Prologue

There was blood in his mouth, its taste strong, and there were trickles running down his face – more of the same, Kirill supposed foggily. He blinked, eyelashes fluttering weakly, until the world started to come into focus around him.

There was someone peering at him through the empty pane of the car's window, a man; it was him, Bourne, the target who had been bad luck for Kirill right from the start. His expression now was hard to name – and was that pity in his eyes? Kirill didn't like that. He didn't want anyone's pity.

Bourne turned and left and Kirill wanted to yell at him to return, to finish the job, but he couldn't muster the strength; his body was complaining, every nerve crying out with pain, and even now there was blood running into his eyes and clouding his vision.

With a faint groan he shifted his head, feeling the hard steering wheel beneath his forehead graze his skin. It was coming back to him now after a brief moment of darkness – shooting Bourne, the car chase, the crash. And what a crash – it had felt like his entire world had blown up, metal twisting and crumpling, pain exploding at myriad points throughout his body, the roaring darkness that had claimed his mind…

'Are you all right?' a voice whispered in his ear, a woman.

What a stupid question, Kirill thought, screwing up his eyes against the pain. It felt like his head had just been split in half, like his body had been put through a blender – of course he wasn't all right.

But he hadn't survived for so long as an assassin without his good instincts, and every one of those was telling him to keep breathing and get the hell out of there before any more people gathered around.

Injured as he was, it was these thoughts that were occupying the Russian man's mind. It wasn't until he tried to sit up that he realised how badly his body was damaged, when the world spun around him and he found himself unable even to raise his head.

A cool hand touched the back of his neck and crept around to find his pulse – he tensed instinctively, his mind screaming at him to stop that hand before it took hold of his throat, but he was too weak. He succumbed with a sigh, wondering for the first time if it might not just be easier to surrender to the darkness pulling at the edge of his mind.

'He's alive!' that voice from before said, louder this time. 'Hold on,' it added in a whisper.

But that option was looking less and less appealing as the seconds ticked by. The darkness sapping his thoughts and strength was strong and promised peace and relief from the excruciating pain – to sink down into its clutch would be by far the easier course.

Never before had Kirill come so close to giving up.

This was not his first brush with death, certainly; in his occupation, one could go only so long before confronting the end of existence. But this time was different – he, Kirill, had been bested. He had failed. Bourne had beaten him.

Sirens then, loud and insistent, intruded on his slide into comfortable death. Again his eyelids strained to open and a face filled them, a man whose eyes were surveying Kirill critically. Kirill wanted to sit up, to snarl at the man to mind his own business, but he had no strength left – not even to lift the gun that he could just barely feel in his left hand, warm and slippery from the blood coating his palm.

Then the man was fitting a mask over his face, ignoring the mumbled curses from the Russian killer, and another was cutting through the already mangled frame of the Mercedes so that his body could be more easily lifted onto the waiting stretcher.

Kirill groaned as his body was moved and manipulated by foreign hands, closing his eyes as the pain intensified and his blood pounded sluggishly in his ears. Then, thankfully, darkness claimed him again – permanently, he hoped, as a fresh wave of pain spread out from his shattered arm.

To die now would be so much easier than living.

: - : - :

Kirill didn't get his wish.

He was admitted to hospital with critical head trauma, a suspected fractured spine and a badly broken arm, covered with blood and a number of deep gashes. The gun had been taken from his blood-slicked hand in the ambulance and the card identifying him as an FSB agent had won him some curious glances from the staff involved along with the pitying ones, for none expected him to live.

However, even when unconscious he clung tenaciously to life, and the more religiously inclined amongst the staff regarded him as blessed for his spine was still intact, his nervous system undamaged. Nor did his head wounds prove fatal – he would forever bear a scar, a white ridge parting the cropped black hair, but there would be no lasting damage from what had seemed an impossible injury.

He was regarded with curiosity too, for the word was that he had been injured trying to take down a dangerous American foreigner, a man who had gone on a rampage through the city with a gun, stealing cars as he went. The younger female nurses sometimes thought up excuses to linger by his bedside and admire his chiselled profile, and discuss in low murmurs how brave he had been.

Indeed, when Kirill awoke after an unconscious period lasting quite a few weeks, it was to find that he had been in the paper, if not explicitly by name – and he still remained an FSB agent, which was useful. He liked driving that black car with the blue light; people got out of his way. And life in general was much more secure, considering that he was out of work now that the Russian oil tycoon Gretkov was in jail and looked set to stay there for a few years at least.

A thought brought a frown to the killer's face then, and he shifted uncomfortably on the starchy sheets, blinking up at the off-white ceiling.

Bourne.

He had, since finding out that his target was still alive, realised that he had been careless in Goa. He had been sure that he had shot the driver, sending the car into the river – but maybe the shock of the bullet had driven Bourne to send the car off the edge. Perhaps he had done it deliberately to put Kirill off the scent. He could even have switched places with the woman he had picked up, the woman whose face Kirill couldn't recall, the woman whose body had been found in the river.

But no matter what Bourne's method had been, the result was the same – a target still walking and a an irritating name to haunt the Russian assassin. All of this had been publicity Kirill could do without – but he had weathered worse, and would no doubt do so again.

Kirill spared little time basking in relief at the news that his body was not so badly damaged as it had at first seemed. It was not in his nature to be thankful, nor to waste time and effort on considering what might have been, and so he took it as certain that his body would heal and started laying plans for his future.

All in all, it was many weeks before he left the hospital, despite his chafing at the doctors' demands. They had wanted him to stay an extra two weeks, just to be certain that his head injury wouldn't trouble him, but Kirill was growing impatient. He was bored and hated the physical confinement, bright lights, the lack of freedom.

It was, Kirill decided as he stepped out of the hospital doors and into the chill air of a Tuesday morning, time to take a break from Moscow. He had another two month's leave from the FSB to use, and so first to Switzerland, to visit his bank vault. And then… well, something would, no doubt, present itself.

The tall Russian in the dark leather coat moved off down the street in a sure gait, betraying no sign of the recently mended arm or shocking head trauma, a slight smile on his handsome face.


AN: Thanks for reading! :)