I staggered down the hallway, clutching my side as bright red blood poured through. The knife had managed to pierce through my side and that was something I would not forgive myself for. I stumbled towards the bathroom, grabbing a small medical kit. I managed to compose myself just enough to disinfect the wound. The alcohol burned and stung, but I gritted my teeth. The hard part was now sewing the wound together. With trembling hands I took the needle and thread and managed to seal the wound. I went back into the room from which I had come and grabbed the dead man by the heels. My bed was stained with his blood and I cursed myself for leaving the windows open. I dragged the man across the hallway and into the kitchen. There was a chute there, which lead straight to the incinerator. Thank god for rubbish disposal systems I thought as I dropped that asshole down.

As I headed back to my bedroom, I switched on the light and looked at the knife he had stabbed me with. It wasn't a good sign. There was no doubt about that. The knife, apart from my blood, was coated with a slight yellow substance. It was a fast acting poison that was now used by most contract killers. It killed the victim silently and soon dissolved into the bloodstream, leaving absolutely no discernible effects whatsoever. However, my years in the service had taught me about how to survive almost every attempt on your life possible. I moved towards the kitchen with fumbling steps. I grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey and a shot glass of tequila. I never drank too much, since I could never afford to be inebriated. However, that did not stop me from sipping every now and then. I mixed the two drinks, and poured in a tumbler of vodka. I laughed at the irony of it as I shook the drink. The most deadly poison was counteracted by another drug. The alcohol burned as it made its way down my throat, but I didn't mind. Most people would have passed out from drinking that much, but I had been injected with testing drugs that made it almost impossible for me to get drunk, unless I drank pure rubbing alcohol, something I never intended to do.

The next morning was cloudy and dull. The rain pattered against my windows as I lay in bed, thinking about the events of last night, analyzing them in my normal critical fashion.

7:00 pm: Arrive home after carrying out successful hit. Carry routine check around the house.

7:10: Start cooking dinner, enter shower

7:30: Exit shower, eat dinner

8:00: Finish dinner, learn some more Chinese

9:00: Go on computer, look up news, check email

9:30: Retire to room, read book

10:30: Open window for ventilation, go to sleep

4:27: Kill attacker

4:30: Treat wound

4:39: Down alcohol, close window, sleep

Opening the window had been a foolish move of mine, and now looking back, I didn't need to open it. For someone as professional as I was, it was an elementary mistake. It was 6:30, and I hauled myself out of bed. My side ached, but I ignored it. I retracted my feeling from that area, another technique we had been taught. I pulled on a white undershirt and a blue striped button down shirt. A pair of blue jeans finished my attire and I headed out to fix breakfast.

As I ate, I turned on the TV, wondering if there was any news. Some stuff about gruesome murders. I turned it off and washed the plates. Then, I grabbed the keys and headed off to work. I arrived at a building that said Patrick and Flannery Lawyers Co. I entered the lift and headed straight for the 32nd floor. The doors opened to reveal a simple looking reception area. The lady behind the desk smiled at me. "Mr. Stuart, how nice to see you! Good morning." I gave the woman a smile and greeted her before walking through the thick wooden doors into a totally different environment. The walls here were thick and nuclear-proof. The glass was specially tempered so as not to let in any particles from the outside in, and they completely reflected light outwards. The place was a fortress. I sat down at my desk, and pulled out a thick file. I read it quickly, analyzing and cross referencing important parts. If you want to be able to kill your victim easily, you need to be able to know them inside out.

Soon, a man stopped by my desk. He had light brown hair, blue eyes, and a nice smile.

"Alex, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine, if you could disregard the fact I got stabbed by some fucker last night."

"Poor you. But anyway, I'll cut to the chase. The boss wants you in his office now,"

"Well, I guess I'd better be going then. See you around Will,"

I stood up and exited the large room where we worked and headed down a well lit corridor, passing other work rooms. I arrived at the door at the end, and knocked.

"Come in Alex, I have been waiting,"

I opened the door and smiled at my handler. This man was no longer in his prime, but still carried around a sense of dignity and authority that emanated from him.

"So Alex, I heard someone attacked you last night,"

"How did you know?"

The old man gave a slight chuckle. "News travels fast when you know where to look. I could know what happens everywhere if I had enough energy. But that is what I need to talk to you about. You are one of our best men. You have never failed a hit, you score top marks on any test you take, but that is not the reason you are the best. It is because you show compassion" the old man broke off in a cough "where it needs to be shown. You have proven yourself to be caring to those who work here and to those who live in close proximity with you. You may be a killer, but that doesn't mean you have to be cold, evil and malicious. Also, I hope that one day, you could leave this place. Hunting down criminals and fugitives is a waste of someone with your talent. However, I am dying Alex."

At this remark, I leapt from my seat. "You can't die! You are the head of our organization! The father that most of us never had! You took us from the streets, from the slums and gave us a new life! Even though we kill for a living, but we save innocent lives! You can't"

Before I could finish, the old man cut me off with a wave of his hand. "Protesting against death does not solve anything Alex, and you of all people should know that. When I am gone, I will be gone. I leave the company to you. I know it is a burden, and if you do not want to undertake it, you may tell me. I can understand." He looked at me, as if inquiring what I thought. "I will take the burden, since no one else here can,"

The old man smiled. "Before I die Alex, promise me one thing. That is when you find a worthy successor from the ranks of these fine men and women here, you will leave this company, and create a new life. A happy life in which you do not have to worry about dying, about losing those close to you. Promise me that Alex, so I can rest. I do not wish to see you waste your life here. You deserve more than I ever gave you. Promise me to put the days of killing behind you. SWEAR IT,"

With those final words, his presence seemed to grow larger than life until it engulfed the room. I felt like some sort of force was pressing me down into my chair, and the room darkened until he smiled again, and the pressure eased itself. "Go now Alex, and I will see you soon"

As I returned to my desk, I felt hollow inside. I was broken but on the outside, I looked calm and ready to tackle the day. Carpe Diem had been one of the old man's favorite quotes, and I wondered if I would ever see him again. Only now did I fully understand what he meant every time he would tell me to seize the moment. Time was something that everyone slowly would run out of, and both the poor and rich were no exceptions. My hand unconsciously strayed towards the holster of my pistol strapped to my belt. I woke from my reverie and pulled my hand away. "Death comes to us all" The words had slipped out of my mouth before I realized I was speaking.

"Read too much Poe?"

I looked up to see one of my friends from the early days of the company. We had known each other when we struggled to prove ourselves as the best wet work team in the business. That time was long past. We were no longer just killers. We gathered intelligence, carried out transactions and were the silent protectors of the country, behind the shadows we waited, waiting for the perfect time to strike. Our databases were better than the CIA, our agents were professional in what they did.

"Nah, I was just wondering Duke, about why the good die young,"

"Well Alex, I'm young and I'm not dead yet, so forget being all morbid, and let's go down to have something to eat."

I gave him a friendly punch as we headed downstairs. Duke began to brief me on the news, being the newsfreak that he is. I swear, if that guy wasn't in the Agency, he would believe every single cover story the media gives. "Did you hear about the murders recently, the one where the victims' bodies were usually found tortured in different ways?" I vaguely recalled something like that on the television, but I had never really paid any attention to it. "Nope, haven't heard anything of the sort. But why bother, I mean it's not as if we'll get sent out to deal with this. The police can manage it." Duke gave a chuckle. "True, true, but it's slightly unnerving to know that the youth of today could pull of such a stunt,"

At this, I turned around, looking quizzically at my friend. "Youth?"

"Yeah, judging by what I could find, I would guess it was the work of a slightly demented teenager, Charles Lee Dawson. Before you ask me how I would pin the blame on him, take a look at all the victims' bio. All of them were somehow related or knew Dawson in some way. Charles was also described as a bit of a psychopath in school, having beat up or antagonized younger students. He is also heavily involved in drug dealing. I would suggest we pay a visit to him after lunch. Can't have fuck-ups like him lying around,"

"And how, may I ask, did you come by this information,"

"Oh, just don't probe too deep, and show a badge or two. Not a police badge, no one likes a snitch. Try Homeland Security or DEA, those seem to get the best answers,"

I shook my head. "You sick sick bastard,"

As we sat down in a coffee shop, Duke went to order the food, while I stayed behind at the table watching the people around me. After two years in the Gulf and another four working for the Agency, I had developed a habit of watching the people around me, and trying to understand their mentality to reduce potential threats. Duke came back and unceremoniously dropped a sandwich onto the plate in front of me as he began to eat his. "Duke, what would you do to save your family?" Duke froze, and in a voice that chilled me to the bone, he muttered "Any fucking thing it takes to save them. I would go through hell itself, literally in order to protect them, and anyone who tried to stop me, no matter who they were, I would stick a bullet in their heads," Now it was the professional man in him was talking. He loved the Agency, but everyone knew that Duke's loyalty to his family was unwavering. When he was young, his father had been killed in Vietnam, and he had grown up as the man of the house. Now he was fiercely protective of his family and that was what made him such a good agent. Since he had grown up without a father, he wanted other children to be able to see their parents every day, and he believed the work he did, the men he killed, were keeping innocent people safe. He gave without asking and that was why we loved him. We finished eating and headed outside. "Let me handle this on my own. I can take a kid. You do your stuff," I looked at Duke. "It's personal isn't it? You knew someone who he hurt."

"Stay out of this Alex. Sometimes, it's not all about you."

Duke walked off before I could say anything else. The kid had it cut out for him. When Duke was angry, he could fuck someone up pretty bad. If Duke knew a victim, we'd be bringing the kid back in boxes. I headed back to the agency to keep reading files and analyzing my next hit.

Duke's POV

I walked towards the kid's home. Vengeance was on my mind. He had tortured my nephew and that was the last straw. Alex was a good guy, but he was odd. Something seemed to be weighing on his mind recently and he had become dark and depressed. Ever since we had finished a mission where he had watched one of his friends get beheaded right in front of him, he had never been the same. On the surface he was still the serious, calm, level headed Alex that we all knew, but beneath that mask of sanity, a writhing beast of madness lay. The only thing that could break him even more was if the Old Man died suddenly, which was not going to happen any time soon. The man was in good health and any chance of an assassination was out of the question. I was worried about him. We had known each other in the Gulf war and ever since then we had become firm friends. Alex was getting worse and worse and if I did not do something about it, what would happen next chilled me to the bone. Someone with his talents going insane would be the worst thing that could happen right now. All I could do was pray and stay by his side. Dawson on the other hand was going to answer to what he had done. I rung the doorbell and drew my gun.