Appreciation: Many thanks to Ophelia, who beta read a very early version of this story. The muse struck again, I rewrote. So any mistakes are most certainly my own.
WARNING: This is a dark one. Rated R for graphic, violent imagery, and a bit of language. Mr. Sark is not a nice man. In and among other things, he kills for his living. Please do not read any further if you feel you might be offended by scenes of assassination or death.
Last note: Please, please read and respond! All feedback, positive or flaming, is cherished.
Tuscany. The Sloane Villa.
"Time, 1:07 am. Subject has just entered REM sleep. Commencing audio visual recording now."
He pushes a button to begin the feed, then turns to the relief man who's just set his silver coffee mug down on the monitor table. "He started again. Sloane wants this tape sent to the Doc first thing in the morning for analysis. He needs to make sure Golden Boy isn't showing signs of Post Traumatic Stress." He snorts. "Y'ask me, it ain't a question, though you'd never know it by daylight. But what do you expect? You incinerate 62 people inside of a church? Man, I don't care who you are, that's got to mess you up. Big time."
Zagreb. City Center. Late evening.
He has been watching for hours, reading a paper, sipping dark coffee, letting his mind roam over near present agendas, ordering rumors and whispers of information into patterns and forms. A black Mercedes pulls up to the restaurant across the square, and future transactions dissolve into the business at hand.
There's someone in that car who has chosen to become ambitious- taking a little nibble here, a little morsel there. Plucking ever so carefully from the edges of the Man's operation in the Balkans. He understands the whys and hows of betrayal- the enticement of a challenge, the amoeba drive to expand one's borders. Were he in a lesser position, he might choose to do the same. But he is not, and a clear example must be made: Irina's organization remains inviolate, despite her absence.
Honestly though, he's moved beyond such middle management strong-arming. From champion and royal steward to regent in one swift move. There are others to whom he could have assigned this task. Or not. Sitting in the SD- 6 offices day after day playing to Sloane has made him feel out of touch.
He stands casually, discarding the paper on the seat next to him. He decides to leave a guard alive. Someone who can limp back to the remaining middle managers of this crumbling organization to tell them that they've made a distinct tactical error. Maybe he'll let them all scramble off into the shadows. Maybe he'll reach out and finish the matter decisively.
His eyes are storm gray as he watches three men in black suits head for the club entrance, and he feels himself falling into operational mode. The target is acquired; his mind is already focused on the convergence point. That simplified place where metal will impact bone with the swift movement of an arm, a finger, a tracking eye.
He steps out from underneath the café awning, and begins to stride toward them. The unexpected hunter. An elegant, mechanical predator. He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out his .45. It slips into his hand, smooth heavy iron molding to the plane of his palm.
The first bodyguard pulls at the restaurant door, holding it for his employer. His motion turns him halfway round, and he sees the approaching stranger, weapon in hand, and calls out a warning. Too late. Sark raises his gun and pulls the trigger. Once, twice, three times. Brain, throat and heart. Three men hit the ground, slack and bloodied.
Adrenaline surges through his body. He's done so little. Barely worthy of the word 'work.' He revels in the quickness and precision. The beauty of a surgical strike. Irina would be satisfied, though he'd forgotten to leave one standing. Ah well. He'll send a card instead.
He begins to turn away, a smooth motion that denies knowledge and participation, when his peripheral vision registers a fourth, a flash of blue, coming in fast and low from the restaurant alley. He pivots and shoots, all in one motion- and a child falls to the ground, a little bundle in a blue coat. Her body twitches, her fingers scrabbling at the concrete as her mind starves of oxygen and dies. A barmaid- her mother- crouches over her, mute in panic and shock, hands grasping frantically at her little one. Then the convulsions stop and a thin keening reaches his ears, a mother's wailing that follows him like a Fury as he runs away. His feet are made of lead; his heart is frozen inside his chest.
Roma. Hotel d'Estella. 12am.
The woman poses on the edge of a satin bed, legs crossed, red lips curving in anticipation as the key card clicks into the lock. Her crimson robe slips down one arm, exposing a creamy shoulder, the swell of a breast. She is an image of perfection, a testament to her surgeon's skill. Full lips, full breasts, taut skin. She is flushed and ready for him. Her new lover. So young. So solicitous. She thought her husband would never leave the city.
He enters the room, closing the door softly behind him. He steps inside a few feet and pauses, leaning against the wall, his hands clasped at his waist. The light halos his head, picking up the golden highlights in his hair. His face is hidden in shadow. She smiles at him coyly. Her eyes ask, 'Do you like what you see?' She stretches out a leg to close the distance between them.
Her searching foot falls far short, and he makes no move to join her. She stiffens, unsure of herself for the first time since she met this handsome young man, two days ago.
He comes to a decision. Orders have been given that have made a possibly unpleasant task into a necessity. One on which he cannot afford to have an opinion. Though really, Sloane should have simply tasked him to locate and extract the manuscript. This op is a waste of his time, a waste of her life.
He shoves off from the wall, his fingers wrapping around the handle of the silenced gun stuffed into the holster hidden under his coat. He takes one step forward and she smiles again, 'Come hither, my darling.' His hand comes up. A nerve fires, the trigger is squeezed, just once. The bullet tears through her chest cavity at close range. She is flung backward, body arched, arms outstretched toward him, long fingers imploring.
He does not enter the room further. He merely regards her remains, to all outward view impassive. He must compartmentalize, file this away, press onward.
Sloane's methods are different from Irina's. Less palatable. Closer to madness. Sloane makes no distinction between combatant and innocent. There is only the end goal and obstacles to be swept aside in obtaining it.
Sark resists the urge to close Amelia's robe and exits, leaving her exposed and bloodied and cold. Sloane will repeat his question to her widower tomorrow: Where is the Rambaldi folio? Tonight Sark has another engagement. Another assignment. With their daughter, a sweet grad student with long brown hair and endless black eyes. He's sure her father will see reason.
Mexico City. Outside the Vatican Embassy.
He thumbs the disconnect on his cell phone, rests his head in his hands for a moment, brutally pushing down a sense of panic. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn.
He turns his head minutely and stares for a moment at the odd construction next to him. A precision nuclear device. Blueprinted during the Renaissance. And fucking Sloane proposes to release it to a man whose first impulse is to kill his ex-wife.
Tentative strains of music float out from the balcony above the entrance of the church. The choir is warming up. He glances quickly outside the van, notes that people are starting to gather for evening service. He recognizes the soft, plaintive words: Angus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eius pacem. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
He finds he is holding his breath.
This moment will define him. All the deaths in their terrible variety, all the blood that has gone before will be meaningless compared to this. The CIA will know, and so then will Interpol, the European intelligence agencies. Those in his line of work monitor such things. Rumors will fly round the globe, and his reputation will grow or diminish, depending on the hearer.
He knows how he came to this, just as he knows that he will do it. This is as far as his crisis of conscience can go.
In an irreversible moment it is done. He sets the controls, steps out of the van and moves like hell, even though he knows he'll have to come back to retrieve the device. Caplan had fucking better have gotten his mathematics right. A few decimals off either way, and it'll be him burning from the inside out, just like the staffers inside that church.
As his foot hits the curb, he can hear the screaming start, see the first bodies ignite.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
The vaulted ceilings in his bedroom catch the sound of his voice as he wakes, throwing it back down at him, tossing it along the walls and windows. He finds himself poised half standing at the edge of his bed, ready to fight or to flee. His breath tears in his throat and he moans softly.
He cannot predict when this will happen. When all the neatly secured compartments of his mind open one by one, like treasure boxes, releasing perfect technicolor replays of events he disdains to remember by daylight.
All his training tells him that such dreams, within bounds, are a normal by- product of his vocation. Irina- who has long experience with such things- has told him that he will acclimate.
He has to believe her. He is only 22, and this anxiety is new to him.
He runs a hand across this face, scraping away the sweat and oil, the evidence of his fear. His nostrils are still burning, and his head swims with excess oxygen.
He slowly stands, and makes his way to the shower. He'll get no rest tonight.
It hurts to sleep.