“Are you okay?” Shane falls into step beside me as I walk through the halls of Leukos, making me jump slightly at his sudden appearance.
Obviously, I’d been pretty deep into my own thoughts to not even notice his approach.
“I’ve been asked that a lot lately,” I say softly, thinking back to Connor’s pleading the night before to tell him what was wrong.
“Are you?” Shane asks, his voice full of concern. “Okay?” He adds after a long pause.
“I don’t know, Shane,” I say honestly. “I mean, I killed a man at the hospital, I did my job, but somehow, this kill is haunting me. And then, Connor…”
“What about Connor?” Shane asks sharply. “Is he alright?”
“He’s fine,” I say. “He doesn’t know a thing about what happened, though I’m sure it will be all over the hospital today. He’s working a double shift, so, he’ll be there. He might even be questioned, since he was on duty in the emergency room…”
“You did your job, Em. That’s all.”
“I know,” I reply, then take a deep breath. “Shane… I want to tell him so badly who I am. I can’t stand lying to him anymore.”
Shane doesn’t say anything, and we turn a corner, Shane grabbing my elbow and steering me into a deserted alcove, away from prying eyes and listening ears. “You can’t, Em. You know that.”
“I know I know that,” I say, my voice breaking with frustration. “But I feel like I’m being pulled in two.”
“It gets easier…”
“No!” I bark. “It doesn’t get easier. It’s getting harder… I’m really falling for him, Shane, and I… I killed to protect him. And, yes, I feel guilty, but in some ways, I don’t. And that’s even scarier – I have no regrets about killing that man, because he threatened Connor. What kind of person am I turning into?”
“You’re turning into a good operative, Em. In fact, I was going to tell you today… you’ve been promoted to third tier operative. You’re going to start planning missions on your own now, with a bit of guidance from me for a while. The powers that be are pleased with your performance, and you’ve had a real impact on the world terror organizations in the last few months. You should be really proud of that.”
“I am, but…”
“So don’t lose sight of the big picture because of Connor.”
“Don’t break cover, Emmanuelle,” Shane orders, and I can hear the shift in his voice. “Don’t. You’ll regret it. And I might not be able to protect you.”
“Protect me?” I ask, confused.
Shane sighs, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. “I’ve done everything I can to keep your relationship with Connor private. I’ve told Harkness to gag it, I’ve hidden the files, and I’ve led the powers that be to believe that your assignment to Connor was because of geography, not emotion. But if you go off grid, I might not be able to…”
“Why did you do that?” I ask, interrupting him.
“Em,” Shane says, his voice deeper now, nearly emotional. “Because you’re special. You’re one of my best friends, and my best operatives. I care about you. I don’t want to see you throw things away.”
“I’m one of your best operatives?”
This is truly high praise, and I’m not sure I believe it.
“You are,” Shane agrees without hesitation. “I think you’re going to leapfrog me one of these days, put me out of a job.”
I laugh. “I don’t see that happening.”
“Anything is possible. Just keep your eye on the ball – at least for a while longer, okay? Things might work out.”
“I’ve really been promoted?” I ask, not quite sure I believe it.
“You really have. You’ll get the official word later today, but I wanted to be the one to tell you. I’m really proud of you, Em. It’s amazing how far you’ve come in the last five years.”
“It’s because of you, you know,” I say with a smile. “I learned from the best, and you still keep me on my toes every once in a while.”
Shane shrugs, but I can see that my comment has pleased him.
“And you’ll help me? At least for a while?” I’m suddenly nervous about my promotion, and about the added responsibilities I’m going to have to shoulder to continue the good work of Leukos.
“Count on it,” Shane says. “I don’t want you screwing up my excellent record.”
I grin, and he smiles in return. “Any news from Stepanek’s camp? Any word about the hospital hit?” I ask, turning back to shop talk, but Shane shakes his head.
“Nothing. We don’t know if your little ‘message’ got through to Stepanek’s people or not. The hit might still be active on Connor…”
“Precisely,” Shane agrees. “Better to keep Connor close for a while longer, at least until we get confirmation that it’s been called off.”
“I thought we were going out on a mission tonight,” I say, and Shane nods.
“We are,” Shane says. “I’ll assign Connor another tail for the night. He’s working at the hospital all night?”
“He’ll be there until after noon tomorrow,” I confirm, breathing a little easier to know someone will watch him while I’m gone. “Assign someone good, will you?”
“Good. I’ll send one of our best surveillance ops. That way, we can focus on the mission, then,” Shane says. “The Maxted mission is going to go live in a few hours. We’re going to infiltrate tonight. Hope you’re packed.”
I grin. “Brought my best spy clothes and everything. Where’s the target?”
“Just outside Madrid. If all goes well, we’ll be home in time for breakfast.”
“Good,” I say, pushing away from the wall. “You can buy me pancakes when we get back.”
Shane grins and nods his assent. “Play your cards right, I might even spring for a cup of coffee for you, too” he says, falling into step with me again as we go into the operations center to learn about our latest mission.