"So, Sparrow. At last we meet." The blond woman behind the desk had her hands neatly folded, the picture of business elegance. It was difficult to tell that her business was secrets and murder.
"I'm not trading clichés with you," Gwen retorted as she was pushed down into a chair opposite. She would rather she wasn't here at all.
"This isn't good," Lucas whispered in her ear. "If I'm right, that's La Reine. And if it is her, you're probably dead."
Gwen carefully didn't react to that information. Or, rather, she was beyond the point of caring now as she had been here for four days now, long enough that she had missed a check-in with The Company. She hadn't been given much food in that time, probably because it would leave her weaker and less able to defend herself. This was the first real development since she'd been abducted and, threat of death notwithstanding, it was better than spending hours sleeping to ignore how her stomach was starting to metabolize itself.
"More's the pity. We have a wealth of intrigue in our lives, but not nearly enough humor." The blond woman's smile was sharp. Her entire demeanor for that matter was sharp and perfectly put together. Lucas was probably right and this was La Reine. Nothing was going right. Being Sparrow wasn't usually this difficult.
"The circus might be accepting applications." It didn't help that Gwen could give nothing but sarcastic replies. She huffed. "You went to the trouble to grab me from my hotel. Shall we dispense with the niceties and get on to whatever threats, bribes, and/or acts of torture you have planned for the evening?"
La Reine's smile deepened into a smirk. "Why? Do you have somewhere to be? Some pressing rendezvous you must be present for?" The woman made no secret of the way she raked her eyes over Gwen's outfit and how she was undressing her with her eyes. "I have heard of your reputation, Sparrow, but I must say I expected something less... casual."
"Told you. You should have worn something else," Lucas muttered cheekily. "You can't just visit a dead drop in a sweater and jeans."
Gwen refused to react to either of their complaints. The outfit was comfortable and functional. These jeans were the only pair that had managed to survive a few encounters with muggers and enemy agents as well as her laundry routine and still come out the other side both functional and breathable. And that wasn't something she was about to explain to the room at large. "I doubt you brought me here to critique my fashion decisions. Can we get to the point of all this?"
"The point, my dear Sparrow, is that you are interfering with my operations. You have been interfering with them for some time, but now it simply cannot stand." La Reine stood and moved around her desk to be closer to Gwen. "You already know who I am. For one who manages to keep such secrets, you have a very expressive face."
"She's right, you know," Lucas was saying as La Reine reached out and caressed Gwen's face gently. Under any other circumstances, Gwen might consider this whole dance foreplay. For some people, it probably was, but it took almost everything Gwen had not to flinch under the woman's touch. The soft fingers may not have felt capable of harm, but the woman they belonged to was nothing if not murder in stiletto heels. "We really need to work on that. If we get out of this."
"Why don't I summon a mutual friend?" La Reine suggested, straightening as she moved toward the door. "Give him a chance to redeem himself from his... failure to me."
She nodded at one of the men standing guard, who left the room in search of this mysterious person. Lucas had gone silent, no more pithy replies to anything being said. Gwen wasn't sure whether she should be thankful or really worried.
"Did you know, you weren't supposed to cause nearly as many problems as you have," La Reine continued. "If Petros had done the job he was supposed to do, we would never have met, as you would be two years in the ground."
Gwen couldn't help glancing at Lucas, who had frozen in place in horror. Because Petros had done his job, and the real Sparrow had been dead for two years now. She had been playing at it since then, pulling the wool over the eyes of Lucas's company as well as their rivals. Only a few people knew who Sparrow really was, after all, and when you knew all the right information it was assumed you were who you said you were.
"Nothing to say?" La Reine smiled down at Gwen from where she perched on the corner of her desk. "Pity. I should have liked to know your last words."
The door opened behind Gwen and she forced herself not to look. She wasn't Sparrow. She should never have let Lucas talk her into this masquerade. She was going to die at the hands of some thug and her body was going to disappear like Lucas's had, and no one would even notice except for The Company.
"That's not Sparrow."
Gwen looked up at the young voice. She had been expecting some gruff spy movie enforcer type voice, the sort of thug with more muscles than brains. Instead, it was some post-college age pretty boy that looked like he'd recently graduated and left the frat house behind.
"You still maintain that you killed Sparrow already?" La Reine fixed him with another of her sharp smiles.
Petros lifted his chin. "Yes. Sparrow is dead. I killed him, I disposed of the body, and that is not Sparrow."
"Peter." Lucas filled the name with more emotion than Gwen had ever heard him exhibit in his unlife. There had been anger and joy and frustration before, but it was never as deep or as raw as what he was betraying now, and she didn't know what to do with that.
She looked back at Petros. This was the man who had killed him. Lucas never talked about it and Gwen didn't push. The dead didn't like to be reminded of the circumstances that killed them. For Lucas, being dead hadn't stopped him in the slightest. He pushed past every barrier he encountered with a single-minded determination Gwen found both exhausting and inspiring, and he did all this without addressing the fact that he had been killed or who had done the killing. Apparently that bit had been important.
"Well, you were wrong," La Reine said, leaning into his space, filling the room with a practically palpable menace. "Now, you will either fix your mistake," and here she gestured at Gwen, "or you will discover just how unpleasant I can be if you fail me."
Petros wanted to complain about this, it was written in every line of his body, but he wasn't willing to risk such a hefty 'or else'.
"Gwen," Lucas whispered, drawing her attention away from the assassin bearing down on her. "Will you let me take over?"
She nodded, and suddenly she was watching her body fight for her life while standing three steps back. Her body contorted in ways she never managed to achieve on her own. Possession was not a new experience for either of them--it was the only way she had survived this long--but there was something different about it this time. Something desperate and necessary in this fight. This was, in the most primal way possible, Lucas's chance for revenge and Gwen hadn't known he needed it until the moment it was happening.
Suddenly, she was afraid of the likely outcome of it. So many ghosts had left her when their work was done. When they reached a point that they could finally move on, they did, and if Lucas decided to move on she would be alone again. Lucas was Sparrow, the real Sparrow, but he had turned her into Sparrow as well. He had given her something to work toward, something to be besides the strange woman who can talk to ghosts.
It had been two years, less time than she spent with most ghosts. But what she lacked in time, Lucas had made up the difference in the sheer volume of experience, never slowing, driving on to an inevitable conclusion.
And now here they were, and she could feel something was different about this fight. There was the soul deep ache she got when she realized she was watching an ending. She knew that the moment Petros was down, she was going to lose yet another friend, and she hated how selfish she was hoping Lucas would lose. But as much as she wanted to keep her friend, she wanted him to be happy, too, and he couldn't do that with his murderer walking free.
She surged forward back into her body again, slipping in beside Lucas. Whatever else happened, she refused to be passive about it anymore.
Lucas didn't even falter as Gwen slotted in beside him, sharing the controls rather than just relinquishing them. They had never tried this before, but it was as natural as breathing. She ducked out of the way of a gun while he brought her hands up to twist it out of the guard's hand, snapping the wrist with just a bit more pressure.
Gwen caught the gun as it dropped and squeezed the trigger, trusting Lucas to make sure it was going to hit.
Suddenly, the fighting stopped as La Reine made an almost lazy gesture at her people, all of whom stepped back. Gwen tried not to pant as her body, still sharing control between the two of them, re-acclimated itself to oxygen. Neither she nor Lucas was willing to leave a readiness position even with her limbs shaking from exertion and hunger.
"You surprise me, Sparrow," La Reine purred. "You don't look like the type to fight as hard as you do. You hardly look the part of an agent at all."
Gwen remained silent. It was a charade. La Reine was playing with her like a cat plays with a mouse and she had all of her people in on it. This was why she was so confident. Gwen wondered if the guns had even been loaded with something other than a blank. Whatever the case, La Reine had been in complete control of the situation.
Since Gwen was still alive at the moment, the murderess likely wanted something from her. Information or assistance. An offer or an attack, perhaps one followed by the other when she refused. That was the only thing to expect here. Certain clichés had become a part of her life, and she no longer questioned them.
"I won't do you the disservice of offering you a place beside me, as we both know you'll refuse. So I grant you one last request: how would you like to die?"
"Eyes wide open, loaded gun in my hand," Lucas replied with a voice that was Gwen's, but somehow not as well.
Petros was just behind La Reine's shoulder, allowing Gwen the perfect angle to see the confused frown. He recognized something of Lucas in her voice, he must have.
"I think that can be arranged. Part of it, anyway." La Reine snapped her fingers and a minion stepped forward, holding out a gun handle-first. She made a show of cocking it, then removing the clip. Then she handed the gun to Gwen. "Eyes wide open, loaded gun, you said. Now, I would be foolish to let you have more than one bullet, and we both know I am not foolish."
She was grinning like she'd won something. In a way, she had. She was holding most of the cards here, and Gwen had almost revealed one of hers with the fight.
Gwen lifted the gun. It was a gesture extended for the sheer pointlessness of it. She wouldn't be able to fight off La Reine and her minions on her own, she wasn't going to get out of here alive if she did manage to kill the woman. Gwen wouldn't be winning this.
But maybe Lucas could.
"When I get to Hell," Gwen said, voice and hands steady, "I'll tell the Devil you're on your way."
Then she squeezed the trigger. The bullet caught Petros in the soft tissue of his throat and continued through his spinal cord. It was the best shot Gwen had ever made, and she was almost proud of it. She couldn't enjoy the moment for the roaring in her ears and the way the world seemed to have sped up and frozen simultaneously. Was this what it felt like to die? Or was it crossing over?
She could almost hear Lucas calling her name in the distance, but it was too bright to see him. Maybe this was the light people talked about.
"Sparrow!" The strange voice--not La Reine or any of the thugs Gwen had heard--shattered across her awareness. Surely they wouldn't call her Sparrow in Hell. Unless they were mocking her with the name.
"Gwen?" It was Lucas this time, soft and distant. "Gwen, you need to stay alive."
Her last conscious thought was that it was rather hypocritical of him to expect that.
Hell was a lot blander than she thought it would be. There was no fire or brimstone anywhere, just white walls and white sheets and why was there a bed in Hell?
"Gwen!" Lucas was suddenly beside her.
She blinked up at him. "Lucas. Why are you in Hell?"
"This isn't Hell. This is The Company's infirmary." He sounded almost sheepish and she was too tired to try parsing out why. "You were hurt and they brought you here to recover."
"Hurt?" She didn't feel hurt. She didn't feel much of anything except the bed under her and a sticky, pulling sensation on her arm. She glanced down to see an IV stuck in it, then lazily followed the tube up to a bag of clear liquid. When she reached up to touch it, something pulled at her chest and shoulder. She looked down at herself to see the swath of bandages across her chest and up around her right shoulder. "Oh."
Before she could ask anything else, the door of the room opened and she looked up into the face of a stranger. He was tall and graying at the temples. If she passed him on the street, she would have believed he was an ordinary businessman. That he was here betrayed the lie in that. "Sparrow, before we go any further, I need your code."
"Oscar-76842-Lima-Foxtrot-97-Victor." It was the first thing Lucas had taught her, as it was used in all official reports and required for personal confirmation. To reliably pass herself off as Sparrow, it had to be ingrained in her as deeply as her own name or her Social Security number. After two years, it was finally starting to feel like hers.
"Good." He waved a nurse into the room, who fussed with the IV bag and the heart monitor she only just noticed. "I'm glad to see you're recovering well. We managed to track your ID chip when you didn't check in. La Reine escaped, but we managed to secure several of her people without incident."
Lucas was rolling his eyes, likely out of exasperation that her hair-brained idea had worked. She rubbed the scar where the chip was under her skin, glad to know some spy clichés were too much for the community and grateful that this attitude had saved her life.
"She needs to rest," the nurse put in.
"Right, well, welcome back, Sparrow." The man nodded to her before he left the room.
After the nurse was gone, Lucas turned to Gwen. "The Director seems to like you."
"He'd probably like me a little less if he knew about you." She was coasting on the feeling of having pulled it off. She was alive, and people thought she was actually Sparrow. The conversation with the Director was short, but he seemed unaware that there was ever a Sparrow known as Lucas Ortega.
"I don't know. Being able to talk to the dead is useful."
"Not if they cross over." She paused, the last moments of the fight filtering back into her awareness. "Why are you still here?"
Lucas shifted closer to the bed. "What do you mean?"
"I shot Petros. You have your revenge. You're supposed to move on." Even as she said it, she didn't want it to be true. Perhaps reminding him of it would prompt him to leave. She looked away, refusing to watch it; she'd seen enough friends leave.
"I'm glad he's dead, but I don't think that's why I'm still here. Not anymore, anyway." He moved around until he was in her line of vision again. "You're stuck with me for a while. Long enough you're going to wish you could get rid of me."
Relief she couldn't even begin to describe settled over Gwen. With the weight off her shoulders, she could feel herself dragged back toward sleep again. "Good," she mumbled, absently patting the side of the bed where he was. "I'm glad you're staying. I like having a friend."
"Rest." Lucas patted her hand as best he could, the cool feeling of his intangible form brushing against her skin. "I'll be here when you wake up."
A curl of satisfaction settled in her gut knowing that was true and she let herself drift fully away.