My entry for last year's "Who Are You" challenge.

Another Day in the Life of a Spy

Christmas Eve, 11 PM, 50 miles outside Bogota

"Do we have a deal?"

The two men eyed each other, mistrust mirrored in each other's gaze. The second man studied the suitcase, its contents now visible in the dim light of the overhead lamp. He picked up one of the packs of bills, and flipped through it quickly. Finally, satisfied, he nodded.

"We have a deal."

The first man sighed in relief. His business partner, seeing this, smiled. "Nervous about the transaction, Senor Jackson?"

"No, no. Just glad we could come to terms, Senor Rosa."

"Well, rest assured, we will get you everything you want. All as fine in quality as what you just inspected." Rosa motioned over to a second suitcase at the other end of the table.

"Now," he said, turning back to Jackson, "I believe it is time to celebrate. It is, after all, Christmas." Rosa clapped, and a handful of other men appeared, all of whom looking as if they'd seen the wrong end of the last few years. One of them carried a bottle of expensive whiskey, however, while the other carried several glasses.

Jackson glanced around the room. Prior to the completion of the deal, he hadn't really examined his surroundings. Now, however, he could see that there was a small tree in the corner, struggling under the weight of a few stray ornaments. A few strings of lights lined the walls. He wasn't sure how we would have felt more or less intimidated had he seen them earlier.

"Now we can celebrate." Rosa snapped his fingers, and the glasses were filled. Jackson took a glass gratefully and held it up.

"Cheers. And Merry Christmas."

"Ah yes. That reminds me." He turned to one of his underlings. "Bring in the entertainment."

A moment later, one of the men returned to the room. He was accompanied by a young woman, dressed as what could only be described as one of Santa's elves, if Hugh Hefner had taken over the role of Santa Claus. The tight red vest she was wearing left little to the imagination. The red fur skirt barely made it halfway to her knee, leaving a large amount of leg exposed until a pair of red and white stockings appeared. A small knit Santa's cap was perched over her red hair. She glanced around the room, pausing briefly to flash him a quick smile.

"Hello, boys."

"Entertainment?" Jackson asked, barely noticing the slight crack in his voice. "Uh, exactly what kind of entertainment do you mean?"

"Oh I'll do anything you want, sugar," the woman cooed. "But how about some music first to set the mood?"

It took a few seconds for one of Rosa's men to finally blink, and scurry off to the back of the room. He eventually returned with an ancient boombox.

"Frosty the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul…"

The woman gave Rosa an amused look. The man shrugged. "It's Carlos's tape."

With that, the woman began to dance slowly around the room. Jackson wasn't exactly an innocent, but he could feel himself blushing. He watched her with rapt attention, and his heart rate would kick into high gear whenever her eyes would occasionally meet his. He felt a rush of jealousy as soon as her eyes left his.

After a while, she began to move more quickly. Rosa's men stood there, watching her. Even Rosa himself, who'd presumably seen more than his fair share of beautiful women, seemed entranced.

Jackson wasn't sure exactly what it was that brought him back to his senses. Maybe it was the way that she looked around the room, too quick for someone merely trying to keep everyone's attention. She had also stopped circling the room, and seemed to be hovering near the second suitcase. He was about to say something, but then she shimmied up to one of the guards in a none-too-subtle manner. That shifted into an even less open-handed chop to the guard's neck.

Two other men were down before everyone else had caught on to what was happening. The woman easily ducked down to avoid the gunshots from the most alert of Rosa's henchmen. Jackson watched her dive under the table, then grab the arm of one of the remaining guards just as he fired again. The bullet hit the last of Rosa's men, and a moment later only Jackson and Rosa himself remained standing.

Rosa had grabbed the money-filled suitcase, and was heading for the door. The woman looked over at the boombox, which was still warbling on about magic snowmen. She yanked the cord out, and hurled the box at Rosa. It hit him in the back of the head, sending him into the floor.

The mysterious woman turned her eyes toward Jackson. He slowly backed away, but she moved too quickly, and a moment later, he was on his back, with a boot on his chest. "Who are you?" he gasped.

"I'm DEA. And the US Government would prefer if you didn't bring those drugs into our country."

"You're DEA?" Jackson asked in surprise. "You people don't take Christmas off?"

"Why should we? You didn't."

"Seriously?" Jackson wasn't sure why he said this. He supposed he wasn't good in crisis situations, and really there wasn't much else to do at the moment other than make conversation. Apparently, having the world's sexiest DEA agent in an elf outfit glare down at you with murderous intent does that to you.

"Not really. What else am I going to do? Sit around, sing Christmas carols, and drink eggnog? No thank you."

"Well, you might enjoy Christmas shopping. That can get pretty…violent."

The woman thought about this for a second. "Nah. I'd just feel obligated to get them something the next year, not to mention sending cards, and I'd have to worry about inviting them to Christmas parties, and all that. This is much more satistfying."

The woman pulled Jackson to his feet, and the last thing he remembered was seeing some non-Christmas stars.

Christmas Eve, 4 AM, Monte Carlo

Agent Alex Forrest awoke to the sound of off-key singing. She recognized the strains of a familiar Christmas Carol, though as far as she could tell the lyrics weren't correct in any of the seven languages she was fluent in. Clearly the carolers had been drinking.

As she pushed herself out of bed, she remembered that they weren't the only ones. Judging from the pounding in her head, a hangover was well on her way. The moan coming from the bed, however, wasn't coming from her head. "Oh crap," she grumbled to herself.

She turned on the bedside lamp, and her companion for the night stirred. In the harsh light of the hotel room's fluorescent bulb, she was struck at how old her new acquaintance was.

"Wake up," she said stiffly after she had gathered her clothes from the room.

The man stirred, opened his eyes, and gave Forrest a sly smile. "Well. Merry Christmas."

"Right," Forrest said, as she looked around for her shoes.

The man got up, and headed to the mini-bar. To Forrest's chagrin, he didn't seem to feel the need to find his clothes. She briefly paused to watch him make a martini. "Not really Christmas-sy, is it?" she pointed to the glass when he had finished.

"Hmm?" the man shrugged. Looking around the room, he found a candy cane that the hotel staff had left in the room, and plopped it into the martini. "There."

Forrest shook her head. She still felt foggy, but she had a flight in a few hours, and she didn't want to dwell on her recent mistake.

"So, how long have you been a spy?"

Forrest looked over in surprise. The man had returned to the bed, and was sipping from the martini while giving her an inquisitive glance.

"How did you know…"

"Oh, please. First of all, we're in Monte Carlo, the Daytona Beach of spies. Second, nobody does vulnerable during the holidays like a spy. Believe me, I've seen it for years. And third, you practically have CIA written all over you."

"NSA, actually."

"Ah, NSA." The man pronounced the name as if he was tasting it, and deciding whether he liked it or not.

"So is that what you do? Go to Monte Carlo during Christmas and hit on vulnerable female spies?"

"There are worse ways to spend the holidays."

Seeing the man's rakish smile, Forrest recognized some of what had drawn her to him the previous night. He still looked old, but there was a vitality about him that was hard to ignore. "So you're a spy too?" she finally asked. "Or were?"

If the man noticed the sarcasm in Agent Forrest's voice, he didn't let on. He made a mocking bow from the bed, carefully avoiding spilling any of the martini. "At your service," he said in reply. "Again."

Rather than respond, Forrest pointedly stared at her watch.

"It gets easier, you know," the man said, not taking the hint. "As the years go by, you'll find something meaningful to cling to this time of year. Like I said, I've been at this for a long time."

"A long, long time," Forrest corrected. "And who said I'm looking for meaning? My job means everything to me."

"Right, my mistake." He finished his martini, and rose from the bed. To Forrest's relief, he went to search for his clothes.

"Listen, I have to leave in a few hours," Forrest said when he had finished getting dressed. "So…"

"Ah, yes, the busy life of a spy. Of course, I'll leave you be, Agent Forrest. But, if you ever want to contact me, say, same time next year, here's my card." The card he handed her only listed a telephone number, and a name. Roan Montgomery.

"Uh, thanks, but I don't think I'll…"

"Well, do whatever you like. Merry Christmas, Agent Forrest." Montgomery bowed again, and let himself out of the room.

For a while, Forrest sat on the bed, feeling the headache gain strength. Then she stood up, and walked up to the trashcan. She dropped the card down into the basket.

She returned to her packing, and in no time had all of her belongings together. She dragged her bags into the hallway, shutting the door behind her.

A minute later, the door opened again, and Forrest returned to retrieve the card.

Christmas Eve, 1 AM, Arlington, VA

While having a high level of clearance afforded a lot of perks and powers, it had its drawbacks. General Diane Beckman was brooding over this as she stared at the reports in front of her. Certain documents and mission reports were of too sensitive a nature to foist onto some willing underling, so she was stuck reviewing them herself. And they were always a chore to get through. If only, in addition to the hand-to-hand combat and weapons training, the NSA also trained its officers in proper grammar.

At least there weren't any interruptions to take her away from her work. Even when she worked from home, like she was now, someone would contact her on her direct line with some supposed emergency. Usually from California.

But Christmas Eve meant that everyone, both those on her side and on the other, was taking the night off. So she could get through these reports in peace. No matter how painful that was.

Finally, with a sigh, she tossed the current source of her misery on her desk and headed for her living room. She walked over to the bar and poured herself a scotch. She then found the remote control and turned on the TV.

She immediately groaned when she saw the black-and-white scene that flickered on. She had hit the movie just in time for the big finale, and all of the actors were gathered around singing 'Auld Lang Syne.'

"Oh sure, forgive him because he's so nice," she commented wryly. "Just forget that he's the reason all of you lost your money. That'll just come back to haunt you." She had dealt with far too many politicians just like George Bailey to buy into what the movie was selling. She flicked the remote, changing the channel.

The girl on screen was warbling about the dangers of pouting and General chuckled. The US Government could learn a thing or two about surveillance from 'Santa Claus.' Maybe some of the nation's law enforcement officers should wear red suits when approaching judges about wiretaps.

Still, the lessons in clandestine monitoring were hardly worth sitting through the caterwauling of the teenage pop star currently on the screen, and she changed the channel again.

After a few more disappointments, she finally found a station that revealed a more comfortable sight. It brought back memories of her younger days, when she wished for something similar for Christmas. Only she didn't get one.

"Ah, Ralphie," she said to the TV, leaning back with her scotch. "Will you ever get that bb gun?"

Christmas Eve, 4 PM, Burbank, CA

"I'd offer to help you, but I've come to realize how well you can handle a knife."

Sarah looked up from chopping vegetables to see Ellie standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Ellie, you should relax! We've got everything under control."

Ellie made a face. "I'm sure you do, but no thanks. At least in here I don't have Devon hovering over me all the time. And Chuck and Morgan have started in on one of their old Christmas traditions."

"Oh? Which one is that?"

"Watching those old stop-motion specials with the sound off, and inserting their own dialogue." Seeing Sarah's smile, she added, "Trust me, after a few minutes, it's not as fun to watch as you'd think."

"Funny, I don't remember them doing that last year."

Ellie smiled. "Well, I guess he was still trying to impress you then. You know, you shouldn't let him get away with feeling like he doesn't have to try anymore."

Ellie moved into the kitchen. She took a quick peek at the oven, making sure that the ham was making the appropriate level of progress, and was now cleaning some of the dishes in the sink. Sarah wanted to protest, but she knew it was of little use. It had been hard enough to get Chuck's sister to relinquish her usual hostess duties for one year.

"So," Ellie spoke up after a few minutes of silent chopping and scrubbing, "this must be kind of a dull Christmas for you, rather than the usual life of a spy."

"Not at all," Sarah responded. "As a spy, holidays tend to be, well, just another day. You're off on a mission, or catching up on whatever paper work or other leftover things you need to do."

"That doesn't sound like fun."

"The alternative is worse, actually. If you're not busy, then you tend to start dwelling on all of the things you had to give up. Family, friends. It's never a big deal until the holidays."

Ellie looked at her sadly. "And that was what it was like, before…"

"Before Chuck?" Sarah smiled. "Yes."

"Well, I'm glad we can all have a nice, real Christmas then. One where we can all be open and honest with other."

Sarah noted the minor rebuke, and felt worse since things still weren't entirely open or honest.

Before awkward silence had a chance to stretch for more than a couple of seconds, the sound of footsteps came from the living room. "Hey Ellie," Sarah heard Chuck's voice say, "Devon's looking for you."

"Oh, awesome," Ellie said, rolling her eyes. "Well, back to being fretted over."

"How are things going?" Chuck asked after Ellie had left. He put an arm around her waist, and gave her one of his crooked smiles.

"Just fine here. What happened to your game with Morgan?"

"Oh, 'Rudolphs Shiny New Year' started heading to a dark place, so we took a break. Ellie told you about that, huh?"

"About your dark secret? Yes, she spilled the beans. Isn't it a bit late for you to be hiding your geekiness from me?" She gave him a playful punch in the arm.

"Oh, on the contrary, I've always been quite upfront with my geekiness and my nerdiness. It's the dorkiness I try to put a lid on. What did you two talk about?"

"The life of a spy during Christmas."

"Ah. How it compares to being stuck here with me?"

"Please," she gave him a level gaze. "You don't know what it's like. I swear, Carina always makes sure she's on some mission during Christmas so she doesn't even have to think about what she's missing. And can you imagine how Beckman spends the holidays?"

"I'd imagine they have some ragers at the Pentagon."

"Hardly," Sarah rolled her eyes. "And by the way, why are you carrying mistletoe in your hand?"

"Ah, that. Casey and Alex will be here pretty soon, and even though the big guy seems to be accepting Morgan dating his daughter, I figured the PDA might be a bit too much for him still."

"Ah, good thinking. And that's all?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Well, I can't just leave it lying around. You know how potent this stuff is. This is ultra-strength mistletoe. Watch." He lifted it up over Sarah's head, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

"Hmm, you're right. This stuff is dangerous."

When Sarah finally broke away, she said, "This is fun, but I should really get back to finishing in here, and you should get back out there. This is our first time as Christmas hosts, you know."

Chuck gave an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose you're right. But be warned, eventually, I'm going to have to kick everyone out of here. I want part of this Christmas to be just about us. The people, not the spies."

Sarah smiled. "Sounds perfect. Merry Christmas, Chuck."

"Merry Christmas, Sarah."