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See you soon, love

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Meeting in the Pentagon’s situation room is becoming more and more frequent--to my dismay and hatred. Walden’s zero tolerance on criminal policies against terrorism has led to way too many attacks and on-site operations in the middle East. Only, this time it went a step too far; and it was a goddamn disaster. A bomb went off during the operation, in the midst of a residential neighborhood of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Even if we’re talking real time with on-site military commanders and watching real-time feed video of the scene, there’s no corroborated information just yet.

“Here you go, sir,” says someone as I’m handed yet another report.

The man moves along the line of seats, giving everyone the same folder--and each person’s answer’s the very same too, leaving the folder, on some cases left unopened, in front of them, over the small pile of dozens of other folders, very few of them being really looked at and read through and through: buildings and cohabitants in the area of the bombing, assets standing by in the city grounds or who’d be able to arrive in Dhaka within less than an hour, drone activity from the US, Russia, China or North Korea, the facilities and capacities of the nearest hospitals, radioactivity levels in the atmosphere. On the screens, we have feed of the bombing scene, of the military base closest to Dhaka where we’re 24/7 connected to, black and white images from various satellites. All of it really interesting stuff and fucking useless. They don’t say a thing about the number of victims, civilians, terrorists, or agents.

Walden hangs up the phone, finished talking with the Korean Minister, I think. I haven’t been listening really. Before someone else is put through to the VP again, President or otherwise, I jump right off my chair, step forward to his spot and lean in close to him, a hand resting on the table, the other on his armchair, making sure no-one but him can hear me--not that it’s that personal, or private.

I am still forced to be polite, an effort bigger each passing way.

“Sir,” I whisper, looking around us to ascertain no-one’s paying us any attention, “with your permission, I’d like to go to Dhaka. Gauge things on the ground and report back myself.”

Walden ponders for some seconds, biting his lower lip, staring blankly at the white-and-black screens behind me. In the end, he nods. Saw the political benefits of the gesture. As usual, using me to propel his career and moves.

“Might be a good idea,” he approves. “Assess the situation on ground zero. Fighting terrorism from the same site. OK, go. I’ll arrange it.”

“Thank you, sir,” I whisper, appreciating the favor, though I wouldn’t have taken a ‘no’ for an answer either way. “I’ll keep in touch and report as soon as I can.”

“You do that,” he encourages me by hitting my shoulder.

I try not to break his arm and to hide the scowl attempting to escape my mouth as I stand up and grab my tie and jacket from my chair’s back, resting the tie around my neck, the jacket on my arm.

“Brody,” Walden yells then and I’m forced to turn around again. “Don’t go easy on those fuckers,” he says with a broad smile.

I’m not able to respond in any way beyond a forced, crooked smile. I nod, scarcely appreciated, and finally have his blessing to leave the room.

Crooked smile, that's the best way I’ve got to restrain myself from punching the VP in the face. How can a man smile nonchalantly while speaking, indirectly but I still understand what he meant, about killing at best, torturing at worse, the people responsible for today’s attack?

A man opens the door for me before I reach out for it, bidding farewell formally--the lit corridor hurts my eyes after the couple hours stuck inside the situation room--two SS, Sam and Millard, following me for safety reasons. I’m stuck with them whatever I do, so I don’t waste time, patience or saliva ordering them to leave me alone, as I knot the tie around my neck, a bit loose, and put my jacket on, before sending a brief, conceited text message.

As soon as I’m done with every task I’ve got one foot outside the building. But I don’t head for my vehicle just yet, in spite of knowing the SS have fetched it and searched it for me personally.

“Give me five minutes,” I command over my shoulder.

I don’t take the time to explain why the sudden delay or to make sure they comply; I turn towards the building’s adjacent bunker. They probably wouldn’t want me to go there or know its existence, but heck, we’re all in a little bit of hurry today and that’s their problem. They shouldn’t have invited me there in the first place, if they wanted to avoid a situation like this one.

They make me sweat, however. For more than a minute I thought they’d let me rot outside. But in the end, giving in, not liking this situation any more than myself, I hear the buzz and I push the door open.

What the hell happened?! ” I yell upon entering the room, all anxiousness leaving me now.

Saul’s the first person I see. A prudent move, probably. He’s as calm and content as ever and comes meet me half-way, stopping me in the middle of the room, before I see Peter or anything else confidential.

He tries to calm me down with words--at a very bad time.

“You already know--”

“I’ve got no idea,” I reply. “The world has no fucking idea!

“Operation Brown--”

“It blew up!” I interject before he dares trying to sugarcoat it.

“There you go, you do know,” says Saul, as if nonchalant, raising his palms to prove it.

Quite literally! " I yell following my prior statement. “Care explaining me why or how on Earth did THAT happen?!”

Apparently, he doesn’t--my yells and outburst doesn’t affect him in any way, used to reactions like mine. The person who is interested in this tricky subject, however, is Quinn, who comes from the next room, attracted by my yells, somber look on his face, tense. I figure he'd wish he had a knife in his hands again.

“At this point you know as much as we do,” says Saul.

“Well, it’s not enough,” I scowl, starting walking in circles.

“Who’s asking?” demands Peter coldly. “The next VP or the former American POW turned?”

“COME ON!” I yell, raising my arms to the air, exasperated. “Let’s move along that.”

“Then I’m afraid I’ve got nothing to tell you.”

Even though there’re a lot of things that could be said at this moment, many questions to ask and to be answered, we all fall silent, panting echoing in the empty room, looking at each other--Saul in apathy, Peter in hatred, me exasperated and disagreement. Not the best combination for this conversation as it turns out. In the meantime, I get a text message that forces me to give it another try.

“Well, I’ve got to know everything you know, because I’m headed for Dhaka in forty-five minutes,” I scowl, showing them my cell-phone’s screen.

“WHAT?” yells Peter, taking my phone. “Who the hell thought that was a good idea? You can’t go,” he states, looking at Saul.

The man hasn’t said another word, nor his glare has shifted from me, somehow knowing this is a fight they cannot win--and not liking those odds.

“There’s no way we can allow--”

“Tell me how you will stop me from going when the VP and future President of the United States has personally ordered me to,” I challenge coldly, loving this little confrontation more than I should.

“Saul, we can’t let him go, with all the Intel he could have gathered as Congressman--”

“For Pete’s sake, I’m not planning anything on US soil. I’m not a terrorist--”

“Oh, no, no,” interjects Quinn sternly, raising a hand to stop me. “Don’t be confused. You are a terrorist. That’s not a switch you can turn on and off overnight.”

“I didn’t kill anyone, for God’s sake!” I yell, being almost at the end of my tether, or without the almost part.

“You do know that attempting murder is a punishable crime, right?”

“Look--”

“No. Saul, get Estes on the phone.”

“I think the CIA director has better things to do at the moment besides checking the traveling plans of a terrorist congressman,” replies the older intelligence officer.

“That’d be my point,” I reply. “I have to go, on the VP’s orders.”

“Didn’t you hear me? You won’t get clearance for that plane.”

“I’ve got clearance already,” I scowl. I’m noticing how we’re falling down into a five-year-old children quarrel routine, but I can’t help it. Neither does Quinn since that interrogation day.

“You are not leaving the US.”

“Watch me,” I dare.

“Oh, I promise,” he says, stepping forward, saving the distance that separated us until now. “That plane won’t take off--on national security basis.”

“Explain that to the VP, then--”

“Enough,” orders Saul, raising a hand in the air to stop the quarrel. Finally seeing reason and the stupidity of this personal altercation in a moment of this, he commands, by his silence, to take a moment or two to breathe in before putting the cards on the table. “Brody, you are going, can’t refute Walden’s orders like this.”

“Saul, if he ditches security--”

I’m the one who gives him an answer before Saul dismisses the idea. “They’ll be sniffing up my ass to keep me safe. That can prove to be a bit complicated,” I scowl.

“D’you really think--”

“Here’s what we know,” interjects Saul, preferring to use the time we’ve got rather than wasting it. “The bomb wasn’t ours. The drone attack wasn’t planned by the US army. According to the local authorities, there are at least three citizens dead, dozens of injured, unknown missing. List of officers and terrorists still unconfirmed--whether dead or missing.”

“But he wasn’t hit.” I had to ask, even when I know the answer. I'd hoped this whole ordeal would be over by dinner tonight and Carrie and I might finally be able to breathe in, sleeping without keeping an eye over our shoulders. Too great expectations, as it seems. Can't dream big in this goddamned, wrecked world.

“No,” confirms Saul. “Abu Nazir isn’t presumably amongst the mortal victims.”

“Spectacular,” I scowl, sending my hands to my hips. “Stellar job, you guys.”

“Hey,” interjects Quinn. “You wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for us,” he reminds me, no that I needed the reminder.

“Maybe,” I grant, not as appreciatively as he’d hoped for. “Maybe I’d be dead and I’d be much better off.”

“Well, I don’t disagree.”

“Brings tears to my eyes.”

“Please,” orders Saul, eyes closed, one hand raised. “Please. You have to go, Brody.”

And without another word, he takes me by the arm, a gesture I just know kills him slowly every second he’s in direct contact with me, and drags me to the exit, away from Peter, before we actually end up in a physical fight and has to send one of us, or the two of us, to a hospital and is forced to lie to the VP, even further.

“Not just yet,” I reply, shaking his hands off before he throws me out.

“You don’t boss around--”

“Carrie?” I demand.

Saul takes a deep breath in and closes his eyes--all the confirmation I needed, since even Quinn looks distraught at the news. Not that this explains his character, but I can understand him, partially, at least today. I find myself without strength to carry on. Of course, Carrie had to be one of the officers on site. When things go south, she’s always there.

“We don’t know anything on her either. Maybe you can report to us,” whispers Saul, each word painfully leaving his mouth.

“Oh, now you’re interested in me going.”

“Just shut up and get out of here,” orders Quinn. “And I’m asking nicely,” he adds, with a raise of his eyebrows.

I’m painfully aware of that. “With pleasure,” I scowl, not bothering to utter a nice word to either of them.

I leave the bunker almost on the run, slamming the door behind me. An infantile gesture, I won’t deny it, but today’s just one of those days. A failure of this magnitude affects everyone, directly or not.

My car’s still waiting for me at the same spot I found it when I first came out of the building, the two SS agents surrounding it, standing tall. Sam reaches out to open the back door for me while Millard, talking to the microphone, sits on the passenger seat. By my side I find as well the traveling bag I asked Polly to get for me from my place.

“Is the plane ready?” I ask as soon as I’m settled.

“Fueled, with permission to take off and travel plans set, sir.”

“Thanks,” I force myself to utter. These guys doing their job, working their asses for me, aren’t to blame for today’s events or the exasperated quarrel I’ve just hold.

A single phone-call; that’s all the time and luxuries I’m given in my own Congress-licensed car as we head for the airfield. At least he answers it and I’m not wasting time effortlessly, especially knowing the yelling I’d face once I got back.

“Hey, Chris, it’s Dad. Everything alright around there?”

“Yeah, I was doing homework,” says him.

“Well done,” I praise. “Listen, buddy, have you heard the news?”

“The bombing in Bangladesh?” he asks right away, his guess spot on, fright in his voice. Comprehensively, I fear. I myself aren't still completely certain about leaving, but I do know it's what I have to do, for a number of reasons.

“Yeah, that one. I’m on my way there right now.”

I can hear him disconnect completely from homework and rising from the desk, for some reason considering easier to ask me this particular question standing, though still slowly and frightened.

“Are you sure?”

“Buddy, I wouldn’t if we didn’t know for certain it’s safe, I promise.”

Doesn’t sound so convinced by my words. “Okay, Dad,” he sighs in defeat, reasoning he couldn’t stop me even if he tried. “Thanks for the heads-up.”

“I did promise to warn you before you saw me on the news for something like this,” I remind him in a chuckle. “I got to hung up now, buddy,” I apologize, as we’ve reached the airport already and a military officer demands my ID, along with my companion’s. “Kiss your sister and Mom from me.”

“Uncle Mike’s here too.”

That sentence freezes me, like every time I hear it, one foot on the ground outside the vehicle. I have to remind myself that it’s fine, that this is what we all agreed on, the best for everyone. Like it was before I came back and turned our worlds upside down for the second time.

“That’s--Good, good. Say hello to him too. Goodbye, buddy, see you this weekend.”

“You’ll be here?”

“Are you kidding? I haven’t forgotten you’re coming over. Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I exclaim and then I finally manage to get a genuine chuckle from my son, which is more than what I first expected from this call. “Come on, I got to go. Love you. Thanks,” I’ve barely hung up the phone when Millard’s opened my door and I appreciated his kindness, though I take my own traveling bag, which Sam was about to reach out for.

Noelia appears out of nowhere and hands me a folder. The latest reports on the bomb effects, the number of victims, assets, emergency workers and the scene of the bombing, including pictures of the site and stats. I thank her as she climbs into the car instead of me. As the vehicle leaves the field, I run towards the stairs leading to my plane, for once being able to forget my manners towards reporters and photographers; since it is not an official, long-planned trip, there can’t be many journalists on the airport.

I’m welcomed in by the two military flight assistants, the pilot and the copilot, all of whom salute me upon entering the plane. I answer back the same way before the last two head for the cabin, while one of the flight attendants shows me my seat, despite the plane’s completely empty. I settle for the place closest to the door, throw the folder on the small round table, ask a Martini and a bottle of water to the flight attendant and settle to wait for the take-off, resting my head onto the wall, as Sam sits a couple seats on my right and Millard goes to check something with the pilots.

The flight attendant brings me the drinks as soon as we’re on the air. I drink the Martini shot in one long, single sip, take a deep breath and grab the bottle of water and open the folder. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before--every picture showed up in the situation room screens as well--but seeing the victims, the damage, now, all by myself, having no idea who caused this devastation, but knowing Abu Nazir was, again, the common denominator, hurts me more than I’d admit. Especially when one of those victims could be Carrie. I couldn’t handle it if she were.

If I’m alive, it’s because of her. Only her. She keeps me whole, brings me light, gives me hope--and I don’t believe her for a second when she says I correspond her the same way. The very last string attaching me to this world. If I lose her, I’ve got nothing else worthy on the entire Earth.

The trip isn’t at all pleasant with such thoughts running through my mind, such pictures to distract me with and such a small space to be in for so many hours; but somehow, at some point I manage to doze off, a whole bottle of water later and every picture in the folder, related to the accident, framed into my mind forever. The flight attendant wakes me up pleasantly, informing the landing will be starting in fifteen minutes.

“Thank you,” I manage to utter.

She leaves and I look outside the window, but we’re above clouds, I can’t see a thing on the ground. As I stretch my arms I notice someone’s put a thick blanket around me throughout the trip. From the other side of the plane, Sam sends me a warm smile, though doesn’t answer the riddle. I stand up to freshen up a bit in the small lavatory, washing my face, hands, neck and armpits, before changing my T-shirt, shirt and put a sweater on instead of the jacket--less formal for the situation. Afterwards, I sit down with Sam, who’s waiting for me sitting in front of my seat, to discuss the plan, as usual.

“Sir, we’ve talked with the local authorities and we’ll have an escort from leaving the airport.”

“Won’t argue that today,” I sigh, though I would any other day--usually with my own security detail I’m more than safe, I don’t need an extra escort as well.

“Appreciated, sir,” scoffs Sam, with the briefest of smiles. “Okay, first visit will be the site of the explosion, then for the closest hospital where the injured have been moved to and last, to the mosque the bodies are being kept. We’ve booked three nights on--”

“Let me stop you there,” I beg, raising a hand. “I’m sorry to bother you today as well, but can I make a suggestion?”

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t, sir,” he confesses in a chuckle. He’d probably expected me to cut him off earlier than this.

“If you ever consulted me before making the plans, you’d save yourself half the headaches I give you.”

“That might be so, sir,” he chuckles. “So, what is it we can do for you today?”

“Make the mosque visit our second stop. I’d rather spend some more time in the hospital than anywhere else. I won’t interfere with the professional’s work, I promise--I’ll behave.”

“Guess that’s not too bad. Millard--”

“And I want to be alone with the rabbi for some minutes,” I add before he thinks my demands ended there. This one seems to be a deal-breaker, though, which hasn’t happened since he was put in charge of my security detail, after the last one gave up.

“Sir--”

“I can’t properly express my condolences for a vile terrorist attack if we act as if they were the terrorists,” I exclaim, not willing to put my foot down on this one.

“We can’t allow you to--”

That’s a sentence I’m not listening to again today.

“Well, Sam, you better make it happen, ‘cause I’m not changing my mind.”

“Alright, sir,” he concedes, giving in, but only because they’ve got no spare time to rearrange the plans.

“Good. Don’t make me responsible for an untimely heart attack,” I joke, hitting him on the knees now that everything’s settled.

He nods and stands up, meeting Millard on the other side of the plane to discuss the new plans. Though they talk in whispers, I hear Millard’s gasps and infuriated exclamations, liking the changes as much as his boss, as well as Sam’s attempts at making him shut up and categorically explain the new situation. I do feel sorry for them. Sometimes Walden’s orders aren’t something I’m comfortable with and so my security detail bears the consequences of our personal quarrel, finding themselves lost between two different set of instructions, from myself and the VP. Thankfully, this time around we’re too far away from Walden for him to rearrange things; and that’s exactly why I wanted to come and dared to make this changes.

The decision to visit the scene of the bombing first might have been a big mistake. Fourteen hours after the attack the situation isn’t yet under control and there are panic and chaos three streets from ground zero. The place is covered in ruins and white dust that impregnates the air, our clothes, our eyes, our breath. Emergency services, as long as citizens themselves, are still scavenging amongst the ruins and finding, now and then, unexpected survivor and dead bodies. Unless we participate in the excavation work or the rescuing people, there’s nothing for us to do. All I’m left with is a private chat inside a close-by building, charted as safe by the experts and my security detail, with the firemen chief, aided by a translator, besides my security detail. The brief: six dead, three dozens injured, they don’t care to start estimating just yet the approximate property damage worth.

The visit to the mosque is quieter and for once, the SS--the whole army of them--aren’t responsible for this; the rabbi has shut down the mosque and scheduled a private prayer with the family and closest friends of those who’ve perished in the attack. In spite of the multitudinous protest on the street, showing rejection against the attack, inside the building there are maybe thirty people total, corresponding to six bodies, lying on the mosque’s floor. Four kids and two adults, no Americans.

I’m left with the rabbi and a translator, grown-up, stern and tired-looking men, before I have to ask--at least I don’t have to fight the SS agents on this one instance as well. I don’t waste any time what we don’t have with pleasantries or explanations.

“Assalam alaykum,” I greet, to both their surprise, and keep on speaking in muslin. “I’m sorry for each and every one of these losses. None of them deserved to die.”

They look they could use an explanation; I gather by their shocked faces, and sigh deeply.

“You know me as a candidate for the US’s vice-president spot Nicholas Brody, but before all that I was an American POW for eight years. In which time I converted to Islam. Now, I didn’t come here to insult or aggravate anyone--I will leave if you ask me to. I wanted to present my respects and pray for the souls of the victims.”

They still look dumbfounded and surprised by it all, but it’d seem that kicking me out of the mosque isn’t their priority now--rather, the crossroads of moral obligations I’ve put them in are. A rabbi cannot refuse a prayer in order to honor the victims of an attack. He would never forget his duties.

We stand in line in front of the white-sheet covered victims, the Rabbi just a step forwards, and do something I haven’t done in a long time: pray, on this case, for the salvation of their souls. Despite the lack of practice, the mantras aren’t something one would easily forget. Furthermore, I felt obliged to come to this mosque because of the dead sisters and brothers, but it’s also on my own benefit: I have the chance to purify my own soul too, through one simple, though devoted and meaningful, prayer in this circumstances and company. Back in the US I can’t even go near a mosque; it’d destroy all of Walden’s plans, apart from my own reputation, cover and political career.

“Shukran,” I thank them both afterwards.

“Thank you,” answers the Rabbi in english, slightly bowing his head to me.

Seems like this prayer and honesty was exactly what was needed in order to avoid an international crisis by my coming here--something Walden could never understand, I fear.

They walk me out of the prayer room and we stop in the midst of the arcaded courtyard, where the ashes and dust from the bombing haven’t reached yet thanks to the strong leeward wind and we can see the clear, bright, blue sky, the warm sun on my neck.

“Maybe with a muslim President of the United States, things like this regrettable slaughter can be prevented in the near future,” suggests the rabbi.

“Don’t know if I’ll make it to vice-president, much less POTUS, but either way, I’m trying to make a change from where I am. I’m sorry I can’t stay longer. I really wish I could properly express my condolences to the victims of this vile terrorist attack, publicly.”

“Allah knows what you really stand for and your efforts,” replies the rabbi, making me wondering why on Earth couldn’t I get a muslim guidance in the US, even if it’s just for five-minute talk every two weeks, “which must be enough for you, and is more than enough for all of us.”

“Shukran,” I whisper, leaning in to kiss him on the cheeks.

The last visit, the most important for me, couldn’t have come any slower. The hours spent in the situation room, then on the plane to Dhaka, the obliged visits to the bombing scene and the mosque--it all was a delay for knowing how is she. And on our way to the hospital, we have to stop more than once to let an ambulance through, my heart skipping a beat each time thinking about the dead victims and Carrie, we are still stalled by the multitude surrounding the building, families and friends of the attack’s victims, which isn’t as controlled as outside the mosque, since police force and most of law enforcement are mainly gathered at the bombing scene.

We find a similar situation inside the hospital, where most of the medical staff are just struggling to cope with the injured, with no time to dedicate to any of te families or friends demanding answers, much less myself, even when the presence of private security, the SS and the US symbol astonishes some of them. But they’re just too busy to give us any kind of information. It gets the more frustrating not being able to talk to them by myself, in arabic; and the translator just seems too worried on occasions to insist on answers.

About half an hour later my translator is handed a folder. I reach out for it without giving any explanations, even though it’s written in arabic. A list of the injured who’ve brought in, the injuries they sustained and their latest known status, whether if it’s “dead”, “discharged” or “admitted”, adding the room number in that case.

Flicking through the three-pages list, I realize the vast majority are civilians. Thankfully, only one more has died, succumbed to the operation, though the state of many of the injured is considered “grave”. On the last page I finally see an american blond woman listed; she was successfully operated, her burns treated, and is recovering in the ICU. Room 819.

Handing the list over to whomever wants it, I march towards there immediately, knowing nothing will stop me now, comes Hell or high water.

The one thing that does freeze me on the spot is Carrie herself as I finally reach her room, lying on a bed, some cuts on her face and arms, a bandage on her shoulder and both hands, and--shivering. Without giving a damn anymore, figuring I’ve hold myself back enough as it is already, I shut the door behind me and dash towards her bed, about to caress her arms when I come into her visual field.

BRODY!” she shrieks, and her shiver intensifies, the strangest look, not mere happy to see me, on her eyes. “Thank God! You have to get me out of here.”

Only now, when she tries to stand and is forcefully pulled back against the bed, I notice she’s being held by stripes attached to her wrists and ankles. Her strange shiver wasn’t because of a cold. She was struggling over the restraints, trying to get free. I scowl as I move forwards to release her immediately--this is exactly what I’d feared could happen, if I didn’t find her dead. The doctors misjudging her mental health and making it harder for her to recover, hence endangering the whole CIA knowing about her condition.

I’m stopped at a very bad timing.

“Sir, you cannot do that!”, shrieks a nurse, speaking in arabic. That circumstance is barely noticed by our brains since Carrie and I respond immediately, glaring at the woman, letting out low scowls--engaging without any kind of difficulty in the argument.

“Yes! Yes, he can!” yelps Carrie, as she urges me with one look to untie her.

This is barbaric, for Christ’s sake!! ” I scowl, turning around to face the nurse as the bounds resist me.

“Sir, it’s for her own protection. And yours,” he adds, eyeing me sternly, trying to warn me with her glare. But I’ll have none of it, not today, nor ever. This isn't exactly helping Carrie.

“I can perfectly look after myself,” I assure her coldly. “And after her as well--I promise. Now, release her this instance!”

“Let me get the doctors,” she decides after some seconds, her frowned eyebrows showing us both her discontent and the more than likely doctor’s answer.

“You do that,” I beg in an exhausted whisper, which isn’t the same response as Carrie’s, even if she yells after the nurse’s already shut the door behind her and presumably won’t hear her.

“Yeah, call security and the fucking army! There’s no time to waste! WE’RE ALL IN DANGER!”

“Carrie,” I beg, resting my hands on her cheeks. Her yells aren’t doing my ears any favors and it won’t exactly help us either if I should try to get her out of here. “Please, you’re alright, I pro--”

“NO-ONE’S SAFE!!” she roars and I know that, were she able or should that grant her her freedom, she’d knock me out in a flash. “LISTEN TO ME! It’s not over yet! We have to alert everyone--the attack--it wasn’t alone--it CAN’T be. This wasn’t it!”

“Calm down, please--”

“No-one’s fucking listening to me!!”, she roars, interjecting me again.

“I am,” I promise, my voice as calm and even as I can manage to utter at this given moment, “I’m right here, Carrie. I promise. I hear you and I want to understand what you’re saying. But please, slow down. I’m not an intelligence officer--I’m not following.”

She nods a couple times, fast, before taking a deep breath and giving it a try, really tries, I can tell. She’s not a lunatic, she wants to be understood, the message delivered. But even so, I’m not able to follow her line of thinking. She talks for over two minutes straight saying an amount of words an average person should speak in five minutes, adding names and places I don’t even recognize. I acknowledge her mind is working at full speed and she increases the tempo of her speaking to try to keep up her train of thoughts, making it impossible for me to decipher any of it. Saul or Maggie might do a better job than me--if they were here. That’s not an option now. It’s up to me, I know, they move her from the psycho ward and discharge her anytime soon, preferably below the Agency’s radar.

“Carrie,” I beg once more, holding her by the shoulders, more tender and warm than the stripes bounding her to the bed. “Let’s try this another way, so I can understand you; please. I’ll ask the questions. You answer with ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘I don’t know’, just those three options--nothing else. It’s simple. Think we can make it?”

She inhales and nods, weary, uncertain of this method, but willing to try it if that way she can get through me and I through her. I sit on the edge of the bed and untie one of her hands, holding it, lovingly, in order for her not to escape from the room.

“Okay.”

I take a very deep breath too--never before I’ve faced this, her, but I compromised and I do want to be here should this happen again. Learn or die--I’ve certainly survived worse.

“Are you in pain?”

My first question wasn’t, apparently, my best choice, nor the one Carrie was expecting to hear, as she scowls and fights me again, freeing her hand.

“That doesn’t matter!” she shrieks.

I wait in silence for two long seconds and then, desperate, Carrie scoffs, avoiding my eyes, unconsciously looking for my hand, which I take without mentioning it.

“No,” she grants.

Despite the lie, seems we’re on the same page here--that’s a start.

“Do you need any pain meds?”

“No,” she repeats, shaking her head for stressing.

“Yours?” I press.

She looks down on me, obviously hurt by my question, but I had to ask her. I have to know everything, even when it doesn’t involve the bombing, if I should help her. And she knows too, the only reason why she grants me an honest answer for once.

“They gave them to me couple hours ago,” she says without looking at me.

At least there’s that, I sigh. I’d feared they hadn’t started her treatment and her recovery would last a lot longer.

“Do you want me to contact your father?”

“There are more important--No,” she grants after receiving one piercing look from me and realizing she wasn’t following the simple set of rules. I nod once, approving the fact she got that right.

“Your sister?”

“She’d never get clearance. That’s a no, Brody,” she insist when I don’t react in any way.

“Okay,” I whisper, patting her hand, now that those urgent questions have been answered already. “So much for the easy part. Now, I know you were on a mission to take out Abu Nazir.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, eager now that I’ve approached a more interesting subject. Her voice was, however, too vigorously and I point it out by squeezing her hand. She sinks into her bed waiting for my next question, wishing it’s the appropriate one.

“What happened? Was the Intel bogus?”

“No--I don’t think so. I don’t know,” she confesses in the end.

“You were made, ten?”

“I--don’t know.” Couldn’t expect clear, straight answers every time, I reckon.

“But you didn’t catch Abu Nazir,” I say, my voice an octave deeper.

“No,” she says, positive for once, looking at me straight in the eye, waiting, I gather, for the one answer.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“How can you know? I mean, I saw the bodies, but--”

“They will not find his body down there!” she promises, her voice a shriek again.

And now I understand the real problem here--or beginning to, at least, which is a milestone.

“You mean--He wasn’t there.”

“Nope,” she confirms.

“Did he even show up?” I demand.

Noticing it’s me the one who’s starting to lose it, due to cruel madness, she squeezes my hand in turn.

“Look, Brody--”

I don’t let her finish. “The Intel was bogus, then,” I reproach, in a totally accusing tone, focusing her on the issue at hand immediately.

“That, or there’s a mole,” she says.

Only a small part in my brain acknowledges she’s just confessed to a mere civilian, Congressman or not, an intelligence officer’s hunch that should most probably be kept secret till she knew what to do with such information, like handing it to her immediate superiors or any other emergency procedure. It is not the time for formalities.

“Please, you can’t really think--”

“No,” she promises, taking my hand now, to calm me down. “We don’t. We have your coms tracked--Saul wouldn’t have let you come to Dhaka if there were any irregularities or suspicions over you.”

Even though I should feel kind of outraged by the on-going surveillance on my work and personal fields when I've been nothing but a model citizen for the past months and offering them all the help I could give them, I’m distracted by something else altogether. For some reason, things have just clicked in--I understand now.

“You don’t know where he is,” I whisper, leaning in so she hears me.

“No,” confesses Carrie, staring at me, readying for my possible reaction.

“He could be planning a retaliation.”

“Yes,” she acknowledges.

“If that plan isn’t in motion yet,” I specify, cocking my head. “I’m in danger.”

“Yes,” she repeats--no other way of phrasing it. Then again, I’m a target anywhere I go, that’s no news for me. What concerns me now is Carrie.

I’m putting you in danger, ” I realize in a scowl, wanting to kick myself. Coming was supposed to help her, not end the work the bomb wasn’t successful enough to accomplish.

“Maybe,” she whispers.

I might not be an intelligence agent like her but I can still tell she’s lying. Not only because she made an useless attempt at reassuring me--I know the truth by myself.

“D’you want me to leave?”

I don’t get an answer this time and yet I do: she looks at me in fright. She knows I didn’t mean the actual hospital or the area, and from what I’ve seen, this is the calmer she’s been since she woke up. Even if I’m putting her life at stake, even when reason says I should leave this hospital at once, head for the airport, return to the US to report to Saul and Walden before shutting myself in a bunker or something to prevent any harm getting to Carrie, evidence shows she’s better with me here. And that's why I won't do anything of the above.

“I’m staying, then,” I decide, taking her hand to my lips. “Do you want me to call Saul?”

“Yes, please,” she says. And though it’s quite imperative that I do, right away, to inform him of some pressing matters, the report’s the last thing on my mind as I interpret her look correctly again.

“In a minute,” I whisper. “For now, I’m not going anywhere. Can I do something else for you?”

She doesn’t answer verbally, but, in what seems like a painful gesture, she reaches a hand and intertwining our fingers together. I understand what she meant by that and so I lean in, carefully not to put my weight on her and staying away from her worse injuries, to kiss her gently on the cheek, which seemed like a safe gesture--ready to take responsibility if it weren’t and it sets her off.

We talked about our situation before making any progress in our personal relationship. She’s always known how to trigger me, push me forward, to be better, while she kept telling me that I can do good things in life. On the other hand, even if I wasn’t afraid of the commitment our relationship entailed, I needed a severe warning and an advanced tutorial on her condition and how to help her during her dark times, how to help her cope with work. Though I certainly appreciate the second chance I’ve been granted, I do know that none of our jobs are easy--heck, nothing in our shared life seems to be, really. And yet, being together, it’s better for the both of us. Since I heard about the explosion, this is the first time I’ve felt truly calmed, at ease, relieved. Here, with her, together, in touch, holding hands.

“How’s Mark doing?” she asks all of a sudden, trying to raise to look over the bed.

“Who’s Mark--?”

Two questions that are never answered, since we’re interrupted by an angry, commanding, stressed-out doctor, barging into the room. I’d almost forgotten about the nurse from before; I'd thought I could have stayed with Carrie.

“What do you think you’re doing here, sir?”

Not an option anymore, I reckon, as I stand up, squeezing Carrie’s hand encouragingly.

“You need to leave,” orders the doctor.

“And that’s exactly what I’m doing,” I promise, not breaking eye contact with Carrie. “Wouldn’t want to stand on the way of a man with access to syringes and drugs,” I add in a whisper.

And in an impossible situation, she grins, which somehow lifts my spirits immensely, even when I’m aware I should be the one cheering her up, but that’s enough for me. However, I can still see in her eyes she’s not ready for my leaving and, now that the doctor’s checking the other patient’s condition, I lean in again, ever so slowly, warning her with my eyes what I’m aiming at. This second kiss lands right on her lips and when she overcomes the freezing, she answers back.

“I’ll call Saul right away,” I inform under my breath, resting a hand on the mattress, few inches from her shoulder. “You sit tight and get some rest, OK? I’ll check with the doctors and know if you don’t. You promise?”

Her undecided nod’s the best answer I’m getting, I know, so I kiss her again on the cheek, softly, longer this time.

“Goodbye, then,” she whispers, her voice breaking, plucking up her courage.

“No,” I reply. “See you soon, love,” I promise, caressing her cheek.

I don’t give a damn about what I have to do, the lies I have to say, the plans I’m forced to make up, the political meetings I’m compelled to arrange, the unflattering and daunting headlines or front-page news I might be seeing for days in a row; I’m not going back home without her, when she’s discharged and fully healed.

That’s a vow I make to myself outside the room, in the hall, with numerous doctors, nurses, patients and visitors coming and go. I also notice two agents of my security detail guarding my shoulders; looking around, I see Sam at the end of the corridor, always close by and keeping an eye on me, who comes meet me when I signal for him.

“Sir?”

“Put me through Langley,” I order rather sharply, I reckon. “Saul Berenson. No, this cannot wait, Sam, or else I’d make the call from the security of our hotel.”

He nods and now that I’ve put aside every argument he could have had against my idea of getting in touch with an agent of the CIA from a hospital in Dhaka, too close to the site where a bomb’s exploded less than twenty-four hours ago and there are still a few security concerns pending, he grabs the sat phone I knew he was wearing, as he always does, dials a number and steps away from me, in order not to bother me as he gets put through all the connections and intermediaries until he finally reaches Langley.

I signal for him to hand me the sat phone before he wastes any more time with useless introductions. By the corner of my eye I see how he vanishes again, signaling for the two other agents to grant me some personal space as well.

“Saul,” I greet rudely. “Carrie’s fine, or as good as she can be given her condition after surviving a goddamn bomb.”

“Thank God,” he whispers loudly, obviously relieved. He’s been waiting to hear something like this longer than myself; he had to be in total agony. “Recovery?”

“Physical, not long, she’ll be up and down in no time. I’m more concerned about her psychological state. And I’m not too sure a hospital in Dhaka close to the bombing scene is the appropriate place for her recovery.”

“No other option for the time being,” he replies, succinct.

I hide a scowl--I was hoping he could have come up with some idea, some plan to extract her from here. Of all the places in the world, she shouldn’t stay here. I’ll pay myself, without using any kind of public funds, for a private hospital in Germany if I have to.

“Listen, when you said, concerned for her psychological state--?”

“She’s totally frenzied,” I sigh, trying to erase from my memory the first sight of her from the moment I entered the room. “But she knows where she is, what’s happened and also--let’s say, the classified intel you’re so keen to get a hold of.”

“That’s something.”

This time, I scowl loudly, hoping he receives the full mood around here.

That’s something?” I repeat, incredulous. “Saul, be reasonable, she needs some quiet and peace. In one word, she needs to rest--should be your first priority!”

“When have you ever seen her rest?” he replies.

Whether he’s got a point or not, I don’t let that diminish my message. “Guess today’s a very good day for her to start.”

“Brody, what did she tell you?” he orders. “Don’t make me contact the SS and have you arrested on national security base. That’d be too humiliating for the both of us, specially considering you’re the pick for our next VP’s spot.”

I take a deep breath. Even if the threat is futile, I cannot not answer to him. He needs this information--they need to know about Abu Nazir in order to find him and put a stop to his crazy schemes. Plus, not telling him wouldn’t help Carrie at all; and she asked me to warn Saul about the situation. It’s infantile to keep this Intel from him. And yet, for so many reasons my heart aches as I speak.

“Abu Nazir was not on the scene,” I say, whispering so no-one close to me catches that name.

What?!

“He never showed up. Long story short, your attack was useless.”

“It wasn’t our bomb,” he insists.

His exhausted voice isn’t the only thing I can hear now; he’s already delivered the message to whoever he was with and the same sentence is being repeated over and over again, from one mouth to another ear, more frenzied by the second. And someone else approaches and speaks directly to the machine.

Why the fuck did you withhold that information?!” scowls none other than Quinn.

“I just heard.”

“No, you heard at least five minutes ago, but you rather spend the time quarreling with everyone! That’s five minutes we could have used, you dickhead!”

“Quarrel? I’m defending your peer’s right to rest, for fuck’s sake!”

“There are no breaks in our line of work. We know that, Carrie knows that, you should know that too. And she more than anyone would have preferred to make a good use of that time.”

“Hey, listen here, you dirtwad, those five minutes really couldn’t have helped you that much because, oh, surprise, Abu Nazir’s at least twenty-four hours ahead of y’all! And that’s only assuming he’s been preparing a retaliation from the moment the bombing happened!”

“D’you think we’re stupid?! That it takes us--”

Please,” begs Saul.

His barely contained voice makes the two of us stop quarreling--again. If we weren’t discussing events that could represent real threats to our national security, it’d feel as if I were talking to the brother I never had, making me thank God that my parents never blessed me with such a burden.

“Quinn, get back to work,” he orders. After a couple seconds I hear a couple of steps heading away from the phone and I breathe deeply once, trying to cool it again. “Brody--”

“I’ll talk to the doctors, see if they agree to transport her,” I say, knowing he’d ordered me so.

“No,” replies the man, to my biggest surprise, “they’ll advise against it.”

“Well, there has to be something we can do for her.”

“Yes, there is,” he confirms, catching my full attention at once. “You stay with her.”

I gasp--that was the last thing I’d expected to hear. Over my shoulder I see how one of my agents steps forward, a bit concerned for my reaction, but luckily Sam holds him back by the shoulder.

“Whether I like it or not, you seem to help Carrie,” Saul proceeds, unaware to my response, “and right about now she needs all the help we can manage. So you stay with her, alright? Don’t leave her side. I don’t care what the doctors and your security detail say. I’m sure you’ll find an excuse.”

Those words must hurt him, I reckon, so I do my best not to make this any harder for him by mocking him or throwing the idea to the bin. Nothing in this partnership, let’s call it like that, is easy for either of its members.

“Saul, Walden wanted to use my presence here; he doesn’t realize I’m a target anywhere away from the US. When my name hits the newspapers, Abu Nazir might strike and if I’m close to Carrie--”

“Estes will deal with Walden and I’ll take care of the newspapers until we can get you two out of there--I know you’re not safe either. You just manage the situation while you can.”

I think it through for some seconds, the risks I’m putting myself and Carrie in, the headaches for my security detail, for the press around here. . . But heck, I was going to stay by Carrie’s side either way, whether someone ordered me or not, so I guess this works better for everyone. As long as I don’t have to make up any excuses concerning Walden, it’s a win-win.

“Alright,” I accept.

“Oh, and Brody,” Saul adds before I have the time to hung up, “keep me informed on Carrie’s condition.”

“Will do,” I say finally.

I hang up and before my arm falls back to my side, Sam’s already behind me, reaching for the cellphone, respectfully.

“Back to the hotel now, sir?” he asks.

“No can do,” I reply immediately, even when I still don’t know what excuse I can make up in front my security detail. “I’m staying here. Make some rounds. Comfort the injured.”

It’s a lame-ass excuse and I know it; as I turn around, Sam’s astonished and perplexed face was to be expected. Guess I’ll have to do better if I really want to pull this thing before the local press as well.

“Sir?” he repeats, a bit frenzied. Another change in the schedule coming from me--he must be wishing to be moved to someone else's security detail. Plus, this isn't what one'd call a minor modification that doesn't require big adjustments on the protocols.

“That’ll be the official statement,” I resume, glaring at him in the eye, dead serious so he sees I’m not bluffing. “The truth is, there’s a dear friend of mine who’s been injured in the bombing. I want--I need to stay with them. D’you understand?”

He’s still shaken, but apparently the truth works better than any excuse I could pull off. He nods as if to show he understands and he’s ready to deliver.

“Okay, sir,” he says, sullenly.

“And, Sam,” I add before he leaves my side and heads for his men, “I’d appreciate also if this situation and my friend’s name didn’t make it to the papers.”

He nods once more, this time without adding anything--the word ‘discretion’ must be a requirement for being a SS agent, must appear in the job description. Can’t say that I’ve never been disappointed in their work and the warning possibly wasn’t needed, but there’s a first time for everything, and I couldn’t risk it today--not when everyone’s seen the name of the patient I was most eager to visit.

Taking a deep breath, I see how many of my agents leave the corridor, leave my protection, following Sam’s orders. Surely the doctors and nurses have left already, having many other preoccupations and patients at hand. And from now on I can always use the agents from my security detail to guard the room as well. So I don’t even think for a moment longer before bursting into the room.

Carrie’s again tied up to the bed, because she’s still struggling, trying to set free, but not as desperate as before. She’s delivered her message, she can rest assured that her colleagues are working on it right now. Problem is--she wants to be working on that assignment as well. We’ll have to be patient.

“Carrie,” I whisper, taking her hand and sitting by the bed. Her smile reappears upon seeing me, a fact that I don’t know if it breaks me or lifts me. “How’re you doing?”

“What are you doing here?” she demands, turning her head to see if the doctors are around.

“Oh, I just hid inside the closet until the parents left your room,” I reply, winking at her.

An answer and a gesture that somehow make her chuckle. But she still remembers what’s happened and what she should be doing.

“I’ve fulfilled my duties too,” I promise. “I’ve just talked to Saul. They all know now.”

“Good,” she approves, nodding her head few times quickly. But she doesn’t seem content at all--she wants to be in.

“All you can do is sit tight and try to relax,” I remind her, painfully, judging by the wrinkle in her eyes and the face she pulls. I know she doesn’t like it, no more than I do. I also want her back on her feet, working, it just cannot be for the moment. “I’ll stay here with you in the meantime, OK? Think we can both get some sleep? I just flew in from the US--I’m beat. You can't really tell me you're not.”

 

Chapter Text

“Come on, Marine, you’re falling behind!!”

“Oh, man. Give me a break.”

She walks at a vigorous step up the path, nimble to surpass the challenges of the excursion. Now and then she climbs to a rock and jumps to another, she then kneels to avoid hitting a low branch, or takes a mild jump to one side to the other of a stream, and sometimes she starts humming along a cheerful bird’s chirping, all without losing her broad smile and joyful disposition, as if the steepness of the hill were nothing to her. Some yards behind Carrie, a distance further each passing minute, I follow her slower, the fastest I can manage today, with heavy step, deep panting--not enjoying the stroll as much as her.

“Jesus Christ--you never told me you wanted to train for the K-2!” I scowl.

“Didn’t I? That’s one of my childhood dreams!” replies her, chuckling audibly, not a little bit out of breath.

“I can see,” I whisper.

I come to a halt, hands on my waist, needing to get some air in my lungs for a change, sweating dripping from my forehead.

Carrie only realizes I’ve stopped when she doesn’t hear my heavy steps anymore, sinking into the dry, fallen tree leaves covered ground. Up on a rock, she turns around to peer through the trees, seeing me standing in the middle of the path, panting, my face and torso covered in sweat--my T-shirt darker on the chest and armpit areas. The image makes her grin; hadn’t expected this coming from me.

“Up you go, Marine!!” she yells. “This is nothing compared to your training.”

That undeniable truth hits me hard; I sigh and shut my eyes, pushing away some particular memory from my military training days that I’m not keen to remember--I’ve suffered much worse since then. It’s quite incredible, really; it’s been only a month since we were both in a hospital in Dhaka, after a bombing from a drone of unknown origin--they haven’t figured it out, yet--had hit the place Carrie’d expected to capture Abu Nazir. And now, there she is, demanding why I, a former Marine, am so slow while climbing up a simple hill. I could say I’m taking it easy on her, shouldn’t push her so soon after that traumatic experience, but I’d be lying. She’s recovered faster and easier than I’d expected--even faster than Carrie’s sister had predicted in the first place. She’s said repeatedly it’s because of me, and that’s why she’s taking me out on an excursion today, but I knows she’s just joking, messing with my head and heart.

“Let’s just say I’ve lost practice,” I scowl, indirectly referring to a matter we both wish, though never hope, we could forget--my time in captivity and coming back process, a full recovery still pending, to be honest. “It’s been years.”

Knowing tiredness is transforming into bad mood, Carrie tries another angle to keep me moving.

“Aren’t Marines supposed to be ready to provide a balanced, prepared force in major crime combats anytime they’re asked?”

It wasn’t really a question and she’s proven so by my answer, dropping my head in defeat.

“Thank God I’m not a Reserve Marine; we’d lose a battle per day.”

“Oh, please, Brody, a 5-year-old kid could climb this mountain faster than you. Can you imagine what it’d be like to do this with the whole army gear?, weapon included?”

This hits a nerve. I raise my head right up, stone cold eyes, jaw clinched tight, eyebrows frowned as I glare menacingly, though never truly frightening, at Carrie. As a response, her grins broadens, knowing she’s managed her goal.

“D’you want to see for yourself how this Marine carries you all the way up to the top on his shoulders? ‘Cause he will if you don’t shut up.”

“Boy, wouldn’t that be something to see.”

“You asked for it,” I scowls.

With an energy and impulse I really doesn’t know where it comes from, faster than Carrie’d thought possible of me after this disastrous morning, I dash forward and within a couple strides I’m close to Carrie’s spot. Giggling, she starts running too, escaping from my hands by mere inches. She doesn’t realize I fall behind quickly and keeps running up the hill, as easily as if she were simply walking down her house street.

I try my very best, I really do, but it still takes me about twenty minutes more than Carrie to get to the hill top. When I finally reach the top, breaking the quiet with my panting and heavy steps than can barely hold me, I find Carrie peacefully sitting on a rock and leaning against a tree, half-turned towards me, her bag forgotten on the ground, some feet apart. That woman’d be the most magnificent painting around here if it weren’t for the scenery behind her.

Feels like the world is under our feet. We’ve--well, Carrie, actually--picked a weekday, so the tour is pretty much to ourselves, and the autumn season has painted the trees in every shade of red, brown, orange colors, the mid-day sun bathing it all, a chilly breeze rummaging through the trees and leaves, effectively avoiding me a heat stroke.

Yes, it was all worth it, I think, inhaling deeply, any bad humor or tiredness disappearing for real--at least it’s downhill on the way back. I’ve managed to get her out for a day, to force her to rest for all of twenty-four hours, before she’s forced to hit again the Abu Nazir front. Before I’ve got to go back to Walden, pretend to be his lapdog, lead him by the hand, do and say whatever he wants me to; in one word, all I have to do is be Walden’s puppy and poster boy for him to get the White House.

No. I’m not spoiling this day with such thoughts. Today’s our day out; we only have to take it easy, breathe deeply and forget the rest. No work, no clouds on the horizon, no dark and unknown future ahead of us. Just each other at the top of this hill, pretend the world’s at our feet, a whole world filled with endless possibilities. Cheap crap that comes too easy to imagine.

Maybe noticing my change of heart and attitude, Carrie stands up and steps closer to me; I open my arms and hug her by the shoulders, keeping her tight against my chest, not wanting to let her go--no-one minds my sweaty T-shirt. I kiss her hair briefly, still needing some time to catch my breath for real, before resting my head there, breathing the same air, contemplating the same amazing scenery.

At some point, Carrie turns her head to look at me instead of the natural reserve forest at her feet.

“Bet I can tell what you’re thinking,” says she some minutes later.

I let out a loud, good laughter, my head falling backwards, almost dragging her with me. It’s been a while since I’ve last laughed at something, since I found anything funny or enjoyable anymore. Yet, she’s the one who helps me see that and, so she tells me, I help her.

“I’d be at disadvantage; you read people for a living,” I scoff.

“Let’s call it only a mild guess,” suggests Carrie, smiling as well, hitting me on the chest to make me stop laughing at her, ‘cause that’s what I’m doing, to be completely honest.

I flash a broad grin, giving in to her, as she’d predicted.

“Fine,” I accept, nodding to allow her to proceed.

However, she takes some seconds, still looking at me, while I keep staring before me, in order not to catch her eye and get even more nervous--I really don’t know what she’ll come up with now. Some of her predictions can get scary.

“This is a perfect spot,” starts Carrie, her whispers barely audible, only for me to hear, “and the perfect day. You feel better out here than anywhere else, better than many days past, or even months; as if you belonged out here. Finally--you’re thinking about bringing Dana and Chris out here some day soon.”

I don’t say anything for some long seconds. Me clearing my throat is the only sign I make to prove that I truly listened to her and, moreover, understood what she’s said. In the end, I take a very deep breath, my eyes squinting and that very brief smile, the only indicators that she was right; seconds before I can gain the strength to look down on her. I caress her back as a peace-making gesture.

“How’d you know?” I asks slowly, not as hurt as Carrie feared I’d be.

She cocks her head, pondering if using the traditional, baffling and pet-phrase answer in the form of “can’t explain my methods” coming from an intelligence officer that she sometimes pulls off and simply irritates me, but she responds eventually.

“That’s how I’m feeling,” she confesses, a smile appearing at the last words.

I laugh again, at ease once more knowing we’re on the exact same page where our feelings and thoughts are concerned--if nothing else--shifting my weight and dragging Carrie with me, who refuses to let me go just yet, exactly how I feel about releasing her anytime soon.

“I see,” I laugh. “Though you got one point wrong.”


“Oh, really?” she demands, disbelieving, cocking her head. “Do tell.”

This time I do look down at her while I’m speaking, giving her some space so we can both gaze right into each other’s eyes, see the easiness, the tenderness, the--affection. Using any other word would be crazy and would definitely bring bad luck to us.

“I don’t want to come here with my kids. I’m perfectly splendid like this, here with you.”

Both our smiles broaden as she leans in again, resting against my chest, and I caress her back once more, confirming silently my words, breathing in the fresh, cold air. An escape like this is exactly what we need from time to time: a day out, a day off from everything. Even if things are better with each other into our lives, things are not easy either--feels like e should schedule an excursion such as this one from time to time, to get away from all the troubles and headaches, just to keep living. If we last that long together, of course; but it’s something I need to keep in mind.

“Well,” says Carrie some minutes later, stepping away from me, “let’s eat, shall we?”

“Hey, hold on,” I demand, letting my backpack fall to the ground, rolling up my T-shirt sleeves and rubbing my hands onto the trousers. “I’ve already let down the whole of the Marine Corps already this morning. A campfire, I can take care of. You can just take it easy from now.”

After all, the idea of taking a day off, literally, away from D.C. and our work and bosses, without even cell-phones, a day to disconnect from the painful reality, was my idea, thinking it’d suit her after that disaster in Dhaka. So I better start pull my weight in here and act like the gentleman I promised I’d be some months back in Carrie’s cabin.