Title: (Love or) Fear of the Cold
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Written for moogsthewriter, who wanted Fay and Billy undercover. She also provided a beta because she's awesome like that. Remaining mistakes are my own. Title from Mumford and Sons' "Winter Winds."
Warning: This fic includes the beginnings of an attempted sexual assault. It's not graphic and far more emotionally-based than any actual physical act, but I still feel like I should warn for it.
Summary: Fay gets sent undercover and the results may change everything for her.
Fay is used to standing in Higgins office, taking whatever he decides to dole out. He's not a bad boss necessarily, and she understands the weight of national security that he actually takes very seriously. But it's something to respect that and another thing to endure the turns in his moods and the minutia of his day-to-day routine.
In general, she's mostly figured him out. She knows when he's happy and she knows when he's angry. She knows how to coddle him when he's fickle and knows how to steer clear when he's about to blow.
So the fact that she hasn't seen this coming is disconcerting on many levels. She thinks maybe she should have.
But then she thinks, there's no way she could have.
"But sir," Fay protests in Higgins' office. "I'm not a covert operative."
Higgins sighs; he's weary with this argument and she hasn't even really posed it yet. "I am aware of your position, Ms. Carson."
"So surely there's a better choice," she tries to explain, even if she's aware of the futility.
He looks up at her blandly. "And surely you of all people would know that sometimes the better choice isn't the choice that works," he says. "You have the contacts in Paris, thanks to your extensive time there as an undergraduate student. We need those contacts."
"But, it's been years, and I'm not trained-"
"And thousands of American lives are on the line," Higgins reminds her. "Unless, of course, you prefer a terrorist organization gains a foothold in France in time to move that shipment of uranium you so aptly brought to my attention."
Fay has nothing to counteract that. He's right, of course. The uranium is black market and if it finds its buyer in Paris as slated, there could be catastrophic results for America and the rest of the world. She's the one who put together the file and pitched it to him with all the eagerness and alacrity she could muster.
Higgins puts down his pen and looks at her. "I realize that this isn't normal protocol," he says. "But we're spread thin with the latest round of terrorist activity in Yemen. It's all hands on deck, and normally I wouldn't ask a non-field operative to put herself at risk, but I fail to see any other alternatives that won't risk alienating the French or letting the uranium fall into the wrong hands."
She wants to say no. She wants to offer another option.
Higgins picks up his pen again. "The ODS will be your backup," he says. "You're the one always reminding me of their worth in the field."
She chews her lip so hard that it hurts but forces a smile all the same. Because she hates to think how things could get worse if she tempts fate in this regard. "Yes, sir," she says.
He waves a hand. "Briefing will be first thing tomorrow," he says. "I suggest you have your bag packed."
Fay walks out of the office with her head high and her stomach tied in knots.
She thinks about going to Michael's office, but she doesn't need to. When she gets back to her office, he's there, waiting for her.
This annoys her, of course, because the only reason she wanted to see Michael was to chew him out for being a part of this entire mess. It's not entirely fair, but nothing between her and Michael is ever entirely fair.
He smiles at her, perched on her desk.
"Good to see you, too," he says.
She brushes by him coolly on her way to her desk. "You here to gloat?"
Michael frowns. "Why would I be gloating? Your mission got approved-in near record time, I might add," he says.
Rocking back in her seat, she rolls her eyes. "And somehow you managed to weasel your way in," she says.
"Time was imperative," Michael says, but it's noteworthy that he doesn't deny it. Michael's never lied to her-he's always made a point on that-but he's always been selective in his truths. "There were no other teams available."
She knows this to be truth. She knows this because it's her job to know it.
But she also knows Michael. Lips pursed, she inclines her head. "So you had nothing to do with making sure that the ODS was attached to this case?" she asks pointedly.
Michael is good at evasion, but he has his tells. There's a faint blush on his cheeks, and his eyes sparkle just enough to let her know the answer.
She shakes her head. "I'm just surprised that Billy's undercover with me."
Michael's expression turns somewhat serious. "It wasn't my first choice," he admits. "But Billy's good. You need someone for wining and dining-he's your guy."
There may be truth to it, but Fay doesn't want to hear it. Especially not from Michael, especially knowing that he's partly to blame for her being involved in this mess at all. "Is that how you pitched it to Higgins?" she asks coyly. "I mean, was it your idea to bring me along?"
Michael stiffens a little; she's hit a nerve. "I've never wanted you in the field," he says.
"Oh, so I just happened to get recruited for this one," she says. "And it just happens to be to Paris. Where you just happen to want to drag me back to every chance you can."
The humor is entirely gone from Michael's expression now. "Higgins may be a son of a bitch, and he may put reputation ahead of safety more times than I'd like, but he's not an idiot. He knows your file."
She laughs. "Excuse me for doubting," she tells him coolly. "You can't deny that I don't have some cause."
Michael stands up and moves toward the door. "You always have cause," he says. "That still doesn't make you right."
"But it certainly doesn't make me wrong," she says.
"Whatever you may think," Michael continues. "Just know that we'll be there to back you up. Billy's good at what he does and so are the rest of us. Your safety is our priority on this mission."
"Funny, but that sounds like our wedding vows," she says.
"I meant those vows," he replies.
"You still didn't keep them," she tells him.
He wets his lips, brow furrowed. "That's not fair."
Fay shrugs. If she's cruel, it's because she's tired and Michael always knows how to push her buttons. That was the only part of for better or worse that they ever seemed to get right.
She might take pity on him-any other day, she might. But she's been recruited for a mission and the ODS is her backup and she has to trust them with her life when she doesn't even trust them with her heart.
Instead, she shrugs. "Maybe not," she agrees. "But it's true."
Michael looks disheartened, but he doesn't disagree. Doesn't even say anything as he walks out the door and down the hall.
Fay watches as he leaves, waiting for his comeback. It's almost a minute later when she realizes there's none coming, and she forces herself to get back to work.
She's the first one there for the morning briefing. Given the ODS, she doesn't find that surprising.
When they amble in, they seem particularly smug and she harbors her hatred as she sits stiffly in the chair and does her best to sulk in a professional manner.
Higgins is to the point and the ODS, for once, is primed, helpful, and agreeable. In fact, the briefing goes so smoothly that when it's over, she's more doubtful about this mission than ever.
She stalks to her office, brushing past Michael, who smiles at her, and goes to put the last of her things in order. She's double checking her carry on when there's a knock at the door.
Billy is standing there. He's alone, which is a small blessing, though she has half a mind to turn him away before it all drives her crazy.
"I have a lot to do," she tells him curtly, hoping he gets the hint.
He gets the hint, of course, but he ignores it entirely. Instead, he steps casually inside. "Just thought I'd stop by and make sure that all is well on your end of this little foray."
She levels him with a look that would make lesser men cower. He just keeps smiling. With a sigh, she shakes her head. "There's not much to it," she says. "We fly to Paris, posing as a couple. I hook up with some of my former classmates still in the area who are now running in some questionable circles. We get a few invites, make some connections, and you have your in with the French company that's buying the guise of the uranium trader. We sniff out the route, and you and the ODS thwart the shipment before the transaction takes place."
Billy lifts his eyebrows, clearly impressed. "You make it sound positively perfect the way you say it," he says.
She rolls her eyes. Of all of Michael's partners, Billy has always been the least difficult to get along with. After all, he's generally good mannered and considerate, and even when he's completely messing up her life, he's doing it with a genuine smile that makes her feel like it's somehow not as bad as it is.
Still, he's a spy and a con, and probably the best-and therefore, the worst-among them. The fact that she wants to like him doesn't change the fact that he's impossible to really like because of all the aforementioned reasons.
And of course it doesn't help that he's part of the reason she's not married to Michael anymore. She doesn't blame him directly-no more than she blames Casey or Simms or the entire structure of the CIA-but he's always been part of it. Part of the massive and insurmountable wedge between her and Michael.
With that, it's hard not to resent him just a little.
And yet, it's harder still to deny that he's good at what he does. Because he is. His record with the ODS isn't exactly impeccable, but it's impressive. His methods are off key at times, but that's why he fits in so well with the ODS-where a bunch of misfits found their place and somehow manage to promote national security where others simply can't.
So while she understands that this is a mission meant for Billy, it doesn't mean she has to like being assigned to it with him.
"We need to stay focused on the mission," she tells him simply.
He gives her an innocent look. It's convincing, but she knows better. "I am fully and totally intent on the mission at hand," he assures her. "I am, after all, a professional."
At that, she actually scoffs.
His demeanor slackens, a bit sheepish. "I'll admit, at times it appears less than true, but I can promise you that my utmost intent is always to complete the mission safely and successfully."
"Your methods are less than sanctioned," she reminds him.
"But our results are always pure," he reminds her right back.
And that is something she can't deny. Still, that doesn't mean she's going to admit it-especially to him.
He takes another step forward, hands out in total placation. "I understand this is a less than ideal situation for you," he says. "I mean, not everyone is driven for field work, and to be forced into such an unseemly situation would be stressful and irksome, to say the least. And to be forced into it with your ex-husband's team-that's the pinnacle of uncomfortable contexts."
He's telling her what she wants to hear-it's a tactic and she knows it-but he's still right. And she does want to hear it. Somehow it's reassuring to know that he's at least aware of it all.
He shrugs easily. "So let me simply put your mind at ease," he says. "This is a mission and that alone is my priority. Our personal histories and strained connections are irrelevant to the ultimate success in the field. I promise to respect those boundaries and respect you at all times during this foray, regardless of our cover or proximity."
She has to remind himself that he's a con and a spy, but somehow it doesn't totally matter, even when it does.
Keeping herself stiff, she nods woodenly. "That sounds reasonable," she concedes.
His face brightens, smile going wide. "Then my work here is done," he says. "Shall we reconvene at lunch? I like to give ample time to airport security-and I'd hate to miss our flight."
She sighs. "Yeah, fine," she says.
He claps his hands together. "Splendid!" he says, moving toward the door. "Oh, and you can have your pick of aisle or window. I am equally happy with both."
He takes off merrily down the hall and she watches him go for a second, in silent disbelief. It's hard to know what's real when it comes to the ODS and harder still to know how she feels about them altogether.
Still, for every reassurance, she harbors her doubts. If she's learned anything from the ODS, it's that for all they have to offer, she has just as much to lose.
The flight over is long. Billy is cordial but ever present, and she feels horribly obvious sitting next to him. Fay's never been very good at pretending, and she feels like everyone is looking at her when she settles down next to him for the flight over.
After a few hours, she's still seated primly, looking over the in-flight magazine absently. Billy, who has been doing a crossword puzzle, leans his head down to say softly. "You know, it's okay to be comfortable in these situations," he says.
She stiffens out of reflex. "But I'm not."
"Well, I grant you that airplanes are increasingly less accommodating to their varied passengers, but comfort is not so much a physical condition as it is a state of mind," he offers.
She huffs a small laugh. "Exactly."
Billy leans back in his seat. "Ah, I see," he says. "So is it present company that is making you so uncomfortable or something about the overall trip at large?"
That's a fair question, she supposes. Billy's cover depends on her, and really, she knows that hashing out these kind of details before things get hot and heavy is probably for the best if they're going to have a chance in pulling this off.
The fact is, they have to pull this off. If they don't, bad things will happen. Not just for the world, but probably for them.
She sighs. "This just isn't my first choice," she says.
"Such things rarely are," Billy tells her with an air of confidentiality. "But we've got excellent accommodations and your part in this is small to say the least."
"It's still a lie," she says with a rueful smile.
His brow furrows. "Aye, you've got me on that one," he says. "But most things we do involve such dishonesties."
She collects a breath and presses her lips together, shaking her head as she looks down the length of the cabin. "And that's exactly what makes me uncomfortable."
Billy inclines his head and gives her a knowing look. "This may not be business as usual for you, but surely you understand the nature of the job."
"I understand it," she agrees with a nod. "And I don't have to like it." She stops and looks at Billy icily. "And I don't have to like those who do."
Billy doesn't disagree, and when he settles back in his seat, Fay tries not to notice that content smile on his face looks forced.
By the time they land in Paris, Fay isn't sure what is more tiresome: Billy's nonstop conversation or the jet lag from a trans-Atlantic flight. She's not as young as she used to be, and the glories of traveling have dimmed with the heartache that's accompanied it.
When they get to their hotel, she's pleased to find it's upscale and large. She appreciates Billy's fast check in and is grateful when he pays the bellhop to deal with their bags.
In their room, she's first taken aback by its luxury. It's large and opulent; her cover as a trophy wife to Billy's burgeoning financial success definitely has its perks. She'll have no problem fitting in with her old friends; she won't even have a problem making them jealous.
There's a certain satisfaction in that; her life in the States has been less than noteworthy and she still feels like the lesser child at family reunions where her sister comes and preens with her latest accomplishments. So this might actually be a pleasant change of pace, at least on one level.
But then she sees the one bed-massive but solitary in the middle of the room-and she stops cold. "You have got to be kidding me."
Billy meanders up behind her, stopping next to her. "Ah," he says. "I can see how that would be less than ideal."
She snorts, shaking her head. "You're sleeping on the floor."
Billy wisely nods. "Well," he says with a surprising amount of enthusiasm and more than a trace of resignation. "Hard surfaces are supposedly wonderful for your back."
"You could also sleep on the couch," she suggest as consolation.
At that, Billy frowns, looking at the couch. It has ornate fabric and curved arms, but it's more for show than comfort. "It does look quite nice," he says cautiously. "But between a stiff back and leg cramps, I may have to settle for the back."
Fay just lifts her nose and moves to unpack her bag, marginally mollified that she won't be the only one who finds this mission to be long.
Fay goes to sleep early, partly because she's tired from all the time traveling but mostly because she doesn't want to deal with being in a hotel room with one of her ex's partners. Billy's entirely a gentlemen-he gives her ample space and seems to respect her privacy when she tucks into bed-but that really doesn't change the fact that she's sleeping in a strange room undercover with someone she prefers to see only in mission briefings.
The morning sunlight doesn't cast the entire situation in a light any more positive. In fact, though she wakes up rested and comfortable, she's immediately reminded of the situation when she takes a good look at the room.
Apparently, when Fay had gone to bed early, Billy had made himself at home.
His suitcase is open, things strewn about. A mess of clothes trails from it, hanging haphazardly about the room. His toiletry bag is propped up in front of the bathroom, with a bottle of cologne and what appears to be a razor on the ground nearby. There's a bag of chips and a bottle of soda across the floor.
And then there's his makeshift bed.
As promised, Billy has taken up residence on the floor, nestled on a large area rug on the far side of the room. Somehow he's managed to find an extra blanket and has pulled the extra pillow from the couch. These are probably appropriate measures, but his long body is face down, spread eagle over the ground, bare feet sticking out and one arm stretched across the floor while the other is tucked under his stomach. His face is smashed against the pillow, hair sticking up at odd angles and mouth open slightly as he sleep.
It might be endearing if it wasn't so ridiculous.
Sighing, she pushes the sheets back. Walking over to him, she nudges him slightly with her foot.
He snorfles in his sleep, twitching a little. His legs curl up a little as he rolls onto his side.
Shaking her head, she nudges him again. "Billy."
This time, he startles awake, jerking upright with a momentary look of panic.
Then he seems to remember where he is and squints up at her with a smile. "Morning?" he asks, as if he's not entirely sure it's the right greeting.
It takes a great deal of self control to damper her exasperation. "Michael is going to be here for our morning check," she tells him.
Billy frowns, still looking at her. "Yes," he says, though he clearly doesn't get her drift.
"So I thought maybe you'd like to be awake," she says, then looks around. "And, you know, presentable."
Billy's brow furrows at the insinuation.
Fay rolls her eyes. "You know, this isn't your dorm room," she reminds him.
Craning his neck, he seems to look at the room. "Ah," he says. "Sometimes I forget that the fairer sex tends to have a greater appreciate for cleanliness and organization."
"No," Fay corrects. "I just prefer not to feel like I'm living in a pig sty."
His blue eyes are wide and earnest. "I pride myself on having a tough exterior, but I will say that your words are hurtful."
"They're true," she says curtly. "I'm taking a shower."
He nods dutifully. "No need to be so dour," he says. "Things will be better when you get out, I promise."
With another sigh, she turns away, padding her way to the bathroom to prepare herself for the inevitable.
Fay takes her time in the shower. The water is hot and the pressure is good and the longer she can stay in the steam, the less she has to face the reality of this situation. In the bathroom, she can lock the mission out, pretend like she's here of her own accord, just herself and her dreams in a way she hasn't had since her time in college.
Not that her time with the CIA has been bad necessarily-she values what she does and she takes pride in being good at it-but all the duplicity has seem to cost her everything. From her relationships to her aspirations, it's all subjugated to the wills and demands of a greater good. Sometimes that's just wearing.
Other times, like today, it's almost enough to make her wish she'd never joined at all.
But this is the wrong time for such doubts. If only because there's a mission hinging on her and she's not one to walk away until there's really no other options.
Even then, she doesn't like quitting. At least not when people haven't quit on her first.
And as much as she'd like to deny it, Billy's lack of personal cleanliness does not negate his commitment to the mission.
Dressed and ready, she steps back out into the main room. The first thing she notices is that it is in fact clean. Or, cleaner. Billy has dumped the blankets and the pillow on the bed, picking up his things and throwing them in his suitcase. Clothes still hang out the sides, but it is a marked improvement from before.
The second thing she notices is the steaming breakfast waiting for her.
"I took the liberty of ordering us a few things," Billy says from one of the chairs. He's dressed immaculately and even if his hair is still askew, he certainly looks the part of a well-to-do businessman. He nods toward the table, peering at her over his cup of coffee. "With all we have on the agenda, I feared we wouldn't have time for a proper meal."
It's actually surprisingly thoughtful and she feels a pang of guilt for waking him so rudely.
Moderately chagrined, she smiles awkwardly and seats herself across from him. The trays are already open, and Billy has helped himself to part of the impressive spread.
She picks a few items for herself and takes a sip of the coffee Billy has poured her. "You seem like you've done this before," she notes.
"Over the years, I have become a connoisseur of room service," he says grandly. "It's easy to spot which items are most likely to be delectable with a single glance of the menu."
"One of the side effects of traveling so much, I suppose," she says, eating a piece of fruit which, she has to admit, tastes particularly good.
"Yes," Billy says with a nod as he takes a bit of what appears to be a steak and cheese omelet. "It also helps that I've been living out of hotels since I came to the fair shores of America all those years ago."
She stops mid-chew, surprised. "You live in a hotel?"
Billy shrugs nonchalantly, taking a drink. "I find leases to be complicated endeavors, better suited for those with a more stable lifestyle," he explains. "Besides, you have seen my personal habits, so surely you can understand why maid service is counted among the necessities in my life."
There's some truth in that, but still, it's hard for Fay to fathom as she finishes chewing and swallows. "But that can't seem like home," she says.
At that, his smile is a little bittersweet. "Well, when I moved to your fine country, I was hard pressed to imagine any of it could seem like home," he tells her.
It's a point she hasn't thought about extensively. She's read Billy's file. Though the details are all omitted-top secret, or so she's told-the basics are there. His impressive career with the British resulted in an impressive deportation. Higgins must have known the details when he okayed Billy's hire, but while his career with the CIA has been equally impressive, Billy is still not allowed to go back home.
The thought almost makes her frown.
"But come," Billy says, spearing a piece of meat and eating it readily. "Today is not a day to share our skeletons. Today is the day for a mission."
At that, her shoulders slump slightly. She forces a smile. "I can barely control my excitement."
"Surely there's something about all this that invigorates you," he says jovially. "Even Casey knows how to crack a smile from time to time."
"Casey likes to lie, manipulate, and destroy-three things well suited to this job," she says.
Billy nods. "Valid point," he says. "Though this all really begs the question: what does Ms. Fay Carson really and truly enjoy?"
And that is the question. It has to be more than warm baths and a good book-because she likes those things, looks forward to them, but they're not what she lives for. She likes friends-though she doesn't have as many as she used to-and she likes art museums-but there's no one who likes to go with her.
She likes her job-putting together files and piecing out missions. But what else? What does she really want?
It's a question she stopped asking herself. She's not sure when, but some time after she divorced Michael. Some time after he broke her heart but was too damn oblivious to even see it.
Across from her, Billy inclines his head. "So a mystery then," he says. His smile pulls mischievously at his mouth. "Something I can both appreciate and relate to."
His deflection in this is almost like mercy. She takes another bite and straightens, pretending like that was her intention all along.
Billy keeps smiling at her as he turns his attention back to his breakfast. She has a feeling he knows better, but she's inordinately grateful that he's willing to play along.
Billy's polite emotional distance is about the only thing going in her favor this morning. They're not done with breakfast when there's a knock at the door.
"Extra towels," a familiar voice calls.
Billy looks at her with a grin. "A maid!" he says with mock exclamation. "How lovely!"
She can't quite return his smile or even attempt to match his exuberance. He practically bounces out of his seat and opens the door with a flourish, holding out one arm as he ushers Michael inside.
Michael is dressed for the role. The uniform looks a little ridiculous, but she can't deny that he fills it out quite nicely.
She's embarrassed by the very thought and she's blushing with her mouth open when Michael walks further in the room.
Billy, on the other hand, snickers. "You look spectacular," he says, crossing his arms in satisfaction over his chest. "Though shouldn't maids wear an apron?"
Michael is nonplussed even as he looks at Billy critically. "I'm an upper level bell hop," he says. He holds out a towel. "I don't clean, I serve."
Billy frowns mockingly. "Your disposition lacks a little charm," he comments. He quirks an eyebrow. "Might be hellish on your tips."
"Well, here's a tip," Michael says, tossing the towel on the bed and lifting up a file. "Maybe we should prep for the mission."
Billy holds his hands out and seems to be smiling despite himself. "Proceed, oh fearless leader," he says.
Michael pulls himself together and looks at Fay. Then he looks at her again, in that way that Michael can, where he seems to see everything about her, inside and out.
It's unsettling, and her stomach flutters. Shifting, she sits up straighter, crossing her legs closer to her body as she tries to look entirely prudent and professional.
With another breath, Michael's focus shifts and he deposits the file on the table. "We've already got eyes on Fay's contact," he explains.
Fay flips open the file and stiffens slightly. The man in the photos is familiar. "Richard hasn't changed at all," she comments.
"Except for the company he keeps," Michael says. "His company is above board overall, but he's in partnership with this man." He flips to the next photo, showing another man, one who Fay only recognizes vaguely.
"Lucas Whitmore," she recalls.
Michael nods. "Another old acquaintance then?"
Fay looks at him pointedly. "We had a few classes together in college," she says. "I didn't know him like I did Richard."
This piques Michael's interest. "And how well did you know Richard?"
She glowers. "He was dating my best friend," she tells him. "Not that it's any of your business."
Billy is watching their repartee and hedges his way back in. "So the plan is still the same," he ventures.
Michael eases up and Fay looks at him gratefully. With a nod, Michael says, "Richard's been quite frequent at the hotel bar. It shouldn't be too hard to stage a chance meeting."
"And then our lovely Fay simply needs to exert her obvious powers of allure to rekindle the old acquaintance," Billy says.
"And we just happen to know that Richard is hosting a party in a mansion just outside the city," Michael explains. "As per the request of his dear friend Lucas."
Fay nods. "So he doesn't have any idea what he's getting into," she says. "It's a shame. He was always a good guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back if you wanted it."
"Which is what we're counting on," Michael says.
"We get an invite, play nice with Lucas and see if we can get eyes on his contact with the uranium," Billy surmises.
"Once we get a positive ID, we can track both Lucas and the seller, make a few arrests, and take the uranium off the market," Michael concludes.
"And we have permission from the French for this foray?" Billy asks.
Michael collects the file and shrugs. "Officially, no," he says. "But our friend Luc is aware of the situation and is on standby if we happen to need back up. He's agreed to let us handle the perpetrators if we give him credit for the uranium."
Billy smirks. "Enough glory to spread around, I suppose," he says.
Fay listens to their conversation with a growing trepidation. She's known the plan all along, of course. She's known why she's here. But seeing the photos, seeing Richard, knowing she's about to exploit him and possibly put him in danger-it's a strange thing. Unsettling.
She realizes quite suddenly that Michael is watching her; Billy, too.
Straightening, she forces a smile. "So we have a time for our so called coincidental meeting?"
Michael is skeptical, but he doesn't say anything. "Richard has a standing reservation in the hotel restaurant at eleven for brunch," he explains. "He's never late."
Billy nods. "Sounds like a foolproof entrance," he says. "And I do love a good brunch."
Michael is still watching Fay, eyes narrowed. "Are we good?" he asks.
His concern is almost sweet, which is exactly why she bristles. Michael has no rights to her anymore-not to her personal life, not to her safety. No matter what doubts or trepidation she may have, she can do this mission. She will do this mission.
Tossing her head just slightly, she squares her shoulder. "I'm good," she tells him purposefully. She tilts her head. "Are you?"
The smile he offers back is tight and measured. "Ready when you are," he says.
There's an awkward, tense silence between them, and Fay knows what Michael's not saying. She feels it, just as readily as he does. Neither of them like this mission, no matter how well it's planned or how many failsafes they put in place. And yet, where Michael wants to draw her closer, to protect her, she wants to pull away, to protect herself. Of all the risks in the field, it's the one right here between she and Michael that she fears most.
Because there was a time when maybe she would have turned to him. But there was also a time when she needed him and he hadn't been there. Fay has tried to forgive, she's tried to forget, but one time is a fluke. Years of it is a pattern.
She can't trust him now. Not completely. Not even if she wants to.
From the side, Billy takes a large breath. "As for me," he interjects with a forceful buoyancy that doesn't fool any of them. "I was born ready."
Of all the lies that have been told, Fay thinks that this one is probably the closest to the truth.
It's not like she thinks it will be.
She's always labored under the impression that espionage is risky, perilous, and stressful. But seated at a table near the brunch buffet, it seems surprisingly easy.
After all, the ambiance is spectacular-the decorative touches in the dining room are opulent and gorgeous-and there are crystal chandeliers as people dine on elegant china. And the food is rich and decadent, exotic and full of flavor.
If she let herself, it would be easy to be charmed by it all. Because there she is, in Paris, eating fine food among finer clientele.
And Billy fits right in. This isn't exactly a surprise to her, but it is something else to see it in action. He's always suave but with a few touches of refinement in his mannerisms, he's transformed from dapper to downright dashing. There isn't a person in that room who would second guess that he's anything less than he says he is.
Of course, as soon as Fay wants to forget, she catches a glimpse of Casey at the bar and Rick busing tables. She can't see Michael, which just means he's watching her even closer than the rest. More than that, she and Billy are wired, which makes any idle chitchat so much more.
Fortunately, Billy is good at idle chitchat, and he regales her with anecdotes on food and hotels from some of his more interesting travels. She might actually find it noteworthy-he has some fascinating tidbits about the olives in northern Spain and the cheese fondue in Switzerland-but she can't change the fact that every word she murmurs is going right to Michael.
Mission protocol, she understands. It still makes her angry.
Fay was married long enough to know the passive-aggressive games most couples play, but she's not been divorced long enough to have let it go entirely. When Michael gets under her skin (and he always can, when he wants to), she wants to even the score. It's almost a default, she figures, for any struggling couple-an inevitable side effect of sorting out the assets and assigning guilt and blame in clean, monetary sums.
So maybe that's why her thoughts take a vindictive bent. That and Michael's smug look at the briefing, his frustrating air of professionalism when she knows he's sitting in some corner, hanging on her every word, looking for any word to use to regain the upper hand when it comes to things between them. It's Michael's notion of love, she knows, and his plaintive denial of the fact that he can't choose her now when he didn't choose her then and she's tired of having to remind him of that point.
Overall, she's just frustrated. She's frustrated that after all these years, Michael still doesn't get it. Frustrated that she's stuck here on this mission in this place. Frustrated that he can still make her feel so frustrated at all.
It's petty maybe, but she wants to return the favor. Needs to in order to make it through this with her pride and confidence intact.
"So," Fay says, aware that she's interrupting Billy's retelling of a trip to Morocco. "In all of this traveling, was any of it on your personal time?"
Billy is surprised by her sudden interest. "If you haven't noticed, personal time in our line of work isn't exactly common."
She takes a sip of her water, nodding. "I remember," she says. "Michael pulled out of every vacation we ever planned."
It's something that Billy can't control his outright shock by her shift in conversation. "Well, it can be rather difficult-"
She shrugs. "National security," she says with a nod. "Trust me, I've heard all the excuses."
Billy's expression softens a bit, his blue eyes sympathetic. "It's not an easy lifestyle for relationships."
She pins him with a tired look. "That's the same excuse everyone gives when they don't put their marriage first."
At that, Billy squirms. She's not sure if he's taking this personally or just feeling bad on Michael's behalf; either way, it gives her the certainty that she's hitting up the right nerve.
Fay's out of her element enough that she might drive the point home when Michael's voice buzzes in her ear. "Look alive, Richard is approaching the dining room."
She barely has time to refocus her attentions, to get back into her cover, when there's a familiar bellow from across the room.
"Fay? Fay Carson?"
Fay looks up in time to see Richard. He looks even more like himself in person and the wide smile is entirely what she remembers. He approaches her table quickly, and as she stands to greet him, he embraces her in a hug.
When they pull away, he looks at her again. "My goodness, Fay, you look more beautiful today than you did in college," he says.
She finds herself blushing. "Life has been kind to you as well, Richard," she says, nodding toward him, and it's the truth. Age has refined his features and the hints of gray in his hair are stately additions to his warm persona.
"And imagine meeting you here, of all places," he says. "Back where it began."
"Yes," she says. "It's been a while since I've been back."
"I'm here quite often on business," Richard explains and his eyes finally flit toward Billy, who is watching with patient curiosity. He looks back at Fay, a little mischievous. "And is this a trip for business or pleasure?"
"Both, actually," she says and her mind fumbles for her cover. Turning awkwardly, she gestured to Billy. "My husband is here on business."
Richard's eyebrows go up. "Oh, I hadn't heard," he says. "Congratulations. I'm Richard Barton."
Fay's not sure what to say next, but thankfully Billy doesn't need any more of an introduction. He stands up grandly, extending his hand with a wide smile. "Elliot Cutter," he says. "And I take it you must be a friend of my lovely wife."
Richard takes Billy's hand and shakes it heartily. "Old friends," he says. "Back in our college days."
Billy beams at Fay. "She always has such fond memories of those times," he says. He looks back at Richard. "I think that after all her storytelling of the graces of this city is what made me turn here for business at all."
"It is quite apt for that," Richard agrees. "What business are you in?"
Billy shrugs. "A little of everything, as it were," he says. "Trying to expand into green commodities-keep up with the changing times."
"Fascinating," Richard says. "You know, you and I have a lot in common, I think. And I don't just mean the lovely Fay."
"Well, Fay is quite the apt starting point," Billy says, moving just slightly closer to her.
Fay tries not to show how uncomfortable it makes her.
"She is that," Richard says, eyeing her for a moment longer. "Which is why we simply should not let this opportunity pass us by. Old friends and new acquaintances are worth pursuing. I would hate to neglect such a rare chance."
Billy's smile is bright. "No need for neglect," he says. "I believe strongly in embracing chance. In fact, you are welcome to join us-we've only just been served."
Richard looks to Fay.
Fay smiles, gesturing to the empty seat at their table. "Yes, yes, please," she says, trying to sound insistent. "It's been too long. We have a lot of time to cover."
Richard only hesitates a second. "Well, how can I refuse," he says, glancing over at the waiter and nodding to add another place setting. He seats himself, smile still grand.
Billy waits for Fay to follow suit, before sitting down himself. The waiter brings the extra place setting and Richard seems immediately comfortable.
Of course, Billy's obviously friendly overtures certainly help ease the tensions, and he wastes no time spurring the conversation along. "So tell me, Richard, you said you work here often on business," he says as the waiter refills the water at the table. "What exactly do you do?"
Fay remembers to smile but barely remembers to breathe as the conversation starts and goes, and the mission sees its first success.
Several hours later, after eating and drinking and laughing and sharing stories, Fay flops on the bed back in the room she's sharing with Billy. Throwing her head back, she shakes her hair and blows out a breath.
Billy is undoing his tie, grinning at her. "So how was your first taste of the field?" he asks.
She huffs a laugh. "More than a taste, I think," she says. "I feel like I've gained ten pounds!"
"Aye, that is one of the perils of espionage that they fail to warn you about," he says. "Your body is at the mercy of the mission, be it torture or peril or the over indulgence of the well-to-do."
Fay has to smile. "Still, that was impressive," she says.
Billy lifts his eyebrows. "The spread of food?"
"No, you," she says, watching him with fresh interest. He's discarded his tie somewhere on the floor and his jacket is now strewn over a chair. "I mean, you managed to get him to tell us his entire life story, complete with business details."
Billy shrugs, sitting heavily in one of the chairs. "People enjoy talking about themselves," he says. "Ask the right questions and provide the best company and they'll often willingly share most of their secrets, be they dark or not."
"Well," she says, crossing her legs and sitting up a bit, "it's still impressive. By the time he invited us to the party, he was convinced it was his idea."
Eyes twinkling, Billy winks slightly at her. "Lively brunch mates make fine additions to any soiree," he says confidentially. "And I dare say that he wanted to see more of you."
There's insinuation in his voice with that, and she can't help but look away. She'd noticed Richard's attentions as well, although she'd mostly talked herself out of taking note. "We were friends."
Billy gives her a look. "I rarely look at my friends in such a longing manner," he says.
She sighs, but she's still smiling. "There might have been a time when we could have been more," she relents finally. "But my best friend loved him. That's all there was to it."
Billy nods. "Very noble," he says. "Although I would wager that's a choice he may regret now. I half thought I might have to defend your honor the way that man was ogling the woman who is supposedly my wife of the weekend."
Fay laughs again. "That's ridiculous."
"Oh, I think not," Billy says. "Part of the reason he was so willing to talk was because it gave him more time to eye your clearly attractive figure. Our success in this mission is only half based on my charm and the rest of it can be attributed to your grace, elegance, and allure."
It's a beautiful type of flattery. "I bet you say that to all your partners."
Billy purses his lips, thinking about it. "To Rick, yes," he accedes. "Michael, perhaps, if the conditions are right. Casey, never."
At that she laughs heartily. "Well, no matter what you say, I know you salvaged the meet back there."
He bats at the air dismissively.
"No, I'm serious," she says, and she feels looser now, too. After several hours undercover with Billy, there's a different bond between them. A certain camaraderie she wouldn't have expected. She knows the difference between the cover and reality, and she is by no means smitten with the Scotsman, but he's not quite the same man to her now. He's closer and friendlier. She respects him. She may even like him. "When I saw Richard, I froze. I knew what I was supposed to say, but being there, lying to someone I've considered a friend…"
Billy's look is sympathetic. "Field work takes a certain amount of finesse," he says. "Such things take years to develop. You should have seen me as a fresh lad over with the British. Couldn't have conned my way into selling alcohol to a tried and true alcoholic."
She snorts. "Somehow, I doubt that."
He shrugs. "The charming and debonair persona you see before you is something that has taken years to perfect," he says. "Spies have to surrender themselves entirely, and that's no easy task for someone to do on their first mission out."
There's sense to that, even if she doesn't want to admit it. Still, this time, she thinks she can't deny it. "Being on the other side of the mission, I guess it's just easy to forget the compromises field operatives make."
"And being on this side of the mission, it's often easy to forget that we are bastards in the utmost."
Her smile is rueful. "At least you can admit it."
He's watching her carefully, and his face collects itself with empathy. "It's much harder to be so honest when you're sincerely worried about what the other person thinks of you."
She freezes, swallowing with effort as she looks at him. "You don't have to defend him," she says. "I know you're teammates and friends, but what happened between Michael and I is strictly our business."
Billy shrugs guardedly. "Normally, I fully agree," he says. "And friend or not, I do readily see both sides of this situation. I know this isn't easy for you."
She finds herself unable to move for fear of giving something more away.
"Just know that it's not easy on him either," Billy says. "The ways of the heart are rarely right or wrong. They're just complicated-and that's before you bring in the double lives of the CIA into the picture"
Her gaze wanders and she considers it. Finally, she shakes her head. "I don't hate Michael," she says, her voice low. "I just don't know how to love him."
It's an admission that surprises her, not that she hasn't known that since she first met Michael, but she's not used to being so open about it. The divorce had been inevitable-or so she'd told herself-but in all of it, her reasons had never been because she hated him or had even stopped loving him with some part of her heart. But that part of her was broken-had been broken too many times-and the love hurt too much to let it grow.
That's the part she tries to remember when Michael comes to her office with a smile and a gleam in his eye. The part she makes herself remember when she's awake at night, wishing she wasn't alone. That's the part she has to remember now. Because falling in love with Michael Dorset is achingly easy; it's staying there that has its risks.
Billy holds up his hands. "No explanation needed," he says. "Espionage is messy and dangerous but still far easier to make sense of than the convoluted means of the heart."
It's not just an out of the conversation, it's true. More than that, it's exactly what she needs to hear. "You sound like you talk from experience."
Billy rolls his eyes a little. "I have many experiences, both good and bad," he says. "They have all helped mold me into the operative I am, but I can't let them control me. In the field, you have to let go of it entirely. You can't be yourself, even if you're relying on yourself to get the job done. You have to be more, down in your very core. If you don't believe your own lies, then the mark is more than likely to doubt them, too."
"But how do you do it?" she asks because she wants to know, needs to know. "How do you put everything aside and just do what needs to be done?"
If the question is a surprise to Billy, he doesn't show it. But there's no arrogance or cockiness in his disposition. Instead, he gives her a simple smile and his eyes are bright but tired. "You answered your own question," he tells her. "You just do it. You put it all aside because the consequence if you don't are dire, and usually the things most at risk are the things you want to protect the most."
Chewing her lip, she shakes her head. She thinks about the lies they told to Richard, about the false history of her life since college and how she'd willingly deceived a friend. "You make it sound so easy."
"Words are always easy, just like a mission looks simple on paper," he says. "But out here-in this job-nothing's easy. Doesn't change the fact that we have to do it."
The lines are all blurred-truth and reality, friendship and forced alliances-but there's a bedrock of truth in that. Something she can hold on to while she lies to people she thought she cared about, while she tries to ignore the fact that she cares about people she wishes she didn't. Something she can cling to when Richard's smile is too trusting, Michael's smile is too knowing, and Fay just wishes she were home.
Walking into the banquet hall, Fay is reminded of what her life could have been. The life of a socialite was never something that had inherently appealed to her. She had danced around the fringes of such a lifestyle in her years abroad, but she'd been young and idealistic. The idea of fancy dinner parties had seemed too decadent to base her life goals on such things.
That was why she had studied political science along with art. She had wanted both-the culture and the politics.
Now, years later, as she walks into the cultural reality, she realizes how much she's given up for the politics. There had been job offers, after all. Positions at galleries in France. One working possibility at a museum in Vienna. Opportunities of a lifetime that she had turned down for the CIA.
It hadn't been a hard decision, really. She believed in the greater good, that beautiful things weren't just paintings and sculptures but a world safe enough to enjoy them. She had talents to use, and the CIA would use them all.
That's still true, she supposes, though sometimes she wonders if the CIA will just use them until they're gone and she'll have nothing left to ever find herself in a place like this of her own accord.
Because it is a spectacular venue. Gothic architecture with sweeping ceilings and hand painted murals across the arches. Classical art hangs on the walls, with hand-carved filigree along the marble-lined halls.
And the people. Dressed in evening gowns and tuxes, making small talk about the best years for wine and the latest symphony performances to attend. They're polite and well-mannered, refined and educated.
It's a far cry from her life at the CIA, from drinking bitter coffee in the break room while trying to manage messes made in the name of national security. It's not that spies are bad people; it's not even that the social elite here are better people. It's just that Fay has given up everything-from her dreams to her heart, and sometimes she's not so sure what she's really gained in return.
Billy leads her cordially, arm wrapped lightly around her to convey their togetherness without actually getting fresh. It's a little funny, really, because it's been years since she's been treated like a real woman. Longer still since she's been able to go out with her hair done up and makeup all in place, on the arm of a man who knew how to make her feel special.
Of course, Billy is enacting a cover and her ex-husband and his entire team are stationed throughout the party, but for that moment-that single moment-Fay wants to relish it for what it's worth.
Billy leans in close next to her, his voice hot and quiet in her ear. "Once we get eyes on Richard, we need to make our move," he says. "We have one window here, and I'm afraid it won't be long."
She smirks. "So no caviar then?" she asks ruefully.
Billy smiles gallantly at her. "Caviar is a must," he says. "But we may have to draw the line at crab cakes. Entirely too much mess for our timeline."
That actually makes her laugh, and as Billy passes a waiter, he pauses to grab a glass of champagne. He hands it off to her grandly.
Accepting it, she lifts her eyebrows. "Is this entirely by the book?"
Billy scoffs. "When in Rome, you must do as the Romans," he says. "And while at decadent dinner parties, a little self indulgence is absolutely required."
She's still not quite sure about the mission protocol on such things, but as she takes a sip, she can't deny that a little alcohol feels good on her frayed nerves. Because the opulence of the hall only reinforces how out of place Fay is. She might have belonged here-once, in a different life-but she doesn't belong here now. Her entire presence is a farce and a con, and she feels like everyone can see just by looking at her.
Billy puts his arm around her again, navigating them through the crowd. "You look spectacular, by the way," he says.
She takes another drink and smiles. "You've been working with men too long."
"That may in fact be true," Billy concedes. "But that does not change the fact that you are indeed the most sophisticated woman in the room."
"I'm quite serious," Billy says. "With all the attention you're gleaning from your very presence, I'm becoming a bit nervous at maintaining my typical affluent stealth."
She shakes her head, eyes scanning the crowd, looking for a familiar face. "You really are insufferable."
"He is insufferable," Michael's voice comes over their comm link.
Fay flinches, suddenly remembering her earwig.
"And Billy, stop flirting with my wife," Michael orders.
Fay's jaw tightens and she looks around the room pointedly for any sign of Michael. "It's nice to be with a man who actually takes the time to appreciate me in all aspects," she says.
"My intentions on all counts are entirely noble," Billy says, and it's not clear if he's assuring her or Michael.
"Well, while everyone is being noble," Casey's voice interjects, "I've got eyes on our mark, entering from the south."
That's the cue they've been waiting for, and Fay's annoyance gives way to the pounding of her heart. Billy steers them around and Fay looks through the crowd and finally sees Richard coming in the entrance, just as Casey advertised.
He's impeccably dressed, a beautiful date on his arm. Fay doesn't know the woman-just like she doesn't know any of the other people here-and she reminds herself that no matter what she's feeling, no matter what doubts she has, she has a job to do.
It's time to put the rest aside and focus on that.
Time to put Michael, put her uncertainties, put her regrets aside, and get the job done.
In the ambiance of the party, Richard is even more sociable than before. Fay remembers this-how easily Richard used to unwind with the slightest provocation. Billy keeps them stocked with champagne and when Richard suggests that Billy meet his business partners to see if they can all work something out, it comes about as seemingly natural.
Billy even manages to apologize for dwelling on business, trying to redirect the conversation, to the point where Richard nearly has to drag Billy forcibly out of his seat. "Fay can spare you, can't she?" Richard asks, looking back at Fay.
"Of course," Fay says readily, not because she wants to be alone but because the sooner this mission is over, the sooner she can get out of here.
"Are you sure?" Billy asks, perfectly in character. "I know how you hate when ramble on about business."
"All the more reason for you to do it in your private company," Fay tells him.
Billy's face brightens. "She's terribly understanding, my beautiful Fay," he says to Richard.
Richard's eyes linger. "The best ones are," he says. "I will just arrange a few introductions and then be right back. You will be here?"
Richard is looking expectantly at Fay and for a second, she doesn't know what to say. Ultimately there's no other answer and her earwig feels itchy and hot when she says, "Certainly. Lots of old times to catch up on."
Billy gives her one last look-more appraising than the last-but she just nods. Satisfied, he allows Richard to lead him away, and by the time they're out of earshot, they're already talking business proposals and new ideas.
With them gone, Fay breathes out, letting her shoulders sag. It's exhausting, all the lying. Now she realizes why Michael always came back from missions feeling weary. It's not the jet lag and it's not the physical exertion per say-but the sheer emotional toll of deception is more than she had anticipated.
"And we've got contact," Michael's voice comes into her ear.
Fay glances around, sees Rick with a serving tray. He nods at her encouragingly.
"Just hold cover and hold position," Michael instructs. "We should have this done in no time."
And all Fay can think as she takes another sip is that it's not soon enough.
It should be easy to hold position.
Of course, that doesn't take into consideration Richard. When he comes back, he settles back down, looking at Fay with a curious expectancy.
"So," Fay says, feeling awkward. Without Billy there to leverage the conversation, her dialogue skills feel clunky. As artistically inclined as she may be, acting has never been her forte. "Is the business discussion underway?"
"Oh, yes," Richard replies. "I set your husband up in a private meeting with one of my business partners. Maybe you remember Lucas."
Fay's face brightens. "Of course," she says. "I didn't know you two were still friends."
"Business partners, really," Richard says. "We've found our paths to be mutually beneficial."
"So you won't be needed in the conversations?" Fay asks, somewhat hopeful that Richard will find a reason to leave her alone.
Richard flits a hand through the air. "Lucas' exploits far exceed my own," he says. "His ambition reminds me of your husband, so I trust they'll be apt company."
This sounds reasonable, maybe even expected. Still, Fay has to force her smile. "Well, I feel like I've kept you from your guests," she says, making a move to leave.
"Nonsense," he says. "Most of these are people I've seen too much of already. I hadn't realized what I'd been missing until I saw you this morning. Makes me remember how things used to be. All the ways things could have been different."
The nostalgia in his voice is genuine, and she feels herself relax. "I know the feeling," she says. "Life does seem to get away from you."
"But not you," Richard points out keenly. "I mean, look at you. Happily married, working freelance in the art you've always loved. Things seem so perfect. All that you could hope."
Cover or not, his assertions make her feel rueful. "Life isn't always everything it seems," she says.
Richard's smile is sympathetic. "So another thing we have in common," he says. "Sometimes I think I'd trade the success and the parties, just for something real. Like the conversations we all had back in college."
It's an idealized past Fay remembers. "Things don't seem so bad now," she says, offering it as a meager olive branch.
Richard's look is warm. "No, I suppose not," he says. He pauses, looking around the room. Then he leans forward. "Would you like to see the things I've been doing in my personal time?"
It surprises her. "Oh, I don't-"
"Just my art," he says. "You were always so intent on me following through with some of it, and while I never made a career of it, I never gave it up. But it's been years since I've shared it. I would love a second opinion."
There's a hum of noticeable silence in her ear. She remembers the mission. She remembers her role. Keeping Richard preoccupied will give Billy more time to accomplish his means and make it less likely for anyone to catch wind of the sting.
And she remembers Richard's art. That was how they met-in art class. He had wanted to be a painted-an impressionist. His girlfriend at the time had steered him from that and Fay had had no grounds to persuade him otherwise. The idea that he still held onto it, though, gave her hope. Not for Richard, but for herself. Maybe she could still have it all.
This time, her smile is real. "Of course," she says. "I'd love to."
"Wonderful," he says, getting to his feet. He gestures toward the door. "Right this way."
Fay gets to her feet and nods her acquiescence and follows him out the door.
The manor is more impressive the farther from the banquet hall they get. There is no stop to the splendor, and ever the nooks and crannies are fully attired in the best of culture and refinement. It's all she can do to keep from gaping in wide-eyed wonder.
He leads her through several corridors and when he opens one, she doesn't hesitate to go in.
It doesn't take her more than a second to realize it's a bedroom.
It's only another second to realize it's his bedroom.
Her hesitation is instantaneous, but as Richard lopes in, she has no time to indulge it. "Forgive the quarters," he says. "I figure the only room safe enough for my private work is one where most people never go."
That's when she notices the walls. Like the rest of the home, they're full of art. But unlike the classical pieces throughout the house, these are different. Modern and impressionistic, ranging from surrealism to bold realism.
It takes her breath. "You did all these?" she asks, in total disbelief.
"In my free time," Richard acknowledges.
She looks at them, moving from one to another in awe. When she finally pulls away, she realizes that Richard's not looking at the art; he's looking at her.
Swallowing, she laughs. "I have to say, I'm impressed," she says, trying to deflect her awkward uncertainty as best she can. She has to focus on the job. Focus to get it done.
His gaze doesn't waver. "Me, too."
With purpose, she swallows and walks around him widely. There had been a time when she would have considered Richard, a time back in college when she maybe wanted something like this. And maybe now, if things were different. If this wasn't a mission, if she'd been honest about anything since seeing him.
As it is, this isn't what she wants. For herself or for the mission.
Richard moves, turning around. "I've missed you, Fay," he says, and there's such longing that she has to stop and turn around.
He's still looking at her. Intense and knowing. Like Michael does, only without the subtlety and affection. There's just want.
That's when she realizes that she's not the only one pulling a con. All of Richard's friendly overtures, all of his polite moves to move Billy into a business meeting-it's not just Richard's friendly nature. It's that he has his eyes set on something else.
He has his eyes set on Fay. Literally and figuratively and it doesn't take a spy to put those pieces together; all her defenses are rising and mission or no mission, she wants a way out.
Backing up, she presses her lips together in a smile. "I think I gave you the wrong idea," she says, easing her way toward the door.
Richard still advances. "This connection between us-it's always been meant to be. Just like in college."
"You were dating my best friend," she reminds him.
"And as soon as you were gone, I never looked at her again."
Fay feels flushed, heart thudding in her chest. She works to remember her cover. "I'm married."
"And you're not happy," he says readily. He's close enough now that she can smell him, the faint smell of his after shave, the tinge of alcohol on his breath. He's buzzed, and Fay remembers too late that he can't hold his liquor. "I can see it in your eyes."
"We're making it work," Fay says, feeling desperate now as she gets to the door. "And I respect that-"
Her fingers close on the handle and Richard closes the distance between them, leaning his weight against the door to keep it shut. "You're far too beautiful to live lies anymore," he says.
The irony is not lost on her. She laughs hotly. "And you know the truth."
"I know you want this," he says, and he moves in, pressing his lips against her.
It's so sudden that she squirms, trying to pull away. Richard presses hard, moving his body closer and the alcohol is heavier than she expects it to be.
Feeling panicked, she remembers that she's not a field operative, but she's still CIA. More than that, she lives in DC and she knows how to take care of herself.
With effort, she twists away, slamming her heel into his vulnerable instep.
He breaks off with a yelp, keeling over.
She doesn't wait for him to recover, opening the door in a rush and hurrying back out. In the hallway, she's breathing heavily, trying to make sense of where she is. She remembers the corridors, but they all look the same. Everything looks the same.
Suddenly the door opens behind her. Richard is there, fuming. "That's no way to treat an old friend," he seethes.
"I was your friend," she says. "But clearly I'm not anymore."
Something flickers in his eyes, and Fay starts off in a jog before he has a chance to react. Her heels click on the marble, and he's following suit. She struggles to breathe, to think, to focus-she turns hard at a corner, her desperation mounting, and runs straight into Billy.
His arms cushion her and her relief is instant.
"Now, there you are," he says, and his voice is calm and ordered.
Richard stops short. He's still a little disheveled, face red.
Billy easily tucks her to the side, stepping slightly in front of her.
"I thought you had business," Richard says darkly.
"Business is important," he agrees. "Other things are more important. Something which I think you know, since you ducked out of the meeting and instead made a pass at my wife."
Richard's face contorts.
"Not exactly good form, mate," Billy says.
"She came onto me," Richard insists.
Fay's going to protest but she doesn't need to. "And if that were the case, I'd respect her wishes. But a lady in retreat speaks for itself."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Richard spits.
"And you don't know how to be a gentleman," Billy returns.
Richard's face darkens again and this time he lunges. Fay yelps, stumbling backward, but Billy holds his ground. He meets Richard's advance with an easy punch that puts Richard on his back.
"I think our business and our pleasure here is done," Billy says. "We'll see ourselves out."
Richard sits up. "You son of a bitch," he says. "I opened my home up to you."
"For the wrong reasons," Fay snaps.
Richard just shakes his head, mouth twisted into a grimace. "You want to humiliate me?" he asks in accusation.
"I think you're doing well enough yourself," Billy tells him and he's turning toward Fay. Their eyes meet and she nods. He starts to walk, but he doesn't get a step when Fay sees the movement. But there's no time to yell, no time to move. No time to move anything as Richard attacks from behind.
Billy still handles the hit well, though they both go rolling. Fay scampers to the side in shock as Richard keeps swinging, even when he's down. Billy pulls himself clear but as he gets to his feet, his movements are slower and heavy.
Even so, when Richard moves in for another attack, this time Billy doesn't hold back. It's almost frightening how short the fight is. A few hits and a kick, and Richard's sprawled, unmoving, on his back.
Breathing heavy, Billy presses his finger to his ear even as he moves toward Fay, an arm around her waist as he ushers her down the hall. "We've had a snag, south wing," he says. "We are going to need to neutralize Richard, although I don't think we have anything to hold him on. But he will be trouble for the rest of the meet."
"Copy that," Casey says. "On my way."
"You need to get back to the meet," Michael's voice come. "I'm only a minute out."
Billy nods, turning another corner. Fay is struggling to keep pace with his long legs, but he doesn't slow down, leading her through one hallway after another until they all look the same to Fay. Still, he seems to know where he's going, and Fay is so focused on getting out that she doesn't think to question. So when he comes up short, she's surprised.
"Shouldn't we keep going?" she asks, looking back. "The mission..."
Billy is leaned against the wall. When he looks up at her, his eyes are wide and bright. "Just a small snag," he says, almost apologetic. "Tell Michael it's all in place. We just need to...to execute."
He's heaving now, face pale and sweaty.
She frowns. "But, I don't-"
She's going to say she doesn't understand.
But then she does.
Because a drip of blood splashes to the ground and Billy's entire shirt front is red. He has one hand pressed tight against it, but red still seeps through his fingers at an alarming rate.
She doesn't know if she should scream or cry but she does nothing.
Billy smile. "I'm sorry," he says as his eyes roll up in his head and his body goes slack, sliding down the wall and landing in a heap on the floor.