Chapter TWENTY SIX
You pace back and forth across your office floor.. You left Ford and Paxton in the garage to unpack the tactical equipment from the SUV, too furious with Hunter you had needed a minute to collect your thoughts..
Crossing to the bookshelf you lift a small sliver picture frame and inspect the photo inside.. A picture of you and Mikki, happy, back in DC, laughing while posed making ridiculously inappropriate gestures in front of the famously "phallic" monument..
Charles had taken the cheeky picture, and Mikki had framed it as a gift for you to take when you moved back to the city..
A heaviness weights your heart in your chest when you look down at her sweet, smiling face.. A new determination to find your friend stirs within you as you begin to play over Charles Everett's ramblings in your mind..
Somebody has Mikki?..
He thinks your working with 'them'..
Who is them?..
And something else he kept saying that sticks in your mind... "I gave you everything"..
What does that mean?
You're almost certain Elijah is involved somehow, but you feel like the most important pieces are still missing..
What's worse the person who could give you some god damned answers, just vanished, again..
A sharp rap on the door has your whirling around with a start, the frame slipping from your fingers, glass shettering across the floor at your feet.. Groaning as you bend to pick up the pieces you call out, irritation thick in your tone.. "Ughh.. What?!"
The door swings open and Paxton enters, his shoulders back, spine straight and expression stony.. You stand, dropping the collected pieces of the broken frame on your desk with a huff.. "Ellerie.. I know you don't approve of my actions. I can accept that.."
You scoff, folding your arms against your chest defensively.. You had been almost too angry to speak to him the entire drive back to the city.. Afraid of what you might say, especially in front of Ford, you had decided it was best to keep quiet.. "Hunter, If this is your way of apologising, you're doing a pretty shitty job.."
He takes a step closer, and you have to tilt your head upwards to see his brow furrowing as he shakes his head.. "I am not apologising.. Not for my decision, anyway.. Though, I regret any pain it may have caused you.."
You stare at him in disbelief.. Is he fucking serious?
You're not sure whether to laugh or scream..
Why does this always happen to you?... And why don't you see it coming?.. Jackson tried to warn you about exactly this, and that only pisses you off more! "You know Hunter.. My entire career I've had to work twice as hard, be twice as clever and more adaptable than you could even imagine.. I've been surrounded by men who's only real desire is to control everything.. Who doubted me at every turn.. When I first came to Spectre, I thought with a woman like Iris Santiago in charge that you guys would be better, but no.."
Every doubt you have bubbles to the surface, threatening to escape in the form of tears.. You blink them back refusing to cry.. To be that girl who "can't handle it" like so many people have expected you to be.. "But you didn't even consider that.. Did you?.. .. Never mind that I had the situation under control tonight, that I could have disarmed Charles myself if had wanted to, or that I've been working in the feild as long as any of you, and still.." You choke up a little..
Taking a deep breath, Turning away and averting your eyes in an effort to keep it together, you focus on the broken glass on the floor.. "God damn it.. What would it take for you to actually respect me? Merde, qu'est-ce que je dois faire.."
He approaches you in two swift steps reaching out to take your arm with a gentle squeeze.. "That's not-.. I respect you Ellerie Devereux.."
You look up at him, his eyes dark.. "But, you're not sorry for going against my orders tonight?"
You already know the answer, it's written all over his face.. "Going against yourorders? Ellerie.. I'm the commander of Delta Force.. My position is--"
You pull your arm from his grip, shaking your head.. He is too prideful, and maybe so are you, but its clear he doesn't understand.. "Yeah, right.. You outrank me.. And that's all it will ever be about with you.. Except, this wasn't Delta's mission, Hunter.. It was mine. This is my life.. Not some unknown nameless asset in a Spectre mission brief.. Me.."
He scratches the back of his head, at least having the good sense to look guilty.. But it's just not enough.. "You asked for my help, firecracker.."
You sigh.. "Yeah.. I did.." Now you're not so sure if that was the right decision.."
No, you definitely made the wrong decision.. Because by letting him in, you allowed yourself to care about him.. Which means you care what he thinks.. And it's becoming pretty clear he doesn't think much of you as an agent.. Or friend.. Or anything else..
And that hurts.. Really hurts..
"Maybe that was a mistake.."
He winces.. "Why do I get the feeling there's nothing I can say here.."
You give him a half smile, exhaustion beginning to weigh on your tired, overworked muscles.. "There is something you could say, Paxton.. You just don't want to say it.." He opens his mouth as if he is about to say something, and for a fleeting second you think he might actually apologise, but he quickly closes it again.. "Please, just go.. I have work to do.."
!It's the middle of the night, and highly unlikely that your efforts would yield anything productive, but you have to figure out a way to find Charles.. Or at least work out what the hell he was talking about..
Paxton turns to leave, stopping at the door to make one last attempt.. "I think maybe you're misunderstanding the way I feel about you.. So to be clear.. What happened tonight was not about me not respecting your decision.. It was about me refusing to take any risk that would result in me watching you die.. I won't apologise for that.." And with that he's gone..
Ford appearing in the open doorway only a few moments later.. He eyes the broken glass as he steps into your office..
You circle the desk and drop into the chair, turning to the active computer screen you begin pulling up the cell logs of the various mobsters and guards who had been holding Charles hostage.. Looking for something, anything to give you a lead on where Everett would go.. "I need to find Charlie.. There has to be something we can do.. He kept saying he "gave me everything" if I can work out what that means then--"
Jackson rounds the table to crouch beside you, taking your hand.. "Ellerie, baby.. Stop.."
You pry your eyes from the screen to look at him.. "What? No, we don't have time I have time--"
He reaches up tenderly to wipe some blood away from your cheek, inspecting the now stinging cuts across the side of your face.. "Baby.." His soothing tone and gentle touch lowers your defenses enough for all the pain of the last few hours to come flooding in..
Your heart aches in your chest and your head throbs as flashes of the nights events flicker in your mind.. Up until now, you had been running on adrenaline, then shock and finally anger..
But now.. It all hits you at once..
The unknowing guard you took out..
Charles being brought back from the dead, tortured, all to end up with a bullet in him at the bottom of a ravine..
Mikki is missing..
The shitty argument you just picked with Paxton..
Suddenly you feel terrible.. "Jax.. I.. I don't know what I'm doing anymore.." A tsunami of guilt overwhelms you.. As soon as tears begin to roll down your cheeks you wipe them away on your sleeve..
He stands, tall and strong, his passive patience making him a calm safe haven from the emotional vortex whirring inside you.. He offers his hand, which you take without hesitation and he pulls you easily to your feet.. "Yes you do.. We had a plan, and you executed the infiltration.. You made a blind extraction, and yeah Paxton fucked it up a little, but Charles is alive. If you hadn't gotten him out, we can't say the same would be true.. So, we make a new plan.. We figure it out.. But not tonight.. Tonight, we need to go home, and you need to sleep, Sunshine .."
You blink up at him and nod.. He's right.. If Charlie is out there, than there's still a chance to find him and fix this.. Make right whatever wrong it is he thinks you did to him.. And, If Mikki is set to testify against you and Elijah has her, that means she will be safe, at least until the hearing.. "Sleep does sound really good right about now.."