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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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Interlude 3.27

Uploaded on 03/17/2010

Carhart had taken to wearing earphones at his desk.

The concept had been introduced to him by a new agent who'd just made the leap from trainee to the field. After one particularly grim evaluation where Carhart had scowled into the distance rather than give the trainees his sole attention as per usual, Agent Rothland had given him one of those impish smiles that would likely land him in the candidacy for youth undercover roles and said slyly:

"Music helps, you know. With the internal noise."

And so it did.

The small folder full of digital music that he'd compiled over the years was finally getting use. It was mostly older acid jazz but he didn't pay attention to the media enough to know more current songs. Zero 7 was more than helpful in silencing out all of that "internal noise."

Having Victoria stooped awkwardly at the filing cabinet across the room, was not.

Carhart's blue eyes remained focus on the screen and he shifted in the seat, rolling his shoulders back.

Time was moving quickly and the new Marshal and her crew would be arriving within days. She'd sent down the house cleaning list in advance; the people she wanted removed or terminated immediately after she arrived. The people she didn't want to waste time dealing with, likely because she wanted to spend her first few weeks focusing on the less black-and-white candidates for demotion, removal and termination.

He idly wondered if he was on the list for demotion. At the moment he only had access to the list of Fourth inmates who were being written off to ensure that they really had nothing left to give. He wouldn't know for sure where his own future lay and likely wouldn't right until it happened.

His record was nearly impeccable but he wouldn't be surprised if she was bringing in her own people to replace the key players at the American division. People she could trust solely; people who she knew would be her eyes and ears regarding everything.

Carhart wouldn't be surprised if Vivienne, he and the rest of the generals were all demoted or put on watch in some way. And at the moment, he was torn about whether or not he cared.

The job was wearing on him and the case rotating on his computer screen was just an example of why.

Detainee #359/Jane Doe.

The Fourth Floor Detainment Center was getting cleaned out as well. Prisoners who hadn't broken and were taking up resources, prisoners who had already exhausted their information or who were out of the game too long to provide anything new... All of them were being given the axe. Literally.

Jane Doe was slated to die.

Something about it put a bad taste in his mouth. Seeing the images of her made something close to pity bubble to the surface which was unsettling in itself. He wasn't supposed to feel sorry for her. She'd attacked them and played a role in the deaths of many of the Agency's people.

But then again, she was likely just a foot soldier who'd been doing what she was told. And look where she was now because of it.

Jane Doe wasn't even a shade of her former self. The tall tough fighter who'd actually gotten a couple of blows in on Sin was a husk. Months and months of physical and mental torture had left her eyes glazed and dull. Her skin was chalk white and sagging from the pounds that had melted off her frame. Her hands trembled violently when she tried to use them, she was incontinent and she was said to scream in her sleep every night.

She knew she was going to die. If not by their hand, she wouldn't last much longer in the outside world anyway. Her body was fragile and he thought it unlikely that she would last long anyway without the nutrients that they forced into her body, forcing it to keep animating itself as long as it could possibly be useful.

But it wasn't anymore.

Carhart's gaze was riveted on Jane Doe's picture and it didn't stray even when Victoria approached his desk. He'd been intent on the file for longer than she'd been in the room; replaying every interview the woman had been subject to, every transcript.

He wasn't learning anything new now but he still didn't shift his eyes. Not because he thought he would garner some new information from looking at the deteriorated woman on the screen but because it was better than looking at the blond trying to get his attention.

Even so, when she cleared her throat loud enough to be heard over his music, Carhart scowled and muted it with one flick of the touch screen.


She stood there silently for a moment. He could see her shifting uncomfortably in his peripheral vision. "Can you take the earphones out, Za-- General Carhart? Please."

He debated leaving them in but it was technically rude to do so and he wasn't trying to play childish games.

So instead he whipped them out and raised steady cerulean blue eyes to her gorgeously tortured expression. "What is it, Victoria?" he asked without emotion, raising an eyebrow with some impatience.

"I'm resigning from this position," she said all in a hurry, crossing her arms over the oversized and off-the-shoulder grey sweater she wore. The black leggings and heels she wore beneath made her legs appear to go on forever. If it weren't for recent events, he likely would have fucked her right there on the desk.

"Okay," he said blankly, unsurprised. He was surprised this hadn't come sooner, actually.

A frown dipped the corners of her mouth as Victoria's cobalt eyes narrowed. "I was a fucking good employee, Zach."

"Did I say otherwise?" Carhart asked blandly, already bored with whatever drama was in the works. Why did women persist in arguments that had already come and gone without the screaming and theatrics they'd anticipated? It seemed sometimes that a lack of response was more unsettling to them than anger.

"If you had appreciated my work, I'd think you'd try to dissuade me," she said in a steely tone.


Carhart sat up straighter and reclined his chair so that he could get the full view of her. She was possibly more enticing when riled up. It occurred to him that he could let the incident pass, get over his wounded ego and just go back to having her as a lover. He may have done just that if the circumstances were different. But they weren't and he couldn't enjoy her company anymore because of it.

"Okay, Victoria. I valued your work as my assistant but due to the fact that you fucked Emilio Vega in my apartment, I cannot in fact say that I'll miss the sight of your face in my office."

Her face colored and she looked away quickly.

It was the first time he'd spoken the words aloud. They'd never actually spoken about it at all. He'd returned to his apartment after a nearly week-long trip in Canada  to find her clothes scattered around and the unmistakable sound of intense fucking emanating from his own bedroom. Judging from the reek of sweat and bodily fluids, it had been going on for quite some time.

But he hadn't confronted them during the act. He hadn't given Emilio the dramatic showdown he'd likely been expecting.

"I was drunk," Victoria said steadily but the thickness of her voice gave way the emotion she must have been feeling. "I don't even remember the night. I was blacked out completely. The last thing I remember is talking about cars."


"I'm not lying," she snapped and with strength that emphasized the conviction that flashed in her lovely eyes. "I swear to fucking God, Zach. I would never do that-- I'm not that type of woman. I don't understand why-- I just can't even begin to explain. I don't even remember drinking that much..."

Victoria trailed off and the miserable, confused look on her face made Carhart sigh tiredly. He raised his hands to his face, massaging his temples slowly.

"I don't expect you to care about my excuses. It was inexcusable and horrible but Zach, I really just don't get it! I even tried to confront Emilio but he wouldn't even speak to me. He just seemed irritated that I was still in the apartment. I haven't seen him since."

Carhart scoffed and dropped his hands, refocusing on her. "I'm sure between missions and looking for somewhere to live, he has his hands full."

There was a brief silence before she ventured very carefully, "You're kicking him out?"

"Of course," he replied flatly.

Another silence and she dropped her eyes again, he was sure to try to hide the satisfaction she seemed to get out of that revelation. It seemed obvious to him that she blamed the entire situation on Emilio but for some reason she didn't want the General to know that. Perhaps she thought it would enrage him further-- the fact that she wasn't taking her share of the blame. Perhaps, he thought dully, she hadn't even realized exactly what had gone on that night to the fullest extent.


She looked at him again.

"You do realize he drugged you."

Her eyes narrowed again, mouth falling open. She shook her head, stopped, and just stared at him.

"There were still glasses littering my living room when I returned home the following afternoon. I took the one with the lipstick stains over to Analytics and there were traces of Pandora in the glass. Unless, of course, you willingly took it..."

"No!" she shouted in denial but the sound was strained, hoarse. Victoria looked more drained and tired than outraged. "I wouldn't-- I told you, I don't even drink usually because of my medication. I'm-- I'm surprised that I didn't have some kind of reaction from..."

Victoria trailed off when she caught sight of the flat look on his face.

"Small doses of Pandora heighten your sex drive and release inhibitions. It does not cause amnesia. The fact that you blacked the entire night out is a reaction."

She didn't respond and they just looked at each other for a long stretch of time. When she didn't speak again, Carhart returned his gaze to the computer. When he stared at Jane Doe's face, the entire situation with Victoria and Emilio seemed inconsequential.

"If you knew this. If you knew he drugged me, why are you still treating me this way?"

He'd seen that one coming and his response was automatic, "Because, Victoria, I have no idea what your intentions were that night. You know Emilio, you know his reputation. As far as you told me, you were disinclined to even speak to the man. What were you doing in my house drinking with him late in the night? Did it not occur to you what the guards posted throughout the building would think when they saw a woman who was known to be my lover, coming home with Emilio when I was known to be out of the country?"

"It wasn't like that! He approached me and claimed he wanted us to become friends. He said that he thought you and I were going to get serious and he didn't want to not get along with me. He said--"

"You're a fucking gullible idiot," Carhart cut her off bluntly. "Or pretending to be one. I can't tell which one it is and frankly, I'm not going to continue having a relationship with you and wonder if you're bullshitting me or not."

Victoria took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, as if she were trying to calm the storm that was brewing in her expression. "I was trying to be nice to your best friend."

He gave her another unimpressed look. "A friend who you had previously dismissed as a unrepentant asshole who mistreats women. If I may recall, just as recently as two weeks before the incident, you had commented on how stupid women were for falling for his charm. You'd commented on how you didn't understand how a woman like Agent Guerrera could have..."

The sentence trailed off as something in his memory suddenly sparked into clear focus. The image of Guerrera in his apartment, of the conversation with Emilio after-- and the image of Jane Doe currently hovering on the screen.

"I didn't plan this!" Victoria yelled with obvious frustration. "I don't understand how you can--"

Carhart waved her off, all interest in the conversation gone. "Leave."


"Get out. I have something to do."

He could see her trembling with anger out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't care anymore. The argument suddenly seemed very far away.

"You know what?" Victoria demanded in the nastiest tone he'd ever heard her use. "Fuck the both of you."

He made no reply.

She turned and left, slamming the door violently. Fortunately, he'd moved everything breakable from the nearby shelf.

Carhart's hands were selecting items on the touch screen before his brain was even fully processing what he was doing. His ears were still ringing from the sound of the door slamming when Elaine Guerrera's file appeared on the screen.

Carhart used the pad of his finger to drag her image alongside the first picture they'd taken of Jane Doe.

The similarities were stark. The caramel complexion, thick black hair, deep brown eyes and even the same lithe build. They were both tall for women and slender but muscular. The two women could have been sisters, they were so similar.

Tension began to seep into Carhart as an onslaught of thoughts began to scream in his brain. There wouldn't be any music capable of silencing out this cacophony. But above it all, one strain of thought, one memory stood out.

The General's eyes closed and he saw very clearly the morning he'd come home to find Guerrera naked in his apartment. He very clearly remembered the conversation with Emilio after the woman had fled. He remembered Emilio's reason for sleeping with Guerrera multiple times.

"She reminds me of someone I know. A girl from 4FF," Emilio had said darkly, handsome face drawn in the brooding expression he often got.

"Someone I fucked over."

And fucked her over, he most certainly had.

The Tower cafeteria was nearly deserted when Carhart entered and he was highly thankful for that.

He'd only been roused from his reverie by the violent protests of his stomach, not because he looked forward to being around other people. It would have been easy to return to his own quarters to eat but the possibility of running into Emilio at the moment was not high on his list of things to deal with until he had everything sorted out.

The only problem was, he found himself unable to actually figure out exactly what he was supposed to do.

The General had spend the better part of the last several hours analyzing every memory of every conversation he'd had with Emilio since he'd returned. He'd mentally cataloged every comment alluding to the man's return, every reaction to conversations surrounding the raid and Marshal Connors' death.

He'd made a mental list of every vague comment Emilio had ever made about the aforementioned things and the results of that list had actually chilled Carhart.

The General was well aware of his own failings. He was well aware of the fact that he could choose to ignore something when he wanted to. He was well aware of how easy it was for him to not see what was right in front of him. He could just ignore it until it became an issue. Until he couldn't ignore it anymore.

It was how he dealt with things that disturbed or frightened him.

He'd done it in the past, when he'd tried so hard to ignore the obvious infatuation Emilio had had for him since their partnership had begun. He'd done it with Sin, when Sin had confessed that he believed he'd killed his father. And after Emilio had come back, Carhart had done it then. He'd ignored the clues and the veiled comments; he'd refused to evaluate Emilio's words even when at times, it seemed that Emilio had wanted him to figure it all out.

Emilio had given that away on more than one occasion but the one that stood out the most was when Sin had once again been sentenced to die for Investigator Monaghan's death.

During their argument about what course of action to take Emilio had snarled viciously, "If you knew what I had to do to get back here, you'd fucking know that the possibility of termination doesn't scare me."

Even then, the comment had made Carhart's stomach churn. He'd had an inkling then, a bubbling to the surface of a revelation, but still... he'd pushed it aside. Focus on the matter at hand, he'd told himself sternly. Deal with it later. Ignore it for now.

What an idiot he was.

After that bit of self-deprecating disgust, Carhart had spent more time watching the interviews with Jane Doe again. He'd read the transcripts and notes for the second time that day. And unlike the first reading, this time things had begun falling into place.

The interrogators of the Fourth had gotten bits of information from her here and there but it hadn't been anything of value. She hailed from Argentina, her father was a rich businessman, she spent most of her time in Mexico and Central America doing odd jobs for different black market groups but she had never specified which ones or for whom she had worked.

It wasn't exactly evidence that she was a member of 4FF but by her own admission, she'd been a part of something similar. But there was nothing concrete. Members of 4FF were very rarely photographed and in all of his research, Carhart had never heard of a woman being a solid member.

But Emilio himself had admitted that there was a woman who he'd known in the group. A woman that had looked like Agent Guerrera...

It hadn't been enough, though. The connection wasn't strong enough. It hadn't been until Carhart had replayed the level 10 training interrogations out of pure desperation. He'd remembered something else bizarre about Jane Doe but he'd nearly given up before getting there.

Watching their clumsy interrogations had been irritating when Carhart just wanted facts. He hadn't had real hope of getting anything from watching it but then Boyd's turn came and one tidbit gave Carhart real pause.

The woman had actually asked about Sin. Directly. She'd seemed abnormally interested in him even considering the fact that he had been the one who had detained her. And then she'd asked about his ethnicity.

Why would that matter? Why, unless there was something about his appearance that struck her.

And then Carhart remembered Sin's report of what had happened the night of the raid. How he'd made the idle comment of how oddly the woman had reacted to him.

It hadn't made sense then but it made sense now. Anyone who saw Emilio and Sin would say that they looked so much alike they could be brothers. Jane Doe clearly hadn't been expecting a doppelganger of her leader to be bringing her down.

Carhart realized that he'd been standing in the middle of the line with his tray in his hand for nearly a full minute when the cashier gave him a searching stare.

The General cleared his throat and walked over to the register, paying the civilian employee for the platter of grilled talapia and Spanish rice before going to sit down. He'd automatically chosen a lonesome table in a far corner before a headful of black curls caught his eye.

Before Carhart even realized what he was doing, he found himself walking over to Doug.

The Training Instructor was hunched over a palm panel with a empty crumb-filled plate now doubling as an ashtray as he calmly sucked on a cigar. Smoking wasn't exactly allowed in the facility but Carhart highly doubted that anyone was going to challenge the formidable Australian.

"Hello, Douglas."

Doug squinted up at him through the halo of unruly curls. "Yo."

Carhart placed his tray on the opposite side of the table and sat down. He stared at Doug and didn't move to touch the food. It smelled delicious but Carhart found that even though his body was demanding nourishment, he had no real appetite. The afternoon's revelations were too disturbing and now that he'd digested all of the information, he felt sick.

Sick and horrified by his own blindness, but somehow still not as shocked as he thought he should be. He should be completely thrown. He should feel completely betrayed and at a loss. But he didn't.

Because it was something that Emilio would do. It was just like him.

Emilio, who only cared about what was in his own self interest, who had always thought of the most flashiest and out of control spur-of-the-moment plans to accomplish his goal. Emilio, whose loyalty was solely to himself. Emilio, who felt that if his own life was in danger he would do whatever it took, no matter how psychotic, to protect himself.

The raid had never been anything other than a diversion to kill Connors. To get him out of the way so that Emilio could come back. To divert attention from him, when he did come back. A clean-cut assassination would have made them suspect Emilio who had been on Connor's hit list since back when he'd disappeared. But a full assault on the compound? They would have immediately suspected one of their more dangerous enemies. No one would think Emilio was crazy enough to show his face after pulling that off.

But he was. And he had.

He'd been responsible for a number of Agent deaths just so he could get Connors out of the way.

Carhart looked down at the grilled fish on his plate.

But was that really it? Was that really all there was to it? Had he really just been getting Connors out of the way? Or... was it something else? Everyone had always assumed the raid was tied with everything else that was happening in the Agency. What if it was?

What if Emilio had something to do with all of it?

"Did you come over here to fuckin' stare at me?" Doug demanded, as grumpy as ever as he glared at the General. "'Cause I don't remember inviting you."

What if all of this time, Emilio had been the one feeding someone intel on the Agency? What if everything had been an act to get on the inside? To get close to Carhart again? After all, the man knew all of his passwords...

"Are you fucking deaf, man?"

But something about that didn't jive to Carhart. After all, Emilio had nearly been killed on one of the sabotaged missions. And he'd gone out of his way to save Sin when the Monaghan debacle had occurred. He also seemed genuinely pleased with himself for being back at the Agency.

"Damn it, Zachary, I don't feel like lookin' at your hangdog face while I eat so why don't you just piss off?"

Carhart blinked and looked up from his fish to stare into Doug's surly expression. "What?"

Doug scowled. "Some little blond minx lets another bloke dip his nib in her and this is what happens?"

Carhart stared at him for a moment, processing the comment. After a pause he shook his head and made a face, nearly smirking despite himself. "It has nothing to do with that situation but it's nice to know everyone knows about it, regardless."

"I ain't 'everyone,'" the Instructor replied acidly, talking around his cigar and tossing the panel onto the table with a clatter. "Vega told me about it personally."

"I bet he did." Likely with some very intimate details about the inner workings of Victoria's dipping well.

"No need to get all bitchy about it," Doug mused, the corners of his mouth rising wickedly. "After all, I took your side about the whole damn affair and I don't even like you that much."

Now that was a downright shocker. Carhart looked at Doug ponderously, grateful for the other man's presence. It was temporarily distracting Carhart from the unpleasantness of Emilio's other, more deadly betrayal. "Did you?" he asked doubtfully.

"Yup." Doug exhaled a cloud of smoke and ashed the fat end of the cigar in the plate. His stare skated around the cafeteria before focusing on Carhart again. "It's bad business, man. Fucking your boss's woman. And he don't like it, shit I don't either myself, but you're second in command. You was third before Connors kicked it. It ain't right to make a fucking fool of you over some bit of blond snit and a pair of big titties."

Carhart felt his eyebrows rising.

"Also, it don't help that he acts like he's your best friend and shit, all up your ass all the time. But then knowing Vega, that was the motivating factor. He's a real possessive shithead. He prob'ly just wants you all for himself. He probably wants to fuck you if he hasn't already," Doug said in such a benign way that Carhart nearly dropped the forkful of food he'd finally picked up.

"Have--" Carhart shook his head slightly and stopped before starting again. "Have you had sex with Emilio?"

"Nah. I ain't gay. He's sucked my dick, though, when we was drunk and watching porn together." Another casual exhale of smoke. "Damn good pair of cock-sucking lips on that boy, if I do say so. 'Course that was all back in the day."

"Of course." Carhart put his fork down. He was pretty sure he would never have an appetite again but even so, he couldn't stop himself from wondering if Doug was lying. If it had gone further than that. Doug would be far from the first heterosexual man to take what Emilio offered them. For some reason straight guys were the first ones to get curious when they encountered a masculine fighting machine like Emilio who also happened to like taking it in the rear. And despite stereotypes and misconceptions, for such a macho tough guy Emilio loved to be on the receiving end of a brutal ass pounding.

"What ya thinking about, General?" Doug asked with a leering smirk. "Memories?"

"No," Carhart replied curtly, pushing his plate away entirely. He shoved all random musings out of his mind. He refused to allow distractions to take over. It was just a cop out that he always allowed himself to take when it came to dealing with issues.

"I want to ask you a question, Douglas."


"Do you trust Emilio?"

"Not with my woman, that's for damn sure," Doug replied in the tone of someone who thought he was far wiser than the man sitting opposite him.

Carhart sighed slowly. "That isn't what I meant."


They looked at each other silently; Doug still smoking his cigar and puffing out clouds of smoke while Carhart frowned at him morosely.


The General made a face. He couldn't tell if Doug was just trying to give him a hard time or if he really was incredibly thick sometimes. "As a person, Douglas. Just in general. Do you trust him?"

The question earned him a thoughtful stare and Carhart scowled. "I realize that you were friends with him before I joined the Agency and that you two appear to have struck up that camaraderie again but I am asking you as a fellow agent."

Doug grunted and sat back. His broad shoulders and muscular frame looked somewhat out of place on the small metal chair. He appeared to be mulling the question over as he chewed on the end of his cigar, eyes wandering over to a civilian female employee wearing a tight dress as he did so.

For a moment Carhart didn't think the other man would answer. After all, Doug had never particularly cared for him even though he respected him as a colleague and officer. But there had been an air of dislike between them ever since Carhart had become Emilio's partner all of those years ago and Emilio switched from spending a lot of his free time with him rather than Doug.

Doug had been just as much of a bad boy as Emilio had been back then and just as much of a hound dog. According to other people, before Carhart had come into the picture Doug and Emilio had been a real duo. Both exotic in a way (Emilio's looks and Doug's ruggedly permanent tan and accent) and both not giving a shit about anything anyone had to say. They'd caused so much trouble together that they'd been prevented from even going on missions together.

The trouble followed Doug even when he was alone, though. He'd never had any respect for authority or any tolerance for someone barking orders at him. His talent as a fighter had saved his life and landed him the role of head training Instructor when it became obvious that he would never have the discipline for a field operative.

It was no mystery why the idea of Emilio preferring him to Doug had especially rankled the man, especially since he'd always considered Carhart an ambitious little kiss ass.

"That's a pretty loaded question, brother," Doug drawled finally. "Any particular reason you wanna know my opinion? My say so don't mean squat around here."

"You're the only other person who knows him as well as I do if not better. He may show you a side of himself that I never see."

Carhart thought it was likely that he saw aspects of Emilio's personality that Doug had never seen as well. He couldn't picture Emilio ever letting Doug, his past partner in crime, get a glimpse of the insecure and bitter man that he could sometimes become.

Doug's eyes were rapt on his face, curiosity and reluctance visible in every line. "I suspect you're askin' this for a damn good reason, yeah?"

"Yes," Carhart replied, attempting to keep his patience.

He wasn't even sure why he was asking Doug. It didn't matter in the long run. Doug didn't know what he knew. But somehow Carhart found that the answer was important to him. He found that he needed to hear something to make him figure out whether or not he was looking too deeply at the circumstantial evidence he'd gathered because he was angry at Emilio or if he had good reason to think Emilio was capable of what he'd done.

"Well then I guess I better answer." Doug tilted his head, his eyes rolling upward. "Since I met Emilio Vega, there was one thing that he always made pretty fucking crystal. He was his own top priority and he didn't give a witch's tit about how badly he could fuck you over if it meant he was getting what he wanted."

The Instructor dropped his steady gaze to Carhart again and gave a brief shrug. "And that's all I gotta say about that."

Carhart nodded and focused his eyes on the plate in front of him. Even though Doug was apparently in consensus about Emilio's character, it wasn't making anything clearer. He didn't even know why he'd thought hearing it would help.


"Don't mention it."

There was a stilted and uncomfortable silence. Carhart felt that the world was a very strange place when he suspected the man who got himself involved in soap opera dramas with his best friend's girlfriend was also a mass murderer capable of killing sleeping agents just to get back to living a life where that kind of stuff was possible.

Was Emilio really that unhinged that such a plot made sense? Yes. Most certainly. They'd had missions in the past where Emilio had suggested blowing up an unrelated building simply to create a diversion.

Was he really so cold-blooded that he'd carry on some ruthless campaign to destroy the Agency by being a double agent later on? Maybe. But Emilio loved the agent lifestyle too much and even then, he didn't ever think that far in advance. He lived in the moment.

"What the fuck is going on, Zachary?" Doug demanded finally. "You look like someone just shit in your coffee and you're asking me if I can trust Vega. What's this all about?"

Carhart met Doug's glare evenly and pushed the plate away from himself, having no delusions that he'd actually be able to eat anything on it.

"It's about knowing where everyone stands."

The General pushed his chair back and stood. He looked down at Doug and then walked away from the table without saying another word. It had probably been a mistake to even have said that much to Doug. Who knew what would happen if it all turned out to be true? And that was the big question that Carhart had no answer for.

He had no idea what he would do if it was.

He began walking again, out of the cafeteria and towards the elevator.

It seemed like he got to the Fourth Floor within a matter of two minutes when he'd have preferred for it to take longer. He had no plan of action of what he was actually aiming to do here and nothing had sprung to mind on the very brief journey upstairs. All Carhart knew for sure was that for some reason, he had to see her.

He came across Officer Grant on his way to Jane Doe's cell. The guard was stationed between the holding wing and the maximum security wing. He looked insanely bored. There wasn't much going on on the Fourth-- not anything that would be heard beyond the soundproofed rooms, anyway. The guard's presence was mostly necessary due to the fact that there wasn't constant surveillance beyond the point of maximum security. The people kept in holding were deemed not a threat and were either waiting to be released or to die.

"General!" It came out as more of a surprised exclamation than an address but Grant recovered himself quickly and nodded to his superior with respect. "What brings you here, sir?"

"I'm going to speak with one of the prisoners before her time with us expires," Carhart replied vaguely.

Grant nodded again, not appearing very interested in the news. This had been an occurrence ever since the list had come down for inmate termination.

"Well, good luck, sir. Hopefully you are able to find out all that you need."

"Let's hope so."

He turned away from Grant and walked to Jane Doe's holding space. Punching in the code and entering the metallic door that slid open caused him more anxiety than he thought was necessary considering the woman barely looked alive. But he was more concerned with what he would or wouldn't find out.

She was laying on a thin gurney and hooked up to an IV. Her body was barely more than skin and bones. She appeared to have aged two decades in the past year. Despite this, her eyes were still mostly clear and they focused on him as soon as he entered the room.

They stared at each other for a moment and for the first time, Carhart was thankful that there were no cameras in this wing.

"I know who you are and where you're from," he said abruptly.

A slim dark eyebrow lifted skeptically. She had a tough spirit, even at the end. And it was very obvious that she was near the end.

"A soldier in 4FF and a favorite of the man who called himself lo más chingón," Carhart said clearly, so he wouldn't be misunderstood. The last part was a bit of an assumption but not a difficult one considering the brooding expression that had been on Emilio's face when he'd mentioned the elusive Guerrera lookalike.

Jane Doe's reaction was discreet but it was the one he'd wanted. A slight widening of the eyes, mouth falling open in shocked disbelief-- all in one millisecond before Jane Doe's gaunt face shut down completely.

"I want to know why you came here."

"Go fuck yourself," was the tart, hoarse reply.

Carhart crossed his arms over his chest and paced closer to her. "I know who you are," he repeated again, an edge in his tone. "I know the man who told you to come here. The man who left you here and by his own admission, fucked you over."

Jane Doe looked uncertain again, but only briefly. "I do not know what you are speaking about," she said in her accented English but she was searching his face. And she didn't appear to be trying to hide that entirely.

"Why are you doing this?" he demanded impatiently, skipping all of the interrogation bullshit and getting to the point. "You allowed yourself to be tortured. Your mind isn't what it used to be even if you are focusing on me now. I know you scream at night. I know you go in and out of consciousness. I know you sometimes forget what you're saying as you say it. I know everything about you, girl. I know that you are slated to die. Soon. Sooner than you'd think even though you wouldn't last long in this state anyway."

"Good," she snapped harshly. "I welcome it."

"Because you let yourself be turned into this for a man who doesn't give a damn about you except what you could do for him. That's why you welcome it. Because you know your life has been forfeit from the moment you entered the compound and he left you here."

The silence that followed was charged. She seemed on the verge of saying many things but none of them crossed her lips and she turned her face away, to the wall. She looked frail and pathetic on the little gurney and he felt a profound pity for her. He felt shame at himself for harassing her in her final days. But he couldn't stop.

"So devoted," he said with deep disgust and loathing, unable to stop himself. "So devoted and do you even know what you're so devoted to? The charm, the danger, the fucking green eyes and smile?"

She didn't say anything and kept her face turned away.

"He's been fucking and carrying on exactly the same way as he'd likely been before he dragged you and your friends here. He doesn't mourn you. Why are you protecting him?"

Jane Doe didn't make a sound.

Carhart lost his temper. He stormed closer to her, putting a large hand on either side of the dinky metal gurney and leaned close to her face.

"Why. Are. You. Protecting. Him?" he growled, putting emphasis on each word. "Why?"

"Why does it matter to you?" she returned in the same hoarse, strained voice. She finally turned her head to meet his eyes. The proximity didn't appear to frighten her.

He didn't know. He couldn't answer. That wasn't the question he wanted to know. He wanted to know why Emilio had planned the attack-- why they'd come. He wanted to know if Emilio was the mole. Somewhere along the line that had become more important than the fact that Emilio had done it in the first place.

Carhart jerked back with a grunt of frustration and turned away, combing a hand through his hair. He was furious-- with himself, with her, with Emilio. But mostly himself. Because he knew how this was going to play out. He was as fucking bad as she was.

"This room is unmonitored," he informed her harshly. "That is why you are always escorted elsewhere before interrogation. I'm not here for the same reasons as them. I don't want anyone to know what we say here."

He faced her again and found her gaze rapt on him. Thoughtful and suspicious.

"He's-- he was my friend. Even before you knew him-- before he became lo más chingón. I want to know why he did this."

"If you are thinking that your friend is guilty-- what does his motive matter?" she asked in the same barely-there voice.

"It matters to me."

Their eyes met and in that moment he knew that she knew. She knew they were caught up in the same web. And that's probably the only reason why she ended up talking to him at all.

It seemed like hours later when he left the cell but it was only a matter of twenty minutes. His head was still spinning.

The apartment was eerily quiet when he returned. Since their bust up, Emilio mostly stayed to himself in the tiny room they'd created for him. He seemed resentful that his Victoria plan had backfired-- that his plan to show how traitorous she was had in fact cast him as the villain. His mind didn't work like other people's and neither did his logic.

"You need to leave here now," was the first thing out of Carhart's mouth.

Emilio looked over from his brooding contemplation of the ceiling and stared. He was laying on the small sofa that was crammed into the room, wearing jeans and nothing more. "I told you, I'm looking for a place."

"Now." The word came out with all of the ice cold ire that Carhart could muster and he shuddered violently, unable to keep the anger in check. Confirmation of what he'd hoped had been wild suspicions had hit him harder than expected. Confirmation that he and Gioia had a lot more in common than he'd thought was even worse.

"What's up, Zachary?" Emilio asked slowly, luminous green eyes narrowed with caution as he pulled himself into a sitting position on the bed.

"Gioia is what's up," Carhart said with chilling precision. He forced himself to look at Emilio again and the man's complete lack of alarm made Carhart's temper rise even further.

"I figured you would find out about her sooner or later," Emilio said simply, face guarded but not looking frightened in the least. "You know me better than anyone. And I let a lot slip around you."

Carhart made a sound of disgust deep in his throat and turned away, holding up a hand as if to ward the older Vega away. He swallowed convulsively before demanding, "How could you do it?"

"I needed Connors gone," Emilio replied flatly and Carhart knew he was telling the truth.

He knew that Emilio wasn't the mole. The raid and everything else was unconnected. According to the girl who called herself Gioia, Emilio had planned the raid at the spur of the moment after encountering Boyd and Sin. In the end, some things had rung true. It had been his son's arrival in Mexico that had prompted Emilio to return and he'd taken the most ostentatious and insane route to get back into the Agency. The wildest thing imaginable but the one that would make him the least likely suspect.

"Self-defense," Emilio said when Carhart didn't answer. For a moment he sounded a lot like Sin had several years ago during the very first partner trials. "I knew Boyd would mention 4FF to you. I knew Connors would find the fuck out and hunt me. He needed to be out of the picture if I wanted to live. Coming back to the Agency was a bonus."

"And what do you call sacrificing your 4FF pals?"

"Hey," Emilio growled, finally sounding like he was feeling something other than mild interest in the direction of the conversation. "I fucking told them there was a chance. There always was when we went out like that. Fuck-- that wasn't even the worst fight we'd ever been in. There have been times when we've lost scores of men and had the heads of kidnapped guys sent to us later. Don't fucking preach to me."

"Seen Gioia lately?" Carhart demanded scornfully, enjoying it when Emilio flinched.

"I told her," Emilio said angrily. "I fuckin' told her to stay with me so I could make sure she'd be okay. I told her to run if we got separated and not to try to take anyone on one-on-one. Trying to prove how fucking strong she is, she did just the opposite and got fucked by Hsin of all people."

"As if you hadn't thought it was a possibility that she wouldn't come across him?" was the derisive retort. "Or perhaps you'd thought maybe Sin had died in the residential buildings that were destroyed so there wouldn't be a threat?"

Emilio's face contorted into fury and he jumped to his feet. "You shut the fuck up," he snarled viciously. "I'm sick of you thinkin' you know what's up with me and my son. He ain't your son, got it? He's mine."

"And yet you put his life in danger. He could have died in his bed without even having the chance to react just so--"

"I told Hector," Emilio hissed from between grit teeth, green eyes glittering dangerously. "To kill the lights and create a fucking diversion. Not to smash the fucking buildings like World War fucking IV."

"Of course. Always an excuse. Never your fault. It was your idea to storm the castle but you didn't know they'd use catapults instead of arrows."

They looked away from each other and the room was practically humming with tension.

"You really hate me now. Is that it?" Emilio demanded harshly. "I kinda thought you'd known already. Thought you'd figured it out..."

"No." Carhart shook his head, mouth in a thin line. "No."

A humorless chuckle escaped Emilio's lips. "And here I stupidly thought you just... got me. Thought you understood."

"Oh, I understand." Their eyes met again and this time Emilio flinched away from the weight of Carhart's glare. "I understand that you are far sicker than I had ever thought imaginable. Far more deranged and sociopathic. And now you must understand that you have to leave my apartment, now. I can't have you here. I don't care where you go."


"No." Carhart said from between his clenched teeth. "I'm done with this. I'm done with you. I'm sick of this game we have going between us. Whatever was or could have been-- whatever would have happened-- it's done. Your secret will die with her, and that will be before this night is over."

The General didn't look at Emilio to guage his reaction to that news. "I'm just as sick as you are. I'm willing to keep your secret. Somehow, I still can't see you die. But you have to go because I can't fucking deal with you anymore. I swear to fucking God, Emilio, for once in your life think of someone other than yourself."

"Zachary--" Emilio tried again, an edge of pained desperation in his voice. He made a move as if to come closer and for the first time in his life, Carhart got the drop on Emilio. He sent the other man flying half across the room until he slammed into the door with a grunt.

"I'm keeping your secret. Now you leave me be."

There was a finality to his voice that caused a shred of pride to rise up from the remains of Carhart's battered ego. He'd forgiven so much over the years but this was bigger than him. It was bigger than them. And he couldn't do it anymore.

And for the first time, Emilio seemed to understand that Carhart was being real. He wasn't fighting some inevitable attraction that Emilio wished was there. He was abjuring Emilio and he meant every word.

When Carhart finally looked at his former partner and former friend, for the first time in years he wasn't struck by the pain he saw there. For the first time he didn't wonder what could be causing the darkness in those typically carefree eyes.

For the first time he didn't care.

"Get out."

Emilio left. For the first time, he didn't come back.

This concludes the Interludes. Continue the series with Book 3: Fade prologue.