It begins with Quinn.
The headache begins during their tense silence in the car.
It doesn’t make sense, this headache that is increasing in magnitude every few minutes. She had even taken extra pills before entering the sleek black SUV. The pain is exactly what she needs on such a critical day in their mission, she thinks sarcastically.
Shit, what a shitstorm of problems.
Her newest asset had been murdered by his insurgent uncle, Haissam Haqqani, who then revealed that he had kidnapped Saul. Somehow Saul had gone from the relative safety of an international airport into the clutches of Haqqani himself. The sight of a bedraggled Saul via the drone cameras had saved Haqqani’s sorry ass.
Blood rushes to her head as she thinks about how she had let Saul down. And Aayan. I mean, the kid told me he freaking loved me.
Some of her colleagues (those prudish assholes who believed in “traditional” recruitment methods, such as blackmail) might raise their eyebrows at her personal tactics, but Carrie really feels for each asset in the field. She puts herself in each one, infusing them with some of her drive and heart.
Her conscience is wrestling with the rational argument that Aayan Ibrahim was the nephew of a well-known terrorist on the run. Nobody could have been more of a wildcard.
Or a more unusual choice of lover.
Underneath the safe house’s musty sheets, Aayan had a touch that was both clumsy and methodical. He kissed eagerly, with the underlying awkwardness of a young animal that had found itself in an unfamiliar furrow. Carrie had to be a little bit charmed by the way he slyly gazed at her slim wrists, as if admiring a piece of art.
Now he was gone.
This isn’t the first time that Carrie has had to deal with this type of loss. It shouldn’t hurt so much. It was feigned intimacy, the fake relationship she had developed with Aayan. It was all part of her plan.
A plan that got absolutely fucked up.
Carrie closes her eyes and rubs her aching forehead, willing the aching to fade so she could think clearly about her next step. Her skin is moist to the touch, unaccustomed to the humid air in Islamabad. (She never carries facial wipes around; her to-do list is too long to include something so trivial.)
She doubts the aspirin in her bag is going to relieve a headache this harsh. Carrie is going to have to tough it out.
But shit, this is going to be a long day. Carrie knows she’s not going to take a break until Saul is safe and in her sight.
She senses Quinn turn his focus from the road, noticing her fatigue.
“You asleep?” he asks quietly.
The Agency car is a spacious one, but Carrie feels a little trapped, alone with Quinn. She knows that he wants to talk about the events of yesterday. He wants to close the gap between them.
“Hardly.” Carrie takes some calming breaths.
Quinn withdraws his gaze from her. “You’re going to have to talk to me sooner or later,” he replies dispassionately.
Fuck, back to this subject again. With her throbbing head, Carrie is hardly up to a heart-to-heart chat. “I get what you did what you did,” she snaps.
“Oh, you do?” Carrie can hear an edge developing in Quinn’s measured tone.
“Yeah,” she asserts. “Which doesn’t mean I think you were right.”
They argue about Haqqani and Saul, about what Saul would have done had he been in their impossible situation. Kill Haqqani and Saul, or let them escape together?
Saul, with that fucking cold-blooded killer of an uncle.
A few hours ago, Carrie had been so sure of her original decision: Kill them both.
Quinn had halted that action.
“It’s Saul down there. Saul!” he had snarled, seizing her by the arms as he swung her away from the drone footage screen. His face had been close to hers as he shouted in her face. Quinn’s red-rimmed eyes had been filled with conviction that matched her own.
Carrie can’t help but be bitter about someone abruptly questioning her judgement, stopping her plans in motion. She is always the most action-oriented person in the room. Inaction was something she never understood. Carrie thrives on deciding, moving forward, executing a plan --
-- and dealing with the consequences, she has to admit.
First there was her Iraqi translator (hung from a bridge), then Brody (executed by the Iranians), and now Aayan (shot by his uncle). Hell, her portfolio has several other assets and informants that her mind doesn’t want to linger on. Cruel and unfortunate murders. All for the bigger picture, the greater cause.
Could Carrie live with sending another man to his death? What if that next man is Saul, her mentor?
Quinn was right, she grudgingly admits in her head. I can’t do that to Saul.
“Truth is I’m grateful for not having him on my conscience too. I feel shitty enough about Aayan as it is,” mutters Carrie.
She’s throwing him a bone, she knows, but Quinn knows that her admission is Carrie-speak for “thanks.”
He glances at her again, but Carrie isn’t going to give him any facial cues of gratefulness.
She wants to be alone with her thoughts. She wants out of this car, away from Quinn and the cloud of doubt he had cast.
Carrie’s headache hasn’t faded by the time they reach Benazir Bhutto International.
The stimuli in the crowded room force her senses into high alert. The IT guy clanging his spoon on his mug of coffee (or tea, or whatever the hell they drank around here) a desk away vexes her over-sensitive ears.
It doesn’t help when she sees that the airport tapes are disappointing. It’s truly pathetic, the surveillance system here -- or is it a failed ply to gain the CIA’s confidence?
Help from the ISI? Please. After all of his promises at the Embassy, Aasar Khan had taken to shooting down her theories and dodging her questions.
They clearly have something to hide.
“You warned them that we were coming, didn’t you?” she questions Khan.
“You heard me, what have they done with the evidence?”
A snap in the corner alerts Carrie to a shifty-looking security guard, preparing to walk out of the room with a non-descript briefcase.
They clearly have something to hide.
Without waiting for a response from Khan, Carrie darts after the guard.
“Hey, where’s he going? Hey! Excuse me!” she shouts after him. The man turns back, immediately looking guilty at her inquiry.
“What’s in the briefcase?” she demands.
“Nothing,” the guard responds, confused, looking towards Khan for -- what? Support? Instructions?
“Nothing?” Carrie repeats mockingly. “Empty? It doesn’t look empty to me.” She’s speaking frantically. Her heart is racing, racing with the possibility that she may have something here.
“Just some papers,” stammers the guard.
Khan interrupts Carrie as she opens her mouth again: “Trust me. Nobody here is hiding anything.”
He pauses, for emphasis. “You have my word.”
What exactly is Khan’s word worth? “Prove it.” Carrie practically spits out the two words. It’s hilarious, she thinks, and she sniggers a little, half-amusement and half-frustration.
Khan and the guard are beat. Khan gestures the other man to open his briefcase.
Carrie leans over to inspect the contents and she is sincerely amazed to see that the briefcase only contains a newspaper and a box lunch. She looks up to search the guard’s face. Guilt? Does he look guilty? Back to Khan. Unreadable. Is he playing a trick?
Carrie becomes aware of a smooth movement behind her back: it’s Quinn, licking his lips and looking away. She had forgotten he was there; the man is a shadow, dogging her every step. Quinn hadn’t said a word defending her, or contributed anything during the entire conversation.
She knows that he’s embarrassed by her out-of-touch accusations, her conviction lost in the wind. But Carrie never gets embarrassed.
She’s only befuddled by how her instincts -- almost always so right -- led her to this dead-end.
The pain is now fucking unreal. It is nothing like the migraines she used to experience at Langley.
Time is running out for Saul, she knows. At the CIA meeting, she declares that they need to rescue him tonight, before Haqqani’s group leave their known location.
It’s not a popular idea.
Quinn fires back: It’s an operation that would take weeks of planning.
Redmond disagrees with her: Another operation in a nearby area lost dozens of men.
And Lockhart thrives on shooting ideas down, so no chance of support there.
“So you’re saying, Saul’s fucked? And we do -- what, just give up? Go get a fucking drink, maybe?” She spits at Redmond and his pessimism. “Cause we need to figure this out. What are we doing, just talking to myself here --”
“Hey!” Lockhart interrupts. “What’s gotten into you?”
Carrie swings her attention towards Lockhart. He has a slightly puzzled expression on his face that she doesn’t immediately recognize.
It takes a few seconds for Carrie to register that Lockhard looks concerned. Not concerned as in concerned about how he might strike back against a perceived insult, but concerned about her.
“Uh. Nothing.” Carrie is taken aback, flustered by Lockhart’s halt to her rant.
“Nothing,” she says again. She hisses. She shakes her head. “Nothing,” she repeats more softly, with less certainty.
“We all get the sticks here!”
“Right,” she is quick to agree. She nods quickly, the diplomatic up-and-down bobbing motion disguising her doubt. She hopes it does, anyway. “I know.”
She huffs in and out through her teeth again.
She looks away.
She can feel the team tense themselves, shifting uneasily as they watch her anger fizzle out.
She can feel Quinn’s concern without looking at him. She can’t fucking stand his sensitivity right now.
Before he has a chance to say anything -- to defend her, to offer her a breather -- Carrie announces that she’ll need a minute.
“Take ten!” Lockhart is frowning, still surprised at her outburst. “Take whatever you need!”
“‘K, thank you,” she mutters as she briskly exits the room, refusing to meet Quinn’s attentive eyes.
Carrie needs her meds.
She has to cling onto the bed for balance. Her breathing is out of control. She can feel her whole body shaking, but worst of all is the pounding in her head.
How long has it been since she sat down? A minute? Ten minutes? When is she heading back to the ops room again?
“Fuck,” she gasps. She spreads herself onto the bed. Her eyes scan the ceiling until her head almost involuntarily falls to her left side. She sinks into the softness of the mattress. She clutches a corner of the bedspread over her mouth. Fuck fuck fuck. The cool cloth -- she can feel it, but the touch is barely perceptible. She can feel the cool sweat dampen her chest, underneath the tightness of her shirt. The hot breath collects underneath the bedspread.
She shuts her eyes.
Alone, for once.
It feels like no time has passed before Carrie’s phone rings. “Hello,” she says in the softest voice she’s ever heard come out of her mouth.
It’s Max calling. Thank god, it’s not Quinn. Carrie palms her face momentarily and looks towards the carpet. The problem. Focus on the problem. Respond to Max.
“What time is it?” she has to ask. She peers at her own watch and she can’t read it. Her eyesight is shifting in and out of focus. It’s as if her whole arm is swinging the watch back and forth, even though she is sure her arm is stationary.
The whole world is a fucking mindfield. She brushes her long hair back.
Max gives her the information she needs. She ends the call.
Carrie stumbles her way back to her bathroom and takes another pill.
She’s desperate for this to work. She packs extra medicine, for later.
This is how she likes it. Doing what needs to be done alone: no one else to screw the job up.
Carrie walks down a dim hallway.
She’s gasping for breath, but it’s barely noticeable since she’s almost running -- she’s in a hurry. She swings a scarf over her head and around her shoulders.
She passes underneath a long light. The buzzing is loud and painful. As bright as the light itself. It stings her eyes; it irritates her ears. Carrie can’t help but examine it cautiously as she zips by.
She’s a little unsteady on her feet. The door she shuts on the way out is surprisingly heavy.
Focus, Carrie. Look down the hallway. Scan the surroundings for any suspicious movements or sounds.
The Urdu music in the store she passes -- a man bellowing in sorrow, was it? -- echoes in her ears.
“Do you -- do you know what this medicine is?”
She’s stammering. She wrestles with the nurse, Aayan’s little girlfriend; Carrie needs to make her take her questions seriously.
“Her name is… shit! Fuck, fuck, what’s her name? Do you -- d’you -- FUCK! Do you KNOW this nurse, this nurse who sold --”
She’s jittery, her mind is slipping away from her.
Carrie’s jabbing her finger. She needs to make her gestures big, to make sure they’re comprehensible. She’s accustomed to being not taken seriously -- but it is absolutely critical that Kiran needs to understand how important a little clue can help.
A hospital security guard shouts at them. It makes no sense at all, but the hospital guard is Quinn.
What the fuck.
Why is he always trying to get in her way? Sure, he thinks he’s protecting her, but all he’s doing is slowing her down and Kiran is running away --
“I need you to leave, please.” He waves an accusatory finger at her. It seems to drift quickly upwards and slowly down.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” she snarls, trying to rip his grip on her arms.
“Okay, I am trying really hard to be patient here and I really don’t want to hurt you.“ His fiery pleads are echoing through the grimy hall.
“Oh, because you care for me?” Carrie is sensing a trap. Emotional blackmail? She doesn’t need his bullshit. She can get the job done on her own.
And she will.
She knows she will. She doesn’t want Quinn here.
“I have to listen to that shit all over again,” she barks.
It’s harsh, but it’s the truth.
“You’re leaving me no choice.” He wraps his arms around her (to restrain her, not to comfort her).
Fuck this mayhem! The world doesn’t understand that Saul was in danger; the world doesn’t understand Carrie’s sense of urgency.
Carrie trashes with all her strength.
“Get your hands off me!”
She stamps on his foot and knocks an elbow into his face. He’s still clutching her hand despite her force, but Carrie kicks him one last time so she can dash off. Who cares where the kick lands. It feels like it was his face, but she hopes that she kicked his balls too.
Kick him where it really hurts.
She enters a loud bazaar.
Lonely in a crowd of strangers.
Her scarf has fallen off sometime during her hospital encounter, but fuck it. Or maybe it is still swinging behind her shoulders. All she knows is that the top of her head feels cooler in the crisp evening air.
What is she looking for? Where is the clue? She needs the clue.
She’s beginning to hobble. That kick really took it out of her leg -- she might have a bruised toe. She tastes something vile coming up her throat. Liquid. Sour. Bitter. It spills out of her mouth and she has to lean over to release it.
She hears mutterings around her. Concern. Worry. Angst.
What she would do to leave that crowd behind, leave behind her own concern, worry, and angst.
She looks up, sees a man shouting at her. She nods at him, instinctually. Yes, she owes him (what, what was it?) something, but she isn’t going to pay now.
She turns away.
Her breathing slows down, thankfully. She knows she’s close.
She hears a car behind her, honking and requesting room to pass.
But she knows better. This car has been searching for her. Stalking her.
The car! It’s the same car! The car whose windows were smashed. The man who was watching the car, watching the scene where Sandy was stomped to death by the crazy mob.
(That can’t be right.)
It’s honking. She has to run. She has to get away. She’s always managed to get away.
Her pace of breathing quickens as her legs move faster, her arms swing wider. It’s her breathing. She’s focusing on it, but not losing sight of the big picture --
She runs into someone. Someone who could hurt her. A large man who merely makes a face and brushes her off, like a cow flicking a mosquito away.
The car is approaching again.
Shit! She’s wasting so much time -- time feels like it’s slipping by so quickly, her body is so slow, her mind is so foggy -- how can she battle the arrow of time?
A motorcycle zips by and she is knocked to the ground by the momentum.
Carrie looks back, ready to confront. It’s her last option. It’s her only choice.
The car has stopped.
She can see the shadows of the men inside, staring at her, discussing what they were going to do with her.
One thing to do now.
Whisk out her gun and shoot.
The gun is unbelievably loud. Her ears feel as if they were cracked by a whip. She feels satisfied as her pursuers pass out onto the ground, bleeding. Two shouts of agony and down they went.
Police sirens are coming closer to her. She spins around and jerks out her gun again -- wait, where was her gun?
There she is, standing in the middle of the street, watched by hundreds of passerby mystified by this foreign blonde lady -- there she is, pointing a fucking finger at the police car that is rapidly approaching her.
Crap. Did she shoot? Can she shoot now?
She looks at her hand: no gun. No gun, but she would never drop such a weapon.
It feels as if an earthquake is rumbling in her head.
Time slows down. It feels like it is returning to her.
She turns around and sees that a tall dark stranger is approaching her. Fuck! Nowhere to run, she is blocked on both sides by adversaries --
More policemen appear at her side, out of thin air. They grab her. “No!” she shouts. “No no no no -- I’m fine! Let go of me!”
They pin her to the ground. “Fuck! Get off of me!” She starts snivelling manically. Involuntarily, because it’s impossible for her to play the sympathy card here. Foreign, stupid, lost -- would they believe that?
Her mind isn’t capable of making up a story.
She can only blubber half-assed excuses.
The red police lights are blinking, blinding her with crimson light. It looks as if her eyes are bleeding.
The car stops.
Carrie and her abductors (Policemen? Were they?) step out. Carrie’s arms are bound.
“Where -- where are we going?” she splutters. Her voice is faltering; she hates how scared and frightened it sounds.
She does not sound like Carrie Mathison.
Without a word, they rush her towards the glossy door of a looming mansion ahead.
They enter a warm foyer. The men unwrap Carrie’s restraints. She absorbs the hallways. White walls. She’s too dizzy to observe more details.
She is pushed into a handsome study, lit by (thankfully) quiet lights.
She immediately notes the French doors in front of her. Carrie dashes towards the exit, but dogs bark and make their presence known. One dog viciously claws the glass.
She swiftly steps away from that option. There’s another door in the room, a more appealing option. She places a hand on the knob, turns it, and steps through.
Oh, the hallway again (was it?). White looming columns she didn’t notice the first time through. She looks around again for another exit.
A door cracks open above the opulent staircase.
Alone no longer.
Carrie hurries towards a door on her left. She tries to calm her breathing for the thousandth time. Her noisy exhaling might give away her position. Steady, steady, Carrie. She preps herself for the stranger’s encounter.
As soon as the man enters her room, she slams him to the floor, placing as much of her weight on him as possible. She’s lightweight, but the element of surprise is on her side. Just as she’s about to pound his face with a well-positioned fist, a shout rings across the room.
The voice is unmistakably familiar.
How many times has she heard that voice? Not enough. But enough for her to recognize it anywhere.
It was Brody lying beneath her on the plush carpet, Brody who repeated the word.
It couldn’t be. The rational half of her brain knows it can’t be Brody.
“Don’t,” he breathes. His face is so bright. They’re in a darkened room -- how could his face be so clear? She knows all the contours of his face: those thin lips, the surprised gaze he often had when he saw her for the first time in ages --
The red hair, bright as day.
“Oh my god!” Carrie falls back towards the wall, scuttering away from him. “Oh!”
“Hey,” he says steadily. He’s reaching out to her, ready to offer a secure hand.
Just like Quinn would. Pretend it’s Quinn. Pretend it’s Quinn.
“No,” she pants. She crawls away from him, pawing on the carpet to get any sort of distance from the man --
He is quick to follow, trying to grab her, trying to steady her -- but she doesn’t need the help, she just needs to get away from this --
What is this, exactly? What is he? Is she dreaming? Is her mind playing tricks on her again?
She knows from experience that her head can’t be trusted. Or is it her eyes this time?
Crap, now she really wished that it was Quinn instead of --
“Don’t be scared -- ”
“Get the fuck away from me,” she snarls. She’s blocked by the sofa behind her. No -- she’s not completely helpless, no way. Carrie covers her eyes with her hands. It’s her eyes; her eyes are the problem. Shut them, erase the sight.
“You’re safe here!”
She’s wheezing out of control again. Breathe in, breathe out. Fuck. Fuck her lungs, fuck her eyes, fuck her fucking body. Her body was failing her.
Where the hell is Quinn when he’s actually needed for once --
“C’mon, Carrie! C’mon!” Brody’s voice is reedy. Strange yet familiar: that tone his voice took when he was insistent sometimes.
“AUUGH, AUGGGH!” A half-growl, half-whimper erupted from her throat. What was that noise? It sounded like a wounded animal; it didn’t sound like fucking Carrie Mathison.
Someone needed to slap her awake.
“Carrie, Carrie, look at me,” says Brody persistently, wanting to be seen, wanting to be real. Carrie can barely hear him over the moaning from her own mouth.
“C’mon, show me those eyes,” he says, more tenderly. Even though the voice is soft, she can hear the words. As clear as day.
She feels a hand gently brush the side of her face. The touch only lasts for a moment, but she knows -- she knows that hand. It makes no sense, Carrie tells herself, but she knows it to be true.
“Open those eyes.”
The same hand lightly grips her own hand, chiding it to fall from her face. Her hand is her shield, her shield from reality.
The reality gazing from the eyes that suddenly appeared before her own.
His face is lined, but unchanged. His eyes are gentle, but still probing.
She feels defenseless.
Brody had always been able to look at her as if he could truly see her. Her weak self. The insecure soul that she could hide from her colleagues, hide from the rest of the world. But Brody could always break that self-assured CIA professional persona that hid the real Carrie, like a stone shattering glass.
“See, see, I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispers, mustering a slight smile.
“No, I’m --”
She’s about to respond, but she knocks her head with both her hands. “FUCK! Wake up!” she screams to herself.
Brody grabs both of her arms and growls, “Stop it! Cut it out!”
“No,” she replies firmly. It’s the calmest she’s felt for a while. She inhales deeply, because what she will say will be devastating:
“I was there. I saw you. You were dead.”
He gazes at her openly. He has that optimistic look, the one that could nod alongside her, but secretly thinks: Jesus, this woman is fucking mental.
“Your mind is playing tricks on you, you’ve had a rough night,” he says soothingly, like a nurse treating a child frightened by a needle.
“A rough night, are you FUCKING kidding me --”
“It’s over now,” he declares. “It’s over, I’m here. Right here.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” mutters Carrie. She crawls a few feet away, but again, he’s still at her side.
“What happened?” He breathes in her face. “Is this so hard to believe?”
They sit in near-silence, only interrupted by their harsh inhalations and exhalations. Carrie’s lower lip trembles.
“I -- I do,” she says falteringly, shaking her head. “I want, I w-want to believe.”
“Then do,” he says simply.
Carrie draws a ragged breath. She can’t cry; she would lose what little of her self-control she had left. Tears are already streaming down her cheeks.
“Here,” he murmurs, placing her hand on his cheek. “See?”
The cheek is real. Brody is real.
She reaches out her other hand to caress his left cheek. “You,” she croaks.
“Yes,” he whispers.
“It’s you. It’s really you.”
“Yes. Yes, it’s me.”
A cry of happiness. She leans forward, to touch his lips with hers -- to make sure they are real. His lips are dry, but they kissed her back.
Carrie lets out another ragged cry as she leans her head on his neck and clutches him. She senses another cry is coming, but snuffs it -- she needs to kiss him. Kiss him on both of his cheeks and the side of his face, swiftly.
Carrie has never wanted to feel closer to another human being. Those tears that ran down her cheek when she made love to Aayan: she was reminded of the intimacy that she and Brody had together. The air of accepted mystery that bonded them.
That intimacy was something she and Aayan couldn’t share.
Carrie and Brody snapped at each other as they discovered the dirty details they hid from one another. They fought, they flirted, they fucked.
They could create another world of their own. An intimate space, separate from the harsh reality of their real identities: Carrie Mathison, bipolar CIA officer, disgraced at various points of her career; Nicholas Brody, returned war hero, later traitor to his own country.
They delighted in the short time they had together: away from his watchful family, away from the crushing pressures of DC. Brody always savored every small moment they had together.
But this feels different.
When the kiss ends, nothing follows. The urgency -- the passion -- is missing.
Carrie backs away slightly, overcome with another possibility.
“Why are you so cold?” she wonders aloud.
He’s more guarded now, more cautious, she realizes. His face seems farther away, as if he kneeled up to tower over her.
“You’re mad at me,” she concludes quietly.
“Yes, you are,” she says, already convinced.
“I’m not,” he responds, more firmly.
“Yes, you hate me.”
He’s grimacing now.
“You’ve come back to punish me for what I’ve done.”
“You’re not making sense --”
“I’m making perfect sense,” she says quickly, her voice climbing in volume. “And maybe you’re right, maybe, maybe t-that is the awful truth. Maybe I just need to say it out loud.”
“Say what?” he questions, cocking his head.
“I was willing to let you die.”
“Listen to me, I don’t know what you’re talking about. No one has died.”
She’s crumbling, her self-assurance lasting only a fleeting minute.
“Hey, hey,” he says soothingly above her. “Come here, come here.”
He strokes her hair, pulling her head towards his face. She can feel his warm breath, heavy next to her damp cheek. They embrace as she begins sobbing. He runs one hand across her upper back, the other around her hip.
He feels so real.
“I’m here, you’re safe,” he whispers reassuringly to her.
She wants to curl around him, to make sure every single part of him was real. She’s twitching, convulsing, every muscle on fire. She’s so tired, so tired of running from everyone.
“Oh, Brody,” she sobs into his neck. “Brody, Brody.”
She needs someone -- anyone -- to let her know that she wasn’t alone in the world.
Hell, if her heart is telling her that this is Brody, what right did her mind have to deny that fantasy? He was the only person in the world who ever made her feel less alone.
Carrie doesn’t care whether Brody is real or not. Her head is spinning so fast that nothing really mattered.
Her breathing slows down.
Nothing matters tonight.
Her strength fades.
She can feel her consciousness slipping away.
She thinks: I was wrong. I was so wrong.
There was always Quinn who...
She falls asleep before she completes this thought.