Tacos, Raggaeton, and Paranoia

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Tacos, Raggaeton, and Paranoia

Interlude 3.17

Uploaded on 8/29/2009

A Week Before The Final Scene of Cause/Effect

The smell of cooked meat wafted through the apartment and Carhart's eyelids flickered slightly as his still half-asleep brain tried to figure out why that would be. He could hear the muffled sound of raggaeton through the door and a faint, sleepy smile crossed his lips as he realized that he not only recognized the beat of the particular song but also that the sound of it was actually growing on him.

His cerulean blue eyes slid open and for a moment Carhart just stared into space, his gaze automatically resting on the window. Streams of sunlight shone through the slanted blinds and warmth accompanied the golden rays.

The sight struck him and for a moment the General of Field Agent Activity allowed himself a rare moment of simply laying in bed and enjoying the feel of the mattress beneath him, the cool sheets that were strewn against his muscular back and the foreign sight of real summer sunlight.

After nearly two decades of nuclear winter, summer was starting to feel familiar again.

Carhart's eyes slid closed and he allowed the warmth of the sun to wash over him as the bass of the music thrummed against the walls and mixed with the sound of something sizzling on the stovetop.

It was easy to temporarily forget where he was.

It was easy to forget that he was in an Agency-issued apartment in a concrete compound full of assassins. It was easy to forget that he was waking up at four in the afternoon because he'd spent the entire night and early morning in his office, playing catch up on intel that had gone unattended in two weeks of network downtime. It was easy to forget that a couple of weeks ago he'd taken part in a dangerous plot to protect Sin from termination, that he'd arranged for a skeleton staff on the Fourth when it all went down to ensure minimal resistance when Emilio broke in to rescue his son.

It was easy to forget how close to termination Carhart would be if the Marshal or anyone from the European division ever found out.

For a moment it was easy to just lay there and soak in the fact that this felt familiar. Scarily familiar.

It felt like home.

It felt like Saturday mornings on a normal day back before his life had become something else entirely. It reminded him of a night full of sex with his beautiful wife and then the morning afterglow and leisure that made him stay in bed and bask in it.

But then Carhart opened his eyes again, he heard his phone beeping, and reality came crashing back.

While he was lounging in bed and daydreaming, a killer was somewhere on the loose. A killer who'd tried to frame Sin and had nearly gotten him terminated. A killer who knew the compound well enough to sneak in and out undetected and who had likely coordinated the virus attack that had shut down surveillance well before the murder had been carried out.

Or, more disturbing, a killer who was still on the compound now.

Carhart threw off the sheets and sat up. He rested his feet on the carpet, rolling his broad shoulders and standing after another lingering moment. His grey boxer briefs were twisted slightly around his thighs and he adjusted them unconsciously as he retrieved his phone from the dresser.

A message from Aisha. Vivienne wanted him in her office first thing in the morning.

Carhart allowed a wan smile to cross his lips. An entire day of downtime. He couldn't remember the last time that had happened.

He walked across the bedroom and grabbed a t-shirt on his way out, pulling it on as he walked down the hallway and into the living room. The music got louder but not overpoweringly so and he stopped just inside the arched doorway to watch his 'temporary' flatmate.

Emilio was standing at the junction where the kitchen and the living room met, wearing jeans that were so shredded they looked like they'd been caught in a trash compactor. He was shirtless, his hair unstyled and unruly. He was holding a large wooden spoon in one hand and the television remote control in the other as his green eyes focused intently on the large flat screen.

"What are you doing?"

"Shh!" Emilio hissed, dark eyebrows drawing together and well-formed mouth curling down into an annoyed frown. He gestured the sauce-covered spoon at Carhart vaguely and the General watched in dismay as splatters landed on the carpet.

"If you're trying to watch television, it might help if you turned down the music," Carhart said dryly, moving to turn down the volume of the music and grabbing a paper towel from the bar to clean up the mess.

"I'm not trying to listen, I'm trying to pay attention," Emilio muttered but then made a face, pressed a button on the controller, and returned to the kitchen with a grumble.

"What are you watching, anyway?" Carhart looked up at the TV, half expecting to find porn. Instead, to his horror, he saw a stilled image of what appeared to be a copy of a video recording of a mission, specifically some kind of storm. Two dead bodies lay on the screen down a hallway and Emilio had frozen the video as the person carrying the recording device, likely himself, fought with a hostile.

"Emilio, what the fuck?"

"Not right now, sweetheart; maybe after I finish preparing my meat."

Carhart stared at the wall in confusion before he made a face and walked around to the kitchen. Emilio grinned at him innocently and put a lid back on a large pan that presumably was full of said meat. He instead turned to the counter and began expertly dicing onions. A plate of corn tortillas sat nearby as well as a bowl full of diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, grated cheese and green salsa.


Carhart almost forgot his alarm and irritation in the face of such a treat. He hadn't had homemade tacos since, well, since before Emilio had 'died.'

"What-- no." Carhart shook his head, resisting the urge to take the lid off the pan and inhale the scent of cooking meat and spices. "I said what. the. fuck. Not 'want to fuck,' you idiot."

"Your loss."

"Where did you get that video?" Carhart demanded, ignoring the comment.

Emilio shrugged, dumping the onions off the chopping block and into another small bowl. "Your woman is making me take a recording device on solo missions until she's absolutely positively for sure that I'm not doing something odd. Don't think she trusts me."

"First of all, she's not my woman," Carhart said acidly. "Second of all, I'm well aware of why the video exists and it's not because she thinks you're untrustworthy-- if that were the case you wouldn't have been reinstated. It's because she wants to ensure you're following Agency protocol. And thirdly-- that video is confidential and only accessed by upper level admin and if you--"

Carhart stopped short and stared at the other man in alarm. "You didn't use my access code, did you?"

Emilio blinked at him innocently, which was canceled out by the fact that he was standing half naked in all of his tattooed glory, holding a knife that was larger than absolutely necessary to chop vegetables. "I don't know your access code, Zachary."

"Oh, so my door just opens for you all on its own?"

Emilio shrugged and placed the knife on the counter, turning to the stove again and flicking off the burner under the meat. He turned on another burner and waved his hand over it to ensure warmth before grabbing the plate of tortillas. "It's not my fault you're fucking predictable. Ever since I've known you your passcode is always the same shit. Your wife's birthday, your son's birthday, their birthdays backwards, the day they were killed."

"That doesn't answer the question," Carhart snapped, although he realized it was true.

Emilio began heating the tortillas on the heated electric coils of the stove and made a face. "I miss gas ovens."

"Emilio, answer my goddamn question!"

Pale green eyes slid over to him and Emilio sighed in exasperation. "Get your panties out of your ass crack, General. The kid in data retrieval made a copy of it for me."

Carhart relaxed somewhat now that he was no way attached to the breach of confidentiality. "And why in the hell would he break protocol to do that?"

Emilio's lips lifted slightly at the side and he gave another one shouldered shrug. "I asked nicely."

"Yeah, I bet," Carhart muttered, rolling his eyes and grabbing a plate to place on the counter for the heated tortillas. Emilio stacked them on the plate and Carhart dropped the topic, instead going to move the bowls to the kitchen table.

"I wanna eat in the living room."

Carhart grimaced but didn't argue the point. It'd become an ongoing debate between the two of them. He didn't like eating full meals on the sofa, especially potentially messy ones that involved eating with one's hands, and Emilio liked it so that he could watch television or listen to music or do whatever the hell else he felt could only be done in the living room.

Since the other man had actually gone out of his way to cook, Carhart figured it was only fair to let him have his way. This time.

They set up the bowls and plates along the coffee table and Carhart settled in with a plate packed full of homemade tacos with his other hand holding a nice, cold beer.

Emilio turned the video on again and they watched silently as the mission played out. To Carhart's eye it was a flawlessly executed storm and seizure but Emilio replayed the video in multiple sections to critique his own performance.

"I hate working with a team now," Emilio said at one point as the audio captured him issuing hushed commands on his comm. "It fucking sucks. I don't know any of these new kids and they're all obnoxious as hell."

"Wasn't Archer there?" Carhart hunched over the couch to reach for more taco fixings, throwing together two more. The meat was delicious and not for the first time did Carhart marvel at the fact that Emilio could actually cook, even better than the General, who considered it a favored hobby.

"Yeah. I wouldn't trust any of these random new people with covering my ass. He's had a fucking hawk eye and a way with a rifle since we were kids." Emilio took a gulp of his beer and shook his head, narrowing his eyes at the screen.

"They're not new, you've just been gone."

"Yeah, well, whatever."

Carhart glanced at Emilio, surprised by the resentful tone of his voice. Emilio just looked back, not hiding his frown or the obvious aggravation in his expression.

"Does it really bother you? Having missed out on so much?"

Emilio shrugged and twisted the neck of his beer bottle between his hands. "I guess. I didn't think it would piss me off as much as it does but a lot of shit pisses me off. It pisses me off that I need a team at all."

"Emilio, your team consisted of three other people," Carhart said dryly. "And one of those people stayed in the van to do tactical. You outperformed field agents who have been steadily active for a decade and you're still nitpicking. You're too damned paranoid."

Emilio looked at the screen again, full lips downturned. "I'm not as fast as I used to be. It took me thirty-seven seconds to take down two fucking guys."

"Well-trained armored security personnel," Carhart corrected around a mouthful of taco.

"What the fuck ever, bro, I would have had those guys down in like ten seconds in the past."

Carhart made a face at that, feeling salsa sliding down the side of his mouth as he responded. "I think you're remembering a fantasy of superhero-like proportions."

"Hsin doe--" Emilio looked at his former partner again and stopped in midsentence. He stared at Carhart, blinked twice, and started speaking again. "Hsin doesn't need some stupid team."

Carhart wiped his mouth with a napkin and rested his plate on the coffee table before sitting back on the sofa. The cushion felt wonderful against his stiff back and he closed his eyes, letting his head rest against it. The combination of a warm breeze, a full stomach and just being able to sit still for several moments at a time had an incredibly soothing effect on him.

"Comparing yourself to Sin is pointless," Carhart said finally, blond eyelashes resting against his face, not opening his eyes. "He's in a class of his own."

This time the silence stretched and even though Carhart could feel Emilio's gaze burning into him, he didn't open his eyes. He felt too comfortable at the moment to be bothered spending the entire conversation trying to analyze Emilio's expressions.

"Are you like in fucking love with my son or something?"

Carhart's eyes snapped open and his mouth actually dropped open as he stared at Emilio incredulously. "What?"

Emilio didn't look amused as his pale green eyes burned into Carhart intently, well-formed mouth sculpted into a scowl. "You heard me, fucker. Are you having some kind of secretly gay homo infatuation with my boy or what?"

"Wha-- H--" Carhart shook his head in disbelief. "Are you an idiot?"

"I'm getting real fucking tired of you calling me an idiot," Emilio practically growled, irritation coming off him in waves.

Carhart stared at him for a moment longer and switched tactics. "Why would you say something so odd?"

Emilio eyeballed Carhart for a moment longer, taking in his half horrified and half incredulous expression and visibly relaxed, seeming to abandon the idea altogether. "I dunno. You're always talking about him like you worship him and shit."

The General made a face and grabbed his beer from the table. The bottle was sweating and small beads of water slid down onto his fingers. "I don't talk about him like I worship him. He's just an incredibly... unparalleled soldier. I haven't met anyone who could defeat him or do the things he can."

Emilio opened his mouth to protest but Carhart continued before he could say anything. "I'm not saying his actual fighting skills are superior to yours; after all, you taught him everything he knows since he certainly hasn't taken up with any trainers here. But the way he uses his strength and speed is unfuckingcanny."

Emilio seemed to take this into consideration and apparently decided it was acceptable because he didn't argue the point.

"Also, I do love him but like a son."

"Well, he ain't your son; he's mine. Don't get it twisted, Zachary."

Carhart finished his beer and studied his friend closely. The resentful expression had made another appearance on Emilio's handsome face.

"Do you regret going underground for so many years?"

Emilio shrugged. "I didn't have a choice. Connors would have had a hit squad on my ass the first time he heard my name on the wire and since I had contacts who are also Agency contacts, he would have found out."

"Yes, but does it piss you off that you had to do it? Would you have preferred to come back to the Agency?" Carhart shook his head skeptically at his own question but added. "I mean, you've been behaving like you're angry that you haven't been here all along. Like you wish you would have never had to leave."

"'Cause it's true, that's why I've been acting like that," Emilio said bluntly. He frowned again and flicked off the TV. "And don't give me that shocked look-- I've never been down on the Agency. I've never regretted getting involved with this place. I just fucking hated Connors with a passion but now he's dead and he was the one behind most of the shit they did to Hsin so that's a bonus too. Vivienne is an annoying cunt but at least she doesn't torture my kid unnecessarily. She didn't even put him in the box whenever that Investigator chick got sliced and diced."

Carhart inclined his head slightly and didn't mention the fact that he suspected the new Marshal would be a combination of Vivienne's cold efficiency and Connors' heartless cruelty. In other words, a perfect blend of everything by the Agency's standards. Carhart knew deep down in his core that changes would be coming to the compound at the start of the new year but it was nothing he could change and he constantly pushed the anxiety to the back of his mind.

"I thought you were living the good life down in Mexico," Carhart said instead. "I never would have suspected you missed being a field agent."

Emilio sighed long and loud and stretched on the couch, sliding backwards and down until his knees bumped into the coffee table. He extended his arms backwards, causing muscles to ripple and flex, before threading them behind his head as he gazed into space. "It was awesome at first. At first it was all about challenges and fun and spontaneous shit and the fact that I never knew where things were headed. It was about short term goals-- disappear from the Agency's view-- check. Meet up with my buddies down in Mexico and get a little crew going--check. Then it was get established, get money, take over this dude's route and this dude's territory."

Carhart nodded but didn't interrupt. It was the first time Emilio had really explained his thought processes since coming back to the Agency.

Emilio tilted his head back against the sofa and looked at the darkened TV screen as he continued, his deep voice surprisingly subdued as he recounted the events from his eighteen-year-long criminal career. "It only took about five years to take over, dude. After that it was pretty much just us in control of shit. And believe it or not, Zach, I don't really get off on having everyone and their second cousin kiss my ass just 'cause I'm top dog. It got old real fast. I mean it was fun for another few years but after a decade, what was there left to do? Bump any up and coming groups off the radar for the fuck of it? Keep dealing guns and shit to people and making money when I'm already pretty filthy rich?"

"How rich?" Carhart asked automatically, his curiosity piqued.

Emilio shrugged, not even looking enthused enough about the entire thing to brag. "I dunno. I'm probably richer than that Thierry fag."

Carhart's eyebrows shot up and he had to stop himself from gaping.

"But what the fuck am I gonna do with all of that money?" Emilio demanded rhetorically. "It was pointless to even keep doing business with 4FF-- I'd already made it big and after nearly twenty years, the shit wasn't even exciting anymore. I just felt stuck in this fucking situation that was getting really boring really fast and it made me fucking hate everyone and everything. I became such a dickhead, bro."

"You even have commitment issues with criminal activities," Carhart observed mildly.

"Shut up, Zach, I'm serious," Emilio snapped, scowling at the other man.

"Sorry, go on."

Mollified, Emilio shrugged. "All I pretty much did after awhile was snort coke and fuck whores. Which is fun for awhile but then I started thinking like-- shit, I'm probably going to die in some really stupid embarrassing fucked up way like OD on some shit or get some STD from some dirty skank and that sucks, man. And it's all because fucking 4FF and being Chingón was boring as shit."

"I... see." Carhart didn't see how running a massive smuggling organization could be boring but then again he wasn't a sociopathic action junkie who didn't plan farther than the next few days.

"When I die," Emilio said firmly, dark eyebrows drawing together over his brilliant green eyes. "I wanna die like a man. Like a bad ass motherfucker in a hail of bullets and shit, not like some chump who's all strung out on drugs."

"Then... don't do drugs?"

Emilio threw him an exasperated look. "Then I'd be in my right frame of mind and a fucking insufferable jackass because of how bored and resentful I got to be over the whole situation. I'd get in the kind of fucked up mood that would make me order two dudes to beat the shit out of each other just because I was in the mood to watch someone bleed."


There was a brief silence and Carhart studied Emilio closely, wishing for once in his life that he could understand the other man. For someone who could be so intelligent and so rational, there were times when Carhart saw how truly fucked up Emilio was in the head. He may not be as chemically unbalanced as his son but there was definitely not something right with the way Emilio thought.

"So you missed the Agency. The missions at three in the morning, the storms, the uncertainty, the authority figures that watched you from under a microscope and could end your life whenever you push the wrong buttons." Carhart narrowed his eyes slightly. "So does this mean your whole diatribe about coming back for Sin was bullshit and you just allowed us to track you down so your life could be exciting again?"

"No," Emilio snapped, glaring. "I'd never decided to come back. I'd gotten myself all set up to be a pissed off little bitch for the rest of my life. But seeing my boy again made me want to come back. Not just for some mushy reasons, that shit came later. But it made me remember how it was to be an agent and to be sent to all of these different places, getting to make up covers and stuff. It was fun."


"But even then I wasn't about to come running back or whatever, not with Connors' bitch ass still around. But when I saw Hsin all fucked up like that, nearly dead, obviously tortured and probably about to die..."

Emilio paused and he seemed to be uncertain of what he wanted to say so in the end he just shook his head. "Anyway, I guess that just hammered it home that I wanted to come back in. I missed the excitement for sure but I guess seeing my boy all grown up... I kind of wanted to see him too. Out of curiosity, I mean."

"Of course. Curiosity." Carhart smirked at Emilio knowingly. The man couldn't even bring himself to admit caring about his own child. It was amazing but Emilio tended to be so blatantly transparent that Carhart couldn't fault him for it. One thing Emilio had never mastered the art of was hiding his thoughts even though he could put on an act and shift the attention to something else at the drop of a hat.

Emilio looked at him sharply, eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion before the expression faded away into a faint half smile. He kept his gaze trained on Carhart for a long moment before he finally cleared his throat and sat up.

"These tacos are amazing. Maybe I shoulda gone to culinary school."

"The fresh produce and meat help. The Service people are very good about acquiring the good stuff. The Expense Department must have a fit when the food bills come in. Or else the Agency has a secret cache of farm animals beneath the Tower."

Emilio smirked. "I thought that's where they keep the bodies of failed fieldies."

Carhart shrugged. "Maybe they feed them to the animals. Or else they're feeding us the field agents and telling us it's cow."

"Interesting." Emilio's eyebrows rose and his grin turned wicked. "So if that had all gone to shit last week, we'd be sitting here eating Hsin right now."

"An unpleasant thought and I highly doubt I'd be sitting here calmly eating tacos if Sin had been killed," Carhart replied dryly, sitting up to prepare himself another one.

Emilio's grin turned into an outright leer. "Oh, come on, Zachary. You can't deny that Vega meat is the tastiest kind."

Carhart prepared an incredibly overstuffed tortilla and didn't bother to reply.

Continue to the next interlude: 3.21, A Matter of Time, Part I