Chapter 1: Death of a Warrior
Konstantin pulled the collar of his black leather coat up around his neck and trudged through the deep snow toward the prison looming ahead of him. To his left, he glimpsed a glimmer of color against the weathered gray wood of the buildings. It was a derelict chapel with bright green stained glass windows and a leaning steeple.
Konstantin altered his course and made his way to the ramshackle building. He pushed his way through the door and slammed it shut behind him. The air inside was stale and dusty, but at least the structure provided some shelter from the bitter cold wind howling outside. The chapel looked as though it had been hastily abandoned with pews askew and the pulpit knocked down onto its side. Konstantin righted the rickety wooden pulpit and walked around the structure, his boots loud and heavy on the creaky wooden floor.
He paused near the window and basked for a moment in the sunlight beaming in through the colorful glass. He took a deep breath and said a silent prayer.
His radio crackled to life.
“We’ve been overrun by the natives. Croft is with them. Men are dead and scattered.”
He couldn’t believe it. Croft again. Konstantin bellowed in anger as he hurled the pulpit across the room.
“We should have killed her,” he said through gritted teeth.
Ana was seated at the rear of the chapel. She stood abruptly and said, “You have nothing to show for your efforts. Perhaps she’ll succeed where you’re failing.”
Konstantin spun around to face his sister. “I will not fail.”
Ana approached him in earnest. “Trinity will step in if you do, and you know what that means? I’m expendable. They have no interest in my survival. I need the power of the Source!”
Konstantin’s anger softened. He put his hands on Ana’s frail shoulders. “And you will have it. Don’t lose faith, Ana. This is God’s will. Our success is inevitable.”
“Please, just find it. My time is running out.” She pulled from his grasp and left without another word.
Konstantin clenched his eyes shut and turned back to face the candlelit altar. He folded his hands in prayer and sunk to his knees.
“I’ve come so far. I’ve endured so much,” he prayed. “These final barriers you have set before me, these sins you have forced me to commit . . . they must have had a purpose.” He paused, clenching his hands tightly. “Only you can show me the way. Grant me strength to continue, for her. For you, for Trinity. Please . . . show me the way.”
He opened his eyes when he realized his hands were wet. He opened his hands to find that his stigmata were dripping with his blood.
“Then blood it shall be . . .” Konstantin muttered darkly.
* * *
His palms still dripping with blood, Konstantin trudged through the snow to another large, nondescript wooden shack not far from the chapel. He kicked open the door and found utter chaos inside. The air was rife with the smell of blood and burned flesh, and what few medics he had were running frantically between beds as more and more of the wounded were being brought in.
“I need to see Dr. Wilkens!” Konstantin shouted to anyone who was listening.
He spotted the petite brunette at the far corner of the infirmary and shoved his way through the pandemonium toward her.
“Jo!” he shouted.
She whirled around at the sound of his voice and spotted him immediately. She made her way toward him, and he opened his bloody hands.
“Charlie, you’re in charge here!” she shouted across the room. She pulled Konstantin toward the rear of the building into a secluded examination room.
“Sit down on the cot,” she said. She moved a small stool in front of him and took one of his hands into her own.
“The bleeding won’t stop,” Konstantin said gruffly.
“If you’d let me fix these wounds years ago, they wouldn’t still be doing this,” she scolded softly.
Jo pulled rubber gloves onto her hands and grabbed a medkit from the shelf behind them. She cleaned his wound and wrapped one of his hands in gauze.
“What’s going on out there? I don’t think we are prepared for this many casualties, Konstantin.”
Her question was met with silence. Konstantin did nothing but stare at his palm as a bright red circle of blood began to soak through the gauze.
“K?” Joanna asked again.
He met her eyes and sighed loudly. “We are losing our edge. We have hundreds of boots on the ground, the best weapons and equipment, yet we are losing ground to these savages. And Croft—don’t get me started on Croft.”
Joanna moved her stool closer to Konstantin so that she was sitting between his knees. She wrapped a bandage tightly around his right hand and started working on his left.
“I am failing,” Konstantin said after several moments of silence.
Joanna stopped working and grasped his hand between both of hers. “You are not failing. You’ve said it yourself, this path is not meant to be easy.”
“Ana is fading fast,” Konstantin begged. “Isn’t there something, anything, that you can do for her to buy us some more time?”
Joanna frowned. “At this stage in her disease, there is nothing more that can be done. And especially not out here. I’m not equipped.”
“What if we don’t find it in time?” he muttered.
“You will,” Joanna reassured. “I have faith in you. You are a strong and capable leader. You will succeed.”
He was hardly convinced.
“Konstantin,” Jo said, pulling her stool back and snapping the gloves off her hands, “Do you think that when you find the Source Rourke is just going to let you use it however you wish?”
As far as Konstantin was concerned, pretty boy Rourke could go straight back where he came from. He didn’t appreciate Trinity bringing in that arrogant little prick to run things. Rourke had been nothing but a thorn in his side since the day they met, always calling for status updates and making not-so-subtle threats. He marched into base camp like he owned the place, giving orders as if he’d been the one in charge from the beginning.
“Don’t worry about your little boyfriend. Once I have the Source it won’t matter what he—or Trinity—wants.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“I’ve seen the way he leers at you,” he said, clenching his jaw.
“Are you jealous, Konstantin? You can’t handle a little flirting?” Jo asked with a small smile. “Take your coat off.”
Konstantin obeyed but not without casting her a doubtful glance. He flinched when he felt her fingers pulling at the fabric of his black nylon shirt.
“What are you doing?” he growled.
“The best thing that you can do for your sister right now is have a clear mind. You are wound tighter than an eight-day clock,” Joanna said.
He felt her hands on his bare shoulders, her thumbs working into his stiff muscles. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. His mind was racing with thoughts of her. Of Croft. He’d been haunted by sinful fantasies since they met for the first time in Syria. Every time he was in her presence, he could feel the tension between them. He wanted to hate her. He needed to hate her. She was driving him mad.
Joanna sat back down on the stool in front of him and met his eyes, holding his gaze. The loyalty of this woman never ceased to amaze him. She had stood by him through this whole quest. She was there for him when his marriage fell apart. She was there when Ana was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had dug bullets out of him. She had seen him at his most vulnerable. She was always there. She had never lost faith in him, even when he lost faith in himself. She had loved him unconditionally. She didn’t deserve to be betrayed.
“I did something stupid,” Konstantin blurted.
Joanna raised her eyebrows. “What did you do?”
“Croft. I—I slept with Croft,” he said. He couldn’t believe those words just passed through his lips. Why had he been so damn stupid?
Joanna’s mouth dropped open. “How in the wide world of fuck did something like that happen?”
Konstantin passed a bandaged hand over his hair and said, “It just happened.”
Joanna’s lips fell into a frown. “It just happened?”
Konstantin struggled with his words. “I don’t know how—or why—it just did.”
“So like you were just walking along, doing Commander things, and suddenly—surprise—you put your dick in her?” Joanna spat. Her eyes were wide and wild.
Konstantin lowered his head. “She saved my life. After the bear attack. What I did was wrong . . . but it doesn’t change the fact that I liked it. I like her.” He couldn't believe he had just uttered those words. He did like her.
Joanna choked back a sob. “You know you’ll be shot if anyone finds out about this, right?”
“That’s why you’re going to keep your mouth shut,” he threatened.
“You have just thrown everything down the drain,” Joanna said in a low voice. “And for what? A backwoods booty call with Trinity’s fucking public enemy number one?”
“You should go,” Joanna said after a few moments of strained silence. “My people need me in there.”
Konstantin opened his mouth to speak, but she shut him down.
“I said go.”
She left the room without another word.
One day later...
Konstantin flew over the Chamber of Souls, pummeling the ruins with missile after missile. The chopper rocked as another fireball exploded in the air.
Konstantin roared in anger. “If there’s anybody left alive down there, I want her dead! That is your last order!”
His rage was like he had never experienced. He was seething with anger, his chest heaving and his face burning hot.
“Konstantin, you’ve got to land. Now. We’re on fire!” Jo cried.
Konstantin silenced her with a violent backhand and said, “No! This is my destiny!”
Jo touched her stinging cheek and said nothing. She unbuckled her seat belt and said, “Let me off, or I'm gonna jump off.”
“Not a chance,” he said.
“Let me off this fucking chopper now before you kill us both, Konstantin!” Jo screamed.
The chopper rocked again, and they started to spin out of control. Konstantin silently prayed as the craft began to free fall toward the Chamber of Souls below. The chopper slammed down through the roof of the ruins, and Jo was thrown violently against the dash panel. He stretched out his arm to grab her, locking his gloved hand around her wrist just as they crashed through another level. The sheer force of the impact ripped Jo away from him, and he watched in horror as she flew through the windshield, shattering it. Seconds later, with a deafening boom, the chopper hit bottom.
* * *
Konstantin couldn’t move. His ears were ringing, and his vision was blurry. Everything around him was searing hot. The craft was on fire. He had to get out, but his legs were leaden. He fumbled with the buckle on his seatbelt and managed to pry it loose. He swung his legs around and crawled from the twisted wreckage of the craft. He was horror-stricken when he saw the windshield had been reduced to shards. What was left of it was dripping with bright red blood.
“No, please, no,” Konstantin prayed. He crawled from the wreckage and managed to pull himself to his feet. He slowly walked in front of the burning chopper and squinted his eyes against the hot, bright flames all around him. The crash had completely destroyed the structure, and rubble lay everywhere.
Konstantin returned to the cockpit and retrieved an SMG. He clicked on the flashlight and washed the light all around, desperately searching for Jo. Just a few yards from the wreckage, he saw her.
She was crumpled on the hard stone only feet from him. Her dark hair was matted with blood. Her left arm was very clearly broken. Konstantin dropped to his knees beside her and rolled her onto her back. He pulled her hair back out of her face.
“NO!” he shouted. He pulled off his gloves and clutched her face in his hands. Her beautiful skin had been shredded by the glass. “Not you,” he begged. “Jo?” he said. He gently shook her shoulders, but she did not respond.
“Say something, goddammit!” he cried. He pressed his fingertips to her neck to check for a pulse. He brought his cheek to her lips to see if she was breathing. “NO!” he shouted again. “Please, God, why her?”
She was dead. His best friend was dead. Lifeless. Because of him. His brain replayed the last moments he’d shared with her. He’d betrayed her. He’d hit her. Goddammit, why was he so stupid?
He realized then that the pursuit of the Divine Source had completely overtaken him. He didn’t recognize the person he’d become. He’d committed many sinful acts in God’s name in the pursuit of this artifact, and he felt sick. He felt tears, anger, and bile boiling up in his throat.
With tears streaming down his soot-covered face, Konstantin dug a rag from his pocket and began wiping the blood from Joanna's torn face. He smoothed her hair and moved her arms to her sides. He stared at her as the ruins burned around him.
Konstantin clenched his eyes shut and folded his hands. “Please . . . only you can show me the way. Grant me strength to continue. Please . . . show me the way. One last time.”
When Konstantin opened his eyes, he realized that maybe not all was lost. Croft was heading straight toward him, and she was totally unaware of his presence.
* * *
Jo woke with a gasp. She could smell nothing but smoke and tasted blood as she stared up at the sky above. The last thing she could remember was the chopper taking a hit, and she had no recollection of how she ended up where she was. Wincing with pain she examined her left arm. “Fuck,” she muttered. She held it close to her side and willed herself to sit up. She could hear voices somewhere in the distance and watched from afar as Lara prepared to swing her axe at Konstantin’s back.
Lara struck him, and he fell to one knee with an angry cry of pain. He struggled to get to his feet and swung his rifle toward her.
Lara pulled out her knife and drew back her arm. She drove the knife into his chest, butting the heel of her hand against the hilt to drive it in even farther.
Stunned, he dropped to his knees and fell to the ground, resting his weight on one arm.
“This…this was not my destiny,” he said slowly. “I was meant for greatness.”
“This was never your destiny,” Lara said, getting down on one knee beside him. “Your sister let you believe that.”
“I did all...all of this...for her,” he muttered.
An explosion at the entrance of the chamber startled Lara, and she stood up again, knowing it was only a matter of time before the fire engulfed the whole place.
“Don’t you walk away from me!” Konstantin shouted. He was now sitting up again. “Wait! Trinity killed your father!”
“No, you’re lying!”
“He begged for his life. He begged for yours.”
“You’re wrong! Shut up, just shut up!”
“He was a pathetic man. I pitied him. I like to think his last thoughts were of you, Lara. Of how he drove you away. Of how he failed you. He would have held you back. You should be thanking me. It’s in your blood, Lara. You’re a coward, just like your father. You don’t have it in you to make the hard choices.”
Lara shook her head in disgust and said, “You’re not worth it.”
Once Lara was out of sight, Jo slowly walked toward Konstantin. He was laying on his side among the wrecked ruins of the chamber, clutching his chest and struggling to breath. Jo knelt down beside him.
“You're...alive,” Konstantin said, beginning to cough. “Go, get out of here before it’s too late.”
Tears were streaming down Jo’s cheek as she shook her head. “I can’t. I’ve got to get you out of here.”
“No,” Konstantin said firmly. “Go! I have failed...everything.”
Jo grabbed Konstantin’s knife and cut open his kevlar vest. She unzipped the leather jacket underneath and saw the bloody wound through his shirt underneath. She pulled off her own jacket and laid it over his chest.
Konstantin shook his head. “Go while you still can. God can’t even save me now.”
“God isn’t going to save you, but I am,” Jo muttered. She got to her feet and grabbed his arm to pull him up. He got to his feet with a groan of pain and slowly walked toward her.
“Here,” she said, pulling his arm up around her shoulders.
She managed to walk him to the crumbling steps leading out of the Chamber of Souls, and they found themselves face-to-face with what appeared to be an armor-clad soldier. He stopped suddenly and shouted something in a foreign language.
“Fuck,” Wilkens muttered.
The words no more than left her lips when the soldier raised his bow toward them and began firing arrows lit with bright blue flames.
Wilkens wrenched Konstantin’s pistol from the holster at his hip and began firing on the soldier, and the sound of bullets peppering the metal armor echoed all around them.
“Get back!” she shouted at Konstantin. She grabbed a rusted piece of metal from nearby and swung it at the soldier, knocking the helmet from his head.
It flew off with a clang, and Jo let out a piercing scream. The face beneath the helmet was covered with metal chainmail, but the eyes were like nothing she’d ever seen before. This soldier was not human—it was something else. The stunned soldier raised his bow in Jo’s face, and just as he drew his arm back, a spray of bullets obliterated his head.
Jo looked up to see Lara standing at the top of the stairs with a rifle. She blinked, and Lara was gone.
* * *
“What a fucking mess,” Commander Rourke muttered as he looked down at the smoldering ruins of Kitezh.
“Think there’s anybody alive down there?” the pilot shouted.
“Doubt it. Put us down in the courtyard over there, and we’ll do a sweep,” the younger man ordered.
As the chopper began its descent to the ground, the smell of charred flesh burned Rourke’s nose. The smell was unmistakable, and it instantly flooded him with memories of his time in Iraq.
Rourke turned to the small group of men seated in the rear of the chopper. “Gentlemen, fan out and sweep the area. Bring any survivors back, leave the rest behind.”
Rourke was the last to step out of the chopper. The team had their work cut out for them, that was certain. The city lay in ruins, and there were hundreds of men yet to be accounted for.
“Commander, over here! It’s Konstantin,” Rourke's second-in-command Winters muttered. “Or what’s left of him.”
“Shit.” Rourke scanned the area and noticed the body of another person sitting up against a piece of rubble not far from the body. He was entirely covered in blood.
“What do you want us to do with him?”
“Bring him back,” Rourke ordered. He knelt down beside the second body and fell back when his eyes opened.
“We got a live one!” he shouted. He reached his hand out and said, “Are you injured?” Well, isn’t that obvious, dumbass, he thought to himself.
“I did what I could, but it wasn’t enough,” a small voice croaked.
Rourke realized that it was a woman sitting in front of him, the team’s medic.
“Wilkens?” he asked.
“Are there any more survivors?” he asked hopefully.
“There’s a handful of them with minor injuries. I moved them near the entrance to the City.” The Doctor’s glance fell onto Konstantin.
“I—I did everything I could for him,” she said, her voice breaking. “I had no supplies, nothing to stop his bleeding. He doesn’t have long.”
Rourke grasped her arm and said, “We’ll take it from here. Come with me.”
He pulled her to her feet and walked with her toward the chopper.
Wilkens watched as the ruins disappeared beneath them. She sat back in her seat and stared straight ahead of her. Konstantin was laying on a stretcher at her feet with an oxygen mask over his face, watching her. She got comfortable and let her head drop onto Rourke’s shoulder.
Rourke let out a chuckle. “We'll see about that, Wilkens.”
Chapter 2: The A-Team
Some sources say that Shadow takes place just a few months after the end Rise. The timeline in this story is closer to real-time, setting the events of the games apart by approximately 3 years.
Guildford, Surrey, England
Konstantin lay in bed, the cool cotton sheets tangled around his naked body. His chest was heaving, and his skin was covered with a thin dew of perspiration. She was laying on his chest, the weight of her grounding him. Nothing mattered outside of that bedroom at that very moment. Nothing but the two of them.
The idea of having a partner again after so long was new for him. It was hard to get used to another person’s quirks and eccentricities, but he found that having someone to come home to again was comforting. The mere fact that there was another person who needed him and wanted him warmed his heart like he never imagined could be possible again.
Konstantin gently traced his fingertips down her spine, his hand coming to rest on the small of her back. A year ago, he never would have imagined that he and this woman would be drawn together, but he was glad they were.
Lara lifted her head abruptly and said, “We need to talk.” She rolled onto her side and pulled the sheet up to cover herself.
“What is it?”
“I’m going to Mexico,” she said.
Konstantin could see the excitement in her face. She started to say something, but his cell phone rang loudly, startling them both. He reached over to the bedside table and picked up his phone—it was Ana. He ignored the call. “What’s in Mexico?”
“Shouldn’t you take that?” Lara asked.
“Go on. What’s in Mexico?”
“We’ve been tracking another Trinity cell,” she said with a grin. “They have several ongoing digs in Cozumel, led by someone named Dominguez. I’ve seen his name in my father’s journals, but I haven’t found much information about him yet.”
Konstantin frowned. “Who is we? You and Jonah?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I don’t like the idea of you chasing Trinity,” he said. “When does it stop?”
“You know that I am more than capable of taking care of myself.”
“And you know that they will be more than ready to slaughter you this time.”
Lara sat up in bed and said, “That’s a risk I am prepared to take.”
Konstantin frowned at her. “You are a foolish, careless woman, do you know that?”
Lara grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It wasn’t one,” Konstantin said gruffly. He climbed out of bed and started dressing.
“I handled myself just fine in Siberia, didn’t I?” she said.
Konstantin froze. He zipped his pants and slowly turned to face her. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to bring up Siberia.”
“Shit,” Lara muttered. “I’m sorry.”
Konstantin pulled his shirt on and left the room.
It was well after midnight, and Konstantin was still wide awake. He was set to be on a plane to Cozumel in less than twenty-four hours, and he couldn’t shut his mind down long enough to fall asleep. He was struggling with a moral crisis and had nowhere to turn to for advice. As he walked outside for a moonlit stroll through the gardens, he found himself longing to sit down and talk to the one person he knew would be able to tell him what to do.
Jo had always been his moral compass. He could talk to her about anything, and she always seemed to have the right answers. The truth was, he missed her dearly. He hadn’t seen or spoken to her since she’d saved his life in that frozen hell. He’d been trying to locate her for months, but she was refusing to take his calls and even Rourke wouldn’t tell him where she’d been assigned. He didn’t even know that she was okay after everything that had happened.
What Lara didn’t know was that he too was traveling to Mexico. Konstantin didn’t know how to tell her, and there was no way in hell that he could let Trinity find out that he and Lara were together. He was quite anxious about his new assignment—his first after Siberia—and he was eager to prove to Rourke and the High Council that he wasn’t a complete failure. He was thankful he was even given the chance to redeem himself; most people who screwed up badly enough to require a disciplinary hearing in front of the Council were quietly disposed of and never heard from again. He supposed his many years of faithful service, or at least Ana’s favorable reputation, had been in his favor.
Shit, Ana, he thought to himself. He’d left his cell phone upstairs in the bedroom. He trudged back into the house and started up the stairs when he heard Lara’s voice coming from the library. He quietly moved to the door, stopping to listen.
“Jonah, I have everything arranged. We leave for Mexico first thing in the morning,” Lara said.
Konstantin clenched his jaw. He knew that she was a headstrong, stubborn woman, but she was still blatantly ignoring his opinions on the matter.
“Of course I can trust him,” Lara said. “Jonah—.”
Konstantin clenched his fists and pried himself from the doorway, moving down the hall toward the bedroom once more. He grabbed his phone, which lay on the bed unlocked.
She’s been looking at my phone, he thought. Must not be as trusting as she lets on.
He had a new text from Ana. Come to the hospital right away.
* * *
Providence, Rhode Island
The sterile, pastel halls of Griffith General Hospital were vacant as Dr. Joanna Wilkens hurried toward her office. It was late, and she had only just left the O.R. after a particularly long and gruesome night. She was tired; no, she was mentally and emotionally drained and just ready to be home.
As she unlocked the door to her office, she looked up and saw her own reflection in the windowpane. She looked like the ghost of herself with dark circles beneath her eyes and gaunt cheeks. She longed for the days when she could feel happy and beautiful in her own skin.
Jo opened the door to the office and made her way to the closet to retrieve her coat and purse. She was digging her car keys out of her purse when a loud, rough voice filled the silence.
“Hello, Dr. Wilkens.”
“Holy shit!” she shouted, dropping her purse to the floor. She spun around, searching for the light switch. She clicked on the lights and saw a familiar man sitting in the chair behind her desk.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Commander James Rourke stretched his long legs out in front of him and leaned back in Jo’s desk chair. He looked attractive in dark jeans, a black tee, and a black leather motorcycle jacket. She thought to herself how odd it was to see people outside of work in their “everyday” clothes. It was silly to think that he would wear a Trinity uniform every day, but there were probably people who would be surprised to see her in something other than blue surgical scrubs since she seemed to be living in them so much lately.
“Maybe next time try coming during office hours instead of lurking in my office like a serial killer. What do you want, Rourke?” she said with annoyance.
“I’m fine. How are you?” he asked with a wry smile. “You haven’t been returning calls. It’s like you fell off the grid.”
“That was my plan.”
“How’s Konstantin?” Rourke asked, the same smug expression still on his face.
“I wouldn’t know,” Jo said sharply. “Is there a point to this little reunion, or did you just miss me? I haven’t slept in thirty-six hours. I’m not exactly in the mood for social hour.”
“We want you back,” he said immediately.
“Well, you can forget it,” Jo said. “I thought I had made that pretty clear when I told you I quit.” She picked her purse up off the floor and pulled it onto her shoulder. “Good night, Rourke.”
She had scarcely made it back to the door again when he stood and said, “Neither one of us is leaving this office until you agree to come back.”
“Are you threatening me?” Jo asked. “That sounded like a threat to me.”
“I’m here to negotiate,” Rourke said, sitting down on the edge of her desk. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and said, “What’s it going to take?”
Jo laughed out loud. “More than you’re willing to give.”
“What’s your salary?”
Jo scoffed. “This isn’t about money!”
“We’ll give you $400K,” Rourke said.
“I don’t think you understand. It has taken months of physical therapy to get me back in the O.R. I was so close to never being able to perform surgery again. My life has been turned completely upside down—.”
“You can choose your assignments,” Rourke interrupted.
Jo sighed. “I appreciate the lengths you’re going to to try and get me back. I do. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
“We can provide you a low stress environment,” Rourke said.
Jo laughed out loud. “As tempting as that is, I must respectfully refuse.”
Rourke stood up and said, “Well, then, I guess I should be going.” He moved to the door and handed her an envelope. “But you might want to look at this before it gets sent to the hospital administrators tomorrow morning.”
Jo snatched the envelope from Rourke’s hand and ripped it open. Inside was a photograph of a brunette woman in powder blue scrubs straddling an unconscious patient in the operating room.
“What the actual fuck is this?” she demanded. She shoved the picture back into his hands.
“A trauma fellow hard at work.”
“This isn’t me!”
“I can see the resemblance, though.”
“You son of a bitch. You’re blackmailing me?” Jo cried. "You think this is how you're going to get me to come back?"
Rourke shrugged. “I’m motivating you. I told you I wasn’t leaving this office until you agreed to come back.”
“I never agreed to anything,” Jo said through gritted teeth.
“Then you may be in need of a job come morning. Of course, you’ll have to find a completely new career because you won’t be allowed to practice medicine anymore once that photo gets out.”
Jo stared at Rourke contemptuously. “You double my salary, full benefits, pension, the works. I want a fully-stocked infirmary. And I want a fucking Tempurpedic mattress in my quarters.”
Rourke smirked again. “Anything else?”
Jo turned to leave the office.
“We leave for Mexico at 1700 hours, Wilkens,” he called after her.
Jo proceeded through the door, raising her hand and giving him the finger on the way out.
Jo exited the hospital and stepped outside on that crisp autumn night, taking a deep breath and filling her lungs with the cold air. It was refreshing to be out of that fluorescent prison after so many hours on the clock. As she walked down the street toward her car, the flashing red and green neon lights of the corner bar, The Ale House, beckoned her to turn around and walk the other way. She decided she was better off sharing drinks with friends than going home alone with nothing but her mind to occupy her. The sad thing was she knew that a shot of tequila was already sitting at her spot at the bar.
When she walked through the heavy wooden door, she was met with the familiar smells of over-fried foods and cigarette smoke. The Ale House was a dive, but it was her dive. She'd frequented that bar since she was old enough to buy her first drink and reckoned she could be a partial owner with the amount of money she'd spent there during her college years at Brown.
“Hey, Sammy,” she said as she climbed up onto a stool at the worn wooden bar.
The bartender slid a shot of tequila to her and rested his elbows on the bar. “Rough night?”
“Story of my life,” she said. She drank the shot of tequila and slid the glass back.
The doorbell rang shortly after, announcing the arrival of another customer.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Sammy shouted. “Look who it is! Jamie Rourke, long time no see! How the hell are ya, guy?”
“Never been better,” Rourke said, sitting down at the bar beside Jo. “Wild Turkey neat.”
Sammy returned with Rourke’s drink and another shot and said, “Looky here, it’s the Dream Team all grown up. I can remember how the two of ya used to run around tearing up Blackstone before you were this high.”
Jo smiled. She thought back to thirty years ago when things were so much simpler. Growing up, Jo was different than most girls. She was a tomboy, and her best friend was the shaggy-haired, brown-eyed, freckle-faced boy who lived next door. The only thing she ever had to worry about was meeting her best friend in the backyard to play Army.
“A smile from the ice queen?”
Jo realized that Rourke had been watching her during her little reverie into the past.
“I was just thinking.”
Jo stared into the glass in her hands. “Do you remember how innocent everything was when we were kids? Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and just stay there forever. I thought that people were good, that happily-ever-afters really existed.” Jo choked back tears. “And all I wanted to do was grow up. Now look at me. I’m all grown up, and I’ve seen just how very wrong about the world I was. People are evil, and there is no such thing as a happily-ever-after.”
Her hands shaking, Jo tossed back the shot of tequila. “It’s been a year since Siberia, and I am still so fucked up that I can’t even close my eyes without seeing it all again.”
“That why you’ve been refusing my calls?” Rourke asked.
She ignored his question and said, “I just don’t know if I can go back, Jamie. Why is Trinity willing to go to such lengths to get me back? Doubling my salary is just ridiculous.”
“Dominguez told me to do whatever I had to do. I think it’s his way of compensating you for everything you did after the shitshow at Kitezh. He thinks a lot of you.”
“Are you sure it’s all Dominguez?” she asked, turning to face him. She met his brown eyes and held his gaze for several moments.
Jo’s phone buzzed loudly on the bar beside her. She glanced at it briefly and realized it was a text from Konstantin. We need to talk.
Rourke saw it too. He looked up at her and said, “I thought you hadn’t spoken to him?”
“I haven’t,” she said, clearing the notification and ignoring the message. She had no intention to reply to it. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Rourke drank from his glass and said, “So what’s the story there?”
“Keep ‘em coming, Sammy,” Jo said to the bartender as she downed another shot. “We were close friends, that’s all.”
“You weren’t fucking?” Rourke asked bluntly.
Jo choked on the tequila and began coughing violently. Her face red and eyes watering, she shook her head. “No.”
Rourke looked amused by her little outburst.
“Is that so hard to believe?”
He shrugged. “There was a lot of talk about the two of you. And he always gets this crazy ass look in his eye anytime I come around.”
“Maybe because you are always shamelessly flirting with me,” Jo muttered.
“Nothing wrong with a little flirting,” Rourke said.
"Another!" Jo called to the bartender.
“I think you’ve had enough,” Rourke said as Jo reached for her fourth (or fifth?) shot. He moved the glass out of her reach. “Remember your guidelines: one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”
Jo laughed loudly. “I can hold my liquor way better than I used to.”
“Let’s not test that theory,” Rourke said. He tossed some money onto the bar to pay their tab and helped Jo down off her stool.
Once outside, Jo unsteadily turned to Rourke and said, “What now?”
“What do you want to happen now?” he asked, putting his hands in his pockets.
“Drunk Jo would invite you back to her place,” she said. “But Responsible Jo realizes that she has been awake for almost forty hours and needs to get some sleep.”
“Does Jo always talk about herself in the third person?” Rourke asked with his signature crooked smile.
Jo cackled loudly. “Drunk Jo does.”
“At least let me drive you home,” he said. “You don’t seem to be in any condition to drive.”
“Okay,” she said. They walk slowly to the black Jeep Wrangler Unlimited parked at the curb. "I live over on Elmgrove."
"That's just creepy, Rourke," Jo said as she climbed into the Jeep.
"That you just know where I live."
"You live literally twenty fucking feet from where you grew up," Rourke said, rubbing his forehead. He pulled away from the curb and headed south toward Elmgrove.
A few minutes later, Rourke parked along the street in front of Jo’s house.
Jo leaned across the console and said, “Before I go, can I touch it?”
Rourke narrowed his eyes and cast her a sidelong glance. “Touch what?”
"Your beard," Jo said. "It looks so soft. It looks good on you."
Rourke rolled his eyes and laughed out loud. “You are so annoying when you're drunk."
Jo scoffed and said, "Drinking is my coping mechanism."
"And what are you coping with?"
"With you being a dick. What the hell did you think I was asking to touch?" she asked loudly.
Rourke stifled another laugh. "Never mind. Go to bed, Wilkens."
Jo kissed Rourke on the cheek and said, “I’ll see you at 1700 hours, Commander.”
* * *
Konstantin stood on the sidewalk in front of the Royal Marsden Hospital and stared up at the brick and glass facade. After Ana had told him to come to the hospital right away, he was running every possible scenario through his head, wondering just what was so urgent. He tried to tell himself that it was something mundane. She wanted him to bring more clothes. She wanted Chinese take-out. She was lonely and needed company. A feeling of dread weighed heavily in the pit of his stomach as he entered the building.
He walked quickly down the halls, searching for the ward she had been admitted into. When he finally found the room, he found her resting peacefully in bed. There were IVs in both of her arms and a cannula in her nose. He hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks and was shocked at how much her appearance had changed in such little time.
Her blonde hair had thinned considerably, and her face was gaunt and colorless. Her eyes were sunken and red-rimmed. She was breathing irregularly. Konstantin sat down beside her and reached for her hand; she stirred slightly and opened her eyes slowly.
“Ana,” Konstantin said, “I got here as fast as I could.”
Ana forced a smile and said, “I knew you would.” Her voice was faint and hoarse.
“What are the doctors saying?” Konstantin said hopefully. He had tried telling himself that perhaps there was some miracle, some act of God, that had resulted in a complete turn-around.
“Brother,” Ana croaked, “they told me it is time to say my goodbyes.”
“No!” Konstantin cried. “They’ve been wrong before. They’ll be wrong again.”
Ana shook her head. “No. I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones. I can feel it in my soul. It’s time.”
Konstantin held her hand tightly in his and fought back tears. He’d been preparing himself for this moment since she was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer five years earlier, but he didn’t realize it would hurt this damn bad.
“I’m sorry for everything I have put you through, Konstantin,” Ana said weakly.
Konstantin kept his eyes on the floor, not able to look his dying sister in the face. He couldn’t bear to see Ana look so frail and sick. Since they were children, Konstantin had seen his sister as the strong one; she was always guiding him and giving him hope. It had been just the two of them against the world since their parents died.
“You have to hold on,” Konstantin said. “I have orders to ship out to Mexico tomorrow. I can’t stay long.”
“Mexico?” Ana asked with surprise. “What is Trinity doing in Mexico?”
“Looking for some artifact,” Konstantin said. He moved his eyes to the wall across the room. “That’s all I know. I’ve been assigned to vehicular support. I’m not in a need-to-know position anymore.”
“Who’s in command?”
“Rourke?” Ana asked with surprise.
“Yeah,” Konstantin said, running a hand over his hair. “I guess they aren’t messing around this time.”
Ana squeezed his hand for a brief moment and said, “Konstantin, promise me that you won’t let the hand you've been dealt make you a bitter, unhappy man. I want you to be happy. Promise me that you’ll be happy.”
Konstantin scoffed loudly.
“Promise me,” Ana insisted.
Konstantin heaved a sigh. “I promise.”
“Good,” she said. “Now go.”
“I can’t go,” Konstantin said. “I’m not ready yet.”
Ana gently squeezed his hand and said, “But I am ready. I’m ready for all this to go away. All the tubes and needles and drugs. All the pain.”
Konstantin finally allowed himself to look at his sister.
"To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure," Ana said confidently.
"Who said that?" he asked.
Ana laughed softly. "A famous wizard named Albus Dumbledore."
Konstantin laughed. He dropped his head into his hands and said, "Now is not the time for Harry Potter humor."
“Go!” Ana ordered gently. “Let me die in peace.”
"I love you, Ana." Konstantin stood and slowly left the room, knowing full well that could be the very last time he saw his sister alive.
Chapter 3: Welcome to the Jungle
It was early afternoon when Lara and Jonah arrived in Cozumel. The sun was shining, and the sky was bright blue with fluffy, white clouds. On the way into the village, Lara couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning scenery. White sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, and vibrant green foliage surrounded them. Lara promised herself that once her business with Trinity was finally done she would take some time to just relax and enjoy life. She’d never been to Mexico before, but she already found herself quite fond of it.
“Where are we meeting your contact, Jonah?” Lara asked as the taxi came to a halt.
“A little place called La Casa Mexicana,” Jonah said. “I know the chef there.”
“Didn’t you eat on the plane?” Lara joked.
They exited the taxi, and Jonah led Lara toward a deserted courtyard. Lara immediately saw the darkened neon lights on the building ahead of them. La Casa Mexicana.
“There it is,” she said. “Let’s go.”
They were seated in a corner on the upstairs balcony overlooking the courtyard. They had only just ordered a round of drinks when Lara saw a short, heavily-built man in an apron and a ball cap approaching them.
“¡Oye, Jonah!” he called. “¿Cómo estás?”
Jonah stood and shook the man’s hand. “Lara, this is Hector Riviera.”
Hector joined them at the table, barely acknowledging Lara’s presence. She didn’t mind—she wasn’t exactly a people person anyway.
“You have some info for us?” Jonah asked.
“Dr. Dominguez has been searching for the entrance to a temple here for many years,” Hector said. “I think they are getting close. They have been bringing in more and more reinforcements.”
“Dr. Dominguez is here in Cozumel?” Lara asked. The name was familiar. She’d seen it in her father’s journals; they’d been friends before his death.
“No, I hear he is in Brazil right now. The man has fingers in many pies. The one in charge here is named Rourke. I’ve only seen him a handful of times, but he is a real pendejo.”
“So what is so important about this temple?” Lara asked.
Hector shrugged. “We do not know. Everything is very hush-hush.”
“Can you get us into the digs?” Jonah asked.
“Jonah, my friend, Dr. Dominguez and his men have been a great help to the people of this village, but they are not messing around. You need to be careful," Hector said. “All I can do is give you the locations."
“Is there anything else you can tell us?” Lara asked.
“I’ve had eyes on the dig closer to the city. I think that’s where their base camp is. I thought I had the front gate guard’s schedule down to a science, but they stuck a new guy up there today. A big guy with a creepy, scarred up face. Looks like he wants to strangle everyone he looks at.”
Jonah laughed. “Sounds about like Konstantin, doesn’t it, Lara?”
A wave of unease washed over Lara. She didn’t want to admit that the thought had already crossed her mind.
“I should get back to the kitchen,” Hector said. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and tossed it down onto the table. “I’ve written down the locations of all the dig sites. Good luck, my friends.”
Lara watched Hector leave the table, and she stared down at the bottle of beer a waitress had just placed in front of her.
“Something bothering you?” Jonah asked.
“What if Konstantin is here, Jonah?” Lara asked quietly.
“Don’t you trust him?” Jonah asked.
“I—I don’t know,” Lara muttered. “I want to trust him, but I’m not sure that I can.”
Jonah shrugged. “If he is here, there’s not much we can do about it . . . is there?”
Lara sighed. “I guess not.”
Jonah patted Lara’s shoulder and said, “Then don’t worry about it unless you have reason to. Let’s go back to the hotel and catch some sleep, and we’ll start checking out those dig sites tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” she said. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and said, “I’ll be right up.”
Lara unlocked her phone and started composing a message. K, we made it to Cozumel. Trinity is here in full force.
She sent the message and waited for the delivery notification, but it didn’t appear. Either his phone was off, or he was out of range. Konstantin always had his phone on, so Lara was once again hit with a wave of unease. If he really was there in Cozumel, she would find out sooner or later.
* * *
Commander Rourke wandered across the airplane hangar with his hands stuffed in his pockets. They were set to leave for Mexico in a matter of minutes, and he was waiting for the rest of the team to board the chopper idling outside.
The night before, for the first time in almost three years, Rourke slept in his own house in his own bed, and it felt damn good. He had never considered himself to be much of a homebody—sometimes he had trouble remembering what home was even like—but he decided that at that point in his life, at thirty-seven years old, putting down roots was sounding better and better.
His patience with Dr. Dominguez was growing thin. Dominguez had sent him on a wild goose chase all over Central and South America since the botched mission to find the Divine Source, and after almost a decade in the Special Forces, he was growing weary with living out of a duffel bag. He was always moving around, living somewhere new with new, unfamiliar people.
Rourke thought of his family back in Providence. He hadn’t seen or spoken to them in nearly ten years. He had long been seen as the black sheep of the picture-perfect Rourke family, but he was virtually disowned and disinherited when he decided to leave the Army to join the ranks of Trinity.
Trinity had changed everything for Rourke. He was respected, even revered, for his accomplishments and was put in a position where he could use his talents and experience accordingly. He didn’t have anyone to impress or satisfy. He was able to create an identity for himself that he was pleased with.
He watched from afar as Jo entered the hangar cautiously. She too was dressed in Trinity’s standard-issue hot weather uniform. Despite the masculine cut of the combat fatigues she wore, she looked incredible. Her shirt was casually unbuttoned, and Rourke could see the tiny gold cross necklace she’d worn for as long as he could remember.
Her saw her face go white the moment she laid eyes on the black utility helicopter nicknamed Cardinal Two. He felt bad for a moment; she’d told him over a year ago that she was done with Trinity, and he pulled her back in despite everything that had gone on in Siberia.
When Rourke finally boarded the chopper and gave the order to move out, he sat down in the empty seat beside Jo. As they prepared for take off, he heard her draw in a deep breath as she stared at the seat directly in front of her.
“You okay?” Rourke asked as he buckled himself into his seat. He knew she wasn’t.
Jo shook her head. “The last time I was on one of these birds . . . it was crashing.”
She pulled her duffel into her lap and fished around inside it until she found a bottle of pills. She popped one into her mouth and clenched her eyes shut.
“What are those?” Rourke asked with concern.
“Benzos,” Jo muttered. “How long is this flight?”
“About four hours,” Rourke said.
“Fuck,” she said under her breath. “Jesus Christ, why did I agree to this?” Jo said.
Rourke reached toward her and offered her his hand.
Jo ignored his gesture and said, “I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine.”
She was clearly not fine.
The cabin rocked slightly as the chopper ascended, and Jo drew in a sharp breath. She grabbed Rourke’s still outstretched hand and clenched her eyes shut.
“You’re gonna be fine,” Rourke said.
Jo squeezed his hand tightly and said, “I will be so happy when this thing lands.”
“Jo, look at me,” Rourke said earnestly.
Jo slowly opened her eyes and turned to face him.
“You’re safe,” he reassured. “You’re not alone.”
Jo nodded her head slowly and turned her attention back onto the empty seat across from her.
“Hey,” Rourke said, “do me a favor and don’t throw up in my lap this trip.”
Jo groaned. “I’d almost forgotten about that. Thanks for reminding me.”
Rourke laughed softly. “No problem.”
“So what are we doing in Cozumel?” Jo asked, her voice still trembling.
“Dr. Dominguez is running a few digs on the island.”
“Dr. Dominguez?” Jo asked with surprise. “So this must be a pretty big deal for you and him both to be running things.”
Rourke sighed and rubbed his beard with his free hand. “Honestly, Jo? There aren’t many of us left. Croft has been a busy little bitch the past year.”
Rourke felt Jo bristle next to him at the mere mention of her name.
“So is that why you called me, too? Because there was no one else left?”
“No,” Rourke said. “I wanted you back.”
Jo met his eyes again.
“We used to be so close, and then with the Army and med school, we lost a lot of time.”
Jo gave him a small smile. “I see what you’re saying—in your long, convoluted way of putting it. I’ve missed you too.”
Rourke smiled to himself as Jo turned away from him again.
Jo closed her eyes and finally let herself relax in her seat. “So I hope this assignment is like 95% working on my tan and 5% actually treating patients.”
“I hope so, too,” Rourke said a little uneasily.
He knew that once they arrived in Cozumel Croft wouldn’t be far behind.
* * *
Konstantin shielded his eyes from the scorching sun and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He was wearing heavy cargo pants and a tactical vest—far too many layers for the current weather in Mexico. He had only just arrived a few hours before, and he already didn’t appreciate being volunteered for watch in an open area during the hottest time of day. He supposed Rourke was punishing him by giving him all the duties no one else wanted to make some sort of an example out of him.
He was starting to get lightheaded from the heat, so he stripped off the vest, tossing it to the ground. Getting shot at that point would’ve been sweet relief from the damn heat. He rolled up his sleeves and wiped his face again. He sighed with irritation as he glanced down at his watch. He only had an hour left until someone else came to relieve him.
Konstantin was scanning the treeline, looking for anything interesting, when he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned to see a tall, very tan, and very well-groomed man in an officer’s uniform. His eyes dropped to the name patch on his chest. Winters.
Winters shielded his eyes from the sun and said, “Commander Rourke sent me to tell you that your backup got detained, so you’re going to have to stick it out a few more hours.”
Konstantin clenched his jaw and said, “Yes, sir.”
Winters smirked at him and said, “You got a problem with that, Miller?”
“No problem at all, Winters,” Konstantin said through gritted teeth.
“It’s Commander Winters,” he said smugly. “So I guess you won’t mind pulling a double, then?”
“Even better,” Konstantin said. He tightened his grip on his rifle to keep himself from taking a swing at him.
Winters’ radio crackled. “This is Rourke. Winters, I want all dig sites rigged with explosives. I don’t want anyone getting inside unless they’re supposed to be in there.”
Konstantin’s gut wrenched into a knot. He knew that Lara was probably already in Cozumel, and it was only a matter of time before she found her way into Trinity’s business. He hadn’t yet taken the time to consider what he would do if they crossed paths. He knew he was going to have to figure out where he stood with all of it before they found themselves face to face, or he knew it wouldn’t be pretty.
Konstantin watched Winters walk away and then turned his attention back to the gate. Just then it rolled open, and he found himself staring straight at her. It was Jo, staring right back at him, just as surprised as he was.
Jo wrapped her arms around herself uncomfortably. “Konstantin.”
“How are you?”
“I’m well,” Jo said.
“How long have you been here?” Konstantin asked.
“I just got here a few hours ago,” Jo said.
“I had no idea you’d be here.”
A strained silence fell between them before Jo finally said, “Listen, I’d love to catch up, but I’m late for . . . a thing.”
She started to walk away, but Konstantin yelled after her. “You could’ve taken my calls! I’ve been trying to find you for months.”
Jo stopped and slowly turned to face him.
“I had no way of knowing if you were okay,” Konstantin said sternly.
Jo put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
He braced himself for her worst. “Maybe this isn’t the best time to talk about this.”
“This is the perfect time to talk about it since you brought it up, Konstantin. Where should I start?”
Konstantin stared at her blankly.
“You fucked Trinity’s Most Wanted. You forced me onto that chopper with you. You hit me. You put my life in danger.”
Konstantin frowned. “Jo, you are being overly dramatic about all of this.”
“I almost fucking died, Konstantin!” Jo shouted.
“I never meant to hurt you.”
Jo pointed her finger at him and said, “I was nothing but loyal to you for six years. I was always there for you, and I never asked for anything in return. I never bothered you with my problems. But I guess I was expecting too much to think that you’d show some loyalty to me. I loved you for six years, Konstantin. For six years. And you knew. But you didn’t give a shit. So, no, I didn’t take your calls because I thought it would be for the best that we don’t talk anymore.”
“Everything okay here?”
Konstantin and Jo both turned abruptly to see Rourke standing behind them.
Jo backed away from Konstantin and joined Rourke. “I was just leaving.”
Once they were out of earshot, Jo rounded on Rourke.
“So did you forget to mention that he would be here, or did you do it on purpose?” she demanded.
“I don’t know what went down between you two, but it must’ve been some serious shit.”
“Yeah, it was,” Jo said darkly.
“I didn’t tell you because I knew this is how you would react,” Rourke said with annoyance. “I’ll make sure you don’t have to deal with him again.”
“You better,” Jo said. She poked him in the chest and said, “Or I will rip your dick off and shove it so far up your ass that you’ll taste cock for the rest of your life.”
He smirked and said, “So . . . we still drinking tonight?”
Jo rolled her eyes and walked away.