"Annie? Can I borrow you for a second?" Joan called across the DPD. At eight months pregnant she was due to go on maternity leave in two weeks time, determined to work for as long as possible throughout her pregnancy.
"Sure. What's wrong?" Annie walked over to her former boss curiously.
"Are you busy at the moment?"
"No, just translating a bunch of emails. Why?" Annie tipped her head slightly.
"A former asset of mine has information the agency needs, but she was attacked a few months ago and she's refused to speak with any male operatives. I was wondering whether you would speak with her?" Joan asked.
"Of course. What's the information?" Annie inquired.
"I'll tell you in the car. Lyra was my asset before I became DCS; I want to check on her so I'm coming too."
"Okay. I'll go tell Auggie, then I'll grab the car."
"You can drive, but we're going in mine. Yours is a death trap." Joan told her. Annie rolled her eyes slightly.
"What is it with people and my car?" she complained with a smile, before turning and flitting across the room, calling out as she went:
"Auggie! You're needed!"
A little over an hour later found Annie and Joan driving through a forested area, the latter fiddling with the Satnav as they struggled to find their way through the terrain.
"Who chooses to live out here?" Annie complained, wincing as another branch struck the side of the car as they drove past.
"Lyra, apparently." Joan answered. Suddenly, a deep rolling boom echoed throughout the forest.
"Hey Joan… I don't suppose you checked the weather before we left?" Annie asked, slowing the car and peeking up at the sky.
"No... Let's try to find the cottage." Joan said resolutely, reattaching the satnav to the dashboard of the car and rubbing a hand soothingly over her stomach. Both pointedly ignored the flashes of light that washed across the sky every now and then, or the deep booms that followed them.
"Aw crap. Joan- we have to find this cottage." Annie flinched as the rain pelted down, instantly drenching the track they were driving on and causing it to become thick mud.
"I'm aware of that Annie." Joan said shortly. "Take a left here."
Annie turned the wheel, but as she accelerated the back end of the car skidded out and spun them around, heading dangerously close to the adjacent ditch.
"Annie!" Joan gripped the handle of the door tightly, face pale as Annie fought for control, desperately trying to stop them from falling into the ditch.
The car finally stopped, leaving Annie gripping the wheel and breathing heavily.
"Are you ok?" she glanced at Joan worriedly. The older woman nodded, relaxing her grip slowly.
"I'm fine. If… if we can get there, the house should be straight ahead." Annie nodded silently and tentatively tried the accelerator. The car eased forward safely, leaving both woman heaving sighs of relief.
An infinite amount of time later, the dark cottage came into view.
"Shouldn't there be lights?" Annie asked over the cracks of thunder and pounding of the rain.
"Yeah…" Joan shifted uncomfortably, watching the house for any sign of movement.
"You want to stay here and I'll go see if she's there?" Annie offered. Joan glared at her.
"I'm pregnant, not incapacitated. I can get there just fine." She swung herself out the car to prove her point. Annie followed her, becoming soaked in just a few seconds.
"Yuck!" she cursed, slipping and sliding her way through the thick mud around the car. Joan was doing the same, one hand curled protectively over her stomach while the other wavered in the air as she struggled to keep her balance.
Wordlessly, Annie held her arm out to steady her and the pair made their way across the garden. They huddled under the tiny porch, Joan pounding the door.
"Lyra!? Lyra, it's Joan! Open the door!" she hollered, but there was no sign of a response from inside the house. Annie glanced at Joan, before slipping her lock picks from her pockets and quickly undoing the lock. The pair stepped inside, Annie shining a torch to find the light.
"Oh crap." The lights flickered on to reveal the living room and kitchen area, both empty of any and all furniture. "I thought you said she was supposed to be here?"
"She was!" Joan wandered through the house, checking the bedroom and bathroom, both of which were also empty. While she was, Annie called Auggie.
"Annie? Are… alright?... report… storm…" Auggie's voice came through distorted and crackled.
"Auggie? Auggie, I can't hear you!" Annie pressed the phone to her ear harder.
"Where… reports… warning… ni…"
"What? Auggie, listen; Lyra isn't here. She's not here." Annie hoped her message got across to the other end.
"O… Annie, stay… dangero…" the line went dead.
"Damn it!" Annie cursed, holding it up to try and find signal.
"What?" Joan appeared in the doorway from the bedroom. Annie held up the phone in answer. "Oh. Listen, I think we should stick it out here for a while. It's too dangerous out there."
"Agreed." Annie smiled. "At least we have electricity. Not to sure about running water though."
She went to the sink and tested it, waving her hand underneath to catch any water.
"Apparently not." She snatched her hand out from under it as it made a groaning noise and began to rattle. "Did you find anything?"
She turned when Joan made no comment to see the older woman leaning heavily against the wall, her eyes closed and her face screwed up in pain.
"Joan? Are you ok?" Annie hurried over to her side, concern fluttering over her features.
"I…I'm fine. Braxton hicks." Joan opened her eyes and straightened up slowly.
"Maybe you should go sit in the car…" Annie hedged, wincing slightly at the glare Joan shot at her.
"I'm fine Annie." Joan snapped. She closed her eyes and ran a hand through her hair. "Sorry."
"It's fine. Just tell me if you're not though because I'd rather drive you to the hospital than have to deliver a baby or something myself."
"Don't joke about that- I'm not sure we could make it to the hospital!" Annie chuckled at that, tucking a lock of wet hair behind her ear and wandering over to the thermostat to turn it up. "I hope this works, or we're going to freeze."
"It's probably going to get colder soon too- the storm doesn't look like it's gong to stop anytime soon."
"Mind you, we can always go sit in the car and turn the heating on."
"Annie!" Annie turned in surprise at the panic in Joan's voice.
"What is it? What's wrong?" the older woman stood stock still, fear visible on every inch of her face.
"I… I think my waters just broke."