Disclaimer: I do not own Covert Affairs...I could only BE so fortunate as to create such fabulous characters!
Author's Note: This is my first Covert Affairs fic and I hope you enjoy it. This is a multi-chapter fic so don't worry! All will be revealed. Music plays a big part in my writing and the chapter titles reflect the name of the song that inspired me at the time. I hope you enjoy this one! I enjoyed writing it! Feedback is always welcome! For those of you who have read this chapter previously...I've added a few things and edited it further. It doesn't change the outcome, but hopefully makes it even better.
Chapter 1: One Last Breath
Thirty Six Hours Ago…
Agreeing to come to Afghanistan to draw out Ben Mercer was probably one of the most idiotic, harebrained decisions that Annie Walker had made in her relatively young life. The intel conveniently found its way to the Middle Eastern Desk nearly 48 hours prior to this travesty of a mission and requested her presence in this utter hell hole. There was chatter through the NSA that claimed Ben had found a previously unknown terror cell and wanted to relay this information to someone he trusted.
"A terror cell in Afghanistan?" Annie scoffed two days before when Joan and Arthur Campbell brought the information to her, "Isn't that an oxymoron?"
"Not a terror cell, Agent Walker," Arthur Campbell told her definitely, his eyes sharp and focused on her, "The terror cell. This intel has the potential to take down Bin Laden's network inside Afghanistan. You know the significance of that."
Annie nodded slowly and took in a deep breath before opening the folder once again, perusing the contents for any sign that she should simply walk away from this entire ordeal. The room was eerily quiet, the crackle of paper the only sound as she turned each page with care. Something was off about this who entire situation but nothing concrete jumped out at her. If it's one thing that Annie had learned on The Farm it was that intel had to be actionable. She let out a sigh as she closed the dossier and squared her shoulders. The translation of Ben's message had been flawless and she couldn't deny that it came from him. Sri Lanka was a long time ago, but she remembered every moment as though it were yesterday. The mention of the rapala knot to anyone else would have seemed out of place, but for her it was as though he'd hand-written the information himself. Still, it seemed to be too precise and too perfect, sending the 7th Floor into a piranha-like frenzy the moment it hit the Middle Eastern desk. This had the potential to be a very big payday for the US military or it could be the set up of a lifetime.
If anyone had told her that she would have earned an all expenses paid trip, footed by the US taxpayer, to the most hostile region in the Middle East a year ago she would have told them to get their head examined. Shifting the 50lb rucksack over her left arm, Annie brought her right hand to her forehead in an attempt to shield her eyes from the blazing Afghan sun. In this part of the world it was commonplace to hear the echos of gunfire and explosions but she'd never imagined that she would find herself knee deep in any conflict of this nature. Feeling a nudge on her shoulder from one of the Rangers assigned to her detail, Annie nodded and immediately repositioned the M-4 carbine, issued upon arriving at Bagram Airbase, in her hands. Feeling the heat beating down on her head and her body temperature rise, Annie followed the soldier at her side once again into the breech. Upon her arrival she'd been briefed about the history, terrain, and troop movements within the area. Bagram Airbase, a particularly prime target for Taliban rocket fire, was seven miles southeast of Charikar in Parwan Province and, to her chagrin, housed several Special Forces units within its walls. The irony was not lost on her as she was assigned to a select group of Rangers, hand picked for this mission by The Agency. So, when her convoy fell under heavy fire nearly 20 minutes ago less than half a mile out of Charikar, Annie found herself thinking of the one person who could possibly understand what was happening to her and to the men around her – the one man who was purposefully kept in the dark about this mission. Closing her eyes for a moment as the sweat dripped down her forehead, Annie replayed those final moments before accepting this fool's errand.
"Stu?" Annie raised an eyebrow and looked to Joan and Arthur for some form of explanation, "He's an excellent handler, don't get me wrong, but isn't Auggie better equipped to run this?"
Arthur stood from his seat on Joan's desk and folded his arms across his chest, "This mission is 'need-to-know'—"
"And Auggie doesn't need to know?" Annie asked incredulously as she matched Arthur's body language.
"Annie," Joan began as she assumed the role of peacemaker, "The DNI felt it would cause Auggie unnecessary stress to lead a mission from Langley of this nature."
"He ran Goliath without incident and successfully, I might add, saved every single member of that team," Annie stood her ground and dared either of them to comment, "Auggie is my handler and I want him in on this. I don't like keeping secrets."
Arthur laughed deeply and shook his head, "Annie Walker, you are in the wrong line of business if you don't like keeping secrets!"
Annie felt her face grow hot as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, "I just mean that he's my partner. Stu and I work well together, but I would just feel more comfortable—"
"The decision is final," Arthur cut her off verbally and with a sweeping hand gesture.
Annie reluctantly nodded and closed the manila folder, handing it back to Joan as she took in a deep, steadying breath, "When do I leave?"
The most idiotic thing that Annie Walker had ever done was come to Afghanistan to try and draw Ben Mercer out while keeping Auggie Anderson in the dark. She'd never lied to Auggie before and just the day before she'd been telling him how excited she was to finally get to visit Disney World. How the hell did he not see through that one? She swore that when she got back to Langley she would personally visit Cover Operations and give them a piece of her mind. If they're going to send her somewhere on vacation they should at least make it plausible. Of course, Auggie bought it. She remembered his big, goofy smile as he told her all about his adventures in the park when he was a teenager. A teenage Auggie was a force to be reckoned with and Annie, for one, was very glad that she found herself within his Circle of Trust. Of course, after this stunt she fully deserved to be banished for all eternity. He was going to be livid when he found out and he would find out. He was, after all, the August Anderson, the only Agent that had more spies within the spy machine than the DNI himself.
It didn't surprise her in the least that she found herself in her current predicament, alone, out of breath from running at top speed for half a mile, and hiding behind a concrete barrier while her Rangers escort attempted to fight off a group of insurgents. The gunfire sounded a lot like fireworks as they ricocheted off of building, voices shouting orders to one another in a variety of languages, and not for the first time Annie Walker wished she was at Disney World. Tapping on her com-link, she established contact with Stu back at the DPD.
"Stu!" she called out over the sound of artillery shells whizzing overhead.
"Annie!" Stu's voice was immediately in her right ear.
"I need an exit, Stu!" she told him as she hurtled herself forward in an attempt to avoid flying shrapnel from an explosion nearby, "We're pinned down in the middle of...nowhere."
"Status?" he asked quizzically as though he were trying to discern what he was hearing over the mic.
"We were set up," she told him quickly, spitting sand out of her mouth as she reached for her M-4, "Convoy was attacked 20 minutes ago. Rangers have engaged the insurgents, but they've sustained a few losses. Mercer is MIA. I need that exit now!"
As he reached for the door handle leading him to the DPD, Auggie knew that he was playing with fire. Joan was explicit in her instructions. She did not want to see him for the next three days under any circumstances. She'd chastised him for working too hard, running himself ragged trying to juggle operations for Special Activities Division and Annie's numerous 'routine' assignments gone awry. He had taken her comments in stride, recognizing that she generally had his best interests at heart, but detected something else. He could tell that she'd chosen her words carefully and maintained an even tone when talking to him, something that he was certain she'd deliberately done. If there was one thing August Anderson learned from his time in the field it was to never ignore a gut feeling whether actionable intel presented itself or not. As any good spy would do, he'd concocted a plausible reason for returning to the DPD today – he'd gotten tickets to a Mingus festival in New York and conveniently (or inconveniently) left them in the drawer of his desk in Tech Ops. If something was brewing, it would give him a chance to step in and be useful.
The moment that he stepped into the DPD the wall of silence that greeted him immediately raised red flags. On a normal day he could hear chatter from the many desks that lined the bullpen as Operatives worked against the clock to translate intelligence reports from field agents all over the world. Today, he was sure he could hear a pin drop. As he cautiously moved forward there was a distinct lack of cheap smelling cologne in his vicinity, meaning Jai Wilcox was no where to be found, and no squeal to his right from Bea. Papers shuffled. The water cooler gurgled. Chairs squeaked as their inhabitants moved. The sound of keys tapping signaled someone on the computer, but the lack of acknowledgment unnerved him. He wondered if Joan put them up to this given her firm orders the night before that he vacate the premises. Out of habit he turned toward an empty desk and remembered that the one person he trusted to be his eyes was visiting the happiest place on Earth. He was on his own unraveling this little mystery. The thought of Annie Walker brought a soft smile to his face and he allowed himself the luxury of picturing her in a Doom Buggy racing through the Haunted Mansion.
At the swooshing sound of Tech Ops' doors swinging open, his smile immediately faded. His hearing was impeccable and he distinctly heard the voice of Annie Walker filling the room before being cut off by the nearly sound proof glass as the doors closed once again. His body went rigid as his mind registered the other sounds he'd heard in that brief moment and it took all of his skill to maneuver through the bullpen without inadvertently bumping into wayward furniture. He hoped to hell that he'd gotten it wrong in his head because Annie Walker was definitely not in the happiest place on Earth.
"Jesus!" Stu cried out, unable to contain his surprise, as a loud rumble echoed through the room startling several of the occupants, "What the hell was that? Annie! Annie, do you copy?"
The door to Tech Ops swung open again, as it had a few moments earlier, but no one noticed the dark haired man with the long white cane slip inside. The tone of Stu's voice clearly revealed his panic as at least four other people in the room began to argue over options that seemed wildly out of character for the normally calm group. When he cleared his throat loudly and every head, at least it sounded that way, turned to look at him it took every ounce of strength not to throttle every one of them.
"That was an IED."
Stu froze, his eyes wide, as he registered the voice from his left and began to think of all of the ways that Auggie Anderson could dispose of his body despite being blind. He was out of his depth. The Middle East was not his expertise. He was a techie. He'd handled missions for Annie Walker before, but he'd always done it under Auggie's watchful eye. His boss had a soft spot for the blonde and her influence on him in the last year had been so remarkable that the Ops team began taking bets to see how long it would be before the two managed to seal the deal. When he woke up this morning and began this op he never thought he would find himself toe to toe with a very pissed off Auggie Anderson. Oh his outward demeanor looked calm and cool, but Stu knew the man before an IED took his sight and long after. After this Stu would be lucky to do tech support for the Geek Squad.
"I, uh-" Stu stammered as his hands quickly grasped for a soda can, knocking it over if the process and spilling its contents.
Joan, whom had been standing on the sidelines, recovered first and made her way over to blind man and placed her hand on his elbow, "Auggie. I expressly told you-"
In a move that unnerved most, Auggie looked directly at his boss, "That was an IED explosion and I distinctly heard Annie's voice over the com-link. You purposefully left me in the cold, Joan. I won't forget that easily. Tell me what the hell is going on!"
"Stu!" came the frazzled voice of Annie Walker once again over the com-link, "We're running out of time! We're sitting ducks out here! I need that exit now ! ETA on the extraction team?"
Stu leaped into action and began typing on his computer, "20 minutes, Walker. Sit tight. We're looking for that exit now."
"We don't have that kind of time!" she growled and Auggie could hear the telltale sound of teeth grinding.
"Joan," Stu shook his head imperceptibly and looked to his mentor, his eyes pleading with her to read him in.
"I can 'hear' you shaking your head, Stu," Auggie rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest, "Where is she?"
"Auggie, I—" Stu began but stopped upon seeing the glare from Joan.
"Stu! That exit! Any time now! Jesus! We're under heavy fire here!" Annie's voice crackled over the link.
"Heavy fire. You don't want me on the op. She must be in Afghanistan. Charikar," Auggie surmised, a hard look on his face as he squared his shoulders in a face off with Joan, "That's the only reason I'm not in that chair right now, isn't it?"
Joan maintained her posture, never backing down, and slowly blinked as her eyes perused the person in front of her. She'd known that this was a possibility when Arthur suggested that he be left out of this operation. Instinctively she'd wanted him here to guide Annie through the desert knowing that he was the only one within the DPD with first hand knowledge of the terrain and the unit assigned to her protection. In the end it wasn't the locale that kept Auggie off the team, it was Ben Mercer's insistence that the former Special Operations Officer be kept in the dark in favor of another tech ops handler. The alleged terror cell housed many of the insurgents charged with aiding Afran Felat Khani attack his unit and Mercer felt that Auggie couldn't possibly be objective. Knowing they'd been played only fueled Joan's anger and there was only one person that she wanted to feel the brunt of it.
"Stu, read Auggie in and get Annie the hell out of there. I need to brief Arthur."
Auggie made his way to his desk, grabbed his headphones, and waited for Stu to explain the situation. With each piece of information Auggie felt himself get angrier and angrier with the stunt Arthur Campbell had pulled. A rookie could have told them that the information was bogus. Chatter on Ben Mercer put him in a completely different part of the world. No one in their right mind would want to go into Afghanistan willingly, terror cell or not. From his time in Iraq he knew that Taliban forces rarely made their hive known to those outside an inner circle. To get into that circle one had to be 'one of them' and Mercer, with his baby blues (so Auggie had been told), most definitely would not pass as a local.
"Get me that extraction team, Stu," Auggie told him with a hint of menace, "Get them there fast!"
"Annie Walker, as I live and breathe!" Auggie joked, a defense mechanism that Annie knew all too well, "Talk to me."
Annie leaped over a crumbled concrete barricade, dodging gunfire, and sank to the hot sand beneath her feet, "Auggie?"
"Some vacation, Walker. If this is your idea of Disney World I'd like to recommend you see a shrink when you get back," the wry comment crackled in her ear.
The whine of a bullet speeding past her right ear caused her to flinch, her voice raising an octave higher, "I need an exit, Auggie. What's taking so long?"
"What's your 20?" he asked calmly, she could hear rustling through her ear piece that could only mean that he'd shifted in his chair.
Annie peered over the barricade, her knuckles white around the grip of her semi-automatic weapon, and immediately felt the spray of concrete as a bullet landed inches from her face, "Damn it Auggie!"
"What do you see, Annie. Tell me what you see. I'll get you out of there, but you have to tell me what you see!" his words were a command that caused her back to straighten and her mind to clear almost immediately.
"It's a war zone, Auggie," she responded wryly, "There's not much. A building at my 3 o'clock. It might be a house? It has a flat roof almost like a battlement? I don't know! I can't see the unit! I think they might be all dead!"
"Stay calm, Annie," Auggie told her firmly, "Please tell me you have a weapon."
Annie resisted the temptation to roll her eyes at his comment, the friendly banter lulling her into a false state of security as though they were in the same room and not thousands of miles apart, "I'm not a complete rookie, Anderson. Rangers gave me an M-4."
"Well, ok," he chuckled warmly, "Thank God for small favors. I need to you fire your gun towards the insurgents and then make a break for that building."
Annie brought the back of her hand to her nose, scratching it, and then seemed to freeze in place upon his command, "You want me to what?"
"You need a diversion. Your team is MIA. Right now you're all alone. I need to get you to an extraction point and your best shot is from that roof. A helicopter is on its way as we speak. Coalition Forces are occupied and the ground rescue is delayed. You can do this, Walker. Get to that roof."
She felt her heart race and closed her eyes momentarily in an attempt to calm her nerves, "Ok."
Auggie leaned forward; his hands clasped together, and closed his eyes in silent prayer as he heard Annie take in an exaggerated breath meant to calm her nerves. She wasn't trained for this level of combat and there was something about her responses that seemed off. At first he thought it was simply the high stress situation she'd found herself in but now he was not convinced. He could hear her feet pounding against the stairs. She stumbled. There was silence. He slowly rose from his chair. She cursed. He ran a hand through his hair and expelled a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
"Auggie?" her voice sounded small even through the sophisticated technology.
"I'm here Annie," he unconsciously stepped forward, his voice lowering an octave as his face immediately belied the worry he tried so desperately to hide from her.
"I'm sorry," she told him quietly and through their only link he heard the sound of her uniform scrape against the concrete wall.
"There's nothing to be sorry about," he told her firmly as he ran a hand through his hair, his head angling towards the sky, "You can buy me a beer and we'll call it even."
"It didn't click until now," she sighed, shifting slightly, "Two days on the job and I had you apologizing for me."
"You liked Mingus," he chuckled, shrugging sheepishly, as his fingers deftly moved across his braille keyboard in an attempt to locate the position of the extraction team.
Hearing her breathy laugh in that next moment was tantamount to throwing a cooler full of ice water over the top of his head, his sensitive hearing picking up the minute wheeze indicative of something amiss. He slowly rose from his chair, his hands palm down on his desk, and swallowed the lump of pure terror that threatened to overtake him. No way. Not Annie. This is not how it's supposed end. Not like this.
"Boss?" the tentative voice of Stu called from his left, a strong hand gently squeezing his shoulder.
"How long until the team arrives?" Auggie asked quietly, his voice as sharp as steel in a way that the man beside him had never experienced.
"ETA 5 minutes," Stu told him quickly, his training kicking in telling him that it was better to deliver bad news without sugarcoating.
Auggie grabbed the first thing in his path and launched it in front of him in a fit of anger, shattering a monitor, as his face turning an unhealthy shade of red as he roared his pain, "Not good enough! She's in a damned war zone and she's hurt!"
Stu recoiled as though struck, "Sh-she didn't say anything—"
Auggie closed his eyes and hung his head, his shoulders tense and body rigid, "Annie! Annie, talk to me! Annie!"
"Annie?" his voice held a hint of concern now and she knew that her attempt to hide reality from him was over, "Annie, talk to me! Annie!"
Annie slowly raised her head, her eyes traveling down the long, red smear that marred the wall behind her and coughed violently, blood staining her gloves as she tried desperately to regain control over her breathing, "Owls have nothing on you, August Anderson."
"Where are you hurt?"
Annie shifted gingerly; her hand immediately went to her right side where a large piece of shrapnel was lodged between the 7th and 8th rib, fracturing the bone and puncturing her lung, "I think there's more to your protective nature than you want anyone to believe."
"Annie!" Auggie yelled in a vain attempt to bring her back to the situation at hand, ".!"
Annie smiled softly, her head rolling to one side as she swallowed hard, "I have lots of friends, Auggie."
"Annie, I need you to focus! Please!" his voice was desperate now and it sounded the alarm back at the DPD.
"No one would move mountains to get to me, Auggie," she sighed, her voice hitching as she felt her body begin to tremble.
"Annie, stay with me!"
"No one but you," she whispered as she once again swallowed hard, her mouth feeling like it was full of cotton, "It must be getting late, Auggie. It's getting cold and the light seems to be fading. A cloud maybe?"
"Annie! Geez, Annie! Annie, I need you to talk to me Annie! You can't give up on me! Not now! Not like this!"
"I'd never give up on you, Auggie," she told him quietly as she closed her eyes for a moment, a feeling of being pulled under water coming over her before she snapped her eyes open again.
"What is your exact location?" he demanded, his voice cracking.
"Doesn't matter, Auggie," she smiled sadly as she once again coughed into her hand, tiny rivulets of blood seeping from the corner of her mouth, "I can hear them. They're in the building now. It's only a matter of time."
Auggie ripped off his headphones for a moment and paced the room, its occupants deftly staying out of his way as he moved like a man possessed. His breathing became more shallow, his instinct to fight or flight running through him as he smelled the strong scent of Old Spice. Wilcox. In a fit of rage he turned towards his desk, a strangled yell erupted from his lips, and using his right arm swept his entire desk leaving only his computer and keyboard unscathed. Several people cried out as the stapler, paper clips, the phone, and various techno gadgets pelted them before falling to the floor in a haphazard pattern.
"Auggie-" the voice of Jai Wilcox called out to him as he tentatively moved towards the enraged operative.
"Do. Not. Say. A. Word!" each word dripped with venom and his fists clenched into a tight ball as he struggled to regain his composure.
Twenty minutes was all it took for August Anderson's carefully constructed world to come crumbling down in a spectacular meltdown. He felt caged. Suffocated. He could feel the eyes on him in the room. He could feel the shock. The fear. The pity. He didn't care. Her words shattered him. She wasn't defeated. She was resolute. He'd felt fear in his life, but never had he felt the bone chilling fear he felt in that moment when he recognized that Annie Walker's life was slipping away and there was very little he could do to stop it. August Anderson was afraid. Not even when he woke to find the world no longer held color for him did he feel so incredibly helpless. I should have been here. I should have done more. Stu isn't trained for this type of Op! He's good. But this is my Annie!
"Auggie?" a quiet voice broke through his thoughts and he immediately turned toward the sound.
"Joan," he swallowed hard, his hands curling into a fist as he attempted to quell the anger he felt toward his boss at this very moment.
"Listen to me," she grasped him by the shoulders, his fallen headphones curled around her finger, "Annie needs you right now. She needs your strength. You will get her through this Auggie, you've just got to hold it together. The team is almost there."
Auggie shook his head imperceptibly and motioned for Stu to put the communication link on speaker again. Annie's voice filled the room. It was quiet and desperate. She was calling out for him and he stood there like a coward unable to answer her.
"Auggie? Please! I know you're angry. Don't leave me! Please, Auggie. I need you here. I need you here with me. They're coming. There's not much time. Please!"
Tears stung his eyes and would have certainly blurred his vision had he any left, "I'm here Annie."
"Oh God! Auggie!" her voice was filled with quiet joy, shaking from the exertion and her sheer determination to stay awake.
"You just hang tight," he told her as he cleared his throat, folding his arms across his chest as though it could protect him from the inevitable.
"They're coming up the stairs. Auggie, I need you to know—"
"Tell me when you get back, Annie," he told her firmly, his tone adamant in his attempt to somehow avoid the finality of her words.
"They're here, Auggie. Tell Danielle I love her. Tell Stu and Joan that I'm sorry. I should have seen it coming. I should have been better—"
"Annie! You are mesmerizing!" he told her with a look of utter anguish on his face as he used the very word she often used to describe him.
"No," she whispered as her teeth chattered over the line, "You are mesmerizing, August Anderson. My biggest regret—"
"Annie," he warned as Joan gripped his shoulder tightly, a silent cue that he needed to let Annie finish, no matter what the cost to his heart or his sanity.
"I love you Auggie."
The sound of a single shot echoed through the room and then there was utter silence. Joan Campbell felt her chest rise and fall, her hand coming to her mouth to stifle the gasp that no amount of training could prevent. No one moved. Stu appeared frozen mid-step, his coffee mug inches from his face as his eyes went wide. Jai Wilcox slowly slid to the floor, his expensive suit forgotten as he'd heard the final, heartbreaking exchange between his two colleagues. It seemed criminal to witness those moments and for the first time in his life, Jai no longer envied Auggie Anderson.
Auggie closed his eyes, his body rigid, and fought to control the emotion that threatened to overtake him. She's gone. Kitten heels and Jo Malone Grapefruit and stupid Smithsonian tours for overactive third graders—
"Sit down, Auggie," Joan told him quietly as she pulled him into a strong embrace, acknowledging the thoughts that he'd inadvertently spoke aloud.
"Joan," his voice croaked as he felt her warm arms around him.
"Sit. Down, Auggie," she told him again, this time pulling his chair towards him.
As soon as the seat hit the back of his calves his entire body collapsed onto itself, landing safely in the chair he'd used to orchestrate every single mission Annie Walker had the misfortune of running. He felt as though his limbs weighed a ton, his head was spinning out of control, and he his heart was shattered into a million pieces.