"I have," Kepler offers, a long few minutes after the door to their cell slammed shut and the footsteps of their captors receded out of earshot, "a knife on me."
"How'd you swing that," Jacobi says, rather than asks. Her fists are tightly clenched in their plastic ties at the small of her back and her eyes are locked on the far wall. Maybe if she hates strongly enough in its general direction she can blast a hole in it.
"Pocket in the lining. I can't reach it on my own, though."
Jacobi sighs and scoots closer to Kepler, as far as the tie connecting her to the bench will let her go. The other thing about these stooges is an apparent confidence in their own systems; once they’d gotten Kepler and herself bundled into the cell, they hadn’t bothered with posting a guard. They have a little room to maneuver as long as they don’t make too much of a racket. "Where is it?"
The too-pleased-with-herself rumble in Kepler’s voice is disgusting. "In the band of my bra." Smart. Probably tucked in under her arm where it could be mistaken for an underwire on a casual patdown, easily accessible if she had her hands free but she’d just be bruising her wrists yanking on the cuffs for it. There’s no way Kepler’s getting her own hands anywhere near it, but if Jacobi twists around a little she might be able to pull it out. The zip ties pinning their hands are flimsy - she could probably break them over her knee, if they were cuffed in the front.
The muscles in Jacobi’s arms burn as she shifts on the bench to get her hands closer to Kepler. At this angle the plastic is digging sharply into her skin. It’s deeply awkward, but Kepler manages to hunch down enough that Jacobi can tug her shirt up and find the ridge of metal in the band, and the neat little seam it slides out of. Kepler’s skin is startlingly warm and soft under her fingertips, and she’s grateful that her face is turned away. She can write the flush of her cheeks off to exertion, at least in her own mind; Kepler sees right through her and snorts.
“Kindly keep focused for a few minutes, Miss Jacobi.”
“Got it.” Jacobi grunts and fumbles the blade around in her hand until she’s got a good enough angle to work the zip ties over it. It really is sharp - Kepler carries this around against her skin? - and it only takes a moment for the ties to snap and her shoulders to relax. She rolls them out for a second and then turns to remove Kepler’s conds and pass back her knife. Kepler rubs the blood back into her wrists and gives their makeshift cell a calculating look.
The warehouse is squirreled away in a shipping yard, and the whole thing smells like dead fish and seawater and rust and despair. When their cover had been blown, they’d been hauled through the main body of the operation and up into what was probably originally an office, converted into a holding room. Jacobi’d counted six people on their way in, including the two doing the hauling. Not the worst hand they’d ever been dealt. She’s still going to kill whatever moron did the intel on this place and got them captured in the first place.
“What about the door?” she asks. “Fake a seizure and hope they’re terminally gullible enough to come inside so we can jump them?”
“Jacobi,” Kepler sighs, like she’s disappointed. “They already missed the knife. You think they caught the lockpick?”
It takes Kepler all of five minutes to retrieve the lockpick she apparently keeps tucked inside the sole of her boot and pop the door lock with a satisfying click, and Jacobi spends the time looming anxiously over her shoulder, thinking wistfully of her confiscated gun and trying not to notice the casual dishevelment of Kepler’s usually neat hair and the way she hasn’t bothered to tuck her shirt back into her belt yet. There’s a slight smear of blood under her nostrils and she’s going to have a hell of a black eye once the bruise has had time to properly set in.
Jacobi is probably imagining the way her fingers still tingle where they’d brushed against Kepler’s ribcage, felt the sweat-damp fabric of her bra and the steadiness of her breath beneath.
Kepler stands up and backs against the wall next to the door, waits for Jacobi to mirror her on the other side before she pushes the door open with a quiet rasp. They freeze for a moment, two, three, and then - when no one shouts and no sounds of alarm come from the narrow aisles between the shipping containers - slip through, carefully closing the door behind them.
They duck behind a container and Kepler presses too-close against Jacobi’s side in the shadows. Above them on the upper loft of the warehouse, distant footsteps cross from one side to the other.
“So, Miss Jacobi.” Kepler’s voice is blandly conversational and the look on her face is altogether too casual. Jacobi’s got a couple inches of height on her but she’s suddenly feeling like she should be on her knees right about now. “Now that we’ve got a moment, care to explain why you jeopardized the mission?”
“I - the guy had a gun to your head, sir. Is this really a good time for this? Can you maybe ream me out when we’re not still in the middle of hostile territory?” Jacobi hisses back. Kepler’s eyebrow tilts and inappropriate heat rushes into Jacobi’s stomach. Normally when Kepler looks at her like that, Jacobi’s wearing considerably less clothing.
“Your cover hadn’t been broken yet, but you chose to surrender your weapon and get yourself captured.”
“Gun. Head. Yours.” The image flits past her mind’s eye again; a contractor with a rough hand gripping Kepler’s jacket, the muzzle of a Glock 17 pressed against her temple. So she’d fucking panicked a little.
“I had it under control. Do you know why I brought you along on this mission rather than Maxwell?”
Jacobi’s head hurts a little and she can’t tell if it’s from where she got slammed against a wall in the process of being dragged into the makeshift cell or if it’s the way Kepler is blithely steering this conversation away from her. She presses her palm against the cool metal of the shipping container. Gun. Head. Yours.
“Because I’m a good operative and you know you can rely on me,” she bites out with as much sarcasm she can cram into a whisper. Kepler leans up beside her and her profile is chiseled stone.
“Exactly, Miss Jacobi. Because I can rely on you to do what you’re told. Which didn’t include throwing this whole mission into the can over a minor derailment.”
“I was dealing with an evolving circumstance, sir.” The phrase is a quote Kepler likes to deploy at her, in an inflection obviously borrowed from Cutter. Probably inscribed in one of the manuals and flowcharts and protocols that Goddard is always spitting up like, if they can just codify enough rules to cover every possible situation, their employees will stop with the inconvenient free will.
“That’s not what I asked you to do, Daniel.” Kepler never calls Jacobi by her first name in the field, or anywhere remotely tied to Goddard. Daniel is reserved for her apartment, crushed up against her shoulder in a desperate rush after a mission, panted into the hot air between them, doled out when Jacobi is on her back and begging.
Jacobi remembers that one of the contractors had ended up with a gun to her head, too. “I understand, sir,” and she thinks she’s got it right this time; Kepler keeps looking forward but the angle of her mouth changes just slightly.
From the far side of the warehouse, doors grate open and someone outside calls to someone else. She can pick out what sounds like a heavy truck moving over gravel. Jacobi forcibly tows her train of thought back onto the tracks and makes a mental inventory. The two of them, more or less intact. Kepler’s little not-a-shiv. And somewhere in this maze, their objective, a prototype small enough someone was able to stuff it in a box with the contents of their desk and walk out with it even with an armed security escort. Cutter had been particularly ticked off about that during the briefing
“We should get moving, they won’t forget about us forever. What’s the play?” Jacobi asks.
“The mission is still ongoing. Retrieval was the preferred outcome, but I think we can settle for just keeping Cutter’s toys out of someone else’s hands at this point.”
“What else are they moving here, anyway?” she wonders. The shipping containers are packed tightly in preparation to be loaded on the harbor. She can pick out the distant sounds of movement on the far side of the warehouse and squashes herself deeper into the shadows.
“The buyer is a private contractor doing military R&D. Firearms, most likely, but previous intel couldn’t confirm,” says Kepler. She’s looking critically up at the catwalk to the upper level, the garish yellow gantry cranes up on the ceiling. Jacobi feels out the door of the shipping container they’re using for cover and finds it unlocked. The metal grinds as she hauls it open by inches, ears straining to hear any shouts in their direction. Nothing but the steady hum of the lights above them and the rumble of a truck outside. She gets the door open wide enough to lean in and look.
It’s better than gun smuggling. Jacobi stares at the contents of the crate. Then she looks back at Kepler. The overhead fluorescents and the smear of blood on her face make her look a little maniacal, and the fact Jacobi finds that as hot as she does is...theoretically concerning. Only a little bit, though.
"So, uh, hypothetically, how important is the 'covert' part of this mission at this stage?”
“Why, Miss Jacobi,” Kepler drawls. “See something you like?”
The warehouse blows with a muted thump that balloons into a roar as it collapses in on itself. Jacobi whoops as the heat blasts over them in a sucking rush, even from a quarter mile away. Her ribs are sore from the earlier scuffle and her breath is leaping out of her chest in delighted fits and starts. An alarm sounds, and then another one and another, catching along with the fire as the first testing flames stretch across to the adjacent warehouses in the shipping yard.
“Well, there’s one way to make sure Goddard’s proprietary research doesn’t get out,” snorts Kepler. She finishes rolling up one sleeve and moves to the other, and between the frantic adrenaline of the explosion and the sight of Kepler’s lean forearms, Jacobi figures she’s got enough of an excuse for a moment of extra recklessness. She leans in and finds Kepler’s mouth with her own.
Kepler’s mouth opens under her and she catches the cradle of Jacobi’s hips in her hands so she can grind a thigh between her legs. Jacobi chokes on a groan. Kepler backs her against the wall and Jacobi grabs for her waist, her belt, wonders for a lucid half-heartbeat if there are any more sharp objects hidden on Kepler’s person right now and then Kepler bites her lower lip and it turns out she doesn’t care. She’s already got the most dangerous weapon shoving a hand up her shirt and under her bra.
She wants Kepler to crawl into her skin, take her apart like she’s disarming a bomb and lay out all the pieces in neat order, and Kepler’s other hand digs into her ribs so Jacobi kind of whimpers in the back of her throat. The sound makes Kepler grin against her mouth and Jacobi does it again, louder, egging her on, and because Kepler’s a complete fucking bastard she steps back and leaves Jacobi weak-kneed and propped up against a grimy wall. Her lower lip stings where Kepler dragged her teeth over it.
“Excellent work today, Daniel. Our ride is four minutes out but I’ll be looking forward to going over your performance in detail at your debriefing tonight.”
Jacobi can’t help it, she busts out laughing at that and sinks down to sit in the dirt. There’s building dust all in her short-cropped hair, and her whole body is going to be a giant bruise tomorrow, and she’s pretty sure Kepler’s just bluffing because she looks about as ready to crash on the first vaguely mattress-shaped surface available as Jacobi feels.
Kepler kicks her long legs out in front of them and her shoulder brushes against Jacobi’s for a handful of deliberate seconds before she shifts away. Something crashes with a heavy metallic shriek in the direction of the warehouses, and sirens are starting to scream into the area. Jacobi lets her exhausted eyes close and waits for their ride.