somewhere i have never travelled
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: So I finally had a chance to see Star Trek Into Darkness and like the glutton for punishment I am, I just had to go and fall in love with it. Y'know, because apparently I don't have enough stories taking up residence in my head, so I had to go and toss one more on the pile. So, please, read…enjoy. Reviews are love.
Updated, 9/27/13 – Chapter One has been thoroughly edited. Apologies, but the story itself demanded a few modifications as it decided to take on a life of its own, as explained in the A/N for Chapter Two.
It was raining again. A thick, steady, soaking rain that fell in ever deepening puddles from a steel-gray sky so thick with clouds that it was doubtful there be would be even a glimpse of sun that day.
Which, really, was fine by her—she wasn't feeling particularly sunny herself.
Limping along the sodden sidewalk, only half-heartedly sticking to the covered bits, Lieutenant Rebecca Duval longed to be tucked up in bed with a book and a cup of hot chicory and enjoying the first real leave time she'd had in almost two years—exactly where she had been not two hours ago. But leave or not, injured or not…when she was called in, she went; a fact that was doubly true when it was Admiral Marcus himself requesting her presence in his office at 1100 sharp. The Admiral was the single most powerful man in all of Starfleet—both the known and the unknown parts of it—and anyone with a brain in their head or an ambition in their body knew that when he said jump, you jumped. No questions, no comments, no exceptions or excuses.
So she had gotten up, gotten dressed and had firmly ignored the thin sliver of annoyance that wove its way through the innate dedication. She had left earlier than would normally be necessary, knowing that her hampered gait was going to mean a longer trip, but she was still going to be there well before the requested time. A fact which was, no doubt, fully anticipated if not outright expected. To the Admiral, punctuality was not just a courtesy; it was a demonstration of respect.
And she had never been anything but early to any meeting she'd ever had with him.
Hobbling through the glass doors at the front of the Kelvin Memorial Archive, she veered left, away from the information desk manned by two fresh-faced Academy graduates and toward the unobtrusive door situated around the corner and down a short, narrow hallway. Running her palm swiftly down the right hand side of the plain, metal door, she immediately heard the click of the old-fashioned latch disengaging as her bio signature was accepted. Reaching out with her good arm—the right, luckily enough; if only one of the pair was going to come through unscathed, at least it had been the useful one—she turned the knob, at which point the seemingly antiquated door slid open with a muted hiss, revealing the crisp, white interior of a not at all antiquated turbolift.
Once inside, the door whispered closed behind her and the lift immediately engaged, dropping down, down past even the lowest sub-basement of the Archive proper. When it had reached its destination, the doors opened once more and she started forward down a low-ceilinged, narrow hall lit only sparsely by the most rudimentary overhead lamps. At the far end, a good minute walk from the lift door, sat a single desk and behind it, a single man, whose eyes were locked on her, unblinking and unapologetically wary. His right hand held a phaser pointed directly at her; his left was poised just above a panic button. He wore a plain, black uniform that looked all Starfleet, but bore no distinction as to rank or designation—a plain black uniform that was echoed beneath the equally non-descript black greatcoat that she herself wore.
Approximately five feet from the desk, she stopped. "Duval to see Admiral Marcus."
"Prepare for biometric confirmation," the Agent, always Girard of late, directed.
She did as instructed, holding still and staring straight ahead while the scanners kicked to life, stripes of green light dancing across her skin as every square inch of her face was mapped and compared to her official clearance scan. After a moment, the light disappeared and Girard looked up from the screen mounted within the surface of the desk.
She started forward immediately, limping toward the door that had slid open just to the right of the desk. She dipped her head to her fellow Agent in perfunctory acknowledgment as she passed. "Girard."
"Duval," he returned, then frowned. "I'd heard you were back. Man, they weren't kidding were they?"
She stopped, half-turned back toward him, brow raised. "About?"
"You really got your ass handed to you," he elaborated, expression caught half-way between amused satisfaction and false sympathy—she expected the first, and frankly was surprised that he even bothered with the second; there was little love lost between them. "I mean, you look like shit, Duval."
Auguste Girard had proven a mediocre asset to the Section at the best of times and a flaming failure at the worst. He'd blown more covert field ops than anyone she'd known since donning the black uniform…thus, the desk job. He wasn't worth her very valuable time, but as she had a few moments to spare—and as she'd never done particularly well with being laughed at—she thought she might as well take a moment to give him back a bit of his own.
She graced him with a sweeter-than-sugar smile—a hand-me-down from her very Southern Grandmother, who'd done passive-aggressive better than anyone she'd ever known. "Why bless your heart for trying, Girard," she said, tone as saccharine as her expression and twice as false, "but that was just sad. I might not be looking my best right now, but I got the job done in the end. So next time you go looking to kick someone when they're down, might be best if you make sure you find someone who actually is down. It can be tricky, but here's a hint," she leaned down toward him, expression going cold, "just look for the pretty boy parked behind a desk while everyone else is out doing work."
Girard's very pretty face went very violently red. "You're a real bitch, Duval."
She quirked a brow at him and shot him a razor blade grin. "Yes, I am. And it's part of the reason why I'm damn good at my job. And you, Girard, are all mouth and no brain which is all of the reason why you're sitting here on your ass, pushing buttons all day. So by all means, Agent, carry on."
She turned away and limped through the open door, savoring the image of his furious mortification as she left him sitting at his safe, comfy desk.
Five minutes later, she was standing in the anteroom of Marcus' office, staring into the antique mirror that hung on one wall, one of many antiques that decorated the Admiral's office space. His official Starfleet office at Headquarters in San Francisco was typical of the times, stark and utilitarian and very modern—all gleaming steel and polished glass. But here, in his unofficial abode, an entirely different story was told. These rooms were all warm wood and curving lines, sumptuous fabrics and richly upholstered furnishings. The ambiance spoke of times gone long by and a way of thinking that had gone along with it, but that the Admiral, for all his very modern ways, had been trying for quite some time to bring back from the historical dustbin.
Section 31, as much her home as any place had ever been, was the best example of that ambition. Within these walls were the men and women whose job it was to make sure that the world really was the peaceful, pacifistic paradise that it was supposed to be. And they were willing to use any means necessary to keep it that way.
Sometimes—thankfully not too often—that philosophy proved a painful one to live by.
She ran her eyes over her reflection, tracing the purple-black bruise that spanned her left cheek, the half-healed split in her lip and the butterflied gash above her right eye. Her face most certainly bore testament to the fact that she'd recently been in a hell of a fight, but she'd been around the block enough times to know all the best ways to camouflage the full extent of her injuries. Her dark brown hair, usually pulled tightly up into a neat chignon, hung around her face in soft waves. She'd avoided make-up all together, as it would only have drawn attention to places she didn't currently want attention. In fact, the only bits of color in her face were the wounds themselves and the pale, mossy green of her eyes. Her full length black pants—she never wore the Starfleet issue skirt anyway—hid the brace that supported her newly repaired MCL and PCL, though the unavoidable limping gait necessitated by the brace made it obvious she was wearing one. Her long-sleeved, loose-fitting black tunic concealed not only her wrapped ribs, but also the skin-tight sleeve that covered her left arm from wrist to elbow and protected the laser-knit bones of her forearm.
All in all, as she'd said to Girard, she could concede that she wasn't looking her best. But in all honesty, she liked the wounds; considered each one a badge of honor, actually. They told the story of a job well done under less than ideal circumstances and she wore them the way Agents like Girard never would—proudly.
The door to the Admiral's office opened with a soft hiss and she immediately turned toward it, automatically snapping to attention.
"Enter," the Admiral barked, abrupt as ever. Some Agents bristled at it; she preferred his straight-to-the-point style rather than the conciliatory song and dance approach that so many in Starfleet Command took now.
She walked into the office as normally as she could, forcing her limp disappear the best she could, though she knew it was rather an exercise in futility. As soon as she was through the door, she realized that the Admiral was not alone in the office and her posture snapped just that much straighter, her expression going deliberately and carefully blank. Keeping her eyes forward—though she took peripheral note of the five extra bodies crowding up the space to her right, she approached the large desk to her left. "Admiral Marcus," she acknowledged with nod, standing at attention. "You asked to see me, sir?"
Admiral Alexander Marcus sat back in his oversized chair, another relic of a bygone era in a room full of them. He was deep into his sixties now, though he was far from an old man—the bright blue eyes that regarded her appraisingly from that weathered face were far too sharp, far too seeing, to belong to a truly old man. "You're early, Lieutenant."
That had been faintly accusing and she only just held back her frown. "I am, sir. I apologize if I've interrupted, Admiral."
"No, no, you haven't interrupted anything," he waved away her concern, eyes sliding past her to focus behind her. "Well, nothing important anyway—nothing that can't wait." He looked back to her, smiling now—a wide grin that looked almost smug. "So let's go ahead and get this debrief taken care of, shall we?"
She was confused, but she didn't even hesitate, playing along as if this was exactly the conversation she'd expected to have when she walked through the door. "Only if you're sure, Admiral. I'd be happy to wait for you to finish."
"Not at all, Duval. Trust me, this works out much better for everyone. So…" he picked up his PADD, flicking through files that she had already gone over with him a week previously, until he arrived at whichever one he was looking for, "...confirmed topaline smuggling operation on Capella IV, made deep cover contact with ringleader. Ringleader subsequently neutralized," he arched a brow, tossing her a look that was equal parts amused and disapproving. "Taking full advantage of those discretionary parameter ops, I see."
She returned his look with a grin and a shrug, falling easily into the role he was clearly expecting her to play. "They did come in handy in this case, sir."
The Admiral looked back down at the screen with a shake of his head. "Let's see…obtained information indicating Capella operation was one of many such operating along the borders of Federation space. Also had temporary visual access to detailed log indicating…," he set the PADD down with exactly the same sharpness that he had the last time they had this discussion, expression serious as he braced his arms on the desk and leaned toward her, "…Klingon involvement. Lieutenant, are you absolutely certain of that?"
"Absolutely, sir. Admittedly, I only know a few words of the language, but I'm familiar enough with the appearance of it to be able to confidently identify it. In fact, the bulk of the most recent transactions listed in that log point directly back to Qo'noS."
Admiral Marcus let out a deep sigh, his shoulders slumping. "Shit," he bit out. "Not only does that mean we're losing valuable mineral resources to those bastards, but it suggests they're infiltrating Federation space with ever increasing regularity. I don't think I need to tell you how little I like this development, Lieutenant."
He was right. He didn't. Mostly because he already had.
"It's certainly not an ideal situation, sir."
"Hell of an understatement there, Duval." Another deep sigh, then his expression changed, warmed almost exponentially. "But that was some extremely valuable intel you appropriated for us. Another job well done, Lieutenant. I am duly impressed."
Now that was different; a deviation from the script of their previous meeting. An important one, she assumed, to whatever his purpose was for this performance. The Admiral made it a point never to dole out praise—who saw success as nothing more than the inevitable outcome of proper training—so that he was doing it now clearly meant something. "Thank you, sir."
The Admiral leaned further back, looking up at her with concern. "However, Doctor Pedregon wasn't quite as impressed. He informs me in his report that you're grounded for the foreseeable future while you heal up." He stopped and gave her a visual once over. "We're sure going to miss you around here until you get back. Tell me, how are you feeling, Lieutenant?"
"I've felt better," she admitted, recognizing that they were finally coming to the point of this entire charade the Admiral had enacted, "but I've also felt worse. And there's really no need for me to be missed, sir; I patched up well enough that the Doctor saw no need to place me on mandatory medical leave. I may not be cleared for the field, but I can still be useful."
"Is that so?" The Admiral's eyes were almost glowing with approval now, though still intense in their regard. Once more, his focus shifted to behind her. After a moment, his lips curved into a slow, calculating grin. "Well doesn't that just work out perfectly?"
There was suddenly a thickness to the air, a palpable tension that she was very careful not to react to. "Sir?"
"I've just thought of a way that you can, in fact, be useful while you're stuck in dry dock, Duval." He snapped his eyes back to hers, all business and no warmth to be found now. "Are you up for it?"
"Always, sir." No act there; just straight, simple truth.
Marcus was silent for a moment, studying her…measuring her. Apparently satisfied, he nodded once more, meaningfully. "You've continually proven yourself to be one of the best we've got. Usually I'd be loath to pull you from active duty for anything, but since you're out of commission anyway, I can't think of anyone more qualified for this particular job." He stood, moved around the desk and motioned for her to stand as well. "We've…acquired a new Agent," he said, and the way he said it spoke volumes.
"We have," Marcus repeated. "And I'm afraid he's going to need quite a bit of…acclimation."
She was intrigued, and it seemed the appropriate response, so she allowed it to show on her face. "How so, sir?"
The Admiral waved off her question. "A subject for later, Duval. For now, I think introductions are in order."
Taking that as her cue to turn around, she did just that, immediately eyeing and cataloging every detail of the scene that lay before her.
As she'd noted upon entering, there were five people occupying the sitting area of the Admiral's office. Four of them she recognized as being part of the private security detail that Marcus employed for the Section. Those four were positioned on either side of one of the wingback chairs that sat in front of the mahogany bookshelves that lined the wall, two in front and two behind, and all of them with their hands on their phasers and their eyes on the man seated in the chair between them.
He was an unknown; she knew that instantly. She rarely forgot a face, but even if she were inclined to, she knew for certain that she would never have forgotten this one.
He was a handsome man; astoundingly so, with his black hair, pale blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones and almost criminally sensuous mouth. His face was a trifle long, his nose just a smidge too large for his face, but really, those small imperfections only made him more attractive. He sat in the chair like a King on a throne, head up, spine straight, arms along the armrests and feet flat on the floor in front of him. He wore the same unrelenting black that they all did down here—the same pants and tunic and boots—but he did it with such careless ease that he made it look almost sinfully good.
And as soon as her eyes met his, she realized how right she'd been. Sinful was exactly the right word for him.
When the full force of that cut-glass gaze met hers, it took every shred of training she possessed not to take a step backwards. Assessing, calculating and utterly, utterly cold—the creature looking out from behind that perfect exterior was a force to be reckoned with. This man, whoever he was, was a predator, and the way he was looking at her right that moment left her feeling like nothing so much as sighted prey.
It was not a feeling she relished, especially not when she was injured enough to appear easy pickings. And so, despite her various injuries, she met that wolfish look head on, chin coming up and shoulders squaring as she stood her ground.
From the way his eyes narrowed just the tiniest bit, she suspected that he was unimpressed by the display. So she lifted her chin a little higher and refused—utterly and completely refused—to back down. She'd just completed the mission of a lifetime—successfully, if not as flawlessly as she would have liked. She'd be damned if she was going to be cowed by this man or anyone.
She wore her audacity boldly, proudly; refusing to budge even a little bit from her head on perusal of him. His expression never changed, though she thought she detected the faintest hint of a brow quirk. Whether that meant she'd annoyed him further or had managed to impress him even a little bit, she had no idea.
Marcus walked half way down the room before turning back toward her. "Lieutenant Duval, this is Commander John Harrison," he swung his gaze toward the man in the chair. "Harrison, meet your new keeper…Lieutenant Rebecca Duval."
Those blue eyes, which had shifted to Marcus when he began to speak, were back on her again and she could feel the weight of his gaze like a living thing as it scrutinized her once more. "If this is a jest, Admiral, I fail to see the humor in it."
His voice was staggering—potent like she hadn't known a voice could be; it fell from his lips and into the room like slow-pouring honey, rich and dark. But just as with the rest of him, that outward perfection masked something far more dangerous; a sharply honed blade hidden just beneath a flawless surface. She had little trouble envisioning the damage that voice could do; could easily imagine those low, sonorous tones turning vicious and gutting as efficiently as any knife.
This man—this Commander John Harrison—was quite possibly the most dangerous creature she'd ever encountered. And while she still didn't know the full extent of her purpose here, she knew that it would be worth it, whatever it was. If nothing else, he was sure to be a challenge. And there were few things she relished more than a good challenge.
Marcus crossed his arms over his chest, facing Harrison now, and sighed deeply. "Problem, Harrison?"
Harrison looked over to Marcus, expression turning glacial. "Do not, for an instant, mistake my grudging compliance for obedience. If you truly want my help, you will not insult me by foisting this...wreck upon me."
Duval had to bite the inside of her lip to keep the retort she so desperately wished to give from flying free. Marcus merely frowned, annoyed but not looking particularly surprised.
"This wreck, as you call her, is one of our very best, and…"
"…and if that truly is the case," Harrison cut in, words dripping with contempt, " then I fear that your Section 31 is so far beyond the possibility of help that even I will be unable to affect any real change. I expected to be met with inferiority, Admiral, no matter which of your so-called Agents was assigned to me—I did not expect the incompetence to be writ quite so large or quite so colorfully across their very face."
Her temper flared and her spine went stiff with indignation. "With all due respect, Commander," she said, her temper lending a sharp edge to her smooth Cajun drawl. "I'm neither inferior nor incompetent. I might look the worse for wear, but my mission was successful." She lifted her chin, pride carrying her where nerve might not have wandered. "My missions are always successful."
Harrison's lips twisted in a sneer, not even attempting to hide his disdain. "If what I see before me is your idea of success, Lieutenant Duval, then I somehow doubt you understand the meaning of the word."