A/N: I've loved the Hitman series since Silent Assassin, but never got around to actually doing anything creative with it. I know that someone aside from myself and my beta, Kimmae, will read this, but I realize some of you are shy and need a little prompting to review—really, it's what keeps us going.

All copyrights are reserved to he who has the most lawyers. Namely, Eidos. And props to them for it.

Chapter 1

January 15th, 2004

The telephone was ringing. He thought the sound was going to make his skull split apart at the fissures. There was something hot and uncomfortably hard against his back, but the rest of him was freezing. His...well, his everywhere ached.

It wasn't his cell phone that was going off, It was his LAN line, the actual ringing coming from an actual bell inside an actual rotary phone. He'd liked the look of it, very film noir, and decided to set it up despite the impracticality of such a thing. One ring, two, three, and on and on, relentless, until he thought the clanging was going to drive him fucking insane—then the click of his not-so-antique answering machine that he had spent one fretful afternoon jerry-rigging to the venerable rotary.

"Hi, this is Owen Smith," said his voice—and yet it wasn't his voice. I don't sound like that. I've never sounded like that. I've never been that fucking chipper. "I can't come to the phone right now, but if you'll leave your name and number, I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks!"

A pause, then:

"Smith! Goddamn it—SMITH?" shouted a woman's voice. It sounded like there was a phone bank behind her, her voice one in a tumultuous, agitated sea of other men and women making frantic calls. "Jesus Christ, I do not need this, not today—"

The person on the other line hung up. It must have taken Smith a good thirty seconds to fully comprehend the implications of the call.

Smith? Why, that's me. I'm Smith, his mind marveled. Maybe I should see what that's all about?

Smith opened his bloodshot, swollen eyes. Everything was washed in blue and gray and dark. He was in his apartment, in his living room. Waking up in his small living room in and of itself wasn't too terribly odd—but he was sitting upright on the floor, his bare shoulder braced painfully against the radiator, his hands bound together and tied to said radiator with... was that pantyhose? Yep. On top of all this, Smith was also completely bare-ass naked. The window above him was open, letting in the icy January air. Snow melted on his shoulders with tiny pin-pricks. He couldn't feel his ears, nose, or toes.

"Shit," commented Smith, more than a little surprised. So far, his headache didn't permit him to feel much more than a detached sort of concern and an overall sense of malaise.

His TV was gone, as well as his DVD player, his laptop... and his sofa, and his coffee table and the framed prints he'd gotten from yard sales and—and his everything. Anything and everything that might have had any value, monetary or sentimental. The window, on closer inspection, was not open—it was busted, and the floor around him glittered with slivers of glass. The phone and the answering machine sat side by side on the dirty, battered parquet floor. There was what appeared to be a mound of human excrement of various flavors near them, close to the door.

"Shit," said Smith again, more empathetically this time as the reality of the situation settled into his guts like a ball of ice. He was shaking, throat closing up, getting hot. It felt like there was a very good chance that he was going to throw up.

Alright, alright, calm the fuck down. First thing's first: get the use of your hands back.

He spent five minutes ripping, pulling and worrying the pantyhose with his teeth. The nylon reeked of acrid perfume and the sort of B.O. that normally prompts someone to get their crotch to a free clinic. Note to self: brush teeth 'til gums bleed, thought Smith. That was, if he still had a toothbrush to brush with.

Smith flexed his hands, grimacing over the pins-and-needles sensation. The phone was some fifteen feet away on the other side of the room. He grasped the radiator, meaning to heft himself up so he could walk over to it—like a fully functioning adult, and he started to do so—but black stars shot into his field of vision and he thought better of it. He didn't so much crawl over to the phone as he clawed and dragged his way to it. Smith had enough sense left not to crawl through the glass from the window, but cut his hand open when he tried to brush the remains of a busted bottle of Stolichnaya out of his slow, torturous path.

The answering machine said it was 4:30 PM. He had twelve unheard messages. Smith noted the number of the last incoming call on the answering machine's screen. The ID said "Pancini's Subs and Pizza," but Smith figured that was just a cover. It took a full minute to enter, the dial whirring slowly back in place after every number. The other line picked up before the first ring ended.

"Anderson," barked the woman on the other line; curt, agitated. Anderson? Who...? Ah. Sandra B. Anderson. Smith's field liaison. Smith could still hear the room of people beyond the receiver at the other end.

"It's Smith," he said thickly, mouth feeling like it was full of cotton, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest.

"Where in the blue fuck have you been?" Anderson shouted into his ear. Smith pulled back the receiver from his head in a feeble attempt to relieve the pain of the noise. Anderson was not a recreational swearer—which meant something must have really pushed her off-kilter, and not just Smith, by the sound of it. "Fuck" sounded bizarre paired with her wholesome Minnesota accent.

"I'm at my place."

"Then why the hell does your cell phone say you're in Temple Hills?" Smith didn't have the slightest clue. He didn't know anyone in Prince George's County and avoided heading over there when he could help it.

"Guess you'll hafta take that up with my phone."

"Care to give me a little to go on?" huffed Anderson. Then, everything just sort of clicked: the missing stuff, the wandering cell phone, being left left tied up. He was shocked it took him so long to grasp the situation—

"I've been robbed," said Smith in what was the understatement of the year. "Must've taken my cell, too."

"Who did it?"

"Huh?"

"Who the fuck robbed you?"

And Smith drew a blank. You would think he'd remember something as momentous as being stripped naked, getting tied up as he watched the looting of his own apartment... but, no. Nothing. Last thing he remembered was getting home from the office... and...

"What day is it?" asked Smith tentatively. He was shaking badly, as much from fear and revulsion as from cold.

"It's Monday, of course. Why?" Three days. He couldn't remember the last three fucking days— "Smith, what happened?" prompted Anderson after a few beats of silence.

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them:

"Dunno. Must've blacked out."

A hesitation as the woman on the other side of the line processed this.

"You blacked out," said Anderson in a flat monotone.

"Uh... yeah. Maybe."

"Because you were drinking. You drank for three fucking days." A blunt, appalled statement. Smith didn't answer; the silence hummed between them. "Oh, for God's sake..."

Smith did not reply. He had no excuses, no quips, no magical words that could possibly alleviate the situation.

"Smith? Smith, you still there?"

"Yeah... still here."

"Tony's already scrambled a team, they're on their way over there. I'll tell them you're alri..." Anderson trailed off, hesitated. She and Smith both knew that Smith was not 'alright;' far from it. It was possible he would never be alright again. "I'll tell him you're there."

"Thanks, Sandra," said Smith weakly.

"You are in deep shit, Owen," said Anderson, without a scrap of sympathy. A click. The line went dead.

Yeah. Story of my life, thought Smith, and clenched his bleeding fist.

***

"You may want to consider the possibility that you have a proclivity towards substance abuse," said Anthony Martinez, Smith's immediate supervisor; a statement so timid, noncommittal and politically correct that it made Smith want to punch him.

They were sitting next to each other on two folding chairs that Martinez had pulled from a closet; Smith guessed that the looters weren't much interested in portable furniture, since they'd swiped themselves an actual couch. Anthony Martinez was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome; a man in his early forties, sumptuously tan even in winter, hair plastered perfectly in place with gel, creating a comb-rutted helmet.

"Yeah," said Smith, noncommittal and ambivalent. Smith was like Martinez's contrast, a horrible polar opposite; gray, freckled skin, rapidly thinning hair paired with a face far older than his years. Smith sat shivering and hunched under a tattered comforter, his crooked-fingered hands clutched a paper cup of scaldingly hot coffee between his knees, palm of the right hand wrapped in gauze. The thieves had also taken all of Smith's suits and most of his clothes, but had left (of course) Smith's nauseatingly patriotic boxers.

Smith and Martinez watched for a moment as the team of five investigators quietly poked and prodded, dusted and fingerprinted, noted and photographed. The team had been explicitly instructed not to make any mention of Smith, not take any photographs of him, nor mention him by name in the subsequent reports. And they didn't. They didn't even spare Smith and his boxers a glance. They were professionals. Martinez sighed as one of them inserted the pantyhose into an evidence bag with a pair of tongs.

"Is that a 'yeah, you're absolutely right, Tony,' or a 'yeah, I think you're full of shit, Tony'?"

Smith's answer was the lack thereof. He sipped the coffee that'd already burnt the first layer of skin off his tongue. Everything would taste like rubber for a few days. Smith wanted to tell Martinez to fuck off, that as much shit as Smith had gone through in the last couple of years, he was bound to develop a keen interest in—or even so far as a God-given right—to getting fucked up once in a while. Said binges had never done him any harm. Well... no real lasting harm. Sort of.

Smith wondered if this was what it was like to hit rock bottom; boss berating him while he sat in his underwear, head and hand throbbing, watching strangers pick through what was left of his life with clinical methodicalness.

"We were extremely concerned, Owen," Martinez reiterated for the third or fourth time in the last fifteen minutes, "especially after what happened to Cayne and Landrieu..."

"Wait, what?" Smith started, but at that moment Martinez's cell had started buzzing and after a brief glance at the caller ID, he flipped it open.

"Martinez."

Smith stared at the floor, listening hard, but ultimately unable to glean much. Finally, Martinez briefly thanked whomever was on the other end and hung up.

"Well?"

"They found the guy in possession of the laptop and the cell—picked the prints off your wallet, found in the dumpster. Marcus Kilban; name ring a bell?"

Smith answered almost immediately. "Forty-six, six-foot-three, three-hundred and twenty-ish. Multiple arrests, some speculation as to him trafficking in people as meth. Spent some time in corrections up in Baltimore for pimping and assault. Lives about three blocks away off of Mass. Ave." Yes, of course the name rung a bell. It was Smith's job to know things, wasn't it? One of the first things he did when he got his shitty apartment was look up all the arrest records of his neighbors.

"You should thank God it was just some local shit-head pimp and not an enemy agent," Martinez said. As if the idea had not occurred to Smith. As if he had not spent the last hour agonizing over the notion that an enemy of the U.S. was pouring over the sensitive information in Smith's laptop and sending it off to higher-ups or looking to sell the files to the highest bidder. "Guy was trying a dictionary hack. At least you had enough sense to pick a better password than most. "

"What was that about Cayne and Landrieu?"

Martinez shook his head. "Nathan Landrieu is dead," said Martinez. Smith's mouth dropped. He tried to ask how? and why? but all that escaped him was a brief, inarticulate noise of of shock and horror. Jesus fucking Christ, but the Director of the CIA didn't just die—people that well-protected didn't just—they didn't just cease to be... Martinez stared at his hands, not looking Smith in the eyes.

"Nate and Jack—"

"'Jack'?"

"Jack Cayne—" Martinez elaborated. Alexander "Jack" Leland Cayne. Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "He, Nate, and a few others went off on Jack's yacht last night to fish and talk shop; there was a fire in the middle of the night... Nate didn't make it."

"Jesus," was all Smith could say. Landrieu, gone. Nate, who'd once toasted Smith at the Agency's Christmas cocktail party for his involvement in Singapore back in 1997. Nate, who'd personally introduced Smith to Cayne when it was insisted upon that the two agencies should share info after 9/11. Nate, who he'd passed in the hall at Langley just Friday afternoon and the man had shot him that charming smile and had said "hard at work or hardly working?" and all those other little office bullshit quips that'd somehow only been endearing from his lips.

And now he was dead. Just like that. Burned alive while Smith was doing God-only-knew-what, obliviously drunk.

"What about the others?"

"Jack's got burns over ninety percent of his body. Doctors aren't optimistic—if he lives, they're saying he'll never walk again. Everyone else got out OK." This didn't hit Smith quite so hard, but it was still troubling. He, admittedly, hadn't known Cayne all that well—he'd seemed like a bit of an over-privileged asshole, born with a silver spoon up his nose, and relentlessly ambitious on top of it—but Smith'd certainly not wish something that horrible on him.

"So we've got two very powerful men in close quarters and there just happens to be a fire," said Smith, mulling the information over. "We've been in this business a long time, Tony; we both know this sort of shit never happens by accident."

"We're still investigating. If I knew anymore, I'd tell you."

Smith doubted this. "Sure you would. Because you've got full fucking confidence in me," he said bitterly, the combination of the disastrous situation, and the throb of both his head and his wounded hand making him feel more than a little quarrelsome. Matrinez flushed a little.

"I'd tell you more if I thought you could handle it right now," he said. When Smith didn't respond, Martinez sighed a little before stating what had become apparent to everyone around them: "You need help, Owen."

"No, what I need is for you to get off my back," said Smith immediately, cutting him off. "Fuck, I'm not hurting anyone, alright? I'm not hurting anyone—"

"—But yourself," said Martinez dolefully.

"Yeah, and so what if I am? What conceivable fucking difference does any of it make? Who gives a shit?"

"I give a shit," said Martinez, and he really seemed to mean it, but—

"Because you're paid to," said Smith.

A pause. "You know that's not true."

"No, it's not," Smith admitted, sighing. They'd come into service together. They'd helped each other through the rough patches: the death of Martinez's brother; the death of Smith's mother; the fire that had destroyed a lifetime of memories and gutted Martinez's first house; Smith's harrowing break-ups; Martinez's divorce from his first bitch of a wife; Smith's rehabilitation after Hong Kong. And Romania. And Saint Petersburg...

"Sorry, Tony," said Smith, "I'm just... every thing's just sort of gone to shit, you know?"

"I know," said Martinez, "but you can't just drink yourself blind every time things get too rough. It'll kill you."

When? Smith wanted to ask, but instead he said, "I guess."

He knew what they were saying about him, behind his back. That he was used up, unstable, and unsuitable for anything but desk-monkey work. He'd already been pulled off the international scene; his supervisors had wanted to keep a closer eye on him, make sure that his fuck-ups could be contained, managed closer to home (like now) instead of a full-blown international mess.

"Listen," Martinez said, and he pulled a beige folder stamped CLASSIFIED in bold red. "I've got a job in Cali that just came in. Why don't you look it over?"

Smith flipped it open and scanned through. The further through the documents he got, the darker his expression. Finally, he looked over the dossier and then looked back to Martinez with an expression of disgust mingled with hurt.

"Aw, c'mon, Tony," he whined, "this is rookie stuff. I could practically do this in my sleep—"

"That's the point," said Martinez, with just an edge of exasperation.

"I mean, sure, I drink. Who doesn't? But this—a rehab clinic? Are you kidding—"

"Stop. Just stop, Owen," said Martinez, holding up his hand as if it would physically keep Smith from making even more of an ass of himself. "I got a call Saturday that a half-empty fifth of scotch was found in your desk. And a bottle of oxycodone—with someone else's name on it."

Smith said nothing. Just looked looked at his bare feet, thin and bony, veins wriggling as he curled his toes inwards.

"I know you're going through a rough patch, but that's no excuse—"

"For being a fuck up?"

Martinez's face reddened. "Yeah, for being a fuck up. Jesus Christ, Owen—I mean, I even heard Nate say that you were the best agent we ever had."

"'Had,'" Smith had quoted.

"Had," Martinez agreed.

"So—so what is this? I take this job or... or..." He couldn't bring himself to say it.

"Or you become 'Owen Smith, civilian.'"

Smith had felt like crying. Martinez didn't understand. How could he? He'd never been stripped down to his underwear, beaten with a 2X4, kept in stress positions for hours, or gotten his fingernails pulled out. Or been stabbed, or shot, or drugged, or electrocuted, or forced to... to do things. So was it any wonder—any big fucking shock—that Smith drank? That he took Vicoden or Percocet or whatever else there was to numb the chronic pain that—he swore to God—was not just in his head? How the fuck else was he supposed to cope? Martinez had taken the easy road; the cushy administrative track, and ended up with the Tudor McMansion in the 'burbs, a beach house in Key West, an adoring trophy wife, two kids (the photos of which he whipped out of his wallet to show off at the drop of a hat), and the sort of expendable income required to maintain his multiple vintage hot-rods.

And what the fuck did Smith get? A penchant for becoming addicted to painkillers. Shitty apartments and dilapidated row-houses in the wrong end of town. Crippling paranoia that demanded he sleep (when he slept, that was) with a loaded gun, take evasive action where ever he went, and obsessively check all his doors and windows when he entered or left his house. Any romantic partner saintly enough to stand Smith's long list of idiosyncrasies often left after a few months when it became apparent that being with Smith meant weeks, months perhaps even a year without seeing him, never knowing where he was or when or if he would return, and being left completely in the dark when it came to what Smith did for a living.

"Don't look at this like it's some sort of prison term; it's a spa. All the movers and shakers get cleaned up there. Actors, politicians, celebs—"

"—Boozing mafioso, two-bit thugs, and now embarrassing ex-spooks, apparently," Smith added dryly.

Martinez sighed. "Look, I'm not doing this to belittle or humiliate you. You need help, Owen."

Smith just stared at his hands, the fingers crooked and scarred, lined—they were the hands of a man in his seventies, not his forties.

He was just... just so tired of never sleeping. And the food wouldn't be so bad. The rooms would be clean, dappled in sunlight. Quiet. Tranquil. A few months of bullshitting therapists, schmoozing info out of a few gangsters, and then he could go... home? Well, no. It didn't feel like he'd had a home in years, just a series of compartments, a place to put his stuff when he wasn't there, a place for a mattress to collapse upon, comatose, before he woke up to return to his post, poisoning himself a little more every night before repeating the cycle again and again. But maybe he could change that, after... he really didn't know. After he felt whole again. After he got his shit back in order.

"Alright."

"So you'll do it?" The compassion in his voice seemed genuine.

"Yeah, I'll go," Smith said, nervously rolling the dossier up into a tube.

"The hardest part is admitting you have a problem. Trust me, it'll be all downhill from here," said Martinez, and he clapped his hand on Smith shoulder like an enthusiastic little-league coach, giving Smith a firm squeeze.

Later on, after Smith had been tied down, after orderlies had pumped his blood full of psychotropics as he writhed and screamed, a white-coated monster looking on with detached amusement—he'd marvel over how right Martinez had been.