John Reese is a man at the crossroads in his life, a contradiction of the human condition: he is a raw open wound that is numb to the world and the life around him. He wallows in extreme pain and yet experiencing extreme nothing, which is a very dangerous place to be. A little bit further into that downward spiral and he would become the animal that he felt he already was.

He moves in a fog, trying to find that oblivion that is just out of his reach. No matter how much he drinks no matter how many fights he gets into, he always comes back; back to the world that had turned its back on him, taken his very soul and crushed it. His world is a cold gray place where bodies have no faces, voices buzz in his ears but have no words, a place where even the air pressing in on him made it hard to breathe.

Riding the subway late at night is one way he'd found to be alone. The rhythmic rocking back and forth combined with the cheap booze he'd been drinking all day slowly lets him drift off. Nobody bothers him. Most people give him a wide berth. His hair is long and unkempt. His beard is mostly gray and ratty. His layers of clothes have seen better days, haphazardly thrown on for warmth. He smells bad. All of this tended to keep strangers at a distance. Even though he is tall, he is almost emaciated, preferring alcohol to food most days.

He wonders which dream would come to him this time. The soft tropical breeze of Mexico...smooth skin, warm to the touch, soft whispered words, a feeling of complete contentment...or the cold, dark gray of denial, of despair, of helplessness, feeling hollow and empty, of being completely alone and no longer a part of the world...worthless. A low groan escapes as his realizes it's the bad dream, the nightmare that never ends that will keep him company tonight on the cold subway train.

Chapter 1

Stanton was puzzled by Snow's order to send John off on an assignment that was well below his level of competence. But she'd learned long ago to not question Snow's decisions or she'd end up listening to sheep herders in Outer Mongolia. So she dispatched John to retrieve a dead drop from an asset. The pouch was supposed to contain information regarding an upcoming operation they were mounting in Russia. The higher ups had gotten wind of some dealings between the Russian mob and a large oil tycoon and wanted in on the action. In exchange for not exposing the deal to the world, The Company would gain a 30% share of any money. Funding the war on terror was not cheap and with Congress tightening the budget reins, the CIA was having to become inventive on how they funded their own operations.

Figuring it would take him about three to five days, she wasn't expecting him back until the weekend. The more she thought about Snow specifically ordering her to send John away, the more she was suspicious of what he was trying to hide from John. In all the years they had been together, John had only had one weak moment, that time in NYC when he saw his former girlfriend and her husband. But she had gotten him through that and he'd never looked back.

Walking into the safe house they were all sharing in a suburb of Frankfurt, Stanton was surprised to see John already back and typing up his report for the pouch going out to Langley tomorrow. Watching John without him knowing, or at least she didn't think he knew she was there, had become her favorite pastime. Seeing John in an unguarded moment was always intriguing because it was so rare. He carefully kept his true self under wraps. Even his instructor at Langley had been able to unlock that door. She knew him probably better than anyone. She had been his first field handler. She had trained him, molded him into the perfect Spook: quiet, efficient and deadly. They became partners at her request and it had been a good meshing of very different personalities and abilities. She was friendly, out -going, talkative, totally disarming her quarry with her elegant good looks and open smile. John was mysterious, magnetic. You were drawn to him for some reason, yet he remained aloof. At the same time, he could turn on the charm when the job called for it.

As she stood by the door she realized he had quit typing and was staring fixedly at the satellite radio on the table, listening to the chatter about an Op going down. Unable to understand his fixation, she stepped into the room to hear better. As she did so, John turned back to the laptop and started frantically typing. Walking toward the table Stanton finally understood what the radio was squawking. An OP was going down in Columbia and was going down badly. All hell was breaking loose, she could hear shots being fired, people yelling, bombs exploding and Spanish being screamed out by people obviously dying. Then she noticed that John had quit typing and was staring at the screen. She'd only seen that look on his face once, in NYC...Jessica. But what would Jessica have to do with the chatter on the radio? Then she knew. That was why Snow had had her send John away. Away from other agents and any kind of satellite radio that would be broadcasting anything about an Op going down. Snow must have known something about Jessica and her presence in Columbia.

Stanton actually gasped out loud when she completed that thought. Bastard! That damn bastard knew about Jessica and knew she must have been in danger and wanted to keep John from interfering. There was almost an audible click when John put it together himself and she locked eyes with him.

He stood up so fast the chair fell over backwards and he stared at the radio. A wild look came over his face as he took it in. The civilians killed were being called collateral damage. Description of the bodies and subsequently the names on the passports rolled over Reese like a tsunami, turning his world inside out and upside down. He staggered back and looked wildly around the room until he saw Stanton standing there looking at him...with pity? No, not Stanton. With concern? Maybe, but not really. Calculating?...yes, that was it...she was calculating the damage done to her partner. She frowned at the accusatory look he was giving her.

Reese's lightening quick reflexes brought him right up to Stanton's face before she knew what had happened; she staggered back by the force of HIM. He didn't touch her physically but rage came off of him waves so that she actually felt the need to step back. It was only by a sheer force of will and the training that THEY gave him that he was able to keep his hands by his side instead of snapping her neck like a twig. He stepped back, took a deep breath, held it, closed his eyes and slowly exhaled. When he opened his eyes he was looking at Stanton who normally was poker-faced. Now her face was utterly open to him, she registered shock at his loss of control and admiration at how quickly he regained that control. She knew, more than any other person, just what John Reese was capable of and just how close she had come to being killed.

"Tell me what you know." he said through clinched teeth. "Then tell me WHEN you knew it." Stanton was finally seeing the Reese that the enemy saw. The cold, hardened, emotionless killing machine that she had helped create.

He waited, inches from her, every nerve in his body screaming for release but held in check by his respect for Stanton. Waiting for her to tell him why he was in Frankfurt when it was known that Jessica was in danger half a world away. Why he was kept from saving the one person in HIS world worth saving? The longer Stanton took to answer the guiltier she became in his eyes. Small parts of his heart began to harden once again against a world of hurt. Stanton could actually SEE John withdrawing from her, pulling away and slamming that door forever between them.

He asked one more time "WHEN did you know it?

Stanton pulled herself together using all the training she'd been given. Hardening the look in her eyes, she arranged her face to show calm and everything being under control. All the while her brain was frantically trying to compose an answer that could very well result in her death or gain her a momentary reprieve. She saw the moment for her to speak come when John's eyes turned inward, sorting through memories of the past, mixed with intel of the present stirring in him anger and rage. She stepped around John and turned her back to him. Stanton hoped she'd read him correctly: that his feelings for her, his partner, his teacher and his friend, would protect her for the moment. Wondering just how much she could tell him of what she knew and what she surmised left her a little uncertain of the direction her answer should go. She needed him to be able to listen to what she said and be willing to talk about it, not just react.

"John," he spun around ready to grab Stanton but something made him pause. "I didn't know until I saw what you had pulled up on the computer screen, the travel itinerary for Jessica and her husband Peter. I promise you John, and I've never lied to you and I'm not lying to you now, that I did not know about that Op being in such close proximity to Jessica. What I do know is that Snow specifically asked that you be assigned out of country during this time period. I was suspicious of why he wanted you to do such a low level bit of Company work. Now I realize he was keeping you out of the loop and from learning anything about this Op going down. I know you've kept discrete tabs on Jessica. I've known that since NYC. But apparently Snow has been doing the same thing. He must have known that she would be the one person you would break cover for. I'm sorry I didn't figure it out sooner John."

Stanton turned around and faced John once again and gaped once again. It was like looking at a shell of a man, a skeleton with no soul. All the air seemed to go out of John as he realized how much he was NOT in control. Stanton knew he kept up with Jessica and more important, Snow had also been keeping tabs on her. He had fooled himself into believing he was hiding that part of his life from them both. Now he felt like an open music book that they had played a duet on.

Filling in the gaping hole in his soul, was hate and anger. It began building up to explosive levels very quickly. He wiped the table clear of the laptop, the radio and grabbed the edge and flung it against the wall. He heaved the chair through a window. Anything loose he grabbed and threw as hard and as far as he could. Stanton backed out of his reach and watched the scope of his despair. It filled her with dread. He stopped for one moment, breathing hard and with his eyes wild. Unshed tears in his eyes almost completely undid Stanton. This was something she'd never thought to see in someone like John. She honestly thought that part of him was dead like it was in her. She reached out to touch his arm which was the wrong thing to do. He knocked her arm away so viciously that she heard an audible snap as it broke. She cried out in pain which caught John by surprise.

Realizing what he'd done, he looked around wildly and then fled out the door. Stanton heard the car tires screech out of the drive way. Holding her broken arm close to herself, she went to the door only to see the headlights disappearing around the corner.

Chapter 2

John drove through the small narrow streets lined by row after row of connected houses until he reached an exit for an autobahn. He didn't care where he was going, and just blindly chose a route that took him south and away from the press of humanity that was Frankfurt. He swerved in and out of traffic, pushing the car to its limits. The engine whined as his speed exceeded 180kph. Away from the city center, John knew that the Polizei would not care how fast he was going.

The gunshots and screaming he heard over the radio were repeated over and over again in his head. His hands gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were white and he yelled out his frustration and anger. A black cloud of despair enveloped him as he realized that he was here, across an ocean, while the only woman he had ever truly loved was dead on some street in Columbia. He pictured in his mind, her sightless eyes looking up at the same stars he could see above him, her blood running off into the street. He had had no idea she was there in Columbia. Why would Peter have taken her to a country so full of corruption and drug trafficking? Once more he regretted his decision to bow out of Jessica's life. His heart had been practically ripped out of his chest that day at the airport; the day when she had asked him for the last time to be part of her life despite the fact that she was engaged. He had said nothing and watched her walk away from him only whispering those words she had asked of him once she was out of earshot. He had done it all for her own safety, thinking that she would be safer with Peter and look what had happened! He had tried to protect her and failed, failed miserably in fact. He pounded the steering wheel and considered for a brief second swerving into a bridge abutment but then tossed the idea away. His death would not bring Jessica back. BUT, he could have the satisfaction of knowing that the people who were responsible for her death paid and paid dearly. Oh yes, that was one thing he COULD do. But first he needed answers; answers from Stanton and then Snow. He growled thinking about the man who knew Jessica was in danger and did nothing to help her or any of the other people he considered collateral damage. John swung the steering wheel hard to the right and the tires squealed as he exited the autobahn. He quickly turned the car around and headed back to the safe house, determined to get answers and then….the satisfaction of revenge.

The car ate up the miles at a fast clip on the return trip to the safe house. No longer driving erratically, swerving in and out of traffic and running off the side of the road, Reese kept it between the lines. Some semblance of order was coming back to him. Reese shut the incoherent screaming he kept hearing in his head, into its own compartment in the back of his mind. Now was not the time to give into the rage that originally had him fleeing down the autobahn in the other direction. Now was the time to get information: good, solid, cold information about what went down in Columbia. Find out what happened not even think her name...and most important of all, who knew and did nothing AND made sure HE knew nothing about it.

He believed in Stanton. He had to. She was everything to him. She created him. She was his mentor, his confidant, his partner, his friend, if you could ever actually HAVE a friend in The Company. He had to believe she was telling him the truth about not knowing about Jessica's life being in danger. He had to. If the trust he had in her turned up empty then he was truly lost. He reached for his phone to call her but he didn't have it. He had put it on the table while he'd been writing his report. No telling where it was now since he'd up ended the table in his extremis. She had admitted being concerned about Snow's directive sending him away.

As he drove back towards the safe house and the answers he desperately needed, he reminisced about past missions with Stanton. There was the time that he and she had parachuted into Pakistan to hunt for insurgents. They had been holed up in a small village in the hills and it was suspected that one of the heads of Al-Queda was taking refuge with the group. It was their mission to infiltrate the village, take out the insurgents and bring out the "package" alive and able to talk. The mission had started out poorly from the get-go. Stanton had come down on a rock while landing and had twisted her ankle. Reese had to practically carry her to the outskirts of the village, dodging enemy patrols that were NOT supposed to be there. When they got to the village, she had insisted that he not go in alone and had limped in, covering his six. The other problem with the mission was that it was practically impossible to tell the insurgents from the villagers. He didn't want to kill innocent civilians but once, he passed a house having cleared it of hostiles, when he heard shots behind him.

"NEVER let anyone get behind you!" Stanton had yelled at him after having shot the man who was aiming for him. "It's you or them! Now pay attention!" After that, he had only left the women and children alive. He knew it would haunt him, these deaths, but he also knew Stanton would help get him through it. She was very good at laying his ghosts to rest. They had finally located the "package" and left the village as quickly as possible for a rendezvous point with the chopper.

Reese slowly drove into the neighborhood where the safe house was, his mind still sifting through different scenarios about what had happened. He glanced at his watch and was surprised to see that over four hours had passed since since he had fled the house. Sitting at a stop sign he paused to collect himself before turning down the road of the safe house. He wondered what she must think after seeing him lose complete control AND having no way to reach him when he fled. Then he remembered that he had hurt her. She had reached out to him and he had hurt her. He remembered her gasp of pain. He remembered seeing her face showing shock that he had hurt her. Oh my God, Stanton! He gunned the engine, leaving tire marks on the pavement as he turned down the road to the safe house.

All of a sudden a familiar sensation came over Reese. It was a feeling he had learn to listen to. Stanton use to call it his 'Spidey sense' that told him something was 'off', not right, unseen and dangerous. His mind clicked into spook mode and he immediately let his foot off the gas pedal but didn't apply the brakes. The car coasted toward the safe house and Reese took stock of the lay of the land. Something was definitely not right. He couldn't see anything amiss but he KNEW something was wrong. He let the car come to a stop about four houses away. He reached for his gun, only to come up empty handed. It was probably on the floor with his phone. He had no weapon.

Just before he opened the car door, he reached up and turned off the dome light. No sense in giving anyone an easy shot if there was something wrong here. He silently opened the car door and ran in between the houses to approach the safe house from the back. As he got closer, he noticed that all the lights in the house were off, even the kitchen light he had always been trained to leave on in case someone was trying to sneak in the back just as he was now. The house was silent, not even a flickering of a TV in any of the windows. The only light that was on was the one above the back door. If he approached the house that way, he would be a perfectly illuminated target. He padded silently around to the front of the house and found the same situation. It appeared his only choice was to break a window and go through that way. Even that was not ideal. He knew it could just as easily be an attempt to funnel him into a trap. He grabbed a rock from nearby and leaned down to break the lock on one of the basement windows, figuring that this would make the least amount of detectable noise inside. He slowly raised the window in case it should creak but thankfully it was quiet. He weighed the options of sliding in slowly and making little noise or jumping in quickly so as to not make as an easy target of himself. He stopped for a second and extended all his senses, trying to decide just what it was that was setting off his alarms. Finally, he decided it was more important that he get in quickly and jumped feet first down into the basement. He landed on the balls of his feet to absorb the shock and noise but there was still a detectable thump. He crouched down and waited for any sign that he had been heard. Nothing.

He slowly made his way to the stairs, thankful that the basement was empty of anything he could have run into in the dark as he knew from his first reconnaissance of the house. As he approached the door, he felt a draft from under the door and used the gap to see if there was anyone waiting for him directly in front of the door. He saw nothing and silently reached up to open the door. He continued to crouch down as the door slowly opened. Unless the person he suspected was in the house was a highly trained assassin, they would shoot above him where his head should be and the resulting flash of the gun would give away their own position. The door finished opening and John waited a good minute before he slid through the opening. He quietly crept to the living room where he had last seen Stanton.

Suddenly, his foot kicked something soft and he had to bite back a curse as he tripped. The sound of his falling echoed in the quiet house and John held his breath, waiting for the shots. Nothing came. John knew he couldn't continue to stumble around in the dark and crawled over to where he knew a lamp used to be. As he did, he felt something wet on his hands and soaking through his pants. He switched it on and gasped when he saw what the light illuminated.

Blood...lots of ungodly amount of blood. It was all over his hands and his knees and pant legs. He raised his eyes, afraid of what he knew he would see. Stanton was crumpled in a heap on the floor. That was what he had stumbled over. Her sightless eyes stared at him with what he felt was reproach. How could he leave and let this happen to her? The blood was hers and it was everywhere. She obviously had been bleeding for quite some time. He dropped back to his knees and sat back on his heels, unwilling to believe what he was seeing. He had seen many dead people in his line of work and he was the reason for many of them. But seeing Stanton shook him profoundly. This was someone he knew, someone he cared for, someone who meant a great deal to him.

He reached down and hugged the body that had been Stanton. The low keening sound echoed in his head and got louder until there was no other sound, no other thought. He buried his face in her long, dark hair. The smell of blood, with its coppery undertones, filled his nostrils adding to the horror he was holding in his arms. A sound, almost inhuman, started in his throat and grew until he could contain it no longer. He threw back his head and howled his pain, his rage, his despair, not caring if anyone heard him. He had failed once again. The two most important people in his life he failed to protect and save, first Jessica and now Stanton.

Coming so quickly on the heels of losing Jessica, his loss of Stanton knew no bounds. He felt incapable of reining in the creature he was becoming. In truth, he didn't want to rein it in. He wanted the release that carnage would provide. The urge to pound, beat, tear, rip, destroy and KILL was strong in him. It was as if the trappings of civilization had been stripped from him and nothing was left except raw emotion with no filter, no control...just the desire to hurt, to cause mayhem.

He was almost panting with unreleased emotions when a thin thread of sanity caught him. Who did this to Stanton? He relaxed his hold on her and looked at her face or rather what was left of her face. She was...had been, such a beautiful woman. That was her greatest talent. Her beauty hid the cold, calculating killing machine she was. She disarmed potential marks with her smile and made them want to get closer and bask in her warmth only to meet the cold steel muzzle of her gun at unexpected moments.

But all that was gone now. She had been beaten. Beaten savagely, hit over and over and over with fists. That kind of damage was personal. It had to be someone who knew her. He thought he knew who had done this but wasn't completely sure. His eyes searched the room, taking in every piece of furniture, bric-a-brac, looking for a clue. He was looking for Stanton's 'sign'. From the first day she had begun to train him she had taught him about leaving 'signs' for each other; signs that were meant to provide information or warnings that only the two of them would see and understand. It was difficult, with the chaos in the room. There had been quite a fight here after he had fled the house. He remembered up ending the table and throwing the chair through the window. But much more had happened since then. Then he saw it, her sign. It screamed DANGER almost as if he could hear her. Then he knew what to look for and found the other sign he was looking for quickly and the name it proclaimed became a death sentence...SNOW. Somehow Snow had found out that he knew about Jessica. But did Stanton call him out on it? It would be her way; she was fearless. Or had Snow done his usual and kept his own eyes on him and Stanton? Reese knew Snow didn't like to actually get his hands dirty and he felt that what had transpired here was something Snow would not want anybody to know about. One agent killing another agent; that was something that even The Company frowned on.

He gently laid Stanton back down on the floor and removed his bloodied coat and covered her face. That was when he realized she'd been the close range. He stood up and surveyed the room once more but with a different purpose. He needed to locate his phone and his gun. He found the gun near Stanton's body. He sniffed it and cursed. The gun had been fired recently and he knew what the target had been. Stanton had been killed with HIS gun. It was then that he knew pure black, raging hatred and it now had a target. Snow. He was being set up by Snow for killing Stanton. He knew he had to get out of there. He knew he could not take his phone because they could trace him with it but he would take his gun. He needed a weapon and it would delay them in identifying his gun as the murder weapon if they didn't actually HAVE the gun. But the ballistics of his gun were on file at Langley so they would find out sooner or later. As he scoped out the room once more, he could actually see Mark's handiwork, setting up the crime scene, pointing at one and only one suspect...him. There was no way to he could stop that train now. He had nothing left. Jessica was gone from his world and now Stanton. He no longer had any family or any friends only himself, or what was left of him. He looked down at himself. He was covered in Stanton's blood, he was holding a murder weapon in his hand and it was his and he was standing in the middle of a crime scene.

This day had seen three people die. Jessica, Stanton and himself. He was dead inside, literally a hollow shell that walked and talked but had no core. He knew he had to get out of Frankfurt, out of The Company. His mind had begun to click with the precision of a machine, marking off what he needed to do, how he needed to do it and the fastest way to do it. His training took over so that his mind could hide from reality for the moment. He walked into the bedroom he used while he was working from the safe house and stripped. He had to get Stanton's blood off of him before he was seen. He jumped into a cold shower. There was no time to let it get hot. The freezing cold water worked well with the coldness he felt inside anyway.

He watched the blood run off of his body and down the drain. It felt like that part of his life was gone for good. He quickly dried off and dressed in the casual clothes he kept for down time between missions. He was amazed no one had shown up at the house yet to "find" Stanton. He assumed Snow would be watching the house and would alert the authorities once he was in the house. Not wanting to push his luck any further, he grabbed a few more clothes and shoved them in a bag. He also put his bloody clothes in another bag to get rid of them and walked back to the ransacked living room. Seeing Stanton on the floor covered by his bloody jacket shook him one last time. He mentally slammed the door on that part of his life and prepared to walked out of the room for the last time. He stopped for a moment, staring at the door, refusing to look back and silently promised Stanton that Snow would dearly...and pay slowly... for what he had done this day. He opened the door and walked out, leaving his humanity behind.

Chapter 3

The gunshots rang out twice in quick succession. Immediately Reese saw his two targets fall forward in the car where they had arranged a meeting. He watched through his rifle scope to make sure that they were indeed dead. These two men were the last members of the team that had been responsible for the fiasco in Columbia. One was even the team leader. Reese had read the reports and he couldn't believe the team leader had been that stupid! To have sent in men into the situation without scouting out the area within two hours of when the operation was set to take place was purely suicidal! Of course this had been the man's first mission as team leader and he knew none of his own soldiers' strengths or weaknesses. Why had been chosen for this particular mission, Reese was beginning to suspect was not a coincidence. It seemed a deliberate act on the part of someone higher up. Reese's next "visit" was planned for the man who had put together the team and appointed the team leader, namely a Col. Spence Fraser.

Reese quickly disassembled his sniper's rifle and moved to get out of the area. He knew that it wouldn't be long before Snow showed up at the scene. The man had been hot on his trail for the past two months. From what Reese was able to tell, Snow had gotten himself appointed as the lead in the case of cleaning up the CIA's latest mess…one John Reese. Reese sneered at the thought that Mark would ever be able to catch him unless he WANTED to be caught. Reese trusted no one now and relied solely on his training and even more, his experience from the past several years with the CIA. He knew several tricks that Mark knew nothing about and would never know, until Reese had him in his cross-hairs and it was too late. Just before he left the scene, Reese took out a shell casing and left it on the stone he had used to prop up his rifle. Mark would know what it meant and who it was from. Reese didn't worry about the fact that his prints were on the casing, he had left one at the scene of each of his revenge killings: the six team members of the Columbian hit team, the station chief in Frankfurt who had turned a blind eye when Mark killed Stanton and his two assets that had covered up the murder, the head of the drug ring of the Sinaloa cartel that had helped the CIA take down a rival cartel on the pretense of stopping terrorism. Reese WANTED everyone involved to know that they would be paying for their crimes.

Six days later, Reese watched through the window as Col. Fraser kissed his wife goodbye and walked out to the car waiting for him. Reese smiled to see the security detail of six men set to guard the Col. As if twenty men could keep him from achieving his goals. He was bringing the down the cataclysm to those who were responsible for Stanton and Jessica's deaths and nothing and no one would stop him. The car pulled away from the house and John snapped the faceplate of his helmet down and kick started the motorcycle to follow. He followed at a distance, confident of where the Col. was going. In the past four days Reese had been running surveillance on him, the man only varied his route once.

As they were approaching a bridge, Reese unslung the launcher from his back and aimed at the lead car. The car blew up in a fireball and the following car was forced to stop. Almost immediately, three men jumped out of the car with guns drawn. They looked for a target but didn't get far before Reese took them out, flying past on his motorcycle and leaving three more bodies behind him. Reese then turned the motorcycle around and approached the car. Inside, Col. Fraser was cowering on the floor.

"Who told you to put together the team for the Columbia Op?" Reese asked in a low, menacing voice.

"Whaaaat?" the Col. couldn't keep the quaver out of his voice. "What Columbia Op?"

Reese shot him in the knee without blinking an eye and asked him again in a lower growl, "Who ordered the Columbia team assembled?"

Col. Fraser screamed and clutched his knee. "It was General Bosk! He told me to assemble a team and that it didn't matter who I chose, in fact I was to choose the most inexperienced people I could find, that it wouldn't matter if they failed this time, they'd at least get some needed experience. He told me where and when to send them. Please, I need help, please, my knee hurts so badly!"

"There were innocent civilians that were killed because of you and your orders!" Reese almost yelled. "Didn't you care about that? "

"I'm… I'm sorry, I was told that they didn't matter that the operation HAD to go down then and there. Please! Help me! I'm in so much pain!"

Reese looked at him pityingly and whispered, "I wish there was someone who would put me out of my misery. Misery you are responsible for." And he pulled the trigger.

Two weeks later, Reese watched as General Tim Bosk sat on a bench just outside the Genghis Khan Memorial. The General had been much harder to track down than his previous targets. Reese suspected it was because he was in the middle of planning an operation. Reese had tracked him from Brazil to Morocco and now here to China. Watching through his telescopic lens on his scope, Reese saw a man with black hair approach the General. The black haired man moved with a precision that screamed professional soldier. He sat down next to the General and Reese pointed his listening equipment towards the pair.

"Well? Are the assets in place? Do they know who their target is?" the General demanded.

"Yes. The mission will be going down in ten minutes. The Moroccans know they are to take out as many people as possible as well as Richard Durant in order to make it look like a terrorist attack." was the reply.

"Good. Then the people at the Aston English School are about to have a bad day thanks to Mr. Durant. He should know better than to think he can leave the Company and disappear." Bosk said with a hard edge to his voice. Reese couldn't believe his ears. The Company was planning on murdering innocent civilians just to get at a former asset in hiding! Reese's anger knew no bounds. He decided that he would try and foil the op but he was determined to find out who had ordered the mission. His answer came sooner than expected.

"Where is Snow right now? I thought he'd be the one here running this op since it was his idea."

"Snow had to take care of something in Quindao. He left me in charge here." Bosk answered.

Snow! He should have known. Snow was known as the Company's cleaner. Reese took aim with his rifle and took out General Bosk with one shot. The crack of gunfire caused the tourists waiting to enter the Memorial to scatter and the black-haired man took the opportunity to dodge into the fleeing crowd. No matter, Reese's main target had always been those responsible for Jessica and Stanton's death. Reese left his shell casing message and hurried off to see what he could do about the foiling the upcoming operation.

He arrived ten minutes too late. The carnage was incredible. Bodies were strewn around the courtyard and the silence was deafening. Reese advanced slowly with his gun at the ready. He slowly made his way through the buildings and found no one left alive. He couldn't believe Snow's ruthlessness. These people didn't deserve to die! They had been going about their everyday business today not knowing that it would be their last. No matter what this Richard Durant had known or seen, Reese couldn't believe that it warranted this much death and destruction. Damn Snow to hell! At least now though, Reese knew where to find him. Suddenly Reese saw something familiar. There was a blood-stained shirt of his next to a body. Two feet away, were a bunch of shell casings that he recognized as the ones he had been leaving behind for Snow. Then he recognized an old gun of his that he must have left behind in the Frankfurt safe house. He was being set up for this! He gathered up all of the planted evidence and took it with him. Walking out of the last building, Reese determined that now was the time to take out Snow, before he could order any more operations like the one at this school.

Amid the barrels of gasoline at the abandoned refinery stood two men, one holding a gun to the other's head.

The gun clicked as it was cocked near his ear. Reese stayed calm on the outside but inside he was screaming that it would come to this! He wasn't done! He had promised Jessica and Stanton that he would make the people responsible for their deaths pay and he had been… until now.

"Well John, it appears you took the bait after all. I wasn't sure if Bosk had told you where I was before you shot him. I should have known better. How did you get out of the trap we set for you in Ordos by the way? I thought for sure the local authorities would get you and they aren't known for being gentle with murders."

Reese snarled. "You know I had nothing to do with that. How could you let those people die? And the mission in Columbia?" Reese turned his head to look at Mark not caring at that point if he was shot. "And Stanton? Why her?" Reese wasn't sure what he was looking for but he saw no concern at all on Mark's face for all the death he had caused.

Mark shrugged. "Sometimes good people have to die so that more will live. It's the law of the jungle."

Reese couldn't believe that he had once called this evil man a friend. How could he have been so blind as to Mark's true nature? Without warning, Reese struck out at Mark and dodged when the shot meant for his head went whining by his ear. Reese kicked out with his leg and connected with Mark pushing him backward into the wall. Mark came out swinging and hit Reese in the side. Another blow to Mark's face by Reese's elbow had the blood flowing freely and then Reese opened a gash in Mark's cheek. Reese's face lit up as me realized that Mark was no match for him in hand to hand combat. Mark rarely got his hands dirty and it had taken a toll on his field tactics. Snow must have realized it too because he reached down to his leg and came back up holding a gun. Reese threw himself to the ground but not before Snow had shot the gasoline barrels behind him. The resulting explosion and fireball engulfed the area where Reese had been seconds earlier and threw Snow off his feet and backwards. When he regained his feet, he smiled knowing no one could have survived that blast. The CIA was finally rid of John Reese.

Chapter 4

After several months spent tracking down the people who were responsible for Jessica and Stanton's deaths, now that he had achieved his revenge, John Reese found he no longer had a purpose. For the first time in his life, he had no direction. It was as if he were a puppet whose strings had been cut. John wandered through the city of Quindao with no purpose other than to put as much distance between the scene of his "death", the CIA and himself. He knew he should get out of the clothes he was in, they were covered in blood and would draw attention to him but he just couldn't bring himself to care enough to go in search of new clothes. His face was bloody from several cuts as a result of the flying debris in the explosion. He didn't even bother to wipe off the blood.

John moved first west through the city but as he got closer to the commercial district, the streets become more crowded. John couldn't help but feel a bit anxious about being seen. He had been used to the paranoia for so many years, it was not something he even thought about anymore. He moved further south towards the residential areas of the city. He shuffled along, head down and shoulders hunched. His mind was surprisingly blank except for the compunction to keep moving. He came across a clothesline someone had recently put clothes out on. He took whatever was there with no thought to its condition. Once he had disposed of his clothes in several different garbage cans as he walked, he found himself down by the waterfront.

John didn't give it much thought, but walked onto the first ship he came to. There was so much bustle aboard that he was lost in the melee. He grabbed a box and hefted it up on his shoulders and walked down into the hold. There he found a secluded section that was already stacked with boxes and sat down to rest. The cargo hold rang with the shouts of various workers loading and stacking the cargo but no one came near John's hiding place. Gradually the voices died down and the hold became quiet. Then and only then did John allow himself to relax. The ship shuddered and began to move very slowly. He might not have even noticed it if it weren't for the increased noise as the engine turbines sprang to life. An hour later, they cleared the harbor and the seas became rougher but John didn't feel it due to the fact that he had dropped off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

He awoke with a start and for a second reached down to his hip for his gun. Then the whole situation came crashing back on to him like a wave hitting a break-wall. He looked around him and saw a glint of light reflecting off a smooth surface across from him. He moved closer to investigate and found a bottle of cheap, high proof vodka and a carton of cigarettes stuffed between two crates. It must have been left there by a member of the crew and concealed for his own personal stash when off duty. John left the cigarettes but took a long swig from the bottle. He welcomed the burn of the cheap alcohol as it slid down his throat. If it wasn't for the feeling, he would have sworn he was dead. He certainly felt as though he was a member of the walking dead. He felt nothing; his heart might as well not have been beating in his chest. He looked at his hands and saw nothing but blood and death. His eyes looked around but he SAW nothing. He took another pull on the bottle just to try and keep the numbness at bay. Before he knew it, the bottle was empty. He lay there, not moving or caring until the alcohol took effect on his system. It didn't take long since he hadn't eaten in two days. But as the numbness went away, it was replaced by the living nightmares. He saw in front of him the faces of all the people whose life he had taken, both the guilty and the innocent. Their eyes stared right at him, reflecting back at him, the lifelessness he knew was in his own eyes. He threw up his hands and yelled.

The sound of footsteps running towards him echoed across the hold and a crew member suddenly appeared from around a pile of crates. The man took one look at him and the empty bottle and started swearing at him in Croatian. He yelled for help and two more crew members appeared at his side. They roughly pulled John to his feet and he didn't care enough to put up a fight. They marched him up and down several corridors until they came to the bridge.

A large, heavy set man stood in front of the windows that faced out over the prow of the ship. He turned and frowned when he saw the crew members pushing John ahead of them. "What is this?" he demanded. "Why are you not at your posts and what is this man doing here?" he asked, also in Croatian. The crew member who had found him originally spoke up and explained how he had found this strange man hiding in the hold. He made no mention of the empty alcohol bottle. The heavy man, obviously the captain, spoke to John directly in heavily accented English.

"Well what do you have to say for yourself?"

John shrugged and answered him back in Croatian. "I needed a place to stay. This seemed as good as any."

"Well, we'll see if you say the same thing after you have paid for your passage in hard work. Unless you have money to pay for your passage?" the captain raised an eyebrow. When John shook his head, the captain snorted. "I thought not. Very well, you will have a berth with the crew and will follow my orders as passed through Sev here." And he pointed to the crew member who had found him in the hold. The man sneered at John but John didn't care and just returned the look with a blank one of his own.

"You have yet to ask where we are headed my friend" the captain said.

"It doesn't matter to me where we are going so long as it's not where we were." John replied.

"We are headed to New York." The captain said. "Now, go with Sev. He will tell you what to do."

John turned and followed Sev out. "Where is this bunk I'm supposed to have?"

"You won't see your bunk until your work is done! Now move!" Sev shoved John ahead of him and down a ladder to the deck. He showed John how to tie down several of the loose ropes around the sides of the deck and once he was sure that John could do the job, left him to it. John went about the task mindlessly. It was the same when he was told to sweep out the crews' quarters and clean up the galley.

The next day and the next several after were much the same. John stayed to himself and none of the other crew seemed interested in coming anywhere near the brooding man. The monotony of the trip was broken only a few times during the next several weeks. Once when Sev tried to bait John into a fight over the stashed alcohol John had drunk. John had simply broken the man's nose with an elbow to the face. The other time, when a storm had suddenly and unexpectedly blown up. By this point in the trip, everyone on the ship knew that John could be given the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs and that he'd perform them without a complaint. It was no surprise then that John was assigned to go out on the pitching deck and make sure that everything was securely tied down. He staggered out on the deck and started on the starboard side. Just then a huge wave crashed over side and John ended up soaked to the skin. The sting of the cold, salty spray woke John from his apathy. He looked up as the wind whipped more water into his eyes and left his face feeling swollen and stinging. The captain and a crew member up on the bridge watched as John threw his hands out and yelled into the wind. They just looked at each other with a puzzled expression at the craziness of the man who had stowed away on their ship.

Out on deck, John yelled to the heavens "Do your worst!" The ship rolled again as it dipped into another trough and John was pitched forward. He was slammed against the side and almost upended over the rail. He straightened up and laughed like a loon, for the first time a feeling of happiness came over him. He stood at the prow of the ship for the rest of the storm. Each time he was thrown to his feet, he got back up and felt once more a little stirring of happiness. The pain reminded him that he WAS still able to feel, even if it was only to feel the bruises and cuts on his body.

The next day, all of the crew gave him a wide berth and cast strange looks at him when they thought he wasn't looking. His bizarre behavior made him even more on an outcast but as the apathy returned to him throughout the day, he found he didn't care.

One of the jobs he was assigned was to check the cargo manifest against the various boxes of cargo in the hold. It had been done when the ship was loaded but John suspected that he was given the task simply to keep him away from the rest of the crew. Either way, he was fine with that. Especially as he discovered on his second day, that one of the crates contained a large amount of whiskey. At first, John drank small amounts meaning to try and drown out the terrible memories that haunted his dreams and often woke him screaming for either Jessica or Stanton. Gradually though he began drinking through the day and finally gave up all pretense of working. No one came to check on his progress and he went through his days completely inebriated.

Finally the morning they were to make port, the captain sent Sev down to find him in the hold. When he did finally locate John, the man was amazed at how badly John had let himself go. From the smell of him, he hadn't showered in several days and his beard was shaggy and unkempt. As Sev approached closer, he could see that John's blue eyes were bloodshot and a wave of alcohol rolled off of him.

"Damn it man! Where did you find any booze on this ship?" Sev asked incredulously and then when he realized that John had broken into one of the boxes of cargo, he swung his leg back and kicked out at John. He never connected and ended up flat on his back for his trouble. John was on top of him in a second with an arm pushing against his windpipe.

"The captain wants you." Sev managed to gasp out. As suddenly as the arm was pushed into him, it was removed. Sev quickly jumped to his feet and made sure to stay several feet from John as he staggered through the ship in the direction of the bridge.

"What have you done man?" the captain yelled when he was told about John breaking into the cargo. "You've been more trouble this voyage than you've been worth! Once we put into port, I never want to see your fucking face again!" and he spat in John's direction. John once again went reeling off to the side of the ship and watched as the port of New York came closer and closer. If there was any place he could disappear in plain sight, it was in New York City. An hour later the ship was tied up at the dock and John was unceremoniously "helped" off the ship by several of the crew. He avoided their fists and kicks when possible and when he couldn't he took the punishment as form of payment for the loss of the cargo and because deep down, he felt as though he deserved whatever harm came his way after all the harm he had inflicted on others.

Once on the waterfront, he wandered aimlessly until that evening he found himself in an abandoned warehouse with several other indigents.

Chapter 5

The warehouse was big, cold and very drafty. It obviously had been abandoned as a place of business years ago. The windows up near the roof were mostly cracked or broken or even non-existent. The roof seemed relatively water proof but there were parts where the moon shown through. The metal walls were cold to the touch and held in none of the warmth from the fire in the center of the warehouse. The smoke drifted up and out the broken window.

Reese was amazed at the number of people in the warehouse. There must have been over fifty people. All seemed to shop at the same clothing store that he did. Hand me down, well worn, mismatched clothes worn in layers for warmth and convenience, less chance someone would steal your clothes if you were wearing them. Standing by the door Reese took it all in. There was a human warmth here that had not been present on the ship. People talked to each other here. He heard laughter off in the distance. The smell of food made him realize just how long it had been since he'd eaten any real food. But he knew no one here, no one he could ask for food even if he wanted to. He still had two mostly full bottles of the cheap booze he'd grabbed when he left the ship. He found a corner out of the way and crouched down to watch this new world he had found.

Taking a long swallow from the first bottle he tried to make himself disappear. He wanted to shut his brain down, stop it from looking at everything and everybody as a potential target or threat. But it would have been easier to quit breathing. He'd finished one bottle and was almost completely out until he felt someone trying to get to his second bottle. He roused himself enough to pull the bottle away from the man crouched in front him. The liquor had made his movements sluggish and he hit his elbow and dropped the bottle. It fell to the floor and broke, spilling his precious liquor on the concrete floor. Anger erupted from deep within him and he lunged at the would-be thief. Someone behind him cracked him over the head with a brick and he went down like a boneless doll. The two men begin to beat and kick the unconscious Reese until the fun went out of it and they walked away leaving him bleeding heavily from a head wound.

A woman nearby sat watching all that transpired with detached interest. Nobody messed with her or her buggy of valuables. Joan, as she was known as, was a force to be reckoned with. She was a gentle soul with a heart she shared with most everyone but she was hard as nails when it came to something that belonged to her. Few people crossed her when it came to her possessions.

Joan had watched Reese stumble into the warehouse alone. Quickly realizing he knew no one, she decided that he was a person of interest to her. Living life on the streets had honed her instincts about people that were worth getting involved with and others best left alone. This man was an enigma. She felt the potential of his worth but she also felt the menacing air that he gave off, as someone to be wary of.

That contradiction alone intrigued her.

Once she was sure the man was completely out, she made her way over to him. Up close he was quite different than what she had expected. This was a man who did not belong here. Even though his clothes and his appearance said he did, his face said differently. In his unconscious state, the man had lost that pained, lost, angry look that he had on his face when he first arrived. Joan could see intelligence in his visage even with his eyes closed. She went back to her buggy and found some clothes and brought some water from the near-by rain barrel and began cleaning him up.

As she wiped the blood and dirt from his face she was amazed at how good looking he was. But she was dismayed when she saw how thin he was. It was obvious that he had not been eating much if anything for quite some time. As she worked her way up to the bad cut on his head he began to stir. She started talking softly to him and making soothing noises. Surprisingly that seemed to calm him. She continued her ministrations until she had the wound cleaned along with his face and neck.

While she was putting away her clothes she felt his eyes on her. She turned around and was struck by the deep blue eyes staring at her out of the gaunt face. He made no sound, made no move just looked at her. The pain she saw in those eyes reached something deep within her. She reached out and placed her palm on the side of his face. He jerked away but she persisted. His skin felt hot and feverish to the touch. The closer she looked, she more she realized that the pain in those eyes was also mixed with the brightness of fever. He was sick, very sick.

There was something about this man that reached out to her. He seemed big and strong but something in his life had almost destroyed him: something that left deep, life-long scars. She felt the desire and the need to take care of this man, even though she didn't even know his name. There was something about him worth saving but she got the distinct impression that he did not think he was worth saving. He had obviously been slowly and methodically trying to kill himself for quite some time.

Taking it slowly Joan worked her magic on Reese. It took two days before he'd even tell her his name and even then all he told her was John. She brought him food and gave him aspirin from her private stash. Finally his fever broke and he was able to sit up and feed himself. Other than tell her his name, he didn't talk. He almost seemed in a trance, staring off in the distance, barely acknowledging Joan. He'd spend hours not moving unless Joan would call his name. His mind was almost blank except for vague, blurry images that made him whimper in fear. She was concerned he may have had a psychotic break. That was more than she was prepared to deal with. She'd seen a number of people on the streets over the years go through that. Some came out of it and some did not. She hoped John would. She didn't want to be wrong about him: that he was worth saving.

Finally he was able to get up and walk around the warehouse. Most people there kept their distance due to Joan's influence, which worked well for him since he didn't talk to anyone. Joan kept after him to come out with her when she'd go scrounging. She knew he needed to get out of the warehouse, to re-connect with life. He'd been in hiding long enough. After the first couple of nighttime 'shopping trips' that they took together, she told him to go out on his own but to come back before dawn. He'd kept up his drinking and she worried where he might end up, but he needed to see if he could handle being truly alone.

Reese woke up crouched in a corner to his name being called from a distance. He was instantly on alert, his abused body tingling with phantom memories of action, his body in a self-defense posture. His eyes snapped open only to squint immediately from the glare of the light from a loading dock at the back of the low rent bar. Panning around left to right Reese finally saw a figure standing about ten feet away next to a grocery buggy. Ten feet was a pretty safe margin Joan had discovered when trying to rouse a sleeping Reese. The first time she had tried when she was right next to him and she ended up on her butt with a bloody lip, followed by a pitiful Reese begging her to forgive him.

"Time to come home, John." she said.

John slowly crawled to a standing position, leaning against the wall. He closed his eyes for a moment to bring himself back to the world he is now forced to live in and away from the nightmare his life had been. Opening his eyes he saw Joan, still patiently waiting for him, still ten feet away. His attempt at a smile was more like a grimace but Joan understood it for what it was.

She turned away and started pushing her buggy and John caught up with her. The sun would be up soon and they rushed to get off the streets. Invisibility of night was their preferred time to be out and about. With fewer people on the street, there weren't as many people to stare at them in their dirty clothes and unkempt hair. Fewer people to walk around them or even change sides of the street when they approached just making them feel even lower on the bottom rungs of society. But they both preferred it that way. Anonymity is best...and the safest.

..It felt nice to have a good dream for once. Being with Joan made him feel safe. Suddenly someone tried to grab his bottle of booze and that makes him instantly alert. He grabs the arm of the thief and sees a young punk wanna-be staring openmouthed at the now fully awake and very deadly John Reese...