Six months later
"Cinnamon," Rollin asked, "does Jack dislike me?"
Cinnamon, helping him get ready for a role as a dictator of a North African country, stopped for a moment. "Why do you ask?"
"I have noticed that she treats me coldly. Perhaps distantly is a better word to describe it. She is warm and familiar with the rest of the team, even Jim—especially Jim—but she treats me as though we are only acquaintances, or are nothing more than teacher and pupil. I had thought we worked remarkably well together, but I'm beginning to wonder if she trusts me. We can't afford not to trust each other in this business."
Cinnamon shook her head and handed him the spirit gum. "Of course she trusts you, you ninny. It's herself she doesn't trust. She's in love with you."
Rollin's hand stopped in the process of applying his first prosthetic, and his round green eyes stared at her. Cinnamon smiled at him pityingly.
"All your study of human nature, and you can't recognize the normal reactions of a twenty-one-year-old girl. Look, Rollin. She'd lost her father in a horrible way, lost her faith in his work and her own, been through a year of emotional upheaval, and then her first mission is a way of avenging him, and who is she paired with? You. An older but not too much older, unhandsome but terribly attractive man. And what do you do? You go and kiss her."
"What? Cinnamon, that is ridiculous. Out of that whole, insane, complicated mission, you think Dan Briggs' daughter would choose to fixate on the one logical way I had to get out of a tight situation?"
"Of course. You've never been a twenty-one-year-old girl, Rollin. I have. Of course, at her age I was much more experienced. She has had little experience with romantic entanglements. She's spent her whole life learning safecracking and gymnastics, working her way into the IMF and the British Worlds gymnastics team at the same time. I can't image there was much time for boys and romance. For all I know, you were the first person who ever kissed her, and that, Rollin, is a very significant thing to a young girl, even one who's a safecracker and Dan Briggs' daughter."
Rollin rubbed his hand over his dark head and agitatedly applied his new chin. "I meant nothing by it. I told her so. She understood."
"Of course she understood. She's intelligent and, Rollin, very professional. She doesn't let emotion get in the way. She has behaved extremely properly. No soft doe-eyes, no rushing to help you when you've been hurt, no trying to get appointed to teams you're on. You'd be surprised at the things girls can think up to get near the man they like. Jack has been nothing but professional. It's all she could do."
"Yes—yes, I suppose so. Now what am I supposed to do?"
Cinnamon kissed the top of his head with a twinkle in her eyes. "You'll figure it out."
Five months later
"Cinnamon told me something a while ago, Jack."
"Oh?" She was at his apartment, expecting her regular acting lesson, less than a week after their latest mission. Jim didn't always use her for his missions, but he still did rather frequently.
"She said you were in love with me."
Color flamed into Jack's face. "Oh, she did, did she? And who told her such a thing?"
"I presume she deduced it from knowing you. It seems I did you a…disservice by kissing you on our mission in Herzvolakia."
"Now wait a minute!" Jack said angrily. "You were only doing what was necessary. You said so. I agreed."
"I know. But still…look me in the eyes and tell me she's wrong."
Jack looked him in the eyes, and then her dark eyes wavered and fell. Then they came up again. "Now you listen, Rollin Hand! I don't know what Cinnamon told you, but I'm not as—as stupid as it sounds. If you'd been just any old jerk who kissed me in the course of a mission, I might have experienced some palpitations, and then I would have gotten over it. But no, you were you, and you had—character—and—and humor and gentleness and loyalty and talent and—and dedication—and you'd be worth any woman loving, so I'm not going to be made ashamed of loving you! It's all your own fault, anyway. And now you can go tell Jim and get me kicked off the team, if that's what you have to do."
"Why would I do that?" he asked, as he had once before, with his whimsical, sideways smile.
"Well—" she said helplessly, suddenly deflated.
Rollin leaned forward and kissed her, and it was obvious that this was no professional, acting-a-role kiss. Jack, taken by as complete surprise as at the museum, responded for a moment just as she had been supposed to do at the museum, and then suddenly she shoved him away.
"What are you doing?"
"I am going to marry you, Jack Briggs. That's what."
"Are you insane? What about Cinnamon?"
His brow wrinkled. "What about Cinnamon?"
"I thought—you and she—"
"Why does everyone think that? Yes, we had a thing once, nearly ten years ago, Jack. She broke it off, and for a while I wished she hadn't. And then we became friends, and our friendship has been better and closer than our romance was. The romance became a bit of a joke between us. There is no one I trust more than Cinnamon, no one I'd rather have my back in a role. And there's no one I'd rather be married to than you. They're two completely different things, in case you haven't noticed. I only realized it myself after she pointed it out, a couple months ago."
He kissed her again, and she leaned into him with a blissful bewilderment.
"You realize," he murmured after a moment, "that I'm almost old enough to be your father."
"Don't be ridiculous. My father was a dozen years older than you. You're not remotely fatherly."
"I certainly hope not," he smirked. "So you'll marry me then?"
She straightened suddenly. "No, I can't marry you! Jim would never allow it! We'd never work together again!"
"About that, yes. I have been making plans. First of all, the new Secretary thinks that people who are related have a high chance of working well together, if they have a good track record in their relationship. In the second place, I have been offered the formation of my own team."
She gaped at him. "They want to make you an IMF leader?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, Jack, they offered me Dan's team two years ago. I turned it down. I wasn't ready. His death devastated us all, and I couldn't face the idea of trying to replace him. It was better to bring in someone from outside the core team. But my own team—I'm ready for that. And I am not opposed, as Jim is, to married people working on the same team. There's nothing against you and me working together on my team. Mine and Cinnamon's."
"I told you there's no one I'd rather work with than Cinnamon. I want her as my co-leader and replacement in an emergency. I wish I could steal Barney and Willy, too, but then it would be Dan's team again, and that wouldn't be fair to Jim."
"But you, me, and Cinnamon—is that right, just decimating Jim's team like that?"
Rollin smirked again. "My dearest Jack, you and I are replaceable. Jim has always liked working with Tina Mora, as you know, and I have a feeling that my good friend Paris would make a very valuable addition to Jim's team. They would work well together. And no matter what you and I do, Cinnamon cannot work with Jim anymore, by his own rules."
"Because they are going to be married."
Jack's mouth opened and closed.
"At least," Rollin amended, "they are if we can ever get Jim to let go of her as a team member. Don't tell me you haven't seen it. Ever since Cinnamon was captured and tortured and we traded her for Rudolf Kurtz, Jim has been just slightly protective of her. You weren't there. You didn't see his reaction when she got out of the car at the border. Cinnamon told me it wasn't until that mission that they both realized what they meant to each other. He's been a bit more unprofessional about it than you have been about me, as a matter of fact. Jim needs to have her off his team for his own sanity, as well as so he'll feel free to marry her."
"I don't believe it," Jack murmured.
"Believe it, my dear." He took her face in his hands. "Believe it and marry me—please?"
In later years, when Rollin Hand was asked what conflict there had been between him and Jim Phelps that led him to break a successful IMF team in two and start his own, he always laughed and said, "Why does there have to be conflict in order for there to be a new start? Good things can come to an end and give birth to more good things without destructive conflict being the reason. When it was time for our team to end, two successful marriages and two new successful teams were born. That was reason enough, I should think."