WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU WANTED
by R. J. Anderson
The next day, Dixon sends you and Weiss to Geneva, to meet a deep-cover CIA agent inside the Covenant who claims to have some important intel about their plans. It's the usual routine -- a sexy disguise (a wig of tumbled blonde curls and a skin-tight silver dress, which earns you a wolf-whistle and a thumbs-up from your husband), some hot tech from Marshall (in this case, a powder compact that disrupts electronic signals), and a timetable that leaves no margin for error.
It's an exclusive party for Covenant members and their allies both present and potential, and security is tight. If you're not smoking a cigarette by the champagne fountain at precisely 11:21 p.m., the plan will be aborted. And there's no Plan B, either -- just setting up this meeting was risky enough for your contact, and he can't afford to awaken any more suspicion.
"Here we go again," you murmur as Weiss, smartly dressed in his chauffeur's uniform, drives you up to the entrance of the hotel.
"Yeah, yeah. You live for this. Go get 'em, Syd." He grins at you in the rear view mirror, and you smile back. Then he slides out from behind the wheel, opens your door with an appropriate show of deference, and you're on.
Your heels are high, your legs are long, your dress leaves little to the imagination, and your purse is obviously too tiny to hold a gun. Unfortunately, there's a woman in charge of security tonight, and she insists on searching your purse anyway. No matter: you pass. Meanwhile, the burly man checking invitations at the door is so bedazzled he barely glances at the card you pull out of the low neckline of your dress, which is a good thing because it's only a vague facsimile.
The clock in your head, which is perfectly synchronized to Weiss's watch, tells you it's 11:20. You do your patented catwalk strut through the crowd to the appropriate corner of the room, turn your back on the assemblage just long enough to powder your nose (and activate the signal-jamming device), then light up a cigarette and wait.
Exactly one minute later a hawk-faced man with thinning blond hair stops by the table for a fresh glass of champagne. "This is a no-smoking area," he says in a disapproving tone. You blow a smoke ring at him, insolently, and tell him in French what he can do with himself. He grimaces and turns away, picking up the glass as though to leave, and then you hear him mutter,
"Jakarta. The 17th, 2300 hours, Tanamur Nightclub. Bio-weapons deal with Jemaah Islamiyah. Details on the chip."
Jemaah Islamiyah is an Indonesian terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda -- no wonder your contact thought this meeting worth the risk. You look down, and see something tiny glittering beneath a napkin on the table. With a disdainful toss of your blonde wig you turn your back on him and palm it, picking up a champagne flute at the same time to cover the motion.
"Good luck," he says, and walks away.
You wait a discreet few minutes, long enough to finish your horrible-tasting cigarette and be rude to two more people, and then sashay out onto the balcony. Five floors below, you can see Weiss lounging against the side of the limousine, all broad shoulders and long legs. Objectively, you have to admit that his build makes him look a little more mature -- even more masculine -- than Vaughn, though there's only an inch and twenty pounds' worth of difference between them.
Too bad you've always preferred the boyish type.
A sudden, agitated outbreak of voices from behind you makes you glance back over your shoulder. Through the balcony doors you see the woman from security, the burly man who checked -- or rather, didn't check -- your invitation, and two other grim-faced men heading toward you with guns drawn.
"Weiss!" you hiss into the wire Marshall threaded through the strap of your gown. "I've been made!"
He doesn't move, and you realize belatedly that the signal-jamming device is still activated. There's no time to turn it off and repeat your warning, so instead you grab the compact out of your purse and fling it onto the pavement at his feet.
It shatters, he jumps, and his face automatically turns up to the balcony where you stand. One look at you, brilliantly lit by the hotel spotlights and making frantic gotta go right now gestures, and he knows at once what to do. With the speed and smoothness of long expertise he grabs the grappling hook and rope from beneath the front seat of the limo and shoots it up to you. It catches on the balcony's edge, and not a moment too soon: you grab it and vault over the stone railing just as the first bullet whizzes past your ear.
You burn your hands -- and worse, your thighs -- on the rope going down, but the adrenaline pumping through your system is stronger than any pain. Both of your three-inch heels break off when you hit the pavement, but you're used to that, and anyway it makes it easier to run around the limo and jump in.
Weiss is right with you: he stomps on the accelerator, wrenches the wheel around, and lays a streak of rubber all the way to the road. You screech out onto the busy street, narrowly missing somebody's blue Volkswagen, and roar off into the night.
"You okay?" Weiss asks, his eyes still intent on the road.
You glance back. Nobody's following you -- which is pretty much as you'd expected: they couldn't have guessed you'd make such a fast escape, not with that outfit on. And speaking of which, the silver dress is ripped up both sides nearly to the waist: you won't be wearing that again. For once you find yourself thankful that you and Weiss are married -- under other circumstances this would be pretty awkward.
But, you realize as you see the grin tugging at the corners of Weiss's mouth, nothing about tonight has been awkward. There was no jealousy or resentment in his eyes when he watched you get out of the limo; he knew, as you've always known, that you were only playing a part, and that the real Syd wouldn't be caught dead in such an outfit. And even though things tonight didn't go exactly according to plan, he read your cues and worked with you so smoothly, you didn't even need a wire.
You can see, now, why Dixon thought it worth making you a permanent team. For what you do, you need a partner you can absolutely count on, someone who'll back you up without hesitation and not go haring off on his own. And that's Weiss. That's always been Weiss.
"Yeah," you say, smiling back at him. "I'm great."
* * *
You didn't consciously plan it that way, but your rope burns end up earning you another reprieve. Except that after a few minutes lying spread-eagled on the safe-house bed with Eric's warm fingers gently smearing ointment up your thighs, you're not so sure you want to be let off the hook. Especially when he finishes the job with a kiss that leaves a smudge of white on the end of his nose, and another of those wolfish grins.
Still, he's too sensible to expect anything out of you in this state. And half an hour later you lie beside him in the darkness with your gauze-wrapped hands folded awkwardly across your chest, asking yourself, When did I start falling in love with Eric Weiss?
You mean the other Sydney, of course, the Sydney you don't remember being. Did it happen on a mission like this, when you realized that the best partner you'd ever had might be the only partner you ever needed? Or did it happen at your apartment, over tequila and old regrets? Was it the night he drove you home, when your loneliness became so unbearable that you threw yourself into his arms -- and he didn't take advantage of your impulsive, foolish offer?
Now wait a second, your mind protests, that's --
But you fall asleep before you can finish the thought.
* * *
[end of Part Four]
Part Five is more than half done already, so look for it within the next couple of days. Oh, and thanks to everybody who voted for me on hpbnfdm_lives! I was sure I'd get chopped, but I ended up making it to Round Three by a score of 59 to 50! Woo hoo!
Of course, along the way I was charitably informed by two courageous souls that D&L "sucked" and was "boring", but fortunately I was in a playful mood this morning, so I just had fun with it. Mind you, if they'd caught me tonight, I might have felt a little less cheery... O_o