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That’s it, he says and farther goes than I would think to give.
EIMEAR MCBRIDE

  

“What else have you done for us? Besides Bin Laden?”
“Nothing. I’ve done nothing else.”
ZERO DARK THIRTY

 

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

The air conditioning is out in the Metro car.  She gets off at Navy Yard Station. The heat’s as oppressive above ground as it was below. She shoves her hair off the damp nape of her neck. She walks. The Capitol is waiting at the end of the street, throngs of tourists clogging up the sidewalk outside the Newseum. Newspapers of the day are framed out front. She walks quickly past them.

Maya had visited the Newseum shortly after she had returned to D.C. for lack of anything else to do. Mandatory PTO, they had told her. That was something she could not unaccept. They told her that, too. She had been sidelined then, debriefing after debriefing, first out at Langley and then with the Senate Intelligence Committee. They wanted to know everything. UBL dead, but that wasn’t enough; they wanted the process. The raid, the manhunt, the nine years of searching, the questions, the detainees, the enhanced interrogation, and any other official name to put to it.

“They call you up, too?” she’d asked Dan, and he had nodded his head. He was a model of the perfect intelligence sector employee now. He had an office and he wore a suit and you could never imagine him holding the leash but rather on it.

So she had gone to the Newseum. A whole section was devoted to 9/11, another with all the major newspaper headlines throughout history. They had the one announcing Bin Laden’s death. Nowhere was her name mentioned. Not on those front pages, sharing the same historical space as the assassination of Lincoln and the attack on Pearl Harbor and Watergate. She had become a part of the historical record though, whether her name was there or not. She had made this happen, she told herself, staring down at the newspaper beneath the glass.

She stood there for a second longer waiting for something else to happen. When nothing did she left the museum and she bought herself a sandwich, that day’s newspaper. She read the headlines and she felt the same as she had felt when she stood before the May 2, 2011 New York Times front page. She hadn’t felt a thing.

Now, she walks. The length of Pennsylvania Avenue down to the Capitol. She wanders through the full parking lot adjacent to Lafayette Square, wishes she had brought a water bottle. The Fourth of July is in two weeks but the tourists have already begun to arrive in droves, crowding the National Mall and the Metro cars and the sidewalks, their progress halting and slow-moving to gawk.

“We gotta stop meeting like this,” Dan says, wry grin, eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. Leaning against his car – clean, pristine, a new BMW. Honestly, most days she can’t stand him. He’s bought into all the trappings this town expects and offers. Her own car is a 2007 Passat she only ever drives out to Langley; she takes the Metro for everything else.

“What’d you park out here for?” she asks.

He shrugs, glances back towards the scaffolding surrounding the dome of the Capitol, the construction crew and the barricades, orange cones, overflowing dumpster. “I like the view.”

They’re headed towards yet another Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing. Extraordinary rendition, that was what they were interested in this time, the two of them called up as witnesses. A closed hearing. She’s sweaty from the Metro and the walk to meet him, irritated by it. She dabs at her hairline, knows that Dan notices.

“You nervous?” he asks, his arms crossed, his voice just this side of too gentle. She prickles at that. He should know her better by now – she doesn’t take to gentle.

She stands that much straighter. “Why should I be?”

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD
2003

She might as well have met him in a back alley.

Dan was all dirty hands, a dirty t-shirt, messy hair and an unkempt beard. His tall posture was hunched, somehow managed to make him that much more imposing – as if the violence within him was a natural extension of his body. Like it felt good and easy to carry. Sadism personified. Everything about Dan was performative: the intimidation, the mind games, the closed fist brutality.

He had looked at her like he didn’t know what to do with her.

She wore a suit. No one had told her otherwise.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

Without UBL, the targets have splintered. A hydra with the head cut off. She has a hard time marshaling that old focus. She does good work, she does a good job, but she’s a part of the world now. She buys groceries at the tiny market on the first floor of her apartment complex. She goes to a gym one block away every evening and runs on the third treadmill to the left, the TV always set to the BBC. She doesn’t have friends. She sees Dan, sometimes. She goes to museums on her off time; the Impressionist wing of the Art Museum is her favorite, even though she thinks that’s a fact and a style that lends herself too close to sentimental. She gets drinks alone. She gets drinks with Dan, sometimes. She works a desk job now, the same dull repetitive work day after day. She’s in at seven, eats a bagel, drinks her coffee with almond milk, no sugar. Reviews surveillance logs, footage, maps, transcripts. Meetings with the team. Meetings with another team. Check-ins via satellite with the teams on the ground in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon. Egypt. Libya. France. Germany. Lunch at her desk, usually a salad. Conference calls out to Baghdad. Tehran. Kabul. Islamabad. Istanbul. Beirut, Cairo, Benghazi, Paris, Berlin. She drafts a memo. Sends it. Drafts another memo. Sends that. Reviews bank records. Flight manifests. Social media. Sifts through all that. Another meeting. Another call. She’s argumentative but she’s lost cache. She stops at the gym on her way home. Stops at the market. Buys dinner for one, a bottle of wine. She doesn’t have friends. She brings the work home with her. She eats dinner on the couch, the BBC, the bottle of wine, her open laptop. She reads message boards but she doesn’t post on them. She goes to bed late, wakes up early. She gets up the next day and does it again. She tells herself she’s a part of the world now.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2010

“Pakistan’s fucked,” Maya said. Her car was impounded, riddled with bullets. She had been escorted to the Embassy, detained there for hours, her exit strategy laid out in front of her. “They’re sending me home.”

“You need a place to crash?” Dan asked. There was a distracted quality to his voice, his attention split between her and something else, external, that did not involve her. Didn’t inspire envy within her but rather disinterest.

“I’ll get a hotel. Until I find somewhere.” She didn’t want to have to say the word permanent.

There was a pause, as if Dan might say more; instead he didn’t say anything at all. He was good with silence; he knew how to bend the quiet to say more than he ever could with words.

She barely recognized him when she saw him at Langley a week later. He was clean-shaven, the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled to the elbow, his tie loosened, his hair neat. He looked like any other blank-faced D.C. employee. It was like meeting a stranger. Maybe that was what they were to each other though – two people who had met in a strange time and a stranger place. Did that make them unknown to each other when you removed the context? He looked at her like he might have felt the same. She was wearing a suit, black pumps that scraped her right heel, eyeliner hastily and clumsily applied in the unflattering light of the bathroom at the Key Bridge Marriott.

“Look at that,” he said to her. “Getting the old band back together again.”

She didn’t smile, not really. His grin was wide enough for the both of them.

“I could’ve used you out there, you know.”

“Ah, what every man longs to hear.” But the smile was gone, replaced by something cagier. Darker. She recognized him then.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

Maya has been running a lot lately. She joins all those early morning people who run the length of the Mall, racing up and down either side of the Reflecting Pool. Here is a fact: from the Capitol steps to the Lincoln Memorial it’s 1.8 miles. So she runs that, out past the Lincoln Memorial, over the Arlington Memorial bridge, into Arlington National Cemetery. She hops on the Metro there when she’s done, sweaty, breathless and empty. Thrumming with spent energy.

She feels the same way each time she leaves Dan.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2011

They made her take time off, after. She didn’t go anywhere. She thought about moving into a new place, maybe buy a condo, but there was no real drive or push behind it. Instead she bought red wine and she sat in her empty apartment and she went over debriefing notes, her own notes. She made alternate timelines, like a conspiracy theorist, trying to find the shortest route between 9/11 and UBL’s capture or death. It was easier then, in hindsight. Knowing the players she should’ve known nine years ago, a cheat code revealed only after the fact.

People talked about her. No one was dumb enough to deliver the full brunt of gossip to her feet, but she knew. The craned necks when she walked through the cafeteria at Langley, like they all knew she sucked the homecoming king’s dick at the game on Friday night. The way conversation sometimes stalled and then fitfully resumed when she entered a conference room. The dawning look of recognition on the faces of Agency strangers when she was introduced. “So, that’s the girl,” they didn’t say. They didn’t need to. They made her take time off.

She met Dan for dinner one night, at his insistence.

“Congrats,” he said after he sat. He was late. “For that whole fucking thing.”

They had to talk about it in code. They have always had to talk about everything between them in code.

“I told you I was right.”

“Should’ve known you’d be one to gloat,” but he didn’t say it like he was mad. In fact, he said it warmly. Maya reached for her drink. Almost empty; he had been late.

“So what’s the plan now, Ahab? Caught your whale and you’re still at sea.”

“I don’t know. I got offers.” And she did, a staggering number of private sector interests that she knew she wouldn’t entertain beyond the flattery that came with being wanted. She knew she would stick it out with the agency. Like Dan. They were lifers. It was all they had known.

She leaned back in her chair, let him get a good look at her.

“You know,” she said, “one of those motherfuckers actually asked me if I was gonna settle down. Get married. Kids.”

He snorted.

“What?”

“Picturing you at the PTA.” She rolled her eyes and almost smiled.

They fucked that night. It wasn’t the first time (it was the third) and it was far from the last. They went to his place instead of hers. She told herself it was because his place was closer and she has never known patience, but the truth was she didn’t like him in her apartment. He took up too much space. He noticed too much. The problem with fucking someone who works in the intelligence sector is that they notice everything. Everything is a tell. Everything is a fact-finding mission, evidence to store for later.

It had been awhile, years, and their bodies together were the same, but different. Made her think of Jessica, made her think Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jessica’s tight-lipped generous smile as she studied photo arrays, compared the same men across their documented history. She would say, each time, “Oh, the years, they have not been kind.”

Maya took her aimless frustrations out on him. Because he is here, was what she thought, letting her blunt nails nick along the dip of his throat. “Be nice,” Dan murmured darkly when she tried to bite him so she tried again. Her front teeth bumped against his bottom lip when she slotted his mouth against her own.

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD
2005

The first time they fucked, Maya handled it as a business transaction. It was work as usual at the embassy: Bradley had chewed them out for their lack of substantive leads, evidence, information, clairvoyance. It was Maya who stood in front of his desk and absorbed most of his wrath.

She found Dan after, alone in the team conference room. He sat at the empty table, his legs sprawled out, and she had said to him: “I think we should fuck.”

Dan had laughed, dragged a hand through his hair. “Listen to that romance, baby.”

He met her eye with a smirk cracking his mouth, but he must have realized she meant it (he had to have known she meant it: she meant everything she said and everything she did). She watched his face darken and she knew his answer.

Back at her place, they didn’t make it to the bed. The table near the kitchen was stacked high with declassified documents, an extension of her desk at the embassy, and that was where he fucked her. She didn’t think she wanted him in her bed. Tension thrummed through her, making her hands clumsy, needy in a way that could lead only down the road of self-loathing.

Dan had kissed her. Didn’t feel right, so she turned around, put his hands low on her hips and he got the point. Her hands were brusque with her belt; she could hear his heavy breathing behind her when she dropped her pants, her panties, down around her ankles, stepped out of them as quick, regimented, as the rest of her movements.

The warm width of his chest against her back made her feel defenseless and vulnerable in a way she had never known herself to crave. She thought: he could do anything to me. He was too slow at first, rubbing at her bare cunt, the tips of his fingers just barely entering her. It felt good, but it wasn’t what she wanted. She had wanted hard and fast, not whatever this was. She said as much, and he said, “Patience,” heavy with mockery but something else was there too, a lower register, and it made her chest feel tight, her body that much more impatient.

She had liked that she couldn’t see him, that she didn’t see his cock. It would have made it impersonal, anonymous, if she was able to forget that it was Dan – Dan’s hands on her, Dan at her back, Dan’s cock pressing against her. She could hear the condom wrapper, the brief grunt from him when he took himself in hand, nudged the head of his cock against and then in her.

The sex was good. His hand was flat in the middle of her back holding her down, and then creeped its way up to the nape of her neck, his grip just this side of too tight.

She was quiet for the most part as he fucked her. It built quickly for her, too quickly, she was nearly blindsided by the pull low in her gut, that prickling heat that threatened to carry her over. She told him not to move, so he stilled, deep in her, his hips rolling just a little, involuntary and enough, her hand down, rubbing at herself, silent as she came. Dan made up for it, breathing noisily, cursing softly. He bucked into her hard and she made a noise; he groaned low and deep, the hand he had curled into her hair at the nape of her neck gone tighter. She was too sensitive, but it was good, it was real, there was nothing inside of her in that moment except for him. She gasped again, wondered if she could come again, but then he was, loud, in earnest.

After, she offered him a distracted, “Thanks,” then pulled her pants back up and walked into the small kitchen.

They fucked only twice while stationed in Islamabad.

This was the first: unromantic, a favor, a mutual exercise in stress relief. The second time was different. The second time she should have noticed that Dan wasn’t the same man she had first met. He was tired, there were circles under his eyes, he was quiet. That time, they were facing each other, and by instinct, Maya had closed her eyes. He told her to look at him, the intensity of it unnerving enough that she kissed him instead.

From the kitchen, she called to him. “Do you think with Abu Ahmed there’s any chance – ”

“Jesus Christ,” he interrupted. “At least let me put my fucking dick away.”

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

He’s fucking her from behind again, and he’s too noisy, always running his mouth. Her body is bent forward, hands braced on the desk in front of her. She reaches one hand down and slides it between her legs, rubbing at herself. He loses his rhythm, a deep moan she can feel in his chest pressed against her back, rumbling through the both of them, and he says, “That’s it, Maya, that’s it,” and she wants to tell him to shut the fuck up, but then his hand is between her legs too, so much bigger than her own, fingers rougher, unpracticed against her skin. He’s always been a quick study though, they have done this before (the fifth time, the sixth, she’s losing track of how often she lets him put his hands on her, lets him crawl inside her), and her own hand falls away to help hold her body up as her legs start to tremble. She tries to stay quiet when she comes, but it’s like holding your breath: distracting, unnecessary, increasingly impossible. She whimpers and she hears him grunt the words, “Jesus, fuck, yes.”

Her blazer is neatly draped across his couch, but the skirt of her suit is wrinkled and bunched up around her naked hips. She scuffed the toe of her new pumps against Dan’s shoe when they stumbled against each other at the door. The hearing on the Hill went well enough, or it’s the looming congressional recess for the month of August that made it feel Well Enough. She still feels tired, strung-out. Alone. That was what she had felt, seated there, in front of the panel of senators, a microphone placed in front of her: she was alone. And now she is alone with him.

She doesn’t date. She tried it, once, recently set up by a coworker, not a friend – Diane, in system analytics. Maya decided she couldn’t picture him between her legs and left halfway through their date. She doesn’t have friends. She has Dan.

She’s not in love with him. He’s just familiar.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2011

They made her see the agency shrink that May. She was resentful of it, but she wanted her clearance so she went and she said what she thought she was supposed to say.

“It doesn’t reach you, does it.” That’s what the shrink had said, and it wasn’t a question.

Maya knew how she came off: that flat, insistent, reptilian look to her – cold. Difficult. A bitch. She had heard the names; they never reached her.

There was talk of a desk for her in Riyadh. It never happened. Still, when she told Dan, he only made a noise in this back of his throat, no additional comment.

“You don’t think I should go.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he said. And he hadn’t. It was better, she thought, when they didn’t speak. Even if, especially when, Dan knew best how to wield a silence as a weapon.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

She knows he has other women. She wouldn’t expect otherwise.

It’s a Tuesday night when Maya runs into Dan at a mandatory function on the Hill. He's with a woman – blonde, attractive, dressed like any other Hill staffer Maya has run into in the District. The look good together, Maya decides. As if they have been buffed and polished and groomed to the point of anonymity.

Dan introduces her to Maya; the impression of anonymity sticks rather than her name. But Maya does not do jealousy. She lacks the patience for it. “Good to meet you,” she says to the staffer (anonymous, still) and plucks a free glass of middling white wine off a tray as she walks away.

It’s the following night when Maya has Dan under her in his bed.

She’s astride him, naked, Dan naked under her. He’s watching her with hooded eyes, lazily spread out beneath her, waiting for her to take him inside her. Some nights she likes him like this – passive but present, like he would take anything she deigned to offer him, anything critical and harsh about him burned off at the edges, rubbed soft and manageable, like he could be a man who knows how to forgive.

This isn’t one of those nights. She wants the full magnitude of his strength working against her.

It's almost like he pulls his punches when he’s fucking her, like he doesn’t let her get the full blow of his brute strength. He could hold her down, make her hurt – it’d be easy. It’d be welcome, she thinks. It makes her angry to feel denied. To feel she has anything less than the full picture. To think he believes that there are parts of him, parts to him, that she cannot handle. She wants all of him. She doesn’t investigate that line of thinking further than that, further than physically and bodily. She digs her fingernails into his shoulder, shoves at him; he barely moves.

He looks up at her, eyes dark, mouth lax and cruel. His voice is a low rumble when he says, “The fuck you waiting for. Fuck me.”

She says, “Make me.”

She can feel him tense up under her, that quiet look of frustration he quickly buries beneath a false grin. And he does. It hurts, but she likes it. His hands are too tight on her, she knows that he’ll bruise her, and she makes a sound like a laugh and a moan all at once, louder still when he pushes her down and hisses, “This what you fucking want?” He’s all around her now, her hair in her face obscuring her from him, and that makes it easier for her to say, “More.”

She likes it, needs it, even, but she doesn’t like how he makes her whimper. How he drags these weak-sounding and needful noises from her. She wants to punish him for it but she has never figured out the best way how. After, when they’re done and her thighs are wet, her hair damp at the nape of the neck, Maya wrung out, he looks at her like he thinks he might have hurt her. He almost looks afraid. It almost feels like enough.

 

 

 

LANGLEY
2011

Here was a fact: despite being a disciplined woman, Maya did not know her limits.

The number "77" was written in red on the window to George’s office, hidden by the drawn venetian blinds. Their raised voices could be heard, effective but indistinct, beyond the closed door.

The fights with George had become a routine, her impatience a snapped rubber band. They were playing a game of beat the clock while hobbled in red tape. She said this to George again and again.

Another fact: there was no distance Maya would not go, no bridge she would not burn, to get what she knew she needed. To prove what she knew to be true.

She found Dan outside the office when she emerged, red-faced and furious. He arched an eyebrow. She wasn’t sure how much he had heard or if he had heard anything at all. She wasn’t sure if that mattered.

“Why don’t you and I go get a drink,” he said.

“Don’t fucking patronize me,” she snapped and she walked away from him. He still had yet to betray her. That would come later.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2012

“Talk to me,” he says. She’s stayed the night at his place. She was too tired after he was through with her to bring herself to leave. Felt like a concession to him all the same. Like she gave him a card she had forgotten she still had up her sleeve. It’s become a habit now, the two of them, his bed (never her bed). It’s never discussed but rather deliberately treated as an accident of inertia between them, a product of shared energy.

“I’m tired,” she says, and she is. And then, “I don’t have anything to say.”

He forgot to draw the shades and light pollution fills the room. They both live out in Arlington – Dan in Pentagon City, her farther down the Orange Line, Falls Church. It’s more residential, quieter. That’s not why she chose to live there. She chose it because it was the first apartment she looked at and it was on the lower side of her price range.

Instead, he starts to talk.

She has learned that Dan turns introspective when tired and well-fucked.  She listens without listening and the talk turns to shop. Of course it does; it always does. The business they are in is neatly slotted up inside of them, like an extra rib you no longer noticed. No longer felt the twinge.

“Do you know,” she says, her voice rusty with sleep, “the number of laws and regulations you’re breaking by telling me shit like this.”

“You’re not gonna talk.” He says it with certainty, but he also says it mean. He is saying: who the fuck do you have to tell. “You wouldn’t,” he says, softer this time. His own concession. He is more trusting of her than she would ever dare trust him. That’s another weakness to add to his list. The longer she stays in his bed, the more they both amass.

Dan glances over and he’s looking at her funny.

“You know, we never got the news straight out over here.” A non-sequitur. She doesn’t know what to do with it. She draws the sheets around her shoulders.

“What?” she mumbles.

“It always came over garbled, especially after a crisis. Names were wrong. The dead really alive and vice versa. Casualty count wrong. Nothing verifiable.”

“Why are you telling me this.”

“Three times. It’s three times I thought you were dead.”

Maya’s skin prickles. She doesn’t want to look at him. She turns her head away and she can feel him shift behind her. The list grows.

“I should go,” she says.

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD
2008

Her phone was broken in the bombing. Must’ve been the impact, or something, the screen of her blackberry cracked. It wouldn’t load, the text garbled on the screen. One more fucking thing, she had thought. Said as much to Jessica – “Hey, if that’s all you got broke,” and then Jessica had made a sign of the cross, a slyly mocking grin. Maya took the phone to tech. She waited for it and she checked her email. There it was in her inbox, one email from Dan; all it read was call me asap.

When she did call him, the first thing she asked him was, “What’ve you got?”

There was silence on his end, and she could hear it when he spoke: Dan floored, Dan shocked, Dan knocked sideways (she had been knocked sideways too, the force of the blast, the way she felt it vibrate straight through her, like this place, this job, could tear her apart) that she thought the reason he wanted her to call him was because he found something she could use. “You fucking blew up, Jesus Christ. Forgive me for checking in on you.”

“I’m fine,” she said tightly. She tried to work the timeline in her head. Tried to figure out how quickly they had gotten the news stateside. What time was it in D.C. Did he get the news through the Agency or was it Matt Lauer. She didn’t think any of that mattered.

“Yeah, shit. I can fucking tell.” Dan had sighed, and then he said, “I told you to be careful.”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” she snapped. “I’m being fucking careful. Just because I didn’t run home doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself.”

“Fine. Whatever”

It had felt good, to have someone in particular, someone she knew, to be angry at. Dan was easy to be angry at. She didn’t have the space inside of her for the caution he asked of her; didn’t have the space for the impulse from which such a request might derive. All she understood was this: danger finally came to your front door, and what were you supposed to do? You opened it. You met it head-on.

When she got her fixed phone back, she saw it. The missed calls. The string of brief text messages, nothing she elected to read into the terse, quick messages. u there. maya? call me. hello?

“I’m not afraid,” she had told him, each word like spat shrapnel.

“I didn't ask,” he said, matching her vengeance.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2013

The world goes on. Maya has never felt this. She stood still for ten years of her life and never once did she see outside that shield of tunnel vision to notice the world was moving on and away from her. Dan knew. Maybe that was part of why Dan went back, the rational, plotting and planning part of him, removed from the moral abyss he was stumbling along the edge of. The world spins on. She’s only ever known life at the Agency. She spent her entire adult life working her way through the halls, the internal bureaucracy, climbed the ladder rung by unforgiving rung. She hadn't volunteered for Pakistan, hadn’t taken that on as her mission until she was out there. And then she couldn’t imagine her life before. Before UBL, before Islamabad, before she accepted this and only this was her mission. When she landed back in DC, she was ushered into her first series of debriefings. George shook her hand, he had nodded, but he didn’t say anything to her. She took a cab back to her apartment. She didn’t leave it for two days. The world continued.

Maya rings in the new year at the office, poring over sat images of a compound in Kyrgyzstan. And it’s more of the same –

Routine work with the agency. Late at night she heats up microwave dinners. She likes to read conspiracy theories online, reddit, that shit. UBL is still alive on those pages. She digs into those theories, the flaws in the reasoning clear and obvious, but there’s a part of her that she does not engage with directly – the part of her buried deep under that well-stitched seam – that belongs to a person who disgusts her with her weakness and sentimentality, a woman she fears (she knows) that Dan could recognize, that almost – no, absolutely – wishes it was true. They got the wrong guy. They lied. The hunt can resume. She can resume. She can be.

 

 

 

LANGLEY
2011

Soft sixty. She heard him say it, and the part that had pissed her off the most was that she was surprised.

“The fuck was that in there,” Maya had asked him once she had him alone. She had him alone in a stairwell, had followed him like a naive girl in a fairy tale led into a trap lined with wolves’ teeth.

“Don’t,” was all Dan said.

“I don’t get to ask you to explain yourself to me?”

“No. You don’t. I don’t work for you. I never have.” He didn’t say it meanly, and that made it worse, the condescension of each word, like she was someone he could talk down to, someone who needed that.

“Fuck you. Does it bother you? Is that it?” She crossed her arms over her chest. Even in her heels, he was so much taller than her. She had to tilt her head up to meet his gaze. “That I was better at your job than you?”

“Fuck, Maya,” and then he laughed, his posture the opposite of hers: languid and tired and over it. “That’s the least of it.”

“You’re supposed to be my friend.”

“Is that what I am?” His tone was the first warning. The step he took toward her was the second. She had observed him objectively dozens of times before, in person, in grainy surveillance footage, how he made it look so easy. How he turned that switch without the object of his attention even recognizing there was a switch to turn. He paused and she felt the menace when he spoke.

“I’m not a sentimental guy, sweetheart. You know the fucking shit ton of lies I’ve told people about myself? It’s this or the circus, baby – born liars and grifters. But there was one bit of truth I kept for those poor motherfuckers I had in those goddamn cages: I’m bad fucking news. I’m not here to hold your hand. I’ve helped you before, but that was when it suited me. Did you think to consider that angle?”

“You’re supposed to trust me.” And no, this was the worst of it: she had believed it. She had believed he trusted her and in turn had trusted him.

“Is that so? You keep telling me what it is I’m supposed to do, but I never hear you telling me what you’re supposed to do for me.”

She glared at him.

“You are better at it than me. I’ll give you that,” he finally said. “But at least I knew when to get out. Christ, you’re in so deep you’ve lost the light.”

Her voice was a sibilant hiss through her teeth when she found the words. “There was never any light.”

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2013

Maya knocks at his apartment door. Uninvited, which is not the same thing as unexpected.

“You gonna let me in?” she says. He does. Of course he does.

She was just here two days ago. A Saturday night, and if he had plans other than her, that wasn’t anything he let her know.

Dan still talked too much. She had yet to break him of that. Saturday night and he had her on hands and knees on his bed, he was fucking her, and she had made some sort of impatient noise, wanting more – always wanting more, never wanting to know why – and she could feel his teeth at her ear, along her neck, mouthing along her jaw. “I got what you need,” he said, cocky enough, but also fond. Like he could take care of her. It made her furious, furious even as he fucked into her and she gasped, hiding her face between her arms. She liked when he fucked her like this, from behind, so she didn’t have to see his face. Didn’t have t see what she did to him and in turn what he looked like when he recognized what he had done to her.

He thinks he knows what she needs. Maya had turned that over in her head, manufactured it into a grudge, that he was wrong. That she needed to prove him wrong. So she goes over to his apartment, she knocks at his door. They’ve made it easy for each other: they have ridded themselves of pretense. They only see one another for one reason. She watches Dan take a seat on his couch and he watches her take to her knees. She had wanted that: the look of expectant surprise on his face. That there are parts of her still unpredictable, unknown to him. He sits there, he lets her take control, only touching her when she gets her mouth on his cock, fingers threading through her hair, catching and pulling, and if that makes her moan, that’s fine, because it sparks a greater reaction out of him. She wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand after he comes, as he watches her. She stands up and he says, too quiet, like he means it, “Come here.” She shakes her head.

“I don’t need you to,” and he squints. She feels harsh, cold, and entirely herself. It’s almost a relief, like she’s emerged from whatever demented feedback loop they’ve found themselves in, the one that leaves her increasingly combative and needy when it comes to him. Dan frowns at her, and she leaves him there, his dick soft and out of his pants.

It’s a breakthrough, she tells herself, even if her pulse is up the entire way back to her place, even if she can feel herself throbbing between her legs, can still taste him in her mouth. Her panties are soaked when she gets to her apartment and she gets them and her jeans down her thighs before dropping to the couch. It takes hardly any effort at all. She doesn’t let herself think, and without meaning to, she pictures him. Pictures his mouth on her, returning the favor, it’s all so easy. The evidence, the material, is already there. She’s broken through nothing, the dim thought in the back of her mind. She’s coming down when her phone rings. She snatches it up. Dan.

“What?”

“You make it through the doorway before you got your hands in your pants?”

“Excuse me?” Her voice isn’t as steady as she’d like and that makes her angrier. He chuckles; sends another dart of pleasure through her. Angrier still.

“I saw your face. You think I don’t know what you look like when you need to come?”

“Fuck you.” Whatever she had gained from this routine (and that’s what it is, that’s what she tells herself: it’s familiar) is now outweighed by the amount she feels she needs to explain herself. Defend herself.

“Your cheeks get flushed," he is saying. "Your eyes? Lose focus. Get real dark. Add to that my come on your lips and it doesn’t take a genius."

“Good thing because we don’t have one here.”

“Funny. Very funny.” There’s a pause over the line. “You come already or did I interrupt?” He sounds so amused; she regrets going to him, thinking she knew how to get one-up on him when it came to something he understood so explicitly: fucking.

Despite herself though, she flushes. They made it through how many years when he was here in DC and she was over in Pakistan or Afghanistan without ever once talking to each other over the phone like this, and now, in the same zip code, here they are. Now, here they are.

“You missed the show,” she says, voice tight and words measured, as much as she’s ever going to give him willingly.

He half-groans, half-laughs.

“If I was ten years younger I’d be ready to bust a nut again.” She rolls her eyes. It reminds her of how she had first met him, the man he used to be. For some reason, that reminder is worse than anything else he’s said to her so far.

Intimacy, once taken off its leash, is all-consuming. Everything becomes marked by it, a shared connection that she is having an increasingly difficult time turning her back on. Take for example, they don’t fuck with a condom anymore. She was half-drunk and fully impatient that first time without, her legs knotted around Dan’s waist as she mumbled against his mouth something that sounded like, “It’s fine,” like, “You don’t need it.” So he fucked her without a condom, came inside her, and when he spread her legs after, she tried to close them, instinct winning out. “No,” he said against her thigh, spreading her again, fingers spreading her swollen cunt. She had sucked in a breath, bit down on a sound. “Gotta clean you up,” he said, that same low dark tone, eyes just as dark as he glanced up at her. She could only imagine what she looked like: fucked-out and wrecked, eyes wide as she watched him open his mouth against her with the same deliberation as landing a practiced punch and start to suck, noisy and wet.

Maybe it’s thinking of that, maybe it’s because he broke something inside of her and while her own hands can get her off, it doesn't feel like enough anymore. But her hand slips back down between her legs as she listens to him, as he starts telling her how he knows she doesn’t need him, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want her to come on his fingers, his mouth, wants to taste her, and maybe it’s because he’s not there in the room with her, but it’s easy to be loud. She whines, pants a little, her fingers moving faster between her legs and inside her, and she thinks she hears him say, “Like that, like that,” and she’s louder now than she’s ever been with him before, not even saying words, just moaning, Dan still voicing his encouragement, his voice low, sandpaper rough and demanding. He asks her if she’s going to come, she hears that much, and she bites her lip, gasps the word, “yes.” Then she gasps again, she says, “I’m coming,” and she can hear his sharp intake of breath.

Immediately after she comes down she hangs up on him, embarrassed. Or not embarrassed: defensive. Disappointed in herself. She’s broken through nothing. She’s only made it worse.

She’s already given him more than she should. She forgets to negotiate with herself. She lets him fuck her bare; she thinks that’s trust when she lets him come inside her.

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD
2006

They fucked for a second time not long before they left Pakistan for Afghanistan.

Did she know he was going to leave her yet? No – she doesn’t think so. Maya remembers everything of that mission in bullet point by bullet point detail, everything but her own life. She knew or she didn’t; she fucked him either way.

Dan wanted her to look at him so she kissed him instead. He wanted to kiss her, so she held her hand to his mouth. She covered his mouth with the palm of her hand and he bit at her, sucked her fingers in his mouth and that was when she started to come.

She didn’t know. He looked at her like he needed something so she closed her eyes.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2013

Maya forgets sometimes, that she’s a part of the world. The routine of it all continues, she loses herself in it; Dan has become a part of that routine, too. There are days where nothing reaches her. She gets up she goes to work she does the job the job does her she does Dan Dan does her everyone and everything is fucked and she falls asleep with that certainty. Wakes to more of the same.

A new part of her routine is to remind herself that she doesn’t need this (this being: Dan’s fingers thick and full inside of her, Dan getting her off and she still has her coat on, Dan saying her name like he needs her more than she needs him) and it won’t happen again. She tells herself this while she brushes her teeth and says it like a chant to match her pace as she runs, third treadmill to the left. The final step of this new routine is that she breaks the promise – not every day, but enough days to make it a willful lie.

She’s in his apartment. She kisses him – he’s been drinking, and she can taste it. He gathers her hair up in a tight fist and he pulls, just enough to make her neck bend, hurt in that good sharp aching way she will try and fail to remember in its accurate and full detail tomorrow. It’s easy to say she’s not going to do this with him anymore when time and distance can dull his impact.

Dan pulls back from her and he looks down at her. His hand has drifted down. He’s not so much gripping her throat but covering it. He must be able to feel her pulse galloping beneath the skin. The vulnerability of it makes her mouth part open and her hands curl into the front of his shirt. Dan doesn’t move his hand and his face is dark, unreadable. She thought she had taught herself most of his tells. She missed something. She’s missing something.

When he gets her in his bed, he won’t fuck into her. Not yet. He keeps rubbing the head of his cock against her, the head of his cock bumping against her clit, and she’s gone restless under him. More than that: desperate.

He has that same expression he wore when he had her by the throat, tempered that much more by want and something else. Something she elects not to classify. “I want you to say it,” he says. “Tell me you need this. Tell me you need me to fuck you.”

“Shut up,” she snaps, trying to angle her hips, but he stops her, his weight bearing down on her. She reaches with her hand down towards either his cock or her cunt, whichever she thinks will get her where she wants to be faster, but he bats her hand away, pulls first one arm and then the other up over her head, his body flush with hers. He rolls his hips, bare cock rubbing against her. He gets his bearings, her arms still held down as he pushes up onto his elbow. With his free hand he grabs his cock again, stares down between her legs. He presses the head just barely against her entrance, and she groans, the sound impatient and mean.

“Look at you,” he murmurs. “You’re dripping.”

She tries to twist out of his grasp, then pants, “Fuck me.”

He leans down, tilts her chin up, his cock hard and leaking against her thigh, makes her try to roll her hips again, and Dan bares his teeth. “Oh, baby, I want to. But I gotta hear you say it first. Tell me. Tell me you need me.”

“I want you to fuck me,” she spits out. He almost smiles, lines crinkling around his eyes.

“Good,” he says, staring down into her face. “But do you need it.”

Her fingers twist, blunt fingernails biting into the meat of her palms. Nothing reaches her; why should he. Why should he. Why –

“Yes,” she grits out. Like ripping off a band-aid, it’s easier to admit after that: “I need you. I need you to fuck me.”

He kisses her and she bites at his mouth. He releases her arms and she’s grabbing at him, can't stop mumbling, “Please,” over and over again, even despite the part of her that knows this is what he wanted. He finally pushes into her; her head falls back and she bares her throat to him.

“Tell me you don’t want me,” he hisses, as fucking gone as she is now. “Go on, I want to hear you say it. Tell me you don’t need me.”

Maya doesn’t say a word.

 

 

 

CIA BLACK SITE
AFGHANISTAN
2006

“Did you know Dan was leaving?” Maya had asked Jessica. They were in the office's tiny kitchenette, smaller even than the one on their floor of the embassy in Islamabad. Dan had already left. Maya asked the question bluntly; she was used to force as the most efficient method to achieve an answer.

“Honey, everybody knew he was leaving.”

It had bothered Maya to think there was writing on the wall she had missed. That something about Dan had changed and she hadn’t noticed it until he announced it.

Because here was a fact: Dan’s silent moral conflict unmoored her. He had been as much a part of the landscape, their mandate here. It almost made her hate him. Made her see a weakness she wanted nothing more than to sink her teeth into and pull and see just how far and deep she could rip and make him bleed. The mess she could leave behind. See how wide she could open that seam. Because that was another fact: everyone had a seam, the place where they came together to hide all that shit inside them. The secrets, the shame, the hideous things you might fail to recognize as your own. Maya had gotten good at identifying that seam and ripping it open. She had learned it from him.

It was wrong to see Dan that way. It’s the only way she can see him now.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2013

He’s in her apartment.

They're together in the unforgiving bright light of her kitchen, the blank cabinetry, the empty fridge. She doesn’t offer him anything to drink. It’s only with him in it that she considers how anonymous her own home is. The only thing that gives this place away as hers is the pile of unopened mail that bears her name on the faux-granite countertop.

She wasn’t expecting him. She doesn’t bother to ask him how he got in past the doorman, which method of sweet talk earned him entrance.

“What do you want?” is what Maya asks instead.

Dan cocks his head, looks down at her. His hands are at his hips and he’s primed, he’s ready. This, she thinks, is an interrogation. He came looking for something.

Maya has ignored him since they fucked last. But then, that’s not entirely out of character, for either of them. They let the other lie, let them alone, until they want something. And here is the truth: she has been afraid to want anything else from him since.

“What are you doing, Maya?” he finally asks. The question is soft, quiet, already has her skittish. She crosses her arms in front of her chest and leans back against the countertop, away from him.

“I don’t know what that means,” she says.

He starts talking, and she knows that tone, knows this tactic as he circles the main grist of his point: he's worried about her.

“I don’t need that,” she says, interrupting him. Her voice is too sharp like maybe she’s proving his point.

“Maya, come on. I see you. I see,” and any other conversation, she thinks, she might be impressed that he finally ran out of words. That silver tongue gone speechless.

“Who are you to talk,” she spits out instead, her voice raising. Dan doesn’t move, nothing in his face betrays him. “You left. You left me and you left the task at hand – ”

“Christ, that was, what? Seven years ago? You still gonna hold that against me?”

“You weren’t as strong as me. You’re not as strong as me. But you come here, and you lecture me?”

“I was one jihadist on a leash away from a breakdown, and – you know what?” He shakes his head, like he knows self-defense is meaningless here. Then, more serious and all the worse for it, he says, “It had nothing to do with strength.” He says it like he knows something she could never know. What it felt like when it was your fists, when it was your hands, your body, your will unmaking another person. How heavy that weight was. How you had to learn how to live with that. How to rejoin the spinning world.

“I didn’t break down,” she snaps. She doesn’t know why she feels like she has something to prove to him. Why he always makes her feel that way.

“No. You didn’t,” he says, shaking his head, too serious. “But you are now.”

He might as well have slapped her. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean.”

“It means I know why you come to me. You want me to break you down. You come to me for a reason.” He says it like he’s known it for a long time, a patience that comes with a repeated lesson already taught.

“Maybe I just want to get fucked.”

“It’s a big city and you’re a pretty girl. You come to me for a reason.”

She takes one lunging step towards him. “Go ahead then,” she spits out, “Break me. Do your fucking worst, what’s it fucking matter.” It’s a big city and it’s a big world and she's just a pretty girl and nothing’s changed, she hasn’t changed a goddamn thing. Oh, the years, they have not been kind.

What Dan does is hold her face in his hands and he kisses her, long and searching. Like he means it. She tries to wriggle her way out of his grip but he holds her tighter, fingers biting into her jawline, and this isn’t what she meant, this can’t be what she wants. What does this earn anyone? it’s what she wants to ask, but instead she’s kissing him. She doesn’t love him, she reminds herself, each time she takes him inside her, kissing him and begging him and clinging to him, she can’t love him –

he’s just familiar. It rings hollow, with Dan’s mouth on her, like it’s something more than that. His hands that know her, Maya telling herself that he’s familiar, that’s all this is, familiarity, but her body betrays. He has always known how to make a person betray their own self-interest, their self-preservation, in exchange for what he is trying to offer.

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD
2003

“It’s alright, you know. If you need to look away.” Dan had said it to her after she had been there for less than a week. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, the bank of surveillance monitors in front of them spread out in unspeakable acts that would eventually be recorded in unforgiving black-and-white print. Unspeakable acts committed in their names. In service of a greater cause.

Dan was watching her instead of the monitors.

She did not look away, but then, she did not see his face.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.
2013

“Meet me after work for a drink,” Dan had said. They stood, but not together, outside the elevator. They never visit each other’s desks and they never call each other at Langley. She knows his extension, but she’s rarely used it. They never learned not to cover their trails; they’re not going to start now. They work different projects, different missions. People don’t talk about her like they used to. She’s a footnote now. The consequence of living through history you created: you endure erasure.

“We can’t talk shop here,” Maya says, looking up and down the bar. She reaches into her empty glass and fishes out a rind of lime. She’s been here for twenty minutes

“You think I don’t know that?” The pause between them is heavy. “Maybe I don’t wanna talk shop.” Nothing hedging in the statement, an order buried inside it instead. He’s looking at her so she doesn’t look at him. In this city everything she does with him is deliberate.

“I don’t know what else we could possibly have to talk about.” She keeps her gaze fixed on her empty glass, her hand pale and small wrapped around it.

“You got a world class brain in that thick skull of yours. Humor me.”

“Go fuck yourself.” No heat to it. He laughs, teeth flashing. She flags down the bartender and orders another drink. She’s here. She might as well stay.

“I’ve known you for ten years,” she hears herself say, later. They have taken seats at the bar, she’s on her fourth drink. She must be drunk. She is not sentimental.

Dan doesn’t say anything at first, he just looks at her. Like he knows how to count those ten years in the planes of her face, the tight, unforgiving blade of her mouth. She could tell him that she can do the same for him. That she’s learned his face and all the ways it can and has betrayed her. That he has never taught himself how to wear shame, and that is both an asset and a personal failing. So much of what is an asset to the job wears itself as a personal failing. They cultivate it in you – that unblinking obsession, the tunnel vision, how to stare straight head, how not to flinch, how to demand more. To lie. To let the worst things lie. To unarm, to seek out, to betray. She has many assets, even now, and Maya is very good at her job.

“Yeah,” Dan finally says. He stares straight ahead. “And I you.” He demands more. She doesn’t flinch.