Fandom: Human Target/ Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Characters/Pairings: Ames, Brody, Guerrero
Summary: It's no surprise, given her skill as a thief, that Ames' mother robbed her of a childhood.
Notes: Thanks to a_q for betaing!
Ames wished, in the rare moments when she let herself think of it at all, that her childhood had happened to someone else. Someone exciting, someone glamorous, someone who'd appreciate the shock of their mother swanning through the door after months of silence with cinnamon dust in her hair and a week's worth of bedtime stories from the Asias about countries where they built lavish temples to house a single tooth, and vast plains where elephants stood shoulder to shoulder against the brutal, endless rain.
Or maybe to someone who'd never have to miss her at all, because their mother never would have left.
They'd been happy, once. They must have been, for Ames still remembered a time when her father didn't peek through the window slats at every car passing through their street. A time when, while walking her to school, he hadn’t gripped her tiny hand in his fist like he was afraid she'd fly away. Her mother's presence had been infrequent even then, so she didn't understand what had changed until years later, when she was sitting in the office of the U.S. Embassy in Guadalajara while men in suits talked over her head about "temporary placement" and "ward of the state."
Ames ignored all of it, because on the TV across the room a figure swathed in a familiar trench coat and fedora ("What do you think, love? A little too Dick Tracy?") bolted across the polished tiles of a museum floor with a pair of rolled canvases tucked beneath one arm. The security camera had been at the right angle to capture her face. Her mother must have realized it too, for she'd tipped down the wide brim of her hat, leaving visible only a smudge of jaw and her generous auburn hair: A snapshot that would become her enduring image in the public eye. Ames thought the curve of the brim mimicked the bright slash of her mother's smile. She wondered if it was intentional.
By the time she dropped out of high school, Ames saw her mother every day. Or at least, it felt that way. Sometimes weeks passed where her mother's image smirked from every magazine cover and her name slinked into every headline. At first it made her angry; even sick. Now it was just the ache of an old wound: annoying, but she could breathe through the pain.
"You don't like her? Really?"
"Nope," Said Ames.
"But she's famous!" Brody protested. "Look at the stuff she's gotten away with!"
He gestured with his chin across the desk to the folded newspaper that had started the conversation in the first place. Famous Bust of Nefertiti stolen from Neues Museum; they couldn't see the article from this angle, but neither had needed to read it to know who authorities would be blaming.
She shrugged, then paused to sneer at a passing officer who'd been eying them with distaste. "I don't believe in role models. I try and do my own thing, you know?"
"And besides," Brody continued, like she hadn't even spoken, "She's never been caught." Unlike us.
"That's not surprising," Ames said. She shifted against the chair as much as her cuffed wrists would allow. "Seems like it's hard to tie her down."
He'd tease her about the subject on and off through the years; Ames never told him the truth. As far as she was concerned, the woman she'd known as mother had gotten on a plane one muggy October night, bound for another adventure in some exotic land. That woman had kissed Ames' forehead, smoothed away her tears, and promised her chalk from the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, or a real ostrich feather from the headdress of a tribesman in Kenya.
That woman had gone up, up into the sky, and never came back.
"I take it you won't have an escort then," Guerrero said.
They sat on the balcony of the suite Ilsa had gifted to her and Alejandro, chasing away the desert chill with Johnny Walker. From the living room of the suite drifted the faint tones of Chance's voice bracketed by Ilsa's laughter.
"Are you volunteering?" Ames asked.
He raised an eyebrow. The corner of her mouth quirked.
"Didn't think so. Besides, I'm perfectly capable of making my own way down the isle."
She tapped the rim of her glass against her bottom lip. "Anyway, my dad's dead." She drained the rest of her shot and reached for the bottle.
"What about your mom?" Guerrero said after a moment.
She looked sidelong at him through her hair.
"She left when I was a kid," she said, slipping into the familiar rhythm of the lie. "I haven't seen her since."
They sat in silence for a few moments. Ames closed her eyes, enjoying the afterburn of the whiskey as it slid down her throat.
"You ever look for her?"
"She left me," Ames said sourly. "If she cared, she could find me whenever she wanted to."
He shrugged. "Fair enough. Just seems that most kids try and get in touch eventually if their parent takes off."
"Not me." She leaned her forehead against the railing. The cold stung her skin, but the sensation grounded her. "I think she cared more about her career than she ever did about her family."
He rolled his wrist and watched the liquid in his shot glass swirl. "Could be. Could be she'd say otherwise, if you asked her."
"Why do you care?" Ames snapped. Her throat wasn't the only thing that started burning when she'd had enough whiskey.
Another burst of laughter rattled from the room. Guerrero snorted.
"Sounds like the party's happening without us." He knocked back the rest of his drink as he stood, then he extended a hand to her. "Coming?"
"Sure." Ames said, staring at his hand like it might grow teeth and bite. Eventually she took it, and he hauled her to unsteady feet and helped her totter back into the room.
And just as before she didn't understand what had changed until months later, when on a private jet halfway to Alabama Ames' fingers dove into the pocket of Guerrero's suitcase and emerged with a photo of a dark-haired, smiling boy she should never have known existed.
She thought about him a lot after that. She wondered if he'd ever heard about the temples for teeth, or if his dreams took the shape of a band of heroes sweeping in to save the helpless and the desperate from everyday monsters that no fantasy beasts could match in pettiness and malice.
Ames' mother had always ducked away from the threat of cameras for reasons that were obvious now that Ames was older. In their apartment the only proof they'd even had of her existence had been the basket of sweet-smelling shampoos and lotions in the bathroom cupboard, and a closet full of clothes too snug and slinky for her father's sturdy frame.
There was one photo. Not of the thief with the red fedora and a catch-me-if-you-can smile, or even of the federal agent Ames later learned she'd once been before do-goodery wore dull and she realized her skills could be applied to more thrilling pursuits. No. This was just a photo of a woman-- a sweaty, exhausted woman, cradling an infant against her breast like the child was made of glass.
Ames thought of it suddenly as Guerrero put his key in the Eldo's ignition and the car rattled to life beneath them. Guerrero was grumbling to himself about the Feds, her, the sorry state of his car, and other things that faded to white noise as she realized that in her haste to flee the city she'd left the photo in her apartment, taped face-down to the underside of her dresser drawer.
She sucked in a breath. Her mouth parted; then she caught sight of his expression, and she decided he might not be receptive to the idea of one teeny weeny pitstop right this moment.
So instead she started rambling about dogs, hot tubs, and the life she planned to lead in Mexico (with Guerrero, whether he wanted to or not) to distract herself from her disappointment until the car rocked to a halt in the middle of the parking garage and Guerrero announced the end of their expedition before it had even begun. And even the fear that prickled through at the thought of facing down the CIA couldn't drown out her relief when the car turned around, pointed once more towards home.
"Guerrero," she said a few weeks later. Things had calmed down as much as they ever did in this place.
"Yes?" He didn't look up from his laptop.
"I was wondering if I could...hire you."
His fingers stopped clacking over the keys. That statement had earned her both eyebrows; she knew she had his full attention.
"You asked me a while back about my mother. Y’know, if I'd ever looked for her. Well, I haven't. Not beyond the six o' clock news anyway," she laughed, more from nerves than anything. "But...I want to find her for real."
For a second, he looked at her the same way he'd looked into his shot glass all those blurry months ago. Then he pushed the chair back from the conference room table and spun it around to properly face her.
"Are you sure about this?" He asked.
His tone was more warning than questioning. Ames' mother had stopped being just a thief some time ago; whispers pegged her as the new head of VILE, the world's biggest crime syndicate, and inheritor of the countless enemies that came with the title. If Ames' quest brought her own existence to light, the results could be...messy.
"I think I'm ready to hear what she has to say," Ames said, nodding.
Guerrero stared at her for a long time, with a blank expression that could've meant a million things.
"I'll make some calls," he said.