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He sits at his desk under the fan in a hot, humid little country which has no extradition treaty with the USA, although that's a mere formality - if they want you bad enough, they'll come get you. Assuming they can find you, of course. Checking this month's income, his eyes narrow slightly at the figures; bloody hell, mainstreaming sure pays a shitty salary. Well, compared to what he used to earn, anyway.

In a strictly legal sense, his current job is on the good side of the fence. He works as an independent contractor dealing in information slash consultation for medium to large-sized, international corporations. Some people might call his projects a bit iffy, ethics-wise, he prefers to call them 'special'. Over the last couple of months during which he has made a good name for himself, the assignments have become increasingly … interesting. More special. He double-clicks a mail in his inbox, even though at this point, he knows the offer by heart. He knows what it entails, what it could start. He knows, because a long time ago, he had chosen that very road.

Funny how the sweet taste of seduction never grows stale.

Standing up and stretching his legs – hours of research, thank you very much – he catches a glimpse of himself in the window. His hair is cut short. One of the nicer aspects of his new life is that he doesn't have to entertain the young, inconspicuous look anymore; his clients expect a quality edge from a man in his position. He can absolutely provide. A faint frown shadows his face as he studies it in the glass which has all but fogged up from the ungodly temperatures outside. He has always been a hard man and proud of it, too, yet for some reason, he has never seemed as hard as he does now. Maybe it has something to do with his memories, with the despised deficiency they tend to string along. Like the playground friend with the pesky baby sister that just won't shut the eff up. Eh, what a steaming pile of … psychobabble.

The word triggers a particular batch of memories, one of the few he actually enjoys.

He briskly walks into the pristine living room and plops down onto the large, beige couch. Everything is beige. He once tried to instill the bland beigeness – is that a word? – with a bit of a personal touch; the dejected dwarf of a ficus with its brown, curled up leaves serves as a constant reminder that, quite obviously, he was not ready yet. An amused little smile sneaks into the corners of his mouth. Assassination Managers Anonymous – Your Twelve Step Program to Lasting Humanity. Step One: Quickly Flee to Safety. Check. Step Two: Avoid Killing If At All Possible. Check. Step Three: Find Your Footing. Check. Step Four: Nurture a Houseplant. Drat.

Impulsively, his hands dig around for a certain file underneath the thick, cozy cushion. Yesterday, he has shoved it under there in a sudden fit; before that, it has been tossed into the trash, spent a fair amount of time in his closet, idled next to the shredder for weeks, loitered his kitchen … in fact, it may have seen every place in this house, invariably beckoning him back with a scarlet finger. He can't get rid of it. He simply can't not browse through it. He tells himself that one day, he won't feel these pangs anymore. He also tells himself that he keeps it around solely to monitor his progress. Another little smile, only more of the grim variety. That's what you get for going legit – you start lying to yourself. He pours himself a tall, stiff drink.

The paper is slightly crumpled, result of a restless night spent in anger a long while ago. A nice, hearty sip and alleviating heat burns down his throat, then up into his brain, spreading the happy. Cherry's unflappable. She, too, has left the country, but continues to maintain a loose, careful contact to her closest, most trusted associates. Incidentally, that includes him. There is a meticulous emergency procedure they have cooked up together years ago, cocky enough to believe they'd never need it, still professional enough to plan it. Now they profit from it. Cherry proved invaluable when he first built his new business and he honestly appreciates their occasional exchanges. She teases him often, dubbing him her 'blue Nine-to-Fiver' which he counters with 'you ditzy gangster's moll'. She has married her long-time boyfriend, a crisp lawyer with mobster ties, and resides somewhere on the old continent.

Cherry's first message after the wipe-out hit him with the force of an ultrasonic blast.

I'm fine. Rhiannon is fine (stay away from her).
Be careful!
Your favorite fruit.

'Rhiannon Mac'. The sound of his dismissive grunt bounces off the naked walls; Cherry picked that name and he's not very fond of it. A weary sigh escapes, then he surrenders, relaxing into the fluffy softness as he pulls out the notes, the pictures.

Rhiannon is fine (stay away from her).

He has already gone over it a million times in his mind. What happened, happened; he took the best course of action at any given moment. Regarding the things that didn't happen … that can't be changed. Although he sometimes wishes he could.

Right. Sometimes.

He grimaces and decides to politely decline the offer in his inbox.

Curiosity might not actually kill this cat, but it doesn't buy a lot of nice suits, either. At least not yet ... who is to say it never can? A lazy, content smirk emerges; he loves a good challenge.




Author's note:

Would you please excuse me while I break out the champagne. Who wants a glass? And don't mind me sobbing, that's just post partum depression, I guess.

Well, this is it, this is the end of From Bottom To Surface. Thank you all so much for your wonderful reviews, feedback and encouragement throughout this, uh, very long story - you guys have been incredibly kind to me. A special thanks to Royalty09 for her helpful advice and patience, as well as to First Noelle and emptyvoices.

Oh, and there's an obscure music reference in the epilogue, let's see who gets it.