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Roulette by alyse and chya [ - ]
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Category: CI5: The New Professionals > Slash
Characters: Chris Keel, Sam Curtis
Rating: NC-17
Genres: Angst
Warnings: Non-consensual

Summary: When CI5 are asked to carry out a routine surveillance assignment, a face from Sam Curtis' past brings back a nightmare he'd hoped to escape from and has dire consequences for his friend and partner, Chris Keel.





Kudos: Many thanks to our excellent beta Lou, for the eagle eyed spotting of typos. Thanks also to Brenda for providing the Russian translations, Kate for the medical advice and Jill for providing information about the Port of London Authority.

~*~

Moscow, late March 1993

Cold. It was so cold. Aleksandr - he'd long since ceased to think of himself as anything but Aleksandr - shivered violently. He was aware on some level that if he didn't find shelter soon he'd be at risk of hypothermia or pneumonia or both, but the thought wasn't urgent. All he wore under his thick coat was a loose pair of pants, and even they rubbed against his injuries, sending sharp flares of agony through him with every step he took.

Left foot. Right foot.

It was all he could think of. One foot in front of the other. Everything had narrowed down to that single objective. Left foot. Right foot. There was nothing else. If he concentrated simply on the act of walking, he could relegate the pain to some small, dark corner of his mind. If all he thought about was making his legs move, he could shove the memories down there too. It wasn't about escape anymore. It wasn't about getting to the safe house or about passing the information he'd discovered to his controller, it was just about moving first the left foot and then the right foot.

There was a bar up ahead, the light from the open doorway spilling out over the pavement. He pulled his hood up tighter, hiding the pale face with its bruises from view. It was late, and there were few people around, but his sense of self-preservation reared up enough to carry out that one simple act, unconscious though it may have been. He couldn't be spotted. If he was...

Left foot. Right foot. Don't think about. Don't think about what would happen if he were caught. Don't think about what had already happened. If he stopped to think, stopped to remember, he'd curl up in one of those doorways and he'd die. He hoped he'd die anyway. Die before Konstantin found him again.

Left foot.

Right foot.

It was becoming harder and harder to move. His feet were weighted down with lead. He was walking through water and it swirled around him with every step, threatening to drag him down, and he'd drown. Right here, on a side street, he'd drown, and maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing. The streetlights dimmed and flickered. He wasn't sure if that was happening in what passed for the 'real world' or whether it was his vision. He didn't care. He didn't care about anything but walking.

Left foot.

Some drunks stumbled out of the bar, and with that same sense of self-preservation, he moved out of their path. Or tried to, but he was so tired, so very tired, and he didn't make it. One bounced off him, and knocked him to his knees, a fresh wave of agony passing through him, making him nauseous. He struggled to remain conscious. He couldn't remember why. He couldn't remember much of anything anymore, and he thought that that might be a blessing.

His hip was bleeding again. He could feel it, the chill wind whipping underneath his coat to turn the warmth of his blood to ice. It would be so easy to just lie down and give up, but he had some feeling that the man who wasn't Aleksandr Dubranov, the one he'd once been with the same face but different name, wouldn't give up, although he wasn't even sure of that anymore.

There was a hand on his arm, and for a brief second he fought down a feral panic, the adrenaline rush through his body leaving him weak, swaying on his knees in its wake. She had a kind face, he thought dimly through the fog, plain and matronly, even if her current expression was a little drunk. He wondered vaguely what she thought of him. He could see his face reflected clearly in her glasses. Thinner than it had been, his grey-green eyes burning with a combination of fear, pain and low-grade fever, his dark hair falling into his face.

She pulled back slightly, his appearance finally penetrating her drink addled brain, and then her natural affability seemed to reassert itself and she reached down again to pull him to his feet.

"Sprazhal, golubchik?" (Been in a fight, dear?) she asked, beaming up at him and supporting him while he swayed slightly.

"Da," (Yes) he replied, his voice strangely steady. "Poteryal." (I lost.)

She laughed at that as though it was the funniest thing she'd heard all evening, also swaying slightly as the vodka she'd obviously consumed hit in the cold night air. He disengaged himself gently, thanking her, his voice still steady, and concentrated once more on placing one foot in front of the other.

His mind was screaming at him to be careful, she could be a plant, this could all be a set-up and if he wasn't careful he'd end up back in Konstantin's clutches, but he didn't listen. Couldn't listen. Couldn't hear anything but his heart thumping and the soft sounds of his footfalls on the pavement.

Right foot.

The noise of the bar, the yelling and the singing, faded behind him. He dimly recognised some of the street names now, memorised by the man he used to be way back when. Although he'd never been in this part of the city before, those memories took over, leading his faltering steps in the right direction.

Left foot.

It was darker here, the streetlights further apart. He was moving away from the bars and restaurants, into a residential area. Hopefully no one would be looking for Aleksandr Dubranov here.

Right foot.

There. Ahead of him. A street name he recognised, sending a flicker of hope through him. It was an odd sensation, one he hadn't felt in what seemed like forever. Then a house number, one that was burned into his brain. There were steps leading up to the front door, and a row of bells, indicating which family lived in which flat. Still swaying, he cast his eyes over the names, hoping one would leap out at him. He could barely focus enough to read them properly.

Left foot.

There. A name he knew - one that had been drummed into his alter ego. He watched, still through murky water, as one pale, thin and bloody hand reached up and rang the bell.

A sound of footsteps, not his, from the other side of the door, and then there was a figure, a familiar figure, dimly lit by the foyer light from behind but familiar nonetheless. A babble of words he couldn't make out.

Right foot.

And then he was falling into light.

~*~

London, Present Day

"Don't you just love this job?" Chris Keel drawled at his partner as he sprawled lazily on one of the many leather sofas that littered the lobby of the Meriden Hotel. "The wealth of information the intelligence community graces us with is unbelievably phenomenal at times."

Sam Curtis sat neatly next to him, sipping at an Espresso. "If you think this is bad, you should try MI6. At least we have a name and room number," he said wryly, his pale eyes twinkling in some amusing remembrance.

Chris grinned back, nodding knowingly; he'd been on a few SEAL missions himself where the intelligence was rather less than it should have been. "Yuriy Dontchenko, room 238 and so unbelievably un-photogenic that no one has been able to get a decent picture. Jeez, could they really have given us any less?"

Sam sighed, leaning his head back on the leather upholstery. "Well, they could have just said that there's a Russian Mafiosi moving nuclear arms through London sometime this week. That would have given Malone apoplexy."

Chris chuckled. "And had us running round in circles trying to find this Yuriy guy."

"We're doing that anyway, aren't we?" Sam looked over at Chris, a half-smile on his lips.

"Yeah, but we get to lounge around drinking coffee and waiting for the guy to turn up instead of wasting shoe leather tramping around the city. And hey, you got to chat up the pretty receptionist," he prodded Sam with a finger and was pleased when his partner responded with a playful swipe and a grin of his own.

"I still think it was your turn," Sam replied. "The girls always seem to fall for that ridiculous accent of yours. But you're right, she is pretty." He smiled in the receptionist's direction, and Chris felt his smile slip a little as the girl smiled coyly back at the Englishman.

"Nah, not my type," Chris wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Bleach blondes with too much makeup are way more your style."

Sam raised an eyebrow and looked at him sideways, a curiously sly expression on his face. "You think so?"

Chris hesitated a second, unsure of what that look meant.

At that moment, the receptionist gave them the nod as a man approached the desk and Chris nudged Sam. She handed the key to room 238 to the man who turned around, giving the two CI5 agents a clear view of his face as he made his way casually towards the lift.

Chris turned to Sam to check that he had the camera running, about to suggest that he take the elevator while Sam took the stairs, but the words stuck in his throat. The Englishman was frozen in apparent shock, his eyes wide and horrified and his skin pale, little beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead.

"Sam?" Chris grabbed his partner's arm, concern turning to outright worry as Sam looked at him at first without comprehension, then dazed bewilderment. "Sam," Chris tried again. "We have a job to do."

Sam blinked at him slowly and Chris' gut wrenched as he realised that something was very wrong with his partner. He was almost relieved when the Englishman's expression snapped shut to its customary cold efficiency. "No," Sam said sharply. "We're compromised."

"What?" Chris said incredulously, "How can we -?"

"We're compromised," Sam insisted, cutting him off ruthlessly. "We have to see Malone. Now." The Englishman got up and walked stiffly to the exit, with Chris half a pace behind, wondering what the hell Sam had seen.

The drive back to Headquarters was in a silence that Chris hadn't known with his partner since the very first time they had been teamed up and the American found himself babbling inanely, much as he had done back then, in a bid to defrost the atmosphere. Back then, though, his babbling had provoked icy glares and ultimately an explosion of temper that had broken the ice. Now, however, Sam seemed locked in a world of his own, and Chris doubted that his partner was even fully aware that he was there.

~*~

Malone stared hard at the two agents standing in front of him. "Compromised?" He bit the word out in disbelief. "What exactly do you mean by 'compromised'?" He noticed Keel shifting around uncomfortably, sliding concerned glances at his partner and braced himself for bad news.

It was Curtis that answered, standing stiffly, even for him, his eyes resolutely focussed on the wall behind Malone's head. "Yuriy Dontchenko," he said, then paused to clear his throat.

"Yes, yes, spit it out, man," Malone snapped.

"I know him, sir." Curtis' jaw clenched as he spoke.

Neither did Malone miss the startled look Keel threw the Englishman's way as his shuffling abruptly stilled. So the American hadn't known why Curtis had decided that they were compromised and that, in Malone's view, was a strong indication that whatever was bothering Curtis was likely to be somewhat personal.

"Why did you not mention this before, Mr Curtis?" he asked carefully.

Now it was Curtis who shifted uncomfortably while Keel stared at his partner, unnaturally still, his concern radiating so strongly that even Malone felt it.

Again, Curtis cleared his throat. "I didn't know his name, sir, he was just a... a face," he said softly, his cold expression starting to crack just a little. "And the photos we had were unrecognisable. I didn't know until I saw him." He took a deep, shaky breath. "I'm pretty sure that he would have recognised me if he'd seen me."

"And did he?" Malone asked, needing to ensure that security was still intact.

Curtis swallowed and shook his head slightly.

"No, sir," Keel stepped into the breach to give Curtis some breathing space and Malone allowed himself a small smile; usually it was Curtis stepping in when Keel was letting his temper run away with him. "We got out of there damned fast," Keel continued. "There's no way he would have seen us. He never even looked in our direction."

"Thank you, Mr Keel," Malone said, nodding. "Now, Mr Curtis, would you care to explain exactly how you know Mr Dontchenko?"

The haunted bitterness that passed fleetingly across Curtis' face told Malone that Curtis did not want to explain, but he allowed the man a moment to compose himself.

"MI6. 1993," Curtis said, biting off each word angrily, "Moscow."

"Mr Curtis," Malone's tone was warning as he sought to bring his agent back to a more professional attitude. Instead, it seemed to infuriate the man more.

"Sergei Konstantin," Curtis snapped harshly, looking Malone in the eyes for the first time. "I'm sure you'll find all the sordid details in MI6's extensive database."

"Mr Curtis! First rule!" Malone said sharply. It was a command that, like Pavlov's dogs, all agents responded to with a reiteration of the rule, saying the words more often than not allowing them to bring a little perspective to the situation.

"Never get emotionally involved," Curtis replied stiffly and Malone noted the resurrection of the cold, professional expression.

"What happened in Moscow, Mr Curtis?" Malone asked in a softer tone.

Curtis stared right at Malone, and the CI5 chief had the distinct impression that under that steel armoured exterior, a violent storm was brewing.

"MI6 have the details, sir," Curtis replied, with clearly no intention of elaborating.

"Very well," Malone agreed reluctantly. "It's late, so I want you both to go home and get some rest. We'll look at this again in the morning."

"Sir." Curtis' acknowledgement was clipped and Malone caught Keel's eye as the younger man followed his partner out. Keel paused and Malone glanced at Curtis, then back at the American who inclined his head very slightly before continuing on his way.

Malone leaned on his desk thoughtfully. He did not like his agents going off half-cocked, which was, in part, why he had partnered those two. It was a given that Keel was going to do exactly that from time to time and he knew that Curtis would hold him back; it was simply in their respective natures. However, with Curtis going off half-cocked, far from holding him back, Keel was just as likely to be right there in the firing line with him.

Malone dialled a number, determined to try and nip this in the bud; he did not want a repeat of the Dietrich case.

~*~

Sam was trying very hard to shake off his partner, but the man was proving almost impossible to get rid of. It had to be clear to someone even of Chris' tenacity and often simple bullheadedness that he did not want to talk about it. He didn't want to talk about Russia seven years ago. He didn't want to talk about Yuriy Dontchenko, as the man was obviously called. He most definitely did not want to talk about Sergei Konstantin. In fact, he didn't even want to think about it.

Why couldn't his headstrong partner take a hint? In fact, why couldn't his partner take a point blank refusal to discuss it? It was bad enough that Malone was inevitably going to find out what had happened in Moscow; the last thing he wanted was for Keel to know as well. He couldn't face it if his partner, his friend got that look on his face, that combination of pity and disgust. Then the distance would start and Sam would be alone again just when he'd finally gotten used to having someone there to watch his back.

Keel still wasn't taking no for answer when Sam asked him to just drop him at his flat, trailing his partner up the stairs like a bloodhound.

"Nice place," the American said, looking around approvingly. Well, it had to be an improvement on Chris' place, if not in situation or décor at least in tidiness. "How come I haven't seen it before?"

"You haven't been invited," replied Sam shortly. And you're not invited now, he added silently, wanting to say the words, scream them at Chris and unable to do so. Chris would be driven away soon enough when he knew the full, sordid details. There was no need to do it now. There was some part of Sam that wanted to have Chris around as long as possible, before the shit really hit the fan, to store up some memories, some good times to weigh up against the bad.

Maybe that was why he didn't throw his partner out when Chris settled himself on the sofa and asked, "Aren't you even going to offer me coffee?"

"What are we?" he snapped. "On a date?" He instantly regretted his words, watching Chris' eyebrow rise at his tone. "Fine, whatever," he finally gave in with a sigh, moving towards the small, compact kitchen. At least it gave him a chance to escape for a moment and gather the tattered shreds of his composure together, something he'd badly needed to do since that horrific moment back at the hotel when a face from his worst nightmare walked into view.

He should have known, should have guessed when the words 'Russian' and 'mafia' had been spoken, especially in conjunction with dealing in nuclear weapons, that there was a possibility that he would have to confront his memories of Moscow. No, he was being too hard on himself. Konstantin was dead. He couldn't have possibly expected that one of Konstantin's underlings would be involved. While Konstantin had dealt in weapons, and that was what had attracted MI6's interest in the first place, it had only been one small part of the monstrous web of illegal activities that he'd headed.

On automatic pilot he filled the coffee pot and switched it on, spooning up the grains to put into the filter. And then he stared out of the window, waiting for it to brew, allowing his mind to drift back to Moscow for the first time in years.

Moscow, late January 1993

Pasha was dead. Aleksandr knew that as soon as he walked into the bathroom and saw the blood on the floor. Pasha was dead after cutting his own throat with their captor's razor, his blood spilling over the pale tiles and running into the grooves between them and all that Aleksandr could feel was envy and relief. The envy was simple - Pasha would never again be subjected to the torture they'd both been exposed to whereas Aleksandr was still alive to suffer. The relief was a little more complicated. There was relief that Pasha, at least, had escaped this nightmare, that he was free but most of all there was relief that Konstantin could no longer use Pasha as a weapon against him, a way to control him, a way to force him to perform.

When Aleksandr had first been taken, snatched from the streets outside his apartment block by large men in black clothing, he'd fought. And he'd fought each and every day, always losing but he never, ever stopped fighting. To stop fighting would mean that he had given up and Aleksandr Dubranov, or the man he really was, did not give up. To give up would mean that they won, and fighting meant that he salvaged some small part of his soul, the bit that was able to rationalise that while he fought this wasn't his fault. He didn't care that fighting only made Konstantin hurt him more, because the fact that he had bruises, rope burns and split lips meant that there was tangible proof that he'd resisted and therefore he was to blame for none of this. He hadn't asked for it and he didn't give in. His body was evidence of that, even while it had betrayed him by being too weak to win.

And that was the pattern for the first three or four weeks of his captivity. At first Konstantin had been amused by his efforts to fight him off, suffering the injuries that Dubranov inflicted in return with a kind of stoicism that Aleksandr just couldn't understand. Sometimes he even managed to hurt the man so much that Konstantin couldn't finish what he started, and even though that usually ended up with Aleksandr being badly beaten by Konstantin's bodyguards, it was preferable to the alternative. Sometimes Konstantin had him tied to the bed before he even started and even on those occasions Aleksandr fought, kicking and biting with what little leeway he had left. That seemed to amuse Konstantin even more. However, sooner or later Konstantin's patience was bound to come to an end. Which was where Pavel Nabialok came in.

Pasha was even younger than Aleksandr; seventeen years old and gorgeous. Friendless and alone in the big city, he'd been easy pickings for Sergei Konstantin and had been Konstantin's 'pet' before his sights had settled on Aleksandr. They were somewhat similar in appearance, although Aleksandr was taller and bulkier but he'd assumed that Pasha would fill out when he achieved his full growth.

That wasn't going to happen now.

He leant down and, although he knew it was useless, placed gentle fingers on Pasha's neck, checking for a pulse that wasn't there. Getting that close meant that he stared straight into Pasha's lifeless eyes, blue where Aleksandr's were grey-green and now with the sheen of death. He pushed the chill that went through him to one side, and, still with gentle fingers, closed them. His fingertips left bloodstains on Pasha's pale skin. This wasn't his fault either. It couldn't be. He refused to accept it, but he had a sinking feeling that it was.

He remembered clearly when Konstantin had first brought Pasha in. From what he'd heard from Konstantin's men, when they thought he was too far gone to listen, when Konstantin found a new pet he normally let the old one go. There were many crude jokes about that, but he hadn't heard that Konstantin had kept his previous pet. In fact, when he first saw Pasha, his feeling was one of guilty relief. If Konstantin had a new pet, surely that meant he was tired of Aleksandr and would let him go? And although this man was young any sympathy that Aleksandr may have mustered was obliterated by the hope that perhaps, for him anyway, the nightmare was over. It was unworthy of him, he knew, but he couldn't bring himself to regret it. Not yet.

He'd fought again the night before, and his wrists had been cut and bloody, the ropes he'd been tied to the bed with only chaffing them further. The bruises on his face had been matched by those on Pasha's and Pasha's eyes had been red-rimmed from crying. He hadn't managed to spare much feeling for the boy, wrapped up in his own misery, merely acknowledging that Pasha was probably suffering as he was, although it was doubtful that he'd fight for as long as Aleksandr had. It was only when he'd realised that some of the bruises on Pasha's face were too old for him to be Aleksandr's replacement that the full horror of the situation had dawned on him.

Moscow, early January 1993

"Ah, Sasha." Konstantin's voice was almost jovial, and that in itself put Aleksandr on his guard. "Allow me to introduce Pavel, your predecessor. Pasha, meet Sasha. Now isn't that a nice sounding sentence."

His smile turned evil. "Now, Sasha, you're probably wondering why I decided to bring Pasha in on our little games. Well, to be frank, my dear, you're boring me." His expression grew cold. "Oh, it was amusing at first, to see if I could break your resistance, but now it's growing old. You continue to defy me, and I can't have that now, can I?"

Aleksandr said nothing, knowing from past experience that answering back only goaded Konstantin further. He told himself that he didn't care, that he was only concerned that Konstantin would turn his wrath on the boy, but he knew in his own heart that that was not the only reason he balked and his own cowardice angered him. He still held his tongue though.

The fact that he stayed silent rather than treating Konstantin to a string of curses as was his wont seemed to please the Mafiosi, and Konstantin settled himself onto the edge of the bed. He was even more pleased when Aleksandr shuffled as far away from him as he could without subjecting his already sore wrists to further chaffing from the coarse ropes. Aleksandr's eyes darted between Konstantin and the new boy, trying to figure out what his tormentor was up to now.

"That's better," purred Konstantin, his expression smug even while his eyes remained cold and calculating. "I knew that sooner or later, Sasha, you would begin to see sense. Now..." He ran one finger up Aleksandr's leg, his smile deepening as the younger man tried to pull away, a sharp gasp driven out of him as the movement put further strain on sore and abused muscles. "Let's get straight to the point shall we, Aleksandr, my dear? As I said, your constant undermining of my authority is starting to grow tiresome, and since you are too handsome to mar permanently, I thought some gentle persuasion might be in order."

He leant closer, his breath, sickly sweet from the candies he indulged in, ghosting over Aleksandr's face. "Pasha, here, well... He's sweet, as I'm sure you've noticed, but he doesn't have your fire, Sasha. That was the first thing I noticed about you - your fire. Pasha here does little but cry for his dead mother, and that's even more tiresome than your constant insubordination."

His finger reached the top of Aleksandr's leg and his hand moved to press lightly on the younger man's groin, his eyes never leaving Aleksandr's face, noting the revulsion and despair there and glorying in it. "I'm tired of him," he murmured. "And normally, I'd let him go since I have you to play with. But the men are growing restless, and they're loyal. They deserve some reward, don't you agree?"

He pulled back to stare straight into Aleksandr's face and the younger man's eyes widened as Konstantin's meaning sank in. His gaze shot to Pasha. The boy was crying softly now, not a sound coming from him even as fat tears rolled down his face. His expression was a mixture of pleading and hopelessness.

"That's right, Sasha. I always thought that you were a smart boy. I don't usually share my pets, but Pasha doesn't enjoy that particular privilege anymore. It would be greedy not to share in this case, wouldn't it?"

Again, he waited for his words to sink in. "Unless..." His fingers moved to the top of Aleksandr's briefs, the only item of clothing he was allowed.

Aleksandr closed his eyes, unable to look at either Pasha's despairing face or Konstantin's triumphant one. His captor wouldn't let him escape that easily.

"The choice is simple, Sasha. You... co-operate, or I hand dear, poor Pavel over to my men."

It was tempting, so tempting to resist, not to give in and to damn Pasha to his fate. Surely it was foolhardy to expect Konstantin to keep his word, or to submit to his sordid games knowing that this could only be the start. For a long time, Aleksandr hesitated, listening to Pasha's soft sobs, growing in volume now as the young man gave into the desolation gripping him, and to Konstantin's heavy breathing next to him as the son of a bitch enjoyed the whole situation.

In the end, it was neither Konstantin's threats or Pasha's despair that won the day, it was cold, hard pragmatism. No matter what he decided, Konstantin would rape him again, and would continue to rape him each and every night until he could get away. This way he could potentially save Pasha and himself some pain, and hopefully lull Konstantin into a false sense of security.

He rolled onto his front and buried his face in his arms.

~*~

Moscow, late January 1993

Konstantin had pulled that trick more than once. Every time that Aleksandr resisted his advances he wheeled out Pasha and once again threatened to hand the boy over to his men. And every time it was harder and harder, taking a little longer for Aleksandr to submit. Any compassion he had ever had for Pasha was fading, driven from him by every brutal thrust of Konstantin into his body. He stopped caring, couldn't care. It hurt too damn much. Self-preservation forced him to hide what he was feeling, putting up armour between him and the horrors around him, and he grew colder inside, so very cold.

And every time Konstantin brought the boy with him, Pasha's face grew more and more terrified, believing that this time Aleksandr would leave him to his fate and Aleksandr couldn't find any false words of comfort to reassure him. He was finding it almost impossible to hold himself together and couldn't find any strength to keep Pasha afloat too. He knew that it wasn't the boy's fault, that he was as much a victim as Aleksandr himself, but he wasn't noble enough not to resent him for being too weak to fight on his own account, and to expect Aleksandr to do it for him. He despised Pasha for his weakness and he hated himself for feeling that way.

And now Pasha had finally submitted to the hopelessness plaguing him, and Aleksandr could no longer pretend that he didn't care. This was his fault.

He sank to the floor next to Pasha, his hand moving from the boy's face to his hair, stroking it lightly, so dark and soft like his own, and for the first time since that dreadful day when the twenty-three year old had been snatched from a cold Moscow street, Aleksandr Dubranov cried.

~*~

London, Present Day

Sam didn't know how long he stood there, his mind stuttering between memories, images of people long dead and gone vying for his attention before Chris' voice drew him back to the present.

"You okay?"

The American's face was as concerned as his voice, and Sam forced himself to slam the shutters down, cursing the fact that he'd allowed the images to dominate him to the extent that he hadn't even realised that Chris was in the kitchen. He reached for the coffee pot, his hands shaking, and forced himself to reply.

"Fine."

His voice shook as much as his hands did, and it wouldn't have fooled a five year old never mind someone as astute as his partner.

"Sam..."

"Leave it," Sam insisted, his back to his partner, his voice wavering between a demand and a plea. He forced some control back into his voice. "Just leave it, Chris. Please." His voice shook less this time, he was pleased to note, and whether it was that fact or some sixth sense on the part of his partner, Chris chose not to pursue it, not then anyway. Sam wasn't stupid enough to believe that he would let it lie for long.

"Got anything to eat?" asked his partner neutrally instead.

"Fridge," replied Sam shortly, refusing to look at Chris before he had his armour firmly back in place. "I guess you haven't had a chance to go shopping again?" he added, trying to inject some sense of normality into the conversation.

"Not much point in going home for food," replied Chris calmly, rooting in the fridge, "since I'm staying here tonight."

That finally got Sam looking at him, spinning on his heel to stare at the American speechlessly. Chris just raised his eyebrow at him nonchalantly, seemingly unfazed by either Sam's amazement or his rising anger. "Before you start," Chris anticipated smoothly, "I can understand that maybe you don't want to discuss it, but whatever it is, Curtis, it's got you shaken up badly and I'll be damned if I'm going to leave you on your own tonight. You might go off and get yourself into trouble and that's my prerogative." He grinned humourlessly. "If you decide you've had enough of your 'repressed Englishman' act and actually want to talk about what's bothering you, I'll be on the couch. Bring that coffee through with you when you decide it's cold enough."

He snatched a cold chicken leg from the fridge and wandered through to the living room, leaving Sam in his wake staring after him.

Sam had no arguments left. If having Chris sleeping on the couch made his partner feel better and if that in turn meant that, feeling that he'd done something, the American stopped quizzing him about Moscow, then he was prepared to put up with a temporary houseguest. Besides, at the moment he'd like Chris where he could see him, knowing how much trouble the younger man managed to get into and not wanting him to go off and do some digging into Dontchenko and his colleagues, not on his own anyway.

He refused to acknowledge, even to himself, that having Chris there made him feel better. He hadn't been seen and his flat had perfectly good CI5 security systems in place. He most definitely did not need a babysitter.

He would probably sleep better, however, having his partner there.

~*~

Malone sighed heavily, and closed the buff folder on the desk in front of him, tossing it aside to join its fellows. It was past 3 a.m. but then the late hour was nothing to him. He was used to them by now. He stared into space, his mind churning as he sought to make sense of the vast amount of information he'd spent the last four or five hours reading.

There were more questions than answers, that was the problem. Contrary to Curtis' assertion that MI6's vast database would have all of the information about his Moscow mission, there were some very obvious gaps.

He could have tackled Curtis about it, but he was reluctant to do so just yet. Apart from the fact that he really didn't believe that the man would give him any answers and he wasn't about to stoop to interrogating one of his own agents about a case from another organisation, there was also the fact that Malone did not like going into a confrontation with someone who knew more about a situation than he did if he could help it. Even if that someone was one of his own men. What made it worse was that he was absolutely certain that MI6 had not only not provided him with all of the information that they had, but he could virtually guarantee that they hadn't even provided him with the information that they could have done without compromising their own operations, or their people. There were just too many gaps.

So far, the only concrete information he had from these files was that Mr Curtis had, indeed, been assigned to Moscow in late 1992, early 1993, and had left Russia for Germany in April of that year, where he'd been assigned to Carl Dietrich. According to these files, his Moscow assignment had been a relatively low level undercover operation, aimed squarely at one suspected Russian Mafiosi. The problem was that there was no mention of Yuriy Dontchenko in any of the files. Curtis' target had been one Sergei Konstantin.

What concerned him most was just how little information there was from Curtis. There were some standard reports from early on in his assignment, written with Curtis' customary precise style, reporting such matters as the first time he'd made contact with his target. Konstantin had apparently frequented the spa where Curtis had been assigned. There were also a few reports on the men that Konstantin had met and done business with there. One or two later reports that suggested to Malone that Curtis had managed to ingratiate himself with the man somewhat, being requested as his masseur when Konstantin had conducted these business meetings on the premises, and from his controller's accompanying notes he'd managed to glean some valuable information on those occasions. Knowing Curtis as he did now, he had no doubt that the man had managed to fade into the background so efficiently that the men probably didn't even remember that he was there.

And then nothing. Not a damn thing for close on four months. No reports, no notes from his controller, nothing. The next entry into the file was a cryptic little note from Curtis' controller in early April 1993 saying that the assignment was complete, the merchandise retrieved and that the subject concerned had been 'dealt with accordingly'. In Harry's years with the CIA they referred to that as 'exterminated with extreme prejudice'.

He was still unclear as to what the merchandise was, or even whether that term referred to his subordinate. And the really curious thing was that there was no final report from Curtis on file, although he supposed that it could have been removed before the file was ever allowed anywhere near him. But if that was the case he couldn't understand why. There was nothing on the file that he had been provided with that was particularly confidential, or at least not for someone with his security clearance. It dealt with the routine surveillance and eventual elimination of a particularly unsavoury character and nothing more.

Tapping his pencil lightly on his desk, he leant back in his chair, now staring thoughtfully at the files. Now, where did Yuriy Dontchenko fit in to this puzzle, and more to the point what was Mr Curtis' role?

He was left with no choice. He was going to have to go to the horse's mouth. First thing in the morning.

With another sigh he rose to his feet, snagging his jacket off the back of his chair and heading homewards. It was late and all good CI5 agents were in bed.

~*~

Chris opened his eyes to darkness, his hand slipping easily to the heavy Smith & Wesson that always resided under his pillow whenever he slept. Sam always joked that Chris could sleep through a nuclear war, and while that was certainly true in his own bed, anywhere else, even here in Sam's flat, he was attuned even in sleep to respond to noises that were out of place; a legacy of his years with the SEALs.

He knew, then, that something out of place had woken him, but did not know what it was. He lay still, his breathing shallow as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness and he listened for whatever had woken him.

A tiny whimper reached him from the next room, the bedroom, and Chris frowned slightly. Another whimper followed by some almost inaudible muttering, and Chris relaxed slightly replacing the gun under his pillow, before slipping out of bed. He tiptoed cautiously into the other room, over to the bed and put a hand on Sam's shoulder. His partner had his back turned towards him, and Chris could feel the tremors running through the Englishman's body even through the duvet.

He chewed at his lower lip, unsure whether to wake Sam from what seemed to be a nightmare. He padded round the foot of the bed, musing that while he was the acknowledged expert in nightmares, he was only expert at having them and had no idea how to help someone else with theirs. He recalled a time when Sam had woken him from one of his own and remembered the Englishman's expression of compassion and understanding before it was quickly wiped away to be replaced with distance and professionalism.

But that was before he and Sam had gotten to know each other; before Chris had worked out that behind that charming yet cold exterior, there lurked a sensitive and caring man, too scared of being hurt to show himself to the world. Since making that startling discovery, Chris had always wondered what had caused Sam to hide himself away but respecting his partner's privacy as much as Sam respected his own in turn he had not pried.

Chris squatted down at the head of his partner's bed and studied the sleeping, tormented face before him bathed in the faint glow of a streetlight peeping through the curtains. And Sam's expression was tormented; there was no other word for it. Chris wondered if he himself looked like that when he had his own nightmare; if so, it was no wonder that his partner had called it punishment.

Sam's eyebrows were drawn down into a deep frown and his eyes were squeezed shut as if trying to keep out the images that were haunting him. His jaw was clenched; the muscles twitching beneath the sweating skin and even in the dim glow, Chris could see that his partner's face was pale.

Chris gently brushed a lock of dark hair from Sam's forehead but froze, horrified as the whimpering and muttering started again at his touch.

"N-no, please. No more... please... I can't..."

What the hell could Sam be dreaming about that would make him beg? Chris swallowed back rising bile as his imagination ran riot, trying to produce circumstances that might reduce Sam to this. He quickly took hold of himself; he couldn't bear to even think of his partner suffering, even in nightmares. He wanted to touch Sam's face, wake him with a kiss, hold him and tell him that everything was okay, but was hesitant, still shocked at the reaction simply brushing Sam's hair back had provoked.

He settled for shaking Sam by the shoulder, gently at first, then a little harder as the trembling increased and the whimpers turned to low, terrified cries. Chris was becoming frightened as he shook Sam harder in his attempts to rouse the man.

Abruptly, Sam came awake with a yell, one fist catching Chris unawares in the jaw, sending him crashing into the bedside table even as the Englishman scuttled back off his bed to land on the floor with a thump.

Chris picked himself up, shaking the cobwebs away and testing his bruised jaw. He peered over the bed to see Sam, still tangled in the duvet and sitting on the floor next to the wall, the terror on his face giving way to bewilderment.

"Bad dream?" asked Chris, smiling tentatively.

Sam nodded, rubbing the back of his neck and looking anywhere but at Chris.

"Want to talk about it?" Chris felt a sense of déjà vu even as the words slipped out.

Sam looked up at him sharply. "No, I don't," he snapped. Then, as if realising that he was out of order, taking his own anxieties out on someone who didn't deserve it, he smiled slightly. "As someone not so famous said to me, once."

Chris made his way over to Sam, who was showing no inclination to move, and leaned against the wall. "Can't think who that might have been," Chris replied softly, sliding down the wall to sit next to his partner. He shivered slightly in the cool, early morning air and sighed, "What a pair."

Sam leaned forward and disentangled his legs from the king-size duvet, straightening it and tucking the voluminous material round himself like a tight cocoon. Chris debated whether he should go get a blanket since Sam obviously wasn't going to share, but the shaking body in the duvet next to him chased that thought away; Sam wasn't suffering from the cold.

He tried the same distracting tactic that Sam had used on him all those months ago. "So, what do you think Malone's going to have us do in the morning. Legwork? Or writing reports?"

To Chris' relief there was a shaken chuckle. "God, I hope so, I could really do with some nice mundane paperwork."

Chris pulled a face, invisible in the dark. "Going all religious on me now, Curtis?"

"Figure of speech, and you can take that disgusted tone out of your voice, you could do with learning how to produce decent reports."

Chris grinned; this was better, more like Sam. He shivered again, rubbing his arms slightly. "Why bother? I have you to do that for me."

There was a chuckle and a pause. "You're cold; why don't you get a blanket?"

Why don't you let me share? But Chris bit those words back. "Nah, I'm gonna get a coffee, want one? Then you can bring your duvet to the sofa."

"Sounds like a plan."

By the time Chris had made coffee and returned to the living room, he was disappointed that not only was the light on, but there was no sign of Sam's duvet and his own borrowed duvet had been neatly consigned to a corner on the floor. But Sam was there, just settling himself on the end of the sofa.

"I've turned the heating on," Sam explained, accepting the coffee gratefully.

"Oh." Chris couldn't think of anything to say to that as he made himself comfortable.

"I'm sorry," sighed Sam. "For waking you up; you needed the sleep."

"And you didn't? Come on, Sam, we've had it easy the last few days. And anyway, what are friends for?"

Sam smiled at him gratefully, "Thanks."

Chris leaned back, savouring the coffee, feeling the caffeine jingle pleasantly along his nerves. He studied Sam carefully from the corner of his eye. The Englishman was sitting forward, the mug grasped tightly in his hands; he seemed to be considering something very carefully. Chris held back his natural urge to ask, or failing that, prod Sam into spilling, and waited as patiently as he knew how for his partner to work things out in his head.

Chris had finished his coffee and was on the verge of asking Sam if he wanted another when the Englishman finally spoke.

"It's nothing. Really," Sam said softly, staring at his untouched drink. "It was just an assignment that went wrong and we both know how that is."

Chris gave Sam an encouraging half-smile as his partner glanced briefly at him. He certainly understood that; they had been on missions both together and alone that had ended up with one of them hurt, or worse, an innocent bystander.

"People died, Chris." Sam's voice was barely a whisper as he addressed the mug once more. "People who didn't deserve to; who should never have even been there."

Chris shifted forward a little to put a supportive hand on Sam's shoulder. The other man flinched slightly at the touch but leaned a little closer into it and Chris gave him a reassuring squeeze.

Sam's jaw clenched, the muscles twitching. "It was my fault they died." The Englishman looked directly at Chris then, and the American saw grief, naked in his partner's eyes. "It was my fault, and I have to live with that." The conviction in Sam's voice was absolute and Chris could think of nothing to say, only keeping his hand where it was, showing his partner that he was there for him, no matter what.

~*~

"Where's Malone?" asked Chris, sweeping into the office, his partner trailing quietly in his wake. He perched himself on Backup's desk, ignoring her sigh of irritation.

"Out," she replied shortly, shooing him off her desk with an impatient wave of her hand. "And contrary to popular belief I am not his secretary."

Chris pouted. "So what? We just supposed to just hang around here until he comes back and finds something for us to do?"

She sighed again, wishing, not for the first time, that Keel were a little more patient. Normally Sam would rein him in when he was as eager as this, but the Englishman was unusually quiet, even for him. She cast a pleading look in Sam's direction as Chris ignored her less than subtle hints to remove himself from his perch on her paperwork, and was shocked by how drawn her colleague looked.

"Sam? You all right?" she asked, concerned.

"Fine," he replied expressionlessly, his gaze drawn to the pictures on her desk of Dontchenko's known contacts that Malone had asked her to dig out from various databases around the world. He picked them up and started to flick through them, the remote expression on his face never changing.

She was about to press him for a proper answer when a warning glance from Chris stopped her from digging any further.

"So," Chris continued, his attention more on his partner than the pretty Canadian. "Did Malone leave us any instructions?" There was an almost pleading note in his voice, as though he were praying for some distraction, and Tina got the feeling that for once he wasn't looking for some distraction for himself.

"Yes," she replied slowly, her eyes now also drawn to Curtis, unsure how the man would react. "He wants you to go back to the Meriden to wait for Dontchenko, and then to trail him to wherever he's going."

Sam's hands stilled suddenly but that was the only reaction that showed he'd heard. His face grew even stonier, if that were possible.

"We can't, Backup," protested Keel heatedly. "Sam said we'd been compromised, that he'd recognise Sam if he saw him."

She shrugged slightly, unsure what to say to put him at ease, still watching Sam's unnatural stillness, uneasy herself now. "He said you're not to be seen."

As expected, Chris exploded at that. "What the hell -!"

San overruled him. "Let's go," he said impassively. "We have a job to do."

He turned and walked slowly towards the door, not waiting for his partner, his face still expressionless even though the tension that was clear in the line of his shoulders screamed to Backup that something was desperately wrong.

Backup exchanged a helpless look with Chris, who could only shrug, equally nonplussed by Curtis' attitude before he too headed out of the door, this time in Curtis' wake.

~*~

He'd tracked this woman down, using the weight of his position to batter down the walls of secretaries and aides used to keep lesser mortals at bay, and yet she kept him waiting like a supplicant, and that was what he was, no matter how many cups of coffee the quiet man behind the desk kept him supplied with.

It was good coffee, expensive and understated much like the outer sanctum of her office. Such a difference from his own cubicle in CI5 headquarters, cluttered with information that he needed to have at his fingertips. Yet he wouldn't change it for the world. Power corrupts, a long dead voice whispered in his head. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

He wasn't used to being kept waiting, not like this, not for a long time, not since he'd been as young as his own agents, and his patience was wearing thin. There were other channels he could go through after all. Not as quick or as certain but less wearing on the nerves, or the patience.

"Mr Malone," called his target's aide softly with impeccable timing, his voice as cultured as the office. "Ms Jackson will see you now."

Malone nodded briefly, collecting his coat and moving haughtily past the aide. He was sharp enough to spot the weapon the man kept concealed under his jacket and for a brief moment he felt an urge to point the man in the direction of a good tailor, one who could hide the telltale bulge.

The man announced him discreetly, still in that cultured tone that reminded Malone of the reason he was here. He wondered if Curtis, a boy from North London, had picked up his own cultured accent here, fitting in with that chameleon ability of his. And then he pulled his thoughts together with the ease of long practice, sweeping in to greet Helen Jackson.

Jackson had been Curtis' controller in MI6 before Dietrich, and she no doubt knew the full story behind the younger man's mission in Moscow. Whether or not she would share that information with Malone was another matter. Smiling politely into her cold eyes, he doubted it. He had an unerring eye for character; one of the reasons he'd managed to put together such an excellent team in CI5. He could see past the ambition, past the cold façades, past the hot tempers and the ruthlessness to see the real faces behind the masks; pairing up individuals to form well-matched teams and make CI5 as a whole a well-oiled machine. It was the reason he'd recruited Curtis, despite of his rather ruthless reputation, because somehow he saw past that to a man who cared in spite of himself and who only needed the right catalyst to draw that aspect out to the fore. And that catalyst had proven to be a rather hot-headed and hot-tempered American haunted by his own demons.

This woman, on the other hand, had no demons. He could tell that just by looking at her. He would be surprised if she had a conscience either. He'd come across the type before - their ambition consumed them to the point where it was difficult to tell them from the people they were supposedly defending the free world against. Everything was sacrificed for the greater good, even if they could no longer tell what the greater good was. Pitiless and cold almost to the point of inhuman.

No wonder that Mr Curtis had a ruthless streak if this woman had had a hand in training him.

He gave nothing away, seating himself in the chair that Jackson indicated to him, noting rather amusedly that it was positioned in such a way as to reinforce the feeling of being a supplicant, being slightly lower than Jackson's own chair and with the large ornate desk intended to make the situation even more intimidating. Mind games, he thought rather dismissively. If she were any good, she wouldn't need these props.

Deciding that two could play at these games, and having vastly more experience in them than this woman did, he sat back in his chair with a slight smile, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that he had been kept waiting, or the intimidating décor. He waited patiently for her to make the first move. After watching him with pale eyes, she finally did. Her first tactical error and hopefully not her last.

"How can I help you, Mr Malone?"

"Yuriy Dontchenko," he asked with a bland smile. "I was wondering whether you could tell me about him?"

"Russian mafia," she replied calmly. "Affiliated with Vasiliy Chamczow's lot. Not a very notable individual. A leg man mainly - one who does Chamczow's dirty work. But surely, Mr Malone, you didn't need to come and see me about that. Exchange of information such as that is handled through the normal, routine channels." There was an air of smugness about her, one that said that she thought herself above such petty and routine matters. "May I ask why you're so interested? And why you came to see me directly?"

"CI5 have been asked to keep an eye on potential arms deals," replied Malone, still outwardly calm although he was beginning to be mildly irritated by her attitude. "As for Yuriy Dontchenko, I've been informed that your paths have crossed before?"

She frowned slightly. "I don't believe so. Dontchenko has only recently come to a relatively prominent position within the mafia since my time in Russia, and I don't believe we had a file on him. Rather beneath my notice then, I'm afraid. And he's not particularly high in the hierarchy now." Again that borderline arrogance, and the more time Malone spent with this woman, the less he liked her. "Can you be more specific?"

"Moscow, 1993," stated Malone baldly. "I understand that you were investigating Sergei Konstantin?"

Her eyes grew even colder and she hesitated for a brief, telling moment before she smiled again. "Ah, yes. It's entirely possible that Dontchenko was one of Konstantin's people before he aligned himself with Chamczow. Chamczow was Konstantin's heir apparent, you know?"

Malone hadn't known, although he let no sign of that show on his face. He wasn't even sure why he was expected to know much about the dealings of a long-dead Russian Mafiosi. But now, at least, he had a place to start digging.

"About Konstantin?" he asked, still calm and polite. "Perhaps you could elaborate a little. It may help us in our current investigation of Dontchenko."

She gave him that frosty smile again, giving nothing else away. "Konstantin is long dead, Mr Malone. I'm surprised you even made the connection. There's nothing I can tell you that will help."

He returned her smile with an equally cold one of his own. "Perhaps I could be the judge of that, Ms Jackson. CI5 does deal with a lot of information. I'm sure that I'll know to cull the wheat from the chaff."

Touché, he thought as a brief expression of fury flickered across her face. He schooled his own expression into one of polite interest and nothing more. And then her eyes grew sly.

"Didn't you recruit Sam Curtis?" she asked smoothly. "I believe I heard a rumour to that effect."

Malone raised one eyebrow noncommittally. "Yes," he replied evenly. "I believe in recruiting the best." He paused for a moment to let that sink in. "You knew him, I believe. Were his controller in Russia?"

She gave him that ice-cold shark's smile again, her eyes calculating. "Yes. I wasn't overly impressed, I'm afraid. Perhaps his skills have improved since then."

Two could play at this game of brinkmanship too. "It was his first real assignment, wasn't it?" he asked coolly. "It's often difficult to see someone's potential that early in their career." The implication being that Curtis' potential had always been there and Jackson had missed it through her own incompetence. He twisted the knife further, permitting himself a small smile of reminiscence. "I still remember his last controller's scream of rage when I stole Mr Curtis right from under his nose. I thought the man would go straight to the head of MI6 to protest about me poaching on your ground, recruiting your best people." He chuckled slightly, his keen eyes never leaving her face and not missing another brief spark of rage.

"Yes, well..." She watched him like a hawk, her expression frozen for a moment, and then a slow, sly and vindictive smile crept onto her face. "Since you have Mr Curtis... to hand so to speak, may I suggest that you ask him about Konstantin?"

Malone feigned surprise. "It was Mr Curtis who suggested the link between Konstantin and Dontchenko, Ms Jackson. And if Mr Curtis was as low level as he must have been on his first assignment, surely you, as his controller, could tell me more?"

That slow, sly smile widened, and now she moved in for the kill. "Ah," she all but purred, "Curtis is so much more... intimately acquainted with the facts of the case, Mr Malone. I'm sure he would be a much more... obliging person to ask."

She waited for a moment to let her words sink in, and then she gave him another smile, triumphant this time as though she'd won the encounter. With brisk movements she gathered up some of the papers on her desk. "If you'll excuse me, Mr Malone, I have an important meeting to attend. I'm afraid that I can't help you any further. I'm sure that Joseph will show you out."

And with that parting shot, she swept out, not even waiting to shake his hand and leaving him staring after her, a small frown between his eyebrows as he mulled over her words, letting this tin pot bureaucrat have her moment of glory.

The interview had hardly been enlightening. He really was no further forward. The only things he knew for sure were that something had gone very wrong in Moscow, something that wasn't in the bland reports he'd read, and he got a distinct impression that the very facts he was interested in had not only been deliberately withheld from him, but potentially from MI6's HQ. And Jackson was part of it, had to be.

He could, of course, call Curtis in and force the man to answer his questions but he was reluctant to do so just yet, and not just because he liked to have all of the information to hand before he started an interrogation. Sordid details, his agent had said. You'll find all the sordid details in MI6's extensive database. Which meant two things - he didn't know that the reports weren't complete and whatever it was it still haunted the man. Curtis was defensive and, damn it, upset and scared. Dragging him in to force him to spill the beans about whatever it was would only exacerbate those feelings, and until Malone knew what was underlying his attitude he wasn't prepared to go in, guns blazing. He wasn't one to use a bludgeon when a scalpel would do.

He was going to have to start calling in some favours if he wanted answers, and he knew just the man who owed him some information.

~*~

Chris was thankful that he was the one driving, tailing Dontchenko; not only because Sam's typical driving style scared the living daylights out of him, but also because it meant that he had something other than his gloom-shrouded, silent partner to concentrate on.

But still he couldn't help himself from glancing over at Sam periodically to see if there was any change in the granite façade. There never was, and this time was no different. He sighed and shook his head.

"What?" came the Englishman's voice, startling the American slightly; he hadn't realised that he'd been so loud.

"What do you mean, what?" Chris asked cheerily, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

"You know what," Sam told him grumpily. "You've been huffing and puffing to yourself for the last twenty miles."

"I do not huff and puff," Chris pouted.

"Well, you were doing a damned good impression of it," Sam retorted, sinking further into his seat.

There was another long silence before Chris broke it. "Are you going to be okay with Dontchenko? Malone didn't exactly give you a lot of choice."

Now it was Sam who sighed and looked over at him. "Yes, Chris, I'm fine with it," he said with just a hint of impatience. He looked away again, towards the back end of the Alfa Romeo they were following, two cars in front of them, moving sluggishly in the fast lane of the M25 rush hour. "It was just a shock yesterday, okay? Old news, done and dusted."

"Okay," Chris smiled over at him. "Just checking." But the anger and the hurt were still plain to Chris, however carefully shielded; he simply knew his partner too well. It was never easy even for Chris to read the Englishman, but little clues, such as the occasionally twitching jaw, and the more telling fist that seemed permanently clenched, helped the American to see a little more than Sam would ever have dreamed.

Sam sat up suddenly. "He's indicating to pull over," he told Chris. The American nodded and was in the middle lane before the Alfa was. They followed him off the busy motorway and onto the far quieter A21 towards Sevenoaks. There was still a car between them, and several behind, all apparently going into the large town.

The Alfa and the car between them turned into a large industrial estate and when the Alfa turned into the empty car park of a large unmarked warehouse, Curtis and Keel drove straight on, following the other car into the big, crowded car park of a shipping agent next door.

Parking the car near the exit, they made their way to the back of the shipping agent's lot, where containers and lorries provided some limited cover. The fence that divided the lots came very near the back of the unmarked warehouse, so they chose that spot to climb over and work their way inside; less open ground to cover. Sam made a quick call to Backup advising of their intentions and then they went in, Chris noting the burning determination that suddenly flared in the Englishman's eyes.

The warehouse was enormous and divided into several large rooms though there did not seem to be anyone around.

"Chris!" Sam hissed, pointing to some large wooden packing crates. The labels were in some sort of Cyrillic alphabet that Chris didn't have a clue how to read.

"What is it?" he asked in a low voice, scanning the area, gun raised.

"Does W70, W79 and Co60 mean anything to you?"

Chris thought for a moment. "Nuclear," he whispered.

"Thought so," said Sam triumphantly.

"But... these are old. The W70's and 79's were taken out in the early nineties, and as for the Co60's -"

"But still effective?"

Chris nodded. "I guess so, but we're talking some major damage with these things."

Having found what they had come for, the two CI5 agents began to make their way back out so that they could call Malone and his team in to secure the place.

The ambush was sudden. A dozen men springing out of the shadows, Curtis and Keel both reduced to using their guns as clubs as they fought their assailants off.

Chris felt mildly insulted as eight of them concentrated on Curtis, who had been first through the doorway, while he was left with four. He ducked a fist swinging his way, using the momentum to plant a solid foot sideways into another man's gut, doubling him up. As he righted himself, he cocked an elbow back into a third man's jaw. He felt a blow to his right kidney that had him seeing stars for a second, but his instincts were sharp and he threw himself into the first man, taking them both to the floor. He heard a scrape behind him, and ignoring the first man's hands clawing at his face, he swung a leg backwards and up, grinning as he heard the high-pitched yelp.

But the first man got his hands locked around Keel's throat, squeezing hard. With the sound of blood rushing in his ears, Chris wrapped his arms around the first man's and applied pressure to his elbows until the other man let go with a small cry. Now that the questing fingers were away from his throat, he gritted his teeth in a snarl and increased the pressure sharply, hearing the crack of bone over the man screaming out as his elbows shattered.

A hard boot crashed into Keel's side, sending him sprawling; the second man had regained his wind. Again he used the momentum to roll away and to his feet. He caught a brief glimpse of Sam, backed into a corner, fists swinging and face bloody as he held off the attacking men. Keel could see that Curtis would not be able to hold off his attackers for too long and knew that he had to take care of his own problems quickly.

He was down to three now, closing in on him, the fourth curled up and holding his broken arms with shaking sobs. It was time to get aggressive. None of them were armed, so killing them outright was out of the question. But that didn't stop him from raising his gun, then lowering it and with a quick shot, taking out the kneecap of the man who had kicked him. He didn't have time to do any more with the gun, as the other two jumped on him.

One of them caught his arms from behind, and he swung his head back sharply, letting out a short yell as his skull crushed the other man's nose and the second man sank a solid fist into his gut. Chris stumbled forward as his arms were released and the last man caught him, grabbing at his hair, but finding little leverage in the short cut, his following punch to Chris' jaw lacking much force. Chris rode with the blow, spinning, swinging his leg out and catching the man high, with the back of his heel. Giving the other man no time to recover his equilibrium, he pounced, swinging down with the butt of his gun.

Quickly checking that none of the four seemed able to get up any time soon, Chris turned his attention to Sam. Three of his attackers were out of the fight, retching their guts up or out cold on the floor, but under his scrapes and reddening bruises, Chris could see that Sam was quickly becoming exhausted, his movements, while still ferocious becoming slower as he began to tire.

Chris fired his gun over their heads, but that made no impression so he launched himself at the writhing mass of bodies. As he took another man out with the butt of his gun, he saw Sam suddenly drop. He redoubled his efforts to get through to the Englishman and abruptly found himself in an empty space. He blinked and looked around. Four men were left, no five as the one with the broken nose joined them, six as the retching man pulled himself together. Another two were quickly regaining consciousness, and Sam was in the corner lying still.

Chris eyed them all up; he wasn't going down without a fight. He made the first move, using a bullet to kneecap one and punching broken-nose hard in the face. They descended upon him en masse, and he punched, kicked, chopped and bit until someone tore his gun away from him and had the bright idea of smashing him above the ear with it. Coordination fled with the explosion of pain, but he kept lashing out, kept making brutal contact, until another explosion, far brighter than the first sent him head first into someone's boot and darkness.

~*~

"Sir!" Backup called from her station and Malone was immediately at her side.

"Yes, Miss Backus?"

"Curtis and Keel have missed their check-in. They called in at eighteen-oh-six to say they were going into the warehouse. Curtis estimated a fifteen minute recon time and it's now eighteen-twenty-six."

"Five minutes overdue," nodded Malone. "What's the response time for your team?"

"The helicopter and personnel are on standby, Curtis and Keel are in an open area for landing, so we can be there in under fifteen minutes."

"Good, Miss Backus. Mobilise at eighteen-thirty hours if there's no word."

"Sir," Backup acknowledged, turning back to her workstation.

Malone stared pensively at her for a moment, considering whether he might join her team on this occasion.

~*~

The sudden shock of ice-cold water brought Chris sharply back to consciousness. He curled up reflexively, and gasped as a sharp pain in his side viciously objected to the movement. He tried to bring his arms around, but they were caught behind him, so he lay quietly for a few seconds, panting slightly with pain and cold until rough hands pulled him to his knees.

His head started up with a dull throbbing and he could hear slurring voices around him. He squinted his eyes open and the too bright light turned the dull throbbing into an explosive pain that ricocheted round his skull and shot through his eyes and ears, his brain threatening to force itself out through his nose.

Someone slapped him and he tried to focus on the world outside him. He groaned as the world spun, nausea tumbling in his stomach. He blinked, and with great effort managed to bring things into an off-kilter kind of focus.

He was kneeling between two men who held his shoulders firmly and a quick test told him that his hands and feet were bound. One of the men at his side had his gun and jammed it hard against the back of his jaw, pushing his head to the side.

Focussing on the middle distance now, Chris could see Sam standing just a few feet away with another man that he vaguely recognised as Yuriy Dontchenko. The Englishman was free although, judging by his oddly rigid stance, he was in some pain. The expression on his face however, beneath the blackening eye, was coldly bleak. The other man said something in a foreign language, gesturing at Chris and the gun was jabbed painfully into his neck. Sam looked over at Chris and met his eyes.

It was clear to Chris that Dontchenko was trying to force Sam to do something, using himself as a hostage. He didn't know what it was, but he did know that he didn't want Sam doing it, not on his account.

Sam's eyes held a peculiar mixture of determination and a self-loathing that Chris couldn't fathom. But the determination told Chris that Sam had already made up his mind to do whatever it was he had to do. The American shook his head, immediately regretting it as his head pounded and the room shifted wildly, bile rising from his churning stomach. He swallowed it back and tried again, "Sam, no!" he called. "I don't -!" His own gun making sharp contact with his skull once again above his ear cut him off and he struggled to keep from passing out. Someone slapped him again and grabbing his hair, forced him to look up. A foul-tasting rag was shoved into his mouth and another tied round his head to keep it there. His stomach felt close to heaving and Chris wondered vaguely if he might choke on his own vomit; it would certainly solve Sam's dilemma.

He slowly managed to bring Sam back into focus and found worry in his partner's eyes, for just a few seconds overriding everything else, before it vanished.

Sam turned his head towards Dontchenko and nodded. A sharp command was issued and Sam grimly shrugged off his jacket, folding it up neatly and putting it on the floor behind him, never breaking eye contact with Dontchenko.

The Russian was grinning lecherously, almost drooling, his eyes raking Sam's body as the Englishman knelt before him. As Sam's hands went to the other man's belt, Chris sucked in a breath of horror, his headache suddenly forgotten. What was he doing? He struggled to no avail, the gun only pressing harder into his flesh.

Sam was still looking up, still meeting Dontchenko's eyes as he undid the man's belt with his raw-knuckled hands, then the button and the fly. He reached inside and took out the semi-erect penis and scrotum leaving them to hang outside the Russians pants.

Chris' eyes widened as he realised exactly what his partner was going to do and felt his own groin stir at the idea. He tried to push the feeling away, but it became slowly insistent, rising to do battle with the horrified revulsion that turned his gut at the mere idea of what Sam was about to do.

Sam finally broke his gaze with Dontchenko, who was flushed with excitement, and leaned in with a grimace to nibble and lick at the Russian's balls, while Chris groaned involuntarily as his own tightened painfully in response. He couldn't take his eyes off that mobile mouth as it left the balls, and excruciatingly slowly, licked and nipped its way up the column of flesh that swelled and lengthened as he worked, his own dick echoing Dontchenko's. He brutally tried to shove his own body's betrayal aside as he squirmed in his captor's grasp; he was helpless to prevent this and knew it, but it didn't stop him from trying. The men at either side of him sniggered, making obviously derogatory comments by their tone, which only infuriated Chris more. He tried to close his eyes, turn his head away, spare Sam the indignity of having him watch, but with hands tight in his hair and the gun pushing at his windpipe now, they made him look.

When he reached the top of the Russian's cock, instead of going to the head as Chris expected, Sam ran his teeth down the underside, following the main vein and pausing to nip at the man's balls again. Running his tongue lightly back up the swollen cock, Sam dipped into the slit, pushing experimentally. He seemed bitterly satisfied as it twitched in response and lathed the entire head with his tongue, sucking slightly. He seemed utterly focussed on bringing the Russian to his climax as quickly and efficiently as possible, using every trick in the book to make it happen, his sickened expression at odds with the service he was performing.

Chris found himself pushing against his jeans, his breath becoming shorter as he stared with a mixture of morbid fascination and a need that burned so brightly it hurt. Mixed with, and caused by, the anger at his own body's autonomic responses, at Dontchenko, and frustration at his own helplessness, was a dark hatred for himself that was growing right alongside that need.

Sam slowly took the engorged organ into his mouth and sucking almost continuously, moving up and down, took a little more in each time. Dontchenko's rasping gasps cut through the rush of blood pounding in Chris' ears and he took in the Russian's butt tensing convulsively as he rocked his hips in time to Sam's ministrations and Chris worked to keep his own hips still, mentally stamping down on that side of himself. He no longer cared about the gun at his throat; it was meaningless, and he tried to throw himself forward, tried frantically to stop what was happening.

Not quite down to the base, Sam brought up a hand to fondle Dontchenko's sac, squeezing and massaging as his mouth and throat worked at the cock, taking the Russian's increasingly harsh thrusting with a practised ease that had Chris desperately wishing he were standing where Dontchenko was, as his guards held him forcefully back.

The Russian finally grabbed at Sam's hair, and pulled the Englishman fully on to his cock, all the way to the root. He thrust hard into Sam's mouth, and Sam gagged, strangled retching sounds forcing their way from his mouth, before he managed to open his throat to allow the throbbing cock the full access it demanded. Dontchenko thrust again and again, his breathing ragged as he groaned his release, shuddering, emptying himself completely. Chris groaned in sympathetic agony, the dark hatred building, sending waves of self-disgust and worthlessness over him.

The instant Dontchenko let Sam go, the Englishman pulled sharply away, wiping at his mouth. The Russian said something, a command it sounded like. Sam just looked up at the man standing over him, and Dontchenko repeated himself, sharply this time, flinging out a hand to point at Chris who found his head yanked back and the gun jammed under his chin again.

Sam turned his head to look at him and Chris, meeting his partner's all too brief gaze, was shaken to see only empty, absolute despair before he turned his attention back to the sticky, limp penis. Chris whimpered around the gag as he struggled to get free, to get Sam out of there, only his bonds preventing him from action.

Sam licked the Russian's spent organ clean, and put it away with quick, efficient motions and Chris sank back against his captors weakly, a harsh, dry sob rising within him only to be quelled by the gag that threatened to choke him.

Rapid footsteps clattered across the floor, incongruous in the aftermath of what Chris had just witnessed and a young man came running in, shouting something in that unintelligible language. Dontchenko issued rapid orders and Chris found himself abandoned by his guards as they ran over to Sam, pulling him unresisting to his feet and handcuffing him to a support column.

In just a few seconds the room was cleared but for himself and Sam, though the rapid tapping of footsteps somewhere outside spoke of activity. He looked across at Sam to find him staring at the floor blankly. More footsteps, quiet this time, and Chris glanced around to see Backup in full assault gear gliding into the room.

Allowing himself to finally relax, Chris felt the full shock of his own reactions hit him. His headache came back with the shattering force of a two-ton sledgehammer.

~*~

"Sir, we have them." Tina Backus' voice sounded tinny in his ears through the headset Malone wore. "Securing the area now. No sign of Dontchenko or his men."

"Acknowledged 5-3. I'm on my way." With a smooth hand gesture he indicated to the rest of his team to spread out and start a seek and capture manoeuvre. It was likely that Dontchenko had already made good his escape, but there was no harm in looking for him. And while Malone didn't believe in relying on luck, they could sure as hell do with some about now.

~*~

Snapping her mike away from her mouth, Backup moved smoothly towards her colleagues, her eyes continually darting around the room watching for any sign that they weren't alone.

She made her way to Sam first, since he was closer to her, but she kept glancing worriedly at Chris, still kneeling on the floor where his captors had left him, his hands obviously bound behind his back and his mouth crudely gagged. His eyes, however, were fixed on Sam and there was no hiding the concern in them, mingled with grief, rage? She couldn't tell.

She felt her own concern rising when she finally reached Curtis. He didn't look up as she struggled to free his hands, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor. His face, however, was ashen and she could feel the slight tremors running through his body as she picked the lock on his handcuffs with practiced ease. She wasn't surprised at all when the second she'd freed him he pushed her away and fell to his knees by the pillar, vomiting violently.

She left him to it, recognising that he wouldn't appreciate an audience, and went to free his partner.

Chris was almost as shaky as Sam and although he wouldn't meet her eyes either that was mainly because his own gaze was fixed firmly on his shuddering partner. She untied his hands first, letting him remove the gag himself while she freed his feet. And then he was up and moving, staggering towards his partner on unsteady feet, although whether that was due to injury or the fact that the circulation was only just returning to his legs she couldn't tell.

She followed him back towards Sam more slowly, her eyes still flickering warily around the room, knowing that Chris would take care of his partner, see to whatever Sam needed just as she knew that Sam's first concern would have been Chris if their positions had been reversed. Sam appeared to have finished vomiting, sitting back on his heels, his eyes closed and breathing heavily through his mouth, apparently unaware of their approach. That in itself worried her more than the vomiting.

When Chris finally reached his partner, he hesitated for a moment and then placed one hand gently on Sam's shoulder with an equally hesitant, "Sam...?"

Sam flinched away from the touch with a harsh, "Don't." He leant his head against the cold concrete pillar, his breathing ragged and his face still pale and sweaty. He was shivering as though in the grip of a fever, and Backup no longer bothered to try and conceal her own concern. Something was very, very wrong and she hadn't needed to see the way in which Sam's tone had caused Chris to flinch back as well to know that.

"What happened?" she asked quietly, deliberately keeping her voice calm in the face of the emotions seething just under the surface of the room.

Sam didn't answer, didn't even look at her, all of his concentration appearing to be focused on not being sick again. After a long moment, Chris turned a stark face towards her. "They hit him in the stomach," he replied, his voice very subdued. "Several times."

Which might explain the sickness, she thought, but not the undercurrents she could still feel that were setting her own teeth on edge.

Chris was still hovering over his partner although he didn't attempt to touch him again, his expression showing his inner turmoil. Sam seemed to be more concerned with getting himself back under control. He pulled himself slowly to his feet, wiping the back of his hand shakily over his mouth, still avoiding their eyes. Somehow she got the feeling that he wasn't just embarrassed at his momentary lapse and being sick in front of her, even though his first words to her were a muttered, "Sorry."

"Feeling better?" she asked sympathetically. He nodded, still not looking at her, his eyes downcast. "Malone's on his way," she added. Her sharp eyes didn't miss Sam's flinch at that either, or the way that Chris' expression grew even more distraught. What the hell was going on? She was fast losing patience with the pair of them.

Before she could start to quiz them further, their boss joined them, putting a stop to anything that could be considered skipchatter.

"Mr Curtis, Mr Keel," he snapped. "Report."

She didn't miss the way that Chris glanced at his partner uncertainly and this time she was unable to keep the worried frown off her face. Thankfully, Sam seemed to pull himself together enough to avoid the storm that was currently gathering on their boss' face.

"We were ambushed, sir," he replied, his tone as bleak as his expression had grown. "They were expecting us."

"And Dontchenko?"

She could have cursed Malone for the question when she saw Sam flinch again, his face growing paler. Sam, however, always the professional, still managed to dredge up an answer.

"He saw us, sir."

"And recognised you?"

"Oh yes." Sam's tone was bitter as he stared bleakly at the floor. "He recognised me all right."

Chris flinched at that too, his arms folded protectively across his chest as he also stared at the floor. Malone's eyebrows rose as he surveyed the two of them wordlessly, silently demanding elaboration. When he didn't get it, he turned his gimlet gaze onto Backup, who could only shrug helplessly. She was as clueless as he was.

Malone turned his attention back to the two men, his sharp eyes weighing up their injuries and Sam's shaky form. "I see you managed to get yourselves injured," he added, not without a grim humour.

For the first time, Sam looked him in the eye. "Oh," he added with a shaky laugh, gallows humour of his own. "It could have been a lot worse. Believe me."

She didn't know whether the hopelessness in his eyes shocked Malone but it shocked the hell out of her. Helplessly, she looked back at Chris, but he was now watching Sam with the same kind of hopelessness in his gaze that his partner had.

Malone merely met Sam's gaze calmly, showing neither anger at the man's disrespect nor any other sign that Sam's words had shaken him. When Sam dropped his eyes again, his own hands coming up to rub at his chilled arms in unconscious imitation of his partner, Malone harrumphed, his eyes once again coolly surveying the scene in front of him. "I suggest we return to base," he added mildly. "And you and Mr Keel pay a visit to the medical centre before we proceed with debriefing. No doubt they are expecting you."

With that last pronouncement he turned on his heel, obviously expecting them to follow him. The three of them trailed after him, Backup's gaze darting between her friends as once again she tried to figure out what the hell had gone wrong.

~*~

"Did you lose consciousness?" asked the doctor, shining a light into the American's eyes.

"No," Chris lied, feeling a curious sense of emptiness when Sam wasn't there to contradict him.

"Dizziness? Blurred vision?"

"No and no again," Chris replied. "There's nothing wrong that a couple of aspirin won't cure."

The doctor took a step back and regarded him with a sigh. "We both know you're lying, Mr. Keel," he said reprovingly. "I really do wish you wouldn't insist on insulting my skills and, more importantly, would start looking after yourself. If you're going to keep getting yourself beaten up, you should at least do yourself the courtesy of allowing yourself to heal -"

"Yeah, yeah," Chris interrupted grumpily. "Just give me the aspirin and send me on my way, would you? I'm tired, I have a headache and I want to go home."

The doctor sighed again, "You and Mr. Curtis are by far the worst patients in CI5; one of these days..."

The well-intentioned physician droned on and Chris decided to just let him, focusing on the raging emotions inside him. The pounding in his head seemed to be the physical manifestation of the anger and self-recrimination that beat away at his sanity. He hadn't been able to look at Sam on the way back to base, and doubted that he ever would again; the disgust he felt at what Dontchenko had done to Sam paled into insignificance when compared to the disgust he felt at himself. Oh Christ, he really, really didn't want to think about any of this right now.

Chris vaguely recognised the signs of dismissal from the doctor and headed straight for the locker rooms intending to get a desperately needed shower and change of clothes before going to see Malone.

The shower was running when he went in, but he didn't really notice it; a lot of agents used them, particularly when they'd been working eighteen hours straight, which was not unusual. He went to the shower cubicles before getting undressed; it was well known that the water had to run for at least five minutes before it even hinted at becoming warm and he was past requiring a cold shower.

Chris leaned in and turned the water on, ducking neatly out of the way as the pipes juddered and hiccupped before reluctantly spewing forth a miserable trickle. Somehow it sort of summed up how he felt. He glanced enviously at the only other cubicle, which seemed to have more than its fair share of power shower by the sound of it, and started when he realised through the gap in the curtain he was looking at the back of Sam's head.

If Sam should turn round Chris knew that he would see bitter betrayal and damnation in the Englishman's eyes, visions that he wasn't ready to see, wouldn't ever be ready to see. Panicked and burning with shame Chris stumbled backwards and out of the shower room, turning and bolting for the door. He didn't hear his name being called and didn't stop until he reached the empty coffee-room. He sat down weakly at a caffeine-stained table and wondered how the hell he was ever going to be able to face Sam again.

~*~

Sam hadn't been able to stop himself from calling after his partner, even though he knew in his heart that it was useless. Chris wouldn't want to speak to him, to have anything to do with him, not after today. The man could barely stand to look at him, and Sam could hardly blame him for that. He was sickened at himself for giving in to Dontchenko's demands, even though he knew that the alternative had been Chris' death, so how could he expect Chris to be anything but sickened by him too, especially as the American had been forced to watch his humiliation. It couldn't have been easy to watch your partner, a man that up until then you'd respected, go down on his knees in front of a thug like a cheap whore.

He'd known that once Chris found out about his past the American wouldn't want to be associated with him but he'd never, even in his worst nightmares, thought his friend would find out like this.

He'd come straight to the shower as soon as the medical staff had released him, bearing their prodding and poking with reserves of strength he'd almost forgotten he possessed. He could hardly bear to be touched, not after that, each hand on his skin bringing all of those memories he'd tried so hard to bury deep come skittering to the fore. And once he was under the water he'd scrubbed his skin with such vigour it tingled, the soap stinging in the numerous scratches he'd received that had only been made worse by his frantic rubbing. He didn't have a toothbrush here at HQ so he'd opened his mouth under the shower, rinsing the water around and scrubbing at his teeth with his finger, spitting it out again and again only to repeat the procedure, desperate to get the taste of Dontchenko out of his mouth. He wanted desperately to be clean, to feel clean, but nothing helped. He was dirty and he was always going to be, and now his partner, his best friend knew that too.

He sank down to the floor of the shower, his arms wrapping tightly around his knees, drawing them up to his chest as his despair consumed him. The water streamed over his head, soaking the dark hair and running down in rivulets over his face, hiding the tears.

~*~

Yuriy Dontchenko stared at the man leaning against the window. He hated Vasiliy Chamczow with a passion that bordered on the psychotic. He was superior to the Ukrainian in every way that mattered and had never been able to understand why Konstantin had made the ublyudok, the bastard, his protégé over himself or any other good Russian patriot. The only thing that stopped Yuriy from murdering the ukrainski dryan outright was the power that he had inherited from Konstantin. It had taken Yuriy the best part of six years to persuade Chamczow to make him his right-hand man, but when it had finally happened he had found himself enjoying the limited power it brought him. One of these days though, when he was ready to take over Chamczow's position, he would take immense pleasure in seeing to the tortuous demise of the ublyudok himself.

For now though, he was looking forward to telling Chamczow his news, looked forward to knowing, even though he would never tell the dog, the ukrainski dryan, that he had enjoyed Konstantin's favourite pet first.

"Well?" Chamczow's husky voice grated around the bare room as he sucked on a cigarette, the smoke curling patterns in the air.

"The two CI5 men arrived as you said they would," Yuriy reported confidently. "Their backup arrived a moment or two earlier than anticipated, but it was nothing that we could not deal with. The arms are on their way to Rotterdam to await onward shipment and we left some of the obsolete stock for them to find as you instructed."

"Good, good," Chamczow replied, stubbing out the filter-tip. "But what about the two agents? You were instructed to kill them."

"I realise that, but I watched them enter the warehouse and recognised one of them; I thought that you would want to deal with him personally..."

"You are not paid to think!" Chamczow snapped, pale eyes glinting in the dim light of the room's low wattage bulb. "But tell me, who was this man that you dared disobey my explicit orders?"

"Aleksandr Dubranov." Yuriy let the name roll slowly off his tongue, enjoying the slow shock that overtook Chamczow's handsome features.

The blond Ukrainian took out another cigarette, and with slightly shaking hands, lit it with an ornate gold Zippo. After taking a long drag and exhaling slowly, Chamczow nodded then asked softly, "Why did you not bring him with you?"

Yuriy dutifully lowered his head in token shame, "I regret that there was neither time nor room to take him with us. I was sure that you would not want him damaged in any way, so I took the liberty of keeping his partner alive to keep him in line. From both men's reactions, I believe that they mean a great deal to one another. However, that precluded us bringing them with us."

"Where is he, now?" Chamczow asked sharply.

"I do not know," Dontchenko informed the other man, "however the partner let slip that Dubranov uses the name 'Sam' now. I am sure that the CI5 database will tell us more."

Chamczow nodded again, slowly. "Find out where he lives," he said, the order implicit.

Yuriy inclined his head sharply and backed out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

When the Russian had gone, Vasiliy Chamczow leaned back against the window frame and stared back out into the night, the name "Sasha," whispering soundlessly from his lips.

~*~

Moscow, October 1992

Sergei Konstantin was a bear of a man, tall, well built and handsome. His blue eyes could sparkle with amusement and then turn as cold as crystal in the next breath. He ruled his territory with an iron fist, dispensing favours with a warm smile with one hand and summary justice with the other. He was noble, he was terrifying, he towered above those around him and his men loved and feared him in equal measure. Vasiliy Chamczow, however, just loved him.

It wasn't a romantic love, not even a sexual one although he knew his mentor's tastes lay in that direction. No, it was simply the love that someone like him could feel for a great man, and Konstantin was a great man, no matter that the whispering intelligentsia labelled the man a criminal, a thug of the worst order. The thought of their contempt filled Chamczow with fury. They knew nothing. Konstantin was one of those who would bring a new order to Russia, creating order out of the chaos that the end of communism was bringing. And Konstantin was one of the few people who treated Chamczow with respect, never mentioning his Ukrainian parentage which was often a source of ridicule to those around him who were proud of their pure bred Russian heritage. He didn't defend Chamczow from their jibes, but Vasiliy knew that this was because only the weak needed defending. Only the weak needed others to look out for them and Konstantin despised weakness in all shapes and forms. He was strong and he expected those around him, those he trusted and relied upon to also be strong.

Vasiliy worshipped him and Konstantin rewarded his devotion with confidences and something approaching respect. He was Konstantin's right hand man, and both he and his Sheeshka knew that Vasiliy would never betray him.

It was this devotion that meant that when Konstantin attended his business meetings, Vasiliy was there with him. He told others it was because Vasiliy was his bodyguard, the only person the wily Russian would trust with his life, but they both knew that the truth was that Konstantin was grooming him to take over his empire one day. Vasiliy was becoming the son that Konstantin had never had - mainly because he didn't like women.

So Vasiliy followed his hero into one sordid meeting place after another, ignoring the subtle jibes that his Sheeshka sent in his direction, knowing that Konstantin's teasing at his discomfort was only to strengthen him. 'Never let them see that you are off-guard, Vasya,' his mentor often said. 'Because then they will pounce on your weakness like a lion pouncing on the oldest of the herd.' So he stiffened his spine, and never let his distaste show on his face as he accompanied his employer into the kind of place that the communists probably hadn't known existed.

When he'd accomplished this, Konstantin rewarded him by moving upmarket. Once he'd conquered the disgust there was no reason for him to be dragged there, although occasionally his Sheeshka still liked to keep him off balance, only the night before taking him to a private club where he took a sobbing sixteen year old boy on a table in front of him while Vasiliy watched, granite faced. No sign of weakness.

Today, however, they were at Konstantin's regular spa - a place to do business with his own more upmarket clients, those who wouldn't care for the other side of Konstantin. And there was no meeting. Konstantin had just closed a deal for a large shipment of defunct Russian weapons and was in the mood for a celebration, and for once there were no hangers-on, no one else to distract Konstantin's attention from Vasiliy himself, and Vasiliy basked in the warmth of his Sheeshka's company. Until he came in.

He was the masseur, young and attractive and even Vasiliy, who had no interest in those of the same gender, had to admit that he was a fine specimen. He was tall, but not too tall, fit without being overly muscular, and his voice, when he answered Konstantin's question as to his name, was low pitched and musical. His name, apparently, was Aleksandr Dubranov, and by the way that he eyed up the giggling blonde who brought the towels, his tastes ran the same way as Vasiliy's himself.

He was unfailingly polite though, and not only to Konstantin but to Vasiliy himself, fading into the background with a naturally effacing air when not needed. And he had good hands, unerringly finding those tense spots on Vasiliy's spine and kneading them into submission until Vasiliy felt as limp as a newborn and more relaxed than he had been in years.

And then he left, with the same quiet understatedness as he'd arrived, but Vasiliy knew that they'd be back, could see that from the way in which Konstantin stared after Dubranov, his expression hungry.

They did come back and frequently. It became one of Konstantin's favourite haunts, despite Vasiliy warning him that returning frequently to the same place was an open invitation to trouble. Konstantin dismissed his fears, merely replying that why else would he take Vasiliy with him unless it was to watch his back. That had stung, and for once Konstantin had soothed the pain with a quiet comment to the effect that he wouldn't trust anyone else to watch for his welfare, and so Vasiliy swallowed his tongue and accompanied his mentor, waiting for the day when Konstantin would just pay enough to the boy to let him fuck him and move on to the next one.

And after he relaxed a little, it was quite amusing. At first Aleksandr didn't seem to know what to make of Konstantin's gentle flirting, watching his Sheeshka with those large grey-green eyes, so like a girl's Vasiliy thought dismissively, the lashes so long and dark they could almost have been mascaraed. He didn't flirt back, but he didn't seem repulsed by Konstantin's interest and Vasiliy started to wonder whether he'd been wrong about Dubranov's preferences. He also didn't complain to the management about Konstantin's passes, probably because he was worldly enough to know it would do no good. Even when the weeks passed and Konstantin upped his campaign, moving from mildly flirtatious to almost openly lecherous, the young man didn't grow too uncomfortable, although some of Konstantin's more ribald comments had him flushing even as he ignored them. He still came back for more though, probably because Konstantin was such a good tipper.

Things came to a head, as it were, when one day his Sheeshka had enough of flirting and, after imbuing a few glasses of vodka, supposedly off limits in this health spa but then what was off limits to a man of Konstantin's power, rolled over onto his back under Aleksandr's hands, and gestured towards his prominent erection, suggesting that Aleksandr massage it instead.

For a second Vasiliy thought that the boy would flee in embarrassment, and then Aleksandr's chin came up, his expression almost defiant even though his cheeks were red and he replied coolly, "If I wanted to massage one of those, I have my own."

Vasiliy tensed, eagerly anticipating the order from Konstantin to teach this impudent young pup a lesson in manners, but his mentor surprised him. After staring at Aleksandr's rebellious face for a second, he threw back his head and howled with laughter, causing a flicker of uncertainty to dart through the young man's eyes. "Good answer, Sasha," he chuckled when he'd calmed down enough to speak. "Good answer."

He didn't make another obvious pass at Aleksandr after that, but over their next few visits, and they were there nearly every day by that point and Konstantin always ensured that it was Aleksandr who served them, he subtly started to question the younger man about himself. Did he have family? Friends? Had he been in Moscow for long? When the answers to the questions were negative, no family, a few friends, he hadn't been in Moscow long and didn't know many people, Vasiliy knew that Konstantin was intending to make Aleksandr one of his pets, and that he would be asked to arrange for the young man's disappearance.

~*~

Moscow, early April 1993

Vasiliy sank down beside the bed, a scream on his lips and denial in his heart. This couldn't be true. His mentor, his Sheeshka, his beloved Konstantin was dead, shot in his own bedroom. He'd failed to protect him, failed to carry out his duty and his Sheeshka had paid the ultimate price of his failure.

He didn't know how this had happened, and he didn't care. All he could feel was the crashing weight of despair as his grief swept over him. Konstantin, dead. His anchor, his mentor, the one thing in his life he had loved.

How long he sat there by the side of the bed sobbing into his hands he didn't know. The first conscious thought he had after his terrible discovery was the awareness of whispering behind him as terrified and angry Mafiosi clustered around the door. He stared desolately at Konstantin's corpse, his sense of duty rearing its head. The Sheeshka had wanted him to continue, to carry on and build and maintain his empire after Konstantin was gone. He intended to do just that, for his Sheeshka's sake.

The decision made, he rose swiftly to his feet, his eyes cold and his face bleak as he turned to face the men behind him. His mind was racing, examining the factors around Konstantin's death. The house was an impregnable fortress, and no one got in or out. Except...

Except Aleksandr had got out. A little over a week ago Sasha had made his second escape attempt and this time had succeeded, in spite of the fact that both Vasiliy and Konstantin had been convinced that after the punishment meted out last time he wouldn't have dared try again. In fact, they had believed that he wasn't in any condition to try since his injuries, although not intentionally inflicted, were bad enough to make even walking difficult for him, never mind escape. They'd been wrong.

Konstantin had gone into a fury, taking it out on everyone around him, including Vasiliy, demanding that they find Sasha, bring him back. He'd been obsessed with Sasha since the day Vasiliy had snatched the young man, and his ardour had not faded since, keeping the man prisoner much longer than any previous pet. However, in spite of his rage and his threats their efforts had been in vain, with Aleksandr somehow managing to elude them. In fact, they had yet to find out how the young man had managed it, having no idea of the route he'd used. Secretly Vasiliy had believed that the man had somehow managed to get out of the grounds and had thrown himself into the Volga. He'd seen the fathomless despair in the young man's eyes when they'd brought him back to Konstantin after his 'punishment', the thousand-year stare of someone who thought death a viable alternative to the hellish existence they were living. Which was why they hadn't been able to find him - there was no one to find. No way could someone like Aleksandr avoid Konstantin's attention in a city the man owned if he were still alive.

But now, just after Konstantin's catamite had escaped, someone else had found their way in. He'd been wrong. Dubranov must be alive and worse, he must have talked; there was no other explanation. He must have told someone how he'd done it, and they had used that information to strike his Sheeshka down, strike him down when his defences were the weakest, his men out looking for his pet instead of watching his back.

He grabbed the man closest to him, Yuriy Dontchenko, and pulling him closer, staring straight into his terrified face as he hissed, "Aleksandr Dubranov. Find him. Now!"

~*~

London, Present Day

Feeling dirty, stiff and incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin, Chris stood before Malone's desk, with his arms folded across his chest, uncharacteristically still as he unconsciously tried to make himself as unnoticeable as possible. Sam stood barely two feet to his right. Two feet too close; Chris was terrified that the Englishman would see right through him, straight to the dark, bitter core of his guilt and shame. Two feet too far; an interminable gulf that the American wanted, more than anything, to bridge.

It was Sam who gave Malone the rundown, his voice flat and emotionless and, not daring to bring himself to look, keeping a steady gaze on the carpet, Chris could only imagine the cold, blank veneer that would be hiding his partner's disgust and hatred.

Sam brought his concise report to a close, without detail, merely mentioning that they had been caught. Chris wasn't in the least bit surprised, couldn't blame him for that and was, in fact, relieved; it meant that he wouldn't have to explain himself either. Wouldn't have to explain how he had been incapable of getting Sam out of there before things went too far; wouldn't have to explain how he had been used to get Sam to perform; wouldn't have to explain how he had felt; wouldn't have to explain his own betrayal. And for that, he was grateful. Bitterly grateful; just one more thing in the long list of today's things to be grateful to Sam for, not least among which was his life.

Chris became rapidly aware of a growing silence and realized that he had been asked a question. He brought a hand up to the swollen lump above his ear and rubbed it slightly, wincing before saying, "Sorry, sir?" using his hand to block Sam from his line of sight as he looked vaguely in Malone's direction.

Malone frowned, but repeated himself. "Do you have anything else to add to Mr Curtis' report, Mr Keel?"

For a second, Chris was lost; he hadn't really been paying attention to anything but that last bit. He shook his head briefly. "No sir."

"You said something about the bombs." Sam's flat voice hit him like a missile, making Chris cringe, shattering his hopes of remaining effectively unnoticed by the Englishman. He risked a glance in Sam's direction but his partner was staring at Malone's desk.

Oh. Yeah. "W70's and 79's," Chris said, focusing now on the job in hand. "Around three hundred of each made, but they were retired in 1993; the Co60's are a bit of a surprise, though. They were never tested in the atmosphere, let alone put into production, so presumably the two in the warehouse were test models. I'm guessing that Don... Dontchenko has access to a storage archive or something."

"Thank you Mr Keel, are you sure there isn't anything else? Quite sure?"

Chris looked at Malone properly and had the devastating impression that the seemingly omniscient old bastard could see through him too. That he knew. Some small, rational part of him told him that he was being ridiculous and he folded his arms again, returning his gaze once more to the floor. "Quite sure," he ground out between clenched teeth, flushing slightly.

There was a long pause then Malone asked, "Mr Curtis?"

Sam must have shaken his head, because the CI5 chief sighed and said tiredly, "Go home, gentlemen, get some rest. I expect your full," he paused to emphasise the word, "your full reports on my desk by sixteen hundred hours tomorrow."

"Sir," Chris acknowledged, moving so fast that the appellation was barely past his lips as he shot through the door, not quite running. The elevator wasn't quick enough to arrive, so he took the stairs to the car park, and by the time he reached the bottom, he was sprinting for his car in his desperation to get away.

~*~

Sam followed his partner out of Malone's office much more slowly, and not just because his ribs and kidneys hurt. It was perfectly obvious to him now, as though he'd ever doubted it, that Chris couldn't even bear to be in the same room as him. His partner hadn't even looked in his direction throughout the entire debriefing with Malone, and Sam hadn't missed that fact. Nor had he missed Malone's rather pointed comment about wanting a full report. He couldn't write it, and he wasn't sure what Chris would say. If Chris wanted to protect him, then all to the good and he'd be eternally grateful to him for it. If not... He couldn't really bring himself to care. Either Malone would still want him on the squad or not. At the very, very least he could expect a visit to the shrinks to make sure that he was able to cope with the aftermath of Dontchenko's little games.

Although Malone hadn't said anything, or even given a hint that he knew about Moscow, surely by now he'd have done some digging. Surely by now he'd read whatever graphic details of his ordeal were recorded in MI6's files. But he couldn't have done - there had been no disgust or pity in his expression when he'd looked at Sam. But then Malone was very good at hiding things.

Sam couldn't understand why he'd said nothing though. He tried not to dwell on it. If the worst came to the worst maybe, just maybe the fact that he'd fought his way back after Moscow might mean that Malone would give him a second chance. Hadn't he proved himself while he'd been with CI5? He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure about anything anymore.

Except that Chris despised him. Oh, that he was sure of.

His own steps lead him to the car park in his partner's wake before he realised that Chris had driven this morning, and his partner had abandoned him here without transport. He didn't really have to glance towards where Chris had been parked to know that, but he found his eyes drawn to the spot anyway, hoping against hope that maybe his partner had realised, had waited for him.

There was another crushing sense of disappointment when he realised that Keel hadn't, and he wasn't sure how much more of this he could take without buckling under the weight.

Some lingering sense of pride got him moving towards the street, nodding towards the security guard on duty but not explaining why he was walking out of the car entrance rather than the main entrance of the building. Thankfully, the man took one look at his face and didn't comment. He reached the street, and stared around, wondering how he was going to get home now. He couldn't bear the thought of public transport, knowing that if he were trapped on a bus or on the tube surrounded by the bodies of others pressing against him with no opportunity for escape he'd lose it big time. Not a good idea in a CI5 agent.

He hailed a cab, knowing that at least that way there'd be a glass partition between him and the other occupant. He needed that right now.

~*~

Malone watched his agents leave, Keel darting out, obviously eager to be away and Curtis following more slowly, his face a still mask although once again Malone had been able to sense the turmoil roiling beneath the man's expression. He sighed heavily, tapping his pen thoughtfully on the desk. He needed to get to the bottom of this, and fast. He glanced at his watch. He'd made another appointment after his abortive attempt with Jackson, and he hoped that this interview would be more illuminating. If not, he was going to be left with no choice but to call Curtis in, sit him in one of CI5's interview rooms and not let the man leave until he had all of the answers. And he'd just have to see whether he still had a functioning agent at the end of it.

He rose briskly to his feet and pulled on his jacket, exiting his cubicle with only a little less speed than Keel, almost running into Spencer on the way. His second stared at him in surprise. Probably didn't know he could move that fast, thought Malone with grim humour.

"Mr Spencer?" he prompted, straightening his collar as the man continued to stare at him. It dragged Spencer back to the matter in hand, the agent handing him yet another buff file - the current bane of his life.

"Backup has finished pulling together the information you requested, sir," Spencer replied. "On Dontchenko's known or suspected associates."

Malone took it and flicked through it briefly. No faces he recognised, although he recognised the name attached to one picture - Vasiliy Chamczow. He studied it for a second, committing it to memory. It wasn't a very good photograph, but better than the ones they had of Dontchenko, and there were some brief descriptive notes accompanying it that Malone also memorised. Pale blue eyes, six foot, blond, heavy smoker like a lot of his countrymen. Nothing particularly memorable about him, except that he might hold the answer to whatever was plaguing one of his best agents.

He handed the file back to Spencer. "Has Mr Curtis seen this?" he asked.

Spencer gave him a keen look. "Not that I know of, sir, but I'll check with Backup. If the answer's no, should I call him back in and get him to take a look?" His tone, as always, was respectable with no hint of the curiosity that must be consuming him. In fact, the only change in the man's demeanour since Malone had personally recruited him to run Ops was that he'd unbent enough to use the nickname for Tina Backus that everyone but Malone did. Other than that he was still the serious and calm young man who had impressed Malone so much at the beginning. Similar to Mr Curtis in many ways, but without the younger man's underlying fire or adrenaline addiction. Or secrets apparently.

Realising that Spencer was waiting for an answer while he was lost in thought, Malone gave his question due consideration. "No," he replied eventually. "Tomorrow morning will be soon enough. Just place the file on my desk and I'll look at it in more depth later. I'm going out, but if anything urgent comes up you know how to reach me."

Spencer merely nodded at that, unfazed by either his boss' cryptic statements or borderline brusque manner. Of course, thought Malone as he headed out of the door, the man must be used to it by now.

~*~

Malone had first met Daniel Carlton during a particularly nasty affair in the late seventies, one of the few occasions when MI6 and the CIA had managed to put their mutual antipathy to one side and actually work together on a joint op. There were times, he mused, that there was even less trust between supposed allies than with the 'enemy'. However, he'd liked Daniel and stayed in touch, partly because the two men had a lot in common and partly because it could never hurt to have an ally in the other camp. He was sure that Daniel kept in touch with him for exactly the same reasons, even though the man was now retired.

It had been some time since he and Carlton had actually met up, since Malone found most of his time these days taken up with CI5, so much so that at one point he hadn't had a holiday for four years and his first one had been interrupted by the Dietrich case, another one of Mr Curtis' demons come back to haunt him. Perhaps, though, that wasn't a particularly fair assessment of the situation. However, it was Carlton to whom Malone turned now for information.

Daniel Carlton had spent over a decade undercover in Russia after all, on and off.

Not in Moscow and not as part of Jackson's cell, but even so he'd been in Russia at the same time as both Jackson and Curtis, and Malone was hoping that he had heard something on the grapevine which would point him in the right direction at least. He wasn't optimistic enough to believe that Carlton had the answers he was seeking. In that way he wasn't disappointed.

"Nope," replied Carlton to his question. "Don't know your man. Russia is a big place after all, Harry." He turned his attention back to his steak, attacking it with more relish than he was the conversation. Carlton's wife Maggie, Malone reflected, was not much of a cook although she was a lovely woman in her own right. It was no wonder that Daniel was enjoying this meal so much. It was probably the first decent one he'd had since he'd retired.

Malone sighed a little impatiently. "I'm not saying that you should do, Daniel. But you've heard of Konstantin?"

"Konstantin... Konstantin..." mused Carlton, his fork of mashed potatoes hovering in the air as he wracked his brains. "Ah," he said, stabbing the air with his fork triumphantly. "I remember now. Russian mafia. Owned Moscow, virtually. Jackson's lot took him down."

Satisfied with his answer, he turned his attention back to his dinner. "Jackson was my man's controller," Malone explained softly.

For a second it didn't seem as though Carlton had taken this on board, and then the other man hesitated for a moment, glancing up at Malone with suddenly wary eyes.

"How old was your man?" he asked.

A little surprised by the question, Malone sat back in his chair and did the maths. "Twenty-two? Twenty-three? Something like that."

Carlton sighed, and lost interest in his meal, dropping his cutlery onto his plate with a loud clatter. "I remember now," he said grimly, his expression serious. "I only heard rumours, mind, and conflicting ones at that. But..."

"But?" prompted Malone, leaning over the table, his own meal discarded for the time being.

Carlton sighed again, obviously weighing up his answer. "There was a rumour that Konstantin liked young men," he said abruptly.

Malone sat back, turning the idea over and over in his mind. "Are you trying to tell me," he said eventually, his words coming slowly as he struggled to come to terms with the idea, "that Jackson pimped one of her men?" It wouldn't be the first time that had happened, although Malone had to fight the revulsion the idea provoked.

Carlton gave him a brief smile, completely without any amusement. "That's one interpretation," he said dryly. His eyes watched Malone shrewdly.

"And the other?" asked Malone keeping his voice low, suddenly aware of the soft rumblings of the other diners near them.

"The other is that that interpretation is overly generous. There were rumours that whoever it was, they weren't exactly... willing." Carlton continued to watch his face, his expression still very serious. "I don't know any more than that. As I said, it was just a rumour, and you know how these things are. May not be any truth in it anyway. Jackson didn't make many friends." He gave a brief laugh. "Let's face it, the security community likes dishing the dirt on co-workers just like every other profession, whether it's justified or not. And even if there is some truth in it, she had a lot of people under her, so it may have nothing to do with your man anyway. Only thing is..."

"Yes?" prompted Malone again when Carlton hesitated.

"Whoever it was," Carlton continued, his eyes suddenly very old, "was supposed to be young. Too damn young for that."

Malone stared down at his own almost untouched plate, his appetite disappearing. A picture was starting to form in his mind and it wasn't a very pretty one. He pushed his plate away.

Sensing his revulsion, Carlton filled the resulting silence with what little information he had. "Like I said, Harry, it may not be true. Certainly there wasn't any fallout for Jackson over it, and that kind of thing isn't approved of, not unwillingly, no matter what the dime novelists might think. And her career's going great guns, by all accounts. On the up and up, at least as far as the brass are concerned from what I've heard." But then that natural honesty of his, one of the things that Malone liked about the man, had him adding, "Of course, you and I both know that the Centre doesn't get to know nearly everything they need to."

He looked back down at his own plate, apparently losing his own appetite and also pushing it away. "What happened to your man after Jackson?"

"As far as his service record is concerned, his next assignment was East Germany, under Carl Dietrich."

"Yeah," said Carlton softly. "That fits." He didn't elaborate on his cryptic comment any further, just adding, seemingly at random, "Carl was a good man."

Not having known Carl Dietrich, Malone could only make a noncommittal sound, still staring into space, his mind putting the pieces of this puzzle together. Finally he looked back at his friend. "Daniel, is there anyone who might know if it is only a rumour?"

Carlton pulled a face. "Apart from Jackson, you mean?" he asked dryly. "You met her?"

"This morning."

"Cold bitch, isn't she?" It was a rhetorical question obviously, so Malone forewent any comment. Carlton frowned, thinking. "Maybe," he hazarded eventually. "Someone who was on the periphery of Jackson's lot. Might know a bit more, can't say. He's retired too." He gave Malone a little self-deprecating laugh. "It's only old war horses like you, Harry, who don't know when to quit. This is a younger man's game now."

Younger like Sam Curtis? Malone wanted to ask. He held his tongue however, knowing from long experience that it was better to let Carlton have his head and that sooner or later his friend would share. Once again, he wasn't disappointed.

"Grigoriy Rzhevitin," Carlton said eventually, staring down at the table. He looked up at Malone, his expression weary. "I don't know that he'll know anything, Harry, or even if he'll talk to you if he does. Hell, I don't even know where he is. Heard a rumour," he gave Malone a wry smile at that, "that he's living somewhere on the south coast here. Can't tell you more, I'm afraid."

He sighed again, and pushed his plate away. His face suddenly looked very old, and reminded Malone of his own mortality. They weren't very far apart in age, after all. "Well," said Carlton a little aimlessly. "Better get back. Told Maggie I wouldn't be late. I'd like to say it was fun, Harry, but..." His voice trailed off and he shrugged ruefully.

"Yes, Daniel. I know, and I'm sorry..."

Carlton cut his apologies off with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry about it, Harry. It was nice seeing you again, no matter what the circumstances." He hesitated for a moment, obviously searching for the right words. "I hope for your man's sake, Harry, it was only a rumour. Konstantin... Let's just say that by all accounts he deserved his less than savoury reputation."

It was sparse comfort, but probably the best that Carlton could offer. Malone nodded briefly, and watched his friend leave before beckoning a waiter to pay the bill. He also hoped that it was only a rumour, or that Curtis hadn't been involved, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to be that optimistic.

~*~

It took Sam a long time to get a cab, and even longer to get to the suburb he lived in since although it was past the normal rush hour in London, here they lasted considerably longer than an hour and even the evening traffic was heavy. By the time the cab actually reached his home ground the traffic had thinned out, the bustling crowds all gone home and the evening traffic dying down. By then he was exhausted and barely able to function, not that he'd been functioning that well lately anyway. He told the cab driver to drop him off three streets from his home. He knew it was paranoid, but he really didn't want the man to know where he lived. So he walked the last few minutes himself, his gun in his pocket instead of his shoulder holster, where he could keep a hand on it, even though he knew that contravened every one of CI5's safety regulations. That was the least of his worries.

The whole day was taking on a nightmarish aspect that he just didn't have the emotional strength to deal with right then. He needed some whiskey and some sleep. And another shower. He needed to sink into oblivion for a while and let the whole world go to hell while he curled up and licked his wounds. His footsteps dragged along the pavement, slowed by a combination of exhaustion and misery, and all that did was remind him of was his agonising escape from Konstantin. Except he hadn't really escaped, had he? Konstantin, although dead, was coming back to haunt him, and this time he wore Dontchenko's face.

He was a bundle of jangling nerves by the time he turned the corner of his street, so much so that it took him time to register the dark sedan parked at the end of the street nearest him, the occupants' attention apparently focused on the entrance of his apartment block. He froze, melding into the shadows, thankful for the fact that the car was pointing away from him and the corner he stood on wasn't well lit by streetlights. At first he tried to dismiss the fear that clawed at his throat as a combination of paranoia and exhaustion. His rational mind told him that the car could be anything, someone waiting for friends, completely innocent and unaware of the terror that pounded in his chest, but he couldn't convince his feet to move, not yet. Instead he hovered, just out of sight of the car's occupants, shielded from them by the angle he was to the car although that was a fragile cover to rely upon. He cursed his own pathetic indecision but was still unable to relax, to move either forward or back. His eyes darted between the car and his building's entrance, wanting to move towards its tenuous safety but not daring to, not yet.

And then one of the occupants of the car lit a cigarette, the flare from his lighter lighting up his face for a brief instant, and Sam's breath caught in his throat in a gasping whimper.

Dontchenko.

It took a great deal of effort not to just collapse into a pathetic trembling heap beside the wall and let the fates do with him what they would. However, close to a decade's worth of training got him moving, sliding soundlessly backwards around the corner, keeping close to the wall and moving slowly so that he didn't attract attention, aware that Dontchenko would only have to turn his head to see him. It seemed to take forever, and each instant of that eternity was filled with Dontchenko's face, contorted with lust as it had been in the warehouse, as it had been in Russia.

When he finally made it back around the corner, he leant against the wall for a brief instant, panting heavily and heart pounding, and then he took off as though the very hounds of hell were on his heels.

~*~

It was late by the time that Malone got back to the office, but Spencer was still there, diligently working at his computer, acknowledging Malone's entrance with a soft, "Sir." Malone paused at his computer.

"Mr Spencer... See if you can find out the current whereabouts of one Grigoriy Rzhevitin."

"Yes, sir," responded his agent with his customary efficiency. "Any more information?"

Malone had to suppress a brief smile at that. No doubt if he didn't have any more information Spencer would merely bring him a list of every Grigoriy Rzhevitin currently alive in the world, neatly cross-referenced to any supporting information and probably in order of likely candidates. And he'd bet that the one he'd want would be somewhere near the top.

"Around my age, maybe a little older. Ex-MI6, although whether they acknowledge him is a moot point. May be living in the UK, somewhere near the south coast. I'm afraid I have nothing more."

Spencer nodded, his attention focused on the small pad he was making notes on in his neat handwriting. "Anything else, sir?"

"Not at the moment, Mr Spencer. Thank you. If anyone needs me, I'll be down in medical."

"Yes, sir." His agent didn't even turn a hair at that, just turned back to his computer and started on the task he'd been assigned. Not for the first time Malone gave himself a mental pat on the back for recruiting the man. He hadn't been boasting when he'd told Jackson that CI5 recruited the best.

~*~

Despite the late hour, Doctor Lucas Masterson, head of CI5's large medical department, was still at work. Malone hadn't doubted for a second that he'd find Masterson in his office. The man was almost as dedicated as Malone himself, and since it was CI5 medical season, or as some of his agents had it 'the season to be prodded, poked and examined', his staff were very busy. Not helped, thought Malone wryly, by the steady trickle of walking wounded that found their way to CI5's medical facilities. Most non-walking wounded were treated at the nearest emergency centre to their location at the time but that did little to relieve the pressure on their stretched resources.

"Ah, Harry," Masterson greeted him. "Odd time for you to come for your own medical, but pull up a chair and I'm sure I can accommodate you."

"Very funny, Lucas. I'll come along when I'm good and ready to."

Masterson shook his head mockingly. "Now, what would your agents say if they knew how reluctant you were to come and see me? Most of them have to be dragged kicking and screaming down here anyway."

It gave Malone an opening he was looking for. "You wouldn't be talking about Mr Curtis and Mr Keel by any chance, would you?"

The corners of Masterson's eyes crinkled as he chuckled good-naturedly. "They're among the worst offenders, I'll admit. In fact," he pulled a roster towards him. "I believe that we had a visit from them earlier today. For a change. You might suggest that they don't get into quite as many fistfights if they can help it. If they don't, I'm thinking of reserving a couple of chairs out there just for them."

Malone gave another noncommittal grunt, settling his weary bones into the plastic chair opposite Masterson's desk. It had been a very long day. Masterson watched him with sympathetic eyes but didn't comment. Instead, he continued on the subject of Messieurs Curtis and Keel.

"You might be interested that once again Mr Keel probably has a concussion, although getting him to admit it is as likely as getting you to come down for a medical voluntarily."

It was a less than subtle dig, but Malone let it slide. "I need a favour, Lucas."

Masterson was suddenly all attention, his teasing demeanour instantly replaced by professionalism. "Whatever I can do to help, Harry, you know that."

Malone did. "I'm not sure that you can, Lucas, that's the problem, but anything you can give me would be gratefully received, and you know I wouldn't ask if there was any other way."

Masterson nodded, his expression at once both guarded and serious. "If I can't tell you, Harry..."

"You won't, I know that, Lucas."

Seemingly satisfied, Masterson nodded and sat back in his chair, his hands steepled in front of him. Malone didn't bother beating around the bush. It wouldn't work with this man anyway.

"Sam Curtis," he said. "Do you have his medical records from MI6?"

Masterson's expression grew cautious. "I saw his last MI6 medical, if that's what you're interested in knowing. And of course, gave him a full medical before he joined us, just as I do every new recruit."

Masterson did those personally, Malone knew, wanting to be familiar with the medical history of every single one of their agents in case it was needed. A hell of a lot of work for one man, which is why Masterson did so few of the regular annual physicals, relying on his staff to keep him briefed of anything else he needed to know. The problem was that in this case it was unlikely that even Masterson would have spotted what he wanted to know in a physical exam six or seven years after the event.

"What about his earlier records? I'm interested in some from Russia from early 1993."

Masterson frowned. "Harry, you know I can't share medical details like that with you. Even though you're head of CI5, there are still some things that have to remain confidential."

"I know, Lucas, and I'm not asking you to cross that line, but I would like to know whether he received any medical treatment in Russia. You can tell me that, can't you?"

Masterson's frown deepened. "What are you looking for?"

"I'm not sure," Malone answered honestly. "I'm not sure that I will find anything, but at this point anything you can tell me would be very appreciated."

Still Masterson hesitated for a long moment, and Malone had to fight the urge to hold his breath, waiting for the man's decision. "All right," Masterson said eventually. "I'll see what I can do." He scowled at Malone. "But I will not share confidential medical information." That seemed to be more for his benefit than for Malone's because he didn't wait for an answer before moving to the fireproof safe in one corner of his office.

"You're lucky," he grumbled as he moved across to it, his hands going to the keys on his belt, "that all of these records are now on optical disks, or I'd never find what you're looking for." Still grumbling softly to himself, he retrieved one of the shiny desks and moved back to his desktop, shoving the disk into the reader. "There's rather a lot of information, as you can imagine," he added dryly, harking back to his earlier complaint about Curtis' frequent need for medical attention.

For long minutes Malone waited as Masterson searched through the data, before the doctor finally spoke. "Nope, nothing down for Russia. As far as his records go, he didn't need a doctor. For a full six months. Now that has to be a record for Curtis."

"Six months?"

"Yes," confirmed Masterson. "Last medical entry in 1992 was in September of that year, a routine medical. Next entry is not until April 1993."

April 1993. By that time hadn't Curtis been sent to Germany? He asked Masterson that very question.

"Yes, this entry was in Germany."

"That's it," said Malone. He didn't know how he knew, he just knew. Why else would Curtis have received medical attention as soon as he'd been sent from Russia to Germany?

Masterson didn't comment, just raised his eyebrows at Malone's tone but opened up that entry and scanned through the entry quickly. "Don't appear to have been any serious injuries, Harry. Treated for some superficial flesh wounds, which appear to have been caused by a knife or something similar and which had been treated previously, but nothing life threatening. Cuts, abrasions, most of them not fresh."

Now was the difficult part. "It's not the severity of the wounds I'm interested in, Lucas. It's the nature of them."

Masterson gave him a searching look, but obligingly turned back to the screen, reading the material more carefully. Malone could see the exact second that Masterson came to his conclusion, his brows furrowing as he cast a quick glance in Malone's direction. Bingo. There was no satisfaction in knowing that he was right. And he still needed to hear it confirmed.

Masterson was flicking backwards and forwards through the electronic file, his expression growing grim. Malone cleared his throat to get the doctor's attention. "Well, Lucas?" he asked when the man finally looked at him.

Masterson leant back in his chair, his expression still guarded although Malone could sense the anger seething underneath. It wasn't aimed at him though, and for that he was mildly grateful. Masterson reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What do you want to know, Harry?"

He turned the question on its head. "What can you tell me?"

"Very little."

"Very well, would you mind if I asked some questions?" Masterson made a 'go ahead' gesture. "You said that the injuries weren't fresh?" A nod. "Old enough to be two, maybe three weeks old?"

"Some of them were older than that."

"But not all?"

"Some were older," replied Masterson cautiously.

"Older as in... possibly inflicted over weeks?"

"Possibly."

"Months?"

"Possibly, I can't say." Masterson held up his hand to stop Malone's next question. "And that's just because the records don't tell me that information."

"But you said they were superficial?"

"None were life threatening," agreed Masterson, still cautiously. "At least not the ones recorded here." Damn, but this was hard work. But he could hardly blame the man. He wouldn't want his medical records shared either.

"Had he received medical attention before that?" Masterson nodded, and Malone let out a sigh of relief. He had wondered whether Jackson had been so concerned with keeping things quiet that she'd even stopped Curtis receiving the medical attention he must have required. "Is there anything else you can tell me about the... type of examination that was conducted in Germany?"

"Thorough."

Well, that was illuminating, Malone thought, until it dawned on him that Masterson was giving him information, obliquely certainly, but still...

"More thorough than would be suggested by the nature of the injuries?"

"Let's just say," replied Masterson with the kind of icy calm about him that Malone knew from bitter experience meant that the man was very, very angry. He'd been on the receiving end of it once or twice when his agents had been submitted with injuries that Masterson believed could have been avoided. "That Mr Curtis was subjected to a rather... invasive examination."

Malone digested that, wondering whether it was time to cut to the chase, when Masterson interrupted his chain of thought. "They did blood work too."

"Is that usual?"

"Not normally, unless they have reason to. And they didn't take one." Malone's look silently urged the doctor to continue, and with a sigh he did. "They took one at the time, one three months after that and one three months after that." At Malone's sharp look, Masterson scowled again. "And no, I'm not going to tell you the results. Let's just say that anything that needed to show up would have done in the medical I performed on Mr Curtis before he was recruited."

Now was the time for the $64,000 question.

"Is there evidence to support the hypothesis that Mr Curtis was raped?"

Masterson stared at him for a very long moment, his expression unsurprised. Eventually he asked, "Purely as a hypothesis?" Malone nodded. Masterson took a deep breath. "There's nothing in these records that specifically supports that idea." Before Malone had much time to digest this, Masterson continued. "However, there is also nothing in these records that contradicts that hypothesis either. And..." He hesitated again. "For all of the thoroughness of the examination, actual conclusions are thin on the ground, and I get the distinct impression that the omission was deliberate."

Malone stared into space. "Sam Curtis was raped," he said out loud, more to try and get his head around the idea than to be overheard. Masterson replied anyway.

"Off the record?" he asked softly. Malone looked at him startled, knowing that if Masterson was going off the record then this was serious, and nodded. "I'd say yes, and more than once." He gave Malone a long second to digest this too, his eyes never leaving Malone's face. "There's a notation on file that Curtis required counselling, but it was overruled."

"On medical grounds?" Masterson shook his head, his face disgusted. "Jackson." It wasn't a question, but Masterson nodded his head anyway.

"That was the name attached, yes."

Malone sighed, and rubbed his own nose. This was the facet of the job he hated. "Thank you, Doctor Masterson."

Masterson gave a snort of unamused laughter. "Next time I see Curtis, I'm going to send him to someone I know outside CI5. I take it that won't be overruled?"

"No, Lucas, that most definitely will not be overruled. Not overruled at all."

~*~

Chris Keel lay curled up round a cushion on his sofa staring sightlessly at the tombstones glowing softly in the first rays of dawn. He had been like this for hours, since he had screamed into the parking lot, run into his apartment and virtually thrown himself into the shower, undressing even as the scalding water poured over him, scrubbing until bitter salty tears of anger had blurred his vision, threatening to spill. After furiously shutting the water off and with just a towel round his hips he had yanked a Bud from the fridge, pulled the phone from its socket and collapsed on the sofa, slowly curling into himself.

The Bud still stood on the table, almost untouched, the bubbles long since gone as Chris continued to stare into the hell of his own mind.

At first, images from the warehouse had assailed him, fractured and nonsensical, bringing only the intensely agonizing feelings of anger, disgust and helplessness aimed solely at himself, with the all-encompassing self-hatred wrapped around him like a shroud. But eventually, achingly slowly, the broken shards of memory began to put themselves together, and Chris was able to begin to rationalise his feelings.

However he looked at it, there was nothing he could have done. The only other option would have been to abandon Sam during the fight, tried to go and find him later, but that could only have resulted in the far worse abuse of his partner, possibly even full-blown rape, for Dontchenko was clearly out to get something from Sam.

Being used to force Sam to do what he'd done willingly was a crushing blow to Chris' ego, and he couldn't escape the guilt and helplessness that went with it, but again, there was nothing more he could have done. He'd tried to tell Sam not to do it, but he'd also known that the Englishman would still have done whatever it took to preserve his partner's life.

He'd liked Sam for a long time, even thought he might have loved him in a brotherly sort of way. The feelings he'd had for the Englishman had confused the hell out of him for a time, as he'd never been that way inclined, and he still found himself sometimes reading signals from his partner that he would later convince himself weren't really there. But to see Sam actually engaged in an act that had previously been confined to his fantasies, and certainly not in that kind of sadistic circumstance, had brought those feelings back with a vengeance. A vengeance that his body had responded to instinctively, albeit completely and utterly against his will.

The black shroud of self-loathing grew darker and deeper around him, and Chris sank into it, fully deserving of the pain it brought.

What must Sam think of him now? Chris blinked slowly. What must Sam be thinking, period?

Chris tried to put himself in Sam's shoes, tried to see what Sam would have seen. The Englishman would only have seen his partner bound and helpless, and Chris knew him well enough to know that he would have done what he had to, to get them both out of there. Helpless, that word again, one of those that brought the black shroud clinging tighter around his soul. But what must Sam be feeling? What would Chris be feeling if the situation had been reversed? Disgusted at having to do that to save his partner? Disgusted with himself for doing it?

Damn. Whatever he himself may or may not deserve, Chris knew instinctively that Sam would be eaten up with a pain he surely didn't deserve. Who wouldn't be after being virtually raped in front of his best friend? He had seen the hopeless despair in Sam's eyes, seen the almost imploring evidence of his partner's bleak gaze. And had been too wrapped up in his own shame to do anything about it. Chris knew that no one else had seen it, knew that Sam wouldn't let anyone else see it, and that would be his undoing. Jesus, he'd even managed to abandon Sam car-less at headquarters; what sort of friend did something like that at a time like this? The black shroud took a new guilt hungrily on board; the guilt of turning his back on the Englishman when he must be needing his best friend by him.

Chris needed to make sure that Sam was okay, needed to make sure that Sam would survive, move forward. Only then could he let his own misery run away with him, lead him to make the decisions he must if he were to survive too.

As the sun peeked over the horizon, Chris rose from the sofa, a new determination in his movements as he quickly dressed and left his apartment to go and see his partner. He never heard his mobile buzzing insistently under the haphazard pile of damp clothes that still lay on the bathroom floor.

~*~

Sam had put all of his training into effect, moving across London in such a way as to avoid detection as long as possible. He couldn't phone for backup, since he knew that if Dontchenko had found out his address, and beaten him to it, that meant only one thing. Someone inside CI5 was feeding him information, and right now the fear that if he did contact his colleagues Dontchenko would find him again was greater than the fear of being on his own. He was used to being on his own, had been until partnered with Chris, and while it wasn't comfortable it was a familiar fear and he embraced its familiarity now.

His first, instinctive response had been to get to Chris, feeling somehow that his partner would protect him. It wasn't until he was actually standing in a phone box about two miles from his house and was half way through dialling his friend's number that reality reared its ugly head.

Chris didn't want anything to do with him. Even if he helped Sam out of some misplaced sense of loyalty that would only place him in danger. He may not care about Sam, but Sam still cared about him, which would mean that if Sam dragged Chris into this, Dontchenko would use Chris against him just like he had back at the warehouse. No, he'd find somewhere where he was safe and then he'd phone the office and Chris, warning them that he'd been compromised.

It never occurred to him that if Dontchenko had found out his address that he could have done the same for Chris', because it never occurred to him that Chris deserved to be found the way that he did.

He didn't analyse why he felt that he deserved to be found.

He'd switched off his mobile instinctively, concerned about triangulation, although the fear that if Dontchenko had found out his address he could have found out his phone number meant that he wouldn't have answered it if it had rung. He would have been terrified that if he had he would have heard Russian on the other end.

He'd been acting on instinct and his instinct served him well. He'd travelled to one side of London, on the underground this time feeling a safety in numbers that outweighed the revulsion at being touched, and withdrawn a large quantity of cash from a cash machine there. Then he'd fled to the other side of London before finding a hotel. He'd checked in under one of his CI5 aliases, one so common a name that he'd melt into the crowds, and he only used that name because these days hotels insisted on having a credit card imprint when you checked in. He had no intention of paying by credit card since he could be traced that way, but since there was no reason for them to put his card through the system before he checked out, and he was going to pay cash then, he had to take that risk.

He'd also stopped on the way at one of the stalls that lined London's streets and purchased a non-descript overnight bag and a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and razor. It both meant that he wouldn't attract attention checking into a hotel without luggage and that he'd have a clean change of clothes. He hadn't been able to bear the thought of wearing his suit any longer, not when he'd been wearing it when Dontchenko...

He'd cut off that trail of thought since it brought both the memories and the fear crashing back and if he'd given into them he wouldn't have been able to operate. He'd curl up in a quivering heap until Dontchenko and his flunkies found him. He'd refused to acknowledge the sense of déjà vu that his flight across the city engendered. He'd refused to think about Konstantin at all.

How he'd managed to make polite conversation with the receptionist of this average hotel he didn't know, but he'd managed. He'd even managed to flirt with her a little, another bleached blonde to add to the list that Chris kept reminding him of, even though inside his only thoughts were of hiding. However, he'd done nothing to attract too much attention to himself. Just another middle manager on another business trip, with nothing to make him stand out from the crowd.

Apart from the fact that not only did he lock the door but he'd also propped the chair provided in the room in front of it, and then he'd had a shower that had lasted almost an hour.

And then, clutching his gun in one hand and dressed in the jeans and t-shirt he'd purchased, he'd fallen into an uneasy sleep, his back to the wall, well away from the window. He'd dreamed of Dontchenko, and Konstantin.

And Chris.

He'd woken just after dawn and still put off phoning Chris, rationalising to himself that it wouldn't do to wake his partner this early, and refusing to admit it was because he didn't want to hear the contempt in his partner's voice. Ran like a rabbit, Curtis? he could hear the phantom Chris saying. Well, isn't that what you do? Take the easy way out? That's what you did with Dontchenko.

Finally, by seven a.m. he couldn't rationalise the need to call Chris away anymore. No matter what, his partner needed to know what he could face today, and at the very least Chris would be facing questions from Malone. Besides, by now he'd calmed down somewhat, and although there was still a healthy amount of fear it was now balanced with Sam's normal professionalism.

There was no answer.

Frowning, Sam tried his mobile.

Still no answer.

The first thing that crossed Sam's mind was that Chris was screening his phone calls and just did not want to talk to him. The night before he may have been able to convince himself of that, and would probably have crawled into bed and pulled the covers over himself. Or put his own gun to his head. Thankfully, now he was almost back into, not quite full agent mode, but sufficient to enough operate anyway, and managed to persuade himself that this was full blown paranoia. No matter how Chris felt about him at the moment, the man was too much of a professional to ignore a phone call from someone who, for the present at least, was his partner.

The fear was starting to claw its way back up into his throat, only this time the fear wasn't for himself, it was for Chris. He tried to tell himself that it was irrational, that it was paranoia, but he knew deep in his heart that it wasn't. Chris wasn't answering the phone because he was in trouble.

The guilt came galloping back right along with the fear. This was his fault. Chris was in trouble and he hadn't phoned earlier to either warn him or check on him. Hadn't called him because once again he'd let the cowardice control him. First Pavel and now...

A sudden image of Chris lying dead on the floor in Pasha's place assailed him and he almost doubled over, gripped by a combination of grief and nausea. His mind screamed 'No' at him, over and over again as he staggered into the bathroom, and for the second time in less than twenty four hours humiliated himself by vomiting, although this time thankfully without an audience.

As he held cupped hands under the tap, clumsily scooping up water to swallow and take the acid taste from his mouth, his mind tried frantically to figure out what to do now. It didn't take him long to come to a realisation. There was no choice for it. He was going to have to phone HQ and risk being tracked down.

With a heavy heart, he picked up his mobile and finally switched it on.

~*~

"Sir?" Backup stood at the door of Malone's office. The CI5 boss had only just got in, having been to his usual round of early morning meetings and she was certain that he would freak when she told him the news.

"Yes, Miss Backus?" he asked, somewhat distractedly.

Backup stepped into the small room and braced herself. "It's Curtis and Keel, sir, they're in trouble."

Malone raised an eyebrow, and looked at her with a surprised expression that bordered on worry. "Go on, Miss Backus."

Backup bit her lip in an effort to control her own anxiety. "Sam called. His apartment is under surveillance by what he believes could be Russian Mafiosi connected to Dontchenko. He's lying low at the moment; wouldn't tell me where."

"I see," Malone said, thoughtfully. "And Mr Keel?"

Backup cleared her throat uneasily, "Sam said he couldn't get hold of Chris and neither could I; he's not picking up either his home phone or mobile. Richards did a quick recon on his way in and reported that Chris' car is parked outside Sam's place, along with some guy just sitting in an old sedan. I told him not to stop and check it out, and he couldn't see any sign of Chris from just cruising by."

"I see," Malone repeated, and pinched the bridge of nose tiredly. He sat, deep in thought for a few moments, until Backup cleared her throat again. He looked up at her and instructed, "Miss Backus, you and Mr Spencer are to be on standby. If, or when Mr Curtis contacts you again, you are to assist him in every way possible. Further, you are to inform myself, and only myself that he has called."

"Sir?" Backup was puzzled.

Malone sighed, "Dontchenko knew that Messrs Curtis and Keel were on their way to that warehouse. I shall be out of the office for most of the day, therefore you will ensure that you contact me only on a secure line. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," she nodded. She knew that she didn't have the full story, and itched to know what it was. As she retreated from the office to inform Spencer, she reflected on what she had seen when they had pulled Curtis and Keel out of the warehouse. Neither of them had seemed themselves, particularly Sam, and her worry for both of her colleagues, no, more than that, her friends, only escalated further.

~*~

They said that a man's deeds come back to haunt him, but Grigoriy Rzhevitin had never expected to be haunted by something he hadn't done. But every man must face a reckoning, although with luck it would be delayed until after death. The second that Grisha opened his door he knew that his luck had run out.

The man who stood there on his front doorstep reminded Grisha of that very British symbol - the bulldog. Tenacious and vicious if provoked. Even his face bore bulldog features although the man could not be described as ugly. He was quite dapper, as the English liked to say, dressed in a smart suit and colourful tie. Only a little younger than Grisha, he seemed to bear his years well, much better than Rzhevitin did anyway.

"Yes?" asked Grisha cautiously.

"Mr Rzhevitin?" asked the interloper. Some instinct told Grisha that there was no point in lying about his identity - he was sure that this man was well aware of who he was. That didn't mean he was going to make it easy on him though.

"What do you want?" he growled impatiently.

"My name is Harry Malone. I head up CI5, Criminal Investigation Five." The name was only just familiar enough to Rzhevitin for him to know that they were an official organisation but no more. "I understand that you are familiar with one of my operatives, Sam Curtis? I'd like to come in and talk to you."

"I know no-one of that name."

"I've been informed by my contacts within MI6 that you do know Mr Curtis, that in fact you were involved in an operation with him in Moscow, about seven years ago."

"Then talk to your 'contacts'," Grisha protested. "I know no-one of this name."

He moved to shut the door, but this man, this Malone, anticipated his move and placed one foot firmly in the way. "I believe you do," Malone continued, his voice steel. "You may know Sam Curtis under a different name, but know him you do, Mr Rzhevitin."

Grisha was on the point of protesting his innocence again when the man reached into his leather folio case. All of Rzhevitin's instincts came screaming to the fore but before his ageing body could respond, the man pulled forth what he'd been seeking. Not a weapon but a glossy ten-inch by eight-inch colour photograph.

Aleksandr's eyes stared out of it at him.

He'd almost have preferred a gun. The pain of a bullet would have been mercifully brief compared to the ache that this picture triggered. An old ache, and one he thought he'd learnt to live with. He'd been wrong.

Aleksandr was older in this picture than he remembered - early thirties maybe. Which would be about right if the photograph had been taken recently. His hair was still as dark, but shorter now, more contained and less unruly than the silken mass he remembered. His face was thinner, but the eyes, the eyes...

Aleksandr's eyes had been the first thing that most people noticed about him, a warm grey-green that sparkled when he was happy and snapped to a cold, steel grey when he was not. The eyes in this picture were grey, shuttered and cold, like the last time he'd seen Aleksandr. He sighed heavily. It appeared that time did not heal all wounds after all.

"He's alive?" he asked, holding the photograph in his hands and staring at it, trying to reconcile the man he saw now to the boy he had known.

"Yes."

Another sigh. "I wondered. After Moscow, I wondered if he would make it."

This man, this Malone, frowned. "I wasn't aware that Mr Curtis had been that badly injured."

Grisha didn't look at him, his attention still fixed on the photograph. "In his body, no. In his soul..." He broke off to give an eloquent shrug. "I persuaded them to send him to Carl, after. I knew that if anyone could put him back together it would be Carl."

"Mr Rzhevitin, what the hell happened in Moscow?" His inquisitor's voice snapped with irritation and somehow Grisha, who no longer had any faith in human kind, knew that this very English gentleman was concerned about Aleksandr, concerned in a way that it was unlikely that anyone since Dietrich had been.

Grisha still didn't answer, staring down at an older Aleksandr. The questions had brought back more memories than he was comfortable with. There was only so much a man did in his life that he could live with. The rest was shoved behind closed doors, and now this man wanted to open them.

On the other hand, wasn't this a way to make amends? A way of apologising to Aleksandr for doing nothing because he'd been too cowardly to do something? He remembered the young man's eyes, even after all of this time. How green they could appear in the right light, and how warm and friendly. And he remembered them the last time he'd seen Aleksandr - cold, grey and guarded, no warmth and no light.

He finally looked up into coldly furious blue eyes. "Walk with me," he said, conscious even now that for all his supposed lack of influence or knowledge if this man was asking questions and stirring up a hornet's nest his own home may be bugged. MI6 may not guard their own, but they watched their backs. "The coastline is really something to see. Let me show you."

He placed the picture firmly onto the telephone table by the door and fetched his coat down from the hook it hung on, his movements slow and deliberate. "Come," he said again, gesturing for the man to precede him. "We will walk, and we will talk."

Leading the way to the cliffs, he started speaking before he was even aware of it, his accent heavy even after all this time as an anglophile.

Oxford, September 1992

When they told Grigoriy Rzhevitin that they'd decided to send a twenty three year old undercover, he'd had his doubts. For an assignment like this, the procedure was normally to recruit a national, someone who was already in the required position and was susceptible to either bribes or blackmail. He pointed this out to the powers that be, to no avail. They assured Grisha that the assignment was neither complicated nor overly dangerous. All the more reason to recruit someone on the ground, he insisted. His superiors pointed out, rather snidely in his opinion, that this was not the old style Soviet Union they were talking about. They were not dealing with the KGB, just had their concerns about a low-level criminal. The agent they had in mind may have lacked a great deal of undercover experience, but they were convinced of his abilities. No point in devoting a great many resources to what was effectively a police investigation. Besides, they didn't like being second-guessed, especially not by someone in as lowly a rank as Grisha, no matter how much experience in the field he had.

The problem was that Rzhevitin had a great deal of experience in the field, dating from when you were up against the KGB and its satellites not the newly emerged Russian mafia, and there was something to be said for that kind of knowledge. And so, biting back on bitter words, he was all prepared to dislike this young pup on sight. But then, wasn't life always disappointing?

He was pleasantly surprised to discover that far from being an arrogant young know-it-all, Aleksandr Dubranov, since for security reasons Grisha was never informed of his real name, was a pleasant and attractive young man who treated Grisha with the respect the ageing Russian felt he deserved. That didn't mean he was obsequious, a trait Rzhevitin privately despised, but he was attentive and asked intelligent questions, showing quick flashes of a dry humour, and although occasionally cocky Grisha was tolerant of this flaw. He was young after all, and if the young cannot be sure of themselves what was the point of being young? Besides, as far as Grisha could tell, his cockiness never translated into foolish risk taking.

His accent was good too, for a non-native Russian speaker, and they worked to improve it until Aleksandr sounded enough like a young country boy coming up to Moscow to find work to fool even Grisha. He was a quick study, with an ear for accents and a flair for languages that impressed Grisha in spite of himself, and Grigoriy Rzhevitin was not an easy man to impress. The more time he spent with this young man, the more he liked him.

They worked on the other skills he would need for his assignment too, with the assistance of a young English woman who claimed Aleksandr had naturally talented hands. Judging by the way the two of them flirted, Grisha would be surprised if she'd come to that conclusion solely from the classroom. Ah, the young. Aleksandr was a natural flirt, another talent that would not come amiss on this assignment although since it was not Grisha's place to tell him this, the Russian said nothing. Grisha was not supposed to know more about Dubranov's assignment than the fact that the young man was going undercover, but experience had taught Grisha many things, including know more than your enemies and never let them know you do. And that went double for your allies.

The time past swiftly, with Grisha working the boy day and night, although Aleksandr still managed to fit in his young lady now and then. By the time that Aleksandr was ready to be placed on assignment, Grisha was feeling as paternal about him as he ever got, which was to say not very paternal at all. He would still sacrifice him if the greater good called for it - he was nothing if not professional - but he would feel a pang of regret if it came to that.

And so the young man with remarkable grey-green eyes who answered to the name of Aleksandr Dubranov, at least on a temporary basis, went undercover as a masseur in one of the more reputable spas in Moscow, with the remit to gather as much information about the activities of one Sergei Konstantin as was safe to do so.

Moscow, late March 1993

When Aleksandr had first gone missing, his controller appeared to believe that the young man was following a lead. Although Dubranov was supposed to maintain regular contact, he would not be the first agent to fail to do so if they felt they were on to something. Rzhevitin did not find out that the boy was missing until he had been lost for three days. When he finally approached Aleksandr's controller about it the woman was only mildly concerned about Dubranov's failure to check in, and less than appreciative of Grisha's interference. At the time he'd thought that it was sloppy practices on the Agency's part; that they'd grown careless post-Glasnost believing that the threat of the KGB was neutralised and that they were more than capable of handling the assorted mafias that had sprung up to fill the void. Although this short-sightedness had disgusted him, he had washed his hands of it, believing that it wouldn't be long before they realised their mistake and set the hounds on the trail of Aleksandr. He could only hope that it wasn't too late for the boy, but he was only one man and growing no younger. What could he do? Besides, if Aleksandr was to survive in the dangerous business that he had chosen, it was better that he be faced with the harsh realities of life as a covert operative sooner rather than later. It would not be the first time that Rzhevitin had lost a colleague, including some he was close to and although they were rarely as young as Dubranov it was far from unheard of. Grisha hardened his heart and prepared to accept that the young man would either turn up or become a statistic, found floating in the Volga.

As the days turned into first weeks and then months, it became apparent that no efforts were being made by the Agency to find their lost operative. Not only did Aleksandr not turn up, alive or dead, but the air of seeming disinterest on the part of his controller continued. The apathy began to enrage Grisha, who had thought himself beyond caring about his fellow men. In fact, it precipitated more than one vodka-fuelled tirade when he was safe in his tiny, uncomfortable flat, unobserved by his employers - surveillance equipment was expensive and in the new Russia Grisha was too unimportant to warrant it. Nobody deserved to be forgotten like this, especially not a young, amusing man like Aleksandr, with eyes that turned heads and talented hands.

Finally inspired by his more maudlin musings, he made some small effort to locate Dubranov himself, being cautious as always that his curiosity did not put himself at risk. His current employers may view him with amused tolerance, seeing him as one of the old guard, a remnant of the cold war with limited use in this brave new world but he still had contacts. It would not do for them to dismiss his skills as cavalierly as they had. It was an affront to his pride, and it was probably that which inspired him in his task as much as concern for Aleksandr; a way of thumbing his nose at his bosses and showing them that for all his grey hair and wrinkles, he knew more about espionage than they'd forgotten, that he was still useful, capable of succeeding where they could not.

To his immense surprise, it didn't take him long to find out where Aleksandr was, since Konstantin had made no attempt to cover his tracks. In one respect, it meant that the work Aleksandr and Rzhevitin had put in to perfect Aleksandr's accent had paid off because Konstantin had obviously fallen for the act, never suspecting that he had a cuckoo in his nest.

For all of five minutes, Grisha had chuckled to himself, mentally awarding Aleksandr a pat on the back for insinuating himself so close to Konstantin and a surge of pride that it was his teaching that had enabled the man to do so. And then what his contact told him trickled into his brain. The mafia boss was known to have a predilection for young men, and few, if any, of his houseguests went there willingly. He could only hope that Aleksandr was one of them. And even if the boy were there willingly, it didn't mean that Aleksandr wasn't out of his depth. For all of his maturity he was, after all, very young.

After a lot of thought, he dutifully, but without enthusiasm, reported his findings back to Aleksandr's controller, conveying the impression that he'd come across this information through gossiping with old compatriots rather than because he'd been looking. When the cold winter wind blew the way it was at the moment, he remembered how old he was becoming and how much he looked forward to spending his retirement in England rather than endure more harsh Russian winters. It would not do to rock the boat now by either revealing that he'd deliberately sought out the information or by keeping the information, once found, to himself. If you did know something and suspected that your allies would find out, it was best to come clean in the 'spirit of co-operation'.

When his report was greeted with the same enthusiasm as it was delivered he gave an internal shrug, coming to the conclusion that the news was not new. He would keep an eye out for developments, but for now his hands were tied and at least Aleksandr was alive. From what he'd gleaned from his contacts, the boy was likely to remain so even if he did not remain unharmed. Konstantin rarely kept his 'houseguests' for long - in fact given his past record Dubranov should have been released by now - and although there were rumours that more than one had been unable to deal with life post-Konstantin, Rzhevitin was satisfied that Aleksandr would cope. He wouldn't last long in this business if he couldn't. With another internal sigh he mentally consigned Aleksandr to the corner of his mind.

And that was the way it remained until tonight.

Grisha wasn't even supposed to be at the safe house. There were individuals who manned these few outposts, men and women with cold eyes, sharp hearing and itchy trigger fingers, and agents like Grisha tended to avoid them as much as possible. However, this particular safe house barely merited the word, having fallen somewhat into disuse following Glasnost, and had become an informal gathering point for the older agents, those who remembered the bad old days. And meeting together like this was another way of thumbing their noses at their current bosses, and their opposite numbers. Grisha was not the only one who felt left behind in a rapidly moving world.

The doorbell ringing had surprised him. He hadn't even been aware that it still worked. Shuffling down to the front door, cursing the cold that aggravated his stiff joints, he was convinced that it would be someone with the wrong address. He still took his weapon with him - Grigoriy Rzhevitin was no fool and he had not survived as long as he had in this game by taking stupid risks.

When he saw the condition Aleksandr was in, he almost wished for a wrong address.

~*~

The doctor had been and gone by the time that Dubranov regained consciousness, bandaging the worst of his injuries and providing Grisha with antibiotics and painkillers at a vastly inflated price. Grisha held his tongue, knowing that it was the price of the woman's silence. She also gave him a run-down of at least some of what the young man had been through - for free. She could glean that much from the nature of some of the injuries. Grisha held his tongue at that too - he'd suspected that Aleksandr would suffer something of the sort when he'd first heard about Konstantin's reputation, although seeing the end result with his own eyes had shocked even him to the core.

She sewed up the knife wounds in his hip as best she could, uncaring when Aleksandr shifted and moaned under her touch. For a brief second though, Grisha thought that he'd seen a faint flicker of sympathy in her eyes, and he warmed to her slightly, recognising a kindred spirit - someone who didn't want to care but against their best efforts did. It did not, however, stop her from silently demanding and receiving a hefty bribe before she left, for which Grisha could only hope that his employers would see fit to recompense him. It was a bitter thought that couldn't last long in the face of Dubranov's obvious distress, even while unconscious. The young man tossed and moaned, incapable of keeping still, and Grisha's heart contracted with a combination of fear and pity as the pleading words fell from the young man's lips - in a mixture of English and Russian. Perhaps his training of Aleksandr hadn't been thorough enough after all.

When Aleksandr did wake, however, he did so silently and with a stillness that was unnatural. In fact, Grisha only became aware that the young man was now conscious simply because he became so still.

Aleksandr was watching him, his face shuttered; no fear, no anger, just control. Thankfully there was no blankness either - Grisha had seen that on the faces of colleagues and, damn it, friends who had had all that they could take and didn't want to deal with anything any more. Aleksandr didn't have that look, and Grisha let out a tenseness he hadn't known he was feeling with a long, soft sigh. He'd survive.

But not unscathed. While there was no retreat into unreality, there was also no warmth in Aleksandr's expression at all. Not a faintest hint that he was pleased to see Rzhevitin or that he was relieved to be free. With another heavy sigh, the Russian settled himself into the overstuffed armchair, sitting facing Aleksandr, schooling his own expression into affability and ensuring that he didn't get too close to his colleague. The young man was a demon with a knife; Grisha had seen him training often enough in Oxford to know and be wary of that fact.

On some level he was pleased to note that not only did Aleksandr not flinch back from him but the young man coolly surveyed the room, his eyes automatically checking for exits and signs of danger. It was only much later that it occurred to him that far from being a sign of a cool operative, it was probably a sign of a very damaged young man and by that time he'd colluded with Aleksandr's controller to send the young man back into hell.

~*~

South Coast of England, Present Day

Telling this quiet and reserved man standing before him about the events of over seven years before went some way to alleviating Rzhevitin's lingering guilt. He was enough of a realist to acknowledge that even now he was only able to talk about what had happened because he was retired safely to the English coast and he didn't feel that his pension or residential status was threatened. He was a survivor above all, and whoever this man was, and the words 'Criminal Investigation 5' meant little to Grisha, there was no doubting that his man was powerful - he fairly radiated it.

He skirted around many of the issues, referring to them obliquely rather than directly, but this man picked up on the nuances nonetheless.

"What happened to Mr Curtis then?" the man asked.

'Mr Curtis'. The name made Grisha uncomfortably, implying that Aleksandr had a real life, one outside of the confines of the job and that merely brought home the reality of the situation. Besides, he was traditional enough to feel that using Aleksandr's real name in the context of this discussion was... disrespectful somehow. Whoever this 'Sam Curtis' was, he was not Aleksandr to Grisha's mind and the Russian neither knew nor wanted to know him.

"Aleksandr," he stressed the word, "met with his controller that evening." It was a mild rebuke and one that the man took silently, being neither rebuked nor acknowledging that Grisha had tried. His gimlet blue eyes bored into Grisha, but the Russian had been interrogated on numerous occasions and didn't fold now. "I was not privy to that conversation. All I know is that within a little over a week, the information that Aleksandr found out was used, certain materials were retrieved from Konstantin's home and Konstantin was found dead. The police believe that this was a result of a feud between Konstantin and another drug lord. Whether they are right or not..." Another eloquent shrug.

Malone obviously had no doubt in his mind about Konstantin's demise. "MI6 killed him." It was a statement rather than a question, but Rzhevitin answered it anyway.

"I do not know, and I did not ask." Not true. He hadn't been told directly, but he had his own sources and suspicions and he was quite capable of putting two and two together to get four. "All I know is that shortly after Konstantin joined his disreputable ancestors, Aleksandr Dubranov ceased to exist and the young man who used to be him was sent to Carl Dietrich in East Germany."

"At your instigation."

Another statement, yet again Grisha answered it. "I may have suggested it," he commented wryly. "Repeatedly. Until they felt that following this suggestion was the only way to get rid of an old fool who wouldn't leave them alone." And now he shrugged again, the gesture nonchalant in spite of the conversation they'd just had. "And now this old fool would like to be left alone too."

"I still have some questions, Mr Rzhevitin." It appeared that when the angels of justice came calling, they were short, English, annoying and persistent.

"I have no answers for you."

The Englishman took a different tack.

"Have you heard the name 'Yuriy Dontchenko'?"

"No."

"Vasiliy Chamczow?"

"A Ukraine," replied Rzhevitin dismissively. "Worked for Konstantin."

"Konstantin's right hand man," replied his interviewer. "He appears to have taken over Konstantin's business after his mentor's... death."

"And?" The conversation was entering uncomfortable territory again, and Grisha responded brusquely.

"He's back." The statement was made calmly. "And he appears to be more than mildly interested in Mr Curtis. I want to know why, and more to the point I want to know the lengths that the man will go to. I need to keep my man safe."

Grisha stared back out over the rolling tide, avoiding Malone's eyes. "Ask Aleksandr," he said.

Malone snorted. "Believe me, Mr Rzhevitin, I would if I knew where he had got to!" There was nothing the Russian could say to that so he said nothing, pushing the unwelcome concern back down. There was a long silence while Malone joined him in staring out over the unsettled ocean. Finally, Grisha could stand the silence no longer - it gave him too much time to think.

"If Dietrich were still alive, he may have gone there. I presume that he knows that Dietrich is dead?"

"Yes, Mr Rzhevitin, he does." A sudden thought obviously occurred to the Englishman then, and he turned sharp eyes on Grisha. "In fact," he continued, "Mr Curtis and Mr Keel were instrumental in finding the men responsible for Mr Dietrich's death and bringing them to justice."

Ah. That was why he knew of this organisation, this 'CI5' - because of Carl's death. He was losing his memory as well as his edge to his encroaching age. "Mr Keel?" he asked to cover the moment.

"Mr Curtis' partner."

So Aleksandr did not work alone these days. It surprised Grisha. From the little he'd heard about the young man since Moscow he always worked alone - so that no one could let him down, he presumed. "And does he not know where Aleksandr is?"

"Mr Keel has gone missing too."

"Ah. Perhaps they are, as you say, living it up somewhere like young men do?"

Malone snorted again. "I doubt it," he said. "We have reason to believe that Mr Keel may be in Chamczow's clutches."

Now, why would the man tell him this? What did he hope to gain? He didn't know this Keel and therefore did not care if this man was in the clutches of the Devil himself.

Malone continued, unknowingly answering Grisha's questions for him. "I can only hope that Mr Curtis is not attempting some foolhardy rescue attempt on his own."

"Aleksandr would do this?" Grisha asked, the question startled from him.

"For Mr Keel? Oh, yes."

Grisha tried to match this evidence of concern to the cold eyes in the photograph and failed dismally. It appeared that Aleksandr had not entirely rid himself of all feeling after all. He frowned as he pondered on what to do next.

"I know nothing," he said finally. "Apart from what I have already told you. The only thing I know about Chamczow is that he is trying to be Konstantin, another warlord among many but more powerful than most. From what I heard at the time of Konstantin's death, he was devastated. He loved the man like a father - a very twisted and evil father, Mr Malone. But why he would be interested in Aleksandr after all of this time? That I do not know."

"Could he think that Aleksandr has something to do with Konstantin's death?"

Grisha shrugged. "Who knows? He may believe that Aleksandr told someone the way into Konstantin's fortress, I cannot say."

"Could Mr Curtis have been involved?"

It was an intelligent question and Grisha weighed it up, wondering how much to reveal. "Unlikely," he decided. "You did not see Aleksandr, Mr Malone. The boy could barely walk when he finally reached safety. To break back into Konstantin's house a week later? No, I do not think so." He lied straight faced, and if the man in front of him guessed that he was being untruthful he gave no sign of it.

"No matter what you believe, Mr Rzhevitin, it's obvious that Chamczow doesn't share your doubts." The man gave him another sharp look. "As you said, Mr Rzhevitin, Chamczow wants to be Konstantin. Desperately. He has taken over all of the... interests that Konstantin had. The supply routes, the weapons deals... and other things."

Time hadn't dimmed Grisha's wits to the point where he failed to pick up on the undercurrents in that revelation. "Konstantin's pets..." he breathed, horrified even though he thought he'd lost capacity to feel that any more. A picture of Aleksandr's bloodstained and battered body formed in his mind and he suppressed a shudder.

"Precisely," replied Malone dryly. "And Mr Keel may well be the bait to lure Mr Curtis out of hiding."

"If the boy has any sense," retorted Grisha hotly, "he will stay hidden."

"Unlikely," replied the Englishman thoughtfully, his eyes on the distant horizon. "Among Mr Curtis' more admirable traits is a tendency to loyalty, especially towards his partner. Damned irritating at times, but applaudable all the same I suppose. He won't leave Mr Keel to suffer as he did." He sighed. "Which means that we have to get to him before he does something stupid, and we have to find Mr Keel before it is too late."

"He will not trust you," stated Grisha coldly. "Why would he?" Malone frowned at him and he elaborated. "MI6 left him there, Mr Malone. His controller left him there. Left him there to rot because he might get the information they wanted. They knew what was happening to him, and they did nothing. And so did I."

It was an open admission of guilt but Malone didn't flinch from his gaze. "I'd surmised as much."

"He will not wait, because he will not believe that you will help."

"I hope that we've shown him better, Mr Rzhevitin," said Malone mildly. "Mr Curtis knows that if the situation calls for it I will not hesitate to sacrifice my agents for the greater good. But he also knows," his voice grew steely, "that if at all possible I will move heaven and earth to get them back home safe again."

Grisha shoved his hands deep into his coat pocket and shrugged. "Perhaps you will help," he said, still coldly. "But I cannot. I know nothing else that will help you. And if you will forgive me, I am old and I feel the cold. Good day, Mr Malone."

Malone didn't stop him as he turned on his heel and left. His mind was awhirl, a tumbled mess of memories and images and he needed time to think and analyse things.

He arrived home without incident, and mechanically went about his afternoon chores; washing the few dirty dishes left over from lunch and feeding the cat, a tomcat even more old and disreputable than he was. And then, to ward off the chill in the afternoon air, he lit an open fire. The flickering light was warmth both for his bones and his soul. He sat there for a long time, staring into the flames before rousing himself and going to lock up. He wouldn't go out again today.

The picture of Aleksandr was still by the front door.

He settled back down in front of the fire, the photo in one hand and a large glass of vodka in the other. He stared at the picture for a long time, his face thoughtful.

And then he burnt it.

~*~

When Backup and Spencer pulled up outside Sam's flat, the sedan was still parked opposite. Backup told Spencer to wait in the car while she went to the front door.

She had to pass by Chris' car and used the opportunity to take a quick glance over it. Seeing nothing noticeably out of place, she continued on her way, marching boldly up to the front door and pressing the buzzer for Sam's flat.

As she waited for the reply that she knew she would never get, Backup scanned the pathway and its surrounding shrubbery. Something glinted under a small bush and, keeping her back to road, she retrieved and slipped a bunch of metal into her pocket.

There was nothing else out of place, and after buzzing again, Backup made her way back to the car where Spencer waited.

As she slid in, Spencer raised an eyebrow in question. Backup fished out the small bunch of metal keys and dangled them in front of her partner. "Chris' keys. He's been here, and as they really weren't that hard to find, I'd guess he didn't lose them by himself."

"What's that?" Spencer pointed to a little red-feathered dart tangled in the keys.

Backup's eyes grew wide. "I would imagine that's how they got him," she replied softly.

~*~

The first thing Chris became aware of was cold stone pressed against his cheek, arms and torso. The second thing he became aware of was the dull aching at the base of his skull and across his shoulders. He tried to move, to pick himself up off the floor, but his limbs refused to work and the laws of gravity seemed all wrong.

His first thought was that it must have been one hell of a party, before memory came rushing back. The warehouse, Sam, everything, including the profound hatred lurking deep inside. He had been on his way to see Sam at the Englishman's apartment, but hadn't even made it to the front door before something had bitten into his neck. He'd had only enough time pull the red-fletched dart from his skin before the ground had risen up and smacked him in the face.

Chris swore silently as he wondered if Sam were here too. His partner had been through too much recently and even though he didn't understand some of it, the American was worried about him. Even before the warehouse incident, Sam was treading on thin emotional ice, and since then, well, Chris hadn't been looking, but it was a sure bet that the Englishman was falling apart inside, no matter how well he hid it from the outside world.

Right now, Chris couldn't bring himself to think of the warehouse as anything other than 'the incident'; otherwise he would be dragged back down into examining not only the events but also his reactions to it again, reactions that he deeply despised in himself, and he was determined to avoid that at all costs if he were to function.

Muffled voices in the background brought Chris back to the present, and he immediately thought that he must have another concussion because the words made no sense. As his mind became clearer, he realised that he was hearing words spoken in a guttural, though fluid foreign language; a language he had heard before, back at the warehouse.

Deciding that it was about time that he worked out where he was, Chris cracked his eyes open. And immediately wished he hadn't. The light was bright, but not unbearably so; however, the sight of his arm manacled to the wall against which he was slumped explained gravity and the aching pressure in his shoulders. He shifted slightly, testing his arms and legs. He seemed to be spread-eagled face-forward to the wall, attached firmly at both wrists and ankles. He had been stripped to the waist at some point, but left with his black jeans and boots.

A startled exclamation from one of the voices behind him followed by rapid footsteps, told Chris that someone had noticed that he was awake. A strong, calloused hand grasped his chin roughly, and Chris looked into cold, almost colourless pale eyes in an Aryan face topped with receding blond hair.

"Vasiliy!" the other voice called from somewhere behind. A string of unintelligible words followed, and 'Vasiliy' dismissed the other man with an impatient "Da!" as he continued to study Keel, blowing acrid smoke into his face that made the American screw his eyes shut and try to pull away.

Eventually, Vasiliy spoke in a thick accent, "Your CI5 personnel file claims that you are American, Mr Keel."

Chris squinted his eyes open and glared at the man, not willing to give him anything until he had at least some idea of what this was all about. He guessed that it probably had something to do with Dontchenko, but other than that, had no clue. The hand moved frighteningly fast from his jaw to his hair, slamming his head into the wall.

Grunting more from the shock than the pain, for restricted as he was, there was no real force behind the blow, though it brought back the headache he had had the evening before, slowly throbbing it's way round his skull. Chris blinked away the small pain and returned a steady gaze to Vasiliy.

"How well do you know Sasha?" the blond man asked. Chris couldn't stop the confusion from showing on his face and Vasiliy seemed a little taken aback. "Aleksandr Dubranov. You have been seen with him; I was informed that you worked with him. Ah, but your CI5 database names him as Samuel Curtis. Is this name more familiar to you? You are close to him, I am told."

Chris thought fast. This jerk was under the impression that Sam was some guy called Aleksandr Dubranov, which, considering the amount of deep cover ops Sam had to have been on with MI6 as well as CI5, was entirely possible. But Chris chose not to think about that; he had to protect Sam and he refused to be the helpless pawn again. He didn't know this Aleksandr Dubranov, and that was what he was sticking to. Like someone once said, he couldn't tell a lie if his life depended on it. Not only that, whether or not this Aleksandr whatever-his-name-was had been an alias of Sam's, he wasn't about to hand Sam or anyone else over to a man who kidnapped and chained people to walls. He owed Sam way too much for that.

"You've got the wrong guy," Chris told Vasiliy. "I don't know..." He broke off as his head met the wall again.

"Listen to me, Mr Keel. It seems that Sasha has run to ground. I want him and I will make you tell me where to find him. Failing that, I will use you as bait. He cares for you, I think. Are you lovers?"

Chris was startled for the briefest instant; he had never associated that word with Sam and yet, it felt so right, even through the dark guilt that shrouded him. He snorted and smiled, closing his eyes, "You're nuts." He fully expected to be mashed into the wall again and was surprised when the hand released his hair. He opened his eyes again curious as to what was happening.

He could hear something hissing behind him and could smell burning charcoal. A shiver flew down his spine as he thought about what that could mean.

Vasiliy raised his other hand and Chris clenched his jaw, swallowing hard as he took in the long whip it held. He could see glints of silver and realised that it was not barbed, but...

"Steel alloy; she bites deep," Vasiliy grinned, showing perfect white teeth.

Chris closed his eyes and tried to brace himself for what he thought was to come. He heard Vasiliy walk behind him and stop.

The first lash, when it landed, was unexpected in its intense ferocity, slicing into his lower back, sending white-hot pain lancing through him, slicing him in half as lightning bolts danced in front of his eyes and left him gasping for breath.

Through the ringing in his ears, he heard footsteps and through blurred vision he saw the long, glowing red blade, almost an inch wide that was presented for his inspection.

"I would not like to have you bleed to death," Vasiliy explained, smiling almost happily.

Malone had once said that everyone had their breaking point and Chris had the disturbing notion that he was about to find out exactly where his was. He did the only thing he could, and focussed on the fact that he did not know and had never known an Aleksandr Dubranov.

When the blade touched him, Chris pressed himself tight against the wall in a futile attempt to flinch away, but he could hear his skin blistering, smell his own flesh burning. He bit hard at his lip, coppery blood spurting into his mouth, fighting down the scream that was building in his gut as the slow agony penetrated shocked flesh, muscles spasming in their bid to escape, and spewed through his shoulders, molten lava working its way up into his brain.

The second lash cut like a razor-sharp scalpel through the burning pain, cleaving through the skin and muscle across his shoulder blades, snatching at bone and ripping a harsh grunt from deep inside him, held back behind fiercely gritted teeth. The following cauterisation left him nauseous and light-headed and he ground his teeth together, biting his tongue, determined not to cry out the mounting need to vocalise his pain, finding a small release only through involuntarily tearing eyes.

On the third lash, he was unable to hold back and the harsh scream was torn unwillingly from the centre of his being, ripping through his throat. With it came a rush of adrenaline bursting through the pain and he willingly gave into it, taking the strength it gave him to keep going through the following burning.

Once more, the searing heat followed the savage bite and what had started as piercing, intense pain, alternating with molten, blazing agony became one long, raging inferno battling with his adrenaline-fuelled willpower. It was a war that Chris was losing as beckoning dark streaks competed with clawed lightning to obliterate his vision and shut down his mind.

He didn't notice when it stopped after the fifth application of the burning blade, continuing to pull against his manacles, abused muscles still straining to escape the unending torment, his brain still caught up in registering screaming, severed and cauterised nerve endings. He barely noticed Vasiliy grasping his chin again, saying something he couldn't hear through the blood pounding in his ears, through his own ragged panting.

Through unfocussed eyes he saw Vasiliy raise a hand and slap him, but he didn't feel it and still couldn't hear what the man was saying properly. Something about Sasha. He didn't know Sasha, he was quite sure of that even in his pain-muddled mind and he opened his mouth to tell Vasiliy so. He was as surprised as Vasiliy when his churning stomach spasmed abruptly and he vomited over both himself and his tormentor.

Vasiliy hopped away, cursing, as Chris finished emptying his stomach and lapsed into dry heaves that chased the adrenaline away. As the spasms receded, his limbs turned weak and numb as his energy and strength fled and even the raging inferno that used to be his back wasn't enough to keep Chris from passing out.