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When Adam visits the medical wing, Paul — at least, they say that it’s Paul, right on the heels of explaining that Paul is dead, and that’s how Adam knows that all of Spectrum is floundering through this blind — possibly-Paul is staring into the middle distance, hands flat on the bedcovers and unmoving.

Adam takes his hat down from his head, a little unnerved at the sight of Paul out of uniform and ungroomed. A little unnerved by everything, really. “Captain Scarlet?” says Adam.

Paul turns to face him slowly, then recognition comes slowly, and Adam privately fights a wave of nausea because he once spent seven years watching his grandfather vanish into a haze of Alzheimer’s and now Paul is looking at him like…

“Captain Blue,” Paul replies. His voice sounds normal. And that can’t be normal.

“Hey there,” Adam says, sliding over a chair. He forces himself to settle, physically and inwardly, before going on with entirely affected chirpiness. “Well, that was quite the dog-and-pony show out there. How are you feeling?”

There’s a slight blip in the skin between Paul’s eyebrows, a little crease, and he frowns just slightly. “I’m sorry, what… what do you mean?”

 

It’s too big for Adam to wrap his head around but already everyone else is moving on, the colonel’s laying plans and handing down missions, all operations running swiftly, green, green, everything’s always green.

The whole thing stinks of fish. The whole damn thing, and nobody seems interested in just taking a moment to sit down and talk about it, suss out the details, get the whole ugly story straight. (As straight as they can, at least, given the circumstances. Intelligence is not the organization’s primary purpose, after all, and they are largely working in the dark so far. But anything’s better than simply letting the matter stand as a given when nothing is a given anymore.)

And it’s not as if they never have time to discuss it. It’s the motivation that evades them. Symphony wouldn’t even meet Adam's eyes when he mentioned it, and excused herself almost at once to go replace some valve in her fuel line. (She’d already overhauled the fuel line just this Tuesday.)

Colonel White had Adam report to his office last night. Adam’s memory of the conversation is already patchy.

“We are now at war,” said the colonel.

“We must look ahead,” said the colonel.

“There simply isn’t time to stop and fret over the details of one agent’s… say he’s fit for duty, and for now, that’s the only… am sorry,” said the colonel.

But that isn’t Captain Scarlet, said Adam. I shot him.

This part Adam remembers very clearly: the colonel’s face going still, his eyes seeking out the back of the nameplate on his desk, the overhead lights reflecting off the tiny white hairs on his folded hands, before saying, quietly and evenly, “This new Scarlet is of greater tactical advantage.”

…All due respect, sir, I don’t know if I can accept any part of that answer, said Adam.

“‘Scarlet’ is only a designation,” said the colonel.

His ID card still says Paul Metcalfe, said Adam.

“You know where the Cloudbase psychiatrist’s office is located,” said the colonel, eventually.

Adam remembers pacing his quarters after the meeting. Pacing isn’t his style, but there he was. Pacing, and being certain he was right about all this.

Adam wouldn’t shoot Paul. That wasn’t Paul. Adam would never. That wasn’t Paul. This is not Paul. He tried to kill the president, for chrissake! Paul would never! The simmering rage Adam stoked and used to fuel his chase, to pull the trigger — this damn alien imposter, this… this monster that murdered Adam's best friend and then had the gall to look like Adam's best friend while Adam tried to steady his aim, while Adam remade himself into something cold enough to…

This morning, the colonel handed Adam a new mission. Shuffling another career politician around the map. Bodyguard wrangling. Even Magenta could handle this just fine, Mysteron death-threats or no.

Technically one mission is every bit as important as any other — that’s the “official” opinion — but given all that’s going on, given all the uses an agent of Adam’s caliber could be put to today, he can’t help but feel he’s being punished.

Or tested.

It takes him a second to hear Ochre’s question: Is Scarlet going with you?

He scoffs. “I should think not.”

The colonel would have to be completely loony or completely sadistic to pair Adam up with that… that thing after (what Adam can remember of) their conversation last night.

Ochre blinks at him, then edges away, coughing against his fist. And it’s then that Adam hears how much venom was in his own voice just now.

Well, he’s not about to apologize for it. He’s got nothing to explain.

Adam has always liked to think of himself an an open-minded guy. Trade in all hope of ever having a relationship so he can risk life and limb and introduce himself to people as a primary color? Sign him up. Extraterrestrial life? Sure, why not. Reversing cellular degeneration to reanimate a corpse? He was raised in a Christian household; he’s believed stranger things.

But if anyone thinks for one hot minute that Adam Svenson is going to buddy up to the Mysteron spy that killed Paul — that forced him to kill Paul in effigy…

His communicator lights up.

…Oh. Yes sir. I understand, sir. Yes sir yes sir yes sir! SIG!

At least the colonel has the backbone to deliver his own bad news. Adam decides that the Cloudbase CO is, in fact, both a loony and a sadist.

Adam wonders, faintly and absolutely involuntarily, if the "new" Scarlet will smell the same as the old one when he's sweating up the inside of an SPV.

He leaves the rest of the fiddly mission-prep details to Ochre, and spends the rest of the time before departure on his knees in the men’s room at the far end of the loading dock, dry-heaving as quietly as he can.

 

There’s no way this isn’t a test.

Captain Blue puts on his game face, and smiles at the so-called Scarlet extra hard.

Captain Blue is psychologically stable and fit for duty — fit for better duty than this.

What do you think of that, Colonel White.

 

No plan survives contact.

 

Adam holds himself at attention on autopilot, despising himself actively as the damage control units finally join the paramedics and airport staff on the tarmac to begin a job that — now that Adam thinks of it — is probably at least as stressful as his, in its own way. Just two nights ago, his research led him to an old report detailing how search-and-rescue dogs will show signs of depression and consequent decreased job performance if they find too many people dead.

Even dogs. (Hell — especially dogs, in all likelihood. Some of the finest people Adam’s ever known were dogs.)

Dogs don’t question who their master is, if their master returns home after a car wreck wearing different clothes. Maybe even wearing different skin. Dogs know who their friends are. In the legend, Odysseus’ dog recognized him after twenty years at sea even when wife and son did not. Wagged its tail in greeting before keeling over of old age.

Adam wishes he were a dog.

He holds himself at attention and answers questions on autopilot. The paramedics, the police, the press. Nobody appears to be casting glances at him, so his answers are probably satisfactory.

Satisfactory answers seem to be in short supply lately. He’s glad to be doing something right. He’s glad to be right about something.

A day late and a dollar short. The saying keeps scrolling through his mind, but he’s a little fuzzy on its exact meaning just at present. They checked him out for concussion and he doesn’t remember their conclusions, which is probably a bad sign. But no one’s come to relieve him yet, either, so while that’s not necessarily a good sign, it’s probably the closest he’s going to get to one.

If he’s not concussed, then just what the hell is wrong with him?

Only two thoughts manage to come through the haze loud and clear:

One, that when Captain Scarlet announced his intent to ram the DT-19’s wheels, and Adam yelled back that it would be suicide, it wasn’t his own suicide he was protesting.

And two, that moment of ringing clarity just after Scarlet ejected him from the SPV (or possibly just before — Adam will never be entirely sure), when everything inside him, everything that makes him Adam, was screaming for everything that makes his partner Paul. Screaming for him, reaching for him, scrambling-clawing-desperate for him, to pull him out, to pull him back, to drag him kicking and biting to safety and…

Paul spared a glance up at him, to make sure he cleared the vehicle, and for something like a tenth of a second there was direct eye contact.

Adam’s not even sure what he saw in Paul’s eyes, but whatever it was, it was Paul.

It was absolutely Paul. And it obliterated all Adam's vitriol and doubts in a tenth of a second.

Just a half of a second too late.

Somewhere in the back of Adam's mind is the understanding that the debriefing will almost certainly be followed by a dressing-down. That this is his first mission failure since making captain and a catastrophic one to boot. That he’s certainly failed to live up to whatever metric Colonel White was measuring him by on this test (and, yes, it was absolutely a test, which he has absolutely failed). That his career is suddenly teetering and he should be worried.

Anyone would be worried.

Adam tries, almost tongue-in-cheek, to muster up some worry, but the anxiety is gone, all burned out now, all burned up in a flaming wreck and exploding tanks of jet fuel. All there’s room for inside him now is the horror of watching Paul Metcalfe die (again), the giddy and half-skeptical knowledge that his death may (again) be temporary, and the pure miserable insanity required to glue these two things together.

Just those three things left inside of him, and still it’s too much, it’s too big, it hurts.

He holds himself at attention and answers questions, and his eyes track the cleanup activity on autopilot, scanning for bodybags in the gathering twilight.

There are several bodybags. He doesn’t know which is which.

“It’s a pity he died in vain.”

Adam startles, turns toward the voice. There’s only one person beside him now, and Adam knows he just talked to the man a little while ago, but damned if he can place the face. Someone from tower control, maybe.

Adam’s eyes are drifting back toward the black bags being wheeled onto ambulances or up the ramp to the Angel jet that stayed behind. Retrometabolism, he thinks.

It’s an awfully silly-sounding word to withstand the weight of so much hope.

Still, over the rioting insanity in his head he hears himself say, “Maybe he didn’t die…”

This time, the tower controller startles. “What?”

Adam barely looks at him. “In vain,” he adds.

As the tower controller digests this and walks away, he gives Adam one of those long, sideways glances that Adam was on the lookout for earlier. Then the man speaks to a paramedic, gesturing Adam’s way. The paramedic nods and comes over to re-check Adam for head injuries.

Of course. The director-general is in one of those black bags; the mission failed; Paul's death was inarguably in vain.

Adam sighs through his nose.

He’ll have to get better at this.