concentration as she read through masses of information. She realized suddenly that it was already ten at night. Peering out of her office, she noticed the dimmed lights of the main room and the steady beam still emanating from underneath Auggie's door.
On cue, the sound of running feet skittered through the silence, and Kevin almost smashed into the door in his excitement. Throwing open Joan's door so violently—he too neglected to knock—that the hinges rattled, he babbled almost incoherently.
"Annie, Sarai! They got caught!"
With only a blink to belie her calm façade, she followed quickly after him.
"What happened?" she demanded crisply as she entered Auggie's office.
"I am not sure," he responded, seeming to be everywhere at once as he typed a short note on his computer, spun around to send a fax, spoke to ground support in the area, and traced out possible extraction methods.
"What are we gonna do?" panicked Kevin.
Joan shot him a look.
Auggie continued, "They got picked up by the local police as they approached the airport. My best guess?" He cocked his head slightly to the side, "Information got leaked. Maybe…" he hesitated, "Your MI-6 man?"
"Very well," Joan replied, sitting down in the only other chair and ignoring the not-so-subtle throat clearings made by Kevin to illustrate that she was sitting in his chair.
Sarai and Annie were led to separate holding cells. Auggie, with casual finesse, hacked the monitors that led into each room.
Sarai refused to say a word. She clamped her lips together tightly and asked for a lawyer.
"Good girl," murmured Joan, turning then to watch Annie, who responded to her interrogator's questions with so many of her own that she irritated the man enough to make him storm out of the room.
"They can't keep this up for long," warned Auggie. "The cops will dig up files or post information or… something, and we'll be blown sky-high."
"I know," said Joan quietly, watching the screens intently, "I want to try something…"
"What are you planning?" asked Auggie in a voice so suspicious it was almost sing-songy.
"Get me whoever is in charge down there," she nodded towards the screens with her head, then recollected herself, "I mean, down in that police station," she amended her statement as his sightless eyes glanced warily in her direction.
"Okay," Auggie huffed a sigh.
In moments, the chief of police was glaring bad-temperedly at Joan. "Yes?" he, a dark-haired, clean-shaven man of about forty years, asked, stifling a yawn.
"Good evening," she said politely.
"You too," he muttered disinterestedly. "Can I help you?"
"Yes. I need the two women in holding cells 57 and 63 to be released immediately." She finished with a courteous smile.
"Not a chance," he responded with a contemptuous sneer.
"It is a matter of national security, sir." She kept her polite smile. "In the interest of cooperation between law enforcement agencies, will you please consider releasing them for the public good?" her voice was more than civil, yet there was a hint of determination and undeniable will behind it.
His answer did not bear repeating. When he finished his long string of abuse and profanity, Joan shut her eyes briefly.
"Kevin," she asked suddenly, "Would you please go to Arthur's office and ask him for the file 37728190?"
"Uh, Arthur Campbell?" he asked, taken aback by the request.
"Uh, can I wait until this is over?"
"No. I need it now," she said flatly without looking at him.
Kevin looked as if he were considering mutiny. "Yes ma'am," he muttered under his breath as he left, slamming the door behind him.
A beat later, he popped back in, "What was that number?"
There was silence. "Uh, maybe I could get like a pencil and write this down-"
"Just say that Joan's looking for a file. He'll know." She cut him off and waved a dismissive hand at the door.
"Perhaps I wasn't clear enough, sir," she began again, facing the screen. She spoke quickly and never once took her eyes away from his. By the time Kevin returned, ten minutes later and file in hand, the Dallas police chief had lost all of his arrogance and was several skin tones lighter. His eyes were a little wild and his fingers trembled as he picked up his phone and ordered the two women released.
"I appreciate this," Joan thanked him silkily.
He swallowed and nodded mutely before quickly terminating the connection.
Kevin stared at Joan. "How'd you convince him?" he asked, eyebrows furrowed.
Joan eyed her new operative, one hand on her hip, "I don't think you want to know," she said flatly.
His eyes flicked to Auggie, but he said nothing.
"Why don't you go home?" Joan suggested. "It's late."
"Okay," he said, turning to leave. His voice held none of his earlier bravado.
"I do need that file, though," she reminded him of the stapled manila file he clutched in his hand.
"Oh, uh, right," he pushed it into her hands without looking at her and left.
Auggie smirked as the door shut.
"Yes?" Joan drawled.
"I can just hear the wheels spinning in his head."
"You scared him. He thought he had you pegged, and now he doesn't know what to think."
She chuckled softly, "I don't think he put that much thought into it, Auggie."
"Hey, this guy," he leaned back in his chair and pointed at himself, "was the one who had to spend a whole day with him. More than a day, actually, thanks to my congenial boss. I think I get to call what he's thinking."
She pressed her palms against the desk and leaned on them. "Is that so?"
"Yes," he replied emphatically, "It was an adventure."
"Thank you, Auggie," she said sincerely.
He waved a hand dismissively, "No problem. He's a good guy. He just… needs to be taken down a few notches."
"You think he'll fit in?"
"Yeah. Someday. I mean, I gotta admit, I really dislike training new recruits. Don't get me wrong," he added suddenly, "I understand that we all were there once, we gotta start somewhere, and so on. But really. The gossip, the whining, the utter cluelessness, the egos, the endless comparing of bosses and coworkers, the mob mentality… It never ends."
She smiled. "That's what I complained about all morning."
"Really?" he sounded surprised, "Just in the morning?"
"Well, no… I saw how nice you were to them and felt bad about my cynicism. But now to hear you off on a tangent…"
"Tragedy. Don't let my jaded opinions influence you," he replied drily.
She shook her head, smiling, "Good night."
As she strode away, she could hear him whistling a tune as he turned off his computer for the night. Upon passing through the main room, a flash of light caught her eye. On the floor beside her feet, reflecting the dim light from Auggie's office, lay Conner's admittance badge.
She retrieved it, shaking her head. He did know he needed this insignificant-seeming piece of plastic to enter the building in the morning, yes?
Strongly tempted for an instant to hide the badge where it would never be found, thereby ridding herself at least temporarily of a nuisance, she dropped it off at the deserted security desk and let herself out the front doors.
Very few cars remained in the lot. Arthur's was gone. Annie's remained at the far end of the left parking lot. She and Sarai—poor girls—wouldn't arrive in DC until six the next morning. In the visitor section, one vehicle remained.
She froze in the dark night as she noted a figure sitting inside the car. A moment later, she realized who it was.
Kevin sat hunched over in the driver's seat, with his face upon the steering wheel. He was a ways away from Joan, but not far enough to hide the fact that he was crying.
Well really! After the indignities and inconveniences and embarrassments he had inflicted upon her in the course of a single day! And he was the one crying.
Yet he looked so hopeless and miserable.
She stifled a groan. Taking a half step in his direction, she paused. Perhaps it was best to let him alone tonight. He wouldn't appreciate seeing her. Especially not after a day like today.
With one final glance at his shaking body, she continued towards her car. Maybe he had learned his lesson. Maybe tomorrow he would figure out how to behave. Her stomach twisted in reluctant pity.
Her foot skidded slightly as it encountered an object lying upon the asphalt. She picked up said object.
Brad's admittance badge.
There was only one thing she could think at that moment.
The sun shone brilliantly down upon the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, brightening the spirits of all who saw it. The same sun, however, did not work its magic upon one Joan Campbell. She'd spent a good half of her morning returning admittance badges, smoothing over internal crises, and generally playing the babysitter of the DPD.
And she was not happy.
"Not happy" was in fact an egregious understatement.
She had had the wonderful privilege of speaking with each new officer individually in her office for the purposes of filling out a form that really could have been handled by someone else.
And the experience had been miserable.
Her veteran officers knew the warning signs and stayed far, far away from her office. They averted their eyes as she stalked past, and avoided speaking with her unless it was absolutely imperative.
The new employees noticed the department's change in mood from the previous day. It was now foreboding, as if an unstoppable calamity were about to occur.
Joan stood in a little nook at the back of the break room, pouring herself a cup of lukewarm coffee. Starbuck's line had been about twenty people long all morning, and she could no longer put off the necessary jolt of caffeine.
Brad's voice drifted to her ears from the main break room.
"You think?" Erik asked in disbelief.
This couldn't be happening again… Joan set down her coffee and rubbed her already aching eyes.
"I really do. I could see it in her eyes," a voice that was unmistakably Kevin's grated in her ears.
"Whoa," said Brad.
There was the sound of light footsteps. "What's going on?" Stephanie asked.
Kevin muttered something and Brad snickered. Joan didn't need to know exactly what was said to get the gist of the message.
She had come to work resolved to put an end to the foolishness of the past day. And, whatever the cost, she would do so.
Stepping out of the nook and calmly stirring her coffee, she eyed the little group standing next to the door. Kevin and Brad had their backs to her, while Stephanie and Enrick completed the little circle, focusing so intently on their coworkers that they never noticed their boss step into view. Joan, about to walk past them and out the door, was utterly unprepared for what happened next.
"Kevin thinks Joan's in love with Auggie," smirked Brad.
Would they never learn? Her first reaction was anger. Her second was the urge to burst out laughing. The combination of both emotions resulted in an unladylike snort.
"I'm sorry," she said, unable to hide the amusement in her voice, "Do you have my department confused with high school?"
Kevin and Brad whirled around and all four gaped in shock.
Surprising even herself, she spoke gently, "I'm sick of running into gossip every time I turn the corner. Save it for when you aren't on the clock."
"Do you understand me?" she prodded.
Two managed to clamp their mouths shut, and all nodded weakly.
"Then get back to work."
"And when I say 'work' I mean work."
"Go," she said emphatically.
Joan happily strode back to her office, coffee in hand.