I heave a sigh as I turn in my comm. unit and my disguise to the “props department” (as we call it), and then slip into my own coat and grab my own purse, getting ready to head out the door for the night. I’m hoping to catch the 7:10 train back to Eastbourne so I can be home to watch a little telly and unwind before I turn in for the night.
I know Connor is working through the night at the hospital, so it will just be little old me tonight – a bit of a lonely thought, but then, my bed is sounding AWFULLY good after my night of little sleep the night before. Thinking of this makes me smile to myself as I turn towards the front doors.
I look over my shoulder and wave goodbye to Shane, but he gestures for me to talk to him, so I walk across the floor and give him a smile. “I’m debriefed, so I was going to try and catch the next train home, unless there’s something else…”
Shane’s eyes are tight with strain, his face a mask that I can’t quite read. “There is something else. Sorry.”
“Oh,” I say, my voice a little disappointed at being delayed. This means I’m going to have to catch the later train… “Okay, what’s up?”
He shakes his head once. “Not here. We need to leave Luekos to talk.”
I cock my head to one side, trying to read his voice, but his face and voice are totally impassive and impossible to read. “Shane? Is everything okay?” I ask, my voice laced with concern.
“Meet me outside in five minutes,” he says tightly.
And with that, he turns on his heel and walks away, leaving me a little confused. Well, a lot confused.
O-kay, I think to myself, bewildered. Something is going on, and I have no idea what.
I bid goodnight to several of my colleagues then take the elevator to the street level, where Shane is hunched against a light pole, his hands thrust in his pockets. “Shane, what’s going on?” I ask, but he shakes his head again. “What is it?”
Without a word, he heads towards the nearby tube station, and I fall into step beside him, giving up on asking. Shane is not going to say a word until he’s ready – I’ve played this game with him before.
But this time, his actions are worrying me.
Minutes later, we are speeding along on the Underground, taking the Piccadilly Line and not speaking to one another until we reach the stop for Hyde Park Corner. Wordlessly, I follow Shane out of the tube station and we walk in silence until we reach Hyde Park, which is now darkened and more deserted than during the day – all the tourists have gone back to their hotels for the night, I muse.
We fall into step with each other again, and I breathe in the cool night air, feeling it wash over me, erasing the strain of the day at the Vatican and the sleepless night I had before. I love Hyde Park – all the people, the Serpentine, the Speaker’s Corner, but I know that tonight it’s not a going to be a pleasurable stroll around the park for the sake of it. Something is seriously up – Shane’s never this quiet for this long.
“Shane,” I say softly. “You’re starting to scare me a little bit. What’s going on? Why couldn’t we talk at Leukos?”
“What I’m about to tell you is highly classified, and highly sensitive,” Shane says, not looking at me. “I didn’t want any eyes or ears to overhear it if we stayed at the office.”
I nod, and wait for him to continue. This tactic isn’t completely unheard of, but usually I have a little warning that something truly secretive is about to go down, and that I’m somehow involved.
Shane takes a deep breath, and then speaks again. “Five years ago, an MI-6 agent infiltrated the organization of Vaclav Stepanek – have you heard of him?”
I nod in understanding. Stepanek has been on our radar for years, but we’ve been unable to touch him. He’s a “legitimate” businessman out of Prague who dabbles in a host of areas – buying up communications companies, banks, and anything that can create a profit for him and his huge conglomerate. He buys the companies then either makes them more profitable or breaks them apart and sells the pieces for a tidy income.
And he uses a hell of a lot of his “legitimate” money to fund terrorist activities in the West, controlling a whole syndicate with a host of targets across the globe.
The trouble has been proving the terrorist links enough to take him down without an international court intervening on his behalf, since he has many of those court members in his back pockets already.
Stepanek is truly a dangerous man to tangle with.
“Good,” Shane says at my nod. “This agent has been working as one of his accountants, and has gained Stepanek’s trust over time, becoming a part of his inner circle. This man has been deep undercover for the last half a decade, but recently believed that he was coming under suspicion from some of Stepanek’s colleagues and closest allies. Rather than risk losing either the agent or the data collected over the years against Stepanek, MI-6 pulled him out and returned him to London, where he is under constant surveillance for his own protection.”
I nod again, wondering what this has to do with me.
“The agent is very well protected by MI-6, but Stepanek has vowed retribution for what he considers a betrayal, though he hasn’t actually been able to prove that the agent was working both sides of the fence,” Shane says, sighing heavily.
“Makes sense,” I say. “Terrorists aren’t known for liking loose ends.”
“Exactly,” Shane agrees, but saying nothing else for a long minute.
“Soo…” I say, prompting him. “What does this have to do with me?”
We have reliable intel from inside Stepanek’s organization that he has authorized a hit to make the agent ‘pay’ for his betrayal. We need you to act as a protection officer to prevent this, as this MI-6 agent is extremely valuable, not to mention we try to avoid the loss of innocent life as a matter of course.”
I snort slightly. “Generally, yes.”
Shane, however, does not smile.
“Okay,” I prompt again. “Why isn’t MI-6 taking care of this?”
Shane gives a snort of his own. “They have rules governing all their behavior, being a government entity, and somehow this falls outside of their jurisdiction, since it does not involve one of their agents. MI-6 made a call to Leukos, dropping this in our lap. They have to keep things involving Stepanek extremely quiet, even within their own organization. Basically, we’re being caught up in office politics.”
I nod again, understanding how convoluted such things can be, though we sometimes resent our organization having to be the ‘clean up crew’ so often. “So, who is this agent I’m protecting?”
Shane shakes his head. “You aren’t protecting the agent himself.”
I wait for what seems like the inevitable punch line.
“You are protecting his son.”
I nod. “Here in London? Do I have assets at my disposal for protection? When do I start?”
Shane stops suddenly in the middle of the path, turning to face me, his eyes hooded and dark. “Emme…”
I wait, looking up at him, waiting for answers.
“It’s Connor. Connor is the agent’s son.”
I take an involuntary step back, my heart suddenly racing, my mouth bone dry. “Connor?” I whisper. “My Connor?”
Shane nods unhappily, watching me carefully, waiting for a reaction.
“You’re sure? You’re sure it’s my Connor?”
He nods again, waiting.
“Wait,” I say after a long moment. “How do you… how do you know about Connor? About Connor and me? I thought that…”
Shane interrupts me unhappily. “Em, of course we know about him now. Information is what we do here. Harkness tailed him and found out who he was, then we pulled every scrap of information we could on him. We’ve been tracking his movements for days and days.”
I squeeze my eyes shut, hating myself for not keeping Connor away from the prying eyes of Luekos better than I have. “Oh god,” I whisper, still trying to organize all this information in my suddenly overtaxed brain.
“By the way, Harkness wanted me to tell you that Connor has a fine ass on him,” Shane says, his voice lighter, teasing for the first time since we walked out of the front doors at Leukos.
I bite back a laugh. “Leave it to Harkness to include that in his report.”
Harkness is one of the best agents Leukos has, but he does tend to colour his reports with personal comments – particularly about attractive men.
Ironic, considering we use him as one of our Valentine ops against women all the time.
Shane grins slightly, the tension between us broken for at least a moment or two.
“I’m sorry, Em…” Shane says after our grins disappear, and he begins to walk again, at a slower pace this time. “Really.”
I shrug, not sure what to say. “Well, at least I have the distinction of protecting my boyfriend from the bad guys, instead of relying on someone else to do it.” I pause, thinking back over the last few days I’ve spent since Connor came into my life. “You know, life would be a lot easier if there wasn’t an MI-6 around to muck things up for us. First my attack that landed me in the hospital, and now someone wants to take a pot shot at my boyfriend because of his father, the MI-6 agent. MI-6 kind of sucks, Shane,” I say, trying for a bit of levity.
“That’s the second time you’ve referred to Connor as your boyfriend,” Shane mused, his voice even, betraying nothing. “Is that the case?”
I shrug again, suddenly unsure of everything. “I… I don’t know. I mean, we haven’t talked about it, or defined the relationship or anything, but… I really like him. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, and it’s all so new, but…”
“Em, you know the rules,” Shane cautions and I nod glumly. “You know he can never know about… us. About Leukos. About who you really are. Believe me, I know how hard it is to keep that part of yourself secret from the people you love. It will tear you apart after a while and you won’t be able to stand it…”
I glance over at Shane, thinking about his words and the earnestness with which he said them. Though we’ve never discussed it, I’ve often wondered if Shane has ever had anyone truly special in his life, not just a cheap fling here and there. From the sounds of it, there have been at least one or two people in his life that have affected him that way.
It makes him more human, somehow.
“I know. I know the rules, believe me. But I’m not sure I can… I can walk away. At least, not yet.”
“For what it’s worth,” Shane says, “I’m really sorry about all this.”
“Yeah,” I say with a shrug. “I know. Thanks.”
“If you need help, or if there’s something I can do…” Shane continues, and I nod. “Just remember, this is all under your hat for now. Leukos has no ‘official’ knowledge of it, though obviously the powers that be do. Otherwise, you’re on your own for a while. As I get more intel, I’ll be sure to pass it along. Might help you keep Connor safe – and yourself, while you’re at it.”
“Yeah,” I say, still thinking this whole mess through. “Thanks.”
“You ready to go home?” Shane asks, his voice protective and tender, like an older brother out with his little sis.
“Yeah,” I repeat wearily. “I really am.”
“When will you see Connor again?” He asks, as we turn and start walking towards the tube station.
“He’s working tonight, and he’ll be off tomorrow for a few days.”
It occurs to me I’m going to have to monitor the hospital until the threat against Connor is lifted. God, that’s going to be a chore, with all those entrances and staff and patients…
“Take some surveillance equipment before you go home,” Shane says, reading my mind. “Tag Connor with a tracking device, do whatever you have to do to keep him safe. This is of the utmost importance, Em. He has to be protected at all costs.”
“I know,” I say, confused by the earnest urgency in Shane’s voice. “He’s my boyfriend – I think I have a grasp on the importance, Shane.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I just…” Shane trails off. “Just keep me posted on what’s going on, okay?”
“Okay,” I agree. We talk little as we catch the tube back towards Leukos, and even less as we reenter the building, with me bound for the props closet.
We’re talking about Connor here, I think to myself. I’m going to take every toy at my disposal to keep him safe, and I’m never going to be more than a few feet away until this threat is gone.
I swear on my life.
I just hope that I’m not going to have to sacrifice it.