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It was like she was in his bloodstream, constantly there, in his head and in his heart. Gemma Hart, his stupid, reckless, perfect rookie. ( VERTIGO/RICOCHET ONESHOT FROM BOONE'S PERSPECTIVE )

Action / Romance
4.8 5 reviews
Age Rating:

1a. The Rookie


Thomas Boone peddled his bike fast, the plastic grocery bag swinging on the handlebar. It was getting dark and he needed to get home. His dad had sent him to get milk and cereal, any kind he wanted because it was payday, so of course he got a big box of Cap’n Crunch, his favorite. He was going to eat it for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, until it was all gone.

When he reached his house, he left his bike in the driveway and went in through the garage. He set the bag on the kitchen table, hoisted himself onto the counter to reach the bowls, and got a spoon. He measured out a full bowl’s worth of Cap’n Crunch, and then sat down to eat it. He read the back of the box as he chewed, wishing he could turn on the TV but knew his mom was sleeping in the living room and she’d yell at him if he did.

After he was done, he put the bowl and spoon in the sink and went to find his dad to give him the change. 17 cents. Maybe he’d let Boone keep it since he was saving up for that new GI Joe action figure. He already had $1.78 in the Ziploc bag under his bed, and he was hoping to have enough by the end of summer.

He opened his dad’s office door, reaching into his pocket for the coins. His dad was leaning back in his desk chair, like he was sleeping, but his eyes were open and—

The bookshelf behind him was splattered with chunks of red and pink and white, and wet stuff, too. The side of his head didn’t look right. Crushed, glistening. His beard was stained dark, dripping. His silver revolver gleamed on the desk.

The coins slipped from Boone’s fingers. He dropped to his knees to collect them. He barely had time to lean over before he threw up his Cap’n Crunch on the carpet. He threw up until there was nothing left, and when his mom didn’t wake up from the sound of his yelling, he stumbled to the phone on the desk and called 911, staring into his dad’s eyes, thinking they didn’t look much different than they had an hour ago.



When he got home from a field trip to the Rocky Mountains, his mom didn’t pick him up from school like the other parents. She was probably sleeping again, so he walked home in the snow.

The lights were on in the house, but the car was gone. He walked through the house. Half of his mom’s clothes were gone. So was her expensive perfume from the bathroom and the alcohol bottles from the living room. On his pillow, he found the neighbors’ phone number, a $100 bill, and a note.

You deserve better. I’m sorry.

He sat down on his bed, alone in the bright, empty house, not fully understanding that he was now alone in the world, too.



Foster care was bullshit, and when he had the chance to crash on someone’s floor, he always took it. People called him a runaway, a delinquent, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t need anything or anyone, and he liked it that way.



“I’m giving you a chance, kid,” the judge said. “Military or prison time. You pick.”

Apathy was his way of life. It kept things simple, safe, and sufficiently satisfying, but it also got him in trouble. An assault charge and underage intoxication, to be specific.

“The military, ma’am,” he answered.

What the hell? He’d always wanted to be GI Joe.



GI Joe made it look easy, but Boone loved the Navy. He loved the grueling training, the bone-deep exhaustion, the idea that he was doing something good while doing something fun. It took time to acclimate to the structure and discipline, but he began to appreciate its simplicity. He never had to worry about his next meal or paycheck, and people treated him with respect. It wasn’t glamorous but it made him feel important. Worth something.

A few years in, his commanding officer pushed him to apply for the SEALs. Most soldiers had to think about the six-year commitment, but Boone signed the dotted line the moment his acceptance letter arrived.



He felt the bullets pound into the other side of the dilapidated adobe wall, dust and debris hazing the air and sticking to the back of his throat. The sound of automatic weapons was unrelenting.

Sweat dripped into his eyes as he checked his MP-5′s magazine. He was down to four rounds.

“Dang, AQAP sure knows how to party,” Maragoudakis—“Goo” for short because no one had time to pronounce his full name—panted from next to him, clutching his bleeding arm.

Fifty minutes ago, their squad’s convoy was ambushed by AQAP-affiliated insurgents on the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen. An IED exploded on the road and over a hundred armed men rushed their vehicles. In the commotion, Boone and Goo were separated from the rest of the team, who were now a safe distance away, Lieutenant Roberts helpfully telling them over the radio that they should get out of there ASAP. No shit.

Goo peeked through a hole in the wall. “Bastards are advancing fast.”

“We’ve got to move,” Boone said.

They both glanced over their shoulders at the long, straight street that stretched across the town, the only way out. Angry yelling sounded closer, followed by a spray of bullets that carved out another chunk of their protective wall.

They looked at each other.

“I’ve got four rounds,” Boone told him.

“I’m out,” Goo said. “But I do have…” His good arm fumbled in his vest, extracting a dirty M67 grenade. He held it up like it was the Holy Grail.

The pfft-pfft-pfft of high-speed rifle rounds went over the top of the wall. Boone peered upwards. A sniper. What a great addition to this shit show. Judging from the direction of the bullets, they were probably on a rooftop northwest of them.

“How’s your throwing arm?” Goo asked.

Boone shrugged. “I played peewee baseball when I was six.”

Goo tossed the M67 to him. “Hey, good enough for me.”

Boone caught it in the crook of his arm. He slung his rifle behind him, secured the flaps of his vest, and adjusted his helmet’s chin strap. Goo relayed a message over the radio, and then tucked it back into its pocket. He gave Boone a nod.

Twisting the safety pin, Boone pulled it out, holding down the lever. “Frag out,” he said. And then he stood up and threw it over the wall as hard as he could, aiming northwest.

One. He dropped back down.

Two. Urgent shouts from the men on the other side.

Three. Boone and Goo shielded their heads.


The explosion shook the ground with a deafening boom. The second it did, Boone and Goo took off under the cover of black smoke.

If there was one thing SEALs trained for, it was RFYFL, better known as Running for Your Fucking Life. In this case, it meant sprinting 1.24 miles through enemy territory with 30 pounds of gear as people shot at their retreating backs, bullets kicking up puffs of sand around them, the blazing heat of the sun making it hard to breathe, hard to see.

But Boone lived for these moments when adrenaline washed out everything except survival. Something about teetering on the edge of life and death made him feel alive. It was a dangerous high, sure, but he didn’t have anything to lose. He didn’t have a home to go back to or a photo of his wife or kids or mom or dad tucked underneath his Kevlar. All he had was himself and his duty to his country.

The Humvees were visible up ahead, parked in a defensive line. When Lieutenant Roberts saw them coming, he gestured at Nguyen to move his vehicle forward to let them in.

Boone hurdled through the small space between two Humvees, Goo right behind him. They collapsed on the ground, rolling onto their backs, coughing and gasping for breath. Boone unclasped his helmet and pulled it off.

“Close the gap, Nguyen,” Roberts yelled. “Those tangos are coming fast. Now that these two bozos are done socializing with the terrorists, let’s move out. We’re behind schedule and I’m sure this won’t be our last ambush today.”

Goo grinned. “Good throw,” he wheezed to Boone, and stuck out his fist. “Hooyah.”

Boone bumped it with his and smiled. “Hooyah,” he echoed, and then got up to do it all over again.



“You know, there’s just somethin’ about a man in uniform,” the waitress said, setting his cheeseburger down on the sticky diner table. She’d been flirting with him since he came in. “What are you doin’ tonight?”

Kingsville, Texas was a shithole, but at least the girls were pretty. And direct.

“I’m deploying tomorrow,” he told her.

She knew what he meant. Her lips turned up. “That’s not what I asked, soldier.”

Later, he stared up at the cracked ceiling of her apartment with their legs tangled together and his arm trapped underneath her, going numb, and he wondered how being with another person could make him feel even more alone.



Rain lashed at his face as he stood at attention. He watched another member of his platoon get lowered into the ground in the same wooden casket with the same tearstained family clutching the same folded-up flag with the same song playing. Taps. He heard that goddamn song in his nightmares.

At the reception, a nondescript man sat at his table. “You’re too young to look like that,” he said, and slipped a business card toward him. All it had was a phone number. “Give us a call if you’d like…a change of scenery.”



The CIA’s training was like SEAL training on psychedelic drugs. The military was straightforward: do this, then do that. The CIA was more: here’s a situation, now deal with it however you want and don’t get caught.

It was a challenge and a freedom he hadn’t known he craved. Most of the other recruits were hard, competitive, probably damaged somewhere deep down, and he fit in. They all had a numbness the CIA coveted.

There were a few recruits who didn’t, though. They were the ones who tried the hardest but had the worst time compartmentalizing their emotions, the ones who cried in the bathroom after killing an imaginary person in simulation training. They made him thankful for a lifetime of pushing feelings away. He couldn’t imagine feeling like that.



“Did you hear we’re getting a rookie?”

Boone glanced up from his computer at the logistics officer sitting across from him, Bob. Or maybe it was Rob? The CIA was a revolving door of faces and names, and Boone didn’t have the energy to keep track. “No,” he replied.

“Oh.” The guy scratched his beard. “Well, I heard they’re being assigned to you. The boss didn’t tell you?”

Boone’s hand tightened on his mouse. “What?”

“Yeah, man. Rookie duty…” He let out a laugh. “Sucks to be you.”

Rookie duty. What the fuck. No one in their right mind would send a new, impressionable agent to him for training. He’d only been in the CIA’s logistics division for two years and wasn’t known for his interpersonal skills. His last evaluation had said as much. And it didn’t bother him because he was just biding his time until a spot in Clandestine Services opened up. Logistics—a fancy word for mission support—was boring, tedious, and filled with people who irritated him, not that it took much. He was not the person to partner with a rookie if the CIA wanted them to stick around.

Boone pushed out from his desk and headed for his boss’s office. This had to be a mistake.



It hadn’t been a mistake.

Gemma Hart. That was the rookie’s name.

She sounded like someone who’d get on his nerves.



“I’ll pay you to take the rookie,” Boone said, half-serious.

With his feet up on his desk, Bob laughed. “No way. I had to train one last year. I’ve done my duty.”

“What’s it like?”

“Brutal. Newbies are either petrified or overconfident turds. Don’t know which is worse.”

“Great,” Boone deadpanned.

“I heard yours is field-certified in Russian, though,” Bob offered.


“Maybe you could pawn off all the Russian paperwork off on her.”

“Maybe,” Boone replied. He did have a huge pile of documents to translate. Russian-language certification was rare in this unit; he was the only one who had it due to the Navy putting him through language school. So, he supposed that was one benefit, though he doubted it outweighed months forced together with a rookie. “What else do you know about her?”

Bob’s desk phone rang. He shrugged and said, “Just that she put logistics as her first choice,” before answering it.

“Huh.” That was also rare. Most new agents tried for CS first, craving excitement and glory, not logistics, a significantly less thrilling job.

He went back to work, beginning to wonder what kind of person Gemma Hart was.



After some excruciating bartering with Linda, the librarian-like keeper of personnel records, he held Gemma Hart’s 201 file in his hands. He had no idea why this was worth six boxes of gourmet chocolates and three hours of his time fixing filing cabinets in the dusty record room. Maybe because he wanted the upper-hand on this rookie, whoever she was.

“You’ve got 60 seconds,” Linda told him, popping a chocolate into her mouth and glancing at her watch. “Better make them count.”

The file—a compilation of Hart’s pre-employment and training records—was too disorganized to find the good stuff, so he just flipped it open to the first page. A small picture was paper-clipped to the inside of the folder, showing a woman with brown hair tucked behind her ears and big Bambi eyes, smiling wide like it was her senior photo. Who smiled for their intake photo? Most recruits were scared shitless their first day.

He quickly moved on through school transcripts—Yale, summa cum laude, political science major, history minor. Lists of addresses and associates—seemed she currently lived downtown D.C. with a guy named Ben. Medical records—broken leg when she was 11 and tonsil surgery when she was 20. Farm training results—top 10% of her class, probably could’ve landed CS if she wanted. Then a background interview with a Steven and Marie Hart that he skimmed until he saw:

M. Hart: Sure, I’d say Gemma was a normal kid. Smart, kind of shy until her teenage years…I think the age-gap between her and Mark made her a little lonely. She liked to be around people. She had this—this imaginary friend when she was young, um…

S. Hart: Macaroni, right?

M. Hart: Macaroni, that was it. She used to talk to it whenever she thought we weren’t around, tucked it in at night…it was sweet, really. Probably was a little too old to have one, but…oh, Lord. Don’t tell her I told you that. She’s very embarrassed about it.

Boone laughed, loud and unexpectedly, for what felt like the first time in years.

“Time’s up.” Linda snatched the folder from his hands before he could protest. She stuffed it back into its slot in a nearby cabinet. “Hope it was worth the effort.”

Rubbing his jaw, he was still smiling when he replied, “Yeah, it was.”



After a Saturday of working overtime, Boone came home to his quiet, empty apartment. For some reason, he thought of Macaroni as he drank Budweiser on his couch, the TV on in the background just to fill the silence.



When he came out of a meeting, she was standing by his desk, her back to him. Michaels, the logistics unit director, was introducing her to Bob. When Michaels caught sight of Boone, he beckoned him over.

“And this is your new partner, Agent Thomas Boone,” Michaels told her as he approached.

She turned, and the first thing he noticed was her expression. It was serious, but it seemed unnatural on her, nothing like her recruit photo. He could practically hear her thinking, ”First day, look extra professional so they take you seriously.” She’d dressed the part, as well, with a black suit and hair pulled back.

“Nice to meet you, Agent Boone,” she said, her voice strong, pleasant. “I’m Gemma Hart.”

She stuck out her hand, and he extended his. Her handshake was firm, maybe a bit too firm, too practiced, and he had to suppress a smile. “Call me Tom,” he answered.

“Tom will show you the ropes,” Michaels said. “I’m sure you’ll learn everything in no time.”

“Great,” she said.

“By the way, forgot to mention I’ll need your PST form and 599B by the end of the day, and for you to get set up with L-Link,” Michaels told her. “Oh, and talk to ISD about getting you remote access capabilities because you’ll need that for the Copenhagen mission, JWICS level.” An analyst snagged his attention and he turned to talk to him.

Her face fell, almost imperceptibly, but Boone saw the confusion and panic there. Michaels had always been a tactless son of bitch.

“Don’t worry,” he said quietly so Michaels couldn’t hear. “He’s trying to make the job seem more impressive than it is. We like to use a lot of acronyms to sound important.”

She looked up at him with an earnest kind of relief. Her eyes were lighter than he’d expected. They were the same gold-brown of his favorite Tennessee whiskey, he thought, the one he saved for special occasions and particularly bad days. The one he’d been planning to drink tonight as consolation for rookie duty. How fitting.

“GTK,” she said.


“Good to know,” she explained.

He exhaled a laugh. “Ah.”

She smiled and it was warm and easy and the most genuine thing he’d ever seen, and it hit him like something physical. It was so out-of-place in this office. Leaning forward like they were exchanging secrets, she said, “I’m a fast learner.”

“I can see that,” he replied. “That’s good for me.”

She nodded, her smile fading into a polite one.

Immediately, he wondered if he’d said something wrong, if his tone had been too blunt. He shifted uncomfortably. “I, on the other hand,” he added, “am probably not a great teacher.”

“I doubt that,” she said. “Director Michaels told me you have tons of experience, and that you’re fluent in Russian. That’s why he paired us together.”

Boone made a noncommittal sound.

She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before she continued, “Well, I’m looking forward to it, anyway. But I promise not to bug you too much.”

From across the desks, Bob piped up, “Uh, that’s kinda impossible. Tom makes it his life goal to be a grumpy killjoy—”

“Shut up,” Boone told him.

“See what I mean?”

He assumed Gemma would either be put-off or intimidated by that impression of him—hell, most of the office was—but she just tilted her head appraisingly and said, “Grumpy killjoy, huh? I can see that. You have the look.”

He was so surprised that he couldn’t come up with a good retort before Michaels’ attention refocused on them. Gemma’s mouth curled into a tiny smile before resuming her professional demeanor.

“There’s the deputy director. I want to introduce you,” Michaels said as he hailed someone across the room, and started to lead her away.

Boone sat down at his desk. “See me later about the acronyms,” he called after her.

Glancing over her shoulder, she gave him a grateful, “Thanks, Boone.”

Boone, not Tom like he’d told her to call him. No one called him Boone without putting his title before it—Petty Officer 1st Class Boone, Agent Boone, Mr. Boone. She was already defying him, probably a bad sign, but for whatever reason he liked her more for it.

Bob gave a low whistle. “Dang, it’s hard to find an ass that looks good in a pantsuit, but Miss Hart there is rockin’ it.” He opened a bag of pork rinds with a loud crackle. “That offer still on the table? ’Cause I’ll train her for free. I can think of lots of good lesson plans…”

Even though Bob’s tone was joking, unprecedented anger flooded through Boone, hot and visceral. “No,” he told Bob sharply, “It’s not. And don’t be a fucking asshole or I’ll report you to Michaels and you’ll spend the rest of your career doing data entry in the basement.”

“Jesus,” Bob breathed, pork skin frozen in front of his mouth. “What’s the problem?”

With a terse shrug, he replied, “Nothing. But the rookie’s mine now, my responsibility, so watch what you say or we’re going to have problems.”

“Fine, fine. Sorry.”

Boone rubbed the heel of his hands into his eyes. The rookie’s mine?



She broke her promise in less than 24 hours. She did bug him. As he trained her on the logistics computer systems, she insisted on writing everything down in a thick notebook, making him repeat instructions to make sure she had it right. She asked questions he didn’t even know the answers to, and once she even chastised him for skipping how to close out of a program.

“Click the small gray box that says OK,” he said with exaggerated slowness, watching her scribble that down, incredulous at the amount of effort she was putting into this. “That’s spelled O-K. Then click the X at the top right of the screen. I hope you don’t need me to spell that one of you. Click OK again.”

She nodded.

“Got all that, rook?”

She looked up, nose scrunching slightly, lines appearing between her eyebrows. “It’s Gemma,” she corrected him.


He took a swig of coffee—cold because she hadn’t given him time to refill it all morning—and felt satisfied. He’d found a way to exasperate her just like she exasperated him, and he decided he liked it when she frowned like that. He’d have to make her do it more often.



He overheard Michaels and Gemma in the break room as he passed by, hovering near the doorway when he caught his name.

“How’s it going with Tom?” Michaels asked her as he microwaved his lunch.

“Good,” he heard her reply.

“I know he’s not…the friendliest guy, so please tell me if it’s not a good fit. I want you to feel welcome here.”

“Oh.” She sounded taken aback. “No, really, it’s going well.”

Michaels laughed humorlessly. “It’s all right, Agent Hart, you can be honest.”

He’d known Michaels didn’t like him much, but Christ.

“I am being honest, sir.” Her voice held a bit of heat now. “He’s very good at his job, and he’s been extremely thorough and helpful with the whole training process despite having a ton of his own work to do.”

Was she…defending him? He hadn’t needed defending since he was 15. He moved past the break room, disconcerted at the tight feeling in his chest.



Copenhagen was their first mission together, a routine deep cover operative extraction. They took separate flights and met at the Nyhavn’s waterfront, a canal with a backdrop of brightly colored buildings and old wooden ships. He found her sitting at an outdoor café, drinking coffee with a very yellow scarf wrapped around her neck.

“Hey, rookie,” he said, dropping into the chair across from her, “you know yellow isn’t an espionage-appropriate color, right?”

She paled, and it was then he noticed her white-knuckled grip on her mug. She was nervous. “Oh. You’re right. God, I—I don’t think I’ve prepared enough for this—”

“You have,” he cut her off. He wasn’t accustomed to the whole morale-boosting thing but he needed her to be calm for this. “You haven’t shut up about it for the past week. I’ve never seen anyone make so many checklists and notes about an op in my life. If anything, you’re over-prepared.”

“Over-prepared?” Her eyes widened. “Is that a thing?”

He fought the urge to laugh. “No,” he assured her. “Relax, this is going to be an easy one.”


“Are you ready to get going?”

Her gaze was fixed on him, like he had all the answers. “Can we just go over the plan one more time?” she asked, swallowing.

“Sure,” he replied.

He ordered a coffee and they went through it step-by-step, for the tenth time. He could tell she wanted to write it down on her hand. If he’d been on his own, that operative would already be on his way home.

“Okay,” she said afterwards, a little more relaxed. “I think I’ve got it.”

Pulling out some Danish krones, he deposited them on the table. “You ready now, rook?”

She unfurled the scarf from her neck and stuffed it in her bag. “Yeah,” she said with a tentative smile. “Ready.”



He watched her assemble a Glock 19 without looking, her attention on the laptop playing video feed. Barrel into the slide, recoil spring into the barrel, slide onto the frame. Slide pulled back into the locked position. Magazine into the grip. Releasing the slide with a click.

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to use the front door,” she commented. “Too much foot traffic.”

It was their second mission—a safe house setup in Hong Kong—and they were in a dirty hotel room, waiting for an opening to transport supplies to an apartment in a shady part of town. Even though Copenhagen had gone smoothly, Boone kept waiting for Gemma to go over tonight’s plan ad nauseam. But all she’d done was devour dim sum and watch surveillance feed, and was now loading bullets into an extra magazine like she did it every day.

“What do you think?” she asked, turning to look at him.

He scanned her face. Who was this woman? The nervous newbie who needed reassurance, the assertive agent who insisted they finish their mission paperwork before lunch, the loyal partner who stood up for him to Michaels, the self-assured person who could assemble a gun in less than 20 seconds? All of the above? None?

Fucking A. People shouldn’t be so complex. He almost wished she was either petrified or overconfident, like Bob had predicted, so he didn’t have to analyze her expressions to figure out which Gemma Hart she was in that moment of time.


“We’ll use the side door,” he grumbled, reaching for his own Glock.

“There is no side door,” she said, cautiously adding, “Haven’t you been paying attention?

He shot her a look. No, you’ve been distracting me.



“Hey,” she said, flipping through a guidebook as they walked. “I think we’re close to La Closerie des Lilas.”

“The what?” he asked.

“The café where Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises.” She glanced up, peering at a street sign. “And his Montparnasse apartment is close, too.”

He took a turn down a narrow, empty street. They had a meeting with a CS team at one of the Paris safe houses in the sixth arrondissement. “You realize we just have to pretend to be tourists, right?” He gestured at her guidebook. “The prop’s a little overkill.”

She laughed. “We’re in Paris,” she said, like that meant something.


“We’re in Paris, getting paid to be tourists.”

“No, we’re in Paris, getting paid to set up a mission,” he said.

“While pretending to be tourists,” she reasoned. “It would be irresponsible of us not to see a few things. For cover purposes, of course.”

“For cover purposes?” he repeated, checking his watch. They were making good time.

“I’d think,” she mused, “as such a stringent rule follower, you would want to make sure your cover is intact.”

Slowing down, he turned to her. “My cover is rock solid.”

She stopped, facing him with an amused expression. “Sure it is. An anti-sightseeing tourist. Very believable.”

His brow furrowed as he looked down at her. “Better than a try-hard, stereotypical one.”

“At least I blend in,” she said. “You look like you’re about to storm the Bastille.” Her eyes glinted gold in the sun. “Which, by the way, we can go see the remains of, if you’re interested—”

“I’m not,” he cut her off. He started walking again.

“Have you even seen the Eiffel Tower?” he heard her ask from behind him.

“We’re running late,” he answered.

“No, we’re not.” She caught up with him. “You haven’t, have you?”

“Why does it matter?”

“We get to travel the world,” she replied. “Shouldn’t we take advantage of that?”

“Don’t romanticize this job, Hart,” he told her. “We don’t have time. We go in, do our job, and get out. That’s the way it is.”


He turned his head to look at her. “That’s the way it is,” he said sharply.

A ripple of surprise and hurt crossed her face. She pressed her lips together, as if to keep from speaking. He almost felt bad, but she needed to adjust her expectations. She was going to be sorely disappointed in logistics if she thought it was just jet-setting around the world with different names and passports.

She nodded.

“Sorry,” he grunted.

She shook her head. “It’s okay.”

After the meeting, they went to pick up supplies from a warehouse. She was quiet around him, tense. Grudgingly, to prove he wasn’t a complete dick, he took the route that went past the Eiffel Tower. Gemma grinned at him, rummaged for her guidebook, and then lectured him on its architectural attributes and history. She even convinced him to drive by the Arc de Triomphe. That had been a mistake, because it fueled her to ask to see the Champs-Élysées, the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre—

“Do you have an off switch?” he muttered.

She exhaled a laugh, closing the guidebook. “Just seeing how far I could push you,” she said, and then added, “Thanks, grumpy killjoy,” but it didn’t sound like an insult at all.



A giant plastic-wrapped cookie dropped onto his keyboard. He glanced up to see Gemma standing beside him, looking tired from last night’s mission but smiling all the same.

“It’s oatmeal raisin,” she told him. “Almost got into a fight over it with some guy from IT because it was the last one. Happy birthday.”

The oatmeal raisin cookies from the Langley cafeteria were his favorite. He’d never told her that. Nor had he told her it was his birthday. Birthdays weren’t something he celebrated. “How’d you know?” he heard himself asking.

She went over to her desk, which was diagonal from his, and logged into her computer. “About the cookie or your birthday?”


She finished typing something, and then flashed him a smile. “Well,” she answered, “I am a spy.”

“Hmm.” He moved the cookie to the side so he could continue his work. “It’s…thanks.”

He eyed it all afternoon. It was just a cookie. But it was also the first birthday present he’d received in 22 years.



Toronto, mid-spring, bickering on folding chairs inside a cramped news van with a hidden camera mounted on the satellite dish, so cold they could see their breath, was the first time he thought about kissing her. It came out of nowhere.

“It’s not him, Boone.”

“He’s wearing what the protocol described,” he argued.

They were trying to locate an undercover operative named Paul in order to help him set up a cover business. Gemma’s chair creaked as she zoomed in on the laptop’s feed. She wore a puffy jacket and a hat with a pompom on the top, which was ridiculous.

“He’s way too old,” she countered.

Boone squinted at the grainy video showing the park just outside the van. “You can’t even see his face.”

“Yes, you can. That guy’s at least 75.”

“There’s no way you can tell.”

“Do you have cataracts? It’s definitely not him.”

He frowned. “No, I don’t,” he said, “and yes, it is.”

“How can you tell if you can’t see his face?” she retorted.

“Who else would wear a pinstriped suit with Remembrance poppy pin in May?”

She exhaled a puff of white air. “I don’t know. Maybe Canadians make unique fashion choices, or maybe some senile elderly man who thinks pinstripes are still cool escaped from the retirement home.”

“Where do you come up with this shit?”

She bent to rifle through some papers scattered on the van’s floor, holding up a photo of Paul and flourishing it, eyes bright and cheeks pink. “See, our guy is a quarter of a century younger than that—”

“It is our guy.”

“No, it’s not—”

He had a sudden vision of grabbing her by the coat and kissing her just to shut her up. It was only a half-second urge, but now he couldn’t un-see it. His eyes dropped to her mouth, small and perfectly shaped, and then to where her thigh rested against his.

Moving his chair back as far as possible, he swallowed. No, they were partners. She was dating someone. He hated complications. He needed to look at her objectively.


He needed air.

“I’m going to grab him before we lose our window,” he said, and shoved the van door open.



They were burned restocking a safe house in Caracas. The house must have been previously compromised because 20 minutes after they’d arrived, an armed man stormed in shouting something about “CIA assholes” in Spanish. While Boone automatically reached for his gun, already deciding he could make a head shot, Gemma dropped the soup cans she’d been holding and screamed. Loudly.

“Don’t shoot,” she cried out in Russian, of all languages. “Please don’t shoot. Oh my God, please.”

The man looked bewildered and Boone didn’t blame him. In that moment of hesitation, Gemma disarmed the guy and had him face-down on the floor in an arm lock in three moves.

“Do we have zip ties?” she asked Boone, tossing hair out of her eyes as she pressed her knees into the struggling man’s back.

Slowly putting his gun back in his waistband, he stared at her. His first reaction was to kill, hers was to distract and disarm. He wouldn’t have lost sleep over this fucker, but…it could’ve simply been a misunderstanding and he would’ve killed him.

Huh. It was possible this rookie could teach him some things, too.



She smiled entirely too much for someone in their profession. She had a smile for everything, different ones for when she was happy, teasing, distracted, relaxed, on the brink of sleep.

And then there was this one, just a gentle upturn of her lips that softened her entire face, which she gave him when she caught him smiling, too. That one was the worst.



He knocked back his weak vodka tonic, watching Gemma and the agent dance to some 80′s song. It was giving him a headache. Out of all the places in Sochi, this was where the agent wanted to meet? He understood maintaining cover, but…this? This club was a neon, tie-dyed version of hell.

Gemma’s arms were around Agent Porter’s neck, his mouth next to her ear. She nodded every now and then, said something back, discussing the logistics of what he needed for his mission. Every now and then, he twirled her around and brought her back against his body, his hands daring to slip lower each time, like their dancing façade entitled him to touch her like that.

Boone forced himself to scan the crowd. He was here as backup only. Backup stayed put, kept an eye out for anything suspicious. That being said, everything in this club was suspicious, especially those people over there dressed in Lycra jumpsuits.

His headache pulsed again as another Michael Jackson song came on. Son of a bitch, this meet needed to be over already.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gemma stiffen. His first thought was that they’d been compromised, and was almost relieved. But then he saw Porter’s hands skimming over her ass, Gemma’s mouth forming the words, “Hey, stop it.”

That was fucking suspicious enough for him.

He slammed down his glass and pushed through the crowd. Neither of them saw him coming.

“May I cut in?” he deadpanned in Russian.

Gemma’s head turned to him with a quick flash of appreciation. Porter’s expression remained calm, his hands moving back up to her waist.

“Sorry,” Porter said. “No. She’s my girlfriend.”

He didn’t realize Boone was CIA. Boone leaned in. “Sorry,” he said. “No. She’s your coworker.”

Porter’s demeanor immediately changed, and Gemma extracted herself from his embrace. “I’ll see you at work,” she told him, jaw tight. “I won’t tell anyone you’re a shitty dancer.”

Leaving Porter behind, she wove through the bodies until she reached the edge of the dancefloor. Boone followed, coming to stand beside her next to the bright pink wall. She tugged her shirt down and wiped her palms on her jeans.

“Next time, I’ll take the meet,” he told her.

“Yes,” she said, “I would’ve liked to see you dance with him.”

“Well, my anatomy isn’t quite up to his standards. I’m sure it would’ve gone differently.”

“Give yourself some credit.”

He glanced down at her, at her too-serious face. “What are you trying to say about my ass, rook?” he asked.

She cracked a smile. “What are you trying to say about mine?”

That I’m glad I have more self-restraint than Porter, he thought darkly, because I find myself wondering if it would fit perfectly in my hands if I—

No. Nope.

“Nothing,” he said. “You okay?”

He hated the way she shrugged with bullshit nonchalance. “Yeah, it’s no big deal.” When he leveled a look at her, she put up a hand. “Really. That’s…nothing new.”

“What do you mean?”

Surveying the crowd, she said, “Despite our equal capabilities, there are some things women learn to deal with.”

“Fuck that,” he immediately replied.

“I’m not—” She tucked hair behind her ears. “I’m not just saying that. They even teach it to us at…school.”

She meant the Farm. Disgust rose in him. “No,” he said, facing her. “I mean it. It’s one thing to use it to your advantage, and another thing entirely to just tolerate it. Especially with douchebag coworkers who think they can get away with it.”

Her face lifted to his, considering. After a second, she narrowed her eyes, nodded, and said, “You’re right. Fuck that.”

He nodded back, satisfied. It was his first time hearing her say fuck, and he liked it.

“Thanks,” she said, nearly inaudible.

He didn’t answer, not wanting her gratitude. Duran Duran pounded through the speakers and he wanted another vodka tonic.

“You really hate 80′s music, don’t you?” she mused.

He exhaled. “Yes.”

“The music, or the 80s in general?”


“Any reason in particular?” she asked.

“Brings back bad memories,” he replied.

“Cassette tapes?” she guessed, smiling. “Mullets? Arnold Schwarzenegger?”

Group homes. Skipping school. Running from the cops.

He rubbed his face. “Something like that.”

Blue and green lights flashed over her face as she studied at him. Then, she tilted her head toward the exit. “Let’s get out of here, then,” she said gently.



Reading Gem was a science that he’d unintentionally perfected over the months. After all the time spent together on missions and at the office, she was an open book now. Although that didn’t necessarily mean he understood her.

He could tell she had difficulty figuring him out, which was the way he preferred it. He didn’t want her to know that there wasn’t much about him worth knowing.



Logistics wasn’t quite as miserable, he realized. Bob took a job with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Michaels bugged him less, Gemma helped with the Russian paperwork, and missions didn’t seem as boring. Bob’s replacement was a kid named Danny Rowe, who he’d dismissed as shy until Gemma took the time to get him to open up. He actually had a good sense of humor, and the three of them naturally became a team. He’d even go as far as friends.



But increasingly, he had unfriendly thoughts toward Gem. He always dismissed it as a male thing, the way he noticed how her breath caught when he touched her, how her mouth moved when she spoke, how her shirt clung to the curve of her breasts, how her hips were at just the right height for him to grab and pull against him.

Christ, he was just as bad as Bob, as that asshole Porter.

She wasn’t even his type. He preferred emotionally unavailable women who sought nothing more than a night of getting off and never seeing each other again.

As he had his entire adult life, he’d had several one-night-stands since Gem came to logistics. With the addition of Danny, he didn’t feel bad leaving her alone during the free time they had on missions. He’d go for a run, or get a drink at a bar, or spend the night with someone.

Objectively, this woman is more attractive than Gemma, he’d force himself to think. But objectively, he wasn’t all that objective anymore.



“Fine.” Gem jammed a .22 into her coat pocket. ”I will plant the bugs since you two are scared of a little security guard.” She grabbed the audio transmitters and shoved them into the pocket, too. “The less time we dilly-dally, the more time we’ll have to sit on our asses, since that’s obviously what you guys want to do.”

Danny shrugged in the desk chair. “Well, it is cold,” he reasoned. “Scandinavia cold. That’s different from normal cold.”

“Did you just say ‘dilly-dally’?” Boone asked from where he sat on the bed, laptop balanced on his legs. They were in a rent-by-hour place just outside of Oslo that smelled like smoke and French fries, but Danny was right; at least it was warm in here.

Jaw clenching, she gave them both a narrow-eyed look. “I’ll be done in thirty.”

“There are seventeen bugs to plant,” Boone stated, raising his eyebrows, “in eight different rooms.”

She tightened her ponytail and raised her eyebrows back. “Then I’ll be done in twenty.”

And before he could protest, she was out the door.

Danny leaned back in his chair and gestured at his face. “Ever notice how Agent Hart gets that look sometimes?”

Boone nodded toward the door. “That one she just gave us?”


“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

“It’s like she’s on the warpath or something,” Danny said.

“Warpath face should be the official term for it,” Boone said.

“The Hart Warpath Face.” Danny grinned. “I don’t like being on the receiving end of it.”

“Me either,” he agreed.

“It’s terrifying.”

“They should teach it to all the new recruits to scare the enemy.”

Danny did his best imitation of it, and then Boone did, too, and they laughed. When Gemma returned, twenty minutes later, and asked them why they were smiling, they both innocently replied, “No reason.”



She came into the Moscow safe house with blood on her face and finger-shaped bruises on her neck, her hands unsteady as she tried to unbutton her coat, and it was the moment he’d been dreading. The job wasn’t fun and games anymore.

“Dmitri. They kill Dmitri,” she murmured.

“What?” he asked.

“Dmitri’s dead?” Danny breathed from where he stood by the couch.

“Yeah. I—I found him in the car,” she said, still struggling with her coat.

Boone stepped closer, hoping he wouldn’t spook her. “What happened, Gem?”

She looked up, obviously trying to keep it together through her fear and panic, but when her eyes met his, they glazed over a bit.

“Gemma?” he asked.

Danny worriedly asked, “Is she in shock?”

Licking her lips, she said, “I killed a man. Some man. A Russian guy. I killed him.”

Boone had never felt such a surge of emotion. He had trouble deciphering it. Anger, protectiveness, something deeper. He turned to Danny and told him to call Michaels, and then moved Gemma’s shaking hands out of the way so he could unbutton her coat. Slipping it over her shoulders and throwing it over the nearby kitchen counter, he led her to a chair.

She recounted what happened, and then he helped patch her up. The entire time, he had to remind himself to be gentle, calm, in charge. Because as brave a face she put on, he saw right through it, to the trembling vulnerability there, the horror of taking her first life, and all he wanted to do was crush her against him and make it go away.



When he swung by her D.C. apartment to pick her up for their Istanbul flight, he met her boyfriend, Ben. He’d only absently wondered about him before because she rarely talked about him and he didn’t care to ask.

Ben was what he imagined; a well-educated, clean-cut guy who smiled easily and kissed her like he knew what he had. Normal. If he’d grown up differently, would Boone be like that?

But a distance existed between Gemma and Ben, he could tell that much. She broke away first, her body was tense when he touched her, and even though she smiled at Ben, it didn’t come close to her smile for Boone.



The Istanbul mission proved to be more intense than he expected. It was more of a CS op than a logistics one, helping Operation 67 target the Russian mobster Vasili Volkov. The high stakes were right up his alley, but he worried about Danny and Gemma being unprepared.

But that wasn’t really the case. Despite their apprehension, Danny kept a level head and Gemma’s actions were fearless, in an infuriatingly reckless way. He’d already known she had excellent instincts, but she was actually very capable in the field and it scared him to admit she wasn’t a rookie anymore.

It wasn’t easy on her, though. She was still affected by the man she’d killed in Moscow and from seeing more death in the past month than most deployed soldiers. He knew he couldn’t erase that, but one night when she’d been irritable and shivering in their cold bed, his resolve crumbled and he’d tried.

She stiffened when he balled a hand in her sweater. “What—”

“Shut up,” he muttered.

Pulling her to him, he wrapped his arms around her until she relaxed and breathed out a soft sigh, burying her face in his chest. He didn’t know if he’d helped, but she fell asleep soon after which he took as a good sign.

He’d never held anyone like this. It had nothing to do with sex, just warmth and reassurance. And it felt…good, being needed.



When he woke up in the morning, however, the closeness was different. She’d wrapped herself around him, and him around her, her breaths coming softly, her hair tangled in his fingers, her hand resting on his stomach. This felt good, too, in an entirely separate way. He wanted to roll on top of her and—

He immediately got out of the bed, wishing their cover wasn’t as a married couple. He needed some fucking distance if he wanted to prevent a mistake he couldn’t take back.

Luckily, Laura Gibson was in Istanbul helping out on this mission and was very straightforward about her attraction to him. They had slept together before, so she broke his never-see-again rule, but fit the role of distraction perfectly.

So, when she invited him to her hotel room that night, he went. Laura looked like she’d won a prize when he showed up and grabbed him by the belt before he could think twice. It was satisfying and unromantic, and he told himself once was enough.

Because they were taking turns watching surveillance video, he and Gemma were on different sleep schedules, which was a good thing. The next day, though, he walked into the bedroom to shower while she was sleeping. She was stretched across his side of the bed, and even steps away he could see her nipples through her white shirt, and he had the overwhelming urge to put his mouth on them through the fabric and wake her up slowly.

“Oh, fuck,” he breathed.

When it wasn’t his shift, he spent the next three days and nights with Laura. He could tell that confused Gemma, but what else was he supposed to do? It was like she was in his bloodstream, constantly there, in his head and in his heart.



Fuck it.

He was about to go on a dangerous mission to Pakistan with CIA special ops. If there was ever a time to give in, it was now.

As they were saying goodbye outside of the Istanbul house, he grabbed her and kissed her. She was only still for half a second before she responded just as fervently as him. She felt right pressed against him, soft and warm and real, and he let himself kiss her exactly how he wanted to, hard and with feeling. And God, did she kiss him back.

When he broke away, he had one of those surreal moments of wondering if it actually happened.

She looked shocked. “I—”

“I have to go. I’ll see you soon,” he told her, picking up his bag from the ground and heading for the waiting car that would take him to the airport.


Pausing, he turned toward her.


Jesus, he loved when she said his name like that, like he was the most important person in the world. “What?” he said, voice low.

“Why did that feel like goodbye?” she asked.

Because it might be the last time I see you, he thought, and maybe she’d gotten better at reading him because she pressed her sleeve to her mouth, a tear running down her cheek.

He swallowed. He hadn’t meant for that. Trying for reassuring, he gave her a small smile and said, “See you soon, rook.”



He didn’t. Well, occasionally in dehydration-induced hallucinations. Or when they beat him so hard he wavered in that hazy space between conscious and out cold.

The Pakistan mission had gone wrong. Two good men had been killed—one with a newborn, the other right in front of him—and now it was just him and Trey Perry, held captive in some hellhole in the middle of nowhere. When he imagined not coming back from this mission, he assumed he would get killed, not held hostage. Somehow, surviving was worse. If anyone was to die, it should’ve been him, a man who wouldn’t be missed the way Ray Park and Sam Faroohar would be.

The beating and yelling happened about every four hours, whenever Volkov’s guards decided it was time to fuck with them. It was in those hours that he’d slump against the wall and conjure thoughts of anything that wasn’t that filthy, dark room. How to escape. How to make sure Perry didn’t die from that broken rib that had likely punctured his lung. How Gem tasted. Smelled. Had become a part of his life without even meaning to. That stupid frown that he found so endearing. That smile.

Sometimes, he even heard her voice, which was when he really knew he was losing it.



Warmth touched his face, and gunfire and yelling echoed in his mind along with Gemma’s voice. It wasn’t unusual.

“I need backup—” she was saying. “Giddens, where are you?”

Strange. Gemma in his dream state usually said things along the lines of “yes, Boone, you’re right” and “yes, like that, just like that” and—

A commotion was happening to the right. It took all his energy to open his eyes. Two shapes moved quickly, fighting each other. One in heavy tactical gear slashed the other’s arm and then faced him.

“Gem?” he croaked.

The figure approached him, crouching beside him. The helmet was too big, falling in its face. But it said, “Boone,” in her voice.

He started laughing even though it hurt. It sounded real. Was it real? He mumbled something about dreaming, and then the figure pushed up the helmet and it had her eyes, too.

“No,” she said, “you’re not dreaming.”

It didn’t feel like he was, but could she really be in Pakistan when she knew this was the last place he’d want her to be?

As she helped him up and ushered him through the compound, it quickly became apparent she was. Gemma Hart, his stupid, reckless, perfect rookie, had come to rescue him.



Pakistan had fucked him up. He hurt, inside and out. Gem worried about him, and despite dealing with her own problems with Ben, she stuck by him even when he was an asshole or drunk or breaking down on her couch. She didn’t judge, just let him do what he needed to do, and he appreciated that more than he could say.

That first night back, he had trouble sleeping. Gem was watching TV in his living room, avoiding going home to Ben, so he went out there and sat next to her. Putting a pillow in her lap, she told him to lay down. He fell asleep with his head in her lap, and when he shuddered awake from nightmares, she smoothed a hand over his hair and things weren’t so bad.



They were back in the Moscow safe house, prepping for the next stage of the mission to retrieve the core of a neutron bomb, when Gemma said, “Ben and I are over, by the way,” and he knew he should feel bad, but all he felt was a lightness in his chest that foolishly seemed like hope.



Steel flashed at Gemma’s neck. Aleksandr Lukin—the bastard who’d tortured him in Pakistan and had now shown up in Moscow—was about to cut her throat if Boone didn’t give him the briefcase he was holding.

The core of a bomb or Gemma’s life?

She twisted and fought and told him not to do it, but the choice was easy. He handed it over. He was so far from objective it was funny.



Alternate means of securing a keycard from a club employee probably existed, but acting like a couple with Gem was too good to pass up. The target was a few feet away and the plan was simple: act distracted, brush past him, swipe the keycard from his belt, go downstairs, and get the core back.

“You sure you don’t want me to take point?” he asked her.

Gripping the front of his shirt, she put his back to the bar, leaned in, and whispered, “No, I’ve got this,” in his ear.

Surprised, he laughed. “Okay.”

He felt her exhale of laughter against his skin, and then her lips touched his neck, working down to his collar. He grabbed her shoulders, to make her stop or to hold onto her, he wasn’t sure. Then she murmured, “Get ready,” and he found himself moving his hands down her arms, craving her bare skin.

When she pulled back, she was breathing heavily, eyes shining in the club lights, a little wild. Her lips parted and she licked them. The hot, heavy want that he constantly tried to ignore rose up in him like a crushing ache.

He reached up, took her face in his hands, and kissed her. She tasted like vodka and lipstick and Gemma, and it was fucking intoxicating. The way she melted into him, all of her pressed against him, drove him crazy. He couldn’t help but think he’d almost lost her tonight. And then she was breaking the kiss and pushing him toward the wall. He didn’t care if she’d managed to steal the keycard because she was biting his lip, running her tongue over it, and then she was kissing him again.

As he’d imagined for months, he grabbed her hips and brought her against him. A low moan escaped from her, and it was the sexiest thing he’d ever heard. Wanting more, he slid a hand up to the nape of her neck, wondering how to make her do it again—

“Oh, there they are,” Laura said through his earpiece, and he remembered she and Danny were in the club, too.

Gemma broke away, looking embarrassed. “They’ve been watching us?”

“I don’t know, rook,” he told her honestly. “Wasn’t paying attention.”

Still wasn’t paying attention. Because that kiss might’ve started out mission-related, but it hadn’t ended anywhere near that.

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