Sitting in the grubbiest motel room she’d ever had the displeasure of paying for, while the woman who should have been her target grumbled about a lack of conditioner was not how Gen had thought this would go down.
But then Gen hadn't planned any of this, not from the moment of meeting, to the moment that it became inevitable that under no circumstances could she let the assassination go ahead.
The day the whole business started on was clear and bright, beautiful even, the skies bright and blue, the wind chilly but not yet whipping through coats and scarves, though it still brought a pink flush to the faces of most of those on the street. Gen was clutching a coffee that she wasn’t drinking (she liked coffee but adding caffeine to a stakeout wasn't generally a good idea) but it was warming her hands, and contributing to her image- she could be anything, anybody like this. In her smart blue coat, and knee-high boots with inch heels, she was the picture of normality, and the scarf that fluttered round her neck merely added to that impression. In her bag was jammed a woolly hat, a pair of thick rimmed glasses and a bright red lipstick.
Flipping her coat inside out to a plain black and making use of those could change her face in seconds- the first thing she’d ever learnt in this business was that if you want to make sure that no-one could recognize you, the first things you changed were your hair and your glasses, the things most people never looked past. If this was a proper operation, something she might have to go under cover for then she'd be better supplied - colored contacts, a second name, and she'd have done something with her hair. At that moment it was as natural as she ever got- the length all hers, though the slightly darker shade wasn't. She’d tried going blonde for a job once, but it had been a disaster. Katie still had the photos to taunt her with, probably tucked in the capacious cavern that she calls a bag. Gen favored a smaller bag, to match her smaller frame, just enough room for the essentials.
She knew who she was waiting for. The details were there in her head, clear and certain as though they were printed on a page in front of her. Adrianne Palicki. Twenty seven. Blond and tall and beautiful as her picture will attest to, and up to her eyebrows in some of the worst shit Gen had ever had the horror of crossing her page, and as a disavowed agent for the government, the info on the people she had dealt with before had turned her stomach more than once. When your target had singlehandly strangled a child to punish its parents, you knew you were in deep. It wasn't that she didn't question the legality of what she did, but simply that she already knew that by no standard of society, no standard of the law was what she did acceptable in any way. But that said, when she saw up close and personal, the people who would continue on their way unchecked if it wasn't for her, she couldn't bring herself to feel bad for what she does. She was trained for this, trained for killing, and backing out isn't in the fine print. No matter how pretty this girl is, when her dossier told Gen that her links with both terrorist-linked organisations and the domestic drug trade had resulted in multiple horrific deaths, the theoretical side of her job became less concerning.
In the past they used to send in people to get right up close for an operation, then that became unpopular. People started to feel things, even for a target. Compassion. Justification. Everything that was an agents’s worst enemy. So they'd switched to long-range shots until they posed problems as well. Some people were just too well protected, there was no way to get in close enough to be sure. So that was her job now. Get Adrianne in a place where she would be vulnerable to a snatch, or if necessary a shot. She clutched the coffee closer to herself, and licked her lip as she sat on the bench and hugged her coat a little bit closer to herself. There wasn't much to do. Adrianne would exit the building where she pretended to work as a minor civil servant, and Gen would follow her. See what her deal was, where she went. Where she was vulnerable. Easy enough- Adrianne didn't look behind herself once, didn't glance in shop windows, or bring up a mirror to check her makeup. If Gen hadn't known better, she'd have thought that Adrianne was exactly what she seemed. An innocent.
Her orders and info said differently though and she squashed the thought down along with all the other inconvenient other ones that sometimes popped up. Concentrated on Adrianne's red umbrella, an identifying characteristic amongst the crowds of dark suited men and women, and wove in and out neatly through the crowd as she followed her. Amongst all the details she’d been given had been the schedule that Adrianne usually followed- she left work, generally stopped off at a corner shop to buy a soda and a paper because apparently she didn't get to read it in the mornings. Then she'd head home, and on a normal day stay in until her gym class at seven, head back home and either stay in for the evenings or head out with a bunch of friends. That was the bit that her boss wanted her to watch the closest though. Apparently Adrianne generally made contact with her own boss on those nights out.
Gen swallowed, and tried not to think about the murders Adrianne was connected with, just remembered how much it had been stressed that once the problem was dealt with- elimination, warning and message all in one package- her hard drive had to be retrieved. A week of this, a week of mapping her out meticulously and then five minutes to prepare for and take the shot if necessary, and Gen would be done, and in the Bahamas enjoying a really well deserved vacation, covered under her job-perks. That and mandatory counseling sessions of course, with a state approved shrink hot enough that they seemed purpose built for distracting Gen from debriefing properly.
Be that as it may, her main debriefing before the psych had certainly become a tenser experience since her new boss had turned up. As a separate disavowed department within Washington, Gen was well aware of exactly how fine a line her office walked with the government in general, and this new boss had them all on their toes, determined to show exactly what they could do. That was partially what had Gen so nervous. This potential hit was on home soil, not abroad, and it was the first direct operation that the boss had purposefully ordered. Fucking this up would cause all sorts of problems. She chucked her coffee-cup, still untouched, into the nearest trashcan, and kept an eye on Adrianne who was dropping some quarters into a collecting tin. Gen felt her mouth curl a little bit with disgust, she didn’t understand how people like that justified what they did. Probably in the same way as she did, her conscience prodded her and she knuckled it back down. Gen didn't enjoy what she did, but she knew it was necessary. Adrianne and her type did it for money, nothing else, sold their services to whoever required it.
Adrianne was moving on now, through the bustle of the central district, and Gen narrowed her eyes a little. Generally Adrianne had called a cab by this point or so her sources informed her. Her worries were assuaged a few minutes later though, as a woman raised her arm to attract Adrianne's attention, and they hugged in the street, the mystery woman's lips brushing Adrianne's cheek just a very little bit too close to her mouth, causing Gen's eyes to narrow. Girlfriend? Ex-girlfriend trying to reignite the passion? Friend with a poor sense of personal space? The file had made no mention of Adrianne's sexual preferences and Gen found herself re-evaluating her. If there was a girlfriend who'd already slipped past the surveillance then that was going to throw a spoke into their plans, and seemed suspicious in and of itself. Generally not even a mouse could get past that sort of scrutiny, let alone a full human being with no dossier attached. She made a mental note, and casually jammed the glasses on and took off her hat. It was time for a change even if it didn't look like Adrianne had spotted her.
At a safe distance she followed the pair of them to a bar, at which her eyebrows had to rise. That was starting rather early for Adrianne, and her spidey-sense was tingling like mad at the way the two had positioned themselves- wedged into a booth together in the corner, so they could view whoever approached- whether customer or staff, the position that gave them the best vantage view of the whole room, and also handily positioned right under an inset radio- enough to drive most customers mad, but perfect for covering up conversations you didn't want anyone to hear. Gen abandoned any thoughts of getting close enough to hear what they were saying, but managed to snap a high-res picture of the woman with Adrianne and forward it back to base to hear what they could find out about her. They needed every avenue covered, nothing to trip them up at the last moment because they hadn't done sufficient homework.
Then deciding that there was no point hanging around and waiting, and making herself conspicuous, Gen turned and took her leave, notifying her handler of the decision and receiving a brief affirmative. A few minutes later, another car pulled up- sleek and nondescript and she got in quickly and shut the door. From the moment she sat down, she knew it was her boss beside her and her mind raced frantically. What on earth was he doing out in the field on something as simple as retrieving her?
She pushed that aside for now, related her meager findings as a report, Mk listening with every appearance of satisfaction though that was as deceptive as any other face that he wore.
"Good," he said finally. "The information you’ve gathered will be taken into account when we decided whether further surveillance is to be mandated."
Gen felt her eyebrows raise. "With respect sir," she said, "I was given this task and I expected to be allowed to carry it out without interruption. Swapping off to somebody else doesn't make sense." She watched him think for a moment, and pondered why on earth the sudden suggested change, the sudden shyness over pursuing Adrianne. She hadn't screwed up today, the researchers had, and there was no way that Adrianne had made her for what she was, so cancelling the job made little to no sense.
"How many times have you carried out your assignments, Gen?" MK asked abruptly.
"Nine times," she said briefly. The second highest amount in the service. They got switched around all of the time to try and cut down on the emotional impact, nobody was ever asked to do too many. As her shrink Dr Padalecki liked to say, they weren't killers by nature after all. They were doing a job, and doing it well, but that didn't mean they had to enjoy it. Speaking two rare-ish foreign languages meant that she'd often been a preferred pick for the jobs that had to be done, and most of the time there was no killing involved. Just espionage, gathering information and the like.
"And how many of those were initially mandated?"
"Two," she replied, not sure what he was getting at. A kill even while on the mission had to be phoned in first for clearance unless she was caught in a life or death situation. She was a lot less likely to use that option that most of her cohort, some of who never even bothered phoning in a kill unless it was of a primary target. Gen had always played by the rules though, and if it was going to count against her here, she was going to be angry – she didn’t like where this was going. "Every single one of them was cleared and green-lighted," she said quietly. "I'm not sure what point you're trying to make."
He sighed. "This whole situation has me uneasy," he said finally. "I've got a bad feeling about this one, and you're one of the best that we have. If it all goes wrong, I don't want you caught in the crossfire." She was torn between faint amusement and annoyance at the idea that he was talking about pulling her off this because of a feeling before she acknowledged that half of her successes had been because she'd been wise enough to know that intuition was nothing more than your mind letting you know that you'd missed something. Intuition was realizing that a guard had been bribed from the hesitant way he shook your hand, or that the slightest change in air pressure was from someone entering the building. If MK, who’d been Special Forces himself long before he took this job, was feeling antsy about it, then it should be taken into account.
“Thank you sir,” she said, and even half meant it. MK was looking out for her in the best way that he could, but if he was right and there was something odd about this job, something off, then they needed the best on the case, watching out for any anomalies. Someone they could trust to pull back if needed. “If that’s the case though then you need me. I’m not going to rush in there hot headed and blindly start shooting. Surveillance has always been up my street.”
He didn’t respond for a moment, but then with a tone that would brook no resistance and listen to no argument he said “you’re off this Gen. I don’t want any further surveillance carried out.” They sat in stony silence for a moment, Gen too well trained in the intricacies of the chain of command to voice her fairly vociferous disapproval and then MK tapped on the window to pull the driver over. “Too fine a day to be inside and I need a cup of coffee,” he said with a smile, and got out of the car followed by Gen. As he walked, he talked, and Gen realised with a faint flicker of anticipation that he hadn’t wanted to be overheard. What had the head of the department- a notoriously cool and unflappable man in such a state of affairs? “I didn’t want to take this risk,” he said briefly. “This looks suspicious I know, but the warning I gave you in the car wasn’t enough, and frankly at this moment I can’t trust that the car isn’t bugged. That’s how serious things are. There’s something fishy going on here Gen, and I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. I think they’re setting somebody up to take a fall, and it might well be me.”
“What do you want me to do sir?” she asked, keeping her face straight and smooth.
“Ignore what I said and get closer to Adrianne,” he said. “There’s something wrong about this and I’m not sure where she fits in. Independently verify those dossier contents, and for God’s sake don’t take orders from anyone else when it comes to the final hit and I mean anyone. Don’t talk to anyone about this either and wait for me to contact you.” They stopped at a small free-standing coffee-stall and Gen paid for two espressos as though this was any other conversation, just two people enjoying the very last remnants of the sunlight.
“I’ll start tonight,” she said briefly, and he nodded and turned back towards the car. She waved him on, and got a taxi like she generally did to take her to her own bare bones apartment. It wasn’t somewhere she spent much time in, and tonight it looked especially down at heel, compared to the sunkissed glow of Adrianne’s house- all polished wood floors, warm painted walls and perfectly picked furniture. She wasn’t living here for the ambiance though, but for easy access to where she needed to be.
Stripping off her clothes, she headed for the shower and turned on the water, stepping into the deep spray and letting it beat off her face for a while before she started in with the shampoo. There was nothing about this entire case that sat well with her, and she realized that there’d been nebulous warning signs the whole day that she’d flattened and ignored, dismissed her own instincts about. Adrianne was not their typical target in so many ways, and she was afraid to follow that thought to its logical conclusion. If Adrianne wasn’t who she appeared to be, then who had enough of a grudge against her to so painstakingly lay a trail of horrific information all of which pointed to her guilt? Information so rock solid and plausible that the best of the intelligence service hadn’t spotted any anomalies. Gen had no clue, and she reminded herself grimly as she scrubbed with a loofah, that as of yet she had no proof in any direction. MK might just be being even more paranoid than he usually was. Certainly it was worth being cautious though. The price that would be paid for it being found out that the department had plans for taking out someone who couldn’t be shown under any circumstances a threat, would be beyond huge. It would bring them all crumbling down.
Rinsing off, Gen swathed herself in a towel and went through the closet in search of something reasonable to wear. Tonight according to the schedule was one of the nights that Adrianne usually went out on- a first Friday of the month, and Gen had plans to be where she was. She sent off a quick text to base, to confirm location, and felt her eyebrows raise at the address she got back. Apparently her initial guess about Adrianne had been right- she was into women, or so her current location at a bar that catered to a mostly lesbian clientele would indicate. Gen threw back the jeans and sparkly top she’d originally opted for, and went for a little black dress instead. Better to be too dressed up, than too dressed down, and if she was going to find out anything she might have to risk getting in close, though that was not an ideal state of affairs.
She blow dried her hair and let it hang loose down her back, then repacked her bag. A small automatic was tucked in an inner zip, a slender knife hidden in the lining, then a purse, her phone and a lipstick. She felt naked going in, without any disguise- even her hair was drifting back to its normal shade - next time, she thought, it’d have to be a permanent dye. Despite her apprehensions about the whole business- Adrianne was still a target after all and Gen didn’t like getting in close to her targets, she was aware of a certain sense of sneaking excitement. It’d been months since she was out on the town, too busy with work, half the time spent abroad on a job, more of it spent on vacation in various far flung places. She’d lost contact with most of her friends, when it became just too difficult to explain why she could never keep a date, and she didn’t see her family much these days. Socializing with the people from work was an entirely different kettle of fish, one she enjoyed but not one for every night unless she didn’t want a functioning liver. Occasionally people she’d met on her excursions would give her a call on her second phone if they happened to be in Washington, but generally she didn’t see many people these days. So there was excitement mixing a bit with the nervousness as well as she stepped out of the cab and headed for the door to the bar.
This had always been the bit that she was good at- making friends in new places even if they didn’t last. No matter where she was it held true- in the desert, practically on a battlefield on several occasions, and of course the ubiquitous hotel bar. Generally it was with people who knew the drill themselves though – not exactly the bang bang club, but not so far removed - walking in here was like walking into a different world. People were smiling and chatting, not a single discreet weapon bulge in evidence, a small dance floor off to one side empty as of this time, but sure to be crammed with drunken people later.
Gen headed straight for the bar and ordered a shot of tequila to calm her nerves, and then a cocktail to follow- something to hold on to while she scanned the bar. “First time sweetie?” asked the bartender with a nod to the empty shotglass, while she shook up the Tom Collins and poured it deftly into a glass.
Gen smiled at her. “Not quite,” she said ducking her head. “But the first time in ages,” and she took a sip of her drink for another drop of liquid courage knowing this would most likely have to last her the night.
“Good to get back into the saddle,” the bartender said and extended a hand with a grin. “I’m Shauna.” Gen shook her hand.
“Gen,” she replied and did the expected once over. It wasn’t the commonest first name but no harm in using it here. She’d done what she always did when adding a layer of concealment, kept part of her name, and the first letter of her surname so that the signature flowed better, and it was likely to be the first thing that dropped from her mouth. Besides most people heard it as Jen and assumed it was short for Jennifer, an assumption she rarely corrected.
“Nice to meet you Gen,” Shauna said and moved on to another customer. It wasn’t anywhere close to peak-hour and Gen soon spotted a seat and possessed it, hoping that she looked like any other shy woman not quite used to the local scene.
She wasn't actually heading for Adrianne when she bumped into her, but Gen had always been good at seizing an opportunity and changing her plans to fit, so she smiled like she was a little startled and a little attracted. "Sorry," she said, and even managed to summon a little blush. This close she realized how tall Adrianne was - even with Gen in the highest heels she owned (not very high, she's never mastered running in more than three inches) – she was not even close to breaking even.
Adrianne gave her a quick look and a grin. "Not a problem," she said, a little bit flirty and smooth, leaned a very little bit closer, hip cocked out and oh Gen wasn't really expecting to be attracted to her even if it had been months since her last hook up, and suddenly the blush was a bit more real. She had to summon to mind some of the atrocities she'd seen in Adrienne's dossier, because she might be a little bit freaky in bed, but dismemberment had never gotten her off, and wanting to fuck a target was right out.
Somehow, Gen wasn’t exactly sure how, they ended up back at the bar drinking the cocktail special which appeared to be watered down vodka and cranberry juice with lime. Adrianne wasn't putting a foot wrong, her smile was engaging and sudden and Gen remembered why it wasn’t a good idea to get this close, kept those images plastered behind her eyelids. "What do you do to keep yourself in cocktails?" she asked idly when a lull in the conversation naturally occurred.
Adrianne rolled her eyes. "Paperwork," she deflected, an answer that wasn't an answer. "A lot of it. Once I had a nightmare about triplicate forms chasing me. Woke up screaming," Gen smiled, and Adrianne necked the rest of the cocktail like she doesn't do this often- or as though she did it too much. Gen wasn't entirely sure if her charm was natural, or just really well cultivated. She'd got used to being the warm, friendly one and she was great at it, but Adrianne was good enough that Gen could feel her guard slipping down, and that was one more tick in the box that Adrianne was not what she seemed, that was only enhanced by the tiny quick looks Adrianne kept throwing around her, as though she was nervous – or waiting for someone.
It's the instinct of a lifetime that made her notice, first the oddity of two men in nondescript black coats entering the club, second the awkward line of said coats that declared louder than words gun and by the time they’d drawn them and opened fire, she'd already knocked Adrianne down to the floor, winded and breathless as the bullets etched themselves into the mirrored behind of the bar, and she blessed the fact that they were at the end of the bar, as they crawled around the corner, relying on the confusion and uproar of the people around them to slow the men down. They're through the door and into the back-area in an instant, her fingers tight around Adrianne's wrist dragging her on grimly, Adrianne running numbly, her oversized tote bag still gripped in her hands, a little the worse for wear, from being dragged through the bartender's blood behind the bar.
Then there was a taxi, a small miracle at this moment, and Gen shoved Adrianne behind her, didn't even consider not doing so. Regardless of whether Gen would be the one pulling the trigger on her before this was over, right now, her orders weren't to kill. They were to protect, to find out what the hell was happening and to work all this out. That was her job, she knew that. So she nudged Adrianne behind her, until she could see the taxi-driver, her own miniature piece hidden behind her bag. He didn't look like he had anything to do with the assassins at the bar though, and they clambered in hastily. Gen's training took over at that moment, and she directed him towards the city centre, nowhere close to her home or to Adrianne's.
She still didn't know exactly who they were looking for, her or Adrianne. Either way, whether they were waiting for them together, or whether it was some peculiar, impossible coincidence that they happened to be there on that night, well, their homes weren't safe. Gen tugged uselessly at the now too short hem of her dress, feeling exposed and cold despite the relentless purr of the taxi’s heater, and only then thought to look at Adrianne. She was holding onto the tote bag and not looking at either Gen or the car, just out of the window, and she was shaking slightly in a way that wasn't from the cold. There was blood on the bag and a little on her knees, and Gen bit her lip at that. Adrianne wasn't faking, she thought, with the cool clarity of the adrenaline rush she was still riding. Not unless she was such a superb actress that everything that’d happened that night was rendered moot. But if she wasn’t faking, then how could she shake like that? If she'd seen the things her dossier said she’d seen, how could the death of one innocent affect her so visibly?
Gen didn't know what to think, but they were here now, and so she thanked the driver, fished out some bills, told him to keep the change, and they tumbled out of the car. Gen thought they should probably look incongruous in their dresses and heels but nobody gave them a second glance, and she realized how early it was in real terms. Most people hadn’t even started their night out. She heard sirens vaguely in the distance and wondered if it was for them. The only place still open that wasn’t gearing up for the night trade was a Starbucks and after scanning around her for anybody at all who might have followed them she pulled Adrianne – still unresisting – inside and found them a table, ordered a couple of hot chocolates, and waited for Adrianne to say something that wasn’t a teeth-chatter.
After a minute or two of keeping silent, Adrianne visibly pulled herself together, took a deep breath, and laid her hands flat on the table. “Who the hell are you?” she asked.
Gen was pretty impressed that those were Adrianne’s first words, as opposed to ‘someone just died’ or ‘oh my God someone shot at me.’ “I’m Gen,” she said, “but you already know my name. I just saved your life.” So she got a little bit of a kick out of saying that – nobody’s perfect, and it was kind of James Bond-ish even if her intentions hadn’t been exceptionally pure.
“I got that bit,” Adrianne said. “I mean whom are you working for.” Her hands were so tight with tension that the knuckles were white, as though Adrianne was channeling every bit of her fear into them. “I’m not giving it to you. Y-You can kill me if you want.” Her voice shook audibly at that. “But I’ve made copies. People are gonna know what’s happening whatever you do to stop me.”
Gen sat back, a little bit bemused. “Who do you think I am?” she countered. “Give me what?”
Adrianne eyed her doubtfully. “Stop playing games,” she said. “You only saved me because you want the hard-drive.”
Gen digested that. Adrianne had a hard drive with, apparently, information that she wasn’t selling but exposing. This was all wrong: none of it matched up with what she’d been told. “What’s on the hard drive Adrianne?” she asked, because it was essential to get as much detail as she could, start re-piecing this puzzle in a way that made more sense. “Look, I’m as much in the dark as you are, and I can’t do anything unless I know what’s going on.”
Adrianne folded her lips firmly. “If you don’t know, if you really aren’t one of them, then I’m not telling you,” she said. “You’ll be safer that way.”
Gen couldn’t stop her eyebrows from rising incredulously. “I’ll be safer?” she said. “Adrianne, they think I’m with you. Whoever they are, they shot at me as well. It’s not going to make me any less safe if I actually know what the hell they want from us.” She sipped absentmindedly at the rapidly cooling chocolate. “There’s something really odd going on here, and neither of us are going to be safe until we figure it out.”
Putting the cup back down she took out a burner cell she’d purchased a few days ago and never registered with the agency and punched in MK’s private number from memory. It rang three times before a tinny electronic voice told her the number had been disconnected. That, it didn’t take a genius to realize, was not a good sign. Against her better judgment, she tried his number at the office, but the voice that greeted her was not MK’s. It was the Director’s. “Agent,” it said briskly. “We’ve had confirmation of certain knowledge, and we’re instructing you now to complete your mission and eliminate Adrianne Palicki.” Right after that, the Director effortlessly reeled off the confirmation code, and Gen nodded slowly.
“Accepted,” she said.
“Confirmed. Also, Agent, please state your current whereabouts for retrieval.” Gen gave an address several miles away and clicked off, throwing the phone in a conveniently located trash can.
“Come on,” she said sharply to Adrianne. “We don’t have much time. I was as fast as I could be, but they might have been tracing us. We have to get out of here.” She didn’t know exactly what had convinced her not to eliminate Adrianne – Adrianne’s bewilderment at everything that had happened, MK’s warning to take no orders from anyone but him, or the cold directness of the Director. Whatever the reason though her mission had shifted from killing Adrianne to keeping her alive.
“Who?” Adrianne asked. She was on her feet already, bag slung over her shoulder but she showed no signs of moving towards the door until Gen answered.
“My agency. I think whomever you’re scared of has a foothold there, and a stronger one than you could have guessed even, because they want you dead and my boss, the only one with any doubts, isn’t answering his phone. We need to lie low. Our houses aren’t safe, nowhere is safe right now, because when they figure out I haven’t killed you, I’m going to be a target, not a friend.” Before they left the mall, Gen withdrew as much cash as she could from three separate bank accounts, and Adrianne maxed out her card as well, knowing without being told that they couldn’t use the cards again.
In an ideal world Gen would have gotten them both out of the city as fast as possible, but the Agency held most of the cards, not just in terms of resources but in terms of everything they knew about Gen. Every mission she’d ever done was neatly on file, her tactics were known, her general MO was hardly a mystery. All she could do now was what they’d least expect. First though, before they could fix anything, they needed somewhere to stay, somewhere she could stash Adrianne if she had to. Which really required the seediest motel she could find, and a distressed look as she explained to the clerk that she’d had her handbag stolen with all her IDs, could he please stretch a point and hire a room to her and her girlfriend if she paid in cash? She needn’t have bothered with the spiel; he barely even looked at them, as he pushed a keycard over the counter and reeled off the details in a bored monotone before going straight back to his animated porn.
“Your girlfriend hm?” Adrianne said as she surveyed the room and the double bed and looked at Gen with her lips quirked in a little smile.
“It’s safest,” Gen said crossly, hating how the color flooded to her face. She’d killed people before; she should be past being embarrassed by a little innuendo. “Anyway, you didn’t seem to mind in the bar earlier. Now how attached are you to your hair?”
“In the bar earlier, I thought you were a cute girl trying to pick me up,” Adrianne pointed out. “Not a professional assassin.”
“An operative,” Gen snapped. “I’m not an assassin.”
“A rose smells as death dealing by any other name I guess,” Adrianne retorted as she looked into the little bathroom, and Gen wondered how she could’ve found this girl charming and not irritating.
“Hair,” she said grimly, trying to drag the conversation back on track.
“Not very I guess?” Adrianne said, though she sounded doubtful. “I mean as a choice between hair and no hair I’m going to pick hair.”
Gen handed her the gun. “Lock the door and stay in the bathroom,” she said, “and shoot anyone who comes through that door if they’re not me.” If it had been any other civilian Gen wouldn’t have given up the gun or left them alone, but from her perusal of Adrianne’s house earlier, she knew she’d handled weapons before, though perhaps never quite like this.
When Gen got back from the general convenience store with nearly everything they needed, she banged on the door, said her name, and Adrianne let her in. Ten minutes later Adrianne was bitching that the water was too cold as Gen doused her hair with it and rubbed in the cheap hair dye that she’d bought and then told her to sit and wait for fifteen minutes. Adrianne was so damn tall Gen had to get her to kneel down so Gen could wash her hair properly, and she was uncomfortably aware of how close they were, pressed up against each other in the mini bathroom. This was the worst moment in the world to be thinking with her libido though even if they hadn’t been in imminent danger of death. Nothing had been sorted out, she still knew nothing about Adrianne, and precisely none of that was preventing her from thinking about Adrianne pushing her up against a wall and rubbing at her sweet and warm through her underwear until Gen shuddered and shook. She paused and shook her head to get the thoughts out, blamed the last traces of the alcohol in her system, and went back to washing out the dye. As soon as this was done, as soon as life went back to normal, she was picking someone up in a bar and scratching that itch because it wasn’t healthy to be in a life or death situation and only be able to think about getting off. She scritched Adrianne’s hair through once more and tried to pretend she wasn’t looking at the curve of her ass as she backed off to find a towel.
Next, sitting Adrianne down on the bed, Gen went to work with the scissors. She cut off a few inches, roughly styled it, and hoped devoutly that it would look better once dry, because though she’d like to think she was good with blades, apparently that didn’t extend to hair cutting. Adrianne had no complaints, though, and while Gen showered, she hopped into bed and pulled her dress off. Prudently though she left on her bra and panties. Showered and fresh and wrapped in a towel that she didn’t want to think too closely about, Gen wandered the room and did her utmost to make it secure. The best-case scenario was really giving them warning time, but a jimmied door, steel wire strung across the frame, and the other minor booby traps that the convenience store had yielded could buy them valuable seconds, and the fire escape outside the window seemed sturdy enough. Once she was done, though, reality hit home. They were both on the back foot here, barely armed, with a limited cash fund, a tote-bag that people were willing to kill for, and the growing sick realization that she wasn’t sure who, if any, of her colleagues she could trust.
There was also less than nothing she could do about it until morning, that was for sure so she bowed to the inevitable, and, wishing that she had stuck to her first choice of pants and top, climbed in next to Adrianne, who, seeming entirely recovered from the shock and shaking hands of earlier, gave her a smirk. “I’d say I’m not that kind of girl,” she offered, “but I am totally that kind of girl.”
Gen gave Adrianne’s foot a vicious kick where it sprawled onto Gen’s side of the bed. “Half and half,” she said, and “don’t you put a finger over.” She might have a pit of sexual frustration boiling down deep inside her but she also had a grain of sense. Whatever Adrianne was or wasn’t, that death earlier had shocked her, and Gen was pretty sure that Adrianne at this second didn’t know what she wanted, except not to be alone at that moment, and Gen or anime-porn clerk were pretty much her only two options. She was sticking a brave face on things but she’d waded in too deep into something she didn’t understand, and now she was a fugitive. Sure enough, when she brushed cautious fingers against Adrianne’s shoulder she was ice cold.
“Hey, half-and-half rule,” Adrianne protested, but she didn’t move away when Gen threw an arm over her and moved in on her turf, sharing body-heat, stilling the tiny tremors that’d been wracking Adrianne since the bar. “This is like half of how I thought my evening would end,” she said wryly.
“Which half?” Gen asked, keeping the joke going, a little bit of normality amongst the craziness.
“A strange place, a hot girl. Hadn’t planned on the rest – the running for our lives, the makeover, or the cuddling.”
“You mean you weren’t even going to take me back to your place?” Gen teased quietly. She rubbed a hand over the coldness of Adrianne’s arm, getting the circulation going again.
Adrianne snorted. “If you’d seen my house you wouldn’t ask that.” There was no good way for Gen to explain that she had seen Adrianne’s house, so she didn’t interrupt, and Adrianne continued. “It’s like a show house. I’m telling you, there’s rat-cages with more atmosphere. If I took you back there, ten minutes later we’d be having tea and talking about the weather. I was crossing my fingers that you didn’t have a room-mate or relatives.”
“Neither actually,” Gen said with a grin. “Much good though that’s doing you right now.” But she suspected Adrianne knew right and well what she was doing.
There was silence for a few minutes before Adrianne turned fully over to face Gen, face just visible in the dim light of the lamp. “I should tell you what this is about, shouldn’t I?” she said, no laughter left in her voice, and Gen nodded. “I mean, I think whoever you are that I can trust you at least a bit.” Gen tried not to roll her eyes at that because they were pressed up together and she would hope Adrianne would trust that. “I mean, maybe my judgment is way off, but I’m like 90% certain that you’re not going to kill me. Those are pretty good odds.”
“I’ve had worse,” Gen said. “But yeah, I’m not going to kill you. Like, unless you snore or something, I mean. Telling me what the hell is going on gives us both a chance of survival though. Who is after you?”
“I don’t know,” Adrianne said, and she sounded so lost that Gen gritted her teeth in sympathy. “I really don’t know. It was this stupid accident, all because I can’t leave things alone. I used to work with computers, but I’m not qualified or anything. It’s just my hobby, something I’m good at. Basically, I just do this minor civil servant stuff but technically it’s for the Intelligence Bureau. I’m background checked and everything – they need grunt hands as well, people to sign their papers and file their shit and liaise with other departments, and I needed a job. It’s boring but has decent enough pay and regular hours. Then one day I got taken to this room to shred files that had all been redacted already, and I don’t even know what made me look at them or how I picked it out, but there was something that wasn’t right. There was this employee personnel file. No one special, just some dude with an odd name that stuck in my mind. There he was though, listed as dead six months ago on the file. Except I’d filed a pay-slip that last week for him.”
Gen was puzzled, and she knew it showed in her voice. “Financial funny-dealings?” she asked.
“That’s what I thought. Some weird system fluke that was still sending out cheques to dead men. Maybe somebody was taking advantage of it or cashing them in some way, I thought, but the whole thing was odd. If you’re going to scam money, why do it like that? The risks of getting caught for one. And stealing from the government takes some balls. The next thing I thought was that it was some secret spy thing with pretend deaths. Except, I’m not an espionage master or anything, but why the hell would you not deal with their pay some other way?”
“Hm,” Gen said, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Sure it was stupid, but she had an insider’s view on just how stupid the labyrinthine bureaucracy could get, so she couldn’t rule it out – never attribute to malice what could be explained by incompetence.
“Anyway, I was bored and work was light. So I dug a bit, just for fun. Thought that if I found a computer error or something then I’d get a commendation, which wouldn’t hurt promotion prospects and maybe a better pay packet for the same work. But I didn’t find a scam. I found five people who just didn’t exist and they were buried deep. All of them listed as dead, all of them with regular paychecks courtesy of the government. Again, if I’d been sensible, I’d have stopped, but I had my teeth sunk in by then. I was interested. And those paychecks led me to something bigger. To cut a long and involved story short, the Agency – who I assume are your employers – is riddled not just with financial irregularities but with outright betrayal. You know they say always follow the money? I followed the money, and what I found was that someone unnamed but high up was using agents as hired assassins, renting them out under the pretense that it was government sanctioned as always. You wouldn’t have thought something like that would leave a trail, but if you look hard enough it’s always there.”
“Shit,” Gen said, and her stomach surged uneasily, as she cast her mind back over her own kills. The dossiers on them had been rock solid, but then, hadn’t she thought that about Adrianne’s as well?
“Yeah,” Adrianne agreed. “To add the cherry on top, I’m not even sure that’s the end of it. If it was just the Agency, well, they’re in a dubious position anyway. A scandal would bring them down, but I don’t think the world would ever hear about it. But the emails, the communications; this was Washington big. I think we’re talking treason on a grand scale.”
“How did they find you?” Gen asked. She curled her legs up, bumping her knee into the hard drive, which Adrianne had brought to bed with her for safety.
Adrianne shrugged her shoulders below the covers. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I was stupid, I guess. Got overconfident. Brought my own tower unit into work and hooked it up into the mainframe and grabbed every bit of data I could and took it home. That was a week ago. I started getting pretty paranoid and freaked out, copied the data everywhere I could think of and decided it’d be best to keep the hard drive with me. Then today this woman set up a meeting with me, said I’d know her because she’d go in for the hug.” Gen remembered the woman, the over-intimate brush of lip on cheek that had set her wondering. “She said that she’d been suspecting something for ages and that she’d heard I was going to be targeted. She wanted to warn me.”
Gen remembered, with a sickening swoop of her stomach, taking a photo of the woman’s face and emailing it back to HQ to get a read on who she was to the target. Had she signed someone else’s death warrant with that?
Oblivious, Adrianne continued. “Until that point I didn’t even know they were watching me. She told me to go Lucy’s tonight and that we’d meet there, but obviously then the shooting happened.” The pieces started to click for Gen, two possibilities revolving in her mind. Either the mystery informant was genuine, or as seemed more likely, she’d been deputized to make sure Adrianne was in a definite place at a definite time. If it’d only been a week or less, no way would they have had the time to create a genuine and true timetable of Adrianne’s habits. The one rogue piece on the board had been Gen. They hadn’t counted on her still trailing Adrianne on MK’s orders, and so the mystery woman had been unable to complete the meeting. Probably unwilling to risk exposure, they’d had to let Gen and Adrianne talk, and Gen was willing to bet that whoever was in charge of the operation was hideously under experienced and had probably botched it by losing their head and ordering a direct attack.
With her mind so crowded the only thing she could think to say, was the rather stupid. “You mean you were waiting for this woman, and you still flirted with me.”
“I think part of me thought it was still a game,” Adrianne said, and even in the dim light Gen could see her cheeks flush, more vivid against the still damp darkness of her hair. “It didn’t feel serious. Now I can’t forget that poor woman behind the bar, can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t been so stupid, so fucking smug and pleased with myself, and actually thought a bit more, then she might be alive now.”
Gen surged forward until they were only inches away. “Don’t say that,” she said, “because it isn’t true. The only person responsible for someone else’s death is the person who pulls the trigger, and I can say that as someone who knows. Don’t blame yourself for doing the right thing and expecting the world to reciprocate.” She hadn’t realized how strongly she felt about it until it all came out, but it was true. She’d come to terms with having blood on her hands a long time ago, but that didn’t mean Adrianne had to. She settled back onto her own pillow, embarrassed by her own sudden earnestness.
There was no reply from Adrianne for a long moment, and then Gen felt her fingers being squeezed tightly, like Adrianne needed something to hold on to, no matter how flippant her reply was. “That wasn’t an idle threat over snoring then?” And Gen knew it was an out, a way to slip away from the painfulness of the conversation they’d been having; she took it gladly.
“Never,” she replied. “I need my beauty sleep.” It was long after that, though, and long after Adrianne, exhausted from the day, had fallen asleep that Gen finally managed to.
The next morning she woke muzzier-headed than usual from lack of sleep, dragged back into consciousness by the slightly unusual feel of being surrounded by someone else. Adrianne was still asleep on her pillow, tangled hair sticking to her face which was only inches away from Gen, one of Adrianne’s arms slung around her and one of Adrianne’s legs in between her own. The other woman was clearly a cuddler by nature, something Gen found she didn’t dislike as much as she usually did.
“Adrianne,” she said softly, and the other woman slowly opened her eyes. Gen wasn’t entirely sure what she’d expected to see – embarrassment, perhaps, or amusement at how closely they were wound when they should really be getting ready to get on the move - but she hadn’t expected Adrianne to kiss her. She tasted bitter from sleep, but the kiss was still sweet enough that Gen didn’t give a shit about that as Adrianne pressed her into the bed and kissed her properly, her leg between Gen’s providing just enough pressure to make Gen want to squirm against her, to get off just like this, dry-humping like they were sixteen. Adrianne was so warm and soft against her that Gen almost forgot every single reason why this was such a terrible idea. Almost but not quite. After the third kiss, after Adrianne nipped the bottom of her lip and dragged an embarrassing moan out of her, Gen seized back enough initiative to stop and to wriggle away from Adrianne, much though she didn’t want to. They didn’t have time for kissing though much less anything else, and Adrianne; Adrianne was emotionally compromised, Gen thought. It wouldn’t be right for them to do this. Adrianne deserved better even from a one night stand.
Adrianne didn’t protest, though she looked at Gen with eyes that plainly said Gen was mad. She wriggled back into her dress, which looked even shorter and skimpier in the harsh light of day than it had last night; they were going to be pegged as walk of shamers Gen knew. First stop, a thrift shop for some less conspicuous clothes. As Adrianne brushed her teeth, Gen dismantled her traps and threw them in the bin, straightened the bed, and repacked her bag, all the while outlining their plan of action.
“We’re going to get some clothes, I’m going to try and contact somebody I think we can trust, we’ll put that hard drive somewhere safe, and then we’ll regroup and see where we go from there.”
Adrianne poked her head out of the door. “Why are you doing this?” she asked, honestly curious. “You could disappear if you wanted to, I know that much. Sticking with me is the worst thing you could do.”
Ten reasons to give flashed through Gen’s mind and were discarded just as rapidly, because she didn’t even know herself. Adrianne was right. If the corruption went as deep as she said, then by now Gen was thoroughly tainted by association, as much a target as Adrianne was. But that wasn’t the reason she was sticking around. Half of it was guilt, the knowledge that Adrianne was innocent, and the rest of it was Adrianne, who was bearing up better than Gen would expect anyone to. She said none of that though, just squeezed past her and brushed her own teeth quickly. “I’m sticking with you,” she said, through a mouthful of foam. “That’s all you need to know.”
Two hours later, clothed in the finest the thrift store had to offer, totebag exchanged for a more secure backpack that Adrianne insisted on keeping with her, and they were sitting in a cafe, waiting for the one person Gen was almost certain they could trust, and the one person who might be able to get them to MK. It was a calculated risk, but their only alternative was to keep running, to keep moving and that wasn’t sustainable forever. They were going to have to risk sticking their heads out over the parapet. Either that or getting out of the country, and Gen wasn’t even certain she could get herself out anymore, let alone Adrianne.
She’d tried to convince Adrianne to stay somewhere safer, but Adrianne had point blank refused and pointed out that they were more vulnerable alone than they were together. So, Adrianne was beside her, new hair tucked under her knit hat as Gen waited, their knees bumping occasionally under the table as Gen shifted, trying to keep an eye on every direction. There was nowhere safe to meet, not really, and in the end she’d opted for a crowded café on the increasingly slim off chance that it would cut down on the risk of violence. Five minutes past the appointed meeting time came and went, and then ten minutes, and Gen’s nerves, already on edge, started singing with tension. There was something wrong here. Katie was never late. “Adrianne,” she said quietly “we’re going. Now.”
Without a word, Adrianne stood and headed for the back door that they’d already scoped out, walking slowly and steadily, as though she was heading to the ladies. Gen took a moment to look around her and saw Katie pushing her way through the crowd. Her instinct told her to go, but she stayed, because something had to change; they needed something to get ahead, and for the second Adrianne was safe.
Katie was breathing hard. “Gen,” she said urgently, “get out of here. They’re following me. You’ve got about thirty seconds.” She pushed a bag at Gen who took it, turned, and ran. Outside, Adrianne was waiting for her.
“We need to go,” Gen said. “They’re here.” They ran, the time for subtlety over. Behind them, Gen could hear at least two pursuers, maybe more, and she had no doubt that if they were in a less crowded place, shots would’ve been fired already. Adrianne was three strides ahead, her long legs eating up the ground, and Gen pushed herself to keep up, speed less her forte than stamina. Gen veered left into a department store, Adrianne on her heels now, and made a break through the service doors for the stairs. She took a brief moment to lock the doors, a time-spend that would hopefully reap dividends.
Athletic as Adrianne was, the strain was beginning to tell a little in her breathing as they took the service stairs down, a banging behind them heralding that their pursuers had been delayed a little. “We can’t keep running,” she panted. “We need to think of something.” Gen knew that, but hiding wasn’t an option, and getting a cab when they hit the street would be nothing less than a miracle.
“Once we’re outside,” Gen said through ragged breaths, “we split up. You go straight back into the store and I’ll lead them down the street.”
Adrianne drew in a sharp breath. “No. We’re not splitting up.” She stopped dead and tore off her knit beanie. Working fast, she pulled Gen’s hair back into a ponytail and jammed the hat on Gen’s head. Catching on, Gen stripped off her coat and gave Adrianne the glasses, and then they slipped out the door and turned onto the main street. It took an effort of will to stop running, but Adrianne’s hand was warm in hers, and as Gen kept reminding herself, this was their only chance. There was nothing they could do about their height, but this way they had a chance. And when Adrianne pulled them down onto a public bench in full view of the world and put an arm around her, effectively eliminating their height difference, there wasn’t much they could do but hope.
“You’re surprisingly good at this,” Gen mumbled, aware of how fast Adrianne’s heart was beating, a swift patter in her chest that Gen was close enough to feel. Devoid of her coat, the chill winter air was beginning to sting, the sweat from exertion cooling instantly on her skin, and she was grateful for Adrianne’s warmth plastered against her side.
“I’m learning from the best,” Adrianne said, and shifted a little closer.
Gen fumbled out her cell, purchased that morning and called a cab service to pick them up from this spot and unfortunately got a waiting time of fifteen minutes. Despite every instinct telling her to run, she stayed put. Adrianne had been right; no way could they outpace their pursuers. Blending into the crowd was their best hope. She dared to peek into the bag Katie had managed to give her and saw with grim satisfaction, two guns. Both were recognizably Katie’s – one of them a compact Desert Eagle and the other a semi-automatic. The bag didn’t hold extra ammo, though; Katie had evidently guessed there was no point– if they got to the point where more bullet were needed, they’d already be in the soup. The only other thing was a cellphone with one number programmed into the contacts list. Gen noted it down and then, from force of habit cracked open the back of the cell to see if it had been tampered with – she trusted Katie but habit came first. It was clean though, and she secreted the cell in a pocket, folded up the bag and slipped it into her own. It wasn’t exactly heavy artillery but she felt better knowing they each had a gun now.
“Where do we go now?” Adrianne asked, and Gen didn’t really have an answer. Back somewhere they couldn’t be found, somewhere they could call MK’s number and hope like hell it wasn’t a trap. When the cab pulled up, Adrianne looked at her. “Should we kiss when we stand? Obscure our faces in case anyone is watching?” she said, laughter sitting pretty in her voice.
“If you think that’s going to attract less attention, I worry for you,” Gen said, and tried not to remember waking up tangled in Adrianne’s heat that morning, because this was getting embarrassing. They ducked in together, the cab driver waiting impatiently, and Gen named their destination. Then she caught Adrianne up as best she could.
“This MK,” Adrianne said. “You trust him?”
“I don’t know,” Gen said honestly. “I don’t know who I trust right now. But MK knew something was wrong and he sent me after you. He knew there was something strange about the whole situation – the dossier, you, the orders. I just can’t work out if it’s some enormous bluff for reasons I can’t even guess at, or if he’s right and people were trying to frame him.”
“It’d make sense if they were,” Adrianne said quietly. “If my information’s right, I’d bet money that your Director is our culprit. And if it is them, they’d want to clean the department out of the old guard. Get people in those positions loyal only to them. It’d be a bold move. Get rid of a thorn in their side, me, and an agent with too much interest in doing what’s right.”
“Yeah,” Gen said, though that wasn’t exactly how she’d describe herself. Then, deciding now was as good a time as any – moving vehicle and all; she pulled out the cell and dialed the only number on it. It rang seven times and then clicked through to voicemail. Gen hung up without leaving a message and tried a second time. This time, MK picked up instantly.
“Gen?” he said, the first time he’d ever used her given name, not a question, just an acknowledgement. “Is she still alive?”
No need to ask who ‘she’ was. “Yes,” Gen said, the old, instinctive habit of reporting kicking in.
The sigh of relief was audible, and that shook Gen more than she cared to admit. MK’s words were solid, though, chosen with care. “Good work. I told you I picked the right person. Now, I can’t help you right at this second with your task - you need to get Adrianne and those files somewhere secure. I’m working here to isolate who we can trust with this, who has the pull to get the entire Agency shut down until this is sorted. Given that my name is mud right now and that they’re claiming you killed Adrianne to keep things quiet, we have problems.”
“Just a few,” Gen said, and her stomach twisted unpleasantly. If they were framing MK and using Adrianne’s death as a reason, it was now imperative that they kill Adrianne, not merely to eliminate the information from the equation but to bolster their case. She didn’t like to think what sort of resources would be being deployed to ensure their deaths. “So my task is to keep Adrianne alive?”
“Yes,” MK said. “If you can, get her out of the country. Mexico, Canada, anywhere where their jurisdiction is limited. Hide out there and wait until you get the all-clear. But first, I’m going to need those files.” There was a scuffling sound before he finished, his voice tight with tension. “Ring me back tomorrow. Same time.” Then he was gone. Gen put the cell slowly back into her pocket.
There was silence for a moment and then; “Operation ‘keep Adrianne alive’,” Adrianne said. “Finally a government policy I wholeheartedly agree with. Also I think we’re almost there.”
That night, spent in almost identical surroundings as the previous one, Adrianne sat cross-legged on the bed as Gen paced up and down. “We’ve thought of everything then,” said Adrianne and ticked them off on her fingers. “No mail, no computer access, house surrounded by guards, undoubtedly at least two vicious dogs. I take it we can’t just chuck it through the window and run then?”
It slightly worried Gen that in the space of twenty-four hours she’d grown to know Adrianne well enough to know that the more flippant and at ease she seemed on the outside, the worse she was feeling on the inside. She stopped pacing to flop down beside Adrianne, knee to knee, a little bit of contact better than any fake reassurance. “Adrianne,” she said, injecting as much confidence as she could into her tone, “this bit is my job. I’ll figure it out. Then we’re out of the country and they can fix their own messes.”
Adrianne pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and bent in half as though to commune with herself in silence. “Right,” she said, looking up. “Yeah, I’m good now but the point stands, Gen. We don’t know who we can trust, and neither of us has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting near that house. And I don’t want to sound mercenary, but how are we going to live in another country or get there if we’re limited to our current funds? Fuck,” she said, and Gen could hear the angry pressure in her voice. “I’m doing it again. Positives. We’re up two guns, one cell, and several million surmises.”
“Hey,” Gen said. “Calm. All else fails, we’ll throw it through the window.” That got a reluctant smile from Adrianne. “Seriously, though. It doesn’t have to be MK. Just someone we can trust to get this knowledge to the right places. But I think the best thing we can do tonight is rest though. Tomorrow is going to be a slog.” On impulse, Gen reached out and touched Adrianne’s shoulder. “You know you’re doing great, right?” she said. “Seriously, I wouldn’t expect anyone to take all of this so well. I’m proud of you.” It felt like sort of a weird thing to say, but Gen was surprised to find every word of it true. She expected Adrianne to shrug it off or dismiss it, a reflexive twisting away from the words, and she wasn’t disappointed.
“Too much John le Carré I guess. Been waiting for this for years.” But there was a little gratitude there, and she sat and watched as Gen demonstrated how to set the mini traps, and she perked up enough to concede first shower to Gen who seized the opportunity, though she kept a weather eye out the whole time for any disturbances. Wrapped in a towel, she ventured back into the room and pretended not to notice Adrianne checking her out. The thought sent a mild little zing through her nerves, just enough to gooseflesh her arms and make the prospect of sharing a bed again more difficult to view with equanimity. This whole situation rested on a knife-edge, though. If Gen were in this situation with a colleague, she’d have gone for it, but Adrianne was a civilian, even though she was a fast learner. Gen didn’t want to be another bad memory to add to the tally, however much fun it might be at the time.
The resolution was difficult to hold onto when Adrianne came back out, all tan long legs, and in Gen’s opinion, frankly unnecessary height. Water beaded slowly from her as she advanced, and at some point Gen thought she might have to relearn that breathing knack because she was definitely not getting enough air. She’d never thought of herself as a highly visual individual, but apparently that was also subject to change because the sight of Adrianne made her want to re-enact some of the more athletic things she was thinking about. Adrianne didn’t seem to notice, patting herself dry and squirming into the clean underwear that they’d bought that morning before she got into bed. Somehow, Gen had found the willpower to focus on the ceiling instead of her bedmate, but it was more of an effort than she’d have liked. It was a long slow torturous effort, because all she wanted to do was touch. But Adrianne didn’t make a move; she just lay there next to her and Gen wondered if she was imagining it all, if the morning had been a fluke.
Then Adrianne was there, a warmness against her arm. Gen faced her in the darkness, and didn’t howl her disappointment at the moon when Adrianne did the sensible thing, the thing Gen should be doing, and fell asleep, loosely wrapped around her, sharing some of that furnace-like warmth. Gen gritted her teeth and tried to ignore her unreasonable disappointment and get some good sleep in of her own.
That plan was disrupted by the sound of Adrianne's voice in the dark. "Gen," she said, and there was silence for a long moment before she spoke again. "Do you feel bad at what you do?"
Gen stared at the ceiling she couldn't see and thought about how to reply. She'd used to self flagellate all the time both in private, and when out with people who did exactly the same thing, drowned themselves in a bottle so they didn't have to think about it too deep, mixed it up with black humour and laughed until they were sick, but somewhere along the road that had been lost. She opted for a half truth. "Sometimes," she said quietly. "Sometimes I wake up and I can't get back to sleep because it's all I can think about. Then I remember that, soldiers, they shoot people all the damn time. I've never done anything as bad as one grenade could do in a crowded area. So why do I feel like it's so damn bad?"
"You can see their faces," Adrianne said quietly, and Gen wonders what she's thinking, what she's hiding behind that voice. Does she feel weird cuddling close to someone who has killed? Someone who if things had gone a different way, might have put a bullet in her? But Adrianne's still close, hasn't pulled away as much as a millimetre.
"I guess," she said, and squeezed her eyes shut as all the old questions come rushing back. "Saying it's like I'm a soldier is a fucking lie. You know that, I know that. But the whole system is rotten, and sometimes things have to be done. It's luck of the draw that it's me who'll do them."
There's another thing they both know is a lie. It's nothing to do with the luck of the draw. "I don't blame you for what it's worth," Adrianne said, and it eased something in Gen, even though it changed nothing.
"I'd blame me," she said, "if I looked in from the outside. I don't know why you don't."
"Maybe I've played too much Assassin's Creed," Adrianne said. "I'm having an overload of empathy with the player character," and when Gen didn't respond, she continued. "You know, the game with the dude who is an assassin."
"Well I guessed that much from the name but I don't play video games," Gen replied.
"I guess not," Adrianne said. "Don't like mixing work and pleasure?"
The black humour of it struck them both at the same time, Gen could feel Adrianne heave with a suppressed giggle.
"Something like that," Gen said.
Adrianne snorted again. "Wii golf might be more your speed." She's quiet for another moment, before she lets the other shoe drop, the one that Gen had been waiting for. "I do blame you," she says, but she still hadn't shifted away and Gen was getting really mixed signals here. "I mean, you kill people for a living. Who does that?"
"Assassins," Gen said, dry as dust.
"I thought you called yourself 'agents'," Adrianne shot back. "I just can't get my head around it okay. On the one hand you do something that nobody civilised could think was right," - and she might be right, but it's still messing with Gen's head to hear Adrianne lay it out like that - "on the other hand you're you. I can't see that when I look at you. All I see is someone with really bad taste in hats who keeps saving my life, and I just don't care about what you've done. Is that a flaw in me, that I can't bring myself to care all that much, when I should be disgusted?"
"Sort of flaw I like in a woman," Gen replied, and tried not to hope.
She woke up first again and this time gently unpeeled herself from Adrianne’s octopus-like limbs to avoid a repeat performance of the morning before, when she doesn’t have the strength to say no anymore. Adrianne mumbled something indistinct and smashed her face closer to the pillow, cuddling deeper into the blankets now that Gen’s heat was gone. Gen felt her heart seize with a stupid, helpless fondness that she had no idea at all what to do with, it was dangerous and foolish and she didn’t even have sex as an excuse. As she brushed her teeth and splashed her face with water she thought of every reason it was stupid; a logical approach did nothing to dissuade her, though and she gave it up as a bad job, something to ponder over later. While Adrianne performed her ablutions, Gen took stock of everything they owned between them, a pitifully small pile, and counted through what cash they had left, all the while racking her brain for a solution that wasn’t coming.
When she finally thought of it she could have kicked herself, and she blamed the tension of the last two days as to why she’d forgotten it. Like any agent worth their salt, Gen had known the risk of disavowal and the attendant risk of elimination, and like every agent she’d taken her precautions. It was a mark as to how important what Adrianne knew was that they’d been willing to risk Gen escaping alive by firing at Adrianne first. Fumbling in the lining of her purse, she found the small key to her security deposit box, one she would bet her life on (and might well be doing) that the Agency knew nothing about. It didn’t hold much – files of her past jobs, enough details to make killing her a security risk, currency and of course, most importantly to their purposes, three false passports made out respectively to Genevieve Carson, Jennifer Collins, and Jennifer Callingworth. All three of them were valid non-US passports, and for the first time in days Gen felt hope at the thought of escaping to Mexico.
Adrianne, it turned out, somewhere between falling asleep and pilfering the last of the apples Gen had bought the night before, had been brainstorming ideas as well. “Newspapers,” she suggested. “How about we give the files to a journalist and hope that they publish them?”
Gen didn’t want to bring her crashing down, but it couldn’t be helped. “We can’t risk that,” she said softly. “Either the files, the other agents named in the files, or the journalist. If they won’t hesitate in killing us, a journalist or two probably won’t stop them either.”
Adrianne shrugged. “If not them, then we take a risk. A Senator. Or an Ambassador. I’m not picky. Someone who can deliver it to someone who might be able to do something about this. They can’t all be corrupt.”
“True,” Gen said, “but once it’s out of our hands we don’t know who they’ll give it to. After all, who is the most likely person to tell this sort of thing to?”
“The Director of your Agency, I guess,” Adrianne said, a frown creasing her brow and bringing her mouth down. “Jesus, isn’t there anyone with any integrity left in the world anymore?”
“Sometimes it feels like not,” Gen said absently, re-dividing the stuff between their bags again. “It’s an argument for government closer to the people, though, I guess.”
Adrianne, more than happy it seemed to swap the reality of their situation for theory, chimed in with, “It’s about money. Nothing else. They can’t be content with a salary, it has to be about making as much as you can as fast as you can, even if it means selling everybody else out around you.”
Gen hmmed in agreement and finished her task with a satisfied smile. “Do you prefer the hot or the cold?” she asked noncommittally.
“Hot,” Adrianne replied. “Why?”
“Mexico it is,” Gen said. “We’ll book the tickets as soon as we’re done here.”
Adrianne took a breath in. “Mexico,” she said flatly.
“Yeah,” Gen said quietly. “I’m sorry, Adrianne, but until this is sorted you’re going to be in danger. We need you safe, and that means out of the country, and it’s easier to get out of Mexico than the US if we need to flee again. You can call your family if you need to before we leave, we’ll find a way to make that work.”
“I don’t need to call anyone,” Adrianne said, and met Gen’s gaze with a direct ferocity that dared her to ask why. “And who’s we?”
“I’m coming with you,” Gen said.
Adrianne looked at her, properly looked at her, and Gen held her chin up under the scrutiny. Sh didn’t flinch or look away, even though she felt like doing both. It had been a long, long time since someone had looked at her like that, not just flicking their eyes over her in a crowd or trying to pick her out of a line-up, but really surveying her. Whatever Adrianne saw, it must have answered whatever questions she had, for when she was done, she just nodded. “Fine. Mexico for us both. Could be fun. I’m allergic to beans, though.”
“We’ll work something out,” Gen said, more relieved than she’d realized that Adrianne hadn’t fought her on this one.
Adrianne nodded. “You know,” she said conversationally. “If you’d told me a week ago that I could literally live out of one bag, I’d have laughed at you.”
“You get used to it,” Gen replied and hefted her own bag up. “Everything you need right here.” It should probably worry her, she thought, that she’d never felt a paucity of belongings, that she couldn’t think of one single thing that she’d miss from her apartment if she never got the chance to go back. Travel light and fast and they’d never catch up with you. Not just possessions, but friends and all the other things that made up a life. Was it a lack if you never felt it, though? It was something she’d never had an answer to.
First things first though, they needed to get these files to MK and trust that once he had them he could figure out where to go from there. If everything else failed, Gen supposed, she could try actual subterfuge and get to him that way. But whatever they did, surveillance was going to be the key.
She knew where MK lived from a drunken bet she’d once made with Jensen, the result of which had left her crawling through a sewer in Paraguay regretting the very invention of tequila. Fortunately this expensive suburban neighborhood played to their strengths in more ways than one. She guessed that pulling MK in for interrogation was a no, and that meant he was under house guard. If she was any kind of expert – and she did rather fancy herself as one in this area – that meant there would be exchanges of guards, and that meant opportunities.
“I hadn’t pictured surveillance as being quite this boring,” Adrianne muttered after four solid hours of just waiting.
“You think this is bad, thank your stars you’ve never been on an actual stake-out,” Gen said. “They can go on for days, and you can’t even move from your spot, and let me tell you just how gross that gets.” She was ready to give all the gruesome details if Adrianne asked, but the other woman clearly valued discretion over valor because she subsided in silence and went back to peering through the window.
At last there was movement, an exchange of guards and a chance to check out what weaponry they were carrying. Gen narrowed her eyes at the suspiciously light number. “There can’t be only two,” she said, half to herself, half to Adrianne.
“Why not?” Adrianne demanded.
“It’s a ridiculous amount for anyone, and MK is ex-Special Forces. No way are they giving him the same detail they’d give a civilian.”
“He doesn’t want to escape,” Adrianne said, with a lilt to her voice that said she thought that was obvious. “What’s escaping going to do? Just shout his guilt out loud and clear to anyone who wants to listen. Better to stay.”
Adrianne’s quick précis of the situation had triggered a thought in Gen’s mind, one that slowly unspooled as she followed the obvious implications. “Adrianne,” she said slowly. “You’re a genius.”
“Thanks,” Adrianne said. “But for what exactly?”
“Guilt,” Gen said. “Of course that’s why there are so few guards. They want us to get in there. They want an excuse to shoot all three of us dead and if possible, claim it as a victory for right. They kill MK and me and claim I killed MK to prevent him spilling all the details.”
“And what about me?” Adrianne cut in.
“Easy. I killed you when you discovered files revealing MK and I were traitors. They’d ‘find’ your body in a week or two.”
“Jesus,” Adrianne said on an exhale. “I think you’re right. It can never just be simple can it?”
“No,” Gen said slowly. “It really can’t. That rules out getting into MK’s place. It looks too damn easy, and that isn’t good. Hell, we don’t even know if he’s in there anymore.” Or if he’s alive she added silently. “If they found his cell yesterday, they could have taken him into custody and damned the consequences and just left this place as a trap.” She stared out and slumped for long seconds. “That’s that I guess,” she said, and the weariness of the last two days overwhelmed her in a sudden surge in a way it had never done before.
Adrianne’s hand was warm on her knee, shaking her. “Gen,” she said, and she sounded way too bright to jive with Gen’s private moment of existential despair. “Gen, screw it all. Come on. We’ll go to Mexico. The first fucker who finds us can have the files. You habla Espanol?”
“I speak four languages, including Mandarin, Russian and Arabic,” Gen said. “But not Spanish. Missed those classes in high-school.”
“I was an AP student in French,” Adrianne said. “We’ll get along fine.”
It was more tempting than Gen would ever admit just to say yes, to throw it all in. In the end, it wasn’t the thought of running away from her country in its time of need or leaving a job half done that stopped her. It was the cold knowledge of what Adrianne would look like with a bullet in her if they spent the rest of their lives running without the hope of it stopping. When the mere thought of it made her heart skip a beat and a sick fear crawl through her, the kind of fear that she’d never felt when staring down the barrel of a gun herself, the rest of it clicked into place. Keep Adrianne safe. She couldn’t do that unless they ended this. Getting out the cell, she dialed the same number as the day before and waited, already knowing nobody would pick up. Wherever MK actually was, it wasn’t his house and he didn’t have that cell.
Going through the pitiful list of people who might be able to help made it all seem even bleaker. Katie was exhausted as a resource, she’d be tailed now. Anyone else she’d worked a job with was probably a risk not worth taking, even Jensen who was the person she trusted the most after Katie. Dr Padalecki while excellent as a therapist, was hardly likely to be of any use in this situation, and yeah it was sad that her contacts list was pretty much her colleagues and her shrink.
“Gen,” Adrianne said softly, “I’ve got it.”
“What?” Gen said, mind still cataloguing her pitiful acquaintances.
“We have to trust somebody, right? But we’ve got no clue who. So let’s make it three people. This can’t be endemic. So if we give the files to three people who have the necessary security clearance, then one or two or three of them must be able to do something. The head of the CIA, the VP, and the head of the Security Council. Even if one of them is corrupt, we’ll know it still got through and they can dig from there.”
Gen thought it over, turned it over in her mind for flaws and could find none. It wasn’t ideal; the information Adrianne had was too sensitive to spread everywhere, but it was the only way they were going to do this. “We need to make copies,” she said rapidly. “Four of them, on identical hard drives. I know someone who can do that. Then we need to hope like hell and get ourselves out.”
“How are we going to get it in their hands?” Adrianne demanded.
“That’s going to take every favor I can pull in,” Gen replied. “But we can do it.”
That’s how they end up one day later, having crashed into a building where they’re the two most wanted people in the city, to give it straight to the person who runs the CIA. And when that’s done, and it’s in his in-tray and his security detail are in for a tongue lashing they’ll never forget, and they’re in the office of the secretary of the security council, that’s when it goes to hell.
Gen didn’t think they’d ever find out if they were followed or if a little bird had carried news that they were there, but however it happened, any pretense of subtlety or keeping things quiet disappeared when they were full on ambushed by ten or so people, two of whom she knew, had drunk with, and in one case fought alongside. It hit harder than she’d thought it would to see his gun leveled at her, ready to kill. And it cost less than she would’ve ever have imagined to shoot him. Not when it was Adrianne on the other side of his gun. She watched with clinical dispassion as he hit the floor. This was what she’d been trained for, this was what she was good at, and it took her over; she worked on something colder than instinct; pure precision learned from years of training.
Nothing broke her out of her self-imposed calm, nothing until she heard the report of a gun too close to her, and then she turned to see Adrianne with the gun Gen had given her in her hands, and a look of horror on her face.
“Adrianne,” Gen said, scrambling forward, heart in her mouth and her hands shaking. Adrianne turned to her as though by instinct, fingers dropping the gun. She bent over immediately to pick it up, as though aware the danger wasn’t over.
“Gen,” Adrianne said. “I shot someone.” The man she’d shot was sprawled in front of them, dead and cooling in the canned office air. Gen looked at his motionless body for a brief second and then back at Adrianne.
“Listen to me,” Gen said. “I’d rather shoot a hundred like him than let you die. You did what you had to, to protect yourself. And me.” It was that last that got Adrianne moving again, hand rubbing across her eyes as though to dispel non-existent tears. “Good,” Gen breathed. “We’re going to finish this, okay? Then it’s beaches and sand all the way down.”
Adrianne nodded as though she believed what Gen was saying, when Gen didn’t believe it herself, and Gen wondered what sort of price would be paid at the end of this. She touched Adrianne’s hand briefly and then pulled ahead, taking point again, determined that if there was more shooting to be done, she’d be the one to do it. But the way was clear now, empty and silent as they ran along, and Gen could feel her heart beating wildly in her chest, an uncontrolled rhythm that unnerved her, her calm shattered and broken.
“We’re done,” she said. “Adrianne, we’re done. We’ve done the best we can do and we’re going.” When they slipped out, Gen thought she should feel as though she’d left the ends too loose, as though she hadn’t done enough or tried hard enough. When those thoughts attempted to surface though, she merely had to look at Adrianne and remember what the price of failure would have been.
It was in a motel room like the ones they’d stayed in for what felt like years that Gen gave into whatever there was between them, let Adrianne press her against a wall and kiss her, hot and hard enough that it was all Gen could think about. All thoughts of trauma and fear and unnatural stress responses vanished in how Adrianne touched her, like she was glass at first, like Adrianne hadn’t seen her in her element, couldn’t taste the cordite residue on her hands when she kissed her fingers, kissed them intently, like every bit of the brain she’d used to track down the financial anomaly that had started all this was now turned on Gen.
It was a novel experience in a life Gen had thought packed full of every kind of firsts; that she’d never seen the sort of look in someone’s eyes that Adrianne turned on her in that moment, a look Gen wanted to hide from, shield herself from everything it meant, and at the same time to box it up so she could keep it. Then Adrianne’s hands weren’t gentle anymore, didn’t touch her as though she was something breakable and everything in Gen came alive at the contrast. Adrianne wasn’t pinning her against the wall, but the length of her body pressed up close served much the same purpose, and for the first time Gen wanted to see where it would go, held between a hard place and a rock.
As it turned out, where it’d go was Adrianne’s thigh between both of Gen’s, and a beginning to the sort of sex she hadn’t had in years, clumsy and scorching in its own way, and Gen found she didn’t mind stretching up to catch a kiss when it was Adrianne’s hands on her hips tugging her upwards, running over the sensitive skin beneath her top. It was Adrianne who walked them backwards from the wall to demonstrate the only good use of a motel bed, Gen settling on top of Adrianne’s hips, arching forward to undo her own bra strap and wriggle out of her top while Adrianne’s fingers settled familiarly into the indent of her waist, the width of her hands spanning across, thumbs pressing into the meeting of her hips and Gen couldn’t breathe for a second at the thought that Adrianne was there and waiting for her, as though she knew Gen better than she knew herself, how much she could take and when she’d want to touch.
Beneath her fingertips Adrianne was warm and alive, and part of Gen indulges in an odd kind of exultation that it was thanks to her, and it made the way she touched more possessive than she’d ever thought she could be, as she kissed hot and hard at Adrianne’s breasts, fingers pressing in between her legs, Adrianne surging up to meet her, wet and ready and Gen had to bite her own lip, and breathe in deep at the sight, couldn’t resist bringing Adrianne off exactly like that, every thought of everything else she’d wanted to do disappearing by the wayside, because there was time and a future before them. She thought of an open road and a fresh start, Mexico only the beginning, and Adrianne beside her, a half-dream in the warmth of their bodies together that disappeared when Adrianne rolled up over and dragged her knees apart, and went down on her and drove every thought out of her head. She didn’t stop until Gen came twice like that, helpless and gasping, and when she surfaced there was a smile in her eyes.
“Have you stopped thinking of me as about to break any second?” she asked.
Gen was too tired to kick her, or more accurately, too satiated and absorbed in the afterglow, but the temptation was still strong. “It wasn’t like that,” she said, though she couldn’t articulate the difference between refusing to fuck the Adrianne of four days ago who was shell-shocked at the sight of death, and fucking her after she’d killed a man. There was only one thing she could say as she dragged her fingers over Adrianne’s smile. “You’re committed now, though,” and that said it all. Adrianne had made her choice and it was Gen. Gen couldn’t do less than reciprocate with all of herself that she could give without diminishment.
Adrianne’s smile faded. “I am,” she said quietly. “And not because I have no choice.”
Gen believed her, a scarier prospect than any assignment ever handed to her, and when she held Adrianne tight that night, it was not for warmth or closeness or for Adrianne’s sake at all. When she slept she dreamt of Mexico, of the hot air in summer, and the places they would hide, of how Adrianne will tan in the sun and how, when everything is set aside, she has a chance here to build something that’ll last.