Her memory was crystal clear.
“Don’t you wish we had more passwords?” Baxter asked.
It was in the good days, when she was on training missions, when she was fully his apprentice, not his student. The days before they slept together, but certainly in the days building up to it. And even that was a misnomer. They slept together all the time, next to each other on planes, in a ditch outside Baghdad, in a conference room with an hour to spare between gigs. But it was before...she wasn’t going to think about that. Chapstick was bad enough.
“Passwords. We hardly ever use them anymore, everything’s encrypted by computers. When we meet in person, it’s like drug dealers, you only deal with people you know or people who are referred to you by people you know. It’s not just boring, it doesn’t have style.”
“Okay, like what?”
“Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
They were sitting in a restaurant in DC, a booze-fueled happy hour meal after a strenuous mission and a short rest and a blunt, unpleasant debrief.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Just something I saw in a movie. But I could ask you that, and you could say, like, ‘Yes, but he always insists on leading,’ or...I dunno, you come up with something.”
“This is ridiculous.” She stood up to get another round.
“Sit down.” She sat down. He had used what she thought of as the “bad dog” voice. Whatever humor had been in this conversation was gone.
“Well?” she asked, her voice testy.
“I apologize,” he said. He never actually said ‘I’m sorry,’ he wanted you to know he meant it. “But I have decided this is important. And not drunk important, I think that...Well, we trust each other, right?”
She shrugged and avoided his gaze, still annoyed with him.
“Hey,” he said, and drama time was over. She met his eyes. In her recollection now, she could see how much they had a relationship long before they ever...and she wasn’t gonna say (or think) fucked either, because that wasn’t what they did. They did the big serious mushy thing, and that was why it all go so messed up.
“I trust you,” he said, his voice direct and sober. “I think that you’re actually the only person I’ve ever trusted in this gig. My trainer...well, he was a dick, but he also made sure that when we were done, I knew I couldn’t trust him. He didn’t want me to trust anyone so that I’d never trust the wrong person. I didn’t like that. But I never had anyone to trust. But I trust you.”
She nodded. She wasn’t sure she wanted to say it, but they were having that kind of conversation.
“I trust you, too,” she said, only a little begrudgingly.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m not gonna tell you not to trust anyone else, ever, but I want us to have something between us that we can use to signify that trust. A code.”
“Well, it’s a word, and if you get it right, you pass. Like, if I called you and it was an emergency, but there was a gun to my head, I wouldn’t include the word, and you’d know it was bogus. Or if I was asking you to come into a building or area that was sketchy, and you weren’t sure about it, I could say the word and you’d feel safer.”
She shrugged, then arched her back a little, pressing back in the dark brown leather cushioning, lifting her ass off the seat. She pulled a tube out of her pocket and applied it to her lips.
“You and your lipgloss,” he scoffed.
She threw it at him. “You know damn well that is medicated chapstick, and you know how dehydrated I am after we fly and it’s always--”
“--always your lips which go first, I know, I know.”
He held the tube up and grinned. “I got an idea.”
“What? It has to be a pretty normal word, doesn’t it? It can’t be avocado or flibbertygibbet or alakazaam, it has to be vaguely plausible.”
“Hey, Lindsay, the coast is clear, but can you bring me my chapstick?” she said, sarcastically. It’s ridiculous.
“Sixty seconds,” she said, and he couldn’t breathe. Her voice was in his head, the headset dangling from one ear, and he could hear her, but he couldn’t talk.
“Fifty seconds, talk to me. Landslide Actual come back.” Her voice grew lower. “Just say something.”
He coughed, and when he gasped, he got a lung full of cordite fumes and gunsmoke. He coughed again.
“Is that you Landslide, come back, please.”
He wheezed again and whispered something that didn’t register, he wasn’t even sure it was a sound.”
“Thirty seconds, Landslide, Option B is inbound. Is it secure?”
He forced a word out, the heavy breath making it sound like “shapstick.”
“We’re clear,” he heard her yell, and he passed out for a few seconds. He woke up when the fucking jet broke the sound barrier right above the warehouse. The warehouse where he lay, ribs in many more pieces than normal, an armored vest holding his chest together, armor-plated briefcase full of whatever at arm’s length, surrounded by the dead bodies of those who stood between him and his job.
She had an arm in a sling, it was why he’d had to do the job without backup, he wouldn’t go in with anyone else, and they wouldn’t send anyone else in. Nevertheless she was there with the extraction team, insisting on coming in as soon as the warehouse was secure, and he insisted on handing the briefcase to only her.
Smith was very gratified with the results and tutted sympathetically when he heard about Baxter’s injuries. No one else had been on the line with her when the magic word was uttered, and it remained sacrosanct. It was used again, but never in so tight a spot.
It was also, now that she was dealing with difficult truths, the word he had used to get her into bed that one time. He had been standing at the door, a bottle as a peace offering, and he had leaned in and brushed her earlobe with his lips. He had just said that one word and she had shivered, she remembered thinking at the time that her soul had just shivered and then he was in the room and...
And that was just about enough of that.
She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. She drew a bead on the door of the house.
She took a huge breath and let it out in four huge words.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”