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Chapter 52: The ISA Way

"Eight.  Nine.  Ten."  Shane counted out loud and did his best to ignore the pain in his ribs and back as he tried to complete a set of push-ups. "Eleven."  His arms were starting to shake.  "Twelve."  Come on, come on.  Just one more he urged his burning arms.  "Thirteen," he managed to call out before his strength gave out.

He tried to regain his breath.  At least he had managed one more than during his last attempt.  If he was going to overpower any of the guards, he needed to restore some upper body strength.  He rolled over and began doing crunches, even though his stamina was waning quickly.  That would be the biggest obstacle to escape.  He was barely getting enough calories to maintain his already low weight, and could not use too much energy preparing for an escape attempt.  That limited what he could do; sustained exercise was out of the question.  Not that he could manage it right now.  At the twenty-first crunch, his energy ran out and he fell back, gasping for air.

Shane lay on the cement floor and stared up into the blackness of the cell.  He knew his time was running out.  Victor could hold back Vasquez for only so much longer.  If Vasquez began to lose his grip on the country, Victor's money would become meaningless.  At that point, the only thing left for Vasquez would be revenge.

Grimacing in pain, he forced himself to crawl back to the mattress and tried to remember what it was like to live without pain.  And light.  He missed sunlight.  The outdoors.  Walking in the garden at Donovan Manor during a spring day, just as the roses began to bloom.

Just the thought caused him to flash back to the first time Kim had come to Donovan Manor.  1985.  They had been so young, yet already carrying a lifetime of emotional baggage, but that had been when they had finally admitted how they felt.  After months of dancing around, refusing to lower their walls, they had finally given in.   And for a brief period, their lives had been joyous.

Didn't that just sum up their relationship?  It seemed like a bunch of brief periods of utter bliss in between a lot of pain and times when all that baggage would resurface and split them apart.  Or more appropriately, when they let it split them apart.

In his mind's eye, he tried to picture his family.  He no longer fought the thoughts of them.  In fact, sometimes thinking about them helped him fight the images that came to him at night -- or whatever he called the periods when he slept; he had no idea if that was really night or day.  He put that thought aside and closed his eyes, trying to picture them.  Eve singing at Wings.  Andrew playing rugby on the day he set Eton's record for tries.  Jeannie, her face red and eyes bright, as she walked into a Swiss chalet after skiing down a snowy mountain run.

And Kimberly.  His beautiful Kimberly.

He could see Kim on that day she arrived in England, the day they first made love.  She was so beautiful.  He could almost feel the softness of her skin, the touch of her lips against his, the way their bodies had come together effortlessly.  It was like they were made for each other.

They had been.  He knew it, and Kim knew it also.  So how had he blown it so badly?

Stubborn pride, perhaps?  Anger that might have been reasonable at first, but that led to him rebuilding his walls so strong that she had no way of knocking them down.  And when she showed up in Salem engaged to Philip, it had been easy to walk away.

No, that was a lie.  It had been damned hard to walk away, but he had done a good job convincing himself that it was for the best.  Let Kim and his children have a life he could not provide for them -- stable and safe, without the constant fear that he would never return from whatever mission he was on.  A life where they wouldn't be devastated if he failed them.  Kim and Andrew had mourned him once, and he had chosen to protect them from that pain again.

How things would have been different if not for Jericho.  Shane would not have been declared dead, Kim would never have hooked up with Cal Winters, and there would have never have been any doubt about Jeannie.  And if that had never occurred, he wouldn't have ever gotten involved with Kayla.  Everything could have been avoided.  If only he had been willing to let Jericho go.

It had been a fool's gambit, going after Jericho in his condition, and he had known as much.  Why else had he given his wedding ring to Kayla?  Shane was not a superstitious man and hardly believed in premonitions.  He had just known he there was a strong chance he might die, but that was the ISA way.  The mission came first.  Agents were expendable.  Letting Jericho go to avoid risking his own life went against everything Shane had been taught -- everything he thought that he believed.

That belief had cost him everything that really mattered.

With Kim and the children gone, he had nothing left in his life but the ISA.  It gave him a purpose, and he could once again be the perfect ISA agent.  After all, if a man has little to live for, he has no reason to fear dying.

Shane pressed his head back into the mattress and laughed.  He had survived so many missions before he was forced to a desk.  He had taken over European Operations in 1997, and, after 9/11, as one of the few department heads not blamed for the intelligence failures that led to that disaster, he had been promoted to Chief of the entire agency.  And that had led to Nightwing.  He had spent twelve years almost entirely in oversight, out of the field, and then he had chosen to return for this job.  He could have assigned any top agent for this assignment, but Shane had decided to do it himself.  He needed to ensure its success personally.  Too much was riding on the outcome.

Now, when everyone in the ISA probably considered the mission a success, Shane still had no idea if he had achieved his true objective, and he was too much of a realist to believe he would live long enough to ever find out.