"Skye T?" Connor called out, lowering himself from the F16. For a split second he hung by his arms, then let himself drop to the concrete floor. It was maybe three metres to the ground.
"Get over here," she replied.
Asher was lying on his back, the gun out of reach several metres away. Skye had already scrambled to her feet and was holding him in place. He seemed dazed and was definitely in pain, but despite the unexpected fall when Skye had pushed him off the edge, he had landed professionally. Decades of training were hard to get rid of.
Skye had landed half on top of him, effectively cushioning her fall, then rolled gracefully.
"You okay?" Connor still had to make sure as he took over, turning Asher onto his stomach, arms behind his back.
Skye checked her left arm, which stung faintly. The skin from her wrist up to her elbow was grazed where it had scraped along the concrete, but the injury was superficial. "All good," she said.
General Walton joined them from between the rows of fighter jets, closely followed Reeves. The latter looked flustered and handed Connor a pair of handcuffs, which the agent skilfully attached to Asher's wrists. Then he dragged him to his feet.
Skye meanwhile turned to the general. "Are you out of your mind?" she hissed before Walton could get one word out.
"Miss Holt, I have to-"
"It's Agent Holt," Skye said. "You are aware that I could see you, right, or are you actually that thick?"
The general was speechless, Reeves appeared stunned as well in regard of her language.
"I saw you pulling the trigger." Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "From your position you would not only have killed him, you would have shot Mathison as well."
Connor looked at her in surprise, then at Walton.
"Great service to your country that would have been," she spat. Connor could feel how much she had to pull herself together not to become downright insulting or physically violent. "I can guarantee you this will all be in my report. Hardly worth a promotion."
"You need to work on your anger management," Connor said, trying to lighten the mood as they were waiting in the sickbay. Asher had been sedated, but Skye wouldn't let him out of her sight. The sweepers had arrived, taking care of the wreckage, the impounded evidence and the bodies. They would take Asher on a high-security plane. IMF wasn't prone to making the same mistakes twice. The former agent would not be underestimated again.
"I can't take three in one day, Connor," Skye said without looking at him. She was turning over Megan's sunglasses in her hand.
He bit his lip, and nodded.
Skye signed Asher over to the head of the sweeper's team.
"You fly with us?" he asked.
"No. I'm going with Mathison. We'll meet you back in D.C."
"Okay," he answered. "Good work, Agent Holt."
Skye nodded at him and watched as they escorted a dazed Asher towards the exit.
Lieutenant Reeves appeared in front of them. "I've been informed that our superiors will organise what will happen to your plane."
"Good, because that would have got a bit crammed in the car," Connor replied. He got no reaction, and sighed. No sense of humour, these people. He was glad to be out of there. "What about your doc?"
"Doctor Grey is gonna be fine. I can escort you out."
Skye and Connor followed through the corridors. Connor couldn't help it. "Be honest with me, though, that's not the only wreckage you've ever hauled in here, am I right?"
Reeves kept walking, unfazed. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Course you don't," the agent smirked. "That's all I needed to hear."
"Can you pull over?"
Connor looked to his right, at Skye, then back ahead. The street was deserted, so he slowed down and simply stopped in the middle of the road.
Skye unbuckled her seat belt, just sat there for a second, then got out of the car.
Concerned, Connor followed. Skye was leaning against the side of the car that was in shadow, breathing deeply. He groped in his pockets for his Zippo and cigarettes, then shook out two from the pack of Camel. "Calm the nerves a bit?"
"Thanks," she said in a small voice. "I must have left mine on the plane."
Connor smiled sympathetically, gave her a light and Skye inhaled deeply. For a while they smoked in agreeable silence.
He spoke up first. "Once we're home I'll get you pizza. And we'll toast to the Megster." He paused, then added, "And Casey."
It meant a lot to her that he included Jake, despite having despised the guy, and apparently with good reason. Knowing that her gratefulness didn't require articulation, she simply nodded.
Connor kept talking to fill the silence. "You remember when I first met Megan, and all I knew was that she's ex-military? And then there she was, in her freaking bomber jacket, back when she had the really long braids."
Skye chuckled at the memory. "I remember. And she just seized you up and said you don't look very brush-cut either."
"First thing you do, you grow your hair out," Connor quoted their friend, nailing her tone of voice. "Wise lady."
Skye's smile faltered. She let go of the cigarette.
Connor crushed it under his shoe. "You know it wasn't clear from the blackbox if any of you had made it." His voice was deeper than usual. "I had a moment where I thought..."
Skye gently nudged his arm.
He exhaled smoke. He wasn't great with these things. "What I'm trying to say is, it's good to still have you here."
Skye took a very deep breath, but couldn't get herself to say anything. Connor knew anyway.
"You want that hug now?"
She nodded, and Connor crushed his own cigarette as well.
"It's gonna be okay," he said quietly, and again Skye could only nod before she started crying against his shoulder. Connor rarely touched people. Not to mention hugging them This was special. This meant a lot.
"If there's something you need me to do you gotta tell me, because I suck at this," Connor whispered while carefully putting an arm around her, not entirely sure where to put his hands.
Despite everything, Skye had to chuckle through the tears. She felt for his hand and put it on her shoulder. He was careful, unsure, and only tightened the embrace when he felt confident it wouldn't hurt Skye. People could feel so breakable sometimes.
"I fucked up up there," she eventually managed to say.
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did. I could have shot him."
"You had orders to bring him in for trial. Shooting him wasn't an option."
"So he killed two agents."
"One of which conspired with him."
Skye let out a shaky sigh, letting go of him to wipe the tears away. "I don't even know what to think of that."
Connor sighed too and leaned against the side of the car. "Even I gotta admit, Casey was an asshole, but I wouldn't have thought that he could pull off something like that. Always the ones you least expect."
"He still saved my life," Skye said quietly.
Connor looked at her.
"Asher would have shot me point blank. Casey pushed me out of the way. Took a bullet for it, too."
Connor just huffed. He didn't have anything nice left to say about Jake Casey.
"I was supposed to fly this one," Skye went on. "If I had been in the cockpit, and Megan-"
"Don't even start about that."
"But," Skye began.
"I'm serious, Skye T," he said warningly. "We can't change what happened. The point is that you're still here. Don't start with what-ifs. That's gonna drive you crazy."
Skye looked up at her friend, sniffed for one last time. Then she reached up and mussed his hair. "That's better," she said when it was back to it's usual messiness.
Connor had to laugh. "Right?"
Skye took a deep breath of dry desert air. "You know, when I first met Megan it was for flight training. She took me on a helicopter ride. I'd never been in one before that. And when she saw that I was freaked out, she just looked at me..." Skye swallowed. "She said the key isn't to not look down, but to look down and love it."
"Thanks for coming," Skye said.
"Yeah," Connor said. "Just hate funerals."
"Hey," Yusuf joined them. "Am I late?"
"No, they haven't started yet," Skye said. Agents stood alone or in small groups around, talking quietly while waiting. "Good to see you."
"Likewise. I found the report you asked about," the techie said, pushing his thick black glasses up his nose.
"And?" Skye asked in anticipation.
"I couldn't access all of it," he said and paused meaningfully, "but apparently Asher's parents were in witness protection. Their position got compromised and Megan's mission was to move them to a different location."
When he didn't continue, Skye asked, "That's it?"
Yusuf shrugged apologetically. "It just said they were killed during the mission. The who and how is classified."
Connor, who had followed their exchange warily, suddenly looked past them. "Holy shit," he said excitedly and tapped Skye's shoulder. "That's Luther Stickell."
The agent in question was walking up in front of the small crowd gathered.
"The guy who worked with Ethan Hunt on Langley," Connor whispered loudly. "And the Musgrave job."
"I know who he is, keep it together," Skye said.
Connor followed Stickell with his eyes. "Were they friends?"
Skye nodded. "I think so."
The service was an internal affair, so like most of the people that had come, Stickell wasn't wearing a suit, just normal clothes. Maybe he had come straight from HQ, or even a mission. He just stood there for a moment, feeling the attention settle on him. When he spoke, his voice was deep and slightly rough.
"When I offered to contact Megan Laurie's family about what had happened I got the same old answer. That she didn't have any family. I don't know about you, but I can't be the only one of us who can relate to that, and it's always a blow to the head."
Connor looked at his shoes.
"Because someone like Megan deserved a family, and if she didn't even have one, then the ship must have sailed for the rest of us for good, right? But that's not true. Megan did have a family. We are her family. She made us a family. And now we should do her proud by being there for each other." He paused. "Meg saved so many lives. Some of which she might not even be aware of."
Luther Stickell looked at the coffin for a long moment. Then he turned back to the considerable assembly of people. To her surprise, he singled out Skye, steadily holding her gaze.
"She taught us how to fly."
As always, thank you so much for reading my story. I hope you liked it.
Cheers also to to Ellster for beta reading.