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392

He awoke slowly, to a hammering in his skull, and the vague notion that he had done something very stupid. His head hurt. Other bits hurt too, as he discovered when he started to move. His left hand... was it his left hand? He couldn't be entirely sure which side of him it was attached to... throbbed, and the arm that went with it felt hot and heavy. He rolled off it, finding that his ribs protested energetically when he did so. Great. He was in fine shape all round then.

There didn't seem to be anybody else about. He wasn't sure at first if that was a good thing - then, when his memory crystallised, he decided that it was. He remembered hurling himself towards the kitchen, where a sharpshooter with a rifle had probably been about to shoot John, and he remembered connecting hard somewhere around the man's waist. They had gone down together in a heap, all sharp blows and desperate struggling, the rifle in the other man's hands knocking painfully against unprotected shoulders and arms. Roman groaned then, as one of those shoulders chose that moment to remind him that it still hurt. He sat up, and lifted an arm to try to rub life back into some of his stiffer bits, but his arm protested at the activity. All in all, this was not looking like one of his better days.

"Hello?" He was worried about John, although he was fairly sure that he didn't need to be. John had been in mercenary mode when the fight had begun, and that made him largely indestructible. All the same, Roman couldn't help but worry. They had been through too much together over the years to have it all brought to an end by some gang of thieves, on some stupid errand inspired by Stefano and Victor and their rivalry. When he made it to his feet, however, the whole world shifted alarmingly, and he had to lean against the wall to get his balance back. Only then did he notice the man sprawled on the floor close to his feet. It was his opponent from earlier, he was sure. Whoever he was, he was largely unrecognisable now, his face a mass of black and blue, his shirt torn and his torso bleeding. Roman distantly remembered the rifle going off, but he didn't think that the angle had been right for the bullet to have hit either of them. The window was broken, however - there was glass all over the place, shining the daylight back in his face as he moved his head. Had one of the men stationed outside fired into the building, and hit the wrong man? It probably didn't matter now. Roman blinked slightly blurry eyes in order to look down at his former opponent. The man was breathing, but his colour didn't look too good. One arm was dark red with a blood stain, and there was a smear on the floor where his bloodied hand had apparently struggled for purchase. Since he had probably been trying to regain his own rifle at the time, Roman wasn't inclined to be sympathetic.

"John?" He could hear police sirens, but the sound was too familiar, too much a part of his normal life, for him to be worried by it. Crunching over broken glass, and stepping over his opponent's legs, he went back into the main room. The sight made him wince. Gunfire had torn apart the furniture, and several men lay sprawled about in the wreckage. There was broken glass here too, and it crackled beneath his feet, the sound of its breaking muffled by the thick carpet. From what he could see, most of it was from the back windows. A man lay half in and half out of one of them, clearly dead, caught on a spear of glass. Roman suspected that he had been killed by the gunfire rather than by the window, but he was glad that he would not be the one peeling the remains away from the glass to find out. A strong stomach frequently only went so far.

The police sirens grew louder as he turned away from the window. This time it was the stairs that attracted his attention. There were two men sprawled there, tangled with each other, and with the spiral banister; a tumble of arms and legs and fallen guns. There was somebody else at the top of the stairs as well. Roman could see what looked like a head, and could hear a faint groaning, but whoever it was did not seem in any condition to be a threat. He was half-tempted to go up to check on the man, but he knew better than to try it alone. He had no intention of being shot down by a panicked enemy, too on edge to recognise when somebody was trying to help.

"John?" he called instead, turning around to look once again at the room. The groaning above went abruptly silent, but he could still see the head, lying on the ground. He didn't think that he was in any danger. He kept an eye on the top of the stairs anyway, all too aware of his own lack of a gun. He left the ones that were lying around, though. They were evidence, and it was best not to disturb the crime scene. The police were clearly nearly with him, and he didn't want to make their job any harder than he had to. It would annoy them enough that there would be so much he couldn't tell them. He didn't know what to tell them about John, for starters, or about what they had all been doing here, and what it was all about. He needed to speak to Shane, he knew - and that would annoy the police as well. A call from the ISA, and they would not be able to hold him, either for interrogation or to testify at an inquest. Still, that couldn't be helped. Right now he had more to worry about than the wounded pride of local policemen. No matter where he looked, he could see no sign of John.

"John!" He called louder this time, going over to the windows. Two more men lay outside, one moving faintly, the other dead. Neither of them was John, and neither of them, also, was van Dahl. It was unlikely that the man could have escaped, held as he had been by John, but somebody else was missing too. Still a little confused, Roman had to look around the room once again before it clicked - Olivia, the woman who had greeted them when they had arrived. His eyes narrowed then. Olivia, van Dahl and John - all missing, and no noticeable trace of any of them. Had they taken John, or had John taken them? Or had they chased out after each other, formed an alliance, fallen through the earth, been kidnapped by aliens - almost anything might have happened, and he had missed it all. Irritated, he crunched through more broken glass as he headed for the back door. Smashed to pieces as it was, it was no barrier, and he stepped over what remained of it, going out into the garden. He checked briefly on the still living of the two men, kicking his gun out of reach, then stared about at the garden. It was quite picturesque; orange and lemon and olive trees, scattered about amidst twists of neat, gravel pathway. The grass was uneven, but looked as though it was regularly cut. It didn't look like a crooks' hideaway, somehow. It certainly didn't look like a place that deserved to be torn up by gunfire, and have bodies strewn about it, dribbling blood. Limping awkwardly, finding it unexpectedly awkward to walk on the gravel, Roman struck off down the garden, still looking for John. He was not there, either. Roman was glad, but only up to a point. It was good that he had not found his old friend's body, sprawled out here somewhere like the others - but he didn't like not knowing where John was, or what he was doing. He tried calling again, but this time all that answered him was the stentorian shout of a policeman. The shout came in Italian of course, and it took him a moment to translate it. Usually his Italian wasn't too bad, but the slowness of his brain to react to the different language made him realise just what bad shape he was still in. His feet, unusually uncertain on the loose gravel, underlined it rather, and he sat down on the edge of the path. It felt good to sit down. His head was throbbing all the more, and he glanced briefly at the sky. The sun was high up, and shining down hotly. Too hotly for a man who did not feel anywhere near his best. Feet were running towards him now, and somebody was telling him in Italian to put his hands up. He thought that that was what they were saying, at any rate; he was a little confused when his Italian began to blur into his Spanish, and he realised that he was trying to translate the wrong language. Tired, he blinked up at two uniformed men, both of whom were looking at him with decidedly nervous expressions. He didn't blame them. They looked young and inexperienced, and clearly the last thing that they had expected when they had started their shifts that day was to get called to a massacre in some pretty little cottage on the edge of town. He smiled up at them, and wished that he could remember the Italian for: "It's okay, I'm not dangerous. Honest." He settled just for raising his hands.

"I surrender," he told them, in the hope that this might help further. One of them shouted back towards the house, presumably for reinforcements. Roman decided just to stay put. Only then, as he sat beside the path, his vision beginning to blur in the heat, did he notice where the pathway that he had been following came to its end. He could only see it because he was sitting down, his low viewpoint allowing him to see beneath the bottom branches of one of the olive trees. He could see a little white garden gate, half open and swinging faintly back and forth, as though somebody had just darted through it. He frowned. Surely John would have answered him, had he been that close? The answer to that came immediately - only if the mercenary was not too much in control. The swinging gate slowed to a halt, and he frowned, hoping for some further clue. There was nothing. Only when the policemen came closer, and hauled him to his feet, did his imperfect vision crystallise just enough to show him a gun; his own gun, taken by John during the night, and lying now at the end of the path. There was something else, too, but he was dragged away so quickly that he could not process it properly until he was already halfway back to the house. A red stain, darkening the ground by the gate, like the spilled blood of a man who was desperately hurt.