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He could still remember their Oxford days, when she was all smiles and eyelashes and blushes, when she was his girl and he was her guy and the rose-colored tint of their lives hadn’t yet begun to fade. He could still remember holding her hand under the desk in the library that night, nineteen if they were a day, their heads together and their whispers warm as they cast shadows over books about western politics and anatomy. He could still remember the first time he kissed her, how soft her lips were, how brightly her smile shone, the promising murmur of her tender “good night”. He knew then, in some part of his soul, that he would never love another girl as much as he loved Helen Beckett.
Story Notes: Written for the Flash Rider LiveJournal community in 2010.
Even during his military years she remained his girl, his sweetheart. She’d visit him on base as often as she could, he’d see her during furloughs and holiday leaves, and the time in between the occasional rendezvous only magnified their attraction to one another. They were so very much in love, so very happy, and the years tiptoed past them in the dark without making a sound. Before they knew it, John was MI6’s most promising new agent and Helen was a registered nurse and Oxford was almost ten years behind them. How quickly time passed under love’s enchanted skies.
John grew more skilled at his job, the assignments increased in distance, depth, and danger, and soon Helen was routinely spending her evenings with a paperback novel and a cup of tea. She went to bed earlier, went to bed alone, and never failed to wake up in the same condition. She missed him, his smell and his weight at her back, the sound of him breathing, his big rough hands holding her small smooth ones. Her man. He would always be her man, even if he left her tomorrow and never looked back.
MI6 had a tendency of driving spades between hearts, to separate the inseparable. While Helen was fighting loneliness at home, John was fighting terrorists in Libya. While Helen struggled to find a path in her life, John struggled to find a path through jungles and warzones. Correspondence was discouraged, meetings prohibited. Helen began to wonder who John Rider really was, what he was becoming, whatever had happened to the young man who’d held her hand under the library desk at Oxford University in 1976.
John was well aware of his situation with Helen. The expanding divide, the passing time. He didn’t want to lose her, to give up the best thing that had ever happened to him, but he didn’t want to stop fighting the good fight, either. This was what he was meant to do, who he was meant to be, and if he couldn’t figure out a way to do both then he just wasn’t trying hard enough.
Helen’s heart stopped when John got down on his knee in 1983, hope in his eyes and tears on his cheek, and asked if she wouldn’t mind changing her name a little. Fear and love and joy had rushed in and jolted her back to life, and she’d cried tears of happiness for the first time in over a year.
They were married the following week in an impromptu ceremony at the London registry office. It was as far from a romantic wedding as one could get, but their adoration for each other more than made up for whatever was lacking in traditional ceremony. Not that it would have mattered anyway—they were blind with love and saw only each other.
They hadn’t been married two years when John went deep undercover. He hadn’t wanted to accept the mission—a year, maybe longer—but Alan Blunt had succeeded in convincing him that only a man of John Rider’s skill and resourcefulness would be able to pull off this stratagem. And it was a huge stratagem; SCORPIA had emerged as one of the most powerful, well-connected crime organizations in the world, and only the best of the best would be able to pass as one of their own.
Saying goodbye to Helen at the airport was one of the most difficult things John had ever done. For the first month the separation was terrible, the second month awful, the third month bad. By the fourth month he had numbed himself to the pain conjured at Helen’s memory and begun to focus on his duties as a SCORPIA operative.
He was instructing a course in weapons and tactical defense when the “talent scouts” introduced a new student into his class, a slim, redheaded teenager who looked much younger than his nineteen years. John read his file and learned that his name was Yassen Gregorovich, former employee of the Izmaylovskaya Gruppirovka (Russian mafia—Moscow district), good with handguns, lots of potential, nothing to lose. Yassen had come to SCORPIA in the form of a tip, along with 300 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 150 M1911 pistols.
At first John didn’t know what to make of his new trainee. Gregorovich was a good pupil, quiet, hard-working, diligent. He began tutoring him in English and French and he responded well to the additional course material. John pushed him harder, challenged him with books and conversation, made him recite Shakespeare during hand-to-hand combat exercises. He was certain the kid would completely despise him after three months, but Yassen flourished under the tutelage and basked in his instructor’s attention. It was hardly a surprise when SCORPIA partnered the two of them on their first mission to the Amazon. They worked well together, trusted each other, had a very cohesive relationship. SCORPIA expressed the greatest confidence in their abilities.
John didn’t realize it then, but his old life had begun to vanish in the shadow of his new one. As the image of Helen’s smile slowly disappeared from his thoughts, the chiseled lips and long eyelashes of a Russian teenager had already begun to take her place.