Chapter 1: A Gift at Christmas
Present, CIA HQ, Berlin
Dar Adal closed his eyes, squeezing the lids together tightly but it did nothing to erase the picture indelibly burnt into his retinas. It was the same as the scene paused on the PC screen in front of him. It played continually in his mind although he tried so very hard to stop it: Peter Quinn twitching and groaning in his last horrific death throes.
How the fuck did this happen?
It was only a few days, five at the most, Dar’s normally incisive mind was too stunned to care about the precise details, that they had sat together in the soft warmth of a Berlin park eating sandwiches. Peter was hurting true, pale and pained in his movements but determined and driven nevertheless. He had promised the Jihadis would die like dogs in the desert, that he would bring down Al-Qaduli. So why oh why was it him, Dar’s boy, who was dying so much more horrendously than any dog, with an audience of millions, who stood wide eyed and petrified in front of their TV screens mesmerised by the sheer horror of it.
When Dar had first been shown the video, he could not believe what he was seeing. And then a seething rage had claimed him, he had chased everyone else out of the room, slammed the door shut, closed the blinds and simply sat as the shock had ravaged through him. His anger had been as transitory as it was fierce and it soon dissipated to dead, dull dismay. He had things to do, goddamn it, there was an attack coming! He needed to brief Saul, meet German intelligence, plan some sort of fucking response but at this point in time he simply could not. Devastation had stolen away his energy and his purpose. He had never felt so ineffective, so hopeless. He recalled even when he had been notified of the death in an RTA of his own son a couple of years before he had not been so thrown.
Desolate and alone, in the darkened room Dar’s mind began to think back and relive his dealings with the man he had named Peter Quinn……
Christmas Eve 1993 Baltimore City Police Station, Eastern Avenue
People, colleagues and superiors, always asked him what it was he looked for, what made him make the decision to take the risk. Dar Adal made a point to never answer the question. Truth was he didn't really know. He could say what it wasn't easily enough; over-confidence, conceit, recklessness, arrogance but what was it he really looked for? He knew it when he saw it, of course. It created a feeling, deep down in the pit of his stomach, a tugging, excited sensation, a sense of sweet dangerous foreboding that clutched at him and he had to act on. But there had to be a stimulus, something that kicked off the feeling. What was that?
He sat in the cold police interrogation room, sipping the crap coffee that at least was hot but had the taste and consistency of thick mud, staring over the rim of the polystyrene beaker at the kid in front of him and he pondered all over again.
It had been a shit year both professionally and personally; the intel from his Egyptian asset, Emad Salem, that he had spent all that time gathering only for the powers at the top to ignore totally, had ended with the bombing at the World Trade Centre - a fucking disaster that must never be allowed to happen again. Then there was the cruise missile attack on Iraqi intelligence HQ as payback for the attempted assassination of George Bush years earlier, in which a number of his assets had been wastefully eliminated and in the past few weeks the shit going down in Mogadishu, claiming more of his associates. It wasn't their loss so much, death came with the game he played, but the fact that their missions had failed, their lives had been taken for too low a price, which depressed him.
And, for the first time in twenty years, he was facing the holidays as a single man; Marlene had finally had enough of his shit, taken the boys and filed for divorce. It hurt, not that he had spent many Christmases with them over the past two decades, his job had always come first, what was more important than the safety of the nation? But somehow knowing they were there had been comforting. Now the delights of Christmas Eve in fucking Baltimore were all he had to look forward to.
Dar shivered and turned his attention back to the scrap of humanity that perched on the chair opposite. He had read the kid's file that now sat, discarded, on the table in front of him. It had told him relatively little but the pieces fit what he was looking for: kid was born into an OK family and first twelve years of his life had been uneventful but that life had skidded to a tragic halt four years ago when the family car was smashed to pieces by a juggernaut out on an icy intersection of I83. Kid lost both parents and his elder brother but walked away without even a scratch and the papers had called him lucky. No other immediate family so he had ended up in care and from there the list of petty offences, unruly behaviour and simmering violence had grown as he was shifted from one home to another with the 'difficult' tag ballooning until it defined him. Dar had read the same story so many times before as the kid slipped and slithered downwards through the broken safety net of a care system that didn't care. What are we doing to our children? Dar asked himself but quickly allowed his inner cynicism to push the thought away, dismissing it as the weakness it was. He was not here to challenge or change things, he was here to take advantage of the situation as he found it, find some raw material that he could sculpt into a useful asset, so that the whole of society would benefit and his beloved, adopted nation would remain safe.
Dar focused on the case in hand, cleared his throat. "Police report says you hot wired a car this evening, that true?"
No movement, no acknowledgement that he had even heard, the kid remained silent, unimpressed, arms crossed, head resting forward on his chest and face hidden beneath his long, lank hair. He was dressed in clothes that were sizes too big for him, a lurid plaid shirt over a dirty white t-shirt and baggy jeans, the rips on which were, Dar suspected, from over wear not the incisions of fashion that other kids his age paid top dollar for. The over sized clothes did nothing but accentuate the kid's lean frame, he was at the awkward stage of elbows and joints before the confidence of adulthood smoothed out his odd, angular, anomalies; prickly and abrasive in both body and mind.
But the overwhelming feature that attracted Dar was his stillness. He sat on the chair motionless as a statue, giving away no hint of emotion, perfectly contained in his own skin, buttoned down with the expertise of a master. So still that he almost was not there, blending in with his surroundings like a chameleon and yet Dar sensed what boiled beneath, the hot angry lava bubbling below the surface of the cold dormant volcano. The scent of danger that only someone with Dar's skilful nose would be able to pick up, dripped from him. How to bring it out, poke the hornets nest, get a glimpse of how in control this boy really was?
Dar appreciated a challenge; he had been in this position so many times before and started the process by delving deep into his pocket. He came out with a book, a candy bar and a packet of cigarettes; purposefully he placed them on the table in front of the kid and then leaned back, letting out a long slow sigh.
The boy raised his head, interested despite himself, and Dar saw his face for the first time, pale skin smudged with dirt, drawn tight across sharp cheekbones, even though the left side was slightly swollen and his lower lip split where he had been hit during his arrest, there was no disguising the promise of beauty there. Dar ticked that particular box on the imaginary list in his head and noted the inquisitive blink of the kid's eyes, the lick of the lips in anticipation just once and then the kid forced himself to relax. The veil came down over those intelligent eyes and a completely bland expression followed it. Ever play poker kid? Dar wanted to ask but he already knew the answer, knew the type; kid had likely experienced every sin in the book, and excelled at them, poker was surely old hat!
Dar Adal, the wily professional, had a good idea about the thoughts that were whirring in the kid's mind and was impressed that he was wisely keeping quiet, waiting for more information. Dar could wait too. He was well practised in the art.
And make no mistake, in that one unguarded instant, Dar had seen what he sought and the realisation hit him then. It was in the eyes, the eyes were the tell, that was where he saw the potential. And in this boy's ice blue gaze, for only a second but it was enough, he had seen the hunger, the deep soul crushing need to fill the gaping chasm inside, the overwhelming desire to fit in, to be part of something greater than self, to make a difference; to do good. The light that the kid had learnt to quench and dampen down through years of dark suffering had briefly shone bright enough to cause Dar's stomach to lurch in familiar recognition. With no nourishment it would soon flicker and fail, overwhelmed by violent despair, but if it was cherished and sustained, who was to say it would not become a mighty flame? Maybe his long search through the scum of Baltimore society had not been in vain, maybe Dar had found the uncut diamond that he sought.
They sat silently for a long time, the kid holding on to his curiosity barely, but for an impressive length of time nevertheless until finally he ventured. "Is this some sort of test? Think you can buy me with a book, some smokes and a fucking candy bar?"
"I am not a generous man," Dar responded flatly. "You get to chose only one." It was the same play he used every time and it never failed to lure the reticent, damaged young men he hunted into his trap. This one in front of him was no different as his split lip creased into a wry grimace before his features contorted into irritation.
"Fuck you!" the kid spat.
Dar ignored the comment, cynically pushing away his disappointment that the kid had allowed himself to show emotion, obviously needed to learn more control, and focusing instead on the thrill of the chase, the success of the hunt. He leaned forward, dark eyes glittering in the dull light. "I'm looking for somebody special."
Kid glanced around the grey, dirty room, stinking of stale sweat and cigarette smoke. "You come to the wrong place then. Ain't nothing special here."
Dar leaned forward. "On the contrary, I think there may be. I'm interested in you."
Dar nodded his head slowly.
"Don't look like a fucking social worker," the kid mumbled.
"The fuck are you then? Some sort of fucking pimp?"
"You got a filthy mouth, boy."
"It's had some dirty things in it!"
They stared at each other, nostrils flaring, over the rickety wooden table, simmering aggression sparking between them dangerously. Finally the kid looked away and shrugged. "Friend wanted to see Ocean City, she'd never been before."
"So you stole a car?"
"What, you were gonna bring it back?" Dar let his voice rise a little with incredulity.
The boy shrugged again, his favourite mannerism apparently. "It was my Christmas present for her, she deserved some fun. Wasn't doing no harm."
"Was she worth it? Looks like you'll be rotting in juvy hall now because of it."
The kid snorted nonchalantly. "I don't think so. Murder rate in good ol' Baltimore is legendary, hun. All the fucking prisons are full already; don't you listen to the news? All those big, bad gang members filling 'em up. No space for a white kid like me." He looked away, suddenly morose. "No room anywhere for trash like me."
"Self pity is such an unbecoming emotion," Dar said but with his show of teenage angst the kid had revealed the weakness Dar had previously suspected. And now, ever the consummate professional, having seen the chink, Dar would have no hesitation in ruthlessly exploiting it for his own ends.
"So is it sex you want?" The kid asked bluntly, eyes bright with confrontation as if he had realised he had revealed too much and now used attack as his defence to cover the slip. "Cos I don't do that sort of thing, fucking depraved."
Dar rolled his eyes sceptically. "Never?"
"I don't believe you."
"I don't fucking care!"
"What about all those filthy things you've had in your mouth?"
The kid snorted, looked away. "I lied."
Dar shook his head. "That's not good, Johnny. If nothing else there should be absolute honesty between us. You still go to school?"
He chewed his lip before admitting. "Sometimes."
"Not very interesting, eh? Doesn't excite you?"
The kid shrugged. "It's OK, sometimes."
Dar pushed the book across the table towards him. "You read this?"
The kid leant across and made to pick it up but stopped himself, withdrawing his grimy hand quickly, burying it into his deepest pocket.
Dar nodded. "I understand, kid, you don't want anything. You don't owe anybody anything and you aim to keep it that way. But there's a fucking big empty hole inside you and sometime you are going to have to find a way to fill that up with something. And maybe I can help you with that."
"What do you want?" The kid's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"I work for the government and I have a little project coming up that I think you can help me with."
"The government - fuck me! Will it be dangerous?"
"Maybe. But I think it will scratch that itch that's been bothering you."
"Itch? I don't have no itch!"
Dar leant forwards, smiling brightly. "Sure you do, son. The one that won't let you sleep at night, the one that pushes you to take all those seemingly pointless risks, the one that tells you there is more to life than fucking Baltimore!"
The boy sniffed, bit his lip nervously, the hand came out again and then pulled the book towards him. "Great Expectations," he muttered.
"You read it?" Dar asked again.
Hair flopped into the boy's eyes as he shook his head. "Don't read much."
"You should. There's a lot you can learn from literature."
"Got no expectations," the boy said wistfully. "That way you don't get disappointed."
"You should have. You expect nothing, you settle for shit."
"Shit's something." The kid nodded back to the table. "Maybe I prefer the candy bar."
"Maybe. But it's not good enough, kid. Not for you. You can do better."
There was a knock on the cell door. It opened and the jolly custody sergeant stood there, ringing a large brass bell. "Happy Christmas," he beamed. "Times up Johnny boy, your social worker has arrived."
"Ho fucking ho," Dar muttered.
The kid shook his head. "Fuck, did I miss Santa again?" he asked. He stood and moved to push past Dar.
"Maybe not," Dar nodded to the book. "Keep it, a Christmas gift for you. Think on what we've discussed today and let me know if you're interested."
"And if I'm not?"
"No problem. It's your choice kid. But I think you're better than that."
The kid nodded. Their eyes met and held the stare for a long time and then the kid pulled away. "Thanks, I will." And with a fleeting, lop-sided smile, the first Dar had seen animate the sharp beauty of his face, he was gone.
Dar sat back down on the chair. The sergeant’s gruff voice singing 'Johnny be good' echoed away down the corridor to nothing and was replaced by the peel of distant bells ringing through the old station, the magic of Christmas even here? Dar made to leave but turning back to the table to retrieve his candy bar and cigarettes, he let out a long curse; both were gone.
"Son of a bitch!" he muttered, impressed despite himself. "When did he lift them?" He let his mouth curl into a self-satisfied smile, happy with his night's work.
Chapter 2: The Making of a Man
2 April 2003, US Army Field Hospital, outside Baghdad, Iraq
It was a scorchingly hot day, the roasting sun burning down from a desolate, empty sky causing the heat to shimmer in the distance and make the very air appear to be melting. On the short walk from the landing pad to the grey semi-permanent buildings of the field hospital Dar could feel the pores of his skin evacuating sweat by the bucketful as if to join in with the overall liquefying experience around him. If he had stayed outside much longer he feared he would have dissipated into a pitiable little puddle of grease in the dirt soon to evaporate to nothing at all. It was a relief to step into the cool, damp air of the buildings with a reliable AC system chuffing somewhere close, valiantly working to keep everything just that little bit less hot.
Not only the heat but worse; the dust! Dar hated it with the cruel passion he normally reserved for his enemies. It got everywhere, even into the tiniest of cracks, once there it would begin to irritate, rubbing and eradicating, becoming a festering sore that slowly destroyed all with its incessant industry. He brushed down his suit which had once been black but now was faded to the dull, dun colourlessness of the desert, but the movement was ineffectual, the grim grime just stuck to him forming a hard stucco crust. For the millionth time he thanked his stars that he was no longer required to conduct much business in places like this. And he asked himself what he was doing here in this burning, hopeless hell.
True, he had been requested to call in at Camp Nama, a military base in Baghdad originally built by the government of Saddam Hussein, which had been taken over by elite American special operations forces. The main purpose of the camp was the interrogation of prisoners for information about Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Dar had received a call to help them set up. He was also interested in al-Zarqawi himself and hoped to glean some information which he would be able to use to his advantage. Still, although that gave him a reason, it did not explain why he had left Istanbul, where he had been monitoring the war, with such uncharacteristic haste. Why he had even left at all, when his input would surely have been just as valid over the phone.
Dar sipped the cool water he had accepted from the bemused nurse after she had directed him into the vacant office where he now waited. Her raised eyebrows and flustered responses when he proffered his ID made it obvious they were not used to having visits from people with his level of security clearance at this hospital. Eager to be away, she had pushed the cup into his hand and left him to his own devices explaining in her lazy, southern drawl, that they were real busy right now and the surgeon would come to give him an update as soon as possible.
So he waited, eying distastefully the tattered manila folders of patient notes stacked untidily in tumbling piles in every space in the office; the smell of paper and disinfectant warring with the goddamn dust that was still cloying at his nose and throat. Sounds of life, the vibration of distant helicopters, the engines of other vehicles, shouts of soldiers, staccato gun fire from the nearby firing range and even the call to prayer from outside the compound, permeated into the hospital only weakly through the sultry thick air; it was as if it was too hot even for sound molecules to find the energy to bang together.
Dar sighed deeply, wondered again why he was here, what he possibly thought he could achieve.
A gruff clearing of the throat pulled him back from his reverie and he turned to see a long, thin balding man still garbed in OR greens, sweat pooling in large dark stains from under his arms, staring at him expectantly. "I am Colonel Alistair Stewart, Chief Surgeon here at the moment. Can I help you?" the man asked deep voice as drawn as the black shadows around his eyes.
"I hope so," Dar replied accepting the proffered hand and the tight, strong but clammy handshake that followed. "Lieutenant Peter Quinn currently attached to 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group; I believe he is a patient here?"
Colonel Stewart nodded, still wary. "He may be. Who is asking?"
With a stifled sigh of frustration, Dar showed his ID again. The doctor's eyebrows followed the nurse's skyward. "Yes. I've just been acquainted with that particular lieutenant in OR," he confirmed. "My sources tell me quite a hero, I believe."
"How is he?"
"Took a bullet out of his thigh, missed his major arteries but he'll have a nasty scar, my sewing is not what it could be after 18 hours straight in OR - we had a busy night.” He smiled wanly. “But Lieutenant Quinn will be fine, while he won't be doing any of those goddamn assault courses those Special Forces guys seem to enjoy, any time soon, he'll be as good as new in the fullness of time. We'll be shipping him out to Landstuhl within the next couple of days as long as his condition stabilises sufficiently." An exhausted smile lit his face as he continued. "Yep, he got the best service possible - wouldn't do to let a prospective Silver Star recipient suffer on my table!"
Dar let out a dissatisfied grunt. "Can I see him?"
"He won't be fully conscious for a while yet. May I ask what your interest is?"
Dar snorted again but ignored the question. They exchanged defiant stares for simmering seconds and then the surgeon sighed and ran his hand tiredly through his thinning hair. "Very well. The nurse will take you through but as I said, I don't think he'll be up for a conversation right now."
The nervous nurse returned, neurotically threading the wisps of hair that had escaped her severely scraped back ponytail behind her ears and, not raising her eyes from the floor, she directed Dar through the complex of dowdy interlinking corridors to stop at the recovery room. It was a larger space than the other hot, claustrophobic rooms he had been in thus far though by no means huge, partitioned into six different bays. Each patient bay was equipped with a mesmerising variety of medical monitoring equipment; all flashing lights and beeping. Three of the bays held a wounded soldier, unconscious on the bed in various stages of recovery, a nurse assigned to monitor each one, fussing at their side.
"This is a sterile area," the nervous nurse said to the floor in front of Dar. "To prevent the spread of germs, you should really put on a gown and cap."
Dar growled. "That won't be necessary. I don't intend on staying long and I certainly won't be getting close."
The nurse looked up for a second, meeting his eye as if to argue and then, surrendering her initiative, looked away and shrugged. "He's down at the bottom end."
Dar stopped before the bed indicated. The nurse who was sitting beside the still form on the cot looked up, opened her mouth to protest his sudden appearance but caught the gesture from her nervous colleague behind Dar and stopped.
"How is he?" Dar asked. He stepped closer, taking in the pale, parched skin, the short buzz-cut hair of a military man, familiar features bisected by a thin plastic nasal tube stretching across the razored edge of those cheekbones. Peter Quinn had certainly grown up from that teenage waif Dar had first met in Baltimore ten years before. Even inanimate, with eyes closed tightly, it was still evident that the seed of beauty had indeed blossomed into a handsome young man.
The nurse shrugged. "He's OK. Oxygen saturation level is a little low."
A cold sliver of fear squirmed in Dar's bowels. "Is that a problem?" he hissed.
"Not really, that's why he's got the nasal cannula to give him supplemental oxygen. He should be coming around soon but he may be disoriented when he initially regains consciousness."
"So he's in no danger?" Dar tried to make his voice sound completely disinterested. He could tell from the nurse's curious glance that he failed.
"You'd have to ask the Doctor but everything looks fine so far. Do you want to pull up a chair? Like I said this may take some time."
"No. I have to go." And with that Dar spun on his heel and, with the suspicion of relief in his step, he left the facility.
15 April 2003, Landstuhl Medical Centre, Germany
Dar Adal stood patiently beside the large windows of the common room overlooking one of the vast parking lots at the Medical Centre, gazing out but not seeing the cars that manoeuvered around the spaces as if participating in some meticulous, mechanical ballet. It was spitting with mid afternoon rain following an earlier deluge and deep puddles clung to every indentation in the lot, causing an orchestra of splashing sounds to accompany the vehicular dance.
There had been a few patients hunched around playing cards and chatting while a TV blared unwatched in the corner when Dar had arrived but he had pulled rank and driven everyone out with the belligerent aid of the ward sister. He now stood in composed silence as he waited, having achieved his desire of complete privacy for this interview.
He turned at the sound of the heavy fire doors opening, the clinking of crutches and the shuffle of feet on the polished, hard floor and the playful murmurings from the soldier to the nurse who was helping him into the room. It was all so very civilised, so self-satisfied, so safe. Dar forced a cold smile at the new arrival; it was time to blow this particular complacent facade apart.
Lieutenant Peter Quinn stopped in front of his mentor, took his hand from the crutch that the nurse also held, and executed a proud if somewhat unsteady salute.
"Hello, Peter. Shouldn't you be in a wheelchair?" Dar began with no trace of warmth.
Quinn shrugged, effervescently calm, brimming, almost overflowing, with serene confidence. "Probably, but I figure the sooner I get moving, the quicker I'll be fit to go back." He smiled a sublimely relaxed expression that Dar had never seen on his features before.
Dar skewered him with a disdainful look which Quinn missed completely as he momentarily closed his eyes to bite back a grimace as pain, scarlet and raw, shot through his damaged leg. He chewed his lip as he concentrated on the nurse helping him to sit in a convenient chair. Once he was seated relatively comfortably, she balanced his crutches on the chair beside him carefully.
"Thank you, that will be all," Dar dismissed her without a second glance.
Quinn sat on the edge of his seat, pain suppressed, eyes wide, excitedly expectant, like a pathetic puppy dog. Dar shuddered at the positive glow that seemed to emanate from him and was even more uncomfortable as the younger man, quite unexpectedly, began the conversation with, "I had this fucking horrible dream that you were at my bedside when I woke up from the operation in Iraq, looking all worried, like you'd crapped yourself." There was an amused twinkle in his blue eyes and his features creased into a teasing smile. Dimples, which Dar had not noticed before, gave him a carefree almost smug, boyish charm, softening the edginess of his incisive features.
"Don't be fucking ridiculous. You need to get a grip on your imagination!" Dar snapped sternly. "Now, I am on a very tight schedule, we need to get down to business. Would you like to tell me what the fuck you think you were doing?"
"Doing?" Quinn's grin froze, crystallising from humour to curiosity as he sensed the cold, disapproving aloofness in the other man.
"In the clusterfuck that resulted in you being here." Dar continued his attack with determined precision.
"Following orders, Sir." All gentle flippancy gone, Quinn's whole body visibly stiffened as he reverted back to the safety of starched military formality, his acerbic angles prickling outwards to define him once more.
Gratified by the changes to the man before him that he had wrought and the sudden iced atmosphere in the room, Dar continued to exert his authority. "Your orders were to engage Ansar al-Islam, nullify them, along with uncovering the chemical weapons facility at Sargat."
"Which we did."
"Your orders were most certainly not to go back once the objective was achieved."
Quinn snorted. "I lost a man." He shook his head, as a profoundly suffered raw guilt flashed in his eyes. He gulped deeply as if such action could swallow his culpability away.
"So fucking what?"
"I couldn't leave him behind. That's not the way."
"That's not their way. How we do things is very different, as you should know by now. You should not have gone back. Send some grunts if you must but you should not have put yourself in danger. That's not fucking leadership, it's just abject stupidity!"
"I am a fucking soldier!" Quinn's eyes flashed with fury.
"Yes you are! And as a fucking soldier your mission comes first. The end always justifies the means. Always! It's about time you grew up, stopped playing the stupid little soldier boy running around the desert like a chicken with its fucking head cut off. I expected more from you." Dar paused before delivering the killer blow. "I am recalling you back to Langley."
"But..." Blue eyes wide with dismay.
Dar ignored the obvious consternation and continued, “There’s plenty more for you to learn and you can do it behind a desk until you can prove to me you have the control necessary to succeed out in the fucking real world. This is not about being a fucking hero! I have invested a lot in you, took a risk on you when everyone else cautioned me against it. I do not want that wasted; you bleeding out into the desert like some ordinary fucking grunt, or you dying for some insignificant shit is not going to happen. You will not fail on this, I will not allow it. Do I make myself clear?"
Quinn looked away, the muscle on his cheek twitching, eyes cloudy with hurt, blinking rapidly, fists flexing with fury, knuckles white where they gripped the chair arms, holding on to his temper only barely.
Dar moved closer, bent down to be at the same level and spat into the other man's face, each word slow and venomous. "Do I make myself clear?"
Quinn nodded slowly. "Yes, Sir," he muttered finally, not meeting Dar's challenging stare.
Dar stood back, a tight satisfied smile on his lips. "Good. I knew you would see it my way in the end." He took a small battered box of chocolates from his pocket and thrust it at Quinn. "Selling them off at the PX, you always look like you could use a sugar rush."
Quinn looked down at the box, bewildered and hurt beyond words, as Dar walked victoriously away.
The older man paused at the doors and turned back. "Congratulations on the Silver Star, by the way," he said seemingly as an afterthought, his apparently admiring smile did not reach his eloquent eyes.
"See you at Langley." And he was gone.
"Fucking bastard." Quinn spat bitterly as he quelled the urge to resentfully throw the chocolates straight back at Dar's retreating form. Instead he forced himself to breathe deeply, to relax, to find his control and tamp down the fiery emotion that flamed through him.
As the spring evening rushed towards night, disillusioned and deflated, he sat and brooded for a very long time, one man, alone in the growing darkness.
Chapter 3: A Way Out
3 January 2009 CIA Headquarters, Langley,
"Sit down, Peter."
"Sit the fuck down!"
He sat in the chair indicated. Eyes bright in the gloomy office light, meeting Dar's challenging stare with calm confidence, silent and still and yet tense and tight as a bow string. Time to pull back the string and see how far the arrow will fly, Dar thought.
"So now you can tell me what the fuck this is," Dar attacked, throwing the letter onto the desk between them.
Quinn began to answer but his voice was unusually low even for him. He cleared his throat and began again. "My resignation letter. I’m done."
Dar snorted derisively. "Do you really think it's that fucking easy? Don't play dense, Peter, it doesn't suit you. You know exactly what I am asking."
Quinn chewed his lip, a reticent but cocky schoolboy unwilling to comment further, his blue eyes staring in icy insolence at the older man. Finally he looked away, ran his hand through his hair and muttered, "I really don't need this shit."
"Yes you do, Peter. This is exactly what you need and you will shut the fuck up, sit still and listen to what I have to say!"
Quinn looked for a second as if he would more than argue the point. Dar was perfectly aware of, had even cultivated, the anger in Peter that simmered so close to the surface, threatening to flame into brutal unstoppable, violence once stoked. It was an imperative for his chosen line of work and it flared now in the quiver of his nostrils, the rigid stiffening of his hands and the unexpectedly fierce intake of breath. For long aching heartbeats they both tottered on the edge of the fire pit, each keenly aware of the menace inherent in the moment but then, with a grimace, Quinn took control of his wrath, managing, as he did in most situations, to tamp it down, although it was still there, beguilingly dangerous, not safe, always hovering at the edge of his interactions like a hungry buzzard. He bit his lip again and nodded slightly to show his compliance.
Dar silently released the fearful breath he had been holding, unwilling to let the younger man intimidate him he sought the initiative. "Do you know it's over fifteen years since you first met me? Remember Christmas Eve in Baltimore?" Quinn nodded, a puzzled look creasing his precise features. Dar understood and positively welcomed the other's uneasiness coming so soon after the demonstration of his lingering threat. In most circumstances Dar made a habit of not talking history, of simply focusing on the future instead; he saw what had to be done, and did it, deftly. Habitually he was not a man to examine his own past or motives. He took what was necessary and moved on. He knew that in choosing to reminisce, even so vaguely, at this moment, Peter would be mildly surprised and consequently wrong footed and Dar would use whatever tactic was available to get control of the situation; he would not allow himself to contemplate losing one of his best assets in this manner. Stimulated by the confrontation, he continued, "You've come a long way Peter. Achieved all that I had hoped. I wasn't wrong in choosing you. You have never disappointed. Not until now. It's a girl isn't it?"
Quinn nodded, seemingly unwilling to trust his voice, the silence hung heavy in the air. Finally he offered,"I made her a promise."
"You made me a promise, Peter. You made the Agency a promise, and you made your fucking country a promise. Have you conveniently forgotten that?"
"Do you love her?"
Quinn flinched as it physically struck. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Dar threw the letter on to the desk. "Then what is it that sparks your misplaced sense of duty?"
Head down, almost a shrug to conceal its importance and then the muttered confession. "A kid."
Dar nodded sagely, his mouth curling into a circle of feigned understanding; he had known this information before, of course. Already he knew the name and background of the woman, some cop from Philly who had taken Peter's eye three months ago before he had been posted to Europe. Well she wouldn't be allowed to ruin this most valuable asset. "Oh I see now," Dar said wistfully. "It's so easy to sow a seed, Peter. Anyone can do it but not everyone has what it takes to cultivate and nourish that seed, not everyone has what it takes to be a father. Some people are better off not even trying, walking away, letting those more suited to the task take up the challenge.” He paused, allowing his words to hit home before continuing, “Are you looking for a way out? You know the Group will look after you."
Quinn's face was set as hard as concrete, revealing nothing.
Dar stood up, moving towards the silver tea service, incongruous in front of a row of tidy books perfectly stacked in order of ascending height, on the cabinet beside the window. "Had one of my British friends here earlier.” Dar started, by way of explanation.”He always likes the traditional institutions; afternoon tea, one of the best. Says it makes him remember what it is to be cultured in a world that makes him anything but."
"You have friends?" Quinn deadpanned.
Dar turned back, his eyebrows raised; he overlooked the impertinence oozing through the comment with practised restraint. "Tea?" Not waiting for a response, Dar poured two cups, and then proceeded to take an obscenely large scone filled to brimming with white mountains of cream and pass it to Quinn. "Say what you like about the British, and I frequently do, they at least know how to act in a civilised manner as the world crumbles around them."
The younger man accepted the plate with a curious roll of his eyes and deposited it gently on to the desk in front of him, eyeing its calorie-busting content with studied scepticism. He likewise received and discarded the cup of tea.
Dar ignored this apparent slight and moved back to stand at the office window, thoughts raging around his mind as he sipped his tea. How to play this? Peter was no longer the ill disciplined teenager to be bullied, no that was such an ugly word, Dar preferred 'insistently compelled', into submission. Over the years Dar had taken fond delight in supervising as the CIA transformed the blank, if somewhat soiled, canvas he had found in Baltimore and painted it with the colours of courage, integrity, reliability, tenacity, and expertise, shaded by vicious experience, to make the work of art that sat before him. It was written that God had fashioned man in his own image, and Dar liked to think that Peter was a reasonable image of the young, inspired operative he himself had once been. Dar had, over the years, lost what little faith he had once possessed, but he was perfectly willing to accept responsibility for all of the best elements that had lead to the successful creation of Peter Quinn, the complete assassin, and he assured anyone who would listen that their success was as a direct result of his own input and skill. He was even beginning to hope that maybe, one day, Peter would step up to become his successor.
But Dar was not so blinded by his accomplishments that he could not see his protégé's flaws - the usual and expected neuroses of a black ops assassin came in vicious cycles to haunt Peter and had to be addressed efficiently and effectively. Here was one of the most dangerous of those vividly revealed before him. Dar had suspected he would have to navigate his way through a scene such as this one at some point. He supposed he should be grateful it had taken this long to get to it.
He drew in a deep breath, remembering. A sudden wave of exhaustion rolled through him - why must each generation make the same mistakes? Why couldn't these youngsters learn from what he had suffered?
Playing for time, he turned back and asked, "How was Copenhagen?"
Quinn shrugged fully this time, the gesture reminded Dar again of the unfortunate, hopeless teenager he had once been. "Cold. But it had its moments."
"I've had good reports back about you. The Germans particularly found your input useful so I've been told."
A slight, almost conceited, smile curled the very edges of Quinn's lips but he did not respond more.
Dar looked back out of his window. A leaden sleet was falling on a grey, despondent world. It melted the moment it hit the window, droplets joining together and running downwards in long dark ribbons of wet, meandering. A depressing wave of melancholy at the scene washed through Dar; the great rivers of the world reduced to almost nothing.
Dar forced himself to focus on the problem before him. He knew what it was like, had felt it himself many years ago: in a world so fucked up and doomed, who did not look for an escape in the mundane, the ordinary? When one went slowly insane protecting the sanity of an injudicious world, why wouldn't one yearn to be a part of that elusive dream which one gave so much to save? Wasn't that only fair? Quinn was feeling what those who had gone before had also felt, what Dar had suffered, years previously. But bleak experience had taught Dar that nothing was ever fair; there was no escape into the ordinary; it was not a valid option. In accepting the role he had, whether he had fully understood the consequences or not at such a young age, Peter had forever sacrificed the normality that he now craved.
But how to make him see that it was an impossible fantasy before he made a terrible mistake.
As if reading some of Dar’s thoughts Quinn ventured sullenly, "You had kids." He was even more rigid than before, as erect in his chair as if he were standing to attention.
Dar sighed. It was true, he did. He had thought long ago, when he was younger than Peter was now, that he could have the best of both worlds, had clutched both with the pure, unforgiving passion of youth and, as was his nature, held on too tightly, crushing the delicate strands of all his intimate relationships when they should have only ever been gently nurtured. With almost tedious predictability it had all tumbled around him as those older, wiser CIA men had warned him it would. Now he had an ex-wife whose life he had completely destroyed, two sons, a doctor and a lawyer, who would never speak to him again and apparently, if the malicious extensive and entwining branches of the family grapevine were to be believed at least three grand children who would never know he even existed: So much for the best of both worlds! He would shield and protect Peter from a similar pain, if he could.
"I didn't give up my job for them," he began. "I have always known my priorities. Given the chance again I would do things differently, cause less hurt for everybody." He sighed, a long, weary sound. "At my age, you have the feeling sometimes that you're seeing the same show come round again and again, and it wasn’t great the first time. I don't want you to make the same mistakes I made."
Quinn looked away, the muscle on the side of his face twitching. Just for a second, as he averted his gaze, Dar caught the cloud of indecision dull the normally doubt-free sheer blue of his eyes. So Peter wasn't as set upon this course as it had first appeared. Maybe deep inside his clear, clinical mind, the rational CIA trained assassin saw the deceitful hallucination for what it was and knew with cynical insight that it could never be. Dar stopped the smile that threatened to curve his lips; this crack in the granite exterior needed to be exploited.
"You have the look of a drowning man, Peter. It's a look I have seen many times before on many good men." Dar moved back to stand by his desk but he did not sit; instead he leant across the barrier, placing himself nearer to the other man, eyes wide with concern.
"We all know what its like, coming home from the very lonely places our job sends us to; all of us go a little crazy; we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever experienced, and once you've lived in that fucked up world, you can never really get away from it. It's a mentality, a double standard of being that no one else out there will ever understand." He paused and Quinn nodded slightly. "And it's natural to try to escape it. It's natural to seek the soft comfort of a woman, to lose yourself in the gentle curves of her body, the warmth of her sweet scents, to try to find your irresolute faith in ordinary life; in the simplicity, in the trivial, the normal. But you and I both know the yearning will quieten after time. It does not last. It will be overcome by the pull back to what you do well, the need to accomplish. The pull doesn't mean you need to throw away everything you have worked for because eventually you come to see that normal is not important, not to you. What is important, what will still be there once your fleeting desires are quenched, is the job."
The words came easily to Dar. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered if he actually believed them but he suffocated the thought before it had a chance to breathe. He had the hook he needed, Peter no longer submitted to avert coercion, it was true, but that did not mean that he couldn't be played. There was a better tactic Dar could use because in fashioning him into what they wanted, the Agency had made Peter a proud and privileged patriot. He was a professional, the survivor of over fifty bloody black book operations, lauded by his peers, valued by his superiors; at last they had given the young misfit a place to belong, something to believe in. Dar had satiated the hungry emptiness he had seen in young Peter's soul that night in a cold, damp Baltimore Police station, had filled the gaping hole with purpose and principle, and would use it now, appealing to his well developed senses of reliability and loyalty. With savage lucidity Dar saw the way to overcome this current crisis and tie his protege to himself even tighter.
"Your job excites you, admit it, Peter," he began. "It gives you a good feeling. Quickens your pulse so you can actually feel something; a tinge in the groin, a flutter of the heart, a rush of pure adrenaline. What else will give you that? What else will legitimately put a gun in your hand, give you power, the power to do good; the power to change the world? And it makes you feel good, better than at any other time in your life. That beautiful second of crystal clarity before you fire a gun, then never flinching at the noise or the recoil. Noting calmly, almost impassively the result; if you’ve struck your target, the coil of sheer satisfaction deep in your gut at a job well done. You can't live without that, Peter, and you're being foolish if you think you can!"
"I know that." Quinn admitted ruefully, fidgeting fretfully on his chair, pursing his lips. "The thing is this isn't about me. It's about...... that I have to do the right thing."
"The sense of honour we have given you does you nothing but credit, Peter. You don't want to let this 'damsel in distress' down. You want to be her knight in shining armour. But there's a deeper honour too, the one you have for your country. You're right, this is not so much about you, it's about keeping all American children safe, about giving them the world they deserve to grow up in. Wouldn't your time and energy be better spent being exceptionally good at that, instead of struggling to bring up a child, trying to succeed when you are doomed to fail, hurting everyone? Family and friends, house and home, they will never be for you because they are not what you need. You can do so much more! You are not a knight in shining armour accepting the plaudits of the rapturous crowd, Peter. You are a creature of the shadows, a lone wolf who seeks not the glory but the cold satisfaction of a job well done, the knowledge that what you do changes things for the better. You will give your everything for the mission and only for the mission; you cannot afford complications, luxuries that pull on your loyalty, indulgences that make you weak. You will always be alone and that is your strength." Dar used the opportunity to brutally reaffirm the beliefs that had been drummed into his protégé with mind-changing monotony for the past fifteen years.
Quinn sniffed but the fire in his eyes was chilled by grim acceptance as they came up to meet Dar's uncompromising stare.
Pressing home his point Dar continued, "You know, Peter, each of us has only a limited amount of compassion and if we squander our feelings on every stray cat we see along the way, we never will get to what is really important, what really needs our attention. You need to use your concern wisely. Think of the bigger picture."
"I want to do the right thing." Quinn repeated, clutching to the concept like a lifebelt for a drowning man.
"I know you do, Peter. But remember you are not like them, you have a different calling. Unfortunately it is the weak who will destroy the strong, if the strong allow it. We must not!”
Quinn gulped, nodded slightly."So what happens now?"
"Send her money if you want. Support the kid that way if it makes you feel better but you have to walk away. Remember, in the long run they will be better off without you and you without them."
Quinn stood up in a flurry of movement that served to accentuate how completely motionless he had been throughout the conversation, a decision apparently made. "You done?"
Dar nodded, refusing to let the victorious smile anywhere near his lips. He kept his voice tediously professional as he ordered, "Get your stuff together, I'm sending the Group to Camp Chapman, at the border between Miranshah, Pakistan, and Khost, Afghanistan. It's hot and dangerous; you should enjoy the challenge. It will take your mind off other insignificant issues."
As Quinn opened the door to leave, Dar cleared his throat. "What about this, Peter?" he asked waving the letter distastefully in his hand.
Quinn hesitated, drew in a long, deep, volatile breath but he held Dar’s gaze with unwavering, steely conviction. "Fuck it," he muttered and was gone.
Chapter 4: Desperado
"Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you before it's too late"
Glenn Frey and Don Henley
Christmas Eve 2012, Peter Quinn's Apartment
"I brought coffee and Danish, open the fucking door, Peter!"
Dar rammed at the door with his elbow while precariously balancing two boiling hot coffees and a bag of Danish pastries in his hands. Down the corridor, a door opened with an enlightening squeak. Dar turned and smiled at the curious pair of eyes he could see sparkling in the blackness beyond. "Merry Christmas to you!" He called raising a cup in salute. The door slammed shut. "And the fucking same to you!" he muttered as he turned his attention back to the door of apartment 202.
"Come on Peter, its Christmas! Show a little festive spirit!" He banged hard again and then listened. He thought he could hear a shuffling sound but it was slow and distant. "Peter!" he shouted impatiently. "I'm not going until you open this goddamn door!"
He was rewarded by the sound of muttering curses, dead bolts being slowly pulled back and the door opening a couple of inches.
"Fuck off!" A familiar voice slurred through the gap.
"Now Peter is that any way to talk to me at Christmas?" Dar retorted as he slammed his foot into the space between door and frame. "Let me in!"
With a weary sigh, Quinn let go of the door, and shambled back towards the couch. Dar lingered on the doorstep, not surprised by what he saw, he had suspected as much. The apartment would have once been tidy but sparsely furnished, however it appeared that almost every spare space on the floor and the furniture was now filled with empty cans and bottles, liberally scattered with dead fag ends. The atmosphere was stagnant and foul, a barrier of lazy smoke seemed to hang just below the ceiling trapping all the fetid air to fester beneath it, all the blinds were closed so the place was dark and dingy, smelling like a cross between a brewery and a seedy Asian sweatshop. Dar took a deep breath of the clean fresh air from outside before venturing inwards.
Quinn had collapsed back onto the sofa in a heap. Dar snorted in disgust as he took in the wrinkled clothes, the red rimmed dull eyes, the dirty shadow of whiskers around his pale face and the untidy mop of hair. "You look fucking awful," he said. "Great time you choose to go on a bender!"
Quinn attempted a response but seemed unable to master the art of talking and resorted to a simple shrug.
"Jesus Christ," Dar muttered. "You're fucking inebriated!" He glared around the room and then he gently put his provisions down on the side of the table, having pushed the empty bottles that previously occupied the space on to the floor. He moved across to the windows and opened each of the blinds. Although the glass itself was grimy and grubby, it still allowed a shaft of weak, winter sunlight to blaze through the dim room. Quinn groaned and blinked his eyes trying to find focus as his retinas fizzed in the unaccustomed light. His whole body appeared lank and loose, his limbs making uncoordinated movements that had no apparent link with his brain at all.
He moaned again in ineloquent protest but could not physically rouse himself to do more as Dar took hold of him by the scruff of his collar and began to manhandle him towards the bathroom. It was a difficult physical task for the aging black ops chief; although there was not an inch of spare flesh on Quinn's muscled physique, he was still tall and in his current state awkward to manoevour. Dar had to stop to catch his breath on a number of occasions, and between his grunting, Quinn had begun to mumble. Dar couldn't make out whole sentences but a number of words were decipherable "Trusted ..... someone .... .fucked......shouldn't." Puzzled, Dar stored the possible juicy titbit away for further consideration later. It never hurt to glean more information on anyone.
Finally, with a triumphant, if exhausted, grunt he unceremoniously dumped Quinn's boneless body into the shower.
"What the....?" Quinn began hazily, trying to sit up.
Ignoring him, Dar's hand went straight to the temperature control and turned it to its coldest mark. He turned the water on and stepped back, a smug look on his face as freezing cold water cascaded downwards. Quinn let out a thunderous bellow as the icy shock kick-started both his bleary brain and mutinous body into coordinated life once more.
"FUCK YOU!" he roared, glaring at Dar.
Dar sniffed, apparently unconcerned that he had just piqued the temper of a trained assassin known for his volatility and anger issues. "Come out when you're sober enough to talk coherently to me!" he said scornfully.
Some minutes later a still wet, but apparently more sober, Peter Quinn appeared at the bathroom door. Droplets of water glistening on his naked chest, he had a towel around his waist and a smaller one on his shoulders. He was obviously still angry, but he was holding on to his wrath as tightly as he was his towel. Only his eyes betrayed his inner turmoil, spitting venom as he said, "You fucking moron, I had all my clothes on."
Dar, who had opened all the windows and cleared a comfy space on the couch, was sipping his coffee, nibbling at his second Danish of the day, and leafing through a battered but familiar copy of Great Expectations he had found on a shelf behind some empty whiskey bottles, eyed him distastefully. "They were as much in need of a wash as the rest of you, believe me. You must have been wearing them for days." He waved his hand, and the Danish it held, around to indicate the rest of the flat. "Don't think I'm going to clear up this mess for you, I'm not your mother!"
"No you’re not and what a fucking awful concept that is," Quinn scowled, towelling dry his hair as he moved unsteadily into the room. “Shit, its goddamn freezing in here!”
"Welcome to the world of the living, Peter. You kept the book," Dar said being careful not to mention the photograph of a mother and her newborn that had fallen from the pages as he picked it up. He had surreptitiously stuffed that behind the sofa cushions.
"What can I say," Quinn replied. "Pip is a moaning, pompous asshole who thinks he's too good for everyone around him. I keep it cos he kinda reminds me of you, I'm sentimental that way."
"Touché!" Dar chuckled. "Come and sit down, Peter." His tone was conciliatory. "Get some caffeine and sugar down your throat for Christ sake. I need you sober. We need to talk."
Quinn snorted, accepted the paper cup that was thrust at him, but refused the Danish, he remained standing, sipping at the warm liquid, still swaying somewhat drunkenly.
Dar shook his head as he eyed his boy critically. "Where the fuck have you been?" he began. "You've been in the wind for twelve days, Peter, no message, no call.... Nothing. I was beginning to think you had been fried like the rest of them at Langley."
"Poignant choice of words."
"Less of your mouth. You need to get a fucking grip! The whole agency is at risk and you choose this time to go fucking AWOL."
"I've been here all the time."
"Well excuse me if I've been too busy to make goddamn house calls. In case you hadn't noticed our world has gone to shit!"
"Oh, I fucking noticed all right." Quinn snorted. "Maybe it's what we deserve. We think we're solving the world's problems but actually maybe we are the problem. We're the ones screwing up the world."
"Don't be so fucking dramatic, Peter. You don't believe that. You know as well as I, intelligence work has one moral law and that is it is totally justified by results. After what has happened we are all broken men, damaged beyond repair, but that should not stop us from getting the job done. Drinking yourself into a fucking senseless stupor is not going to help!"
"Well maybe I lack the moral fibre to do the right thing!"
"Quit this sanctimonious bullshit now. You lack nothing; I've made sure of that. So you want to tell me what is fucking wrong with you?"
"Take a wild guess!"
Dar breathed in slowly. "Enough of this, already, time is of the essence. We've taken a beating true, but it's time to get ourselves together. Start planning the fight back. We can't sit here moping about. We have to take back the initiative, be strong, be assured everything will work out in the end."
"What?!" Quinn retorted disbelievingly. "Do you ever listen to yourself? The crap that comes out of your mouth? You surely don't believe any of it."
Dar ignored the insolence, pressing on with single minded conviction. "Saul is Acting Director. We're trying to get a picture of what happened before the blast. Last I heard you were supposed to terminate Brody with extreme prejudice. When and why did Estes call off the hit?"
Quinn stiffened, hesitated and then shrugged, not meeting Dar's eye. "He said that Brody was no longer a threat to the nation because Walden was dead; Brody helped the Agency nab Abu Nazir; everything he told us was proved correct. He wasn't gonna be Vice President any more." Quinn stopped, ran a shaking hand through his wet spiky hair. "Apparently he was no fucking danger any more." His voice quaked oddly on the last sentence.
Dar stared at the younger man for a long time. There was something different, something more than disquieting behind Peter's eyes that he had never noticed before. Was he being straight with him? But why would his boy lie? And yet after decades of reading men, Dar could easily recognise the scent of remorse which seemed to hover around the other man.
Quinn shifted nervously, reaching out and lighting a cigarette, his hands visibly trembling, throwing the lighter dismissively onto the table beside the empties.
Dar snorted. "They're bad for your health, you know." Quinn scowled at him. "You know it wasn't your fault, don't you Peter? Estes called it. It was his decision to make, you were just following orders."
Quinn gulped but did not respond.
"And what the fuck did Estes know, really?" Dar continued, focusing back on the subject. "Well, he has paid dearly for his decision but the rest of us have too. 219 dead and that goddamn traitor Brody in the wind! Not to mention the Agency on its knees. What a fucking shambles!"
Quinn moved to stand in front of the window, staring out but seeing nothing, he took a long drag of his cigarette. "I've been thinking a lot about my kid."
Dar looked at him incredulously. "Now? You want to bring this up now, Peter?"
"You manipulated me, fucking played me like an idiot. I allowed you to take him away. I should have fought harder for him, should at least tried to make it work."
"For fuck sake, Peter, this is not the time. We have some serious shit to pull together, if any of us are going to make it through this. We can talk about this later."
"I want to talk about it now!"
Dar stood up, moved to stand behind the other man. He placed a supportive hand on Quinn's shoulder, felt the terrific trembling power that was thrumming through his veins, the volcanic anger. Jesus, he was strung out, more tense than Dar had ever known him before. Just what the hell was wrong with him? Surely the source of this couldn't just be the bombing at Langley, horrific though it was, Quinn had seen similar horrors on active duty. Was it the guilt at letting Brody go free? But that had been Estes' call. And why was he talking about his son now? Why was his mind flinging him off down totally irrelevant and insignificant roads at this time?
"We talked about it at length before, you remember Peter?" Dar kept his tone as soothingly sympathetic as he possibly could. "You agreed you weren't the right man to do the job. You were better off doing your own job, my lone wolf, saving the world, doing good." He rubbed Quinn's shoulders as he talked, gently trying to alleviate the tightness in the stressing muscles there.
"I tried doing good things, it doesn't fucking work," Quinn said.
Dar stopped his impromptu massage as his consternation grew. "What do you mean by that?"
Quinn gulped. He glared over his shoulder at Dar, desperate eyes wide and for the first time his mentor saw it, saw that something was very wrong, saw something was breaking deep inside of his boy, breaking not with a rapid whip crack but with something infinitely slower, like the protracted, inexorable march of the glacier to the sea. The motion had started and it could now only ever be reduced, never stopped completely.
Alarm bells were blaring in every part of Dar's skull. What the hell was Peter talking about? But he forced himself to restart the gentle kneading motion, feeling the knotted sinews loosening. "Peter, I need you to tell...."
Then Quinn took in a noisy, deep breath and Dar felt the muscles suddenly stiffen to iron again but this time it was with a concerted action, as Peter took back his control, dissolving his pain to fury, subverting it into the deep well of anger at his very core that sustained him. He drew in another long breath, the trembling vanished, and he was still as death, composed and confident. "Are we done?" he asked, stepping away from Dar's touch, his shit well and truly together.
Not fully understanding what he had just witnessed, needing time to reflect on it more, but sensing that a chance to discover something of importance in Peter's vulnerable state had been lost, Dar was still reticent to give it up, he said, "Are you OK?"
He was rewarded with one of those brave half smiles that Quinn had perfected over the years. "I'm good," he said. "Now what did you want to discuss?"
Dar hesitated, his stare boring into Peter's eyes, forensically searching for the weakness he had just seen revealed before him. There was no sign, Peter Quinn had shut down his emotion, locked it away behind gigantic walls that he had spent a lifetime building specifically for that purpose and become once more the doubt-free assassin that Dar had created.
Shaking his head barely, Dar began, "We are planning blow back. A series of coordinated strikes across the globe, targeting those behind the Langley bombing. I want you to take a mission, the most operationally critical one, of course."
Quinn nodded. "Of course."
Dar smiled. "So I can expect you back at Langley?"
"Tomorrow is Christmas Day, Peter. Make it the start of next week!"
Dar saw it then again briefly, just a flicker of the fear. Was it the notion of being alone with his thoughts for three days, or was it something more that Dar could not pinpoint?
Peter shut it down swiftly. "Fuck have I missed Santa again?" he quipped to cover himself.
And Dar wondered how long his boy would be able to control it like he had before. How long would he be able to keep a grip as the dark icicles of cold doubt inched their glacial way into his consciousness. How soon before the cycle moved on to its next stage, Peter's flaws began to freeze the very heart of him and he started to look for a way out once more.
And would it be different next time? Dar sensed that something had changed in the younger man, something fundamental to their relationship was now brittle and slipping away where it had been strong and immovable. And when the next inevitable crisis came, would Dar be able to fix it as he had in the past? Would he be able to mould back together the yawning fissures in his wayward assassin as they fractured deeper with every slide onwards? What he had witnessed this day made the normally assured mentor doubt that he would always be able to talk Peter down from the ledge of his own conscience. He foresaw there would come a time that he would lose his protégé forever to the bleak weakness that stalked him.
Dar was nothing if not a pragmatist and he accepted his own assessment without a second thought. Instead he resolved to get the most out of his asset in every possible way he could before the inevitable happened.
He smiled. "You know I value your honesty above everything else, Peter."
“Funny, I thought it was my highly-tuned murdering skills that you appreciated best," Quinn retorted dryly.
Dar snorted dismissively. “The Group will look after you. I will look after you, that’s what we do.”
Quinn looked uncomfortable again and demanded. "Are you going to fucking leave now? Only I got stuff to do."
“Drinking yourself into a stupor is such a mature response to a crisis!” Dar mocked but he moved towards the door. He stopped on the threshold. “I mean it, Peter, if you have issues you need to tell me so I can help. There's a fucking storm raging out there and I need you at your best."
Quinn pushed him over the step. “Fuck off!” he shouted as he slammed the door shut.
Chapter 5: The Breaking of a Man
Present, CIA HQ, Berlin
Dar Adal clicked off his desk light, plunging his office into instant darkness save for the wink of the intruder alarm in the corner, reassuringly blinking tenaciously oblivious to the rest of the world. He leant back into his chair and took a long pull of the whiskey he had liberated from the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet some time earlier that day, or maybe the day before. Except for the intruder alarm light, time seemed to have ceased to be a linear constant over the last agonising week, coming fast and then slow like a learner driver with a manual stick shift trying to perfect their clutch control.
When he had first seen the video, Dar, like everyone else, had assumed that his protege was dead. It was only when that crazy bitch Carrie Mathison with her BND colleague had found him still in the gas chamber, abandoned by his tormentors; clinging stubbornly to life like only Peter Quinn could, that Dar had found a slither of hope. And that hope had been shattered soon enough when Saul had rung him to discuss the possibility of waking Peter from his coma. Dar had not even needed to pause to consider the consequences; Peter was a soldier, always had been; the risk was one they had to take. Peter had been in the company of those terrorists for days, if anyone could have picked up some useful Intel, it would be him. So Dar had given permission to do whatever it took to wake him. The decision had come easily at the time in the pressurised, anxiety-driven world of an imminent terrorist attack.
Now, sitting alone in the dark, the attack thwarted and the danger averted, Dar felt the guilty weight of that momentous decision resting heavily on his shoulders. They had got nothing from Peter and succeeded only in making his condition even worse. Dar had spoken to the doctor at length, knew Peter's prognosis, knew that there was little hope that he would ever be salvageable, knew that his investment was at an end.
A few days earlier Dar had picked up the phone, dialled Langley direct. "Hello Muriel," he began when his secretary answered. "Yes, I have seen it.......Absolutely awful. It's about that that I'm phoning. I need you to get Peter's letter......Yes that one. Have it couriered to me in Berlin straight away. Thank you Muriel.......No, he didn't but at least he was doing something he believed in, we must take comfort from that." Worthless platitudes came so easily to the tongue that practised them frequently.
He took another gulp of whiskey, wiping his hand across his brow, where a deep-seated ache had started to throb. On the desk across from him, cloaked by the darkness, was the letter he had requested. He had opened it, of course, and shuddered at the puerile, self piteous ramblings it contained; it could have been written by some naïve, lovesick poet from the nineteenth century. All bullshit of course.
Poor, pathetic Peter.
Dar had been aware of Peter's struggles with his feelings for that woman for a while but never realised the depth to which he had actually fallen, not until he read that sentence; “I loved you”. Dar had sensed there was a deep animal attraction there but for Peter to admit it was something more than simple lust to her on paper even in a letter he thought would not be read until after his death? The marrow in Dar's bones had hardened at the thought as a dagger of pure jealousy knifed through him, forcing him to re-evaluate everything.
Had Peter really loved her? Was he even capable of that emotion? Dar pondered the point. It was true that meeting Carrie Mathison had changed Quinn irrevocably, everyone had seen it. And from what he had been able to glean third hand from Saul the last days of Peter's life had been fraught; trying to do away with himself in a dumpster to keep her safe, for Christ sake; that was not the action of a rational man. But was the assassin he had created capable of such fucking short sighted stupidity for a woman? Surely he had made Peter of sterner stuff than that.
Carrie fucking Mathison, even her name sent a surge of anger through Dar. She had taken his boy, she had destabilised him, made him less than he should have been. She had played relentlessly on his weakness, exposing the cracks in his conscience, pulling them into massive crevasses by her manipulation and her fucking sweet, shapely ass. She had stolen his Peter, taken everything of value and got exactly what for her trouble? A fucking undead corpse lying senseless in a hospital bed, shitting himself and mewling like a baby. Well she could goddamn keep him!
Dar snarled, forced his clenched fists to relax, his stretched sinews to loosen. He was still on edge and not reacting intelligently. Letting emotion rule was never a good strategy; he only had to look at Peter’s predicament for confirmation of that. Dar’s doctor had warned him about the possible consequences of putting his heart under too much stress. He took a deep breath, made himself think, forensically analyse, everything he knew about Peter from the teenage drop out, to war hero, from failed family man to drunken PTSD sufferer. And he rediscovered what had attracted him to the wayward orphan in the first place, what he had known all along but simply failed to accept; Peter had always been reaching for the light, searching desperately to fit in, to be normal, to be loved. Others had deflected him, and Dar knew himself to be foremost in this, pulling him back, pointing him to the shadows, keeping him in the dark because that was where the soldier they had made him into was most effective for them. But, even though Peter came to believe it to be true, darkness was not the weakness that would destroy him, it was never his true north, not the point to where his soul longed to travel.
And it was easy to forget now, with the shit storm of the last few years, just how good his boy had been in the darkness. Peter was astute and incisive, dangerously sharp; not the strongest, or the biggest but he was quite simply the best black ops guy in the whole CIA. Dar had heard the rumour many times that CIA analysts used to positively factor into their calculations of whether a black ops mission would be successful if Peter Quinn was involved. In certain secret CIA circles at his peak he was invincible, immortal, an urban myth. So where had it all gone wrong?
Had it gone wrong? Wasn't it always bound to fail? Bound to end this way? Hadn't Dar foreseen it himself, many times? Nobody could ride a winning streak forever and Peter Quinn's journey had skidded to a horrific halt in front of millions in a way that not even the most outrageous Hollywood writer could hope to pull off. Suddenly, after years of living his life in the shadows, his tortured face was staring out from the front page of every paper and blasted from every social media platform. His back story picked bare by the press like hungry hyenas on the African savannah, until absolutely nothing had been left. Dar had even seen a rag yesterday had managed to track down his son, Johnny, in Philadelphia. Christ, what must that poor kid think? Pulled into the seething media feeding frenzy by a father who had suffered much, to the extreme of never telling the boy he even existed, to spare his child just this sort of pain. And yet following Peter's apparently messy death, Dar's shadow warrior was a hero, and in the grotesque way the media functioned, he was suddenly public property.
Peter would have hated every fucking ironic second of it. If there was any consolation in the fact that he lay unconscious at Landsruhl Medical Centre, oblivious to everything, barely alive, that must be it.
When he stripped away all emotion and looked at it clinically, Dar had to concede that he had begun to lose Peter years before. His grip had been slipping even before the siren that was Carrie Mathison started to sing her alluring lament. And yet over the past couple of years, he had hoped Peter had stabilised, had turned back to him. Hell, something momentous had happened after they had returned from Islamabad. Dar well remembered Peter's change of heart in taking the Aleppo mission and Mathison showing up at his door, screaming like a banshee, demanding to talk to Quinn. Her eyes flashing with a desperate need as she threatened to go to the press about the Haqqani deal. Mad bitch! Seeing her retreat, desolate and defeated, after he showed her Saul in his backyard, had almost been as rewarding as getting Peter back in the first place. Dar classed it as one of the most satisfying moments of his whole career.
And Peter had done a damn good job in Syria, excelled himself once more in the most trying of circumstances, leading his men to accomplish much that was good, or at least necessary. Dar had begun to hope that Mathison was over with; just another hill disappearing in the distance, like the Philly cop and her kid, which he and Peter had had to climb together.
However, when Peter came back for the special briefing and Dar met him at Langley, Dar saw just how overly optimistic that assessment had been. Peter was completely unhinged, barely holding on to the swirling maelstrom of his anger. Only human in the most base of ways, lacking all emotion except wrath, he was focused and intent on nothing but making war.
It was a relief to meet him in Berlin, once over the initial shock of finding him working there for Saul Berenson, without either having the curtesy to inform him. Peter seemed to have put his craziness behind him, he was physically hurting but confident, reporting to Dar that he had fallen in with a terrorist cell, he was going to take them to Syria, get rid of them and maybe even get a shot at Al-Qaduli. Re-playing that meeting in his head now, Dar sought to find any clue he had missed, should he have known that Peter was unstable, misreading the situation, bound to fail?
Hindsight is a fucking tragic thing and particularly now Dar knew the facts behind Peter's latest meeting with Mathison, the gut wound, the sepsis, the bleeding out and all that suicide shit. All to keep her safe. Dar knew that Peter was better than that, too valuable to waste in such a pointless manner. Dar could only conclude that Peter was not thinking straight in his recent interactions with Mathison, but was that love? Dar didn’t believe such an emotion existed, not in his world. And then for Peter to start another mission? What had been driving him? He should have been checking himself into a hospital not throwing himself half-cocked into another lethal situation in Syria. No, Dar told himself he could not have known, could not have seen at their brief meeting, could not be held culpable for Peter's fuck up; the blame lay elsewhere, on that pretty blonde head to be precise, of course.
Now fully engaged in the process, Dar's mind, racing in retrospection, went back to the time he had decided to give Peter the Brody job. Of course now he knew all too clearly it had been a mistake, but at the time he recalled he had good reasons for the decision. Peter had survived over five years straight running black ops missions. He had been weary and close to burn out. When Estes had come looking for a soldier, Peter's name was the first to jump into Dar's head. It was a good development opportunity for his boy, and although there was a target to take out at the end of it, it would give the young assassin time to recharge his flagging batteries back in the real world.
Dar sat forward with a sudden lurch as a terrifying thought hit him, the ice and whiskey swirling in his glass made a gentle chiming sound. He remembered how broken Quinn had been after the Langley bombing, that wretched scene in his flat when he had been smashed out of his head and said some strange shit. Dar had thought about it immediately afterwards but the planning and implementation of Operation Strike-back had soon pushed it from his mind with no definite conclusion. Life had gone on and though he had thought on it sometimes over the years it had never been solved to his satisfaction. Now a possible explanation hit him with the same intensity as the cold shower he had forced the drunken Peter to take at the time.
It had always bothered Dar that Estes had called off the Brody hit. It wasn't Estes' style; he was a man who wanted all of his dark shit covered over before anyone got so much as a whiff of its stink. And although Walden had died, Estes was still very much in the frame for the drone strikes. It didn't make sense that he would let Brody off the hook but Saul had told Dar that Estes had confirmed that it was his decision. Suddenly Dar wasn't so sure. What if Quinn had decided not to pull the trigger on Brody? But why would he do that?
The answer was as clear as it was terrifying to Dar.....Mathison!
Dar closed his eyes, momentarily dazed by the magnitude of his revelation and all that flowed from it.
Could it be so? Could it be that even then she had already got her sharp talons in him far enough to make him refuse a direct order. His Peter, his golden boy, refusing a direct order from the Deputy Director of the CIA! And only weeks later Dar recalled he had sent his protege back to work with her and Saul after Peter's fuck up with the banker's kid in Caracas. Dar shook his head sadly. Why couldn't he have seen it? Why didn't he pull his boy back to black ops under his personal control, where he belonged? Instead he had delivered him to her and it had only gotten worse after that. The term 'fuck up' never associated with Peter before, came more often that not to be attached to his work when she was involved.
"Peter, Peter, Peter, you fucking idiot!" Dar sighed. "What the fuck did you do? You should have been goddamn man enough to protect yourself from her womanly wiles! I made you stronger than that!"
For someone who once, not so long ago, prided himself on not looking back, Dar had spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on events over the last few days. He had needed to do it, be alone to cogitate, and to get his mind back into a functioning order. The last weeks had been a nightmare, not only with Peter but also the revealing of Alison Carr's treachery. Still feeling a fool over that escapade, Dar realised he had been made particularly vulnerable. The terrorist attack had been thwarted true, but Dar had not covered himself in glory, having ordered all the available troops to the wrong place. He knew his enemies were watching and would be planning to use this turn of events to their advantage. But taking the time to stop and think was always useful; this occasion was no different, and it was paying off. Already in his own head he had absolved himself of all guilt at Peter's predicament and found somebody to blame; two people actually, Peter and Mathison; for their treachery they fucking deserved each other. Now all he needed was to find a way to snatch some sort of personal victory out of this abject failure, something positive from all the misery. Slowly his devious mind began to piece together a plan.
After some time he allowed himself a smile and downed the last of his whiskey. He clicked back on the office light and reached across to the letter. He hadn't spent over fifty years in covert operations without learning how to extract a letter from its envelope, feast on its contents and put it back without the receiver noticing. And he did exactly that now because the letter had an important role to play in his plan.
Dar closed his eyes, and like every other time since he had seen the video, he saw the scene where Peter was being marched to the gas chamber. The sharp familiar features etched with such stark, beautiful bravery. Although it carved a further notch of defeat on Dar's heart, it also brought pride too, for, in those few heroic but brutal scenes Peter was stripped of everything, facing his destiny alone with immense courage as only a true soldier could. In those few moments before his death, his boy was everything Dar had dreamed he would be.
Dar had never been a man to dispose of his assets easily, not while he could still find a use for them. He was never wasteful and he now saw he should not be so hasty in giving up on Peter. There was still the chance to extract at least a little usefulness from this fucking awful situation.
When he contemplated what was going on in the world outside the protected walls of his inner sanctum, Dar saw fear and terror ruled. Ordinary people were petrified at the new normal that ruled the streets, the threat of ISIS and their like, bringing war into towns and cities, their cafes, their theatres, their very homes. No previous war had been so personal, had offered such a perceived risk to the man in the street. There was a real fear that the security forces could not protect the people any more. More than ever it was time for the CIA and similar organisations to stand up and prove their worth. Time to step up to the plate, overcome their jaded reputations, their failures of the past and prove all their critics wrong.
Dar worried that those weak assholes in Congress did not have the vision or the courage to do what needed to be done. This sad, fucked up world was drowning in innocent tears, it needed some hope, some belief; it needed a true, inspirational hero. And what better hero than the man who had fearlessly stood in front of those animals and figuratively spat in their eye, who had taken everything they had thrown at him with stoic, silent valour? The man who had died to stop the recent planned atrocity in Berlin. The man whose brave but ultimately heartbreaking struggle had been beamed into everybody's living rooms, seared into the collective consciousness. Why not take a leaf out of their enemies' book and create their own martyr? People loved a man who would die from them. They were already half way there with the media's insatiable thirst for coverage of him. Just a call to the right people, just an embellished story in the right ears about what had actually gone down in Berlin and his part in it and Peter Quinn would become the all-American hero that the world needed to bring courage to doubting hearts and strength to tiring souls and open the bank accounts of the politicians to give the Agency vital new resources in the fight against terror. And wouldn't that be a fitting legacy for Dar's boy?
But the world did not want its hero comatosed in a hospital bed. No, to fit in with Dar's plan, Peter had to have sacrificed himself completely for the cause, given his life so that millions of innocents may live; he had to be dead, a true martyr against those evil terrorists. Only then would Dar be able to control the media storm, organise the funeral and its aftermath to ensure his warrior hero got the attention he deserved and Dar got what he wanted too. That was where the letter came in and crazy Carrie Mathison. Dar had no doubt if he presented her with the letter and some hopeless story about Peter hating to be left in such a vegetative state that the frenzied wheels inside her unhinged brain would start to rotate uncontrollably. She would come up with the final solution all on her own and even believe she was doing Peter a favour; a mercy killing. Dar chuckled to himself, as the further thought hit him that he may even be able to finally get rid of her as well in the same play. It was almost too delicious for words!
He lifted the phone, filled to bursting with self satisfied pride at the exquisite beauty of his plan. He rang through to his Berlin secretary. "Get me transport to Landsruhl immediately and get me the press relations department manager on the phone now," he ordered.
He poured himself another celebratory whiskey and savoured the earthy richness as it warmed its way down to his stomach. Carrie Mathison would learn how dangerous it was to steal something of value from him. And Peter Quinn would learn that it was Dar who had ultimate control over his destiny. There was no glimmer of regret, no doubt, because for a very long time Dar had known the day would come when he would lose his boy. The only sorrow was that it had come to this, that he would be the one to orchestrate the end of Peter's life, but that was quickly tempered by the thought that really he deserved it, for hadn't he sealed his own fate the moment he had chosen the crazy bitch above his mentor?
Dar emptied his glass with a victorious gulp and could not help but smile as his mind continued to play out the possibilities of his plan. Though he had expressly stated he didn't want it, Peter in death, was going to get a star on the wall, a lot of dumb speeches, and all the goddamn razzmatazz that the greatest nation on earth could provide; a send off that would light the fire of resistance and hope in all of his country men. His sacrifice would not be in vain. And wouldn't it be sweet justice for betraying Dar after everything he had done for him?
Dar Adal sat back in his chair and let out a long, contented sigh. For the first time in weeks he felt back in control once more and it felt so good.
Two years later
"Dar Adal has to be the most miserable best man I have ever seen." Carrie wrinkled her nose in that truly attractive gesture that caused an overwhelming urge to kiss it surge straight from Quinn's groin. He quelled it, just, concentrating instead on not choking on the champagne bubbles tickling the back of his own nose and throat. It was a long time since he had drunk alcohol, and he could feel his limbs loosening, his vision wavering, in a pleasant, relaxing way. He shouldn't really be on it now, not with the cocktail of drugs swimming through his veins, but this was a special occasion and he was determined to enjoy it.
He glanced across to where his former mentor sat hunched at the bottom of the table, his only companion a glass of fiery whiskey that he clutched to his chest like his long lost lover, staring blankly out across the room. The ceremony and speeches and now the meal over, most people were conversing softly and the room had that warm, peaceful feeling that Quinn had experienced very rarely in his life and had come to believe came only to happy family occasions.
"He's all right," Quinn murmured. "I'm glad he came and helped me through it. I owe him so much."
Carrie shook her head. "How can you say that? He practically kidnapped you from a foster home when you were sixteen! Forced you to do God knows what shit!" she scoffed.
Quinn sighed. It was a discussion they had been having since he told his bride-to-be that he wanted the gristly, old black ops boss to be his best man. Carrie hadn't even wanted to put his name on the exclusively limited (mainly due to the fact that both of them had so few real friends) list of invitees. And he answered now as he had answered all the other times she had questioned his decision. "If he hadn't done it then I would never have met you besides don't forget what my therapist says 'that which does not destroy' ........"
She raised a hand. "Enough of the Nietzsche crap already! I've heard it too often and it doesn't excuse....." She was forced to stop as he leaned forward, and placed a brief but sloppy kiss on her mouth.
Not to be put off so easily, although enjoying his strategy immensely, Carrie continued. "But he gave me your letter, when you were in hospital, knowing full well that it would....that I would....."
"But you didn't!" The kiss was longer this time and more passionate, as Quinn shifted slightly on his seat, so his arms could fold her smaller frame into his chest; the most cherishing embrace Carrie had ever known. An ironic cheer came from the table over to the left, lost somewhere in the fumes of alcoholic indulgence, where Rob and the rest of the Group had been partying like only black ops guys can. At least one of them was still conscious enough to note their boy getting stuck into action. Behind Carrie's back, Quinn offered whoever it was the traditional middle finger salute.
He nibbled her lower lip longingly before pulling away from his bride reluctantly. "And if he hadn't done that, you would never have known how I felt because I would never have found the balls to tell you. Look for the positive Carrie. You can find it in everything." He gently stroked her cheek, his hand running down to her lips to softly stop any further arguments. She took a deep breath and let go of her angst as she was learning to do. He sat back in his chair, as she reached over to pick up her own glass of champagne.
"He's actually been my sort of Fairy Godmother, if you think about it, you know." Quinn continued wistfully.
Carrie had great difficulty in not spitting out her drink as a guffaw of disbelief rushed up to her mouth at his words. "Fairy Godmother! Jesus I knew you shouldn't be drinking with all the meds you're on!" she scoffed, when she had finally controlled her coughing fit. Her hand darting mischievously between his legs hidden below the table, and her eyes flashing with lusty affection as she squeezed what she found there. "I can think of better words to describe him, odious, conceited, evil, come to mind. Anyway you've always had enough to satisfy me; it just took me some time to see it!"
Quinn opened his mouth for a witty retort but their conversation was interrupted by a white flash and a loud bang from the other end of the table. They turned to see, as the wisps of smoke cleared, and the smell of sulphur hung on the air, three young girls in beautiful golden satin dresses, the older two with guilty looks on their faces, the younger, her mane of red hair rebelliously working its way out of the extravagant ribbons that sought to tame it, her pretty prepubescent face, now smudged by streaks of soot, creased into a defiant glare. "You said I could bring party poppers, mom!" she called, her voice the only sound in the room as the previous happy buzz of conversation had been silenced by the bang. Behind her two pale-faced waiters looked on in panic at the mess made; the tablecloth still emitting smoke from patches of red glowing embers, the blackened patch on the ceiling directly above and the broken remains of three shattered precious crystal wine glasses.
"I meant the plastic safe ones you buy in the store!" Carrie responded. "Not thermo-nuclear devices you made at home!"
There was a tutting sound beside her and Quinn mumbled, "Hardly thermo-nuclear!"
Carrie's withering gaze moved slowly from her daughter to rest on the man at her side and her voice was quieter as she hissed. "I know exactly who to blame for this!"
Quinn's face was the picture of innocence. "Me?"
The light lilt of conversations elsewhere in the room began again accompanied by sporadic coughs as the sulphur stench caught at the back of people's throats, a gentle indulgent giggling could be heard and someone turned the background music up louder.
Carrie's eyes were uncompromising. "You bought her the chemistry set. You got her interested in making bombs! Given her family history its not appropriate is it?"
Quinn's shrugged. "It was hardly a bomb!" he beamed, the unmistakeable flash of pride in his eyes.
"And you would know." Carrie rolled her eyes. "Well, you better sort it out before the fire alarms go off, Quinn!" Her tone was threatening.
He stood up with a placating motion. "Don't worry, Mrs Quinn," he said with a smirk. "I got this."
Carrie held her stern face for only another heartbeat before she allowed her features to soften into a beautiful smile as she watched him walk away, her eyes running yearningly over every inch of the finely cut suit he wore, which served only to extenuate the pleasing muscle structure of his body beneath, a body she was pleased to know intimately.
He had almost regained his swagger of old but only Carrie knew the months of sheer hard work and determination it had taken him. From the muscle-wasted cripple who had lost the ability to talk or walk, waking in a blast of blinding light at Landsruhl, just before she did something very stupid, he had slowly built himself back, tentatively regained most of what he had been taken from him. It was still hard, all progress was made by tentative steps; his wellbeing fluctuating wildly, some days were much worse than others. He needed a whole pharmacy of drugs to keep him functioning. And even then panic attacks struck him without warning, nightmares similarly in the dark of night when his fear was sweaty, raw and paralysing. Small places, especially elevators and children's play houses were particularly difficult. The latter had caused a truly horrific scene that Frannie and a number of her friends had unfortunately witnessed. But he had pushed it all behind him, gritted his teeth and stoically carried on, getting stronger each day, fighting tenaciously like the brave soldier he was, knowing he would never be as good as he once had been but determined to be as good as he possibly could be.
He could still be as irritating as hell - obstinate to the point of unreasonableness, not giving in to any of Carrie's shit, much to her annoyance. And there was more, for though his suffering had almost killed him and he would bear its terrible scars for the rest of his life, it had wrought another change in him. The deep, all-consuming anger that had fuelled his life for so long had burned out, starved of oxygen; it had been suffocated by the sarin gas. He no longer sought a release from his self-loathing in violence, no longer craved an escape to war. He had let his fury go and in doing so had found the strength to stand his emotional ground. He did not run away anymore for he realised there was no place left to run.
Carrie's smile faltered when she remembered the words in the letter he had sent her. The utter dejection and acceptance that the darkness would claim him had made her heart freeze, had made her contemplate a truly awful thing. Although she had not gone through with it, in so many ways Peter Quinn had died in that hospital bed in Landsruhl and been born again into the light, emerging from his coma like the butterfly from a chrysalis transformed to a beautiful creature striving for inner peace, mellow and patient and completely unwilling to dwell in bitterness or blame. This new, better, Peter Quinn, forever scarred by his suffering, was, however, more comfortable in his own skin than ever before, cracking into a dimple framed smile more often than not, his tolerance with both himself and the rest of the world almost limitless as he learned to forgive others and to love himself.
And he talked, no longer hiding and bottling up his feelings, he often could not find the correct words to express what he felt but still he tried, though it would never be comfortable for him. He had always been a brave man but now that internal iron core of courage manifested itself in different, more healthy ways. Carrie's own smile returned as she remembered when he had told her of what he remembered. It had been after one night when he had suffered a particularly intense nightmare; lying like a stiffening corpse in her arms, swimming in sweat, eyes wide seeing the unimaginable horrors once more, whimpering and powerless; unable to escape the torment. She held him so tightly talking to him, murmured offerings that seemed to touch him, to bring him back. And in the morning he had been unbelievably bright and calm. Amazed anew by his ability to endure she had voiced her surprise.
He had smiled his melancholy smile and told her he remembered very little of his suffering, but what he could recall, what he had hung on to as his body betrayed him and his functions closed down in the agony of the gas were the words that Qasim has said when he had stabbed the atropine into his arm. 'Maybe you will live.' Four simple words that had been etched into his consciousness as he descended into the very depths of hell. Four simple words that he had promised himself once he was free again he would prove positive. Four simple words that he would spend every day of the rest of his life ensuring he did: Yes, he most definitely would live.
"Great effort, Princess. After-smell is a bit strong though!" she heard him proudly say as he reached Frannie. "What did you use?"
Carrie took another sip of wine and smiled as Maggie moved to join her.
"You OK?" her sister asked.
Carrie nodded. "Apart from World War 3 happening at the bottom of the top table at my wedding, yes!" she responded taking another gulp from her glass.
Maggie narrowed her eyes. "Should you be drinking wine in your condition?"
"It's my wedding day Maggie, give me a break! Anyway shush would you."
Maggie shook her head doubtfully. "You still haven't told him?"
Both sets of their eyes went to the foot of the table; Frannie's cousins had disappeared, no doubt looking for some eligible young men. Maggie shuddered at the thought of them going anywhere near the black ops guys but thankfully the cream of Dar Adal's forces appeared more interested in the alcohol than the young female guests, but Frannie sat, eyes wide in awe, shining bright in her sooty face, hanging on every word that Quinn was saying as he regaled her with further knowledge and ideas, no doubt.
"Not yet," Carrie confessed. "I wanted to get today over with first."
"You need to tell him soon."
"I know." Carrie drew in a long breath and her face was suddenly seriously pensive. "Why did it take me so long to fall in love with him, Maggie? He was there so close and I put him through so much before I could see it."
"He was always the right guy, it was just the wrong time and you both needed space to grow."
Carrie scowled. "Are you saying we were both immature, damaged, emotional cripples?"
Maggie rolled her eyes and gave her a look that only sisters can share. "From what you've told me you didn't talk to each other about the important things. For two intelligent people you danced around the truth like two idiots!"
Carrie pulled another face. "Harsh!"
"But true!" Maggie continued. "Don't do it again, please for my sake, if nothing else. He's a keeper, Carrie, you know it." Maggie took hold of her sister's hand and squeezed. "Hey, seriously, don't beat yourself up. You had lots of other stuff to think about and it doesn't matter; you've found each other now, that's all that's important. You look absolutely beautiful, by the way, such a stunning couple. Dad would be so happy."
Carrie nodded but her face betrayed her uneasiness. She bit her lip before voicing her uncertainty. "I can do this, can't I, Maggie?"
Maggie squeezed her hand even tighter. "Yes, yes, you can!"
"Not dancing then, Dar?" Quinn quipped. He had made his way to the relatively quiet bar area where the older man had been sitting for some time having retreated from the headache-inducing incessant beat of the music in the main room. Easing himself onto the vacant stool, Quinn signalled to the bar man to refill both his and Dar's glasses.
"My dancing days are long gone." Dar responded sadly.
"I don't think I ever had the chance to have any," Quinn said although with no sign of regret. "Anyway I wanted to thank you."
"Thank me?" Dar sounded distinctly uncomfortable, reaching for his refilled glass.
"For coming today. I know this isn't your usual gig, but it meant a lot to me."
"Well don't expect it to become a habit."
"What? I've got you on the invitation list for Thanksgiving, Christmas, every family holiday in fact. If you're lucky I might even talk Carrie into absolving Saul of his crimes and get her to invite him along too. I'm working on it, believe me. Then you two can sit in the corner, drink whiskey and re-fight the Cold War all over again."
"Don't even joke about crap like that." Dar shuddered. "Besides he would still hold to those ridiculous strategies he espoused at the time."
"Who’s joking? I'm serious. Here's the thing, I’ve decided, when you haven't got one, you get to chose your own family. Anyway I thought I might name our firstborn after you." A glint of mischief flickered in Quinn's eyes.
"Ha fucking ha! Is there one on the way then?"
"Well, not officially yet. But the thing is I see stuff and the evidence suggests so," Quinn took a long satisfied gulp of his drink. "I can piece things together; I used to be a spy, you know!"
Dar ignored the humour, his tone was threatening as he said, "Don't fucking start down that road; how many little Dars have you seen running around? And I'm sure your good wife wouldn't agree. We still don't exactly see eye to eye, do we?"
Quinn sighed. "Well you both need to compromise a little, don’t you? Stop being so fucking intense; forgive and forget. If you hadn't found me, fuck knows where I would be now. Not here for sure. You made me into something, Dar; I would have never made it on my own. And not forgetting when you turned up with food all those times when I really needed it."
Dar sniffed. "Yes, come to think of it you were probably more of an Oliver Twist than a Pip." His expression darkened. "You're conveniently forgetting what you suffered to get here."
"Maybe, but that's my prerogative. You were the only one that dared to take a risk on me when I really needed it. Before you did that I had come to believe that I wasn't worth the chance, that I wasn't worth jack shit. You changed that and I won't ever forget it. We have all done dark shit and I have regrets, of course I do, who doesn't? But I can't change it so I'm trying to live with it. Christ I haven't got the energy to hold on to all that anger I had. Does that make sense?"
Dar nodded. "And doing a damn fine job of it too. Seriously, you don't owe me anything, Peter, and certainly not your thanks. If you only knew what I ........"
Quinn raised his hand in a silencing motion. "No I don’t want to know it. A wise man once said to me 'Every thing works out in the end'. I didn't believe him then, didn't believe him for a long time but I do now."
"Wise?" Dar scoffed. "Try desperate, lonely, old - they fit so much better. Do you remember any more of the crap I said to you?"
Quinn smiled. "Every fucking word."
Dar shook his head. "Heaven help you!"
"So you still not thinking of retiring then? I thought you'd be wanting to chill a little by now. Take up a little golf maybe?"
Dar positively shuddered at the thought. "Too much to do. Chess has always been my game, moving the pieces around the board to get the strategic advantage, as you well know." He took another gulp of his drink, fighting to appear comfortable with the conversation. "You seem to have mellowed enough for the both of us, Peter. Coming to terms with all the shit you have been through."
Quinn drew in a long breath. "Yeah, well angry young men die gruesome deaths, I've learnt that much." He shook his head sadly. "And I was never a fucking hero. We both know that."
They sat quietly for a long time sipping their drinks, each appearing to be content in the other's company. Then Dar swirled the ice in his glass as he said, "I recruited a number of boys you know but it was always your name I looked for first on the casualty list after every mission, praying with all my heart it wasn't there. You were the youngest but I pushed you the hardest, invested the most in you and it hurt the most all those times when I thought I'd lost you. Every time it was like something was ripped from deep inside of me. I don't know why that should be but I never wanted to share you, selfish I guess; you were my boy, more than any other and I wanted it always to be that way. I took decisions that maybe I shouldn't have." He let out a brittle chuckle. "Shit, I acted like an idiot but I truly believed those things had to be done. Will you forgive me?"
The shadow of the sullen shrug from a Baltimore police station years before was eclipsed by the smile that was as brilliant as it was pristine. "There's nothing to forgive. Sometimes I needed pushing and sometimes those things needed doing. I'm OK with what you did."
Dar hesitated, a strange look in his eye, then he raised his glass. "Good luck in all that you do, Peter. You'll need it, married to that hell cat!"
They both glanced through the doors across to the top table where Carrie was now in deep conversation with Astrid, both struggling to make themselves heard over the heavy thump of the dance music. Quinn grinned as he clinked glasses. "You know I half suspected that you would lose the ring today."
"As if!" Dar snorted. "Although if I'd have thought that would have stopped you I might have. But in all honesty I've seen what has grown between you two over the years, mighty slow burn; I accept defeat; you fucking deserve each other." He took a deep gulp and then muttered. "You have always made me very proud, Peter. I sincerely hope you find the normal life you've spent all this time yearning for, son."
Quinn's head snapped up and he stared in thrilled astonishment at the other man. Dar ignored him, keeping his eyes facing front, savouring the hot, burning whiskey as it made its fiery way down his throat, determined not to reveal that the acknowledgement had cost him everything he had.
"Thanks," Quinn smiled and nodded, happy blue eyes twinkling in the dull light with the same cocky confidence as his sixteen year old self. ".........Dad!"
Not much later Dar Adal left the party, walking out into a night that was a million stars dark, the lunar river mapping a chromium path to his destiny. It would take time for him to realise that the dull pain intensifying in his chest was his bitter and bloated black heart irrevocably failing at last. A heart finally and utterly broken, not by the burden of the many souls he had sent to their deaths for the greater good, but by the simple gift of sweet absolution offered this night with kindness and compassion by a better man.
Dar walked away from the bright lights and friendly chatter, from the sense of belonging, from family and a normal life as he always had. He was a creature of the shadows who had rejected the light of kinship and forgiveness throughout his life and had done so again this night even though it was offered by the one he cared for most.
Inevitably the darkness claimed him. It was the decision he had made many years before even though he knew the price of that choice now would be the loss of his boy forever. The night devoured him as one of its own and he was gone.
Peter Quinn never saw him again.
WTF....Peter Quinn gets an almost happy, fluffy ending! Didn't see that coming when I started this one!