The last time they had been on a plane together, Annie felt like she had been an entirely different person. Between then and now, it felt like decades spanned and continents divided the relationship that they once had.
It was different now.
Her tongue brushed across the roof of her mouth as if it was yearning for the white wine they had previously shared, but Annie took a sip from her water bottle instead. Things were very different now. It had only been a year and a half, but she wouldn't be able to recognize the girl she had been if she was standing in front of her.
Had she really just said goodbye to Ben, back then? She used to be so upset about that chapter of her life closing, but it seemed now so small and trivial compared to everything that had happened to her in the past year.
Would look back on this moment one day and think it was trivial?
She studied the folders in front of her and glanced around the plane. It was smaller than the last one, and not taking them very far. Then they'd board new ones not owned by the CIA, and she had to be ready.
She could tangibly feel the tension in the plane. Or was she imagining it? She was trying to use all her attention on the folders in front of her, and maybe she was just projecting her own uncertainties onto the woman in the front seat who was looking over her own folders, looking way more cool and collected than Annie was feeling. Maybe she was just giving Annie the space that she needed to concentrate on the files.
Annie stared out the window into the clouds. She needed to focus, but it wasn't there. She felt like the plane was the perfect metaphor for her life right now — suspended. On her way from one place to the next. Not stable. Like anything could whip her off her course and send her in a tailspin.
She needed perspective. She needed to talk to someone, to get it out, to examine her life and situation from afar, but there was no one that could do that. No one that she trusted to give her that kind of perspective. At least, no one that was read-in.
It was times like these that she missed Danielle with a fierce passion that made her physically ache. Ever since Danielle left, she felt like she was floating. Like she never knew which way was up.
Her eyes drifted back to Joan who was now gazing out the window much like she just was. Annie felt the urge to approach her, to talk to her, but she knew that Joan wasn't that person. Not now. She might have been, once, when she had started to be more of a mentor than just a boss, and maybe even had the potential to one day move into friend territory, but that was gone. And really, her boss was the last person she could talk to about this.
Annie sighed heavily, and if Joan noticed she didn't acknowledge it. This mission should be easy. It would have been if it had happened last year. It really would have been. Maybe even if it had been given to her yesterday, before she met with Henry Wilcox. She used to have focus. But today? Well, it didn't start like just any day.
Annie woke to feather light kisses being planted on her spine and without making a sound she smiled and opened her eyes, seeing Auggie's face appear back in front of her.
"Good morning, beautiful," he said, finding the top of her head with one of his hands and trailing it through her hair.
"How did you know I was awake?"
"Don't you know by now, Annie Walker? I know everything."
He leaned in and she smiled against his mouth, exchanging lazy kisses as she continued to wake up. She couldn't believe it was just last night that he showed up at her guest house. And then, he did what she had been hoping for ever since he pressed the keys to his car into her hands the year before. Before...
Well, before everything.
"I can feel you thinking," he whispered to her, a smile breaking over his face. "Don't you ever turn that thing off?"
"I thought you knew everything."
"Well," he paused, pushing himself up on to his elbow, "I know that neither of us have to go into work, which means I have the whole day to try to keep that mind from running away on you."
She had always been more physical with Auggie than anyone else in her daily life simply because she had to be, but it had transferred itself into an amazing chemistry between them and it took nothing to convey her feelings with a simple touch. "I think I'd like that."
He used his position of being propped up on his elbow to hover above her, whispering before he kissed her again, "the entire day."
Which meant it was at that exact moment that both of their phones started going off.
Auggie flipped onto his back groaning, tossing his arm over his forehead in exasperation. "C'mon!" he exclaimed as the phones both continued to chirp and Annie laughed.
"You're the one that had to go and jinx it." She pulled on a robe as she waited for the half second it took for Auggie's to silence itself before she answered her own. "Hello?"
It was Joan's icy voice that came over the speaker, and Annie touched her index finger to Auggie's lips to stay silent. He immediately sat up and Annie was already on her way to find his pants that she had flung across the room the night before, knowing his phone was still in one of the pockets. "Joan," she answered back as professionally as she could, and tossed Auggie's phone with a soft thwack onto his bare stomach.
She could see him turning it to silent immediately and with that out of the way, she pulled her full attention back to her own conversation. "We need you to come in. There's a situation evolving. I'll give you more information when you get here."
"You got it. I'll be there as soon as I can," Annie answered back, already gathering all of Auggie's things.
"Oh, and Annie? Go check on Auggie. He's needed as well and he's not answering his phone."
"I –" Annie started but Joan had already disconnected the line. She turned incredulously to Auggie. "You say you know everything? You've got nothing on Joan."
Auggie had changed before coming to her place the night before so they were able to go straight to the office, but it wasn't until they were almost at the gate that Auggie managed to break through to the thoughts she was trying to avoid. "You were thinking hard, before," he stated conversationally. "This morning. And I know you, Annie Walker. What's going on in that head of yours?"
Annie was silent for a minute trying to figure out how to even start to explain it. "I was just thinking about the day I gave you my ficus. Before I went to Sweden, and..."
"And here I thought it would be the car you would fixate on, not the plant."
"By the time you gave me the car, things had already changed. You said it yourself, that things would change for me both inside and outside of the agency. And you gave me your car to cheer me up and you went to Eritrea, and then..."
"Listen to me," Auggie said, reaching for her hand. "You are not a consolation prize. I mean that, okay? And I am in this. I know we didn't actually talk about this last night, or any of the other baggage we both have –- and we have a considerable amount of baggage. But I want this." He paused and found her hand on the gear-shifter. "And now you have to say something, because I'm not picking up anything here."
She covered his hand on the shifter giving it a quick squeeze, and then swatted it away when she needed to speed up, letting him chuckle and buying herself time. How could she say that it was so much more than just him, that she wanted so fiercely to go back to before she had killed anyone, before Jai, before Lena, before Simon, before Parker, before this mess with Eyal and before Henry Wilcox's folder that was now sitting in her safe... but at the same time knowing that Simon made her a better operative and person. As evil as Lena was, Annie had learned something from her, even if it was just that there are many ways of approaching a problem and just as many different management styles.
She learned not to trust so quickly – and while it was not a lesson that she wanted to learn, being skeptical would help her out in the long run, right? But if she didn't believe in people, would she have Eyal as a friend? Would she have been able to save Simon's sister? Did she really wish that she could just erase those chapters of her life? Did she really wish she could go back to...
To before she started to second guess everything she did? And could she admit it outloud?
Instead she just said, "me too, Auggie. Me too."
Joan didn't even look at her when they got off the plane and walked into the airport proper. But then again, I guess their cover identities were now in place. They weren't supposed to know each other.
Nothing changed with the way that her and Auggie walked or talked. People had become accustomed to the way they always spoke like that they had some sort of inside joke and they way her eyes lit up when he walked into the room. Auggie gripping Annie's elbow was just as common as he gripping anyone else's. Still, when they walked into Joan's office, she smirked at them but didn't say a word about it, and instead went directly into the briefing.
"Until I became Director, my cover was a working one, same as what you have. I spent about eight to ten hours a week doing work for the World Bank." She handed Annie a folder and she began to flip through it, noting that it had details about some of the work Joan had actually done to reduce poverty in Eastern Europe. "Annie, after the instability of this past year we had to get you a new NOC."
"That's right. The cover department put in my resignation to the Smithsonian last week."
Joan nodded. "We've been working at getting you set up with the International Monetary Fund."
Auggie interrupted. "Most of the IMF's staff are economists. Annie doesn't have that skill-set."
"No, she doesn't," Joan agreed. "But there is a deficiency in their organization of people that can do advance visits for the economists and pave the way for those that are less... adapt at the varying cultural and social situations. Your language skills and background of travel fit you nicely into that role, and the headquarters are in DC. I think you'll find this is a good match."
Annie took the second folder Joan handed her and started flipping through the information for her new non-official cover. "Joan, this could have been covered when I'm in tomorrow. You said there's a situation developing, what's going on?"
Joan handed her a third folder that Annie was now balancing precariously. "One of my former colleagues at the World Bank has been sending us information for years. She was working with me in the Balkans, but within the past year switched portfolios to South America. She was recently working on a joint IMF and World Bank venture when she found some accounting oddities. Her own investigations show that there is someone might be funnelling money out of one of these funds and into some less desirable pockets, but that's where her research ends. She simply didn't have the resources or skill to continue with her investigation."
Auggie caught the operative word. "Didn't?"
"She hasn't responded to any of our protocols for the past 24 hours. We're operating under the assumption that whoever was embezzling found out that she was looking into the missing funds. She's supposed to be at a joint IMF and World Bank conference in Colombia starting today, and she hasn't checked into the hotel yet."
Annie barely had to search her memory. "I thought those conferences were held in Tokyo this year."
Joan raised her eyebrows as if impressed, but moved on quickly, not allowing Annie that moment of gratification. "They were. This is a follow-up to some of the discussions held there, specific to the region. Annie, you're being thrown into the deep end on this one. You're starting your job with the IMF today. You're to go to the hotel where the meetings are being held and are going to work with the conference organizers. See what you can figure out from there. Auggie will have any tech that you and I may need."
"That you and I will need?" Annie repeated, and Joan just gave her a passive glare.
"As someone who works for the World Bank, you didn't expect me to miss the meetings of a subject that I care so deeply about, did you? Wheels up in 2 hours."
And with that, she swept out of the room, leaving Annie and Auggie to themselves. "Well, that went well."
They parted ways at the airport, and Joan took a different flight path to Colombia so they didn't arrive together. Annie was now on a commercial flight and the classified documents were still on the previous plane. All she had left in front of her were the ones on her NOC — what she was actually expected to do for the next few days. She stared out the window again, thankful at least that the agency was able to procure her one small luxury. She had tried to sleep but was just reminded of the light kisses she felt on her spine as she woke, making sleep impossible.
She tried not to wish that she wasn't sent on this mission, but the thought still entered her head, as did Auggie's own words from before.
She followed him into his office and shut the door behind her. "This is big, Annie. Going on another mission with Joan? This is what you've been waiting for. A chance to prove yourself to her again."
Annie walked over to him and clutched his hand. "But did it have to be today? Couldn't it have…"
She trailed off and Auggie picked up exactly where she left off. "Waited until we had a chance to figure things out?" He cracked a smile. "I thought you understood how the CIA worked. Look. Treat this as an opportunity. You have a chance to make things right with Joan. Just… play it safe. None of the cowboy crap you've been doing lately, okay?"
Cowboy crap. She grimaced at the phrase. That was one from a different time. "I promised to play it safe, Auggie," she said as she rubbed circles on his hand.
"I wish I could give you a proper goodbye."
She was still fixated on the previous phrase and took away her hand. "Didn't… didn't Joan say something about tech?"
She could see the hurt in his eyes, but he trudged on, walking her through exactly what she needed. "Thank you, Auggie," she said as she got ready to rush home to pack, but not until she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before dashing away.
It took Annie five hours to be introduced to Joan Campbell, one of the "top consultants" that the World Bank had in issues of development in unstable countries, and it seemed her cover identity was just as icy to new people as her CIA one was. Annie tried to brush it off — she knew that it was part of both of their covers and any familiarity could jeopardize everything, but somewhere deep inside she was hoping, just a little bit, that Joan saw this as an opportunity to mend their relationship just as much as she did.
"She's like that with everyone," the woman that was training her said, and Annie scolded herself at not keeping her feelings internalized. "I think she believes that she can do better work if she keeps her relationships work related only. She doesn't really open up." Annie nodded absently. "But everyone else is really friendly here, you should meet Kara Bishop -- she's wonderful. She's… actually, I haven't seen her yet today. I think she was here yesterday? Well, I'm sure she'll be around soon." And with that, they moved onto their next item in the training.
Kara Bishop was noted to be one of the nicest, friendliest, smartest people that worked at the World Bank. There wasn't a single person that didn't like her, respect her, and worship her. There also wasn't a single person that knew where she was.
Auggie had given her a keycard that would be able to get into any of the rooms at the hotel they were staying in, and as soon as the training had adjourned for the day, she was on her way to Kara's room. (Well, as soon as she could, given that she still had to stay covert.) She had passed an identical key to Joan on the plane ride, but didn't expect her. Joan was scheduled in meetings all night, and actually seemed to enjoy the work that she was doing. At least, she seemed to enjoy talking to a very select group of people. Everyone else didn't exist to her.
Annie did a sweep of the room looking for any type of monitoring equipment and finding none. She pressed a button in her watch that turned it into a frequency finder in case she had missed bugs, but nothing showed up. The room was clean.
The room was too clean, in fact. The bed was made. The curtains were open and the coffee maker and bathroom soaps had all been restocked. The garbage bins were empty, and a single piece of luggage sat on the rack beside the bed, the locks still in place. Kara was supposed to have checked in yesterday, but it seems she didn't do anything past getting to her door.
Annie heard the electronic key-reader click, and she ducked into the bathroom, waiting to see who would pass by the door, grasping at straws to explain her presence in the room and frantically trying to locate a weapon (the towel rod currently seemed like the best bet) — but to her relief it was Joan. "Joan," she announced her presence, hoping to get some answers, but Joan just looked surprised.
"Annie, is it?" It took effort to hold in her sigh. All the things that Annie had hoped for in this mission, and Joan was intent on not letting her realize any of them.
She still took the opportunity to tell her everything she knew. "Yes. I was sent here by the organizers to check up on Ms. Bishop because no one has heard from her in two days. She seems to have disappeared right after arriving. I've found that her keycard was used twice within the first minutes after checking in, and then not again until the maids came through. I talked to all the people staying in the adjacent rooms too, no one has seen her."
Annie could see the worry in her eyes, and wished she could do something to alleviate her fears, but so far her investigations had gone nowhere.
Annie was finally able to convince Joan through silent communication that she had checked for bugs and found none, though the term "speak freely" never applied to her. And Joan still checked Annie's work.
It took them all of twenty seconds to get into Kara's suitcase, and another thirty to completely toss it. Joan's icy demeanour had taken back over, but for once Annie recognized it as a coping mechanism. "Whatever Kara was working on, whoever took her must have all her research."
While Joan had been examining the suitcase, looking for hidden compartments or slots, Annie had been examining everything taken out of it. "Not all of it," she finally said, finding a micro SD card that had been sown into the lining of a suit jacket."
Finally, she saw a moment of appreciation in Joan's eyes, but the promise of information was what was driving Joan's actions. Annie chided herself again as Joan stuck the card into her phone, and they both huddled around to see what came up.
There were files and files of spreadsheets, bank accounts and money withdrawls, and more numbers than they could hope to every try to understand from a tiny screen. Annie saw a text file that she wanted to look at, but Joan was more focused on sending the files immediately to Auggie and Barber. "You never know when you'll be interrupted," Joan said, almost scoldingly. "They'll tell us what we need to know."
Annie wanted to protest, that information now was always better than information later, but the moment was cut short.
If they had looked at the text file, they may have seen that the person Kara was investigating was the one that was staying in the next room, and that all the wireless transmission tracers and searching in the world could never find a simple, stationary, parabolic microphone that was just on the other side of a wall.
By the time they found the name it was too late –- the door to the adjoining room was kicked in and they were trapped in the room with three large Colombian men coming at them, blocking their only exit.
Annie woke up in a nondescript room: cold concrete walls and floors surrounded them, with a single window high above them letting in the moonlight. She slowly checked herself for injury but didn't find any, save for the injection site on the side of her neck. It seemed that Joan had woken up just before she did, and was walking the perimeter of the room. "Joan?" she groaned, rubbing her forehead. Whatever they gave her had lingering effects, and she wished there was some water she could drink to help flush whatever was remaining out of her system.
Joan responded immediately, walking over to where she was still sitting. "Annie, how are you doing?"
It took Annie a second to collect herself, but then Joan helped her up. "Where are we?"
"I don't know. Tell me, what do you see?"
Annie guessed that the time for coddling was over, and whether this was Joan's way of working together or testing her, she wanted to do well. "Concrete walls and a concrete floor with no doors." She looked up. "Concrete ceiling too, uh, with some sort of a hatch in the middle. A half wall on that side which I'm guessing is hiding some sort of a latrine. One window with metal bars. They look like extend down into the concrete. There's something pressed up against the bottom of that window, so I'm guessing we're below ground. There's moonlight, so we were probably out for more than four hours."
Joan nodded. "I came to the same conclusion. Okay. What do you hear?"
Annie closed her eyes. "I think there's talking above us. It sounds like normal volumes but I can't make out any of the words."
"And that means they can't hear us either." Annie looked around quickly and was happy to find she still her had watch. She pressed the button, but Joan was right. There were no bugs down there. They didn't need to hide their words. "What else?" Joan added.
Annie closed her eyes again. "I feel cold. And it's a little hard to breath, the oxygen is less, but there's airflow in this room. I think we're up in the mountains."
Joan took a breath and then nodded. She hadn't gotten to that point yet, though now that the statement was out there, they both began to feel the effects immediately. "Let's sit down. We're no good to anyone unless we give ourselves the time to acclimatize."
They both sunk to the ground, Joan leaning against a concrete pillar and Annie against the wall, still facing each other. Annie fiddled with the watch that Auggie gave her, hoping that there was some other hidden function that he hadn't told her about, but she didn't see anything. She just had to hope that somehow he had built something in, and that he still, as always, had her back.
They were silent for about ten minutes, each still dealing with the lingering effects of the drugs and altitude. Annie noted that there was an additional hatch in the roof, which could either help or hinder any escape plans, they would just have to play it by ear. At the ten minute mark the center hatch opened and a basket that was on a rope came down. They both got up and went over it, but the second hatch opened and a man with a gun hung out of it. "One of you only, go to the basket," he said in a heavily accented voice.
Annie took the lead. "What do you want from us?" she cried out to him, determined to sound like the scared, inexperienced hostage she was pretending to be. Well, she didn't have to pretend too hard on the scared front. "It was my first day with the IMF, I don't know anything!"
The man didn't respond to her questions. "There is bread and water. Take it out, and we'll talk again soon."
Annie took everything out – just in case her questions made the person with the rope angry and they got nothing – but continued to try for anything she could. "Who are you people? I just work in logistics, I was just searching for a missing conference attendee. Do you know where she is? Are you holding her like this too? Is she up there with you? Did she do this to me because I went looking for her?"
The man with the basket laughed at the mention that this was Kara's fault. "She got in over her head just like you did. You think she did this to you? No. She's in just as much trouble as you are now."
The man with the gun yelled at the man with the basket in rapid-fire Spanish, effectively telling him to shut up, and Annie could see the man with the basket for the first time. He was young – younger than she anticipated, still in his teens. He grabbed the rope and hauled it up quickly, and even seemed to give Annie a look of exasperation before shutting the hatch up above her.
Annie took the food back to Joan and they ate in silence, still trying to concentrate on their breathing and trying to push the dizziness away.
The water had helped. Another ten minutes had passed, and Annie was finally starting to think clearly again. She and Joan started to discuss all possible modes of escape, but none were looking particularly optimistic at that time. "At least we know that Kara is still alive," Annie finally offered.
"We don't know that he was telling the truth, but I do have a hard time believing that she had anything to do with our capture."
"I think if we're here for a long time, I might be able to work on the guy with the basket. He was young, and he looked like he was frustrated with the guy with the gun."
Annie tried to read Joan, but with her face still half in the shadows, she looked as icy and as closed as ever until she finally sighed, and Annie could finally see some emotion in her face. Joan shook her head, and when she spoke there was steel in her voice. "I was going to tell you that it was too risky, because that's what I would tell you in the office, and you'd undoubtedly ignore my orders and do whatever you want anyway. So go ahead, see if you can work the guy."
As if the situation wasn't hard enough, Joan's words felt like the cut her to the core. "Joan..."
Joan sighed. "I didn't mean that. I'm sorry Annie. Out in the field you have good instincts. I should listen to them."
There in the basement in the middle of the night with only a few moonbeams to light the way, and with Joan apologizing to her then, Annie felt like she could finally voice the concern that she had been holding onto for so long. "I don't know that I do anymore. I don't know that I can trust any of my instincts."
Her words feel flat in the room. Even with the emptiness around them, there was no echo, and she felt like she might have just been talking into the void when Joan spoke up in a voice that Annie had only really heard once or twice before. It was soft, and kind. "After Nairobi, I felt the same way. There was the ringing in my ears that I heard for days, even weeks. There are still days where I wake up, feeling like I had just been blown across the embassy, in shock and deaf from the charges."
"So what did you do?"
"Well, I was air shipped to Germany. I had a concussion and they were worried about bleeding, but I was alive. And Meghan was by my bedside when I woke up. She flew across the world to make sure I was okay. I was lucky I had an anchor for that time. But then she was given another mission, and I still had assets to work with in Kenya, so I went back."
"An anchor. Things with my anchor are a little... rocky right now. They have been for a while." Since Barcelona she added silently. She and Auggie, despite their new… status… still had some things to talk about. And that didn't even come CLOSE to touching her and Joan's relationship.
It was silent for a minute, and Annie was sure that Joan was about to say something, but the hatch clanged open again and two small mattresses were thrown down. Whatever Joan was going to say was lost in the moment as they went to arrange their beds.
They had gone through a million different theories of who their captors were and how the CIA might find them over the next day and into the night, and that was with them taking turns to get some sleep. Whether they were in a FARC hold-out or if their captors were just hired-help, there was no answer, though mercenaries seemed to be the going theory. For whom they working, though… well, either the man that was in Kara's adjoining room was investigating the embezzlement just like Kara was, or he was the one stealing the money… and since he wasn't in the room with then and hadn't gone missing when Kara did…
The moonbeams had just started leaking through the window at the same angle as where they saw them when they woke up. They had now been captured for 24 hours. They had been given food and water and Annie had gotten the young man to respond to her, minimally, but it was long term play, and Annie really didn't want to be there for the long term.
"At least it's silent," she whispered, almost not even daring to voice the thoughts she had in her head, the similarities she was feeling with the concrete surrounding her and the walls feeling like they might start to close in.
"We never talked about what happened to you over there. You never actually did go to your debriefing."
"And I'm sure that that punishment is still always going to be on the horizon. The ever-continual threat to stay in line, to not disobey orders."
"It's really not meant to be a punishment, Annie. The Agency… well, we clearly haven't been as thorough in our debriefing and our polygraphs as we should have been. Maybe if we had been, or had more cross-division communication…"
Joan trailed off, and for the first time, Annie saw that Joan felt like not seeing through Lena's act was her fault. "Joan, she had everyone fooled."
"Yes, but I knew her for seventeen years."
Annie wanted to protest. Everything inside of her wanted to tell Joan that it was okay, that Annie blamed herself, that Joan had trained her well enough that she should have known that there was something wrong but her urge to prove herself was just too strong… but once again the moment passed. Joan had stood up and went to the mattresses. "Can you take the first watch?"
She didn't even wait for Annie's response before she turned over and shut her out.
Annie just fiddled with the watch.
The day went much like the one before. Theories, ways to escape, naps, exercise, food and water. When they took turns hoisting each other up to look out the window, they saw the same thing: a storm was moving in.
The theory that they agreed on was that they were likely being kept there and in good condition simply because their captors were waiting for further instruction. Whoever was calling the shots was probably trying to figure out who had the information about the embezzlement, and how much they knew.
The good news is that they probably didn't know they were CIA. The bad news was that they could be kept down there for ages until the embezzler covered his tracks well enough for them to be let loose.
When night came this time, there was no moon to light their basement. "Forty-eight hours," Annie said into the darkness. She didn't know if she expected Joan to answer, but she wanted to hear the sound of her own voice. She did that when she was in her cell in Russia, too. Not saying anything of any importance, but almost to prove to herself that she was still there — that she was still alive.
"Forty-eight hours," Joan repeated, and it seemed like they were finally on the same page.
Annie fiddled with her watch again. It has become a habit in the short time that they were there — Auggie's voice in her ear always gave her confidence and belief in both her mission and herself, and the watch was the only thing that she had from him still on her.
"You keep playing with the watch Auggie gave you," Joan noted, and Annie smiled. It seemed that Annie still couldn't put anything past Joan when she was paying attention. "Did you find anything useful?"
"No. I just keep checking for bugs or radio frequencies, just in case." She played with it again, it become more than just a habit.
Joan was silent again, and Annie let her thoughts wander back to Auggie, to that morning, waking up together, and still not able to feel like she was starting fresh, like there was still so much to put behind her.
"It can be hard, dating someone that you work with."
"Oh, please," Joan responded, and Annie could perfectly imagine the shake of her head, that small smile that showed her dimples when Joan knew something that you didn't. "You and Auggie. I was surprise when he started dating Parker, but sometimes these things take time."
"Yeah, well. Maybe if he hadn't we wouldn't be here right now." Annie knew that her words didn't make sense, but they came out of her anyway, unbidden and unwanted. "That's… that's not what I mean."
"No, it is. You resent him."
Maybe it was the darkness around them, or the sounds of the wind howling against the window and the drafts that could be felt coming though the room, but it felt like she could say almost anything, then. That the words would just float away, that the words were said then, it would only be for then. Maybe they could be released. "When Auggie got Danielle and I out of Sweden, before — before everything changed. I almost…" she shrugged into the darkness, her body still wanting to put on the physical cues to her words. "My first two years here, he had been my anchor. I never would have gotten to be the kind of operative I am without him. Or, the operative I was. Things are different now."
"Annie, I know from experience that you can't have secrets with your partner. We're spies. We deal in secrets every day of our lives, but you can't hold back anything personal from them. In every lie you tell to another agency or asset, you need to be able to tell the truth to someone else."
"Seems like an odd place to be getting relationship advice, don't you think?" She could feel her own lips turning in that half smile that Eyal once told her was her greatest asset as a spy, and she was happy to hear Joan chuckle in the silence.
"Annie, don't blame Auggie. He had given up on you when he met Parker. It just took you a little longer to come around to him. And this isn't just because we at the Agency actually encourage inter-office dating. It's difficult. Believe me. But it's also rewarding."
"You know, I'm going to feel so gypped if it took us three years and I end up dying after one night together."
Joan chuckled, and it seemed that their conversation had reached it's natural end. "It's getting cold in here. Let's double up the mattress and see if we can't conserve some heat tonight. Go ahead, I'll take the first watch."
Annie thought that sleep would take its time with all her thoughts whirring in her head, but the wind almost seemed like a lullaby compared to the silence of the past few nights, and she fell asleep immediately.
The next day felt different. More like… before. Something Joan said… it resonated, and things weren't so tense. It wasn't like they were old friends or anything, but something had definitely changed.
The young man talked to her for a few minutes each time he sent down food, and at the hottest part of the day she was able to convince him to send down a bucket of water so that they could at least bathe. They took turns in the latrine area, the small hole in the wall not quite accommodating the water flow, but it felt good, and Joan had even told her that she was doing a good job with the guy.
That night was just as dark as the previous one. Annie played with her watch. "Seventy-two hours."
And in a replica of the previous night Joan repeated it. "Seventy-two hours."
Even though the words were the same, there was something different in her tone. Maybe Annie was imagining it, maybe she was just yearning for it, but it felt… warmer. Different. Annie's world had turned into now and before, and it was starting to feel like before. Starting to, at least.
Once again, maybe it was the darkness, but it felt safe enough ask, "when you said that the people I needed were here, after I came back and…"
"Got the award." Joan's voice held the same malice that Annie felt towards it.
"Yes. You said that that the people I could count on were here."
There was never any hurry to say anything here, and she could feel Joan weighting her words. "I worried about you, after your sister left. And you and Auggie were clearly having problems, and that was before Lena tried to kill you. I thought…" She trailed off, and Annie was almost unsure if she was going to start again, when she finally continued. "Having an anchor is important. Meg was my anchor when I woke up in Germany, but then she was out of touch and I was sent right back into the field. I was sent back to the place that had sent me to the hospital, possibly fighting for my life. I started trusting people that I shouldn't have, and I didn't want that to happen to you."
"But we could trust Eyal, he proved that to us."
Joan didn't even acknowledge the point. "The point is, I didn't have someone that I could count on. I wasn't married to Arthur at that point. I had a friend that I thought I could trust, and he turned out to be more dangerous to me than any explosion."
"I don't —"
"It doesn't matter. He -- well, we've made our peace. He now helps me in other ways, but that's not important."
Annie didn't respond to that comment. She didn't know how to. "Outside of my sister, Auggie's my best friend but it's kind of hard to discuss this with him, but I certainly can't discuss any of what happened with Danielle."
"Annie, when I told you that there were people at the Agency that you could trust, I meant me."
"No, Annie, listen to me." She could feel some shifting in the darkness, and Joan came to sit beside her and clutched her hand. "You're the best agent I've ever trained. You have more raw talent than anyone I've ever seen. And I see you falling into some of the same pitfalls that I did at your age. I know that I can be cold, but that's how I was trained. It's how I keep things professional, because if I lose an agent that I care for…" She trailed off, and Annie didn't know all the details, but she was starting to get a better idea. "But I was distraught when you were captured in Russia. And I've been there. Losing an asset, having it be your fault. Becoming too friendly with them and blurring the lines. I get it. And Annie, you can trust me.
Annie was stunned. Even after Arthur had told her that Joan had taken her capture badly, she didn't seem to believe it, because Joan was just as icy to her as she had always been. She acted as if she wasn't even happy to see her back.
"I thought that when you came back you would want some normalcy. So I treated you the way I always did. I see now that I was wrong, and when I tried to reach out it was too late."
It was silent again as Annie tried to work out what she meant, but Joan spoke up again before she could. "You don't have to answer now, Annie, but if you like, when we get back to DC, I can be your anchor. We can separate work and mentorship. It's hard, but Arthur and I have found an equilibrium most days. And as you and Auggie are still trying to sort things out, I can be your anchor. I just wish I had figured out how to say it a long time ago."
Annie squeezed her hand and it seemed Joan got the message. Sometimes words weren't needed. "I'll, uh," she cleared her throat which had become suspiciously thick. "I'll take the first watch."
And so Joan went to sleep, leaving Annie to ponder all of her words.
Annie doesn't know what time Joan shook her awake, but it didn't feel like they had switched off too long ago. "Whaa?"
The darkness seemed deeper, somehow. It was probably just before dawn and at first she didn't know what Joan was talking about, but then she heard it. "Footsteps. A bunch of them. Annie, this could be it. They are either here to let us go, or kill us. Get ready."
Annie and Joan braced themselves in the area near the latrine. It was farthest from the hatches and provided some cover if the plan was just to gun them down. It wasn't much… but it was something. They were silent as the footsteps came closer, and then they heard noises that they weren't expecting: yelling, gunfire in the room above them, and a few small explosions. "Sound grenades?" Annie asked and Joan nodded.
"I think this might be rescue."
They stayed where they were, but when the hatch finally opened a face that Annie had seen a few times in the halls of Langley but didn't have a name for appeared. "All clear?"
"Clear!" they both responded back, and a ladder came down the shaft.
When they arrive up top, Annie assessed the damage around her. Two of their captors were dead on the floor, and the young man that Annie had been trying to work was sitting in the corner, talking to some of the rescue team. And best of all…
Kara crossed the floor quickly and Joan pulled her into an embrace before they were all pulled apart by one of the rescuers. Seems the time for celebration would be later. Right then, they were going back to DC.
After three plane rides while they were all sequestered and not allowed to talk to each other, all three of them were brought directly to Blue Bonnet. Annie was there for a week that time. It seemed they were taking advantage of having her at the farm, and they went over most missions she had gone through since she started.
When she finally was allowed to go back to the CIA, she knew only a few things: Kara was okay, their captors were all privately hired, and the young man she had tried so hard to turn was already responding to Kara's pleas. When the rescue team came, they found him in the room that Kara was being held draped over her, ready to shield her from any coming spray of bullets. And the man who was calling the shots and doing the embezzling was caught. He had been using the money to fund some of the shadier groups in South America for huge payoffs. And now he was turning on those groups. They were getting great intel from him.
She was dropped off at home and told to take the rest of the day off, but she showered and changed and was at the front doors of Langley quicker than even she could have anticipated. Even then, she knew without a doubt that Auggie would be there, the second she got off the elevator.
"Jo Malone Grapefruit" he cried, not even waiting to see if her heel clicks matched the smell. She didn't say a single world, she just crashed into him, enveloping him into a bone crushing hug. "Hey, I'm happy to see you too, but ow."
She laughed and squeezed him tighter. "You know, there's still one thing I don't know. How were we found?"
His smile was brilliant. "The watch. It emitted a radio frequency when it searched for bugs that we were looking for. We wouldn't have found it unless the storm clouds came in. The heavy cover let them travel further, and we got lucky. Or, you got lucky. How did you know to keep emitting it?"
"I didn't. It's just that you gave it to me, so I kept touching it. Going to it when I needed to be strong."
"You don't need me to be strong, Annie. You got that one all on your own." He pulled her aside and lowered his voice. "Look, are you okay? Just, with everything that just happened, I don't want you to feel pressured or obligated, or…"
"No, Auggie. For the first time in a while, everything is good." She looped her hand through his arm, guiding them into their offices. "How's Joan?"
"Funny you should ask. She also says she's fine, but something about her is different. She seems... nicer?"
Annie didn't need to hide her smile. For the first time in the past year, different was good.
Maybe Colombia was the new marker in her life to measure everything in. Before Colombia. After Colombia. No more before and after Sweden. No more before and after she had killed her first person. No more Auggie from before and after Parker.
And as she sat down at her desk, it feltbetter than it had in a long time. She spun around and caught Joan's eye as she was on the phone, and Joan gave her both a smile and nod.
Auggie asked her to the Tavern after work, and she agreed, suddenly in the mood for white wine. Yes. Things were different now.
And different was finally good.