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A (Not So) Well-Behaved Woman

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Susan's mother raises her to be a nice, neat, well-behaved girl. One who doesn't want too much from life. ("If you don't expect too much, you'll never be disappointed, Susan.") One who doesn't aim too high. ("Science is for boys, Susan.")

But Susan still has hope, has dreams. So she applies to a computer engineering program in a good, if not great, college, and no one is more surprised than her mother when she gets in. ("I hope you won't be disappointed, Susan.) Or that she does so well. ("Are you sure these are your grades?")

And because her mother is her mother, she suggests Susan do a teaching degree in her final year. ("Just in case, dear.") So Susan does the teaching degree, even though she stops being cautious with her dreams and she's looking forward to a cool future working for a cool lab writing cool programs.

But then she doesn't get a cool job at a cool lab. She doesn't even get interviews at the companies where she really wants to work. ("Oh Susan, you know girls like you don't get hired by places like that.") She gets interviews with banks and insurance companies. And even they don't hire her. ("I'm so sorry, Susan, but at least you've still got your teaching degree.")

And that's how she ends up teaching eighth grade comp sci to a bunch of hormonal little brats who can't concentrate on one of her lessons to save their pimply skins. The one good thing about the job is giving the too few girls who end up in her class a role model, proof that women can do science, even if they just end up teaching in a middle school in the middle of nowhere.

She buries her dreams for ten years.

Ten years later, she finds a short article in a three-day-old copy of the New York Times in the school's teacher's lounge. An article about how the CIA is encouraging diversity in their ranks. How they're recruiting minorities. Recruiting women. Recruiting people with life experience. How they aren't just looking for cookie cutter college boys with blond haircuts and bland good looks.

She sends in her application the next day. Her mother died last year, but Susan still hears her voice as she presses the submit button on the online form. ("I don't think the CIA hires women like you, Susan.") She ignores the voice. She ignores it when she's accepted. ("Are you sure they didn't make a mistake?") She ignores it when she arrives for her first day of training at the Farm. ("Do you think you'll be able to keep up with your classmates?") She ignores it the first time she stands in the firing range, her weapon an unfamiliar weight in her hand. ("A gun, Susan? You're shooting a gun?")

But it's on the firing range that she finds a new voice to listen to.

Agent Campbell is an old school agent. With his salt-and-pepper hair and steel-coloured eyes, he looks like a Hollywood casting director's version of a CIA agent. But he's the first person at the Farm to really notice her. To see something in her beyond her ability with computers.

He notices her that first day on the shooting range. The day she surprises herself with how comfortable she feels with a weapon in her hand.

"We've got ourselves a marksman," Campbell says when he examines her first target, with the tightly patterned holes blown through its head and heart.

"Markswoman," she replies, hoping she isn't making an enemy.

"Marksperson," Campbell finishes, giving her a wink. Old school Campbell might be, but he's always the first one to call out the sexist crap the male trainees too often pull on the women at the Farm.

Campbell helps her improve her shooting until she really is a marksperson, and pushes her to work more on her hand-to-hand fighting skills and her tradecraft.

"You never know what'll get you out of a tight corner in the field, Coop," he tells her.

She listens to Campbell. She lets him be the new voice in her head. And she's happy when he's the one running the show for her final live fire exercise, the one that will determine her place in the graduating class, the one that will decide whether she ends up out in the field or in a room back at Langley.

"Cooper to the firing line."

Agent Campbell's voice crackles on the intercom of the holding area. Susan starts at the sound of her name, then stands. She takes a deep breath, then moves through the crowd, accepting good luck wishes from her friends and a quick supportive hug from Nancy.

Campbell looks at her with a carefully neutral expression as she approaches the entrance to the exercise, then gives her an encouraging smile.

"How's my favourite marksman, Coop?"

"Markswoman," she parries.

"Marksperson, he gives the final riposte. "Good luck, Coop," he says, as she waits for the door to open, trigger finger flat against the side of the gun, ready to fire.

"I don't need luck, sir," she says. "I just need what you've taught me." She gives him a quick smile and then concentrates on the status lights, blinking red, then orange.

There's a final blink and then Campbell points at her as the status light switches from orange to green.

"Go," he says, his voice quiet but firm.

Susan takes a deep breath, lets it out in a huff, and moves through the opening door into the first room. She passes through each room like she's been trained, scanning the layout, evaluating each threat, taking out the bad guys and leaving the innocents standing.

She's in the final room when her weapon jams.

"Stupid gun," she spits out in frustration, and throws the gun down. She screams and keeps going, letting her training over. She takes out the cardboard figure in front of her with the hand-to-hand skills she's been taught.

There's a movement behind her, and she turns, throwing the new threat into the wall and moving to neutralize it. Him. The threat is a him, a real person, not a piece of cardboard. She realizes it's Agent Campbell sprawled on the floor just as another instructor moves in to restrain her.

"Stand down, Coop," Campbell says, one hand held up in surrender.

"Sorry, sir," she says, equal parts mortified that she's attacked an instructor and pleased that she's cleared the whole house.

"No need to be sorry, Coop," he says with a smile. "That was the most committed response to a weapon jam I've ever seen. Most trainees usually freeze."

"Thank you, sir." She feels her face grow warm at the compliment.

"When anyone asks me who to recommend for a strike team, Coop, you'll be at the top of my list."

She doesn't stop smiling for a week after that.

By graduation, she's all set for a career as a field agent, has even been tapped by several field offices to join their teams. But then at the reception after the ceremony, Agent Campbell calls her over.

"Coop, there's someone who wants to meet you." He gestures to a handsome young man standing behind him. "Susan Cooper, this is Bradley Fine. Fine, this is Coop. She's one of the best recruits in this intake. Coop, Fine was one of my best students last year."

"Coop," Fine says with a smile, holding out his hand. "I've heard so much about you."

Fine is a golden boy. Everyone's heard of him. He'd been top of the class last year, and is making a name for himself in the field. Word is he's smart and brave. And he's gorgeous. And he wants to meet her. In fact he spends the whole evening monopolizing her time.

"How would you handle an exfil from Moldavia?" he asks. "What hand gun do you prefer? What decryption protocols would you use in the field?"

He asks so many questions, listens to her answers and tells her how brilliant she is. Being treated as a competent professional by a handsome man is more intoxicating than the cheap alcohol the Company has supplied for the reception.

And then he makes her a dream offer.

"How would you like to be my partner?"

"Your partner?" The words have barely left her lips before she's picturing herself wearing designer clothes in European castles and breaking the security on top secret enemy bases to save kidnapped scientists.

"Well, my support person. My eyes and ears when I'm in the field."

She feels her skin ice over, feels her breath stutter in her throat. She thinks she's managed not to change her expression, but some of what she feels must show on her face because Fine pauses and looks at her closely.

"I'm sorry." He looks contrite. "That was stupid of me. You want to be in the field. You should be in the field. Forget I ever said anything. Can I get you a drink?"

"No," she says, recovering quickly, because she's been here before. Has been disappointed to find that a boy didn't like her after all, that she wasn't invited to a party, that she hadn't gotten the job she wanted. That the charming secret agent she thought wanted her for a partner wants her as an assistant. "I mean yes. And no."

He gives her a confused look that manages to be adorable and undoes all her determination in a moment.

"Yes, I would like to be your partner, I mean support person. No, I would not like a drink."

"Yes? You mean it?" His smile lights up his face, making him even more handsome and sealing her doom.

"Yes!" she hears herself saying. "Definitely yes. Support can be interesting."

"That's brilliant!" Fine says. "And support can be interesting. And it won't be forever. You can re-apply for a field position next year. I could help you. Give you a recommendation. Show you the ropes."

("Are you sure this is what you want?" Campbell asks when she tells him what she's decided. "This isn't why I introduced you two.")

("It's really all for the best," her mother's voice says in her head.")

And that's how she ends up as Fine's basement person, the secret ingredient to his brilliant career, her chance at a field assignment receding ever further into the distance.

"You should wait another year," he says their second year together. "You'll be a shoo-in then."

"You'd be wasted in the field, Coop," he says after five years. "How would I survive without you?"

"Great work, Coop," he says, during that last mission. The one that finally kills him. "And hey, pick up my dry cleaning, could you?"

She loves Fine, she really does, and not in a pathetically-in-love-with-an-out-of-your-league co-worker way. At least, not just in that way.

But sometime she doesn't like him very much.

Fine is dead. And then he isn't.

He's a traitor. And then he isn't.

Susan has been through so much, felt so much, in the last few days that she isn't sure about anything anymore.

Except one thing: how much she's been underestimated.

Fine underestimates her. Ford underestimates her. She's even underestimated herself. Everyone had always underestimated her. (Well, everyone but Agent Campbell, back at the Farm.) But she's a full agent. She's a spy. And she's better than all of them.

So, fuck this shit.

"I'm not going down like this," she says, and she absolutely means it. She isn't going to wait for Fine to rescue her. She isn't going to sit here and wait for Aldo to try and cop a feel. She's going to get untied, and get to De Luca's villa. She's going to stop De Luca and Rayna.

She's going to do her fucking job and save the world.

And she's going to fucking rock at it.