Author's Notes: Al kept saying, when I was muttering and threatening about deathfics "You haven't got there yet." Well I have now. And when it comes to thanks and dedications, this one is for She Who Nags (nicely) Archives (at the speed of light), finds typos and hands out seals of approval when I don't know if to post. Thanks, Al.
Narrated by Sam and self beta'd. You should know the bit about me and typos by now. We all have our trademarks.
I've seen four deaths and three funerals in just over a month, and it's too much.
Far, far too much. And my efforts to cope are failing miserably, despite my capacity for hiding the emptiness and grief inside.
There have been so many mistakes - so many errors of judgement, if you can call what's been happening that. It doesn't seem to be a strong enough word for it. Fuck-ups, to quote Chris.
Nothing - absolutely nothing - was going as it should. We'd all been overworked and overtired for weeks, and the morale in the whole place sank to the lowest I've ever seen it after that last, bloody battle. Not that it's any better now the workload has at least reached halfway normal levels.
It would be so much easier if when I get out of here now and then I could spend the little time available to relax with Chris. But I can't.
For someone who was a loner once upon a long time ago, being alone is slowly driving me insane right now. That's how it feels, anyway, even if it's supposed to get better with time. Like Chris said it did when Teresa was killed.
I'm not sure if I believe that.
I don't sleep at night - not much, anyway. All those who died catch up with me in my dreams. All of them.
Sometimes it's Tanya Slovic, head bowed and eyes empty. She was the first.
I didn't go to her funeral and don't even know if she had one. I hope so. I didn't know her well and in fact had only met her briefly on the one time she came into CI5. But the fury I felt when I saw her lifeless body signalled the start of it all.
I didn't turn it into anger, unlike Chris' outburst, but just let it become the first part of the cold, hard ball of fury and sorrow that's been growing inside me ever since. New layers have been forming each time I've been confronted with death and unpardonable mistakes ever since, and there have been plenty of occasions.
It's taking me over tonight, body and soul. Which is why I'm drinking. And I don't even know if I have a soul any more.
I once said to Chris that this job destroys that part of you, but he doesn't accept it. He even said that mine was still around somewhere inside my armour plating. When he was around me, I even felt it surfacing now and then.
It occurs to me that I'm linking every single thought to Chris. It just makes me feel more pathetic, but I can't help it.
Even thinking of our small triumph in picking up Pradic in Zurich didn't really make me feel any better. More mistakes followed.
The next death was Wilmot - my mind constructed the image of him tumbling out of that window even as I saw him lying there in a mass of broken glass. It followed me as I drove - ridiculously fast -after his killer only to see the guy end up in a ball of flame. And it's been following me ever since, when I'm not thinking of the others.
I'll never forget Wilmot's mother's face as she wept in the graveyard. Oh, I knew he was an only child and his father had died years back. Couldn't help checking a few details since I was the one who had sent him to his death. She was alone, now.
I know how that feels.
I blame myself for it even though Malone doesn't. He knew I felt guilty, but he told me to push that aside as Wilmot was doing his job and I had taken the 'appropriate decision'. Maybe Malone even showed a little humanity on that occasion, I admit grudgingly, but I don't think that helped either.
Tell a late middle-aged lady in a black dress with tears streaming down her face that one of his colleagues sending him off to guard a hospital room holding one of his friends was 'appropriate'. I couldn't bring myself to speak to her, coward that I am, but those were the thoughts running through my mind as I stood among the small group of mourners.
Chris was there then, though, his presence soothing. Keeping me in one piece for the next funeral only a couple of days later. Karl's.
Now, my mind is full of Karl on the station bench or at the hospital with an obscene flower of blood seeping through the sheets. Karl who was in so much pain he was beyond making any sense by the time I reached him. If I hadn't been out all night, could I have reached him earlier, while he was still able to tell me what it was all about?
That night out had just been one of our rare smoke screen exercises to quell the wagging tongues of those unaware of the relations between Chris and I. But it meant I was too late reaching him.
In fact I was too late every time. Every single, bloody time.
The little knot of those mourning for Karl was small and subdued. Most of us ignored each other in true MI6 style, and by the time Chris steered me towards the car I didn't only hate my former employers and colleagues, Kendall and his Nazi buddies, but most of the rest of the world as well.
The last funeral was the worst, though. By far the worst. I hardly dare think about it much as it's just too hard. But a few memories squeeze themselves into my unwilling mind anyway.
It was a simple, quiet ceremony but attended by a surprising number of people. Spencer cried openly, Richards' face betrayed his own fragile composure and even Malone was betraying his emotions to the point he could hardly speak.
I needed the supporting arm that materialised when I stumbled away from the freshly-dug grave. Appreciated the affectionate squeeze of my shoulder.
Not that I showed it, because only my mask allowed me to survive that day.
Ever since, I've been sliding further and further into a world where nothing matters. I turn up for work and do my job. Shoot where necessary, fight when I have to, but don't let myself think.
I just try to avoid any more mistakes being made. I suppose that's my crusade, now.
Oh, everybody's noticed I'm putting up my shields of course but they're grieving as well, in their own way, and leave me to handle it as best I can. A lot of them probably even remember my old iceman image - the one that Chris chipped away so doggedly and so successfully.
Richards - the jokes sadly missing - asked me if I'd thought of taking a breather, getting some time away. That's the sort of thing Chris would have said if he'd been there. He'd have told me that the SEALs wouldn't insist people carried on working if they felt under par, so why should Malone?
Well, Malone doesn't have much choice at the moment, and Chris isn't there to argue with him about his partner's lack of form and its potential dangers.
My mind is full of images of laughing blue eyes and dimples, suddenly, just as it has been for many of my waking hours ever since the last time I saw him. I give in to it for a while, then grab the whisky bottle.
The only time away I do get away from HQ, I spend alone in my flat, supposedly sleeping but in reality fighting it most of the time, afraid of the dreams. Then I have to go back, do my job, and even more memories crowd in on me again. I can't escape them. And I don't even know what else I would do if I wasn't at work.
Absently, I flick on the television as I've been doing every time I'm here. Not to watch crappy soaps and joke about my partner's lousy taste, but just to have a voice in the background. It's pathetic. And the place is still a mess.
The first week after that last funeral, when I was signed off for the graze on my leg to heal, my flat looked like Chris' by the time I went back into work and it still does. Pizza boxes, their contents barely touched, jostle for place with coke cans, coffee cups and books I've opened but never finished.
Everything's so pointless, so stupid. Plastic-wrapped drama or cheap reality shows fill my spare time, to fight off the longing for a soft voice moaning that there's no Bud left in my fridge before sliding a hand inside my shirt and reaching for me, eyes twinkling. Or to complain about my obsessive tidiness and throw his clothes from one end of the room to the other, and mine as well if at all possible.
Chris' presence is what got me through the first three deaths. But because of the job we do he's not here to help me now.
I miss him so badly. Tonight particularly, although I think that most nights.
Chris, of course, would disapprove of the drinking that I've now decided is the only way to achieve the level of numbness I need at this precise moment. Not that wading through several beers and getting mellow ever bothered him if we weren't on standby.
Except I am on standby and the bottle of whisky seemed like a better idea than pacing up and down my living room or giving in to the tears I've never permitted myself.
It's a sort of anniversary, I suppose. Two whole weeks since that last, godawful error of judgement happened.
On an empty stomach - the norm these days - the alcohol soon takes effect.
This is crazy, and stupid, and if I'm called in I'll have to admit I'm in no state to roll up. But nobody'll call. It's been quieter lately, as though the last bloodshed heralded a sort of truce among the world's terrorist population as well as peace in our Ops room.
By some quirk of fate, they're showing Bosnia on the television. I watch it for a moment or two, remembering Tanya's blonde hair again. Then pour a refill.
Two more refills later, I'm sinking deeper and deeper into despondency. I should eat, I suppose. Or at least stop drinking. Alcohol doesn't solve anything and I've never really been one for drinking alone.
I don't *want* to be alone, I realise yet again - that's the problem. It's been like that since it happened, which in itself frightens me, Sam Curtis, who never needed anyone. Until Chris came along.
I hide it well enough from Malone, I suppose, but I hate him for what he did after the funeral even though I suppose he didn't have a choice. He'd sent out his pawns on yet more missions, as if nothing had changed. As though it didn't matter. Leaving me alone with my grief to work it through as best I could.
I think Spence and Richards know how I felt when I was left out of any kind of action for the first few days until I was physically capable of returning to work, but I've been brushing off their kindness. It only makes it worse, somehow. I didn't even want them around, despite their offers.
The phone makes me jump, which it always does these days.
Typical. They need somebody to man one of the screens. One of the fucking monitors that dominate our daily lives. The information flow must be preserved, and we're short handed. Nothing new.
I should say I'm over the limit, but even the idea of the ops room is more attractive than staying here. So I go.
Richards is there, and so is Spence, and they grin at me sympathetically. Malone, as usual, is holed up in his office judging from the light on in there. In the Ops room, though, we're in semi-darkness except for the screens. It takes a great deal of concentration to keep up with it all, but at least for a while it occupies my thoughts fully.
I don't look drunk, of course. It takes more than the couple I've had to make much difference to me. In fact, I find myself pulled into it more and more until Spencer finally gives the teams the go-ahead to move in.
Oh, they do a good job. An excellent one, in fact. I'm watching Harley and Matthews, guiding them into the building, while Spence has the targets in view. Richards has our other team on his screen.
Barely a shot is fired, and we stay fixed to all three monitors until we see the police arrive and the bad guys wheeled away.
"Drink?" Richards says, grinning from ear to ear.
"No thanks," I say, being sensible for once.
"You'll change your mind in a minute," Spence says, almost casually, then speaks into the link. "Pass Mole One the com will you, Harley?"
I'm really not in the mood for rejoicing, I'm about to snap, but something makes me look over to Richards' screen and it's as though somebody throws a switch.
"Hiya buddy," the familiar voice says. "Pulled you in again, huh?"
Mole One is Chris. Grinning widely and removing the balaclava he was wearing like the other hostiles. Except he wasn't one of them.
My heart does a back flip and I have the suspicion I'm grinning back.
"Somebody has to keep you in order," I retort, wanting to kill Spence for putting me on one of the teams rather than on the targets and not telling me this was my lover's undercover mission, even though I can see his point.
"Yeah, yeah." Chris runs a hand through his hair and chuckles. "Okay, Spence. Nearly wrapped up now, and we'll be in to de-brief in the morning, like Malone said. Hey Sam? Need a word with you."
Tactfully, the others flick their mikes off as I get that voice for my ears alone. They even have the discretion to move in the general direction of the coffee machine.
"Missed you, Sam. You OK? Leg better?"
"All healed. And I missed you, mate. It's been weird... without...."
"I bet. I thought about it all the time, Sam. And Malone sending me out the day after the funeral - got me worried about you."
"I'm fine, Chris. Now I know you're OK, anyway." Honesty is the only way, and it isn't hard to admit it.
"My place after?" he asks, and I'm not arguing. We'll be done here in a few minutes, and I can be with him, close to him...
"Count on it," I say. "An hour?"
"Should be good," he says, and I see his eyes meet mine, warmth visible even on the monitor. "Wanna help me shower up and stuff?"
"Try and stop me," I say, softly, already feeling the stab of excitement spreading from my guts to my groin.
"Can't wait," he says. Neither can I.
Richards and Spence materialise again, and this time I'm smiling with them. Malone emerges from his office, and I find myself accepting a fairly large shot of whisky.
"To Backup," Spence says softly, gesturing towards the empty seat with his tumbler. My throat constricts for a moment, but I raise my own glass and so do Malone and Richards.
I'll always miss her. Always. Even though I know that just for once, she too made a mistake and it cost her life. She shouldn't have gone in, but she just had to prove something. To Malone, to CI5 as a whole, and probably even to Chris and me.
I'd come out with a graze, Chris was unscathed, but the gun battle had been vicious and two bullets to her heart were suddenly, devastatingly final.
"Sam?" Spence is waving the bottle, but I shake my head. He doesn't push me, as he knows where my heart is now.
"Ten a.m. tomorrow," Malone says as I pick up my car keys. His magnanimity is boundless. Like the others there tonight, he's aware that Chris and I are partners in bed as well as within his organisation and reluctantly I realise he probably didn't like splitting us up at such a difficult time either.
I'm expecting him to add the usual "Don't be late," but for once he passes on that and I notice he's still looking over at Backup's former monitor. One day, I suppose, somebody will have to clear it of her own little personal touches.
I hesitate for just a minute or two as I slide behind the wheel, then start the engine anyway. Taxis at this time of night mean wasting time, and I'm anxious to get going, to feel Chris' arms around me again. To hold him close, to revel in the relief at having him back.
He'll make me feel whole again, I'm sure of that. Little by little, his optimism and bounce will seep inside my shell and melt away what's been eating away at me.
It'll be so good to be back working together. Watching out for each other. Doing our damndest to make sure no more mistakes or deaths cloud the horizon. No more funerals - or at least as long as it's humanly possible to avoid them.
A morbid memory comes to mind as I head away from HQ - that of Chris once telling me he'd be there at my funeral, at a time while I was bitching about being one of Malone's highly dispensable blips on a screen.
I shudder involuntarily at the memory, but let my thoughts run their course. Then I can move on, and let Chris work his magic on me.
Since we've been lovers, we've done the whole rationalising about dying bit more than once. It was unavoidable, really, since given the job we're in it's probably only wise to accept that our life expectancy isn't quite the same as if we were delivering mail or growing vegetables.
One fairly mellow evening - before this last, terrible run of deaths -Chris put into words what I think had been both our minds for a while. If one of us is killed before we're over the hill and out of fieldwork, the other's going to find it hell.
The "going together" scenario, although somewhat melodramatic, is not altogether unlikely, I reminded him. But it would solve all that at least.
Chris being Chris, he'd chuckled and suggested that the best solution would be for both of us to survive. And this time he's done so - on his own out there, and without me minding his back.
I'm proud of him. Happy. There were no mistakes this time.
I put my foot down, impatient to get there, anxious to gain a few precious minutes. There are few people around at this hour, and recklessly, I push the speed up just a little more.
So does the lorry coming towards me, but the driver's obviously not looking or also drunk - or simply doesn't expect to see me flaunting my alcohol-enhanced driving skills along that particular street.
He's on the wrong side of the road.
As I wrench the wheel and the car starts its last, uncontrollable skid, I know I've been wrong about there being no errors of judgement tonight.
Just time for a single thought.
I love you, Chris.