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The Wrong Side

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They have to move the desk further away from the window, which makes the whole room feel wrong. There’s less space between the two chairs and the door; it makes pacing awkward.

Not that Willie will be doing any pacing, however much space they give him.

Sometimes Burnside does, one hand shoved in his pocket, the other dangling a cigarette. The familiar sight almost makes this feel natural. Willie has sat behind the desk before, after all, if not often, and when Burnside is pacing in front of him it could almost be one of those times. Almost.

But when Burnside goes back upstairs, then Willie is left with a view from the wrong side of a desk that had to be pushed out from the window to make room for his wheelchair, and you wouldn’t think that would give nightmares to a man who has faced down the KGB, but it does.

Because now it’s his job to send Mike off on missions that might get him killed -- Mike, who until a few months ago was a partner more than a subordinate. And Joe, fresh-faced Joe, so enthusiastic that Willie’s terrified he’ll get himself killed before the year is out. And if that happens . . . by then, god help him, he may have Marianne’s folder on his desk, with her scores from the field school, which he’s sure will be excellent. Then he’ll have to present that upstairs, and Burnside will flay him all over again for approving it.

C wasn’t wrong about promoting Burnside. It’s actually easier to control the man as deputy chief; that way SIS gets the benefit of his deviousness, without him being able to walk down to the ops room and give orders any time he likes. But Burnside as deputy chief means Willie as D-Ops, and he wonders sometimes if that will ever feel right.

They tell him he’ll get used to the wheelchair eventually. If he can get used to that, he can get used to anything.

On the bright side—he tells himself it’s the bright side—the stack of signals for him to read through is too thick for him to spend much time fretting (about himself, about SIS, about everything). And if he barely sleeps, well, that’s less chance for the nightmares to get him.

Maybe it will never feel right. But one way or another, he’ll learn to live with it.