Spoilers: Minor ones for Natural Borne Killers and Alpha-126

Disclaimer: Not my characters.

A/N: No offense intended to the Muslim community. Hassan and Fasil are the products of my own twisted imagination and not based on anyone real. Also, I have no idea what Kilmer and Frankie's backgrounds were like, so I made them up.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries.

--Maya Angelo, "Still I Rise"

chapter one: frankie

Ali Hassan studied the outer face of the building in Georgetown. There was nothing to suggest the kind of people who lived inside, but Hassan knew. He'd lived in this country long enough to know that Americans were all the same – selfish, greedy heathens. Hassan shuffled into the lobby, a peaked cap hiding his face. He carried a pizza box and avoided looking at anyone as he stepped into the elevator.


He glanced at the speaker, a pretty blonde wearing jeans and a tight sweater. Slut, he thought. "Two," he said.

She pressed the button and leaned against the mirror. Hassan wished the elevator would move faster. He was eager to get this job done. When he reached his floor, he left without looking at the blonde. By the time he reached his destination, he had forgotten all about her.

He knocked on the door. "Pizza delivery!"

Another woman opened the door. Hassan frowned; was Allah testing him? No, he thought. He was reminding him of the importance of his duty. One day the world would be as it should and these harlots would accept their proper place in it.

"I'm sorry," the woman said. "I didn't order pizza."

Hassan smiled, feigning confusion. "I'm sure this is the right address." He reached into his pocket as if to retrieve a receipt. Instead, he pulled out a cloth soaked with chloroform. Dropping the empty pizza box, he grabbed the woman and held the cloth to her mouth. She struggled, but was too weak to fight him off.

Hassan kicked the box inside and dragged her to the couch, then locked the door. He wiped the doorknob to get rid of his fingerprints then put on a pair of latex gloves. He disposed of the box in the woman's kitchen, then searched through the cupboards for alcohol. When he found a bottle of whiskey hidden behind a box of cereal, he smiled.

Fasil was right, he thought. When they'd planned this, Fasil had discovered the woman, Mary Price, was a recovering alcoholic. He'd told Hassan not to buy alcohol, certain that Mary Price would have some hidden in her apartment.

Hassan emptied the bottle into the sink. He left the tap running and took the empty bottle to the living room. Mary Price was still unconscious. Hassan put the bottle in her hand, closing her fingers around it. In the morning, she would wake up thinking she was suffering from a hangover.

He returned to the kitchen, cleared up what little mess he'd made, and turned the tap off. He left the apartment via the sliding door, letting it latch closed behind him. Thankful that this was only the second floor, he climbed from Mary Price's balcony to her neighbor's.

Almost done! With a quick prayer of thanks to Allah for protecting him so far, Hassan took a lock picking kit from his pocket. Within a minute, he was inside.

He took his time studying the apartment, noticing how different it was to Mary Price's. Everything was neat – so neat that it was hard to believe someone actually lived here. There were a few photographs – a man and a woman he assumed were the woman's parents, her ex-husband, and other people he didn't recognize. A vase of flowers was on the coffee table; Hassan sneered. Flowers. Women were the same all over.

He paused. The books on the shelf weren't those ridiculous romances American women liked, but were about the criminal mind, politics and terrorism. Most surprising was the copy of the Qur'an.

Perhaps not all Americans were so weak, he thought.

Then he remembered why this woman had been chosen and hardened his heart. She was the very worst, one who thought herself equal to men and who abused the power she had been given. Allah would deal with her eventually, but Fasil would teach her first.

The phone rang. Hassan froze, breathing a sigh of relief when the answering machine picked up. He smiled as the man spoke.

"Hey, it's me. Look, I'm sorry about today. I know you're not feeling well . . . Take the next couple of days off, okay? See you on Monday."

Monday, Hassan thought. Tonight was Wednesday. By Monday she would be dead. But what a blessing! Surely Allah was smiling on them. Now all he needed was for her to come home.

He waited.

Frankie wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee, a soak in the tub, then sleep. Maybe it was time for a vacation, she thought tiredly. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a break from work.

And a break from Kilmer.

Just thinking about Kilmer made her blood boil. Of all people, he knew most how much stress she'd been under lately. The trial had taken a lot out of her and there had been no time to relax in the weeks since then. Life seemed to be a series of one crisis after another. And today Kilmer'd had the gall to yell at her for arriving late. It wasn't her fault she was sick and she had told him as much, holding up the bag of medication as proof.

No. Frankie wasn't going to think about Kilmer tonight. The way she was feeling, she might just skip coffee and the bath and go straight to bed.

Ally Jackson was stepping out of the elevator as she got in. They smiled at each other.

"Hey, Frankie. Tough day, huh?"

Frankie nodded. "You have no idea."

Ally laughed, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "You need to get out more. I can hang around if you feel like joining me tonight?"

Frankie smiled, thinking how easy it was to be Ally's friend. They had this conversation almost every week. "Maybe some other time."

"Sure. Get some rest."

Frankie let the doors slide closed and pressed the button for her floor. Once again, her thoughts drifted to Kilmer.

It was a rare day that she didn't wonder what had possessed her to agree to work with him. She'd never really considered herself masochistic, but lately she'd started to wonder about that. Of course, there were some benefits to working together. They knew each other so well that they were often able to anticipate what the other was thinking.

The drawback was that they knew each other too well and at times, it was hard to look past their shared history.

Frankie sighed, resolving once again to banish all thought of all Kilmer until tomorrow. She unlocked her front door, switching on the light as she stepped into the apartment. She put her gun down on the coffee table and draped her coat over the couch. The message light was blinking on her answering machine. Frankie ignored it.

Her curtain billowed gently in the evening breeze. Frankie frowned; she never left her windows open. Instantly on guard, she looked around to see if anything was out of place.

Strong arms enveloped her from behind and a hand covered her mouth. She recognized the sickly sweet smell of chloroform and bit down on the hand. The man swore in a foreign language. Frankie elbowed him in the gut and managed to break free. She darted for her gun. Her attacker lunged at her, tackling her to the ground. There was a sharp pain in her forehead as her head hit the edge of the coffee table, then nothing.

Sadiq Fasil was in the middle of a prayer when his cell phone rang. Asking forgiveness for the interruption, he picked up the phone and answered with a brusque, "What?"

"Salaam aleikum, brother."

Fasil relaxed. "Hassan. Tell me you have good news."

"I have the woman. She fought me. I had to injure her."

"But she is alive?" Fasil asked. It would defeat the purpose if she were already dead.

"She is alive."

"Good. Well done, brother. Aleikum salaam." Fasil hung up and kneeled to resume his prayers.

It had begun.