Fade Chapter Eight

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Based on an original series and alternate future by Sonny & Ais called In the Company of Shadows.

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Slash (M/M), het (M/F) and graphic language, violence and sexual situations. Not intended for anyone under 18!


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Book Three: Fade
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Fade Chapter 8

Uploaded on 6/12/2011

The concierge always gave Carhart a half peculiar, half intrigued look when he came to the sprawling condominium complex at West Shore Drive. It was one of the most opulent hi-rise residential buildings in the Financial District and Carhart hadn't been surprised for a moment when he'd found out that Vivienne lived there.

The concierge, however, always seemed surprised that the General was coming to visit her. There was a complicated procedure of checking in and being escorted upstairs at West Shore that didn't surprise Carhart for a minute. The place had top notch security-- there was no wandering over to the elevator and knocking on the door.

Each visitor was announced. And every time he said he was there to see Vivienne on the thirteenth floor, the man stared.

It was getting to be annoying but Carhart eased the irritation by telling himself that the man was probably assuming that they were lovers. If the man had known Vivienne for very long, it wasn't too surprising that he would find this sudden development surprising. The coldness that Vivienne typically projected seemed likely to scare off any suitor. But for their designed cover, Carhart was the exception to that rule.

After their first couple of meetings they'd both realized that they were being watched and sometimes even followed. The Marshal clearly was suspicious of their rendezvous, likely wondering what they were discussing or even planning. The most logical conclusion to combat that suspicion was that they would give the impression that they were having an affair. So far it had been working as neither of them had been called in for questioning about their intent.

"Hello again, Mr. Carhart."

Carhart nodded curtly at the man and glanced at the clock on the wall. He was running a few minutes late by now but he didn't think she'd make a point of it. Their covert meetings had become such a regular occurrence that they barely felt formal anymore except for the nature of the conversation.

"Benjamin, can you escort Mr. Carhart to the thirteenth penthouse?"

Benjamin, a tiny twenty-something man with buzzed brown hair, hurried over. He seemed to materialize out of thin air. He was as silent and unassuming as ever during the ride upstairs. None of the staff at West Shore ever spoke unless they needed to. It was disturbing but welcome. These days Carhart didn't have the head for idle chatter.

Carhart exited the elevator and left Benjamin behind. A hallway with cream-colored carpet stretched before him, leading to Vivienne's door. He knocked twice, briefly, but Henry would have already announced his presence to her so she knew he was coming.

Given that knowledge, it still surprised him when she answered the door looking so completely casual. It hadn't been like that in the beginning-- when they'd first arranged this as a meeting place she'd looked as impeccable and detached as she did at the Agency. Over the months, that had dwindled in such a subtle slide that he hadn't realized while it was happening.

Vivienne had on charcoal-colored linen pants and what appeared to be a black cashmere sweater with a wide over-sized V-neck that hung dangerously close to one shoulder. Her hair was down, the long blond waves twisted over one shoulder although the strands were coming loose and framing her face. She was barefoot and still looked effortlessly elegant.

"Sorry I'm late," he said after a short breath. "I brought dinner."

Her sky blue eyes flicked behind him the way they always did, as if verifying there was no one within view or hearing. She didn't seem bothered by his slight delay but her expression was unreadable.

When she saw no one else in the vicinity, she stepped to the side and held the door open for him to enter. "Come in."

When he'd first come to her condo, he'd felt like a bull in a china shop. Tall, muscular and always feeling unbearably Midwestern even though he hadn't been to his hometown in decades-- it seemed strange being in this sparsely decorated, extremely modern apartment with its all white and dainty-looking furniture. It was so unlike his own apartment and his own personal style that he'd felt like some oil-drilling roughneck traipsing into a crystal palace.

It had been awkward and a little uncomfortable. The fact that he'd felt ridiculous sitting on the low-lying couch hadn't helped. The only thing that had relaxed him was the windows. Floor-to-ceiling windows lined the rooms. A view of the destruction of the city always centered him. It always put everything into perspective.

It hadn't taken long to stop focusing on the gap between her wealth and his own, her sophistication and his lack thereof, before he'd focused on business.

But after so long, after realizing that there were really only two of them against a whole lot of untrustworthies-- sometimes business could wait.

"You look lovely today," Carhart commented offhandedly as he put the takeout bag on the glass coffee table that sat between the two white couches. They would never look like couches to him-- they seemed more like cushion-less lounge chairs.

She leaned over to push the touch panel out of the way that she'd obviously just been working on. "Thank you." She paused briefly and observed mildly, "I have noticed you seem to prefer more informal attire."

He shrugged off his black coat and lay it over the side of the couch. "You're less frightening this way," he replied, shooting her a small grin.

The edges of her lips lifted briefly. It was a subtle, private smile that he'd only ever seen grace her features in the past few months and even then it wasn't often.

"Would you care for anything to drink?" she asked as she started toward the open concept kitchen.

"Wine would go well with the pasta. Whatever you have is fine, though."

She nodded and briefly disappeared as she knelt behind an island with a granite counter top. A built-in beverage fridge was hidden from his view. She gathered some glasses, plates, silverware, and a bottle of red wine. Despite the armload, she had no troubles balancing it all and smoothly returning to the table where she laid it all out. She pulled long blond hair behind one ear as it started to fall forward, and picked up the touch panel to set it behind her onto the couch.

When she was finished, she perched on the edge of the couch and briefly ran her gaze over him, simply taking him in. "Have you been eating poorly?"

Carhart glanced at her briefly as he removed the containers. "I haven't had much of an appetite. Why?"

"You appear thin," she said with a faint shrug. She pushed her hair behind her back and leaned forward to dish herself some of the shrimp primavera onto a plate. Her v-neck sweater fell forward in the movement, showing a glimpse of a cream, lacy camisole beneath. She sat up once she had her food and let the plate rest on her knees, looking at him. "Perhaps you have not been sleeping well either?"

"Is this your way of saying I look like shit?" he asked with an arched brow, smirking as he twisted his fork around in the food without actually eating it.

Her faint smile returned. "Well. If you wish to be so crass..."

Carhart chuckled and set the plate down in favor of the wine. He took a sip and savored the taste for a moment, twirling the stem in his fingers. "It's been hard to sleep for a long time now. I've been meaning to call Medical and get something to help."

She nodded knowingly and didn't respond at first as she took a bite of her food. Even the way she ate seemed carefully orchestrated and somehow elegant. There were no bits of food falling down; nothing was left on her lips.

She took the time to chew and swallow before she said in agreement, "It would be beneficial to you if you did. Were I unaccustomed to little sleep, I would have found it difficult to cope with the stress of the past few months and the subsequent insomnia."

The General nodded and looked down into his glass. He had the idle fleeting thought that the wine looked similar to blood sloshing around. He took another sip, allowing his gaze to stray to the window.

He was sorry he'd mentioned sleep. The topic brought to mind the nightmares he had when he did allow his eyes to close. The Agency in ruins. People he cared about dead. The future terminations of Ryan, Boyd and Emilio overlapped by the death scene he'd imagined over and over for Sin.

His chest tightened as he forced himself to take another casual sip.

Vivienne paused with her hand reaching toward the wine bottle. Her sky blue eyes studied him; it was similar to the scrutinizing way she did at the Agency but without the ice cold expression it somehow seemed less intrusive.

"I said something to upset you." She said it quizzically and her eyebrows drew down faintly as if she were perplexed.

"No," he replied quickly, looking at her again. It was so rare to be around Vivienne like this that he sometimes feared it would abruptly come to a halt.

Strangely, she was the only person he really spoke to anymore. At the Agency he felt too watched-- he was too untrusting of the people around him and he couldn't reach out to the few people he did trust for fear that they would be observed. If this came to an end, he'd be surrounded by silence all the time and he didn't think he could handle that. He needed a connection to someone else, even as fleeting as these meetings were.

"I just had a thought. When I sleep, I have dreams sometimes. It's stupid, it doesn't matter." He shook his head and set the glass down, finally picking up his food again.

"Ah," she said in understanding, turning her attention back to the wine. She picked up the bottle and tilted her glass as she poured the wine. Her tone was nonjudgmental as she continued, "Nightmares. I had many at one point."

She said it simply; leaving it up to Carhart as to whether he wanted to continue with that topic or switch to another one. Letting him decide whether he wanted to talk about what was on his mind.

In the end, he didn't want to abandon one of the few times they spoke on personal terms.

"What was the cause?"

"Cedrick," she said, looking down at the deep red of the wine in her glass. Her lips stretched faintly but it was humorless; like a reflection of past pain. Her eyebrows drew down and she swirled the glass. She fell silent briefly before she looked up to meet his eyes. Her expression remained impassive, her tone simple.

"I dreamt many things. His last moments. His body as I imagined it must have looked. Perhaps the worst were the dreams that he was still alive." She tilted her head subtly. "I also dreamt of my homeland being destroyed. My grandmother dying. A few involved Boyd. I suppose it was a conglomeration of thoughts vying for my attention."

He nodded, gazing at her quietly, thoughtfully. It was a moment when he thought she may be able to understand his pain. When he thought she may be compassionate about the violent, bloody nightmares that revolved around Sin. About the regret and the guilt and the self-hatred he felt that he hadn't been able to stop it. That he hadn't known.

But then he remembered that Vivienne had been uncomfortably matter-of-fact about his surrogate son's death when it had come up in the past and he didn't say anything about Sin directly at all.

"Losing people you love is hard."

She nodded and sipped wine from her glass.

Carhart absently set the plate down again, his cerulean eyes sliding back to the window.

Some days he could function well. More than well; efficiently. Other days, he wished he could stay in the darkness of his bedroom and never show his face again. It was difficult to be on the compound-- to face people who either didn't care that Sin had been murdered or were glad that he had been. To see people going through the motions, carrying on with their lives and not even seeming to remember that the once-infamous Vega was gone forever.

He tried to put himself at the same level of acceptance that he'd been at after the Monterrey debacle but he found it impossible. He'd thought Sin had died then but in the line of duty. Even then, he'd had warning. He'd had days to come to the acceptance that Sin might not make it that time around.

This time, Sin had been stolen right out from under his nose. For nothing.

In the initial weeks after Boyd's mission had begun to drag on, Sin had turned back into his old self. Disrespectful, resistant, sometimes less cooperative with his new teammates than he should have been, but he'd never done anything to warrant termination. He wouldn't have put himself at risk-- not when all he wanted was to be with Boyd when he returned.

But somehow those minor events had resulted in his death anyway. Somehow, a reason had been found to take a second son away from Carhart.

He drained the rest of the glass.

The words that came from his lips were unplanned and unexpected. But they were long overdue. He hadn't ever voiced anything about Sin out loud-- not even to Boyd. He'd feared that admitting his own anger and bitterness would feed into the younger agent's rage. But now, for some reason, in the clean, chic lines of Vivienne's penthouse, the words fell from his mouth.

"It's hard, Vivienne. I know... this isn't exactly what you expected to be hearing today. I know it isn't your problem. But I can't sleep and I can't eat because it's hard to get through the day working for someone who had him killed. For nothing."

She had been about to set the plate down but at his words she looked up at him with a pause.

"You do not resent me for it as well, do you?" she asked, a subtly worried look drawing her eyebrows together and tilting down the edges of her lips.

He shook his head, focusing on her once again. The hint of expression on her face made her endearing to him, which was odd in itself. Even odder, it made him want to reassure her. This was a woman who typically seemed so unshakable that a hint of a reassuring comment would likely seem condescending. But things were different here in this splendid condo so far away from the Agency's walls.

"This is the only thing I look forward to now, Vivienne. If I resented you, that wouldn't be the case."

She studied him seriously, as if searching for a hint of a lie or him being patronizing. When she saw nothing of the sort she nodded to herself. "Good."

She set her plate on the table and leaned back, holding the wine glass in her hand and studying him again, this time with a distant, thoughtful air. She seemed to be mulling something over until, at length, she spoke.

"It is an understandable response. I greatly dislike that woman and I did not lose someone close to me as you did." She paused, a frown crossing her features. She was watching Carhart closely; perhaps searching for responses or cues as to how much she should say. "In all honesty, I thought it inevitable that he would not last long upon her arrival. However, I hoped I was wrong and planned to argue for his necessity as I had before."

Carhart considered that for a long moment before speaking again. "We all knew it was possible. He knew the odds were stacked against him. She wants to recreate this place into her own sanctum with soldiers who will obey her without question. He was too resistant, too disrespectful and too strong. We had given him too many reasons to hate the Agency. He would never be her kind of soldier. He didn't fit into her equation. We all knew there was a possibility that she would use his past as fodder for termination."

A brief pause. He wanted to know the answer to his next question but at the same time, he was hesitant to hear it. "So knowing all of those things, why would you put yourself out there to argue for him?"

Her frown increased and she shifted her gaze away from him, looking out at the dark view of the city beyond. She seemed pensive, her eyes narrowed faintly and head tilting. There was no particular emotion in her voice when she spoke.

"I was reluctant to see him go. There are many who would have reveled in my death during the raid but he came to protect me. He was undeniably the strongest person at the Agency and as time passed and I realized I would soon need any protection I could attain, he seemed a viable candidate to potentially pursue."

She looked over at Carhart. "I felt that with his connection to Boyd and Boyd's connection to me, I did not need to fear that he would turn on me. It was... encouraging to potentially have someone of his caliber to call upon if needed."

There was the briefest pause. Her eyes narrowed and a curious expression crossed her face. Carhart couldn't fully identify it but he thought it may be confusion or bemusement.

"In addition, although I was beyond exasperated by their antics at the times when he and Boyd had issues, by the end it seemed as though they had reached a sense of stability. I had seen the way they looked at each other and I suppose... knowing that, as well as how important he was to others such as yourself, I felt it was worth pursuing attempts to retain his services to avoid causing unnecessary heartache and discouragement, which would only decrease production value at the Agency. It seemed especially unnecessary, as he was still of use."

Despite the clinical quality of her words, when she looked at Carhart he could see that she wasn't being dismissive of Sin's death. In her own way, she'd just said that she had appreciated Sin's strength, had been grateful for his role in her survival of the raid, had looked forward to him being a core part of the inner circle that she and the General were trying to create around them and had actually understood and accepted the love that Boyd and Sin had shared. In her own way, she'd admitted to a mote of regret that his life had been lost.

Carhart wished he could tell Boyd. He wished that someday the gap between the two Beaulieus would close. There was nothing worse to see than the estrangement of a parent and child, especially when one of the two could die at any moment. Carhart was sure that Emilio had regretted never telling his son that he loved him. The pain and loss that Emilio had felt had been evident enough in the surveillance video Carhart had watched of the incident.

He would never quite forget the way Emilio's face had transformed upon hearing that his child was dead. Had died days ago, a few buildings away from where they'd gone on carrying out business as usual. Carhart would never forget that bone-chilling scream of anger and heartbroken denial.

It had been enough for him to want to seek Emilio out. To comfort him. To make sure he didn't sink back into the depths of drugs and alcohol that had always been his solace.

But Emilio had been removed to the Fourth and Carhart had decided that it was probably better that way. The raid was too fresh in Carhart's mind. The unnecessary death. Ryan's near death. In the end, he hadn't been able to rebuild the bridge that had burned when the truth had come out.

"Boyd has been better in the past few months," he said after several moments had stretched in a mutual pensive silence. "I'd spoken to him right after his fight with the Hunt girl. I'm hoping he took my words to heart and his progress continues."

"Yes," she said, a faint frown on her lips, her eyebrows drawing down. She stared at her wine and after a moment leaned forward to set it on the table. When she sat back against the couch again she smoothed her pant legs even though there were no wrinkles. "I spoke to him after his meeting with the Marshal."

Carhart nodded at length. They didn't typically talk about Boyd or Sin in these meetings. He was surprised she'd volunteered the information. "How did that go?"

Her expression pinched and her gaze inexorably slid away. "Not well, but perhaps as well as could be expected."

She was silent a moment, her eyes narrowing. She absently curled her fingers against the fabric of her pants and then turned her stare back onto Carhart. "He was quite angry with me for not providing him with fully disclosed and accurate information regarding his mission."

He arched a blond eyebrow, finally twirling his fork in his plate of cooling pasta. "When I spoke to Sin some time after Boyd left, he expressed concern that the mission wasn't as straightforward as Boyd had implied. He had very serious concerns. Was he right?"

"Yes," she said with a frown, leaning back further in the couch. She had looked away from Carhart again seemingly without realizing it. It was unusual for her; she typically appeared to have no problems keeping eye contact regardless of the topic. "I greatly misled him."

"For what purpose?"

She was silent for a long moment and then turned intent sky blue eyes onto Carhart. There was strength in her expression and the usual steadfast belief in her own actions-- but somehow lacking the confidence. It was as if she were asking Carhart silently if she was right, while her expression was defiantly stating that she was.

"He would have died. Surely you understand that as well as I? Had I told him what it was, he would have balked and refused. He would have caused all manner of issues in an attempt to stay behind. Ultimately, I would have had to force him and it would have looked terrible on his record."

Her eyebrows twitched down. "Or what if he had adamantly refused and had remained at the Agency until Seong Jae-Hwa's arrival? If she had not terminated him immediately, then surely when Hsin Vega was terminated as I highly suspected would happen, he would have reacted similarly outrageously as Emilio Vega. But without similar accolades in his record, he would have been terminated rather than incarcerated. Sending him away with the least amount of disturbance was the only way to allow Jae-Hwa to settle in and begin to feel powerful in her role, and in the process feel less inclined to make an example out of my son."

Carhart nodded at length, weighing the words in his mind. After a pause he asked, "Was it as terrible as Sin feared? Or was it likely worse than he imagined?"

"It was worse, I suspect," she admitted. She looked away again, her features turning a hint cool.

Her shoulders were stiff and she did not look at Carhart as she continued tonelessly, "I told him he would seduce one man but in truth he was infiltrating a prostitution ring. They kept their slaves docile through the use of a highly addictive aphrodisiac. I read the report; he was in the slave ring for six months prior to making contact with the target for a sufficient length to enact the seduction, and another two before he successfully completed the mission. Upon return, in order to address the abuse his body and mind had taken, he was sent to rehabilitation and detoxification for two months."

"Ah." Carhart nodded again, placing his plate down and rubbing his jaw slowly. The stubble that had already begun growing in bristled against his fingers.

For a moment, he didn't speak. Almost from the very first year, he'd begun thinking of Boyd as another surrogate son. Another youth sucked into the Agency without truly knowing what it would be about. Just as Sin had been as a child when he'd arrived at the compound thinking it would be just about the missions without the power plays and abuse in between.

So Carhart expected to feel horror and anger at what had been done to Boyd but all that he felt was a dull, depressing resignation. In reality he'd always known that something like this was possible for Boyd. The valentine status branded him for any kind of highly involved sexual mission, especially ones of that caliber.

The Agency was not above mentally tormenting their own agents to justify their means. His and Emilio's mission in Brighton flashed across his mind. He remembered the people who had had to die or be tortured so that his and Emilio's identities would appear legit. He remembered watching Emilio cut off a teenage boy's fingers one by one-- punishment for stealing from Lawrence Patrick; their target and the man they'd had to prove themselves to.

Even so, he couldn't damn Vivienne for it entirely. As much as it weighed on him to imagine Boyd in that position-- she had a point. He would have refused and paid the price with his life.

"As much as it makes me sick to think of him in that position, I understand your point of view. It isn't dissimilar to my own suggestion of using the collar on Sin to keep him out of a drugged stupor in the box. The kids don't understand and they likely never will until the burden falls on their shoulders to make the ends justify the means."

The tension in her shoulders relaxed at his response and she finally looked over again. He didn't think he imagined the relief in her eyes, and the subsequent moment that made even that much emotion disappear.

"He frustrates me so," she said with narrowed eyes. "There are times I wish to break him down to force him to listen, and times..." She trailed off, her eyebrows drawing down and face pinching. She looked away with a stiff shrug. "At times I am convinced he received the worst of Cedrick's and my qualities. It can make him exceedingly difficult."

She paused and then pushed her hair away from her face. "At any rate, I anticipated his anger upon return but his reaction seemed especially final." She frowned to herself, her fingers running down her long hair and briefly curling around the ends. Her eyes were narrowed and pensive as she looked out the window. "It seems possible I did irrevocable damage."

"It may seem that way but it doesn't mean it is that way. It sure seemed that way between Sin and me when he had to wear the collar at first. And it damn sure appeared that way between Sin and Emilio when they first reunited. These things have a way of working themselves out."

She frowned and studied Carhart. There was a long moment in which she appeared to mull over his comment until finally she said only, "I suppose it is possible."

"I can try to talk to him. If you want."

She arched an eyebrow. "Do you honestly believe it would make a difference with such a willful child? He is stubborn to a fault and liable to ignore anything that does not coincide with his world view. And even if he did not, he would not believe you if you attempted to convince him of anything regarding me that was not negative."

Carhart couldn't argue with that. "I could just suggest the alternative to the reality that played out. What would have happened had he refused or had to have been forced into it. You're right, though. He'd likely not care at the moment. It's all too fresh in his mind."

She nodded and said almost dismissively, "Perhaps later, if you feel so inclined. I have my doubts it would be useful, yet I will admit it would be more beneficial if I felt I could fully trust him right now. There are far too many issues already at play."

For a stretch the only sounds were Carhart slowly chewing his food. The comment had sparked a topic that he'd wanted to bring up for the past few months-- since he'd talked to Boyd candidly at Killian's. He'd avoided telling Vivienne until now but it seemed a good time.

"I think you should know that I told him everything."

Her eyes snapped over and focused on him sharply. It was a difficult expression to read; not specifically disapproving but certainly not pleased. "Why would you do such a thing?"

Carhart sighed and ran the hand entirely over his face before meeting her gaze. "Two reasons. Would you like to hear the less sentimental one first?"

"Yes," she said curtly.

"I wanted to give him something to fight for," he said simply. "I'm sure you can imagine how he felt when he came back. You know the depths it's possible he can sink to over Sin's death. I wanted him to know that there are people here who still need him, people who count on him. I wanted him to understand the danger that this mole places for you, me, and the other key players of the old administration. I wanted him to know that if this gets out, she will have reason to replace and kill us all."

Carhart looked out the window again, wondering absently what Boyd was doing as they sat here discussing him. "Boyd will do anything to protect the people he cares about. After we spoke, he seemed more determined. More focused. And that aside, he can be of help to us. We don't mix with the general populace. He does. We can investigate the higher ups but it is in our interest to have a trusted field agent who can keep an eye on his peers."

Vivienne considered him at great length before she finally leaned forward and grabbed her half-eaten plate of food. She set it on her lap, one leg crossed beneath her other thigh, and shifted to become more comfortable. Her sweater fell closer to her shoulder, showing pale skin broken only by the strap of her camisole.

"That was not the sentimental reason?" she asked dubiously, twirling some noodles around her fork and looking up at him through her eyebrows.

"No." He gave her a crooked grin. "The sentimental reason is that I look at that boy like family and it felt good being able to share my worries with him."

She gave him a peculiar look. She paused and tilted her head, studying him closely for a long moment. He couldn't identify what passed through her eyes and before it even occurred to him to try, she was looking away with her expression turning impassive. She paused in contemplation with a forkful of food hovering just over her plate.

"I suppose there is merit to your thoughts," she allowed. "Did you advise him to contact you discreetly were he to notice anything unusual?" She took a bite of the food, watching him calmly.

"Yes. Brian will be our go between."

She nodded and took the time to swallow before she spoke. Her gaze dropped to the plate as she gathered another forkful, her tone almost absent. "Perhaps it will be beneficial, then. If not for the mole, at the very least in terms of the players we can pursue. It may be less conspicuous for him to pass along messages to certain people in the future."

"I wanted to discuss what was mentioned in our previous meeting," he said after awhile, shifting more to work-related topics. "I've been looking into people who could be useful to us."

Aside from these meetings being about strategy to find the traitor, they'd eventually also become strategy meetings about finding people to align on their side if it ever came down to needing a circle of iron around them. It was more than obvious that the Marshal would be perfectly happy getting rid of every officer from the previous administration. He and Vivienne had been devising precautionary plans in case that should come to pass.

The idea was to touch base with like-minded staff in order to get a good idea about who would help them if they or others ever needed to get out, and who could be their eyes and ears in the meantime. Vivienne had eventually told him she'd been slowly planning for something like this for awhile now.

She nodded. "Do you have any ideas?" She looked up at him as she took another bite.

"Kassian and his old team first and foremost, but it seems that the Marshal has decided to put her attention on Kassian and Harriet as well. I think she wants to coax them into becoming more of her faithful legions. She knows a large majority of the masses are displeased with her and she is smart enough to know that she cannot alienate everyone, especially the best agents available."

"I suspect you are correct but it would be problematic if she were successful," she replied, briefly resting the side of the fork on the edge of the plate. "They are two of our most viable candidates at the moment. It is possible that for one or both we will not have the luxury to wait to approach as we will with others."

Carhart nodded in agreement, eyes narrowing slightly as he thought. "Boyd could come in handy here. I know for a fact that he has a certain accessibility with both. If he approaches them now even with a warning that the Marshal has her eye on them, they'd become more wary of any promises she makes to win their favor. As far as I can see, she hasn't been very overt yet, other than granting Harriet the position of team leader in other capacities than Insurgency."

He frowned slightly. He was fond of Harriet because of her fortitude and her attitude. He liked the fact that she was no-nonsense and he hoped that her recent accolades had been awarded on merit and not some manipulative scheme.

"I haven't noticed her directly contacting Kassian. I have noticed, though, that Jordan has been hanging around him some lately. But whether that's significant or just another case of her trying to sleep with as many highly-ranked agents and officials as possible is unknown."

Vivienne finished her primavera and set the empty plate on the table. Her expression was more serious and business-like as they talked shop. "Tell him to do so. It would behoove us to be preemptive."

She studied him thoughtfully. "What of others such as Emilio Vega? I did not report his involvement in the raid because it was to my advantage, yet the only loyalty of his I could ever fully discern was to himself, to Hsin Vega, and at times it seemed to you. With Hsin Vega gone, that leaves two options; one of which is unhelpful to us and the other of which I am not certain is valid any longer. What is your opinion?"

Carhart paused for a moment, choosing his words. He hadn't told her of Emilio's involvement but somehow during the course of these meetings, she'd alluded to the fact that she'd known. It seemed that she'd wanted him to know so that they could be at liberty to talk entirely candidly. She'd never said in so many words how she'd found out but Carhart believed that she'd known all along, perhaps even on the day of the raid.

"I'm not sure. His relationship with me has been strained. It's more on my side than his but after his incarceration, who knows how that has changed. He may despise me now for not coming to him sooner about Sin."

He shrugged and poured himself another glass of wine. He watched the liquid pool into the glass, contemplative and doubtful. "I'm fairly certain that he hates the Marshal for what she did but at the same time, who knows what he'd do if it came down to it. Like you said, his main priority tends to be himself. I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case, though. He makes a dangerous enemy. The raid is proof of that on its own."

"The relationship is strained primarily on your side?" she pressed, watching him with the same calculating quality she often used in regards to her job. "For which reason?"

"What do you mean, which reason?"

"Are you estranged as a result of his involvement in the raid or due to Victoria?" she asked astutely. There was nothing in her expression to imply what she thought about any of this. "Are there other reasons you have kept your distance?"

Carhart shrugged, making a face at the mention of Victoria. That entire involvement had been a waste of time. "Mostly the raid. That caused me to distrust him professionally. The fact that he date raped a woman I was involved with would have just led to me severing any other personal ties we had. Although for all I know, it wasn't as black and white as I originally thought it was. Now that some of the anger has faded from that incident, I think it's more likely that she would have slept with him drugs or not. There's only one reason a woman would agree to go home with Emilio Vega. Everyone knows what he's like."

Vivienne studied him at length, her eyes partially narrowed. It was a contemplative, calculating look, as if she were running through scenarios in her mind. "Regarding the raid, it was extravagant and unnecessary. However, in terms of a mission, he achieved his goal quite well. He was capable of leading an attack on a locked down compound he had not stepped foot upon for two decades and in the process killed a man who was otherwise untouchable. He did so in a manner that did not make it readily known who had orchestrated the attack, lending him the ability to return as if he had not played a part. That is not an easy feat. Regarding his poor decisions on a personal level, from my perspective I do not see that his decisions have strayed that dramatically from the way that he has always been. If you were to take issue with such extreme actions as he tends to take, it would seem you would not have become involved with him in the first place."

She raised her eyebrows. "If those are your sole reasons, consider a scenario in the future in which he becomes our enemy simply because he feels spurned by your reactions. The damage he could render could conceivably be catastrophic; especially given his audacity, which appears to know no bounds. He can be a vindictive and unpredictable man. We cannot afford to have him become our enemy over issues that can be remedied."

"The fact that his people killed scores of agents who were sleeping in their beds can't be remedied," Carhart replied flatly.

"What does it matter?" Vivienne asked, her tone calm and dismissive. "Certainly that was a problematic time in the Agency's history and it would have been preferable had it been avoided but ultimately many of them likely would have died on missions or been terminated anyway. Is it more humane for them to die violently in a fight or to be terminated after having been ripped away from a lover than it is for them to feel nothing while they sleep? It did not appear to me that the deaths of the agents were the goal. In my reconstruction of that night, and given what I understand of Emilio Vega, I suspect that it was an unintended byproduct. Allowing the unfortunate deaths of some agents in the past to negatively affect strategies to minimize damage in the future will surely please no one, including those whom the agents left behind."

Carhart stared at her blankly, not letting the irritation and disgust well up to the surface. Why was he the only one who thought the raid was unforgivable?

"I have nothing more to say on this topic," he said flatly. "I have nothing to say to Emilio. If you want him to be aligned with us, you'll have to bring him in yourself. Dropping a hint that you know he was behind the raid should be enough to get his attention and loyalty. If anything, it's something you can use to blackmail him because the Marshal would undoubtedly have him executed on the spot if she were to find out."

Vivienne lips thinned faintly. "Very well," she said a hint coolly. "I will pursue that angle as long as you do not undermine my work by escalating any unnecessary confrontations with him."

Carhart shook his head, reminding himself that technically she was his superior so it would be a bad idea to release the response that wanted to spring from his tongue. The implication that he participated in childish confrontations at all was insulting. Suddenly she thought it was possible that he'd do such a thing just because he disagreed with her version of events?

He took a long sip from his wine glass, swallowing the scoff that wanted to come out. Emilio was a member of his unit. They'd spoken frequently since the dissolution of their friendship due to work. He didn't know what made her think something like that would suddenly occur when it hadn't thus far.

"Maybe we should turn to talk of the mole."

"Perhaps," she agreed.

She reached for her touch panel and by the time she had it resting on her lap, any remaining traces of the woman she'd been when Carhart had first arrived were gone.

Continue to Fade Chapter 9...