- Carrie, you need to find a TV now. I want you to see something. Are you hearing what I’m hearing?
Astrid sounded more than a little disconcerted, picking her words too carefully even for the ever-reticent German, so Carrie didn’t waste time on asking for details and broke off. She rushed into a café she was passing, a cheap döner-by-day-sportsbar-by-night kind of place. Only today it wasn’t a football match that was keeping the crowd on their feet, all eyes on the screen of a big LCD on the wall.
The hour’s breaking news on a regional public channel was broadcasting what appeared to be a YouTube video. A group of masked men, armed with machine guns, the IS flag in the background. The head guy speaking German, fast and agitated, his voice processed, dropping words like ‘justice,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘UN,’ ‘recognition of the Islamic State,’ ‘thousands will die.’ Holy fuck, Carrie thought. Is it really happening?
She just wished she’d been more fluent in German to get a fuller picture of what was going on, as it remained unclear why Astrid had insisted on her seeing this. Quite naturally, a public announcement of an imminent terrorist attack gets on your nerves, especially if you’re BND, but Carrie would have learned about it soon enough anyway. Something about the Foundation? A Lebanese trail? Should she call Otto?
She took a few steps back to disengage from the crowd, already dialing Astrid for an explanation, but froze on the spot, as the language of the video suddenly switched to English. A different voice. American accent, calm, measured. Confident. The voice she’d have recognized from a single word, the only voice she still heard in her dreams sometimes, mostly silent otherwise.
“…We give the UN Security Council 24 hours to recognize the legitimacy of the Islamic State.” She turned abruptly back to the screen. The picture had changed. Same flag, same lighting, but just one guy, also masked. Blue eyes. Quinn’s eyes. “Otherwise, a terrible justice will be unleashed on a European city.” Astrid was on. Carrie breathed into her phone:
- Is that why…
- What do you know?
- Not much. Same as you, probably. We’ll be in touch with the CIA shortly, of course. Just wanted you to confirm I wasn’t hallucinating.
But Carrie wasn’t the girl for the job. In her mind, she was back in Jonas’ cabin, surrounded by hundreds of photographs: her assets she had failed, her victims, her enemies, victims of her enemies and her enemies’ dead assets, and now Quinn was among them, his blood on her hands, too, and he was joining this crowd of the undead, turning into another avenging angel, bringing havoc and destruction for the damage she had done. No, not just another angel, the commander of their dreadful angel squad, the chief avenger with the unbearable crystal-eyed gaze –
A good dozen minutes later, she found herself on a bench in a small park across the street, hands clenching the edge of the seat, breath ragged, teeth chattering. Astrid had disconnected a while ago, no bombs had gone off within a mile’s radius, kids were playing in the park. Life went on. The gift of critical thinking was returning, if somewhat shredded.
Right. A panic attack. Ok. Well, not ok, but she’s been through worse. Time to regroup, Carrie. Astrid saw it, too. They can’t be both hallucinating. Ergo, Quinn’s alive. Good. A large-scale IS attack, presumably in Berlin. Not good. Quinn’s with the terrorists. Not good. Wait. Could be both, actually. Is he on a covert mission? What’s the scope of the operation? Is it all a set up of some kind, to lure the real bad guys? Why didn’t he just take them out? Is he still undercover? Does he still have it under control? Has he been…? Saul. And Dar Adal. They have to know something at least, and no security clearance in the world is going to stop her. She’ll beg, she’ll threaten them with going public again, she’ll bring up the goddamn Laura Sutton’s documents if she has to. She’ll get to the bottom of this before it’s too late. What if it was too late anyway, she tried not to think.
Hopping on a bus which was going to get her straight to the doors of Berlin station, Carrie snatched her phone and started browsing frenetically through news portals, blogs, to scan the information field, to assess the scope of international coverage, to – fuck, just to do something with her hands, to occupy her brain, to block the wave of panic that was flooding her mind –
And then she saw it. A title on a yellowish international portal, jumping at her with its sordid red letters: “Another US marine turned?” No doubt, the identity of the attacker with seemingly Caucasian features and a pronounced American accent could not but arise a lot of speculations, dragging previous incidents into the spotlight. How come Carrie, of all people, was not the first to make the connection?
The answer was simple: with Brody, it felt different. The possibility of him being turned was a part of their game from the start, it was a part of his fucked-up, half-wrecked self she eventually came to love and almost accept. She was scared, of course, and she realized the danger he could be to other people, but there was also excitement, there was passion, a sense of forbidden pleasure…
Quinn… She had never known him, except knowing he was always there for her. “I’m pretty likeable… and reliable.” Over the months, even years they worked together she couldn’t say she moved on to a more detailed understanding of who he actually was. Now that the latter was probably not true anymore (and the former, by consequence, didn’t matter), there was nothing to hold on to. The man she knew – and respected – and valued – and had kissed once – and had missed for two years – the man who had been willing to die for her last time she’d seen him – was dissolving into thin air, and she was filled with a sticky fear which paralyzed her, blurred her vision and made her choke.
Saul was waiting for her downstairs, still thrown after Allison’s capture and now hardened even more by the new looming threat. Carrie skipped the small talk.
- Yours or Adal’s?
- My what? Carrie, you don’t look well, I don’t think you can…
- The operation. Who’s in charge?
She realized that in her current state she would be soon speaking way too fast to make any sense, so words had to be kept to an efficient minimum.
- Dar. You do realize you have no access to…
She swished past him, apparently not listening any more, and Saul had to run after her, coming short of breath as he climbed the long stairs, trying to catch up with Carrie who was taking several steps at a time. Her brain was racing even faster, scheming, tracing strategies, lines, approaches, but neither of them fit together… When they finally reached the conference room and she saw Dar Adal, all she could manage was the ridiculous:
- I need to speak to him.
Dal Adal sighed, holding back a fit of anger.
-Mathison, we had this conversation before, it did not end well. I’m not a goddamn telephone booth!
-Do you know if he…? Her voice trailed off.
-No. But it’s been considerably more than 72 hours since our last contact, and we cannot know what has been done to him in this time frame or who could have worked on him.
The offhandedness with which he was discarding ‘his guy’ had such a visible effect on Carrie that Saul intervened before she could react, in his usual mentoring manner:
- It’s the protocol, Carrie, as you well know. We can’t…
Whatever she was going to say, she bit her tongue.
- What’s your plan?
- We’re analyzing the video for possible signs from Quinn – and cooperating with the BND regarding likely targets and recent spottings of extremist activities in Berlin.
- Let me help. I can’t just sit around doing nothing.
- Ok. Sure.
Apparently, with the goddamn video streamed on every TV and smartphone in the city, security clearance was no longer an issue. Saul showed her the full version of the video, with the ‘warning’: a man being gassed to death (presumably) in a glass chamber.
- Has the victim been ID’d?
- Waiting for the final confirmation. A confessed child molester from Kosovo, broke out from a state prison a few months back. Jewish.
- God. A dreadful way to go, but one would say good riddance. Did they just pick a random Jew and end up with this one? Too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? Could Quinn be behind the choice of victim?
Hope indeed lived in strangest places for Carrie at the moment.
- It is a working theory, yes. It could also mean the ISIL guys are not too big on pedophiles either. Although who’d have thought.
Dar Adal caught her in the hall when she was about to leave.
- Carrie. I wanted to give you something.
He handed her an envelope with her own name, scribbled across in black ink.
-You were Peter’s beneficiary in case something happened to him in Syria.
Carrie stared at him, incredulously.
- The fuck, Dar?! A goodbye letter? Now?!
- Forget the goodbye part. If you happen to locate him first – and he is what we all fear he might be – some personal information could really turn the tables for you. I thought Saul had taught you this much, after all these years. We’ve a fucking mass casualty attack to take care of.
To that she had nothing to say. However, treating Quinn like an asset, or worse, like an enemy, was something she preferred to put off for as long as she could. So she simply thrust the letter in the inner pocket of her jacket and got down to business.
Hezbollah guy. Allison does her thing. Hussein. Carrie realizes it’s Hauptbahnhof, not the airport.
Carrie drew a gun and rushed into the tunnel, hoping to god she wasn’t late. Soon she was slowly approaching a tall man in a gas mask, kneeled in front of four ominously looking metallic cylinders.
- Show me your hands or I’ll shoot.
He slowly lifted his hands, as she covered the remaining distance between them and pressed the muzzle of her gun against the back of his head. Quinn.
- Carrie, it’s me, I’m disabling the system, look…
Of course. The moment she leaned forward to see the bleak LCD screen, he disarmed her with such swiftness she could never tell what happened. Next thing she knew she was writhing on the rails, some two meters from him, right wrist numb with pain, the gun god knows where. Fuck.
Now that the sides were taken, she couldn’t afford to pay any more attention to Quinn, who was still fumbling with the device. The train, she thought. It had to be stopped. A brake on the rails, a red light, a barrier, anything, please – she wasn’t much of a subway engineer, but there had to be a way. Why the hell was it getting darker every second? It took her a while to realize that the blinding beam of light which made surrounding shadows almost impenetrable was the train, moving right at her at a rollercoaster speed. Acting on instinct, she leaped toward the opening she had noticed a few seconds earlier. She landed on something soft and wet, presumably, covered with fabric, and stayed there, unable to draw a breath, listening intently, trying to discern the deadly hissing of gas against the deafening clatter of the passing train. The last carriage swished past. Darkness again.
- Carrie, it’s over, turn the goddamn light on.
The train was gone, no hissing followed, and Quinn was shadowing the exit from Carrie’s shelter. He hit the switch on the wall, filling the tiny cubicle with yellow flickering light. She jumped to her feet, realizing that the bags she thought she had landed on were actually corpses of two attackers – multiple stab wounds, gas masks aside. Carrie drew a sharp breath.
- Sorry about the… (He waved toward her hand.) I had less than a minute to shut the system down before the train arrived – and a single attempt at the twenty-digit code. Not exactly enough time for a civilized conversation. Let me see.
Before he could get a proper look at her injured wrist, Carrie flung herself at him, hugging him clumsily with her one good arm, the side of her forehead pressed against his neck, his heartbeat racing wild against her skin. The whirlwind of debris, her entire new life falling apart and colliding into the bone-crushing funnel of the past few days suddenly froze in mid-air and realigned, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling in place. The only thing left was his pulse against her temple. One, two, three… Ten. Fifteen. A slight awkwardness sets in. Thirty. Ok, it’s ridiculous now. Forty. Carrie, you’re making a fool of yourself, say something at least –
Quinn was the first to break their embrace, grabbing his gun, turning to check on some suspicious noise in the tunnel – Carrie was pretty sure there wasn’t any, but she couldn’t decide whether she was frustrated or grateful for his move.
The abrupt stillness in her mind was too much, she needed to talk, to fill it with something.
- What happens now?
- Now we sit it out, until the guys upstairs get moving. If they suspect something, they might start doing stupid things. People might get hurt.
- Are you saying the plan was to trigger the system and hit the road? So much for martyrs in paradise.
- You’re right, the fuckers don’t know the first thing about suicide attacks. They are all over the CCTV anyway, let them fuck off.
The ice was broken, the rest could wait. They were back on the safe ground of work-related banter, and Carrie could swear she had never felt so cozy in the company of two dead bodies before. In a couple of minutes a patrolling SWAT team gave them all clear and escorted them to the square in front of the station. Saul was rushing toward them, probably the most radiant she had seen him in Berlin.
- Carrie, you alright? Peter, what you did today… I guess ‘good work’ doesn’t quite cover it. You both need some rest. The German police and the BND will take over from now, anyway. The debrief is at 8 p.m., Berlin station. I’ll have someone drive you.
In the car, they didn’t talk much. Carrie was eyeing him, desperate for an opportunity of a more detailed conversation, but the half-healed wound and over a week of constant vigilance with very little sleep were taking its toll – Quinn leaned his head against the window, eyes half-closed, as if he was about to dose off. It wasn’t until they were pulling over at her (and Jonas’) place that she realized Quinn hadn’t given an address to the driver.
- Quinn, where are you going? Astrid?
- The garage? You do realize it’s been swept, there’s nothing but bare concrete floor left…
Quinn didn’t as much as open his eyes; Carrie was only now realizing how exhausted he actually was.
- Listen, Carrie, I’ve got some cash, I’ll check in to a hotel, not to worry…
The words were rolling heavily from his tongue, and he evidently found it hard to finish his sentences.
- Bullshit, Quinn, let’s go.
She grasped him by the arm and helped him out of the car, then, without letting him go, led him up a flight of stairs into the empty, silent, sunlit apartment. She could not tell whether he didn’t mind or didn’t care, and she wasn’t sure it mattered right now.
- There’s a bed in that room, you can sleep there.
For reasons she couldn’t quite fathom, she did not say ‘our bedroom.’ In fact, nothing in this place felt ‘our’ any more. Without taking her shoes off, she dashed to the bathroom and put a splash of cold water on her face. It felt lukewarm, not cold enough, not refreshing enough, not enough – Carrie realized she was still far too worked up to sleep, but fatigue was simmering over the edge. She grabbed a sleeping pill, no, two is better, thought about taking a shower, a bath even, but ended up sitting on the rim, staring blankly at the stream of water from the tap. The new sleeping pills Maggie had sent her were surprisingly good stuff, she thought, as she caught her balance, almost sliding down into the bath with her clothes on. “Fuck it, I’ll shower later.”
She headed for the couch in the living room, but stopped, pinned to the spot by a heart-wrenching suspicion that he won’t be there when she wakes up. Or she wakes up and it will all have been a dream. “I can’t lose you, Quinn. Not again. Not after all this.” She stormed into the bedroom and threw herself on the bed next to him, at a safe distance, without bothering to explain.
The last thing he did before blacking out was stretch his arm across Carrie’s chest, putting his hand on her shoulder in a half-protective, half-possessive gesture. Before she could protest it to any effect – even if she had wanted to – he was long gone in the pitch-black non-existence, the deepest of sleeps he’d had in the past few months.
She closed her eyes and followed him there.
A familiar voice dragged her mercilessly to the surface, the objects starting to come into focus. The warm glow of the sun and bluish silhouettes of the trees outside indicated that the dusk was about to set in. How long have they been asleep? A few hours? A day? A week? She turned her head – god, it was hurting – to see the tall figure of her boyfriend lingering at the door.
- Jonas. Hi.
She carefully slid from under Quinn’s arm, sat up and tried to get on her feet, involuntarily putting her weight on the injured hand, which was now swollen and hot. Ouch.
- Carrie, I think you owe me an…
- I don’t owe you anything! She snapped, more because of the unexpectedly sharp pain than because she truly thought so. But we need to talk, obviously.
- Carrie, I just need to know. The mysterious blonde woman in the Hauptbahnhof tunnels with a gun. You?
Jonas caught Carrie by the shoulder as she was passing him on her way to the kitchen, tentatively, although unsure of her reaction.
-Yeah. No. I mean, yes, it was me, but he was there first.
She tilted her head in the direction of the bedroom, let Jonas’ hand slide off her shoulder and stumbled to the kitchen. As she bent over to get an ice pack from the freezer, she felt a crisp of paper in her inside pocket. It took her a second to remember what it was, but once it dawned on her, she felt the letter would literally burn a hole in her if she didn’t deal with it right away. So, crouched by the fridge, her right hand reposing on a big ice pack, she began to drink in the lines, scribbled offhandedly on a piece of cheap greyish paper, but each of them echoing through Carrie’s mind as if they were being cast in stone while she read them.
“Carrie - I guess I'm done and we never happened. I'm not one for words but they are coming now.” Gasp.
Jonas entered the kitchen and saw her at the fridge, apparently, taking care of her hand. No looking her in the eye then, even better. Like many men – and lawyers, – he was always better at phrasing things when appealing to an imaginary audience, impersonal and respectful – a professional deformation of sorts. So he just stared at the darkening street outside, carefully laying out the arguments he had been preparing.
- Carrie, listen. I have given a lot of thought to what happened between us.
(“I don't believe in fate, or destiny or horoscopes but I can't say I'm surprised things turned out this way.” Gasp.)
- Although it did not look this way, I can’t say you surprised me by the dark side of your past. After all, I was the one to check your background for the Foundation. But I guess I just never really linked the dots, never put your face behind all those facts and figures.
(“I always felt there was something kind a pulling me back to darkness, does that make sense? but I wasn't allowed a real life or a real love - that was for normal people.” Carrie stopped breathing.)
- You have to understand it has been hard for me, as it would be for most normal people. And it’s not your condition I’m referring to – we both know it is not something we can’t get over together.
(“With you I thought, ah maybe, just maybe but I know now that was a false glimmer. I'm used to those, they happen all the time in the desert but this one got to me –”)
- It’ s the life you were leading, the life that is still kind of pulling you to darkness, and it will, if you let it. But I can’t follow you there, and you know that nobody can. Think about Frannie.
(“and here's the thing, this death, this end of me is exactly what should've happened. I wanted the darkness, I fuckin' asked for it.”)
- What happened to her and what happened to my son must never happen again. I want you to ensure this, and I am willing to help you. I am convinced that our relationship still has a future.
(“It has me now, so don't put a star on the wall for me, don't say some dumb speech, just think of me as a light on the headlands, a beacon steering you clear of the rocks.”)
- I think we both deserve a second chance. I think we could do better this time… Carrie, what are you reading there? Were you even listening?!
“I loved you. Yours for always now – Quinn.” She breathed out, finally, and raised her eyes.
- I’m sorry. What?
- I came here to tell you I wanted to give us… I… But I see now. You’re evidently not in the mood to even listen to me and – and I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to say to you any more…
He raised his hands in resignation, as if putting up a barrier between him and Carrie. It was the gesture that finished her, this helpless, somewhat feminine, cliché wave of his hands. She honestly could not remember when was the last time she had taken her meds, and some part of her was grimly content about the upcoming outburst.
- Oh don’t give me that crap, Jonas, you’re a lawyer, for Christ’s sake! You know exactly what to say and when to say it. “I don’t know how you live with yourself, Carrie.” “I won’t involve my family in this” “I won’t get involved either.” (She mimicked him with merciless, painful precision.)
- Carrie, I can’t believe…
- Yeah, hold that. You know what I can’t believe? That I actually opened up to you and let you in! Fuck, and then I had to actually beg you to bring me a pack of antibiotics, and when you found out they weren’t for me, you freaked out and went all insecure? You know why I had to lie to you? Because I had known by then that you did not care for me enough to trust my judgment!
- Your judgment when you put my family on…
- Family?! Define family! Is it just your sister, or also your ex and your kids who you occasionally see at weekends, despite living on a neighboring street? Guess what, you don’t get to call them your family any more, you walked away from them, I don’t care whose decision it was, it was your responsibility as well, and you let it happen, so you fucked it up in the first place, just like you fucked up with… Quinn.
The last word she breathed out in a completely different tone, definitely unrelated to anything she had been yelling before. Jonas turned abruptly, to see Quinn enter the kitchen, in his shabby nondescript outfit, smeared in someone’s blood (or was it his own?) – a creature from Carrie’s underworld, her accomplice, her finger-on-the-trigger, her –
Peter winced at the hoarseness of his own voice, resonating through the ringing silence that had filled the kitchen after Carrie’s hysterical shrieks. Pale as a ghost, he walked across the kitchen, took a glass from the counter, poured some water from the tap and drank it in a few big gulps.
- Carrie, debrief. Time to go. (Turning to Jonas) Sorry to interrupt.
Jonas was too preoccupied to answer. The manic, venomous Carrie he was ready to slap, shake, strangle, shout at for her ridiculous, unfair accusations, for the chaos and destruction she had brought to his measured and sensible life, was gone without a trail. She was now so silent he couldn’t tell if she was breathing at all, watching Quinn with such intense attention as if her life depended on it, waiting for anything – a word, a sign, a secret signal of sorts.
Jonas realized somehow that the role of a wounded, jealous partner was not the one to play at the moment. Strangely, his resentment and frustration seemed to have shattered against a wall of concrete. Instead, he tried to suppress a feeling that he was the one intruding upon a connection which extended above and beyond anything he could put a label on.
- A Berlin station car will be picking us up from the nearest crossing in five minutes.
They headed for the door.
At the debrief, Quinn was brilliant as usual, concise and efficient, fighting his fatigue and laying out the impeccable scheme of his audacious operation with his signature eloquence and precision – but probably just a bit too much cynicism. Indifference. Hostility, even. Something Carrie had never seen in him, not even in the Islamabad turmoil. She tried to be helpful too, verifying what she could, supplementing details, immersing once again in the waters she knew so well. She even asked Quinn a few questions, clarifying some minor details. There was a million other questions she wanted to ask him, but no debrief in the world could include them. How did he make it? Why did he take off on another mission? Was he really, actually trying to die in order to keep her safe? And above all, did it really “not matter now”?
Finally, the meeting was over. Shortly after midnight, they were standing in the dimly lit corridor outside the conference room, uneasiness starting to grow on both of them. Carrie wanted to smile, to say something cheerful, but all she could do was stare at him with such burning intensity that it scared her. From his side, it must have been quite a spectacle, too, because Quinn almost flinched, although never broke their eye contact.
She’d never looked at him this way before. But it was too late for anything, right? Right? So Quinn was the first one to make the move. Or the opposite of a move, actually.
- Right. So, see you stateside sometime.
- Yeah. Don’t know about that. Technically, I’m still with the Foundation.
- I see.
- When’s your flight?
- Don’t know. I guess I still have a couple of hours.
Think, Carrie, think, the time is now. Dinner? Preposterous. A drink? The conversation she intended to have could not be made over a diet coke, and she was not going to let a single drop of alcohol dim her perception and judgment. Not this time. Not with him.
- Care for a smoke?
There was a small balcony at the end of the hall. Shit, she didn’t have any cigarettes. She must have said it out loud, or her frantic search over her pockets spoke for itself, but he smirked, and then added with that detached and inscrutable impression on his face she had already come to hate since their first Berlin encounter:
- Yeah, me neither. I believe you have something of mine, though.
Fucking Dar. There was no use denying. She fished the cramped letter from her inner pocket, trying to make her hands shake less, and held it out to him. Quinn took the letter by the corner, with two fingers – not like something disgusting, more like something utterly foreign, something he couldn’t relate to in any possible way. He glanced at it and suddenly Carrie was aware that in the heat of her argument with Jonas she hadn’t succeeded to fold it properly – its edge was still visible over the rim of the envelope. So now he knew she had read it. Shit, she thought. Shit.
Do something. Yell at me. Tell me I wasn’t supposed to read it. Tell me it doesn’t matter. Tell me you’re not that person any more. Tell me I’m not that person.
But he didn’t say anything. He looked away and leaned on the railing, still holding the letter with his fingers. Fetching a lighter from his pocket, he took it to the envelope, starting from the corner.
The heat from the burning paper was distorting the city lights, turning them into a whimsical, shimmering mirage, first above the fire, then all around them – a sea of colored light swallowing a handful of black ashes caught in the wind. Carrie knew it wasn’t just the fire blurring the vision, it was the tears streaming down her face, effortlessly and silently – a sensation she hadn’t experienced for quite a while, crushing and exhilarating at the same time. So this is where it all ends, she thought. She just wished he wouldn’t turn around. And she wouldn’t have to explain the tears, and she wouldn’t be looking for nice words of goodbye and gratitude, because, really, she should thank him for everything he’s done for her and, well, for everyone in this city, and he’s really outdone himself this time, and it’s clear now that he has changed, that he is in a very different place now – for better or for worse – and she doesn’t belong to that place, not with her long-expired hope and –
She fumbled for a handkerchief, failed to find one, swore under her breath and started wiping her face with the back of her hand, trying not to sniff too loudly and to even out her breath.
The last piece of ash was far up in the air, but Quinn kept looking at the city beneath their feet, silent and still, a bit too still to seem relaxed. Of course, he heard Carrie crying. Fucking Dar. It was not how he had hoped to have this conversation.
He wanted to turn around and tell her that she wasn’t supposed to read the letter he had asked Dar to destroy over a year before. But now that she’d read it, it didn’t matter. That he was not that person any more. He was not running away to fight the war he hardly believed in. That she was not that person, dumb and oblivious to other people’s feelings, hiding behind the wall of her own problems and past. That ‘they’ could happen, if she‘d finally allow it. That darkness had had him for a while and then had spat him out, back into existence – not without purpose, apparently. And he did not want to be a fucking beacon, or whatever pompous crap he had come up with at that desperate moment – he just wanted to be with her. Again. Still. To see her every day, to hold her, to protect her from the enemies and herself, to keep her out of harm’s way – fuck the rocks, fuck steering, – to make her balanced and happy, although he could hardly imagine what it would feel like.
But it seemed like too many meaningful words for one short night.
So he turned around and kissed her.