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like a bridge over troubled water (i will lay me down)

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Every now and again, Julia took a step back and asked herself what on earth she was doing, living the life that she was living. One day, she was a young Interpol agent, working under Chase Devineaux and trying to hunt down Carmen Sandiego for reasons she couldn’t understand; the next, she was a secret agent with an organization most people didn’t know existed.

Most days, she was proud of herself. She was pretty sure that, at only twenty-one years old, she was by far the youngest ACME agent, and as far as she was aware, only she and Zari had ever seen Chief in person. That was an honor, and from the dirty looks she occasionally received from more seasoned agents, she had a sneaking suspicion it was one that many wanted.

And all because she had the right instinct about Ms. Carmen Sandiego…

She laughed to herself as she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in her favorite silvery-blue towel. Imagine if she had listened to Devineaux and taken his word about “La Femme Rouge” at face-value!

Then again…

Julia was torn. Hacking ACME was wrong—she knew that—but she also was sure that Carmen wasn’t a bad person. Everything she had observed over the last few months, indicated that the young thief was dedicated solely to defeating VILE. She couldn’t help but think that Carmen had a reason for hacking ACME, that there was something Carmen wanted to learn that Chief wouldn’t tell her.

Chief had sent her and Zari home immediately after the hack, telling them to return first thing in the morning “once she had decided on ACME’s response to these new developments.”

Now, first thing in the morning had arrived, and Julia couldn’t help but ask herself: what would that response be?

And what would she, Agent Julia Argent, do if she disagreed with it?

~~~~

There was a coffee shop in Poitiers, halfway between her apartment and the bus stop, that Julia liked to frequent. She couldn’t always make it—it depended on how many times she hit the snooze button on her alarm—but today she had the time. Nerves over what Chief would say about Carmen Sandiego had left her unable to sleep in.

She stepped into the coffee shop, smiling at the sound of the gently tinkling bell which signaled her arrival. The smell of fresh coffee and baked goods filled her nostrils, rich and dark with the tiniest hint of chocolate. Already, her nerves began to settle.

Julia sat down at her favorite table and folded her hands on it, taking a few deep breaths. She knew, deep down, why she was so nervous about the fate of Carmen Sandiego, but it was something she wasn’t quite ready to admit.

A young woman with blond hair neatly braided down the side came over to Julia’s table. Julia looked over and smiled again when she recognized Renée Dupont. Renée’s younger sister, Nicole, had been one of Julia’s closest friends in primary school, and the two had remained good friends all the way through lycée. At that point, they had split ways, Julia remaining in Poitiers to begin her career with the French police while Nicole went to America to study at… goodness, Julia couldn’t remember which school, but it was a women’s college.

“The usual, Julia?” Renée asked.

“Yes, please,” Julia replied. “How are you, Renée?”

“Quite well, actually,” said Renée. “The assistant manager here is going on maternity leave next week and I have been asked to temporarily take her place. But Madeleine has told me that she is considering putting in her notice and moving—her husband has found a better job in Paris, apparently, and they might move there when her baby is born.”

“So you might become assistant manager permanently,” Julia concluded. “That’s wonderful!”

“And I’m sure you’re wondering how Nicole is doing,” said Renée.

“Naturally. I’ve been meaning to call her, but I’ve been quite busy with work.”

“I’m sure that there is little time to call old friends whilst you’re catching criminals all over the world.” Renée smiled. “Sometimes I can’t believe that my little sister’s best friend works for Interpol. It seems as though only yesterday you and Nicole were making a mess of our kitchen to make a chocolate cake—and then, just after my mother made you clean up, you covered the whole place in paint!”

“That was for a good cause,” Julia protested. “It was our friend Marie’s birthday, and we knew that none of the children in our class would go to her birthday party.”

“I remember Marie,” Renée mused. “Anyway, Nicole is all grown up as well. She’s deciding where to go to obtain her master’s degree. She’s been accepted to multiple programs—”

“—Of course she has,” Julia laughed. “I’d expect nothing less. Top of the class almost every year we were in school together, and she got a perfect score on the baccalauréat.”

“Don’t remind me,” Renée groaned. “Ever since Nicole learned to read, our parents have not stopped comparing us to each other. But anyway, she will most likely attend the Teachers College at Columbia, seeing as she’s so happy at Barnard. She’d be delighted if you called her, although she’s also quite busy with her studies.”

“Well, her birthday is coming up soon,” said Julia. “I’ll be sure to call her then.”

Renée smiled. “She’d love that. She has many friends at Barnard, but she and I were just talking a few days ago and she told me that nothing will compare to the fun you two had as children.”

“That’s so sweet,” said Julia. “I would love to talk to you longer, but I do need to catch the bus soon—”

“—Of course; I’ll put your order in right away. It was lovely talking, Julia!” Renée waved and walked away, leaving Julia alone with her thoughts once again.

~~~~

Zari was smirking when Julia walked into the office. Julia nearly looked away, not liking the almost predatory gaze on her partner’s face, but she also refused to be intimidated.

“Good morning, Agent Zari,” she said, trying to remain calm. “You seem to be in a pleasant mood today.”

“You were wrong about Carmen Sandiego,” Zari said in lieu of a hello. “You thought she would be a valuable ally to ACME. Turns out she is only an ally to herself.”

“With all due respect, I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be so happy about this,” Julia replied. “Perhaps I miscalculated, but should we not be focused on our mission to stop VILE?”

“That’s for Chief to decide,” said Zari. “And unless she tells me otherwise, I will be happy about this. You’re right. Now that we’re done chasing your little hunch that maybe Carmen Sandiego isn’t so bad after all, we can focus.”

“Why are you making this about me?” Julia demanded. “You’re worse than—”

The door opened and someone walked into the room. Julia couldn’t quite make out who it was, until the figure clicked their ACME pen and the hologram of Chief lit up the room.

“Ladies, meet your new commanding officer,” said Chief. Julia’s eyes widened in horror.

“—Inspector Devineaux.”

“I am back!” Devineaux announced. “And Chief has given me clear orders. ACME has a new mission now: to take down Carmen Sandiego!”

“What?!” Julia exclaimed. She whirled on the hologram of Chief. “How is that our mission now? I thought we were supposed to take down VILE. Why are we turning our forces on the one person who has been the most successful at that?”

“She hacked us,” Chief said simply, almost flippantly.

“And that’s worse than everything that VILE has done and is doing?” Julia asked. Rage bubbled up inside her, but she forced herself to calm down. “Do we know what Carmen Sandiego was looking for? Perhaps this was simply a miscommunication. Hacking may not have been the answer to resolve it, but if we find out what she was trying to learn—”

Chief rolled her eyes. “Do you really need to know this?”

“If I’m going to continue to work with ACME, yes,” Julia replied firmly.

“Fine.” Chief sighed before walking to the front of the room. “Twenty years ago, I was an agent of Interpol, tasked with capturing a man named Dexter Wolfe, who Interpol believed was just a common thief. We tracked him to just outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He tried to flee and took out his car keys, but I mistook them for a gun.”

Julia glared at the hologram. “You killed an unarmed man.”

“That was wrong of me, and I take full responsibility,” said Chief. “But afterwards, when we went to search Wolfe’s house, it had been burned down. There was no reason for a common thief to burn down his own villa and flee, so I concluded that Wolfe must have been associated with a larger criminal force. I made my case to Interpol and ACME was formed. And I was right. Dexter Wolfe was a high-ranking VILE operative.” Julia’s glare darkened. “What?”

“Let me see if I’m following correctly,” said Julia. “You killed a man in Buenos Aires who was connected to VILE. Then, twenty years later, a woman of around twenty years of age shows up with intimate knowledge of VILE and its functions, and she accesses that specific case file.”

Chief blinked a few times. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.

Devineaux stared at Julia. “I do not understand…”

“Dexter Wolfe was Carmen Sandiego’s father. Someone must have taken Carmen from Buenos Aires and raised her, most likely at VILE headquarters. They wanted to mold her into a thief like her father, but she chose her own path.”

“Or perhaps she didn’t!” Chief interjected. “Perhaps Carmen Sandiego has been working for VILE this whole time! Perhaps she’s been leading us on a wild goose chase—”

“Enough!” Julia shouted. Everyone gaped at her. “Carmen Sandiego is not working for VILE and you all know that. I understand being angry at her for hacking ACME, but she wanted to learn what happened to her father. That doesn’t make her evil, and it certainly doesn’t justify turning the entirety of ACME’s forces on her!”

“If you’re correct, and Carmen Sandiego’s father worked for VILE, it is even more imperative that we capture her and force her to tell us everything she knows,” said Chief. “If she’s following in her father’s footsteps—”

“I resign.”

“I’m sorry?”

Julia held out her ACME keycard. “I quit. All of you are more interested in acting on a personal vendetta against someone who has stopped multiple VILE operations than in stopping VILE itself, and I want nothing to do with it. So I quit.” With that, Julia placed the keycard and her ACME pen on the table and began walking away.

“Agent Argent—”

“I am no longer Agent Argent,” Julia interrupted. She looked back to see that her former colleagues were still staring at her in shock. “My name is Julia.”

Chapter Text

As Julia stepped outside, she asked herself over and over again, oh, what have I done?

Simple answer: resigned from ACME.

Real answer: quit her job, turned her life upside down, and who knows what ACME does to people who resign, all over Carmen Sandiego.

Red flashed behind Julia’s eyes, a sharp contrast to the grey skies above her. She could see the ripple of a trench coat in the wind, so clearly that it may as well have been in front of her at that very moment, in the wind currently causing the recently-fallen leaves to flurry over the ground in a frenzied dance. Julia pulled her own sweater tighter around her and watched the leaves as they skittered over the pavement.

She wondered whether Carmen Sandiego would take interest in something as trivial as leaves on the ground.

How had her life, her thoughts, become so centered around one woman who she barely knew? Sure, her responsibilities at Interpol and ACME largely involved Ms. Sandiego, but this wasn’t Devineaux shouting “La Femme Rouge!” and chasing after her for no reason, and it wasn’t the Chief seeing her as little more than a means to an end. Devineaux, the Chief, Zari, all of them, only saw Carmen Sandiego the asset, or Carmen Sandiego the threat.

Julia wanted to know Carmen Sandiego the person. Her hobbies, her interests, what she did when she wasn’t stopping VILE. Why she was so determined to stop VILE in the first place. Julia had caught glimpses of Carmen’s bright and bold personality, her charm, and she couldn’t help but want to learn more.

(Nor would she mind being called “Jules” a few more times. In fact, she’d enjoy that greatly.)

She knew she had always been a lover of women. As a child, she’d had little interest in boys, and the older she got, the less appealing they became. Girls, on the other hand, were lovely and intriguing and beautiful, and so often so much cleverer than boys. So much more exciting, so much more interesting.

And suffice it to say, Carmen Sandiego was the cleverest, the most intriguing, most exciting and interesting girl Julia had ever met.

Julia hadn’t been paying much attention to where she was walking, but apparently muscle memory had brought her to the bus stop, which begged the question, where would she go now? Back to her apartment, for sure, and maybe she’d stop by and see Renée one more time, but after that…

But of course, there was only one answer, really. Julia’s resignation from ACME would surely cause consequences for her, but more importantly, her knowledge of ACME’s plans was not something she could keep to herself. Which meant that there was only one place she could go.

“Okay, Carmen Sandiego,” Julia said to herself. “Where in the world are you?”

~~~~

The buzzing of her phone pulled Ivy from her thoughts—or rather, her staring at Carmen, napping in the seat across from her. She pulled the phone out of her pocket and answered the call. “Hey, Player.”

“How’s it going over there?”

“We finally made it onto the train,” Ivy replied. “Getting from LAX to Union Station took way longer than expected. Traffic was wicked bad. But at least we didn’t miss the train. Now Zack is checking out the dining car—shocker—and Carmen is taking a nap.”

“About that… how is she?”’

Ivy sighed. “I mean, she says she’s fine, but I can tell she’s not. I mean, you wouldn’t be either.”

“I really wouldn’t be,” Player agreed. “I honestly don’t know what to say to her. I know she wants to find her mother, but it’s been twenty years. Who knows what’s happened to her since. Part of me wants to tell her not to get her hopes up, y’know?”

“Don’t,” Ivy warned. “Our job is to support Carm. If anyone’s gonna crush her dreams, let it be Shadowsan.”

Player laughed. “Fair enough. Speaking of which, he just got back from his caper. I’ll connect him in.” There was a split-second pause, and then Player spoke again. “Hey, Shadowsan, how did the caper go?”

“Quite well,” Shadowsan replied. “Player, you should be able to wire money to those bail funds shortly.”

“Just received the transfer,” said Player. “Oof. We’re a little low on funds ourselves. Ivy, can you wake Carmen up? I want to check with her on keeping some of this.”

“Sure thing.” Ivy leaned over and gently shook Carmen’s shoulder. “Carm, wake up, Player has a question.”

Carmen mumbled something but eventually blinked her eyes open. “Yeah?”

Ivy passed her phone to Carmen. “Player wants to talk to you.”

“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” said Player. Carmen rolled her eyes. “I know you wanted to donate to those bail funds, and we definitely will, but we might need to keep more of this than planned… and that might need to become a regular thing. Having both you and Shadowsan out in the field at the same time is starting to take a toll.”

“Oh…” Carmen thought for a moment. “I don’t love the idea of keeping money that’s meant to go to charity.”

“We don’t need to keep much,” said Player. “Overall we’ve been keeping about 5% to ourselves. If we up that to 10%, that’s twice the funding for us, but the vast majority still goes to charity. And that’s only counting the actual cash. We’re still giving all of the stolen artifacts themselves back, and that doesn’t need to change.”

“I agree with Player,” Shadowsan interjected. “Keeping ample funds is vital if we wish to continue. VILE is weakened by the lack of a headquarters. The more assets we can seize, the harder it will be for them to rebuild.”

Carmen looked at Ivy and then at the phone. Nobody had brought up the obvious thus far…

“Should I stop searching for my mother?”

Nobody spoke. Carmen bit her lip.

“No,” Shadowsan finally said. “You are a wonderful person, Carmen, and you do so much for others. It’s perfectly alright to search for your mother.”

“He’s right, Carm,” Ivy piped up. “You’re like, the best person I know. Keeping a little extra so you can find your mom is totally fair.”

Another long pause, and then Carmen nodded. “Okay.”

“Alright,” said Player. “In that case, we’ll send $1,350,000 to those bail funds. That’s a lot, y’know. More than basically every celebrity has donated combined.”

At that, Carmen smiled. “When you put it in perspective that way… it feels a little better.”

“And that’s not even mentioning the fact that I’ve had my spare tablet playing those YouTube videos that are donating ad revenue pretty much nonstop,” Player added. “We’re doing a lot, Carmen.”

Carmen opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by a loud yawn. She rubbed her eyes. “Aww, Carm,” said Ivy, “you should go back to sleep. We still have a little while before we get to San Diego.”

“Yeah, alright,” said Carmen. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Zack half-stumbling towards their seat with an armful of snacks. “Okay, but food first.”

“We’re gonna go,” said Ivy. “See you back at Redquarters!”

“Redquarters?” Shadowsan asked.

“Yeah. Cuz Player calls Carm ‘Red,’ and it’s our HQ, so Redquarters.”

“Ah. In that case, I shall see you back at… Redquarters.”

Ivy ended the call and turned to her brother. “Whoa, bro! You brought the works!”

Twenty minutes later, Ivy was staring at Carmen again. She seemed so peaceful while asleep, the tension that always seemed to hang around her almost dissipating into the air. Once—just once—Ivy had even seen Carmen smile in her sleep, a peaceful glow not unlike the sunrises Ivy liked catching back in the day, on the rare occasion that she and Zack could go to City Point that early in the morning.

“You’ve really got it bad, sis.”

Ivy blinked and turned to see that Zack was smirking at her. “What? It’s wicked obvious that you have a crush on her.”

“Maybe,” Ivy shrugged. Someday, she decided, she would go back to City Point and take Carmen with her. Castle Island, maybe. Even if they couldn’t catch the sunrise, she figured Carmen might like Fort Independence. And Zack would not be invited.

But in the meantime, California sunsets were also special. Speaking of which…

Ivy turned her gaze to the window and oh, that was something else. “Sure was a good idea building the train tracks this close to the water,” she said. “What a view!”

Not as pretty as Carmen, though.

~~~~

Tracking down Carmen Sandiego had proven far more difficult than Julia had first thought. She hadn’t realized exactly how heavily ACME had leaned on their CrimeNet technology until she was left without it.

In the meantime, she had taken up a job at the coffee shop. Renée had in fact been officially promoted to assistant manager, and she was thrilled to have Julia take her place.

“Hey, I meant to ask, what happened with Interpol?” Renée asked on her third day of work. “I thought you were happy there.”

“I was,” said Julia, wiping down a table with a bright blue towel, “but my supervisor was giving me assignments I didn’t feel comfortable carrying out. It seemed as though she was acting upon a personal vendetta instead of focusing on what actually needed to be done. So I quit.”

“And we Europeans insist that we’re all so much better than the Americans.” Renée scoffed. “Have you heard? Someone donated over a million dollars to bail out those protestors.”

“Really?” Julia put down her towel and turned to Renée. “That’s quite a lot of money. Who was the donor?”

“It is,” said Renée. “But isn’t it fantastic? And they’re saying that the donor created some sort of nonprofit in order to stay anonymous. On paper, they called themselves the Red Fund or Foundation or something like that.”

Julia’s eyes widened. “Carmen,” she breathed. Because of course it was.

“Who’s Carmen?” Renée asked, but before Julia could answer, the phone rang. “Oh, I’ve got to get that. I’ll catch up to you later, Julia!”

As Renée walked away, Julia let out a sigh of relief. She definitely didn’t want to get into that conversation with her new boss.

So you’re donating to bail funds, she thought. I’d expect nothing less from you, Ms. Sandiego. For a moment, she imagined Carmen in her bright red trench coat attending a protest, and she couldn’t help but smile.

I will find you, she promised, and then she went back to wiping down tables.