Fade Chapter Fourteen

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

The story contains..

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
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Fade Chapter 14

Uploaded on 10/10/2011

The Emperor was the kind of hotel where politicians and businessmen stayed while in town. It was easily the most expensive hotel in Lexington and was well known for its expansive and opulent suites. It wasn't the type of place where one would take a mistress or lover for a night of privacy. Not unless you were a member of the city's rich elite, which was exactly what he and Vivienne were.

Carhart placed his hand at the small of Vivienne's back as they waited for the concierge to check them into the suite they'd reserved. Even after so many months of staging this affair, it still felt strange to be able to physically touch her. Strange and distracting.

It helped when he reminded himself that this was all for the purpose of their cover and not for his own personal enjoyment. But after several afternoons of holding hands on the way to various locations or fake embraces in front of the bay windows of her penthouse, he still hadn't gotten over it.

"I just need you to sign here," the concierge said, indicating the computer pad and stylist that was attached to the desk.

The General signed and a platinum colored keycard was slid to him across the desk.

"Thank you," he said, nodding at the clerk. He gave Vivienne an indulgent smile, leading her to the elevators and dropping his hand as soon as they were inside.

Vivienne stayed near him, as it was entirely possible that the elevator would stop on the way up to their floor and they would need to continue the charade. Her sky blue eyes discreetly checked the elevator for any surveillance. Apparently seeing none, she relaxed slightly.

Since they were pretending to be on a romantic night together she had dressed for the occasion. Her long blond hair was pulled up off her neck in a twist with a few pieces curled and falling down around her face. The designer black dress she wore hugged her curves and left her shoulders and upper back mostly bare. The neckline dipped just low enough for a glimpse of cleavage but not enough for it to be distracting.

It was the most beautiful he had ever seen her and the most feminine. She was wearing diamond jewelry and holding a silver clutch, accessories she would never wear on the compound. She wore more make up than was typical; her eyes appearing a more intense shade of blue than usual. At the moment Vivienne looked so perfectly made up that it almost seemed as though she'd swung by Unit 16 before arriving although he knew that was not the case.

They entered the room and he immediately began unbuttoning the sport coat he wore. It was too tight for his broad shoulders and made him uncomfortable. After tossing it down onto the table that sat next to the door, Carhart looked around the room.

It was large, with cream colored carpets, sleek furniture and enormous windows that were currently exposing the entire room to the outside world. There was a door leading off to the bedroom and a bathroom that appeared to be triple the size of the one he had in his Agency apartment.

"Next time we meet at a burger joint," he said blandly.

Vivienne ensured that the door was locked and then walked over to a nearby table. She set her clutch down and surveyed the room. "It certainly would be less of an expense than the locations we have thus far utilized," she replied. "Unfortunately, the credibility of it would be questioned."

Carhart sat down on one of the large couches. He couldn't tell if she was being serious or not but he certainly hadn't been even though that would be a nice change. To make their fake trysts seem realistic, they always met in either her penthouse or high class restaurants or hotels. No one would believe that Vivienne Beaulieu would meet in any other setting.

"Should we order room service?"

"It would be best."

Her high heels clicked across the floor as she walked toward the main control console. A TV screen that had been masquerading as a mirror flickered to life from where it was embedded in the wall. Her hair draped over her bare shoulder as she alternated between looking down at the control panel and then over her shoulder at the TV.

When the room service menu came on screen, she picked up a small remote and sat down on the couch near Carhart. Her dress rode up her thigh when she crossed her legs and she studied the menu thoughtfully.

"Do you have any preferences?"

Dragging his eyes away from the exposed skin, Carhart loosened his tie. "Are we playing at a romantic evening or a quick tumble?"

"Hmm." She leaned forward to pull off her high heel on the leg that was crossed. Her breasts pressed against her leg in the movement, causing a clear glimpse of her cleavage. "Romantic, I suppose."

"Then we should get an actual dinner. And wine." He undid the tie and tossed it over the arm of the sofa, eyes slowly drawing back to Vivienne.

It was difficult not to look at her and it had been that way more and more lately. Although the locations of their meetings had always been strategically chosen, it was hard not to be affected by their cover in a way.

She was probably one of the most beautiful women he'd ever come in contact with and being around her in such intimate settings only made him notice that fact more. There had been times they'd both suspected they were being followed and they'd hugged each other for nothing more than a possible photo op. Some of those times, he'd felt a desire for her he'd never felt before. It had surprised him but it was a testament to how much their relationship had slowly grown since the new admin had taken over. Vivienne had never been quite as cold with him as she'd been with others but now there was a closeness between them, likely due to the unshakable trust they had in each other.

Vivienne put her bare foot down and crossed her other leg. She leaned forward to pull that shoe off and looked over at Carhart, her lips parting to say something. Their eyes met and for a moment she looked caught by something; perhaps simply the fact that he was openly watching her. Her fingers stilled briefly against the strap of her shoe and her gaze tracked his face, her eyebrows twitching down just a hint.

After a moment she looked away, tendrils of long blond hair brushing her shoulder as she returned to the task of unclasping her shoe. "Perhaps the wine-poached salmon."

He nodded, indifferent about what they ate. Fine dining wasn't his preference but that's all they had at The Emperor. "What kind of alcohol goes with that?"

"Chablis would be acceptable if it is available," Vivienne said as her high heel dropped to the floor. It made a quiet clunking noise and then tipped on its side. She stood and absently smoothed her hands down her thighs to straighten her dress. "I will review the menu and order for us."

Carhart nodded and got to his feet, finally taking his eyes off her and going to the door of the bedroom. The bellboy had dropped their small overnight bags off there and Carhart briefly debated unpacking it just so he had something to do. He felt strangely at a loss for some reason.

Dumping their bags on top of one of the chest of drawers, he looked around and noted that this suite was larger than the last one they'd had. The bathroom was always the most impressive part to him with its magnificent bathtub and jets. He'd never actually used them but it seemed like it would be an utterly relaxing experience. The bed also looked like a place where he could sprawl out and easily sleep for weeks but whenever they had their fake hotel trysts, he slept in the outer room.

Having nothing more to do and not seeing the point in changing his clothes, he walked back out to the main space.

Vivienne was sitting on the couch, her fingers loosely curled against the arm of the couch. She was staring out the window that was still open to the darkened view of the city beyond. Her expression was calm and the light cast her hair in shades of pale golden. She seemed lost in thought but when Carhart walked in she looked over and sat up straighter.

"They estimated twenty minutes."

He nodded and went over to the window, standing against it and slipping his hands into the pockets of his black slacks. He looked out down at the lights of the city before his attention was ultimately drawn to Vivienne's reflection in the window.

"I recently met Michael Katsaros," he said after a moment of watching her. "One of the generals from Europe."

At that, Vivienne's eyebrow rose and she looked at him in assessment. "He is here already?"

"Yes." Carhart leaned against the window and crossed his arms over his chest. The sleeves of his shirt were uncomfortably tight against his broad shoulders and upper arms. "I was under the impression he wouldn't be here until next month but he dropped by my office yesterday. It was... interesting."

"In what way?"

He thought back to the meeting, touching his hand to his chin as he held Vivienne's clear blue gaze. General Katsaros was a formidable-looking man who was a few years Carhart's junior. Despite that his buzzed hair was already completely silver, which contrasted with his deep Mediterranean tan. He was powerful in build and in personality, and the man had obviously seemed to be used to people being cowed by his presence.

"He meant to intimidate me and was a mixture of surprised and irritated that I wasn't very impressed. He informed me that he'd been through my record which was red flag number one because she gave him the clearance to do so and he also informed me that back in EU, he had my position." Carhart's blond eyebrows raised. "Which was red flag number two."

"I see." Vivienne's eyes narrowed in displeasure. "So according to her hopes, he is to be your replacement. I wondered what her intention was with bringing over a general we do not need."

Carhart continued to rub his chin and said calmly, "I wonder when she'll have me terminated."

"She does not have an excuse to do so at the moment and it will remain that way provided we can identify and stop the traitor before anyone is aware of their existence," Vivienne said, her tone a hint cool and her lips thinning. "If she attempts to do so prior to adequate disciplinary reasons, I will personally see to it that the Director is advised of her intentions."

He shrugged in response, not feeling particularly certain that it would play out that way. When Marshals wanted people gone, they had a way of making it happen. But he didn't say that out loud, not wanting to focus on the foreboding feeling that had stayed with him after Katsaros' visit.

"He mentioned some of what he deemed was past inappropriate behavior on my part. Favoritism amongst the field agents was his chief complaint, with focus on my unit. He stated that I also show unreasonable dislike towards certain other characters, chief of whom is Emilio. He seemed to have done research on Emilio and seemed to think highly of him. Apparently he'd also done research on our past friendship and claimed it is well known on the compound that I've now ostracized the man from myself."

Vivienne studied Carhart more closely, her eyebrows twitching down subtly as her gaze tracked across his face. It was a contemplative but not long moment before she spoke. "Did he state why he thought highly of Emilio?"

Carhart's lips turned up humorlessly. "In the words of Katsaros, he is one of the most highly trained and talented field agents we have with a long tenure and lasting loyalty despite the previous Marshal's attempts on his life and the death of his son. Apparently other than having a hot temper and violent streak during emotional times, he's proven to be a steadfast agent."

"I see." Vivienne shifted, uncrossing her legs and resting one hand on her thigh. Her other arm remained against the arm of the chair. "Did he specifically mention any other agents?"

"No. He seemed to be explicitly using the division of my own unit as an example."

Vivienne nodded, regarding him intently as if she was considering something deeply. From the way her fingers twitched, she almost seemed uncomfortable about something. After a moment she opened her mouth but whatever she'd been about to say was interrupted by a ringing at the door and a muffled voice calling out, "Room service."

Her eyes narrowed and she looked at the door. She frowned and then stood, smoothing her hands down her dress again. "I will answer."

She picked up her clutch along the way to the door. Carhart couldn't see much of the interaction from his angle but he saw her passing some money over and there was a very faint, short conversation. A small cart was wheeled in, covered by an elegant white cloth and a covered silver platter on top. A wine bottle was chilling in a casket of ice and two wine glasses were set to the side.

She shut the door behind her with her bare foot and then locked it, setting the tab to 'do not disturb.' She wheeled the cart over to the table that sat beside the window. It afforded a wonderful view of the cityscape as well as a good opportunity for photo ops in case they were being monitored by anyone in the hi-rises around them. She pulled the covers off the platters and set them to the side. A waft of steam was accompanied by the smell of the wine-poached salmon and black truffles.

Vivienne looked at the food in assessment. "The presentation of the dish is remarkably similar to L'Atelier Rouge," she commented. "Perhaps the rumor that the head chef is considering other positions is truth after all."

A faint smile touched Carhart's lips and he couldn't help teasing, "It'd be a shame if he left, considering we went there on our first... date."

Her eyebrows quirked and she looked up at him with what he'd come to see as faint amusement in her eyes. "I suppose that would entail us renting a room here again were it the case. Opportunities to indulge in his talents should not be missed."

"I couldn't agree more. I actually enjoyed eating there and usually my taste is far less refined."

Carhart walked over to the table and sat down in one of the cushioned chairs. Picking up the corkscrew, he began pulling the cork out of the wine. It popped and he poured the pale golden liquid into both glasses before setting the bottle aside.

"Maybe I should be thankful of the new administration," he mused after taking a sip and watching Vivienne over the rim of the glass. "According to the rumors, I managed to use my charm to get under your infamously frozen but beautiful skin. My reputation is shooting through the roof."

A small, private smile passed her lips, casting another faint hint of amusement to her expression. She picked up her glass and arched an eyebrow. "Taking advantage of the situation for our own ego, are we?"

"After my last few embarrassing attempts at dating, can you blame me?" he asked dryly, shaking his head despite himself as he picked up a fork. "Morgan, Victoria... both complete disasters."

"I suppose not," she allowed, inclining her head.

She took a sip of wine, her gaze shifting to look out at what could be seen of the city beyond their window. Lexington was alive with lights and movement. People walked under pedestrian level streetlamps and warm light glowed out from the high-rises going into the distance. She seemed to follow some of the movement; the thoughts in her blue eyes briefly sheltered by long blond eyelashes.

"Ah," he said after a moment of eating silently. "I got distracted. I forgot to ask you about the update on the kiosk that IT claims was used for the incident where the network was hacked."

Her lips thinned in mild distaste and she returned to her food. She delicately cut a cube of salmon and speared it with her fork, looking up to meet his eyes. "The surveillance was reviewed. However, the timeline was inconclusive. No one was at the kiosk at the time that the network was compromised. It is likely a delay was worked into the virus. However, too many people used it during the time period prior to the attack. Several of the users are on our list; so identification, at this point, is still impossible."

That was disheartening to hear. It had taken awhile to find a trustworthy computer tech who would work for them discreetly. In the end they'd gone with Henry in Data Retrieval. He wasn't explicitly on the networking team but at this point, they distrusted everyone in that section. It was likely that the mole was also an extremely adept hacker but the possibility of him or her working with a tech who created backdoors for him to enter into the system was also feasible.

Henry had scoured the network and verified the location and time the network had been hacked prior to Investigator Monaghan's visit. It showed how brazen the mole actually was to perform the act on Agency grounds. Whoever it was, they were extremely arrogant.

"Was anyone of note on the tape?" he asked finally.

She nodded and finished chewing her bite of salmon before she replied. "Of those with top clearance, Generals Willis and Hughes both used it. As did Captain Mathis. There were others as well with lower clearance."

Carhart made a face. "Helpful. Let me guess-- it was the kiosk in the Tower entrance, was it not? The one that everyone uses to load their panels and look at updates for missions and meetings."

"Precisely." Her eyes narrowed and she set her silverware down to reach for her wine glass. "In and of itself, that only serves to emphasize the brazenness of the traitor. Dozens of personnel could have interrupted or seen the act."

An unhappy frown turned his mouth downwards and Carhart sighed, raising his hand to run it through his short blond hair. "I feel helpless, Vivienne. Completely and utterly so. It's impossible to narrow the list down any further than it already is-- I'd had my hopes set on this."

Vivienne watched him silently for a moment as she sipped her wine. She set the glass down, her gaze on her food while she calmly cut another piece of salmon. "It is not entirely hopeless. The traitor is arrogant, and arrogance leads to mistakes. I had hoped this would end the hunt but as it did not, we will remain vigilant. I will attempt to expand my circle of reliable contacts. We would be best to watch for any suspicious activity at all at this point, no matter how trivial. Advise Boyd that if he hears of any rumors about anything that seems as though it could be connected, he is to come to you immediately."

"I will." He sighed quietly and picked up his fork again with a nod.

He wanted to feel the confidence she did but it wasn't there. There was a void where that self-assurance would have been. A void that had been there since the events of the past couple of years had begun spiraling down further into the worst possible things he had ever imagined. And he had never been able to stop any of them.

He could feel her eyes on him for a moment before she looked away and continued eating.

They stayed that way for awhile, eating in a companionable silence. It was one of the things he preferred about Vivienne's company; she wasn't prone to making inane chatter to fill the silence. Considering the events that whirled around him everyday and the choices and decisions that needed to be made, quiet moments were much appreciated.

They made the best of their position by the window. He reached out at one point and brushed his fingers lightly against the side of her face near her mouth as if there had been crumbs there. In truth there hadn't been but he made it seem like an unconscious gesture between lovers who dined together often.

That was the tricky part about their cover.

The affectionate acts, the quiet moments, the surroundings-- it was hard not to become too immersed in it. Temporary disassociation due to abnormal immersion with a cover identity, that was the condition he'd quoted to Emilio so long ago to explain his behavior in Brighton-- but this time it wasn't in a sexually and violently charged mission where he felt like he was slowly losing his mind. This time it was with a woman he had actually grown to care for despite who she was and what they were setting out to do.

They finished dinner and moved to the other side of the room where the floor to ceiling windows stretched. Vivienne stood before the window, looking down at the city, and Carhart took up his place behind her. After their first few meetings in which they'd established this cover, they'd mutually decided on moments like this where they would "show" their watchers that they were affectionate together. It typically included an embrace or various other tender gestures that weren't too invasive.

So when he seemingly absently wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, she didn't react. It was something they'd done before and was a relatively chaste act.

But today for some reason, it was different for him. He didn't know if it was the ever spiraling depression that he was falling into or the foreboding sense that his life would soon be coming to an abrupt end. He didn't know if that was driving him to stop hesitating and waiting-- to stop holding himself back.

He also didn't know if it was just their proximity. It could have possibly simply been the fact that he could feel every one of her curves pressed lightly against his body-- that her hair smelled wonderful and her body was deliciously warm against him despite the coldness she always seemed to exude.

Whatever it was, he found himself lightly nuzzling her neck with his face as he tightened his arms slightly against her.

Her head tilted toward him a hint, showing that she'd noticed the slight departure from the norm. She didn't react further, though, and he could see in the reflection of the window that her expression hadn't changed. As if this were normal to her and she thought nothing of it. Her hands remained resting over his, seemingly absently.

There was no tension in her body and he could only assume that she thought he was still playing the part. Perhaps moving it up a degree to make things more believable. But the feel of her against him was making him ache in a way that was almost alarming. The attraction had always been there but the sudden need he felt was new.

He kept one arm around her waist, his hand resting against her flat stomach as he reached his free hand up to run down the side of her face. It wasn't more than a light touch of fingertips against her skin, trailing down one cheekbone and brushing against her lips.

Her fingers twitched against his hand and this time she turned her head to look back at him. Their faces were nearly touching; he could feel the faint heat of her breath curling against his skin. She met his eyes questioningly but didn't pull away or tense. To her credit, even at that moment her expression didn't change enough that it would be obvious to hidden photographers that this was something new to her.

Carhart met her gaze squarely, his hand tightening once again so that her back was pressed flush against him. There had been a time when he'd been nearly intimidated by that steady blue gaze-- when he'd thought of her as unreachable and untouchable. Someone so far removed from his reality that it had never even occurred to him that they could possibly connect in a way other than trusted colleagues.

But that part of him was absent now and his eyes slowly dropped to her mouth, so close and tempting right in front of him.

There was a beat of silence and her fingers twitched, curling against his hand. "Zachary, what are you doing?" Her voice was low, as if others would overhear them.

He dragged his eyes away from her mouth. "Taking advantage of the situation," he replied quietly, reaching up to brush tendrils of loose hair from her face. He meant to drop his hand afterward, not wanting to keep pushing something she didn't want, but it stayed there almost of its own accord. First simply cupping her cheek but then splaying out to caress her maddeningly soft skin before sliding down to run along the back of her neck.

He felt her shiver at the touch and she shifted as if she was going to turn toward him so they could face each other fully, but she stopped as if she thought better of it. Her sky blue eyes were subtly narrowed and searched what she could see of his face. He saw wariness in her eyes. Yet he still didn't feel any tension in her body and she didn't pull away.

"Why?" Her voice was still low and reflected some of the wariness of her gaze. But along with that he thought he detected a hint of hesitation and maybe even uncertainty.

"Because you're distractingly beautiful and always have been," he admitted, his mouth twitching up into the ghost of his once boyish smile. "And over these past few months that has evolved into something... more. Something that I don't want to ignore when I feel like our time is running out."

Her gaze faltered, meeting his eyes for a moment before trailing across his face. The wariness had mostly left with his words although not entirely. She searched his expression closely, with some of the strength of her usual scrutiny but without the iciness that could make it intimidating. He had the feeling she was looking for something but he didn't know what it was.

Her fingertips brushed against his hand; a slight, seemingly absent gesture as if testing out the feel of his skin. Her lips faintly turned down on the edges but it didn't seem to be a frown. She seemed contemplative more than anything.

After a moment she relaxed against him with a subtle nod. "Alright."

Carhart leaned forward, his eyes never leaving hers. He brushed his mouth against hers lightly, almost experimentally. When she didn't pull away, he repeated the action but this time his mouth parted against hers. She parted her lips in response, her tongue sliding into his mouth to caress his own.

His hand slid up into the loose hair at the nape of her neck; he deepened the kiss as his heart thundered in his chest. As much as he'd thought about this during all of their false embraces, he had never actually expected it to happen. But it was and she tasted better than he'd imagined.

He combed a hand through her hair, loosening it until blond waves escaped from the clasp that had held it up. Long blond hair spilled down to her shoulders, partially twisted still in areas. Their lips didn't part as his other hand splayed against her stomach, slowly moving down. When his fingers reached the hem of her black dress, they slipped beneath it and began sliding back up against the smooth skin of her bare thigh.

The kiss broke for a moment and their eyes locked as he dragged his hand up, fingers brushing against the inside of her thigh as the dress slid up inch by inch in response. His breath was coming faster at this point, his cock hard and pressing against her. He didn't think he could be any more turned on than he already was until he felt the lace underwear hugging her hips.

For all that Vivienne Beaulieu could shut down and turn ice cold, right now there was no denying that she was burning hot. He slowly dragged his hand up to the warmth between her thighs, sliding his fingers against it through her panties. Her lips parted slowly, a soft barely-there sigh escaping them as Carhart began moving his fingers in a more deliberate circular motion as he massaged her clit through the thin shield of lace.

Her eyelids slid half-shut and she leaned into him harder, reaching up her arms and bending them back to loosely wrap around the back of his neck. Her back arched subtly and he molded against her in response, wanting to slam his hips into her ass to get some friction against his cock but making himself stop before the action could be completed. He wanted to see her face when she came, to hear his name on her lips-- just the thought of it made him shudder slightly against her.

They stayed there at the window, Vivienne's pale features becoming increasingly flushed, her breath increasing at a tempo that echoed the movement of his fingers. Her hands tightened on him, her gasps more anticipatory.

The photo op was done and now he wanted the chance to explore this further; to not have to keep everything hidden so as not to give any photographers more of a show than they intended. He turned her around and picked her up easily, drawing a half startled, half urgent, "Zachary--" from her lips.

Their eyes met as he carried her across the room. He didn't know who moved forward first but they were already kissing by the time he stepped into the bedroom.

He let himself fall on top of her briefly before becoming very aware of his muscular form crushing her slender one into the mattress. Rolling to the side, Carhart looked up at the ceiling from half-open eyes and tried to calm his racing heartbeat. His entire body felt hot and his breath was coming in harsh pants. It took awhile for him to come down from the high of his orgasm and only then did he glance over at Vivienne.

She was lying on the bed, her pale face still flushed and lips parted. Her breath seemed to just be stilling and a thin sheen of sweat was drying on her bare skin. There was a moment in which neither of them moved or spoke. They'd had enough time to recuperate by the time she paused and turned on her side to pull her clothes to the side of the bed.

Perhaps feeling the weight of his gaze as she started to get dressed, she looked over her shoulder. Pale blond strands of hair fell against her cheek, tumbling down her shoulders and half obscuring her curves as she pulled on her clothing.

When their eyes met, she paused and quietly searched his gaze.

A crooked smile found its way onto his mouth and he reached out to brush some hair from her face. "Well then."

Her expression seemed softer than usual, perhaps due to the lighting in the room. She watched him for a breath and then finished dressing. He saw her shake her head minutely before she turned toward him fully, sitting on the edge of the bed with one knee bent at an angle.

Her eyes tracked across his face, straying down his body before returning to his eyes. She reached out, running her fingertips lightly along his temple and cheek before briefly brushing through his hair. Her hand rested against the bed, fingers loosely curled as her eyebrows drew together faintly.

"You are a strange man," she murmured.

Carhart's eyebrows rose, grin still on his face. "Why is that?"

"That you wished to be with me." She shrugged, continuing to study him with a thoughtful air. "You are the only one who seems to see me as a woman."

A low chuckle escaped him and he shook his head slightly. "They're all just afraid of you. I just never let your work ethic scare me off."

A faint, enigmatic smile curved the edges of her lips briefly. She shook her head, lying down on the bed. "That is what makes you strange. I am not a particularly approachable person and gave you few reasons to be interested in me and yet you are."

He leaned over and almost hesitantly placed a kiss on her shoulder. Odd that he was suddenly feeling shy when he'd just had a long bout of intense sex with her but he couldn't suppress it. Even now that they were lying in bed together, he had no idea where they stood.

Even so, he went on after the brief pause. "I don't know if you do it intentionally or if it's because you and I have been on a different, more trusting level for so long but you have never been the same with me as you are with everyone else. You're the same powerful, intelligent and sometimes ruthless Inspector but when you're with me, there's more."

She was silent for a long moment and then looked over at him. Her expressions were so often unreadable on some level, making it seem as though even when she was forthright she was still holding something back. This was the first time her expression was open. And when their eyes met, it was the first time he was certain there was nothing else behind it but honesty.

"You are the only one I trust."

"How did it get to be that way?" he asked, not looking away from her. The moon cast silver light on her pale form in the bed.

Vivienne studied him for a long moment and then pushed herself up to sit. Her blue eyes were narrowed faintly, seemingly more in thought than anything as she looked out the half open door to the rest of the suite. The curtains covered any visible windows but she looked at them anyway, as if she could see the city hidden beyond.

"It would take too long to answer that properly, so perhaps I will fully explain another time if you wish. However..."

Her gaze shifted over to settle on him, her expression seeming serene in the pale light. "The shorter answer is I have had little reason to believe in the intentions of others for a long time. The first person who convinced me that there are those who do not have tainted ulterior motives was my husband, who charmed me until I fell in love. It was not a perfect union but it felt as though it was. When he died, I was young and terrified and accused of being a spy because my country was at war with this one. I felt very alone and guarded, especially as a woman in a male-dominated profession. For the most part that feeling has only intensified with my position and as the years have passed."

Carhart shifted so that he was leaning against the massive backboard of the king sized bed. His expression was serious as he thought over her words. "Why me?"

She smiled slightly, although it seemed somber. It was there and gone in moments. "Perhaps in part because you remind me of him. You do not have ulterior motives and you remain kind even when you should not be; even when it obviously causes you distress. You seem to see the good in others or you would not have seen past my many personal failings. You are persistent and steady as well, like he was. It is not to say I see Cedrick when I look at you, yet I do see your inherent qualities which are similar. Over the years, it has led me to see that I can trust you."

That half-smile touched his lips again and he ran a hand through his short blond hair. His body felt pleasantly relaxed and languid, especially with the silky sheets beneath him and the soft pillows propping him up. It would have been easy to end the conversation there, pull Vivienne against him and doze off but he couldn't.

"What about Boyd?"

Her expression tightened and she looked away with a short shake of her head. Her long blond hair touched the bed behind her, covering most of the lines of her body. Her eyes narrowed slightly, and combined with the tilted edges of her lips it gave her a pensive air.

"He is different and has been since the beginning. I do not distrust him, yet I would not be able to specifically state that I trust him either. There is still too much between us."

Carhart almost opened his mouth to ask more but stopped himself. It wasn't the time or place for an inquisition and he wasn't going to use their sudden intimacy to gain access to every corner of her mind. So he nodded thoughtfully and looked away from her, allowing his gaze to wander to what he could see through the partially drawn curtains by the wndow. He also allowed his thoughts to wander back to her words about Cedrick which led to thoughts of his own wife.

"Did you change a lot when he died?"

She was quiet a moment. "Perhaps more accurately, I changed being around him. Once he was gone I went in a direction I may have taken anyway, but further than I would have without the grief. I think, had he lived, I would be a very different person now."

He couldn't stop himself from reaching out again and brushing long tendrils of blond hair away from her face. Once the ability to touch her had been opened, he felt that he wouldn't be able to stop. "You wouldn't have become consumed with the Agency?"

She smiled humorlessly and turned enigmatic blue eyes on him. "I would not have been at the Agency at all."

That was certainly one thing he could relate to. "If my wife and son hadn't died, I likely wouldn't have either," he said.

Vivienne watched him in quiet appraisal and then leaned back against the headboard. She unfolded her legs, allowing them to stretch in front of her. "How did it happen?"

The General's gaze once again strayed to the window, automatically seeking out the darkness that lay southeast of Lexington's skyline where the Wastelands and the old military base lay.

"Before I joined the Agency, I was stationed at Fort Manning. I lived on base with Nancy and Gregory, our newborn son. The day Lexington was attacked and the base was destroyed, I happened to be away although I was due back that night. As everyone knows, nobody in the base or in the areas surrounding it survived."

"Ah," Vivienne said in understanding. She sat forward from the headboard enough to gather up her long fall of hair and pull it over her shoulder. Her gaze remained steady on him the entire time, even after she settled back against the headboard.

"You did not have a body to bury either," she observed. "It is a difficult situation."

"It is," he agreed although somehow, the entire situation seemed so far away that he barely even felt a twinge thinking about it. The boy he had been back then was so far gone that it all seemed like it had happened to someone else.

"Honestly, I don't remember several days after I found out. I couldn't handle it and I completely shut down for a while. But then when I came back out of it, I completely immersed myself in returning to the military and destroying the people who killed my family. I lived and breathed fighting, missions, planning-- I let it take over my entire life until I was too busy to feel pain."

"It does not seem as though you continued on that path or you would not be who you are today," she said, watching him thoughtfully. "Did something change that?"

He should have expected the question but even so, Carhart was abruptly thrown off guard by the automatic name that came to his head as an answer. His lips turned down in a frown and he shifted on the bed, tension building in his shoulders.

"I think it had a lot to do with Emilio. When we became partners, he made it his mission to bring me back to life and appreciate the fact that I still had one."

She nodded, not seeming surprised by this information and yet he could feel her gaze like a weight. "Are you unhappy with the results of his effort?"

There was another brief silence and he glanced at her briefly before looking away.

"No. He... made me realize that it's okay to live again. And care for people again. That there were people who actually cared about me too. Of course his way wasn't nearly so cut and dry or logical but when I thought he was gone, I realized what he'd been trying to do all that time."

"And what of now? With the loss of his son, he is in a position similar to yours years ago."

Carhart shook his head. "No. He's different than I was. With Emilio, he'll surround himself with vices to forget his problems. He'll try his best to not let whatever happened bring him down even if he mourns. He'll keep partying and screwing and being the rock star on the compound. Judging from Katsaros' little speech, it seems that Emilio has already switched gears to ensure that he will always be a valuable asset to the Agency."

Vivienne shifted, sitting up straighter. He could feel her eyes on him; watching him closely. She didn't answer at first. When she did, her tone was more serious. "That is something I wished to address with you. I am concerned that Katsaros immediately singled out Emilio and that as of now we still do not have confirmation that he will remain on our side. It could destroy all our efforts if he is against us, due not only to his skills but his charisma on compound as well. It is imperative that we can be certain of his loyalty yet when I attempted to approach him myself he remained guarded and did not give anything away even upon my reference to the raid."

The sudden subject change nearly caught Carhart off-guard until he realized that he'd been the one to bring it up. He looked at Vivienne and absently drew his fingers along the sheet. "He doesn't trust you. He doesn't understand you enough to know which way he should go with you. He likely doesn't even know where you stand in the Agency now. Not everyone is privy to the discord between the upper ranks."

"I understand that," she said with a slight nod. "However, that leaves you as our only solution."

The response was unsurprising and he sighed. "We haven't spoken in months, Vivienne. More than a year, in fact. How could I possibly bring him into our fold now?"

Vivienne absently smoothed the dress over her thighs although she didn't break eye contact. She frowned faintly. "I have asked this of you before, Zachary, and I will ask again. You are the only one who can give him what he wants, and thus you are the only one who can ensure his loyalty. If he is loyal to you, he is loyal to our cause. If you were to appear amenable to at the very least interacting with him again it would start the process. However, at this point too many months have passed and now we must push the matter further."

He looked at her blankly. "How so?"

Her lips tightened and she sighed, tilting her head down and pinching the bridge of her nose. After a moment she dropped her hand back to her side, meeting his eyes. "I am asking you to seduce him. I am attempting to ask this rather than be forced to order it, but I will if it is necessary."

Carhart's mouth fell open and he stared in shock. Eyebrows drawing together, he shook his head and sat up straight. "I'm sorry, what? How would--"

He stopped talking and continued to stare. Every muscle in his body had coiled tight at the words and every instinct was telling him to get up and walk far away from the conversation. One hand was poised flat on the bed to push himself up but he made himself stop. Once the conversation had turned to work, it had stopped mattering that he'd just been inside of her. She was the Inspector and he was her second in command.

"Explain yourself, Vivienne."

"I have run through the situation many times in my mind and this is the conclusion I repeatedly draw," she replied. "Your partnership was noted to be strong yet at times volatile. During your mission in Brighton your cover required that you be sexually involved yet that did not appear to last past that point. The notes state that you spoke less afterward, however. Since his return, it has been clear that Emilio is unusually focused on you. He lived with you immediately, seems overly conscious of your actions, and later interfered with your choice of a woman. The two of you fight repeatedly and yet you are supposedly purely platonic."

She paused for a brief portion of a second before continuing. "Emilio is known to be bisexual and I have observed that he is the type of man who is accustomed to getting what he wants. In the past, when I asserted that Emilio seems to be loyal to you as well as himself, you did not seem surprised. Yet for a simple friendship or partnership, and especially for a man such as Emilio who has no troubles making friends and the fact that you have not been close of late, that assertion should have been questioned. You stated that it was more of an issue on your side than his. Although I have no doubt that your given reason of the raid is part of it, it seems to me there is more. When I take into consideration your personalities and the discord between you two in the last year, it seems very probable to me that Emilio is interested in you and you have so far largely denied him."

Carhart released a sigh and ran both hands through his hair, brushing them back and forth. "He's had an infatuation bordering on obsession since we were partners," he agreed grudgingly. It wasn't something he had ever talked about out loud with anyone other than Emilio and even then, barely. "He seems to mistakenly believe I am just repressing myself due to ingrained homophobia when in reality, I just am not interested."

"Is there a reason for your disinterest?" Vivienne asked, shifting against the headboard and pushing the pillow at the small of her back into a better position. "In the past, you cited the raid as a reason behind the distance between you on your side."

"It is," he said without hesitation, eyebrows drawing together. "Our people died because of his idiotic plan. I've come to accept that he likely didn't intend for his guy to actually blow up the residential buildings, though. Even in the past, he was fine with collateral damage to places or things but he was never one to cause the death of civilians or innocent people. I can't see him wanting to bomb sleeping agents. Not when Sin could have been one of them, or Boyd or Ryan... or me."

She nodded, watching him in quiet appraisal. "Aside from the raid and the natural interaction of your personalities, is there anything else that you feel is causing friction?"

"What else does there need to be?" he asked dryly.

Vivienne shook her head faintly, although he couldn't tell if it was to say no other reason was needed or whether she was denying his response. Whatever the case, there was another stretched moment of silence before she spoke again.

"I would like to stress that I am not taking my earlier request lightly, Zachary. I have attempted to convince you in the past of the importance of Emilio's loyalty related to our cause so I will not repeat myself on that point. I would, however, ask you what your alternate plan is in the event of our terminations. If we were both to die, what protection remains for Boyd, or Ryan, or anyone else connected to the old regime?"

Her eyes narrowed seriously. "Taking into account that Kassian as of yet does not appear swayed by Jordan Hunt but could be in the future, and assuming Emilio joins Jae-Hwa's side, Boyd would be left alone in his position without anyone to trust in the field. It would be easy for an accident to be arranged on a mission, or for his disappearance to be coded a flee. His anger toward the Agency was not hidden upon his return and Jae-Hwa would enjoy the opportunity to mark his termination. It is only due to his consistently exceptional work since he returned to active duty that he remains alive, yet you know as well as I do that our sudden deaths would affect him. If there is no one with him in the field who he could trust, his first minor mistake would cause his death."

Carhart didn't say anything and pushed himself up entirely, sliding to the edge of the bed where he grabbed his boxer-briefs from the floor. He didn't know if she actually felt concern over the things she was saying or if it was a carefully crafted speech to guilt him into taking this internal valentine mission without a fight.

Vivienne didn't move from her place on the bed, although he could feel her watching him. There was a long enough pause for it to become obvious that he didn't plan to respond. At length, her voice broke the quiet. "Do you mean to say you feel nothing for him?"

"I feel a lot of things when it comes to Emilio but that doesn't mean it's what he wants it to be," he replied vaguely as he jerked his underwear on over his muscular thighs. He thought about leaving it at that or outright denying anything at all but when Carhart glanced over his shoulder at Vivienne, he knew it wasn't going to happen. He could push things aside in his own mind or deny them all he wanted but once he lied to her, she would know. And once that happened, the trust that they had between them would start to weaken.

He sighed disgustedly and wiped a hand across his face. "I won't deny... that there's something between us. A tension that goes well beyond the borders of normal platonic relationship. It's always been that way even though I ignored it. I didn't understand it or want to and since it had never been that way with a man even now, I pretended it wasn't happening."

The General paused again, eyes focused on the carpet beneath his feet. He thought about the days of their partnership, the strange thrill he'd gotten out of the special attention Emilio had showed him and the voyeuristic interest he'd gotten out of watching Emilio in his many sexual exploits. He remembered too many times when proximity had made him more uncomfortable than it should have been if the thoughts had never crossed his mind.

He also remembered vividly everything that had happened in Brighton and how easily he'd given into his cover persona. How he'd burned to fuck Emilio over and over although he'd never looked twice at any other man or considered it.

"There's something there," he said finally. "I just don't know why. So many things about him repel me... but there is something there."

The mattress depressed behind him when she shifted, her expression largely contemplative. "Is it so terrible to explore, then? Perhaps through the assignment you will find the answers you have not yet reached through denial and avoidance."

A dreary resignation sang through Carhart at the word "assignment." She wasn't asking anymore-- this was a mission. Resentment made him want to stand up and get dressed but there was no point. He was obligated to stay the night due to their cover and despite the slow burn of anger, he didn't entirely want to leave her anyway. He felt as conflicted towards her as he did towards Emilio and he wondered dully if any attachment in his life would ever be easy.

"I'll do what you say but I can't guarantee he will believe my change of heart."

"Endeavor to make it as believable as possible," she replied. She swung her feet over the other side of the bed but didn't yet move to stand. Her long blond hair mostly fell forward over her shoulder but some strands could be seen caught against her back.

"I suspect, given the information at hand, that even if he disbelieves your intentions at first he will ultimately be more loathe to deny the opportunity than he will be to accept it. However, if at any point you feel that this becomes counterproductive to our plans, alert me immediately."

Carhart nodded, unable to shake the discomfort he felt at the task. He couldn't deny that it wasn't even entirely due to the fact that he had to seduce the man. No matter what had soured between them, it didn't feel right to manipulate Emilio in this way. The man had often lamented the fact that Carhart was the only person he had ever been so preoccupied with and now that information would be used against him.

But he pushed all of that aside for now. He would save it for later when he was alone and not under the scrutiny of Vivienne. For now he just shook his head and looked over his shoulder at the woman. Despite the bitter pang that had spoiled the mood he'd been in, he couldn't help asking the next question.

"So, did you want this to be one time only?"

Her eyebrows drew down and she paused. She looked over her shoulder, her back twisting and hair partially framing her face. "You wish for there to be more?" She sounded perplexed.

He held her gaze. "I told you, your work ethic doesn't ward me off. I don't like the assignment I've been given but it doesn't change what I felt toward you moments before it was assigned."

She stared at him, searching his eyes until her lips curled the faintest bit on the edges. It wasn't exactly a smile but it lent a bemused quality to her face. When she looked away she let out a soft sound. She stood, pushing her hair back over her shoulder and turning to face him. The pale light cast her face in largely serene lines and sparked along the edges of her hair.

"It does not need to end."

The music emanating from Emilio's door was already giving him a headache. The driving bass, snarling vocals and grinding synthetics sounded like some kind of metalcore band from hell that was likely made up of demons or aliens or both. Carhart couldn't even understand half of what the singer was saying but it sounded vaguely ominous.

Lips turning down slightly at the side, he lifted his hand and knocked. The sound was drowned out by a new onslaught of synthetic noise which somehow boomed out of the apartment even louder. Gritting his teeth disgustedly, Carhart kicked the door hard. This time, there wasn't much of a delay before a shadow appeared at the crack beneath the door.

A moment passed before he heard locks clicking and the door swung open. Emilio stood there as the music and an alarming amount of hot air poured out of the apartment behind him. He was wearing only ragged paint splattered jeans that hung off of him dangerously, revealing jutting hipbones and a bit of dark pubic hair. He was barefoot and wore no shirt; his tattoo-stained chest and arms were slick with moisture. Judging from the heat coming from inside, it was likely sweat.

"Hi," Carhart said simply, keeping his eyes locked with the piercing green ones that blazed out from beneath messy black hair.

Emilio just looked at him blankly with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his well-formed mouth. After a few seconds he turned away and walked back into the apartment without a word. At least he left the door open behind him.

Carhart entered and nearly winced. The place was like a sauna. He shoved the door closed and tugged at the collar of his t-shirt as he trailed further inside, slowly following his former partner. It was surprisingly easy to allow his eyes to drop to Emilio's ass and the expanse of flesh that was visible beneath his loose jeans.

Gaze sliding up slowly over the planes of a well-toned back and inky tattoos, Carhart couldn't deny that Emilio was an exceptionally beautiful man. It had always drawn his attention, sometimes almost against his own will. When they'd first met he'd often found himself studying those exotic eyes and high cheekbones-- the full lips, cocksucking lips as Doug had called them, and wondered what it would have been like to have been born with such a perfect face.

Now, years later, Carhart was just as intrigued by the other man's dark beauty. He always found himself staring in the exact same way. But it had never been a sexual thing-- or he'd never thought it had been. Not until Brighton had those feelings come about. And not until this assignment from Vivienne had they made a reappearance.

It was peculiar and he didn't think he'd ever understand what exactly he felt for the other man. Maybe he repressed it so deeply that it only came to the surface when there was a guise of a mission or cover. Mildly annoyed by the thought, Carhart forced himself to break the silence.

"What are you doing?" he asked finally, finding his voice.

Emilio didn't respond. In fact it seemed like the other man had completely forgotten that he was in the room. He stood in front of an expanse of exposed brick wall and stared at it contemplatively. Still idly sucking on his cigarette, he selected what appeared to be a can of spray paint from a rather large selection. They were strewn all about the floor with crumpled bits of paper and various other paint-covered items. Sponges and what appeared to be dishes were included in the mess.

Carhart made a face and looked at the wall again. It was obviously the beginnings of some kind of graffiti mural but he couldn't make out exactly what it was meant to be yet. There were various shapes in muted greys and dark blues but a blazing crimson orb had been roughly shaded in on one side.

"I didn't know you still did that."

For some reason, the comment earned him a scathing look before Emilio went back to ignoring his existence.

Starting to get irritated and more than a little exasperated, Carhart moved closer. He'd expected a harsh reception after so many months of wintry silence but the fact that Emilio wasn't talking at all wasn't a good sign. Usually the man couldn't shut up. Sweat beaded on his forehead and Carhart looked around in irritation.

"Why is it so hot in here?"

His only answer was the clicking of Emilio shaking the can of spray paint as he selected a portion of the wall to begin working on.

"Why in the hell did you let me in if this is the way it's going to be?" Carhart practically yelled over another booming song that exploded from the sound system. Between the loud music, the heat and the chemical smell of paint, this was turning out to be a really unfortunate visit. The irritation was building steadily now and Carhart strode over to the stereo with the intentions of turning it off. Before he could even touch it, something smacked against the back of his head.

Turning, Carhart stared at the paint covered sponge that had assailed him. "What the hell?"

"Don't touch my shit," Emilio snapped, jerking his head at the stereo.

"It's loud and annoying and sounds ridiculous, anyway."

"Build a bridge."

Carhart glared at him. "What?"

"Get over it," was the snarled response. "Whining little bitch. Why'd you come over here? To cry and complain over every fucking thing?"

The General opened his mouth to reply as a flare of anger soared through him. He wasn't given the chance.

"You've gone soft, bro. You're a climate controlled field agent. It's real pathetic."

Flushing red, Carhart sneered. "Well sorry some of us aren't used to the fucking tropics."

Emilio raised an eyebrow at that. "Was that a racist comment?"


"So, what, you're calling me a spic now?"

Frustrated, Carhart shook his head. "I didn't even--"

"Us lowlife spics down in Mexico and South America are too poor to afford an air conditioner, eh? We just sweat it out while cruising in our low rid--"

"I didn't fucking say any of that! Why do you always have to--"

Emilio smirked and turned away. "God, you're easy. One accusation of not being PC and you shoot your fucking load in a panic. Such a little bitch."

Grinding his teeth, Carhart closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was supposed to help calm him but he just felt his body warming as irritation turned into anger that wasn't helped by the hateful sounding music that blared all around him. He was having the same reaction he always did to Emilio's scathing insults.

He could feel the violent, aggressive, and sometimes irrational burning hot fury soaring through him. It never changed. He'd never been able to let Emilio's condescending words, his insults and name-calling, roll off of his back. It always ate at him and made his hands tremble with an unceasing need to shut the other man up by force.

"So what the fuck do you want, anyway? Let me guess-- you need something from me, right?" Emilio exhaled slowly and smoke billowed around him. He dumped the rest of the cigarette in the neck of a beer bottle and it fizzled out. "Why else would you be here?"

"Maybe I just wanted to talk," Carhart said flatly, not bothering to mask the glare on his face.

"Well, I couldn't give a sweet goddamn if you want to talk. Why even bother, sugar? I'm done running after you. I'm done trying to get some useless hypocrite to see--"

"Useless hypocrite, am I?"

Emilio smirked coldly, running a hand through his hair and combing it away from his face. He paused, shrugged and then just said, "Just tell me what the fuck you want, bro. I don't have time for this shit."

A humorless laugh escaped Carhart's mouth and he swept his gaze around the apartment. Emilio had once taken so much pride in where he lived but obviously that had changed. It was messy and barely furnished. The bar was strewn with empty bottles and the place smelled of stale cigarette smoke. He spied a small mirror with a few Pandora capsules sitting on the coffee table and two glasses with different colors of lipstick smudged on the rims.

"Too busy getting doped up and fucking anything with a hole between its legs?"

The question was met with a careless shrug. "Yeah, kinda like how you're too busy thinking you're so much more superior to anyone else. Well I got news for you, sweetheart. You ain't. So fuck you and the horse you rode in on."

Carhart flexed his fingers, trying to calm himself. Trying to stay focused on his task, the mission. But it was impossible. He didn't know how Vivienne had expected this to work. There was too much bad blood between them-- too much hostility.

"I never said I was superior to--"

"You don't got to say shit," was the quick retort. As usual, Emilio didn't give him a chance to speak. As usual, he swiftly broke in to rip Carhart to shreds. As usual he did his best to batter the man's dignity as much as he could.

"The shit you do makes it obvious, bro. You judge me and what I did while you do what? Plan your little missions, send your little toy soldiers out to fight a war they don't give a shit about? Blow up this building, smash this base-- how many of them rebels were sleeping in their beds before they got burnt to a crisp? How many civilians get fucking caught in the crossfire-- how much acceptable collateral damage is okay before your blond bitch starts harping on PR issues and cover ups?"

Carhart bristled at the words but he wasn't surprised. By now he and Vivienne's alleged, and now real, affair was well known on the compound. He didn't know if Vivienne had let it slip to her admin with instruction to let it bleed to the rest of the compound or if the Marshal had done it in an attempt to make Vivienne look unprofessional. Whatever the case, it had obviously reached the lower ranks.

Emilio's mouth twisted scornfully when Carhart didn't respond. "Yeah, that's right-- don't respond because you ain't got shit to come back at me with. You think I'm some piece of shit because I stepped up to save my own ass and yeah, people did get fucked over and I wish they hadn't. I didn't want no one to get hurt but Connors. But you do the same shit every day, Zachary, and don't fucking tell me it ain't true."

"Are you done?" Carhart asked acidly, staring at the other man from narrowed eyes.

"Not by a fucking long shot."

"Why?" he demanded roughly, dragging his eyes away from Emilio again to glare out the window. "Why does it always have to be a contest of who can hit the fucking hardest with you?"

Emilio laughed out loud at that, an incredulous look coming over his face as he shook his head in dismay. "You have the balls to talk about hitting hard and low? Really? After you let my son die and didn't even have the balls to come and tell me?"

The anger finally manifested in the way that it always had in the past. A vivid mental image of himself slamming his fist into Emilio's face over and over until those pretty green eyes were pain-filled instead of mocking. The desire to do it was so strong that the General had to restrain himself from lunging forward as he balled his hands into fists.

But even that didn't help. His breath was coming harder now and the sudden desire for violence, a desire he only ever felt around Emilio, was intense. He wanted nothing more than to wipe that cocky look off Emilio's perfect face. He wanted to rip every ounce of self assurance from his body.

"I let him die?" he asked, quiet rage making his voice thick. "He wouldn't even be dead if it wasn't for you."

If he'd expected shock or hurt with those words, it didn't show up in Emilio's face. Instead the hard, mean mask that was firmly in place didn't even budge as Emilio narrowed his eyes. "You might be right about that, Zachary. Don't be thinking it didn't cross my mind. If I'd have never took Connors out, that dyke bitch wouldn't be Marshal. And Connors was always too pussy to kill my boy. I doubt he ever would have. Even before the experiments got real intense. And according to my dude on the inside, old Jacob had a near obsession with his pet project-- he was real proud that he'd fashioned himself a perfect agent."

Disdain ebbed into the wall of anger that Carhart felt but it didn't have time to saturate before Emilio was shooting barbs at him again.

"But you?" The scoff that escaped Emilio's mouth was full of loathing and disgust. "You, who's fucking third in command of this shit hole-- who was second in command for a while, you don't do shit but sit up in your awesome office with your awesome fucking view of this fucked up city that this Agency had a hand in destroying while you judge people but you don't actually fucking make a move to save my boy. What, you wasn't keeping tabs? You didn't have no people keeping an eye out? You don't got your own spies-- I know sure as fuck that you do. How'd you miss it, Carhart? How the fuck did you miss it? I could have gotten him out-- I always had a plan to get him out and you know I did. And you fucking let him die. Maybe if you climbed out of ole Vivienne's pussy for more than a few minutes at a time, you'd have fucking paid more attention to when my boy got murdered."

By the end of it all, Emilio's was shouting at the top of his voice as his eyes shone with unshed tears. He was practically shaking with anger and it was all aimed at Carhart, who mirrored the emotions one for one.

"Fuck you," Carhart snarled. "I hate you, I really just fucking hate you."

"Yeah? Good. 'Cause I hate you too, you pathetic little bitch."

For some reason the words, those repeated hated words, the words that Emilio had always used against him to demean him as a man and talk down to him-- it brought everything to a head. Suddenly all of the anger, the frustration, the feeling of being helpless to help the people he loved as well as the feeling of being helpless to stop his own termination-- all of it combined with the fury that was aimed at Emilio. It consolidated under one scope that was currently focused on the other man.

And he snapped.

With a snarl of fury, Carhart threw himself at his former partner, his former best friend, with the speed of someone completely consumed by hateful adrenaline. Even Emilio was caught off guard, giving Carhart the opportunity to slam a fist into the side of his face before following it with an uppercut that sent Emilio skidding backwards on the wood floor.

He tried to roll to his feet but Carhart was on him again, crushing him to the floor and pinning the other man's arms beneath him. Surprise was more evident on Emilio's face than anger but Carhart didn't even see it anymore. He didn't even hear what Emilio was saying even though the man was clearly moving his now blood-stained lips.

Sound was muted beyond the roar of pent up rage and hatred that had been buried in Carhart for so long. He was blind to everything; deaf to anything. All he could do was keep hitting as every word, every action, everything that had been done against him, the people he loved that he'd been helpless to stop, flitted through his mind.

He was still shouting but later, he wouldn't be able to remember what the words had been. The malevolence that was consuming him blocked out all rational thought, all awareness of the consequences of his actions. He didn't even feel the blood that was now slicking his hands or feel the way Emilio's struggled beneath him frantically, obviously panicked by what was happening. The way he was unable to get away from the hate-fueled thirst for violence that was making Carhart more deadly and powerful than he'd ever been in one of their fights.

It wasn't until a spray paint can slammed against the side of Carhart's head that he faltered.

Emilio scrambled out from under him, blood covering his face and blinding him as it flowed freely into his eyes. He was panting and seeming more like he wanted to get away than actually fight back, which should have stood out to Carhart; should have made him pause, but didn't. It didn't click in his mind at the time. Nothing did but the frenzy, the berserk need to inflict pain on someone. On Emilio.

Emilio, who was always in control, who always pulled the strings. Emilio, who had him on a line that Carhart had always hated and always wanted to escape from but never could no matter how he tried to fight it. No matter how much he hated the attraction for the other man, how much he hated the sickening pleasure he got from the other man's attention and how much he hated the way Emilio could control his feelings regardless of how much he tried to ignore it.

"You're fucking insane," Emilio was saying but it sounded like he was talking underwater. It was muffled, garbled.

Carhart kept stalking forward until Emilio finally did start fighting back. He picked up another spray can and threw it, nailing Carhart in the temple with the nozzle. He stumbled slightly, bringing his hands up, and Emilio took advantage of the opening. He tackled Carhart to the floor, trying to pin the larger man as he said words that were once again muted to the General.

They rolled on the floor, wrecking the already carelessly tended to apartment. The thumping beat of a song raged in the background as the singer howled furiously over the hard packing sounds of flesh hitting flesh.

Emilio gained the upper hand more than once, fighting dirty like he always did-- biting, kneeing, gouging and doing anything that came to mind. But it didn't stop anything or even bring the fight to a halt no matter how much pain he inflicted or got inflicted on him. It was getting bad-- really bad, and when it became evident that it really wasn't going to end with the usual stubborn rumbling, Emilio started backing off.

"Zachary, fucking, STOP!"

A loud shout of pain followed the yell as Carhart rammed into Emilio, slamming his back against the edge of the bar. Emilio rocked with the motion but fluidly pushed himself back, using the momentum to lift his lower body up at the waist. He wrapped his legs around Carhart's neck and twisted, bringing the other man down to the floor and falling himself until they were tangled together.

A choked gasp filled the air and Emilio hesitated at the sound. But then Carhart was staggering to his feet, his face swollen and bleeding as bad as Emilio's by now, and ruthlessly jabbed two fingers down into Emilio's collarbone. Green eyes widened and a pained gasp escaped him as he fell to his knees almost instantly. He reached up to grip the edge of the bar, attempting to drag himself up again but before he could, a fist was slamming into his solar plexus and he fell backwards on the floor.

Carhart was on him again, staring down at him seemingly blindly as Emilio coughed and hacked. His dark eyebrows were drawn together as he sluggishly tried to slide away but Carhart grabbed his neck under the chin with one hand and squeezed. Emilio gagged again, eyes shutting as he shook his head back and forth. They only snapped open again when the pressure released and a savage kiss was being pressed to his mouth.

Emilio turned his face away instantly. "What the fuck--"

It was cut off by another insistent kiss, an angry one-- nearly violent in its intensity. Carhart was panting against his mouth, breath coming out in harsh wheezes at times from the violence that had been inflicted on his torso, but his tongue continued to violate Emilio's mouth hungrily. But it wasn't like the adrenaline-driven passion that had fueled their first time in Brighton. Now Carhart's face was a hateful mask, even as his dick got hard under his jeans.

"Get off me, you fuck," Emilio gasped, struggling to get away, not recovered even remotely from the blow to his side that seemed to be paralyzing him with agony.

The only answer was Carhart standing up in one fluid motion as he simultaneously flipped Emilio over effortlessly. Emilio was being dragged backwards before more words could be formed. His fingers scrabbled uselessly across the floor as low gasps of pain erupted from his mouth. Carhart jerked him up unceremoniously and tossed him into the bedroom, where he was slammed onto the bed and crumbled down.

Carhart flipped him over onto his hands and knees, and between the space of two breaths, Emilio's already loose jeans were being ripped down and Carhart's were unzipping. Emilio's eyes popped open as Carhart spit into his hand, slicking himself with saliva.

"Don't, you better fucking not," Emilio growled, eyes still watering with pain as his fingers dug into the bed. His knees buckled and he went down even as he tried to support his upper body but that failed too. Every motion likely inflicted sharp daggers of pain from his solar plexus and he shouted wordlessly, helplessly, as Carhart's arms lifted him again. His thighs were yanked back, up and spread as the slick head of Carhart's cock pushed at his exposed opening.

"Zach-- fuck you, don't do--"

A cry of pain filled the room, cutting off any further coherent words. It was followed by agonized shouts, pained moans and harsh gasps for breath as Carhart began pounding into him ruthlessly. Cerulean blue eyes narrowed at Emilio's tattoo-covered back and his lip curled as he fucked the other man hard, almost cruelly.

Half crouched on the bed with Emilio's muscular thighs extended back and clenched around him, Carhart grabbed a handful of Emilio's inky black hair and yanked back as his hips snapped harder and more furiously. Emilio turned his head, glazed green eyes focusing on Carhart as his swollen lips fell open. The muscles in his ass had stopped tensing in an attempt to reject what was happening, and now Emilio was pushing back on Carhart's cock, even as the other man hate-fucked him wildly.

He slid his hand down around Emilio's sweaty neck and squeezed slightly as agonized cries turned into higher, needier ones. Slurring, guttered insults turned into needy, filthy pleas to be filled deeper, harder, as Carhart's cock slid in to his core.

Even when strong fingers began closing against the sides of his neck harder, digging into his jugular, Emilio only shook his head slightly. He didn't seem capable of trying to get away anymore, not when his cock was swollen and trickling pre-come as each angry thrust angled just right. Even when a slightly panicked look began creeping into his pleasure-stricken expression, he kept slamming himself back on Carhart as if he couldn't help himself.

Carhart's fingers tightened as his cock drilled in and out, his own face twisting with undeniable pleasure as harsh primal grunts dripped from his slack mouth.

"Do it-- I don't even fucking care, just please--" Emilio choked out, finally managing to reach up to grip the headboard as he slammed back hard enough to rock Carhart with the movement. His screams of pleasure, screams that were now accompanied by the staccato knocking of the headboard against the wall, slowly morphed into strangled gasps and strained keening noises as Carhart's fingers squeezed harder.

Emilio's sweat-covered chest was heaving violently, hoarse agonized sounds filling the room as Carhart's hips met his ass in a harsh, constant smacking motion. Still gripping Emilio's neck, Carhart grabbed one of his shoulders and rode him with a vicious intensity that sent the other man into a frenzy.

Even as his face went red from lack of air and his pupils dilated, Emilio's choking gasps still betrayed his desire and he kept pushing himself back mindlessly, greedily. Ragged breaths tried to escape his mouth but came out as muted, cut-off gasps. Carhart's fingers continued to jab into his jugular and when the orgasm consumed Emilio, he came violently-- hoarse screams finally erupting from his mouth and tears welling in his eyes as his ass clenched down on Carhart's thick cock. He dropped down to the bed in a heap and Carhart drove into him for only a moment longer before he came as well, flooding the other man thoroughly.

He collapsed on the bed as the release made pain-filled exhaustion come crashing down in a crescendo. His eyes slid shut and the next time they opened, pale light was streaming into the room from outside.

Pain radiated throughout his body and for a moment Carhart only stared blankly at the unfamiliar ceiling that loomed over him. But then the previous night came rushing back to him and he jerked upwards, darting his eyes over to the other side of the bed.

Emilio was sprawled on his stomach, face slack and long eyelashes resting against his bruised face. One hand was dangling over the side of the bed limply.

"Oh fuck," Carhart uttered, a rising feeling of panic overwhelming him. "Oh goddamn me."

Emilio's face was battered-- more than battered. One side of it was almost unrecognizable. His lip was busted, eye swollen shut and the rest was completely black and blue. Blood stained the sheets that lay beneath him.

Breath coming faster, Carhart looked down at himself and saw that he was in a similar state although Emilio looked considerably more abused. There were blood stains on his side too and with a sick feeling, Carhart realized that there were thin streaks of dried blood on his dick.

The sick feeling got more intense and he shifted on the bed as horror consumed him. What was wrong with him? What the fuck was wrong with him? How could he have snapped so badly?

A low sound escaped his throat and he looked at Emilio again as guilt washed over him in thick waves. He reached out to brush his hand against the other man's bruised face. As soon as his fingers grazed it, vivid green eyes snapped open.

Carhart snatched his hand back and stared, wide-eyed. Emilio's face was guarded and he sat up and backed away defensively, eyes untrusting.

"I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry-- I don't know what happened. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with me." Voice thick and trembling, Carhart pressed his hands over his eyes as he tried to calm himself by taking ragged breaths. "I'm so fucked up. I can't believe I did this--"

Emilio shifted on the bed but he didn't get up.

"I never meant for--"

"Oh shut up."

Startled, Carhart looked over at the other man. Emilio was making a face and reaching for his box of cigarettes.

"Did you miss the part where I didn't even care that you was choking me 'cause I was so thrilled to have your dick in my ass?"


"I haven't come that hard in years, bro. It knocked me out for the rest of the night."

Unable to properly respond to this unexpected comment, Carhart just shook his head wordlessly. The panic and guilt wasn't any less intense despite Emilio's nonchalance. If anything, it made him feel worse.

"Wipe that look off," Emilio said, voice rough and hoarse from the screaming. And, likely, the strangling from the previous night.

"Your face is--"

"Fuck off," the other man snorted. "I've had worse. Besides, you ain't exactly the prettiest picture at the moment neither."

Carhart looked over at the mirror that hung on the back of the closet door. It was true-- his cheek was swollen and there was considerable bruising on his jaw.

"Emilio," he said evenly, taking another breath. "I don't understand--"

"Oh, I understand," Emilio cut off, still sounding ridiculously calm about the whole thing. He'd stuck a cigarette in his mouth but didn't seem to be able to find a light so he flicked it onto the floor. "It's basic human nature, baby. You wanted to show me that I wasn't holding the cards for a change. It was your show and violating my ass proved it."

"I didn't plan--"

Exasperated, Emilio rolled his eyes and then winced. "Yeah, I know you didn't plan it. You weren't even fucking like, there, when it was happening. You were blacked out-- it was like you were having your own fucked up episode like Hsin used to or some shit when he flipped out. I ain't never seen you that way before."

"I don't know what happened," Carhart said again, raking his hands through his hair disgustedly. The churning self-loathing hadn't diminished but he felt calmer in the face of Emilio's skewed logic. "I just snapped. I've been so angry lately over everything and I took it out on you. And I'm fucking sorry, Emilio. Everything you said was true, anyway."

"Bullshit," was the sharp reply. There was so much vehemence in the word that Carhart lifted his eyes again, meeting Emilio's blazing ones. "Don't pull this poor-me pity party. You know that shit I was spewing was garbage. I just wanted to hurt you, and that's why you flipped. 'Cause you always let shit build up and build up and let me go off on you until you just snap."

"It's no excuse," Carhart said harshly, narrowing his eyes. "I know you've been abused since day one on this fucking planet but that doesn't mean you should accept something like this."

"Oh please, spare me the white knight routine-- you're even trying to fucking save me from you. Do you have to always have the weight of everyone's shit on your shoulders? This chick flick confessional business needs to end now."

Carhart bristled. "I feel bad, damn it. I never would have wanted to harm you no matter what nonsense you said."

Emilio scoffed and brought his knee up, examining it. It was swollen and bloody. "I beat you down mentally and you beat me down physically. I didn't even know what to do, bro. I thought you was like, I dunno-- I thought you wanted to actually finish me. I couldn't even fight you back, you were like super fucking hulked out LSD fucker all of a sudden. It was like mad skills out of nowhere."

The ridiculous comment actually caused Carhart's mouth to twitch up into a smile. He shook his head and reached down to grab his jeans from the floor, sliding them on as he replied. "I always had mad skills. You just never take me seriously. You always remember me the way I was before you disappeared."

"Yeah, maybe."

Their eyes met and Carhart couldn't ignore the surge of shame that went through him as he looked at Emilio's mangled face. He reached out without hesitation and ran his fingers lightly over the swollen bruised flesh.

"You really do bring out the worst in me, Vega."

For the first time, Emilio didn't grin proudly at the comment. Instead his gaze dropped and he gave a brief shrug. "I know, man."

Carhart's thumb rubbed along Emilio's jaw and he tried to fight the overwhelming desire to pull the other man closer. It was strange but his hands twitched as he fought the urge. "We're a mess. It never gets easier with us. I just get more psychotic and you just-- I don't even know. You just accept it."

"'Cause it don't bother me. I just wanna know..." Emilio looked up at him again, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. "Do you really hate me?"

"No." It was surprisingly easy to say and Carhart wiped a hand over his face. "But you wouldn't know it by how I treated you last night. And you need to understand how fucking sorry I am for it. I let everything just... come out. Everything I repress and not just from you. Just the feeling of being helpless in every goddamn thing I do. I can't stop anything or help anyone. I'm likely going to be terminated soon and all I can do is sit on my hands and wait for it to happen. It's so fucking pathet--"


Carhart focused on Emilio again and stopped abruptly. Emilio's eyes had opened wide, his face aghast.

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

With a low sigh, Carhart shook his head and began explaining. He started with Katsaros' visit and ended with a description of how the man had lauded Emilio. During the entire explanation, Emilio's face went from pissed off to confused to pissed off once again. By the end he had leapt off the bed, slapped on some briefs and was pacing the bedroom, limping slightly on his knee.

"Well ain't this a load of bullshit," he snarled. "If I'd have known my fucking reformed agent act would be that believable I would have stuck to being an asshole. He had the balls to use me as an example of how you're bad at your job? Is he fucking shitting me? That bull dyke boss of his murdered my son!"

Carhart sighed wearily, spreading his hands. "It's not necessarily a bad thing that they think you've gotten past it. It means you're safe."

"Fuck that!" Emilio snarled viciously, rounding on Carhart with a sneer. His eyes were blazing and his face was taut with rage, lips curled back over his teeth. "If they try to terminate you I swear, Zachary, I'll kill every fucking one of them. I'll fucking do it now, if I have to."

The General stood and crossed the space between them, putting his hands lightly on Emilio's stiff shoulders. "Just calm down, you're not going to do anything stupid."

"It's not stupid! Shut the fuck up-- you can't tell me what to do!" Emilio shrugged Carhart off and turned his head, face twisted as he planned murder. "They ain't getting you, Zachary. No way in hell."

"There's nothing that can be--"

"Bullshit!" The shout rung out in the empty room, making Carhart's already pounding head pound more intensely.

"That's fucking bullshit. I'm not-- you're not--" The words stumbled over each other as Emilio's mouth trembled and he turned away abruptly. "They have to go through me first. And I'll give them a fucking fight they won't be expecting. You know I will."

"Just stop for a minute and think."

Carhart took a deep breath and rubbed his hands over his sore face. His mind scrambled to find something to calm Emilio down from the destructive path he seemed determined to take.

"It won't be-- it won't be as sudden as with Sin," he said finally, latching on to Vivienne's words from several nights ago. "I'm the highest ranking general and well respected on the compound. To avoid questions from the Director and trouble amongst the ranks, she'd have to find a way to cast me in an ill light-- set me up for something, somehow. When we see something like that in the works, then we'll know that it's time for red flags."

Emilio was still tense but he relaxed somewhat at the words.

"But for now you have to use your head, Vega," Carhart said sternly, meeting Emilio's gaze directly. "It's good that they think you're their guy. You should use that-- get in close if you can. Keep your ears open and if you hear anything or any implication that something is in the works for me, or Boyd, or Vivienne, you can give us a--"

He broke off at the look on Emilio's face. His expression had morphed from one of intensity to the familiar dark look that Carhart had come to equate with jealousy. Emilio's eyes cut away before slowly sliding back. His jaw set and his lip curled but he didn't say anything yet. It gave Carhart pause and for the first time, he realized how it must have been like a kick in the balls for Emilio having to see and hear about Carhart's lovers. It was no secret between them that Emilio wanted him fiercely and flaunting it had likely seemed cruel.

If Emilio drove him to near insanity, then it was fair to say that he drove Emilio to the devious extremes he often went to. They went round and round in circles so often but never got anywhere other than taking turns hurting each other.



Carhart scowled. "Emilio."

The other man shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring moodily around the room. "So you're really fucking her and it ain't just some scam?"

Picking his words carefully, Carhart nodded. "We've started sleeping together."

"So what, you're like fucking in love?" Emilio demanded, eyes glittering beneath his messy hair.

The question was so absurd that Carhart couldn't help laughing. "It isn't like that with us. There are no expectations. There isn't a relationship. Just companionship. I do care for her, though."

Emilio scrutinized him for a long moment before he relaxed somewhat. He turned away slightly and looked down at his discarded cigarette before hooking his thumbs in the waistband of his underwear. Carhart watched as Emilio looked everywhere but at him before finally mumbling, "So what about me?"

"What about you... what?"

Another shrug and Emilio awkwardly bent to pick up a t-shirt from where it lay in a careless pile by the closet. His movements were stiff and he didn't bother to hide the pain that flashed in his face. "Do you care about me at all?"

Carhart stared at him silently and Emilio looked over before adding, "And I ain't asking because of last night. That wasn't... that wasn't like you wanting me. That was you wanting to punish me. I get that. I get hate fucking. But you be playing head games with me, bro. Even without sex. I just wanna know where we stand. Just be straight with me for once."

The silence on Carhart's end stretched and Emilio's face darkened again, tension building in his muscular frame. He tossed the t-shirt over his head and turned entirely.

"It's not as easy as that. It's complicated and you know it."

"It's complicated 'cause you make it be," Emilio retorted.

"It's complicated because--" Carhart cut off and sighed in frustration. "Because it goes both ways with you and me. We bring out the darkest sides of each other and there's so many different sides of you that I never know what's real and what's not. There's so many parts of you that every part of me screams to stay the fuck away from-- you're impulsive, reckless, selfish, destructive-- you're a fucking sociopath--"

"Well Jesus, forget I asked then."

"Shut the hell up and let me finish." Carhart ran a hand through his short blond hair and walked closer to Emilio. "I didn't resist you for so long because it's ingrained in me to be homophobic. I've known I was attracted to you from the start and I know you're the only man I ever will be attracted to. I resist because you turn me off from you in so many fucking ways-- you're so arrogant and--"

"Seriously, just forget I asked," Emilio snapped, glaring.

"--and you just piss me off every chance you get." There was a pause and Carhart struggled with what to say. He didn't even entirely know what he was getting at. It was the first time he was being frank with the other man and it left him off balance and unsure of what to do. But he was sick of the games. He was sick of the tug of war of power. The violence of the night before had put everything into perspective and he knew that if they didn't figure out what was between them once and for all, something bad was going to happen. Something permanent.

"All I know," he said finally, evenly. "Is that you mean a lot to me. And no matter how many fucked up things you do, I keep coming back for more. So that must mean I care for you a lot."

The confession was met with a look of suspicion. "Really?"

"Must be. That's my only explanation."

Emilio snickered. "Well damn, don't get all mushy on me now. A simple 'You're my moon and stars, Emilio' would have sufficed."

Carhart rolled his eyes. "Get over yourself, Vega. It's never going to be simple with us. Deal with it."

"I don't have a choice, do I?"

"No. You don't."

They looked at each other for a long moment and as a faint smile made its way on to Emilio's face, it belatedly occurred to Carhart that he'd accomplished his mission. Guilt washed to the surface again but the knowledge that he'd almost completely forgotten about his assignment since the previous night kept it at bay.

Continue to Fade Chapter 15...