Author's Note: This is an Out of Canon story sliding into AU as the show evolves off on its arc. This follows after other stories I've done, especially Mermaid Beach which precedes this directly, and it will also reference A Long Weekend in Santa Margarita, and to a much lesser degree, We'll Always Have Paperclips. It's not necessary to have read those but it may make more sense if you have. For my readers of those stories, this one goes down quite a different and much darker path, just so you know. Cover image from Wikimedia Creative Commons.
It had been long enough that Annie didn't feel her heartbeat accelerate as she passed a conversation in progress with Joan and several others and heard the word "Mossad". It had been eleven months since she had departed from Israel after that uneasy farewell, their first since becoming lovers at last, and there had not been a single contact with Eyal since then. His D.C. area apartment was apparently abandoned, cell phone number dead. She couldn't quite bring herself to ask Auggie to do a little search on her behalf, because she knew on some level it would hurt him, but it was tempting.
"Oh Annie, come here for a moment, I need to talk to you."
"What's up?" Annie asked. Joan excused herself from the small gathering.
"Let's go into my office." That was never Annie's favorite spot. "We're having a visitor from Israel today," Joan continued, shutting the door, and now Annie's heart did speed up. Joan was watching her face carefully. "No, it's not Eyal Lavin. Rivka is stopping by. You know how much I enjoy her visits. This time, she seems to think that you may have some special information on Eyal's whereabouts, which, surprisingly, seem to be a mystery to Mossad."
"I haven't heard from him since I left Israel."
"Not at all?"
"No, Joan." Joan nodded slightly, as if satisfied she was telling the truth.
"Well, tell her that. But don't be too forthcoming. I'm going to sit in on this one."
Rivka's sharp eyes bored into Annie from across the table in the small conference room. "No phone calls, nothing?"
"Absolutely nothing." Rivka looked over at Joan, as if hoping for assistance, or pretending to hope for assistance. The hardy Israeli intelligence officer did not seek much help in general.
"I must say, Miss Walker, that is a little surprising to me. All reports indicate that the two of you had a – special relationship. Especially during your time in Israel... just before he disappeared."
"He was very kind to me while I was recovering, yes. Thank you for asking him to look in on me."
"Is that what he told you?"
"And you believed him?"
"I didn't think about it much. I was glad to get out of the hospital."
"He took you out swimming, out to dine, other activities, bought you gifts…"
"No? That is surprising. You see, Annie, the nurses and doctors in Israel are very highly trained. They have very good memories and keep excellent records."
"He did take me out of the facility. He brought me some clothes, but he did not buy me any gifts, unless you're counting a box of pfeffernusse."
"Which you have all eaten long ago, correct?"
"I did not keep the pfeffernusse as a souvenir, no. Do you need me to swallow radium and submit to a stomach scan for any remaining cookie fragments?"
"That is very kind of you to offer, but no, Annie, we do not need to look inside you for any internal fragments of cookies that Eyal may have left you with. But there were other things that he brought to you. The desk nurse noted it."
"He returned to me a bag I left in his car with some souvenirs I bought on one of our days out together."
"And where are these things now?"
Annie reached into her skirt pocket, where her car keys were. She tossed them onto the table, attached to the Lamborghini emblem keychain. "There's one of them."
"What else? Do you still have everything?"
"The magnet is on my refrigerator. The guidebook and map of Israel are in my bookcase. The postcards are around somewhere."
"And the other book, Miss Walker? A book of poetry, I think?"
"Lost when my luggage was stolen in Krakow." Annie answered, without hesitation.
"Oh really? I do not know how you handle it here in the States, but we in Mossad, if an operative has items stolen, there is always a report, a list. Is that what you do here, Joan?"
Annie looked at Joan pleasantly.
"Yes, we do. It helps if our operative's DNA shows up in an odd location later on, if we've accounted for any misplaced items, as you know."
"Could I see this list?"
"You don't believe that my operative is being truthful?"
"I would just like to see this list. As a courtesy. As a kindness. You see, we are all very worried about Eyal Lavin."
Joan glanced again at Annie, saw no pleading or worry in her eyes, and tapped a few keys on her laptop. "Here you go. "Report on Lost or Stolen Items, Annie Walker, Krakow." She turned the screen so that Rivka could see the form.
"Here is a list to the best of my recollection of the items in my luggage which was stolen from my room in Krakow:
Makeup bag and contents including Great Lash mascara, 2 Smashbox lipsticks, Sephora foundation, generic powder compact, Jo Malone Grapefruit travel sprayer
Backup cell phone charger
Book Mystical Poets of the Middle East
Christian Louboutin shoes, brand new, high heels, yellow
Mauve cashmere sweater
Grey wool pencil skirt …" There were many more entries, but Rivka was not interested in scrolling down.
"And why did you have that book with you on this particular trip, Miss Walker?
"I needed something to read on the plane."
"Really? You don't prefer something more … contemporary?
"I was running late the morning I left and it was on my bedside table, so I grabbed it."
"That is where you usually keep it? By your bed?"
"I like something calming to read to help me go to sleep, and mystical poetry I don't understand does the job."
"And where did you buy this book, Miss Walker? When and where exactly in your travels with Mr. Lavin did you find yourself at a used bookstall?" Annie looked her in the eye.
"There was a synagogue rummage sale. We stopped on impulse."
Joan broke in as the two women squared off on opposite sides of the table. "I think Annie has been quite cooperative on this, Rivka. Of course we would love to assist you in finding the AWOL Eyal, but we've had no contact. As for this book, as our records show, Annie lost it almost three months ago in Krakow. I suggest you look for it there if it is of such interest to you. It may even be the reason her luggage was stolen, since it is obviously of interest to you and may have been to others as well."
"I thank you for that helpful analysis. One more thing, Miss Walker, the objects you do have, would you mind if I take a look at them?"
"The souvenirs I bought for myself? The clothes?"
"All of which Eyal had in his control for some hours. Yes. If there is no objection, Joan." Annie looked to her boss, again, with as pleasant and neutral an expression as she could manage.
"I have no objection if Annie doesn't. Annie will bring them in tomorrow."
"That's fine with me."
"Till tomorrow, then. I'll walk you out, Rivka."
Annie stayed in Joan's office. Joan dispatched her guest as quickly as was polite and returned, texting on her cell phone. "What do you think she is really looking for?"
"Joan, I have no idea. So Eyal's actually missing?"
"All we know is that he's supposedly off of her radar, and definitely off of ours. What that actually means is anybody's guess, though I agree with Rivka that it is odd if he hasn't contacted you."
"He really hasn't, has he?"
"No, Joan, there has been nothing."
"I just dispatched a team to your house to retrieve the objects you mentioned, by the way."
"Why did you do that? I was going to bring them in."
"If Rivka wants them so badly, we need to take a look at them ourselves, and knowing her, we may already be too late. But what I really need from you, Annie, is that book of poetry."
"Joan, that was in my luggage…" Joan cut her off.
"Annie, we've had to extract you by air, land, and sea from about twenty cities so far, usually without your luggage. I can't believe that you had anything potentially that precious to you there. After so long without word from Eyal, I have a strong feeling that you thought it might be wise to "lose" it permanently in case just this type of situation arose and your stolen luggage gave you the perfect opportunity to put it out of the stream permanently and keep it safe for yourself, unless of course you are actively colluding with a missing Mossad agent on some other matter, which is another situation entirely. Or perhaps you "stole" your own luggage."
"If I had, I definitely would not have included those brand new shoes."
Joan smiled. "You know, Annie, on that part I believe you. But bring me that book."
Joan put on conservator's cotton gloves similar to what Annie had often worn at the Smithsonian and flipped through the pages as Annie watched. "Bookmark is where he placed it?"
"You really are worried about him, aren't you?"
"How can you tell?"
"You wouldn't have brought this to me otherwise. I know that. Nice poem. I'm going to hand this over to our guys for a few hours, they'll photograph it, check it for microdots, X-ray it - you know the drill. You can have it back after that if they don't find anything. I doubt that they will."
"Then why do you think Rivka wants it?"
"I imagine she believes it is a key to a book code, simple but hard to break if you don't know the book being used."
Annie's shoulders slumped. So that was it. The lovely little gift, the lovely days, the beautiful sunset evening – all, as even the poem implied, pure spycraft. She had been a fool over him. She felt the only comfort that had sustained her for the last months, that he cared about her, that he must be kept away by some impossible-to-overcome circumstance, wrenched away. She was a convenient dead drop like an unused post box. "What's wrong?"
"Annie, you're on the verge of tears. For you, that's not nothing."
"I am not on the verge of tears." Which was technically true, since one had just slid down her cheek, fortunately on the side turned away from Joan. Joan did a final, careful flip-through of the book and set it down on her desk, hit her intercom, and called for one of the object analysis team to come to her office. Annie wiped the tear under the guise of adjusting her hair, tried not to sniffle and turned around to face Joan as if nothing were wrong.
"I've seen the way he looks at you, Annie," Joan said, quietly. "The way he moves to keep you in view, to keep aligned with you as you go through a room. Even he doesn't know he's doing it. When he was here with Rivka, and when we were all in one place cleaning up that little mess over the Cardinal. He cares about his country, and his craft, but my "helpful analysis", as Rivka would put it, is that he also cares about you. Very much. I'm not speaking as your boss here, Annie. I would much prefer that none of my operatives become overly involved with any other agency's spy, particularly one as volatile and unpredictable as Eyal Lavin. He may have entrusted you with something as an insurance policy, and you may be one of the few people on earth he thinks he can absolutely trust. And on some level, you know all that or you would not be treating this book as an intelligence artifact instead of treating it as a gift from a boyfriend."
Annie swallowed, wincing at the memory of their last embraces. Was that all fake? Spycraft? She knew Joan was trying to make her feel better, but the only thing to soothe her would be to hear from his own sensual full lips that this was - or at least had been - real between them, that she had not finally surrendered to him only to be abandoned so quickly after. "Whatever he is, Joan," she said, finally, "I don't think "boyfriend" would be the word."
"Perhaps not." There was a knock on the door and the tech entered, a plastic evidence bag held out in front of him. Joan picked up the book with her gloved hands and dropped it into the baggie and the tech carried it away for analysis.
Maybe more analysis was the key – Annie thought. She had some R&R comp time due. Though unlikely, maybe Rivka had missed something. Or maybe showing up in Israel just might shake loose the elusive Eyal Lavin.
You didn't always miss what you expected to miss, he thought, watching the fiery dawn sun rise behind distant hills as far from Israel as one could go. For Eyal, it was her golden hair that he found himself looking for and never finding in the sea of dark fabrics. The intense sunlight would make it sparkle even more than usual, he thought, but her fair skin would have a hard time holding up to that same strong sun. There was no sunscreen that could hold up to this day after day, only that one benefit of covering up constantly. At night, in the cold moonlight that poured over the empty landscape like shimmering milk, her hair would shine silver. King Hussein of Jordan had renamed his American-born queen "Light", Noor. He understood that perfectly now and used that name for Annie as it ran together with his thoughts more easily. He had been gone long enough that English was strange to him now, sounded wrong to his inner ear, the pathways of his mind completely rewired, as they should be Hebrew was even worse. He did not let himself think in that, though occasionally he would awaken from a dream, as he had this morning, and that would be the language fleeing from him as he pulled himself into full consciousness. He feared at those moments that he would forget and speak in it again. But that dream. She had been with him, with full intimacy and love, a thing that could now never be. Better to accept it was impossible.
Better not to dream at all, in any language. The reality could only be a nightmare.
Author's Note: Reviews are so welcomed!