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I only intended to write the one story, but Control and Davan seem to have the full and undivided attention of all my musae. Sigh. All right, they win...THIS time. They'd better not make a habit out of this, though. This is, of course, a continuation of "And What Did YOU Do Last Night?"
Control and all things Equalizer belong to Universal et al, and I make no claim on them. Davan O'Meara is all mine, however, as is her love of books. I'm grateful to the creators and owners of the intellectual properties I borrow for their genius and creativity, and their forbearance in not suing me over the unauthorized use of their intellectual property.
Ask Me No Questions, And I'll Tell You No Lies
She awoke in his arms, warm and feeling safe. His heavy breathing warmed the top of her head and his shoulder provided her pillow. He was warm, and solid, and so very much alive. She'd been a bit surprised that he'd come back, particularly so soon, but she was pleased that he had. She was perfectly aware of the age difference, but he was so vibrantly alive that she could care less about that small detail. She couldn't quite believe that he was there with her, though. His breathing changed and he shifted as he awoke.
"Good morning, love," she whispered. His arms tightened for a moment and then he moved and was kissing her.
"Good morning," he replied, his hands running familiarly up and down her body. His expression was a bit tentative, however.
She smiled as she responded to his touch, arching against him. "So, then? What would ye like for breakfast?"
"You?" he softly purred, kissing her again and then trailing soft kisses down her neck to her shoulder.
"As an appetizer, perhaps?" His answering chuckle sent shivers of anticipation through her entire body.
She looked at the clock and sighed. Breakfast was over and it was approaching time to open the shop, but she didn't want to. She'd rather spend the time with him. His crystal blue eyes twinkled at her from beneath his lowered brows and he grinned. "Go on, I'll clean up the kitchen, and then I've got some errands to run, but I'll be back."
She took his words as a promise and smiled at him. "Y'know I'd rather be spendin' the day wi' ye," she said plaintively.
"We've tonight and all day tomorrow. Go on with you, now. Before you lose any customers."
"Auld Mr. Preston can wait a few extra minutes."
He stood up and shook his head. Reaching for her, he pulled her to her feet and into his arms. "But you won't do that to him," he softly admonished, kissing her. Releasing her, he saw her sigh again.
"Yer a hard taskmaster, love. But yer right. I'd not feel right in keepin' 'im waitin'." She smiled ruefully. "Well, then, off I go." She lingered, hoping for some further word of promise from him, but he simply began to clear the dishes from their repast, so she headed down the stairs to open the shop for the day.
She saw him leave about an hour later. He made no comment to her when he left, just silently walked out the door, leaving her to her customers. Her heart thumped once, hard, as she wondered if she'd see him again. But then, she reminded herself, he'd said he had errands to run and would be back. She decided to trust him. After all, it wasn't as though either of them had made any kind of commitment. The shop got busy and she put him out of her mind. What would happen would happen.
She was getting ready to close the shop when he returned, carrying a sport bag and a sack of groceries. Seeing her puzzled look, he smiled. "I thought I'd fix you dinner this time, if that's all right?"
She wasn't used to a man who cooked, so she just nodded and smiled at him. Looking at the sport bag, she hoped he had some extra clothes in it. He'd obviously gone home and changed, since he wasn't wearing a suit, now, but slacks and a sport shirt. "Welcome back," she softly said, smiling at him. She'd almost said 'welcome home,' but had managed to change it before it left her lips.
He smiled and continued through to the back and up the stairs. "It'll take about an hour to put it together and cook it, if that's all right?"
Bemused, she called back. "It's fine wi' me, love." She finished locking up and followed him up the stairs to her apartment. She watched curiously as he unloaded the groceries. There was a pair of porterhouse steaks, baking potatoes, and the makings for quite a salad. There was also an ubiquitous box of 'other' supplies. She looked at it in surprise.
Seeing the object of her interest, he blushed slightly. "I realize it may be too late, but I thought that if it wasn't, we should take a few precautions?"
She nodded, understanding. "Ye've no liking for children, then?"
He stopped unloading the shopping bag and looked at her seriously. "I probably wouldn't live to see them grow up, but other than that, I like kids well enough. Doubt I'd ever have been much of a father, being away so much of the time." He shrugged fatalistically, "It's never been a concern, before."
"And, should the 'precautions' be too late, then?"
He looked at her, knowing her faith and probable belief that abortion was murder, he replied, "That's up to you. Whatever you should decide in that instance, I'll support. If there should be a child, I'll provide for you and it. And that's a promise."
Something in his voice told her that he didn't make promises lightly, so she smiled. As his attention turned back to the groceries, she stepped up beside him and put her arms around him. He stopped and turned to her. "What will happen will happen, then."
His heart lurched as he realized what she was saying. 'Ask ye no questions and ye'll tell me no lies,' she'd asked him. She didn't probe for information from him, didn't insist on knowing his name. She seemed willing to accept whatever he could give her of his time and companionship. He felt a shiver of something strange and new go through his body. He'd never known a woman before who hadn't asked questions or wanted commitments. She excited him in ways no other woman ever had, before, and she was so willing and welcoming. He had to force himself to merely bend down to kiss her, when he wanted to carry her off to the bedroom, but he controlled himself and limited himself to just a kiss; but what a kiss it was. He poured his whole heart and soul into it, and felt her respond in kind.
Reluctantly breaking apart, he softly murmured, "If I don't get started on this, we'll never get to eat."
She sighed and stepped away. "Then we'll just have to save the rest for later on, then, won't we?"
He chuckled at the resignation in her voice. "Yes, I suppose we will." He gave her another quick, hard kiss, and turned back to his tasks.
She was unfamiliar with the American stove, with the broiler in the bottom, and watched him in fascination as he cooked their steaks. She couldn't believe the size of the pieces of meat - at home, they'd have fed four on just one of them, but here he was, expecting her to eat the entire thing?
She couldn't get over how easily he worked on the food preparation. First, he'd scrubbed and put the potatoes on to bake, and while they did, he washed and cut up the things for the salad. There were three kinds of lettuce, as well as spinach, tomatoes, which he sliced into thin wedges, radishes, cucumbers, mushrooms, both green and black olives, diced ham, and three kinds of cheese. It could be a meal in itself, she thought. While the salad chilled, he seasoned the steaks, and when the potatoes were done, turned the heat up on the oven. She'd never opened the little drawer under the oven; not realizing it was there. He used foil to keep from soiling the broiling pan, and placed the steaks on the foil, preparing to put them in to cook. He paused and looked at her.
"How do you like your steak?"
"Cooked," she replied, grinning.
"All right, how burnt do you want your steak?"
"Ah, I like a bit of pink, but not quite bleeding?"
"Medium, got it." He put one of the steaks in and glanced at the clock. "I'll give it a couple of minutes head start and it should work out just fine." He smiled at her. "So, how was business, today?"
She blinked at the non sequitur and then smiled. "Quite good, to my surprise. I s'pose that some folks still haven't power, or maybe just don't want to risk watching television." He smiled at her and checked the steak, placing the second one in beside the first.
"And did ye have a pleasant day, as well?"
He looked at her, his expression serious. "Yes. I thought about you, for most of it."
Her heart fluttered and she couldn't help but smile. "Did ye, then? Were they pleasant thoughts, then?"
"Very." He leaned against the counter and opened his arms. She took the hint and came into his embrace, resting her cheek against his chest, relishing his arms around her. He held her close, resting his cheek against the crown of her head.
"What are ye thinkin' then, love?"
"I'm wondering if any of this is real. Or maybe I'm on life support somewhere and this is all a dream."
Her heart thumped once, very hard, and then accelerated slightly from normal. "Think ye not that I be a dream, love. For if I am, then so are ye."
"If this is a dream, never let me wake up," he murmured softly into her ear before lifting her chin so he could kiss her. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss to turn their steaks. Then, to her dismay, he began to set the table, instead of going back to holding and kissing her. Table set, he took the baked potatoes, split them open, and mashed the insides a bit before putting butter and cheese on them and popping them in the broiler for the last two minutes of cooking the steaks. She'd never heard of such a thing, but it certainly looked good.
Dinner was a quiet, pensive meal. She sat beside, instead of across from him, just so she could be closer to him and touch him occasionally. "Tired?" he asked softly as she leaned against his left shoulder for a moment.
"Not really." She looked up at him, concerned. "I s'pose I just need to check to make sure you're real?"
With a gentle smile, his arm slipped around her shoulders and he hugged her to him, kissing her lightly on her forehead. "I'm as real as you are." He pressed his cheek against the top of her head and sighed softly. After a few moments, he reluctantly let her go to return to eating. He hadn't taken any time during the day to stop and eat, and breakfast had been many hours ago.
She found she enjoyed watching him eat. He seemed to relish every bite and she suspected that he'd forgotten to eat during the day; something she sensed was a common lapse on his part. The steak was perfection, requiring no additives, and the potato and salad were easily among the best she'd ever tasted. After dinner, he even helped with the dishes again, despite her admonition that since he'd cooked, she should clean.
"So, then, what would ye like to do, now?" she asked when the kitchen was clean and the leftovers put away. To her surprise, she'd been able to eat almost the entire steak, along with everything that accompanied it. She was full, but contentedly so.
His smile was seductive. "I can think of several things, but what would you like to do?"
She blushed prettily at his tone of voice and tilted her head to look up at him sidelong. "Read to me, then?"
His eyes lit up. "What would you like me to read to you, then?" He didn't notice he'd picked up her verbal quirk.
"Something from upstairs?"
"Anything you like."
She chose a hundred year old swashbuckler filled with pirates and adventure. Settled into bed together, he read to her, his voice creating the different characters for her, making her giggle at the strained falsetto he spoke in for the heroine.
Late into the night, he read to her, until his voice became a bit hoarse from overuse, and the book was finished. When he gently put the old tome down on the night table, she pulled him to her. "Are ye tired, then?"
"Just my vocal cords, I think."
"Ah, then, what shall we do now?"
He chuckled and kissed her, hard. "Guess."
They slept late, Sunday morning. When she awoke, she stretched against him and smiled. Looking at the time, she winced. She'd not be making the six o'clock Mass this morning. If she hurried, though, she'd be just in time for the eight o'clock Mass. She didn't think of the penance she'd be performing when she next went to confession; for now, she could rationalize her actions by ignoring the sin. Unless the priest were to speak directly on her current blatant wrongdoing. But she'd been so lonely....
She slipped quietly out of bed, leaving him sleeping, still. She showered and dressed and went out, not thinking to leave him a note.
He awoke slowly. He was comfortable and hadn't had any nightmares, surprisingly enough. As he stretched and yawned, he opened his eyes and scowled. Where? Oh, Davan's. No wonder he had slept so well. He smiled, remembering the previous night's entertainments, the book and the lady. Sitting up, he listened, trying to track down where she might be. There were only the sounds of the traffic outside, nothing in the apartment.
There was no answer. Frowning, now, he rose and went looking for her. The apartment was empty. Scowling, he decided to take a shower. Maybe she'd gone out for the paper, or something. When he was dressed, he again checked the apartment and then the shop. Not finding her, he began to worry, wondering where she might have gone. The other apartment on the floor was empty and unlocked. Shaking his head, he took the book from the night before and headed up the stairs to return it, and hopefully find her.
Once on the third floor, he listened, but again heard nothing. Sighing, he replaced the book in its spot and wandered around for a bit. Finding another staircase, he allowed his curiosity to get the better of him and headed up the stairs to the mysterious fourth floor. From the amount of dust on the treads, it had obviously been years since the last time someone had passed this way. He pushed the door open to the fourth floor and entered the space. His jaw dropped in amazement. The dust was well over an inch thick on everything, but even through the dust and gloom of the unlighted space, he could see the magnificent furniture that inhabited it. He walked softly, careful not to stir up any more dust than necessary. Shaking his head, he went through the entire floor. The furniture consisted of heavy old antiques, made of probably some of the finest woods ever grown. There was an enormous chandelier with dangling crystals that despite the gloom and dust, still managed to sparkle and reflect what light there was. He slowly smiled and suddenly hoped that Davan would be gone a while. He checked out the floor, and realized it had never been modernized - that it still had gas lighting, and no electrical outlets. Sighing in disgust at the realization that the cleaning would have to be entirely by hand, he made his way back down to the third floor, subconsciously working on plans to clean it up and show Davan.
He picked out another book from the third floor and headed on down to the apartment. Looking at his watch, he realized that she'd been gone quite a long time. Uncomfortable and starting to worry, he settled in the kitchen and started a pot of coffee.
At nine-thirty, Davan returned to find an extremely agitated lover who froze upon seeing her, saying nothing. She realized what she'd done. "I went to Mass," she explained quietly.
He let out his held breath in relief. Of course. He should have known. Smiling ruefully, he said, "I woke up just before eight and couldn't find you. I was getting rather worried, I'm afraid." They'd made no promises, no commitments, only that she wouldn't question him on anything. "There's coffee." His smile was tentative, almost too polite.
"Thank ye." She noticed the book lying on the table. "Found a good one, have ye?"
"I think so. James Joyce?"
Her laugh was pure delight. "I can't understand him," she giggled.
His expression went blank, and then he burst into laughter. "And here I thought I'd surprise you with something you'd really like."
She looked at the uncertain man before her and stepped close, wrapping her arms around him. "Sweet love, ye could read the telephone directory t' me and I'd adore it." She lifted her face up for a kiss, which he obliged her with.
"Let's go find something else, then, shall we?"
"Hmmmm. How about after breakfast, then? I'm starved."
He chuckled, his relief well hidden. "All right, food, first."
They spent the rest of the day snuggled up together as he read to her, interspersed with moments of intimacy. It was all very domestic and tranquil, something he had never been able to find, before. He relished every moment with her. She was undemanding and accepting of his needs and desires. Here, he was nothing more than a man, a man of no more than ordinary proportions, rather than the aging spy and master of manipulation. It was such a relief to be able to ignore the burden of his life for this brief time spent with her. He couldn't help wondering how long it might last.
He'd planned on leaving that night, but somehow, she convinced him to stay, though it would mean having to return to his apartment before going to work. He didn't really mind, though, as it meant just a few more hours of her company and another excellent night's sleep.
She didn't see him for another three weeks. It was late on a Saturday night when the buzzer sounded. She pressed the intercom button and asked who it was.
Her heart leaped within her and she practically flew down the stairs to let him in. She opened the door to him and frowned. He looked haggard and worn, and he seemed to have lost weight. He waited diffidently as she locked up behind him and silently followed her up the stairs.
Once in the light of her apartment, she noticed just how bad he looked. "When did ye eat last, love?"
He frowned, uncertainly, "I'm not sure. Yesterday, maybe?"
She shook her head. "Come along w' ye. I've some nice stew I can warm up for ye." She helped him off with his overcoat and pushed him down in a chair at the table while she busied herself at the microwave, reheating a bowl of thick, rich stew. Setting the steaming bowl before him, she handed him a spoon and softly chided, "Here, eat, love."
He ate, sighing with contentment as the cares of his life eased from his shoulders. He'd tried to stay away, but he couldn't help himself and returned to her. It had been a hellish three weeks, what with all the fires in so many parts of the world, all of which somehow had required his personal attention and expertise. He hadn't seen a bed or sleep in several days, and had finally succumbed to the seductive idea of coming here, and hoping he was still welcome.
He was so haggard and worn-looking. Tonight, he looked all his age and then some. She asked him nothing, however, simply heating and serving him some nice, filling stew and sitting beside him while he ate, content that he'd returned to her, for whatever reason.
He finished eating and sighed, contented. "Thank you," he softly murmured, his stomach full and satisfied for the first time in far longer than it should have been. She rose and collected his dishes, putting them in the sink and rinsing them to wash later.
"Come to bed, then, love. Ye look positively knackered."
He smiled, his exhaustion apparent. "Thank you." He followed her to the bedroom, where he slowly stripped, somewhat surprised when she took off her nightgown, as well. "I don't think..." he began, only to have her fingers press against his lips, silencing him.
"Come, love, and rest." She slid into the bed, drawing him after her and pulled him down into her embrace, pulling his face against her breasts to act as his pillow. With a sigh, he relaxed against her and soon slept - the first sleep of any consequence he'd had in days, and the first sleep without nightmares since he'd left her, three weeks before.
For whatever reason, he'd come back, and she was glad. Anything they had to say would wait until he'd rested. Content with him beside her, she returned to her interrupted slumber.
She awoke to him shifting and moving about in his sleep, a soft moan coming from his lips as his nightmare manifested. Holding him to her, she called to him to awake. When he did, abruptly and completely, she soothed him, speaking softly and reassuringly.
"It's all right, love. Yer safe, now. It's all right."
His breath caught in a near sob as he realized where he was and with whom. Shaking, he sat up and moved away from her, secretly relieved when she followed him and put her arms around him. "I'm all right. Thank you. I didn't hurt you, did I?" He well knew that he could be violent upon waking from one of those dreams.
"I'm fine, love, but are you?"
He sighed. "I'm all right, really." He allowed her to draw him back down, cradling him against her once more. He relaxed in her embrace for a while, not yet ready to sleep again. After a bit, he shifted, lifting his head so he could kiss her. "Thank you."
"Yer more than welcome, love." She had no recriminations for him, only gratitude that he'd returned. When he kissed her, she kissed him back, her hands pulling him close to her. "Yes," she whispered at his arousing touch. But when he reached for the drawer in the night table for one of those little packets, she stopped him. "There's no need of that, love."
He froze, realizing what she was saying. "What?" he asked softly, shocked at the implications.
She knew well that he might run and she never see him again, but she was too honest not to tell him. "There's no need of it."
He took a deep, shaking breath. "Are you sorry?"
It wasn't quite what she'd expected, but it wasn't an unwelcome question. "No. Are ye?" She felt him shiver and wanted to cling to him, but subconsciously knew that would be the wrong reaction on her part and lay still, waiting for him.
"Only if you are." A child. She was carrying his child; something he'd never considered possible. He was far too old to become a father, now. He knew many men of his age who were looking to become great-grandfathers, but not first-time fathers. "I'll provide for you both, though."
She remembered his promise and smiled, sighing softly in relief. "Will ye provide time for your child, then? I think 'tis more important than money."
His heart accelerated. "As much as I'm able, I'd like to. Although there may be times when I'll be away for extended periods of time. My work is such that I won't allow my actions to endanger you."
She nodded her agreement. "Come, then, love," she whispered, pulling him to her. He was more than willing.
She awoke before the sun, pleased and content to find that what might have been a dream was, in fact, reality. Sighing, she gently awoke him. "I'll be going to Mass, love. I'll be back ere long."
He nodded sleepily and as she slid from the bed, he rolled over to bury his face in her pillow. Smiling, she left him sleeping and hurried through her morning routine in order to make it to church on time.
When she returned, she found him still sound asleep. Watching him, she realized how exhausted he must have been to sleep so hard and long. Undressing, she slid back into bed beside him, gently urging him to make room for her and almost laughing as he wrapped his arms around her to hold her close to him, even in sleep.
It was nearly ten-thirty when he at last awoke, to find himself cradled in Davan's lap while she read. Stretching slowly, he sighed. Feeling refreshed, he moved away from her and looked up into her amused face. He frowned, slightly. "Did I dream your saying you were going to Mass?"
"No. I've been and back, hours ago." She put her book down and caressed his face. "Are ye rested, then?"
He smiled, "Yes," he replied, self-mockingly. "You didn't have to stay with me, though."
"Oh, but love, 'tis as pleasant way t' spend my day off as any, and better than most." Her voice was positively seductive, and being only a man, after all, he responded to her, as she'd intended.
Hours later, over a simple dinner of soup and bread, they talked about the coming child. He was, to his own surprise, quite taken with the idea of becoming a father, despite his somewhat advanced years. She was just grateful that he wasn't angry or demanding that she abort the pregnancy. If he had, she'd have turned him out and not wanted him to again darken her door, but as it was, she found herself loving him even more, if that were possible.
She watched him, smiling as she listened to him read to her, his acceptance of what had happened warming her heart. There was still no commitment, no vows of undying love, no answer even to the unasked question of his name, but she was content. He gave what he could, and was undemanding of her, in return. She was satisfied with accepting whatever he was able to give her of his time and heart. Of that, she had no doubt, that she held his heart.
"Will ye stay the night, then?"
"I didn't ask if ye should, only if ye would?"
He smiled and shook his head, smiling ruefully. "I'd love to spend the night with you, sweetheart, even if I shouldn't."
"Stay wi' me, love?" She poured every ounce of desire into her voice to entice him to remain.
Remembering their first night together, how plaintive she'd sounded when offering that plea, he smiled. "Whenever I'm able."
She smiled and kissed him, then rose and led him to bed.
He left her early in the morning, kissing her awake to say good-bye. He promised to come when he could, but that in the meantime, she should expect someone to come with some papers for her to sign. She nodded her acceptance, not asking what the papers would be for, as she'd promised to ask no questions of him.
When, on Wednesday, a polite young man entered her shop and asked to speak with the proprietor, she frowned, and told him that she owned the store. He blinked in surprise, but then brought out some legal-looking papers and asked her to sign in various places. Frowning, she asked what they were for, and when the man told her, she simply stared at him in shock.
"I can't." She shook her head. "'Tis too much, it is. Tell him I can't accept this." The young man scowled, wondering what kind of person would turn down a million dollars. But she was adamant, and he went away without fulfilling his task.
When the phone rang later, she answered it and was pleased to hear his voice.
"Why didn't you sign the papers?" he asked, sounding stressed.
"'Tis too much, love. I can't accept it." There was a long silence, and she wondered if she'd alienated him in his generosity.
"I promised to provide for you both. I thought..."
"I'd rather yer time than money, love. I know ye can't be here all the time, but it was just too much." Her heart began pounding; afraid she'd hurt his feelings and waited with bated breath for him to respond.
There was another long silence, then, "At least let me set up medical coverage for you, and a trust fund for the child?"
She realized that his generosity wasn't anything to do with buying her off, and her heart nearly burst with love for him. "All right. But only the medical, for now. Ye'll need a name for aught more." She heard his relieved sigh.
"All right, just medical, for now, then." There was a pause, and then he added, "You're a hard woman, Davan O'Meara." But there was amusement in his voice.
"Not hard, love. Never hard; I'm soft, I am, and weak."
"You're stronger than a lot of men I've known, Davan. Stronger than I am, I suspect."
"I doubt that, love, but I'll accept yer care for me. But no more."
He sighed heavily. "Done. I've got to get to a meeting, and I don't know how long this is going to go on, but I'll come see you when I can, if that's all right?"
She smiled, delighted. "Yer welcome t' come any time ye can, love. I'll welcome ye, gladly."
His heart filled almost to bursting, but he still couldn't say the words, instead, he whispered, "I'll come when I can, then," and hung up the phone.
When the polite young man returned two days later, she willingly signed the papers and accepted the copy he left with her. Within a week, she had a new medical care card and an appointment with her doctor.
He generally came on Saturday nights, often late, and often tired and hungry. She got into the habit of making sure she had something hearty on hand to feed him. For another month, it went on like that, with him showing up late on Saturday and spending most of Sunday together, with only her trip to Mass apart. He never said a word about her leaving him to go to Mass, never a complaint or a question, and she realized that he had applied the 'no questions' rule to himself as much as to her.
Then there came a Saturday he didn't come. And another, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth and sixth. After two months, she wondered if she'd ever see him again, and cradled the gentle swelling of her belly, hoping that their child would come to know its father.
After a third month of no contact, she despaired of ever seeing him again. Not a word from him at Christmas or the turning of the year. Then, one night, there was the sound of the buzzer from downstairs. Sleepily, she answered it.
Her heart thumped hard, once, and then began racing. Blinking herself fully awake, she asked, "What?"
She recognized his voice, and realized that he sounded more weary than ever he had before. Leaping from her bed, she didn't bother with robe or slippers, scampering down the stairs at breakneck speed to stand at the door, staring out at him in the night. Frantically, she worked the locks and deadbolts, flinging open the door and throwing herself into his arm. Arm? She pulled back, looking him over critically.
She'd nearly knocked him down when she flung herself at him, and only his being braced for it stopped him from being thrown back and to the ground. He grunted in pain as he wrapped his right arm around her and immediately let her go when she sprang back to look at him.
"May I come in?" he asked tiredly. Wondering if he was still welcome, despite her initial greeting. She nodded and watched as he shuffled through the door and waited for her. Every part of him ached. He was tired, and had escaped from the hospital, unable to rest there. They'd tended his hurts and bandaged his many wounds, but they couldn't make him feel safe - and that was something he desperately needed. Here, with her, he felt safe.
She quickly locked up behind him and silently followed him up the stairs to her apartment. She could see how slowly he moved, the way he hunched to the left, as though in pain, the empty left sleeve, and she shuddered in horror, wondering what had happened to him.
He nearly didn't make it up the stairs, and when he had, panting as though he'd run a mile, he was too exhausted to even take his overcoat off, and he sank onto the closest kitchen chair. He flinched from the brightness of the lights as she turned them on and began to busy herself with making a pot of coffee, glancing nervously at him every few seconds. When the coffee was on the stove, she perched on a chair across the table from him, searching his face for answers to the questions she daren't ask.
"Would you help me with my coat, please?" he asked softly. She sprang to her feet and came around the table to help him. He slowly stood, using his right hand on the table to help push himself to his feet. She gently eased the heavy coat from his shoulders, gasping in relief when she realized that he wore no shirt under the coat, and that his left arm was strapped securely to his chest.
Freed of the heavy coat, he sank gratefully back onto the chair, shivering slightly. Seeing her expression as she stared at his arm, he explained. "Broke my shoulder. It'll be fine in a few weeks."
She was staring at more than his arm, however. His torso was bruised, and there were stitches in several places, and she suspected that there were more under the bandages over his shoulder. "Will ye be, then?" she asked softly.
He nodded, closing his eyes. He wanted... but he had no right to want anything at all, and he knew it.
"Can I fix ye some'at to eat, then?"
He smiled and opened his eyes, nodding slightly, too exhausted to speak. She stood and scurried about the kitchen, rummaging in the refrigerator for something to fill him without being too heavy for what she thought his too delicate health. Fortunately, she'd made chicken soup the day before, just the thing for an invalid, she thought. She heated up a bowl in the microwave and served him, leaving him to eat while she tended the coffee and tried hard not to stare at him.
He half smiled. Chicken soup. Just the thing, he thought. Light enough for his nervous stomach, warm and soothing comfort food for his soul, and the company of a woman who even now asked no questions.
"Have they given ye anything for the pain, love?" she asked softly as she prepared his coffee.
"Morphine, but that was a good six hours ago. And antibiotics, of course."
"And have ye more of those, then? The antibiotics?"
He grinned. "Yes. I made them give me the prescription in the hospital, and then, when they thought I was down for the night, I snuck out."
She nodded. "In that case, I see no reason not to gi' ye some'at in yer coffee, then." She heard his sigh of contentment as he finished his bowl of soup and watched her pour a generous dollop of her good Irish whiskey into the mug and set it before him.
"Bless you," he murmured fervently, taking a sip. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the whiskey flood his body, and realized that he'd best not finish the cup for fear of doing himself a mischief. He managed about half of it, and was nearly falling asleep at the table when she gently urged him up and into the bedroom, where she undressed him and helped him into bed, being very careful of his damaged shoulder. When she had him settled into place, with extra pillows to bolster his left shoulder and side, she turned off the lights and slid carefully into bed beside him, gently pulling him to her and cradling him against her.
Within moments, he was asleep and breathing heavily.
If he didn't move, he'd be all right, he thought. If he didn't open his eyes, they wouldn't know he was aware, and maybe, just maybe, they'd leave him alone for a while. He wasn't sure whose idea it had been that he needed to go out into the field on this one, but it had been a very bad idea, indeed. Unlike the others, though, he stubbornly refused to tell them anything they wanted to know. When they screamed at him, he'd simply smile and, much to his surprise, not to mention the shock on his compatriot's faces and confusion on the enemies', quote scripture. He hadn't realized he remembered so much from his catechism and confirmation classes. It had been so long ago, but he did recall reading parts of the Bible with Davan, on occasion. Davan. She was the only reason he'd kept from telling them anything. He knew the others had broken, but they didn't have any really useful information. He was the only one with that, and he'd kept telling himself that if he broke, they'd kill Davan and their unborn child. It was sufficient impetus to withstand the worst they could do, and he'd held until rescue finally arrived in the form of one Mickey Kostmayer, who had gone against all policy and orders to come after him.
The trip home had been hellish as well, with his injuries. There had been a few times when he thought he wouldn't make it, but again, the thought of Davan gave him the strength to hold on. If he could just see her once more, and know that she was all right, he could die content. And now, here he was safe and warm in her bed, totally unaware of the brouhaha and consternation going on with those wondering where he'd gotten to and who had helped him to escape.
But for now, he was exactly where he wanted to be and he slept the sleep of the just.
"I thought you took him to the hospital?"
"I did. And I stayed with him until he came out of surgery and they stuck him in a room. Then they kicked me out and told me not to come back until visiting hours. If you lost him, it's your problem, not mine!" Mickey Kostmayer was pretending to be angry, whereas he was, in fact, terribly worried. He'd seen what all had been going on ever since they sent Control to the Middle East on his own, without even any backup. Control was good, but even he wasn't good enough to have handled that mission alone. He'd been ordered to stay out of it, but as those attempting to stand in for the missing Control became more and more at a loss for what to do, he began to fume and called in a lot of favors to track him down. Sure, there were times he didn't get along with the man. Times he hated Control's guts, for that matter, but he also knew for a certainty (especially now) that there was no one able to do what Control could do. No one understood the game as well, and certainly no one else could play it like the old spook. Finally, he'd gone after him, counter to all orders. He didn't care. The man deserved better, after all he'd given to the company.
Now he watched, half in amusement, half in annoyance as those same people who had told him in no uncertain terms not to mount any kind of rescue operation, tried to discover where Control had disappeared to. Mickey had a very few ideas, but he wouldn't tell any of these guys. If he could shake them, he'd go and take a look, but even if he found Control, he wouldn't bother to tell any of these morons.
Unfortunately, they needed Control's experience and expertise. The whole damn company was falling apart, and Mickey, for one, did not like the possible consequences of that. It was in his own best interests to at least find and talk to Control. Maybe he'd gone to Robert's? As the others continued to wrangle and point fingers and cast blame on one another, he quietly slipped out. These were the people Control normally dealt with on a daily basis? He was surprised they were still alive.
"No, I'm sorry, Mickey, but I haven't heard from him at all in more than three months."
Three months? But he'd only been gone for just over two. Where had he been? He remembered overhearing people comment about how often Control was unavailable on Sundays. Hmmm. He'd have to check that out, one of these days, and hope that it wasn't anything to be concerned about. He grinned. Maybe he'd found a girlfriend? Nah.
He checked everywhere he knew of, and a few places he wasn't sure about, but there was no sign of the injured Control. He was reduced to scouring the neighborhoods around where his apartment was, wondering how long it would be before the others thought to do the same? He was simply walking the streets, now. Looking in windows. In a little cul-de-sac, he noticed a bookstore. Seeing the name of the place, he grinned. A little Dickens. He paused, frowning, and remembered seeing a bookmark on Control's desk, once. On a hunch, he entered the little shop and began to peruse the shelves. Seeing the girl at the counter, who smiled politely at him, he sighed. Too young for Control, but maybe she just worked here? He picked up the latest copy of Soldier of Fortune and took it to the counter. There were no other customers at this time of day, so he could chat with the girl.
She smiled at the man wearing the well-worn fatigues. The name Kostmayer was still barely visible on the shirt pocket. She rang up his purchase and tendered his change. "Are ye, then?" she asked curiously.
"Am I what?" Mickey asked, confused.
"A soldier of fortune, then? Are ye one? A mercenary?"
His lips twitched in an almost-smile. "Not exactly. I've got a real job."
"Ye look like ye were a soldier, once."
"Once and always." He smiled. She seemed like a nice girl. Certainly not the sort who'd ever go for the likes of him. But he wasn't trolling for a date, and as she turned, he realized that she was pregnant, and he was definitely NOT trolling for someone else's lady. Still, he was looking for Control, so he asked. "Uh, are you the owner?"
He frowned, thinking it was the longest long shot in history, but he had to try. "I'm looking for a friend of mine. He left the hospital yesterday and no one's been able to find him."
She covered her surprise admirably. "Would I know yer friend, then?"
Mickey grinned that smirky little grin of his that he used with such effectiveness. "I don't know. But I saw your bookmark on his desk, once, so I figure he at least comes in here, or has in the past."
"And what would yer friend's name be, then?"
"Uh," Mickey scowled. He hadn't any idea. "He's older. Six foot, iron gray hair, light blue eyes?"
Her heart skipped a beat and she swallowed hard. "That could be any number of my customers. Could ye be more specific, then?"
"Well, at the moment, his left arm is strapped to his chest 'cause he broke his shoulder. Look, I just need to talk to him, or he needs to talk to me. If he comes in, give him a message, please?"
She nodded uncertainly, seeing the man's agitation. "All right, then."
"Tell him." He scowled, thinking hard. "Tell him that everything's fallin' apart without him at the helm, and to please call Mickey and give him a clue about what to do about it?"
The message was cryptic enough, but she recognized his concern for the older man. "Is he yer friend, then?"
Mickey's grin returned, full of insolence and impishness. "He's my boss, but as much as I might have hated him on occasion, now that I've seen and experienced the alternatives, I'll take him any day of the week."
"So, yer not his friend, then?"
He looked at her seriously, and frowned. "If he wasn't my boss, maybe." He shrugged. "I trust him as much as I do anybody. That's about as close as I get."
"A man wi'out friends is a poor man, indeed."
Her clear blue eyes gazing into his made him uncomfortable. "I don't think either of us has more friends than you can count on one hand," he softly murmured. "Give him the message if you see him?"
"Thanks." Taking up his magazine, Mickey headed for the door and his continued hunt.
Davan watched the scruffy man walk away. When he'd turned the corner, she locked up the shop a bit early and headed up the stairs. Something told her that the message was important.
He was sleeping heavily, his body occasionally twitching, as he sweated through his dreams. The latest memories were too new not to affect him, and he couldn't seem to stop shaking, even in his sleep. At least he wasn't feverish, though he was shivering, even under the heavy blankets. Every time he woke up, he'd startle, and look wildly around, and quickly sigh in relief. Davan's. He'd dreamed of this place all the time he'd been held prisoner. He thought of it as a place of safety and love. No questions asked, no demands, only comfort, companionship, and love. Most of all, love. He heard a noise in his sleep and sat up in terror, expecting to see harsh, dark Middle Eastern faces, only to see her. He sagged in relief as the shakes hit him yet again. She hurried to his side and slipped onto the bed beside him, wrapping her arms around him. She realized that the man, Mickey, if that was who he was, was right. He belonged in hospital, but for some reason, he wanted to be here, rather than where there were knowledgeable people to take care of him.
"It's all right, love. It's just me. Were ye havin' bad dreams again, then?"
"I heard a noise and woke up."
"Oh, love, 'twas just me, comin' in. Are ye all right, then?"
He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm fine, thanks."
"Yer a terrible liar, love." She held his trembling body close to hers, gently touching him, fearful of causing him more hurt with even the lightest touch, but he leaned heavily against her, his good arm wrapping around her and his head resting against her shoulder. "A man was lookin' for ye a bit ago."
He stiffened and straightened up, frowning at her. "Oh? Did he give a name?"
"Feller in his forties, not too tall, shaggy hair and wearing old army clothes?"
She sighed in relief. "He said his name was Mickey, and the name Kostmayer was on his shirt."
He looked concerned. "What was the message?"
"Ta please get in touch wi' him, that it's all fallin' apart wi'out ye at the helm, and to call him and tell him what ta do about it." She frowned, "No. Call him and gi' him a clue what ta do about it, then."
He sighed. "How long ago was he here?"
"Just a bit, as soon as he'd left and turned the corner, I closed up shop and came up ta tell ye."
He nodded, looking around. "I need to call him, but I can't use my cell phone, there's a GPS on it and it will tell everyone where I am the second I turn it on."
"Use the phone there, then." She pointed to the phone on the nightstand.
He smiled. "Maybe if I call him on his cell phone. I don't think they can trace that, yet." She helped get him settled back in the bed and then handed him the phone. He debated for a moment and then shook his head. "No, if I call him now, he'll come running straight back here and maybe lead someone else here, as well. It'll just have to wait until tomorrow."
"He looked rough, love. He's worried about ye, he is."
He looked up at her and smiled. "Mickey Kostmayer was upset? About me?"
She shrugged and grinned at him. "Yes. That he was. Said that though he may have hated ye sometimes, in the past, that compared ta what's goin' on now, he'd much rather have ye back."
He couldn't help but laugh. He could almost hear Kostmayer's plaintive wail, and thought that would have been worth watching. Sighing, he shook his head. "It'll still have to wait a while."
"All right, then, after supper. We need to put a bit more meat on those bones of yers. I can a'most see yer ribs, I can."
He chuckled. "And here I thought I'd needed to lose some weight."
"Oh, love, I thought yer body was perfect, before. Right now, yer hips would leave bruises, they would, and as for the rest of ye. Oh, love, what did they do to ye?"
It was the closest she would ever come to asking, but he frowned and looked at her. "They beat me up, Davan. Several times a day. That's all it was. Persistent beatings, is all."
"All? It's more than enough, love. I'll pray for their souls, I will."
He stared at her, surprised. "What?"
She smiled. "The father's been preachin' on forgiving yer enemies and praying for them." She shrugged. "So, I'll be prayin' for their souls."
"Since Kostmayer is the one who came to my rescue, it might be somewhat too late to pray for them. They may already be in hell."
She blinked and abruptly realized that whatever business he was involved in, it was far more dangerous than just the FBI. "Are ye really workin' for the American Government, then?"
He looked her in the eyes. "Yes."
She met his gaze and after a few moments, she simply nodded, accepting it. "Well, then, I guess there's big trouble, then."
"After the past few weeks, I've got to admit that I really don't give a damn what kind of trouble they've gotten themselves into." Then he sighed. "But Mickey's hardly to blame for the machinations of the upper echelons. Let me call him."
She smiled and handed him the phone. He lifted the handset and set it on his lap, dialing the number from memory and then lifting the phone to his ear.
"I understand you've been looking for me?"
"Control! Where the hell are you?"
"That girl in the bookstore. Does she know where you are?"
"No, but I stopped by there apparently shortly after you left, so I'm calling as requested. What's the problem?"
"They're all pointing fingers and blaming each other for this fiasco, and are wondering what to do next. Me, I just don't want to die in the crossfire. How the hell you ever managed to deal with those losers, I'll never know."
Control chuckled softly. "Now you know why I get the big bucks, Kostmayer."
"Well, all I've got to say is that they aren't paying you enough."
"Legally, they can't pay me any more than they are, but tell me what's going on, and I'll try and help."
"Better would be you showing up at the office."
"And have them all over me? Sorry, Mickey. I'm in no condition to deal with them in person. How about you brief me on all the problems, and I'll tell you what to do about them?"
Kostmayer thought about it for a few very long moments. "All right. Can't be any worse than what those bozos are doing."
"Good man. Do you have any idea about what's going on?"
"Yeah. They're screaming at Chavez for not getting the job done. They sent him off on his own without any backup and can't figure out why he's having trouble."
"Contact him, and tell him that you don't expect miracles and to simply do his best. He's not Superman, after all."
Control smiled enigmatically, which Davan saw and wondered what it was about, but she'd never ask. "Trust me, with Chavez, it will be more than enough. What else have you got?" While he spent the next hour and a half, Mickey briefed him on what was going on, and Control told him what to do, although not always why.
Leaving him to it, Davan headed for the kitchen to fix them some dinner.
Finally hanging up the phone, he sighed heavily and wondered if Mickey could pull it off? Be interesting if he did. Talk about consternation in the upper echelons. Here, they'd just realized how much they needed Control, and suddenly, one of his lesser agents was going to pull it all out of the fire? Oh, to be a fly on the walls in those conferences.
Exhausted, he fell asleep.
She sighed; glad he was resting at last. She'd been careful not to eavesdrop, not wanting to give him the idea that she'd pry when she'd promised not to. When dinner was ready, poached salmon over rice with mixed vegetables on the side, she gently awoke him.
"Come on, love, time for supper, then." He opened his eyes and smiled. He hadn't been asleep long enough for the nightmares to start, for which he was grateful. Fortunately, the meal was simple enough that he didn't need a knife to cut anything and just his fork was sufficient. Still, he ate lightly, knowing how delicate his insides still were. Between the starvation and the giardia he'd picked up, he was, despite the drugs he'd been given, still very rocky. As soon as he was finished eating, Davan settled him back down and told him to rest while she cleaned up. Gratefully, he did as instructed.
When the kitchen was clean, she came back to him and watched him sleep. He lay on his right side, his right hand crossed over his left arm, as if to protect it from further injury. She frowned in concern and considered that he really did belong in hospital, still. Yet he'd left on his own to come to her. She thought of their time together, of his ready smile and easy manner and wondered. Sighing, she undressed and eased into the bed beside him. When he softly moaned and began moving in his sleep, she reached for him, pulling him against her, careful of his damaged shoulder.
"Hush, love. It's all right, now. Shhhhh." He calmed for a moment, and then began to breathe faster and moan as he pulled away from her and again began to toss and turn. Biting her lip in concern, she sat up and turned to him, grasping his face between her hands. "Love!" For the very first time, she wished she had a name... then she recalled his statement, 'they call me Control.' "Control!" His eyes snapped open and he stared at her, fearful and gasping. She grasped his face again, gently. "It's all right, love. Yer safe here wi' me." She carefully drew him down and cradled him against her, trying to find soothing words to ease him back to sleep. Finally, she smiled and began to sing a lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was small.
"The October winds lament around the Castle of Dromore. Yet peace is in her lofty halls, her loving treasure stored. Though autumn leaves may droop and die, a bud of spring are you, Sing hush-a-bye loo la loo lo lan. Sing hush-a-bye loo la lo.
Blow no ill winds to hinder us, my precious babe and me. Dread spirit of the Blackwater, Clan Owen's wild banshee, And Holy Mary pitying us in heaven for grace doth sue, Sing hush-a-bye loo la loo lo lan. Sing hush-a-bye loo la lo.
Take time to thrive my ray of hope, in the garden of Dromore. Take heed, young eaglet, 'til thy wings are feathered fit to soar. A little rest and then the world is full of work to do. Sing hush-a-bye loo la loo lo lan, sing hush-a-bye loo la lo."
By the time she finished singing, he had relaxed against her and was breathing deeply and sound asleep. She smiled and hoped it would last the night.
He always tried to cling to sleep when dreams of her came. Sleep was so much better than his reality - the pain, the anger and hatred... the fear. But there was something different, this time. This time, there was scent. That warm, clean scent of woman and aged, leather-bound books. There was only one scent like it on earth, as far as he knew, and that was... "Davan?" His voice was a tentative whisper.
He opened his eyes to find himself in bed with her, his head pillowed on her breast, her arms around his head, holding him to her, and one hand holding a book. He twisted his neck to see, to find she was reading Finnegan's Wake. "I thought you didn't like Joyce?"
"I don't understand it," she countered.
"So, why are you reading Finnegan's Wake?"
"Because ye've come back from the dead, love."
He stared at her in shock. Then he softly chuckled and shook his head. "I suppose I have, at that. What time is it?"
She looked over at the clock and sighed. "Almost seven. I should be getting' up and fixin' us some breakfast. How're ye feelin' then, love?"
He sighed. "As long as I don't move, pretty good." He grinned at her.
"That's good, then." She gently eased out from under him, bolstering him with several pillows, and gave him a light kiss. "Porridge, then?"
He grimaced. "That I could have had in the hospital."
"Ah, but that mush they call oatmeal is nothin' compared to mine." She smiled at him. "I promise ye."
He sighed, knowing he wasn't about to win on this one. "I suppose it is healthy," he said resignedly.
She kissed him again, "You'll see. It'll be nothin' like ye've had before."
He smiled and watched her as she walked away, frowning as he realized that she'd gained weight - and he remembered the baby and was glad he'd changed his will before he'd left. If he hadn't made it back... well, he had, so that was all right, but she and their child would be well taken care of should anything happen to him. For now, however, he was just grateful to be here. He looked over at the phone and sighed. He'd wait a bit longer before calling Mickey. He hoped Kostmayer hadn't had too much trouble following his instructions.
A short time later, Davan returned with a tray containing a carafe of coffee, mugs, and bowls of the hot cereal. She set the tray across the bed and slid onto the mattress, with the tray between them. She poured his coffee and handed it to him. While he took a deep, grateful sip, she finished adding things to the porridge.
Reluctantly, he let her take his mug of coffee from him and set it down. She started to hand him a bowl, and then frowned as she realized that his left hand was unusable. She looked at him. "So, how do we do this, then?"
"Just set it down and I'll manage." He lifted a spoon from the tray and smiled when she set the bowl on a napkin on his chest, just above where his arm was strapped. With a reluctant sigh and rueful smile, he took a bite. He nearly choked and swallowed quickly. Eyes wide, he stared at her. "What did you put in this?"
Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she grinned smugly. "Didn't I tell ye that ye'd like it?"
He took another bite and shook his head. "You did, but that wasn't the question."
"Ask me no questions and I'll tell ye no lies," she reminded him. He paused, spoon halfway to his mouth and scowled. Giggling and taking pity on him, she shook her head. "Sorry, love. 'Tis naught but some toasted hazelnuts, honey, butter, nutmeg, and a bit of chopped apple." She watched him eat, pleased that he ate it all without complaint.
Afterwards, she left the carafe of coffee with him and carried the rest of the dishes back to the kitchen. Reluctantly, she left him with his coffee and the phone and went down to open the shop.
"How are things going?"
"You," he whispered harshly into his cell phone.
"You're not alone, right?"
He thought for a moment. "I'll ask yes or no questions, all right?"
"Yes." Mickey smiled at the suits surrounding him. "It's my girlfriend, okay?" He glared and the suits backed off. With a grin, he turned his back on them. "Go on, darling."
"Yes, dear," Control answered with a chuckle. "Are all the bigwigs there?"
"Looks like it, honey."
"More than four of them?"
"All right. Did you do what I told you to do?"
"Did it work?"
"Absolutely, my love."
"Chavez come through?"
"In spades!" He chuckled, then realized that the suits were looking at him oddly. "My darling."
Control chuckled. "What most people don't understand, is that some people you can make demands of, but others require a somewhat gentler approach. Chavez will balk like a Missouri mule if you push him, but if you back off and say that you don't expect he can do something, he'll go into overdrive to prove you wrong."
"Yeah, honey that's how I feel, too." Mickey's voice dropped into a seductive purr, which had the desired result that the suits all moved further away in embarrassment.
"I'll give you a call this afternoon after they've gone and we can go through today's crap."
"I'd like that a lot, snookums."
Control chuckled. "If you're still being hassled when I call back, we'll make a date - that should throw them off."
"Sounds great, dearest. I'll talk to you later."
Still chuckling, Control disconnected.
"I love you, too, ooojy-woojy," Mickey added after the click, for the benefit of those watching. Disconnecting, he turned back to them, smiling broadly. "Great girl," he commented with a leer. The obvious discomfort of the suits tickled his sense of humor.
It was late in the afternoon before Control called back. He'd spent most of the day sleeping and healing, only interrupted by Davan with lunch, and twice for trips to the bathroom. He was feeling fairly well, considering. He was grateful for the peace and quiet, not to mention the calm acceptance of his lady. He frowned, wondering when he'd begun to think of her as his. She wasn't, not really. There'd still been no promises between them, no declarations of love - although that was what she called him. With a sigh, he and Mickey went through the crises of the day and he told him how to handle them. He was looking forward to hearing about how the suits reacted this time.
"One thing, though. McCall'd like you to give him a call when you can. He wants to make sure you're okay."
Control chuckled. "What does he need from the company, Mickey?"
Mickey snickered. "Should have known you'd read between the lines. He needs some information that he thinks you either have or can get for him."
"Give it to him. Just make sure to use your cell phone and not a land line."
"Got it. How are you doing, by the way?"
"Well, it's quiet here, so I'm getting plenty of rest, the food's excellent, and I'm sleeping most of the time."
Mickey sighed in relief. "That's great, then. I gotta tell you that I'll be extremely glad when you get back. These suits... they just don't get it."
Control snorted a soft laugh. "You should try dealing with them all day, every day."
"No, thanks. That's why they give you the big bucks."
"You think I get big bucks?"
"Actually, after dealing with this lot, I think you're woefully underpaid."
"It could be worse."
"Yeah. You could not be around for me to ask what to do." There were several moments of silence after that, and then Mickey continued, "But if I'm going to get this done before morning and the suits come back, I'd better get on it. Thanks, Control."
"Just doing my job."
"Yeah. I never quite appreciated it, before. I do, now."
"Good night, Kostmayer."
"Good night, sir."
Control was smiling as he hung up the phone and looked up as Davan entered.
"Well, then, are ye ready for supper, then?"
He smiled. "What I'd really like is a shower, but I guess that's out of the question."
She smiled at him. "Well, mayhap I'll gi' ye a sponge bath after supper, then?"
He looked at her and smiled somewhat ruefully. "Clean sounds good, but I'm not sure how much it's all that good an idea."
She blushed as she realized what he meant. "We'll figure somethin', I'm sure."
To their mutual delight, they did.
For the next three weeks, he spent most of his time sleeping and healing. The nightmares began to fade along with the bruises. As his deeper wounds healed, he had Davan remove the stitches. To prevent losing more muscle tone than absolutely necessary, he flexed his left arm as much as was practicable. The third day he awoke before Davan did, he decided it was time to return to the hospital to have his shoulder checked.
"With any luck at all, they'll give me some exercises to help rebuild the mobility in the shoulder and I'll be back later."
She smiled as she finished buttoning his shirt for him. "Ye'll come when ye can, I know that." She helped him on with his coat and smiled up at him, lifting her face up to his for a kiss. "Be careful, love."
With a tender kiss, she released him and watched him go, wondering as she always did, if she'd see him again.
"Mr. Jones. I'm surprised to see you again. I thought you'd crawled off to die somewhere."
Control looked at the receptionist and smiled. "I just went someplace more conducive to healing," he countered, pleased when the woman blushed.
"So, why are you back?"
"Because homeopathy only goes so far. I'm hoping to get my shoulder x-rayed again and maybe some exercises to do to get back up to par."
She looked at the appointment book and realized he actually had an appointment - the first one of the day, which meant that she couldn't make him wait. "I'll tell Dr. Jackson you're here."
"Thank you, Ms. Rogers." He eased down onto one of the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room and waited.
Fortunately, the nurse was a lot nicer than the receptionist was. She called his name, greeted him with a smile and asked how he was feeling. He'd politely smiled back and told her a lot better than when he'd left. She'd grinned at him and asked if he'd gone home, to which he replied that he'd gone somewhere much more conducive to recovering than that. He was able to get his coat off and undo his shirt buttons without help, and when the doctor came in to examine him, she was surprised.
Staring at his chart, she frowned. "How long ago were you in the hospital?"
"Three and a half weeks ago."
"You left AMA?"
She looked at him over her glasses and frowned. "That's not a good thing."
"I couldn't sleep, despite the drugs, so I left."
"Hmmm." She looked at the bandages strapping his arm to his chest. "How often have you changed these?"
"The first week, daily, since then, every couple of days."
"Good job. You had a nurse?"
"Not a professional; just someone who cares."
She smiled. "Then I take it you got plenty of rest and ate well?"
He chuckled. "I've gained ten pounds, if that counts?"
She checked his chart and frowned. "How much had you lost before that?"
"No idea, but then I don't normally keep that close a track of it."
She shook her head at him. "Well, I need to take some samples, as usual. It says you had been infected with giardia?"
"Yes. No cramps, no diarrhea, no indigestion. Of course the first week and a half consisted of pretty bland stuff; lots of chicken soup, some stews, porridge."
She cocked her head at him and smiled. "Porridge?"
He grinned. "Beats oatmeal every day of the week, and it tends to be breakfast quite a lot."
"Have you eaten yet this morning?"
"No. I figured you'd want fasting tests."
"Good man. So, let's take a good look at that shoulder, shall we?"
Three hours later, he was on his way with a list of exercises and a sling for when his shoulder got tired, but for the moment, it felt absolutely wonderful to have his arm free for the first time in a month. It ached, but not too badly. She'd given him a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, though he'd turned down the offer of pain pills.
He caught a cab and headed home - or at least where he was thinking of as home. On the way, he made a stop for some Chinese take-out, just for a surprise. He arrived at the shop just after noon. It was quiet and he smiled, holding up the take out containers. "Can I interest you in some lunch?"
"Oh, darling man. Yes. Just let me put up the sign, then." She quickly set the 'out to lunch' sign for an hour and locked the door. Then she followed him up the stairs to her flat, smiling and pleased that he had both arms free. She came up behind him and slid her arms around his waist as he placed the cartons on the table.
He turned in her embrace and only winced slightly as he put his arms around her. "Hungry?"
"Starved, I am." She tilted her face up for a kiss. With a soft chuckle, he obliged.
"Come on, I skipped breakfast, so I really am starved."
"Poor man. Sit, then. What have ye brought, then?"
"Chinese." He looked stricken. "I never thought to ask. Do you like Chinese?"
She laughed softly. "Doesn't everyone?"
He breathed a soft sigh of relief. "Well, I know that I do." He opened the cartons while she brought over plates and utensils, surprised when he unpacked chopsticks.
"I've never learned to use those," she admitted.
He looked up and grinned. "I'll teach you, then."
Lunch turned into a combination of comedy and sensuousness. Davan ended up sitting in his lap with his hand wrapped around hers and helping her with her chopsticks. Finally, laughing, she stood up and grabbed a fork.
"I'll never finish wi' those, love, and I've only half an hour before I need to reopen the shop."
Control chuckled and picked up a piece of chicken and fed it to her. "All right. We'll try again some time when you've more time."
Her eyes smoldered into his and she smiled. "I'd like that, I would." He chuckled softly at the promise in her voice and eyes.
The first thing he did after cleaning up after lunch, was to take a nice, long, hot shower. He reveled in it, and afterwards, he stretched out on the bed and fell asleep.
When she'd closed the shop, she came up to the apartment and her breath caught upon seeing him sprawled across the bed. The fading scars from his recent ordeal drew her attention for only a moment. With a smile, she quickly undressed and slid onto the bed beside him.
He awoke with a start, and the only thing that kept him from defending himself, was her scent, that special and unique combination of woman and old books. His eyes snapped open as she stretched out beside him.
He sighed. "You really shouldn't startle me awake. Sometimes I react badly."
She frowned, lifting her head to look at him. She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. "All right, love." She leaned over to kiss him. "But now that ye're awake, wha' would ye like t' do, then?"
Smiling, he ran his hands over her skin and chuckled. "Well, I've a sneaking suspicion of what you want."
"Have ye, then?"
It was so much better with both his arms and hands available.
Later, after dinner and back in bed, with Davan cradled against his body, his left shoulder providing her pillow and basking in the warmth and comfort of the feelings being with her gave him, he sighed.
"What is it, then, love?"
"I need to go to work, tomorrow. Mickey's gotten pretty frazzled, despite having done an outstanding job of sitting in for me."
"Tired, is he?"
He chuckled. "Stressed beyond measure, I think. I can hear it in his voice. He's about ready to commit mayhem, I believe. Can't say as I blame him. I've felt that way more than once, myself."
"Ah, then ye've need to go and rescue him, then?"
"Rescue him and put everything back together the way it belongs. Unfortunately, once I return, I may not be able to get back here, very soon."
"Ye'll come when ye can, love. I understand that."
He sighed and turned on his side, to hold her closer. "You're far too understanding, Davan. Too understanding and accommodating. I feel like I'm taking unfair advantage of you."
"Ye're not takin' anything I'm not willing t' gi' ye, love," she softly replied. There was something in her voice, but in keeping with their pact not to ask questions, he simply hugged her tightly and kissed her. "There is one thing, though." She sat up and rummaged in the drawer of the bedside table. With a soft exclamation of triumph, she turned to him, holding out a small brass object. Seeing him frown in confusion, she became shy. "So ye can come whenever ye like," she explained, handing him the key.
He accepted the key and placed it on the table beside him, then gathered her back into his arms and kissed her. "I will come when I can."
"I know." She smiled and, content to have him near, drifted to sleep.
He awoke before the sun and slipped out of bed. He showered and dressed, planning on going to his apartment to change before going to the office. He stopped and crouched beside the bed, reaching over to gently stroke her face. She took a deep breath and stretched, opening her eyes to see him. "Are ye goin' then, love?"
"I am." He leaned close and gently kissed her. "I'll be back when I can, a ghra' mo chroi'."
She smiled, still more asleep than awake. "Well enough, mo chroi'," she responded, drifting back to sleep.
With a final smile and light kiss to her temple, he arose and left her, remembering at the last moment to take the shiny new key from the bedside table.
Mickey Kostmayer had taken to arriving early - something he truly hated. He was not and would never be a morning person. He hoped that one of these days, and soon, he'd see Control walk through these doors. He unlocked the door to the office and scowled; he was certain he'd turned off the lights when he left. The scent of fresh, hot coffee wafting through from the small bar off in a corner had him reaching for his gun. The suits had practically ransacked the place before he'd stopped them. He couldn't believe the gall of them all. He'd finally chased them out at gunpoint and threatened to shoot the next person he caught in there without authorization. When asked who he thought he was, he'd replied that he was simply defending his boss's domain, and if they wanted to complain, to tell Control. IF they could find him. He'd then smiled, and watched them grumble and back off. Since then, he'd had the office pretty much to himself - most useful when getting his instructions from the 'missing' Control.
"I don't know how you got in here, but you'd better have one hell of a good reason for me not to shoot you," he didn't bother to raise his voice. A figure appeared from around the corner, coffee mugs in one hand, and the pot in the other. He stared. "Control?" He lowered his pistol, staring in shock at the man. "Uhhh,"
"Close your mouth, Kostmayer, you'll catch flies."
"I guarantee there are no bugs in here." He holstered his gun and grinned. "You're looking pretty damned good. Especially compared to the last time I saw you."
Control grinned and set the mugs on his desk and proceeded to pour the coffee. "Feeling a lot better, as well. Got the shoulder okayed yesterday, and figured you'd appreciate it if I showed up. Maybe get through your debriefing before the rest of them drag in at ten."
"They've been coming in closer to noon. I just get here at this unearthly hour to go over the reports from the night before." He scowled. "Uh, is that what you do?"
Control grinned. "What do you think?" He took the pot back to the hotplate and returned to settle at his desk. With a sigh, he picked up his reading glasses from where he'd left them so many months before. He looked at his desk calendar. "Is that the right date?"
"No. It's yesterday's."
Control looked up at him, over his spectacles, in surprise. "It's February?"
"Yeah. The twelfth. Why?"
The older man shook his head, totally nonplussed. "How long was I gone?"
"Ten weeks." He looked worried.
He turned the page to the current date, and stared in shock. He hadn't any idea he'd been gone so long. No wonder Davan's pregnancy was so noticeable. She was nearly six months pregnant! He looked at the calendar again, and determined that he'd spend Valentine's Day with her, even if it meant resigning. Glancing up at Mickey, he relaxed a bit. Somehow, he doubted that was going to be much of a concern. Especially once the others realized he'd been controlling things from behind the scenes since he'd returned.
"Do you have the overnight reports?"
"Yeah." Mickey sighed with relief. Control still didn't give anything away, though he knew the older man had been thinking about something that was important to him. He knew better than to ask, however.
For the next three hours, they went through the reports, Mickey taking copious notes, while Control simply made comments. Finally, unable to resist, he asked, "How come you're not writing anything down?"
Control's smile was amused as he repeated the gist of everything they'd gone through in less than ten minutes.
"Damn, Control. No wonder no one's figured out where you keep anything. You don't."
Control smiled and stretched, carefully rotating his head to try and ease the ache in his shoulder. Mickey noticed and frowned. "Should you be here?"
Control shook his head. "It doesn't matter. It's time to get back into harness, I'm afraid."
Mickey looked concerned. "You didn't want to come back though, did you." It wasn't a question.
The older man smiled tiredly. "I had a lovely break from the stress, and I've got to admit that retirement looks very good at the moment."
Mickey tensed. "If you quit, so do I." He shook his head vehemently. "I am not going to deal with those bozos any more. How you managed it, I don't know, but there is no way I'm working for any of them."
"Well, let's see how they react to my return, first, shall we, then?"
Mickey nodded, frowning slightly at the odd phraseology, but pushed it aside.
At eleven, they called out for lunch and were eating in companionable silence when there was a knock at the door. Control frowned at Mickey's heavy sigh. "Suits?"
"Yeah. Right on time. They think they can blow in at lunchtime and demand I skip lunch to take care of them. And they drink on the job."
Control couldn't stop the grin at Kostmayer's indignation. "At least they knock. Why don't I go refill our coffee while you let them in?" He'd finished his sandwich and placed the wrappers in the trash. Mickey scarffed down the last bit of his own lunch and was gathering his trash as Control stood and carried their cups around to the small hidden kitchenette.
Mickey opened the door, scowling at the four men and one woman on the other side. He pointedly looked at his watch, shaking his head. "How in the world you think you can do any good starting this late and going home as early as you do is beyond me." He turned his back on them and returned to the desk, taking up his post behind the wooden expanse.
The one woman looked like she agreed with him, smiling slightly at him. His expression remained stony. The one thing that had surprised Control upon seeing him was the very nice three-piece suit he had on. It was a rich, very dark brown and made him look like an investment banker or some such thing. It was too fine a suit and of the wrong color for a government employee. He made the others look shoddy by comparison, although the look was slightly marred by his too-long hair.
"You seem to have everything under control," the oldest suit said, missing the faint flinch around Kostmayer's eyes.
"I don't think so. At least, not by myself. I've had some help."
"Oh? From your friend, Robert McCall?"
"Hardly. He's been out of the business far too long to be of any use. No, I've had the help of someone far more knowledgeable."
"Who?" One of the other men asked anxiously.
"Me." Control appeared like a magic trick from behind the wall. He sauntered over to join Kostmayer behind the desk, handing him his mug of coffee. They both smiled and sipped their coffee in perfect unison; though it wasn't planned, it had an electrifying effect on the others.
There was a shocked silence. Control set his mug down on the coaster on his desk, pulled out the chair and sat down. Mickey took up a guard position behind him, smirking happily at the consternation in the ranks.
"Uhhhh, I thought...."
"No, you didn't. You didn't look for me at all, but Mickey did. I left the hospital on my own, thanks. He left messages for me in a few places in my neighborhood. You didn't even check my apartment, did you?" He was smiling, pleased at the embarrassed flushes on the four men's faces, and surprised by the scowl and raised eyebrow the woman turned on her companions.
"You told me you'd checked his apartment, Gary."
"If you had, my tells wouldn't have still been in place when I did return," Control sat back to watch the finger pointing and blaming begin. He didn't know the woman and looked over his shoulder at Mickey with the question in his eyes.
Kostmayer leaned down and whispered, "Susan Eriksen, from D.C."
Control nodded and relaxed, smiling at the frantic scrambling the four men did to try and shift the focus elsewhere. Shaking her head, Ms. Eriksen turned to Control. "Did Mr. Kostmayer know where you were?"
"No. I was somewhere safe, thanks. I wasn't in any condition to deal with all of this. I got his message to call him and did so." At her scowl, he smiled. "I used a land line to his cell. I knew that you wouldn't be able to trace it without his collusion, and he was more interested in getting the job done than he was in earning phony points with you."
She nodded and smiled at Kostmayer. "Good job, Kostmayer."
Surprised, Mickey smiled back, "Thanks. I just figured he knew what he was doing. Seems he did."
Eriksen nodded, turning her attention to Control. "Did you tell him how to handle Chavez?"
Control smiled. "Yes."
"Are you back, now? For good?"
"That depends. I've discovered that I rather liked the freedom and lack of stress where I was. It's very tempting to just retire and relax. I've got more than enough time in, not to mention the age." He could feel Mickey tense up behind him. "I've got more than forty-five years in, don't you think I deserve to take it easy?"
"Deserve? More than deserving, I should think." She glanced back at the four, still wrangling, men and shook her head. "However, I'd hate to see what would happen if you did. You've a talent for management, as I'm sure you know."
Control nodded, and then leaned forward, elbows on the desk, hands clasped. "Then why in hell was I sent to the Middle East?"
She sighed and looked very annoyed. "That person is no longer a concern. Seems he was accepting payment from us, but his... heart, was elsewhere."
Control's eyebrows went up. "And?"
"Well, we returned what was left of him to his masters." She looked at Kostmayer who, when Control turned that piercing pale blue gaze on him, managed to look innocent.
"Not me. I was too busy." Then he ruined it by smirking.
"I wouldn't know, sir."
Control nodded. "Was that who sent Chavez to Mexico?"
Eriksen frowned. "Why wouldn't you send Chavez to Mexico?"
Control turned back to her and smiled. "Because Chavez doesn't speak Spanish. At all. His specialty is Chinese."
Eriksen flinched at the seeming oxymoron. "I don't understand?"
"His parents were missionaries based out of Macao. He speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Portuguese. No Spanish whatsoever."
Her shoulders slumped in defeat. She lowered her head and shook it, lips compressed with anger. She looked up at him from beneath lowered brows. "What will it take to keep you on board?"
"More time off. I've realized that I'm tired. I'm getting too old for the politics and the behind-the-scenes machinations. I want to choose and train my own replacement, and you can stop fidgeting, Kostmayer, it won't be you." He didn't turn to look at the startled Mickey - he didn't need to. "You're a field agent; a loose cannon, at times, and often the best man to send in when everything's gone wrong. But you are not and never will be command material. You're an outstanding soldier, but that's all you'll ever be."
"Thank God for that," Mickey's quiet prayer was unheard by anyone but Control and Eriksen - and, perhaps, the deity to whom it was addressed.
"How much extra time do you want off, and when will you choose and start training your successor?"
Control smiled. "Just as soon as everything is back to normal. Couple of weeks, with any luck."
She nodded. "Have you anyone in particular in mind?"
His smile turned into a smirk. "Are you available?"
She blinked in surprise. "Me?"
He gestured to the four men who were still passing around the blame for the current series of fiascos. "Why not?"
"But I don't live in New York."
Her mouth opened in shock, then closed as she frowned. "I...."
"Think about it. In the meantime, get me a copy of your file." He turned his attention to the four others. "Kostmayer, would you kindly remove the trash, then?"
Mickey grinned. "Absolutely." With relish, he came around from behind the desk and began to herd the four men out, when they balked, he simply grabbed them by whatever was easily available and threw them out. "Don't come back without an invite!" He slammed the door behind them and turned back with an enormous grin on his face. "Does this mean I can go, now?"
Control smiled and turned to Sue Eriksen. "Coffee?"
Sue was amazed, not just by his intelligence and photographic memory, but by his single-mindedness and stamina. They worked around the clock, and he was still going strong. She was exhausted and even Kostmayer was showing signs of wear.
"Mickey? Would you go down to that little deli near my place for us?"
Kostmayer grinned. Finally, a break. "Sure. What do you want?"
"A Rueben, for me. Eriksen?"
"Uh, roast beef and cole slaw, please?"
"Got it." Mickey gratefully stood up, stretching his aching back. He was a little surprised when Control offered to buy, but figured it was because he wanted it from a particular place. He headed down to his van and drove uptown to get their lunch.
The deli was packed, and it would take a while for the crowd to clear, so he looked around and grinned. That little bookshop was just a couple of blocks away. He headed over to pick up the latest issue of Soldier of Fortune.
She looked up as the door opened and smiled. "So, then, did yer friend get hold of ye, then?"
He grinned. "Yeah, thanks. In fact, he's back to work, today, well, he came back yesterday, but we're all still working. Man, he can go forever, I think."
"Can he, then?" She smiled.
"Yeah." He headed for the darkish corner where the magazines were kept.
She'd been just about ready to close for lunch when he came in, but she could wait for him. She went back to cleaning the counter when the door opened again and three young men entered. She greeted them with a smile, which was not returned. The three looked around a bit, and then approached the counter.
"Can I help ye, then, lads?"
"Yeah, you can sign up for our insurance plan," one young man said rather snidely.
"Insurance, is it? I have insurance, thanks."
"Not our kind of insurance," the second said, coming behind the counter.
She frowned at him and stood her ground.
"Yeah," said the third. "Ours protects you from unusual damage." He knocked over a display of books.
From his dark corner, Mickey's head shot up at the sound of the books hitting the floor. With a scowl, he listened as the three young toughs tried shaking down the proprietor. He began to move silently closer.
"Ye expect me ta pay ye t' protect me from yerselves?" She laughed at them. "Yer joking, ye are. If ye think I'm afraid of the likes of ye, think again. If it takes three of ye ta try and frighten me, ye'd best try some'at else, then." Her chin was up and she was looking the apparent leader in the eye.
The man who'd moved behind the counter grabbed her and pushed her out from behind the barrier. "Hey, look, she's got a bun in the oven!" the third, and youngest member of the trio exclaimed.
"I ain't never done a pregnant chick, before," The leader smiled and came close to her. When he was close enough, she brought one knee up as hard as she could, using leverage from the man holding her for added impetus. The blow connected solidly, sending him back, doubling over and grabbing himself with a cry of pain. Shocked, the youngest man stared at her for a moment and then backhanded her across the face.
With a silent snarl, Mickey pounced, grabbing the slapper and smashing his face on the counter. Dropping him, he drew his pistol and pointed it at the one holding the lady. "From this range, there is no way I can miss, and she's too small for you to hide behind, stupid, so I suggest you let the nice lady go, now!"
With a quick, terrified glance at his two compatriots, he let her go and put his hands over his head.
Mickey reached out with his left hand and gently drew Davan away from them. He glanced at her face and scowled. "Why don't you go get some ice for that, while I take care of the garbage?"
"What are ye going ta do wi them, then?"
He paused, frowning. "What would you like me to do with them?"
"Well, I promised that if there was trouble again, I'd call the police, then?"
"Again?" His eyes narrowed as he glared the two recovering thugs into continued submission with only a tiny wiggle of his gun.
"I was robbed one day right after I took over, then?"
Mickey nodded, understanding. "Okay, why don't you call 911 and I'll stand here keeping them company. After you call, go get some ice, all right?"
"All right, then." She carefully stayed well out of the line of fire as she made her way to the phone to make the call.
"Yes, I've had three young men demanding insurance money?"
"Protection money," Mickey corrected.
"Protection money?" Davan repeated into the phone. "One of them grabbed me, then? And they threatened me? And knocked over a display? And then, when I kneed one, the third one hit me, then?" She listened. "Oh, no, they're still here, then? A customer came to me rescue?" She listened for a moment and smiled. "Yes, please. I'd like someone ta come and take them away, then? Oh, yes, I'll be pleased ta press charges?" A few moments later, she hung up the phone. Turning to Mickey, she smiled.
"They're sending someone, then?"
"Good. Now, why don't you go and get that ice pack?"
She smiled, and then winced as the swelling on her cheek twinged. "All right, then. Can I get ye anything? Some'at ta drink, perhaps?"
"No, thanks. I'll just keep an eye on these guys until the cops get here."
Fortunately, a detective arrived with the uniformed officers; one who knew Mickey and told the patrolmen to stand down at the sight of the gun. "I suppose McCall had you watching out for the proprietor?"
Mickey grinned, relieved, and holstered his gun. "Not this time, Lieutenant. I was just picking up a magazine and they came in and started hassling the lady. They made the mistake of not making sure the place was empty before they started shaking her down." He shook his head as Davan reappeared, holding an ice pack to her bruised cheek.
Seeing her, the lieutenant scowled at the three young suspects. "Which one hit you?"
"Well, that one grabbed me, that one made a rude comment, and when I stopped him acting on it, that one hit me, then."
The three men were handcuffed and read their rights.
"What happened to the one who hit you?"
"I smacked his face on the counter. He backhanded her pretty hard, would have knocked her down if the third one wasn't holding on to her," Mickey explained.
The lieutenant sighed. "I'll need you both to come down to the station and dictate and sign your statements."
"Can I come by later? I'm supposed to be getting lunch for the office and getting back to work."
The lieutenant frowned. "Then what were you doing here?"
"There was a crowd at the deli and I'd have had to wait anyway, so I thought I'd grab a magazine, or something." He shrugged, "Pure luck, Lieutenant."
"Yes, it was very lucky indeed that ye were here, Mr. Kostmayer."
He frowned, wondering how she knew his name.
She saw his puzzlement and smiled. "When ye were here, asking after yer friend? Yer coat had the name Kostmayer on it, then?"
He blinked, amazed that she'd not only noticed, but had also been able to make out the name, and then remembered it. "Oh."
"All right, Kostmayer, just make it some time in the next twenty-four hours, would you?"
"As soon as I get off work, okay?"
"Good enough." He turned to Davan, "Now, how about I give you a ride, Ms.?"
"O'Meara. Davan O'Meara."
He smiled. "Ms. O'Meara. I'll help you lock up here and then make sure you get back safely, all right?"
"All right, then. Thank ye." She smiled at him and turned to Mickey. "Thank ye again, Mr. Kostmayer."
Mickey grinned. "Any time. He got out his wallet and pulled out a card, scribbling a number on the back. "If you ever need any help, just give me a call, all right?"
She smiled and nodded, accepting the card. "All right, then. Thank ye."
"See you later, Lieutenant," Mickey called as he left the shop.
When he returned to Control's office with their food, he was met with a matching pair of scowls. "What took you so long?" Eriksen snapped, taking her lunch and tearing the packaging open.
"Ran into a little trouble. There was a huge crowd at the deli, so I went over to this little bookstore to pick up a magazine, when three kids came in to shake the owner down for protection money." He was focused on Eriksen and didn't see Control's almost imperceptible stiffening in reaction. "She stood right up to them, and they started to get a little rough, but she took out one of them, even though one of them had grabbed her, and when the third one slapped her face, I was right there to break his face on the counter. Then I pulled my gun and it was all over but the wait for the cops. I need to get down to the station later today, if at all possible?" He turned his attention to Control, who was again his usual stoic self.
"All right. For myself, once I leave here, I won't be back for a couple of days." Seeing Eriksen stiffen in concern, he shook his head. "My shoulder is starting to ache, and even I need to sleep on occasion." He smirked, knowing that each of them had sacked out on the office couch for a while at different times over the past 30 hours.
Eriksen blushed. "Of course. I hope that Mickey and I can hold it together for a day or two."
"I'll call and if there are any emergencies, I'll come in."
Sue sighed in relief. Seeing his job like this, she understood why the higher-ups tended to pretty much leave him alone. The man was an absolute genius when it came to his job, and she was having a very difficult time trying to imagine anyone being able to take his place - ever.
After they finished eating, they went back to work, with Control explaining the hows and whys of how he did his job. At one point, late that evening, Sue and Mickey exchanged despairing looks. Neither of them could imagine ever being able to do what he did so naturally and competently.
It was after midnight, and he was exhausted. He was starting to have trouble concentrating, so he called it a night, smiling at the two much younger agents who couldn't keep up with him. Despite his exhaustion, he was pleased that he could still work the youngsters under the table.
"I am leaving. I won't be in at all, later today, but after I wake up, I'll give you a call, providing you're awake, Mickey. Everything should be all right for us to leave until Monday morning. I'll see you then, maybe. If not, I'll let you know." With that, he simply pulled his overcoat from the hook and eased it on over his injured shoulder, which had begun to really ache a few hours earlier.
He drove to his apartment to shower and change. Then, making sure he was unobserved, he left, walking the few blocks over to the small cul de sac and the bookstore. He inserted his shiny new key and let himself in. He checked the alarm system, re-arming it, and turned to head up the stairs. He took off his overcoat and hung it up and moved quietly into the bedroom, smiling.
She was curled into a ball in the middle of the bed, and he just watched her for a time. She shifted and stretched, her head tossing on the pillow and a frown on her face. He could see the bruise on her cheek, even in the darkness. She began to thrash and moan in her sleep, the jerking of her eyelids indicating that she was deep within a dream, which he quickly recognized as more of a nightmare.
"Davan!" He spoke sharply, approaching the bed. Her eyes flew open and she sat up with a gasp. He immediately sat beside her and gathered her into his arms. "It's all right, ce'adsearc, it was just a dream."
Recognizing him, she clung to him, trembling.
"Shhh, I've got you. You're safe, a ghra'."
She sighed. "A chuisle mo chroi'," she murmured, holding tightly to him.
He pressed his cheek to the top of her head. "Want to tell me what it was about?"
Her breath caught, and she shook her head, pressing still more tightly against him. His arms tightened around her and he rocked her softly. "I'm here, and you're safe, now. I'm here, ionu'in. I'm here." After a few minutes, she sighed and pulled away from him, looking up into his face, a serious expression on her face.
"And where, pray, did ye learn Gaelic, then?"
He chuckled. "I wondered when you'd notice. I learned what little I know from my mother, who was from some little town called Ballinskelligs, in County Kerry."
"Well, what little it may be is fine enough." She smiled broadly at him. It was the first truly personal piece of information he'd offered her, and she was well pleased with it. She sighed and pulled away from him. "Come ta bed, then, love?"
He smiled tiredly and stood up to undress. Slipping beneath the covers with her, he sighed as she came into his arms, snuggling up against him. "Are you all right, then?" he asked, softly.
"'Twas near four years ago, now. 'Twas me granda's birthday? We were all ta meet at his house, then. I was about ready to leave my flat, when there was a knock at the door." She had her cheek pressed against his smooth, hairless chest, enjoying the warmth of him and the steady sound of his heartbeat in her ear; his arms cradled her against him, and one hand gently stroked up and down her spine as he listened.
"I' was Ryan, me fella? I was a bit surprised ta see him, as me da didn't like him a'tall. I smiled and kissed him back when he kissed me. But then he pushed me back into the flat and closed the door. I didn't know what he was doin', and started to ask, but he kissed me again, hard, and his hands pulled up my dress. He pushed me down on the settee and unzipped his pants." She spoke like she was reading a badly written story, rather than relating the very real occurrence she'd experienced.
"He raped you?" Control asked softly, shocked.
"No. Not exactly; though I did tell him no, and to stop. He was gentle enough, at first, and I'll admit that there was pleasure, as well? But then there was this terrible noise, and the whole building shook and he became rough, and moved harder, and he held me down and started speakin'? Saying that I was his, now, and none other's, and that they'd not be stoppin' him again, and that 'yer mine, mine, mine.'"
Control couldn't help the shiver that ripped through him with the realization that her boyfriend had not only raped her, but had murdered her family, as well. "What happened then?"
"He finished and collapsed on top of me, and after a bit, went at it again, but then there was a knock at the door, and he got up and quick-like, zipped himself up and turned away. I answered the door, and it was the police, ta tell me that me family had been in an explosion." She shuddered with a single sob. "I turned to look at Ryan, and asked him what he'd done?" The policeman thought I was just in shock, and took me to identify them. Worst of all, was that me granda and one sister weren't killed outright, but they were so bad hurt that they died a few days later. Thankfully, they never awoke."
"What happened to Ryan?"
"Nothing. They didn't believe me. They said it was an accident, but there'd been no reason to have gasoline stored where they said it was. None of us had a car, or anything else for to use it on? So then they tried to say that they were storing it for the IRA? When I realized what he'd done, I began ta drink Pennyroyal tea, ta make certain sure there'd be no child, and very quietly, I decided to leave. Someone showed me this little advertisement for this shop, and I called Mr. Levine, and then sold all I could and bought it. I got my visa, and my immigration papers, and I came with hardly a word to anyone."
He was amazed. "How on earth did you ever decide to ask me to stay?"
She smiled sleepily. "We'd flirted a bit, and ye were always such a gentleman, and then, when I was afraid, ye stayed, and then, when I showed ye the books? Ye didn't insist I sell them for their value, then? Ye understood, and maybe even agreed, a bit?"
"But to have me stay with you?"
"Well, some of the things Ryan had done brought me pleasure enough, then? I thought that mayhap, ye'd be kind and gentle wi' me. And ye were, then? And then, ye came back."
He couldn't believe it. Two lonely people finding one another at just the right moment in time. Her to combat the fear and loneliness; him, simply finding a warm and caring woman who would ask no questions. He held her close and kissed her.
"And you haven't thought about that since, until those three thugs today reminded you of it?"
She burrowed closer into his embrace. "He'd never hit me before then."
"So he's still running around free, is he?" His attention refocused on her past.
"What's his last name?"
She was relaxing and nearly asleep, now, and he had to strain to hear her answer. "O'Rourke."
He held her close as she slept, but for quite a while, he was unable to sleep, himself. Finally, deciding on a course of action to take, he lightly kissed her bruised cheek and slept.
She smiled when she realized that he was there with her when she woke. She didn't remember his coming in, her nightmare, or telling him about it. She stretched against him and slid an arm around him. She watched as he stirred and opened his eyes. "Good morning, then, a ghra'." She frowned. "Do I remember your telling me that yer mother was from County Kerry, then?"
He chuckled. "You do."
She frowned. "Yer half Irish, then?"
Before she could ask another question, he kissed her. "Happy Valentine's Day, a ghra' mo chroi'."
"Is it, then? For me, it's only Saturday."
"Well, if it's all right with you, I could do with a lot more sleep, since except for here, I've had none since I left."
"Poor man. Sleep, then, and I'll go and open the shop."
"Great idea, mo chroi'." He kissed her again and slid easily back to sleep. She watched him for a few moments and then, smiling, slipped from the bed and prepared to meet the day.
When he awoke again, she'd come up for lunch. With a careful stretch, he rose from the bed and headed for the bathroom. He came into the kitchen, fresh from his shower and shave, to find her at the sink, washing and slicing vegetables for a salad. Coming up behind her, he slid his arms around her and bent down to kiss the back of her neck, below the bun she'd put her hair into. "You look good enough to eat, ce'adsearc."
She laughed and turned in his light embrace, kissing him soundly. "As do you, love. As do you." Turning back to her task, she asked, "Are ye hungry, then, love?"
"Starving." He released her and began helping, by tearing up the lettuces.
"Good. While I do this, why don't ye make yerself more useful by cooking the meat, then?" He turned to see two steaks sitting on a plate, liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. He checked the broiler and found she'd set it correctly, so he put the meat on to broil, remembering to give hers a two-minute head start. They worked well together, without need of instructions or questions, and a few minutes later, they were sitting down to a lovely meal.
As they ate, he tilted his head slightly and smiled at her. "Would you like to go out to dinner, tonight?"
She looked at him in shock. "Out?"
"Yes. To a restaurant? Maybe some dancing?"
She looked down at her swollen middle. "Like this?"
"Duit a'lainn, a ghra'," he murmured softly, his eyes smoldering.
Her breath caught and she smiled shyly. "I doubt I've anything to wear, then?"
"Close up a bit early, then, and we'll go out and find you something, all right?"
It only took her a moment. "All right, then."
She was surprised that he was so willing to go through the misery of finding a decent dress. He sat through several trials, and shook his head over every one. She had to agree, everything seemed to only accentuate her condition, whereas she really wanted to hide it, more or less.
As they left the fourth shop, he suggested, "Let's try something just a bit more upscale, shall we?"
He smiled and squeezed her hand. "Trust me?"
"All right, then."
He hailed a cab and took her to the garment district. Once there, he paused for a moment to get his bearings, and then led her unerringly to a small, nearly invisible little shop front. He held the door for her and followed her in. Inside, it wasn't much to look at, but the mannequins all held absolutely beautiful dresses.
Davan's breath caught at the sumptuous fabrics and turned to stare at him in shock. "And how would ye know of this place?"
"Control?" a heavily accented voice asked tentatively.
With a broad smile, he turned. "Mischa. How's business?"
"Very good, thank you." The crippled old man tilted his head at Davan and smiled. "So, what brings you to my humble shop?"
"The lady needs a nice dress for this evening, if at all possible."
Mischa laughed and shook his head. "Always at the last minute. He winked at Davan. "But always in time, as well." He shuffled around her, examining her and scribbling notes on a pad of paper. "Would you like something that will still be useful after the baby comes?"
"Yes, do you have anything like that?" Control did all the talking, and Davan was grateful that he did.
"Yes, surprisingly enough. Come, I will show you."
Davan stayed close to Control, she couldn't understand the shopkeeper through his strong accent. As they followed him, she noticed that the little man's legs were deformed and misshapen and wondered what had happened to him, but said nothing.
They were led into a smaller room, brightly lit with overhead fluorescent lights. When Mischa turned back to them, she realized he wasn't old at all, and wondered how on earth the two men knew each other.
"You are very slender, normally, yes?" He turned and pulled over a dressmaker's dummy. Hanging from it, was a floor-length gown in a dark teal. The bodice was striped, with dark teal velvet interspersed with narrow bands of matching satin. It would accentuate the bosom, and fell away in long pleats of velvet for the skirt. "You see, if you are thin, it will hang and drape in pleats, yes? But," and here, he grabbed a pillow form and placed it beneath the skirt, "You see?"
Control looked closely and smiled. "You have extra pleats in the center of the front so that it will minimize the bulge."
Mischa smiled. "Yes! Do you like it? It is a new idea I had." He looked at Davan, "Would you like to try it on?"
"It's beautiful." She looked up at her lover and her eyes asked the question.
"I'll help you with it."
Mischa covered his surprise, but removed the dress from the form and handed it to them, pointing to the dressing room off in a corner.
"I can't understand what he says," she whispered to him, once they were alone.
He chuckled. "That's all right. I can. Do you like the dress?" His hands gently slid beneath her blouse to pull it off over her head. Then he helped her into the dress, leaving her trousers on, for the moment.
She shook her head as she realized that her bra could not be worn with the dress. With his assistance, she removed it, and settled herself into the garment. To her amazement, it fit her as though it was designed with her in mind. There was subtle support in the dress itself that lifted and showed off her cleavage. Stepping out of the room, she gasped upon seeing herself in the floor length mirror. "Oh, it's beautiful, it is." She twirled and looked at the two smiling men. "What d'ye think, then?"
"I think you're beautiful, and so is the dress." He turned to Mischa. "All right, time for business. Can you change without help, Davan?"
"Yes." She practically floated back into the dressing room.
He stared down at Mischa, who only smiled. "As I said, it was a new design. You like it?"
"It's perfect. How much?"
"No, for anyone else. You owe me nothing, Mischa. What would you sell it for, retail?"
"I would never charge you retail."
"Mischa," there was warning in his tone.
Mischa shrugged. "Should anyone ask, you will tell them where it came from?"
"Eight hundred, then."
"Twelve hundred it is." He pulled out his checkbook.
"I know what you said. Are you having a show soon?"
"Would she be suitable to show it for you?"
"She is quite short."
"It was designed for someone like her, and you know it. You've never used standard models, but real women. Would she do?"
"Better than I could imagine. Her figure is perfect."
"Give me the particulars, and I'll ask her to do it for you."
"It's on a Sunday, in three weeks."
He smiled. "What time?"
"The show is at noon, so...ten?"
"I'll see if she's willing."
Mischa smiled and accepted his check. He glanced at it and was not surprised to see no name on it, and that the scrawling signature was indecipherable.
"Thank you, my friend."
"I should thank you. After all, were it not for you, I would not be alive, now, let alone here in America."
Control shrugged and smiled as Davan came out, carefully carrying the dress. "How badly will it wrinkle?"
"It won't." At Control's surprised expression, he explained. "It's not true velvet, but a very nice stretch fabric. It's a bit lighter than true velvet, but has that feel to it. And the satin is washable, as well, though it's a bit difficult to iron, because of the striping of the two fabrics?"
"It's almost medieval in style, isn't it?"
"Yes. I got the idea from one of the Renaissance Fairs. But I think it's a timeless design."
Mischa looked up at the older man in amazement. "So, you will marry this girl?"
Control looked down at him, scowling. "What?"
Mischa shrugged. "It is only obvious to anyone with eyes that you adore one another. Is the child yours?"
"Mischa," there was warning in his voice.
"No matter. You will take care of her and her child. No matter who the father might be." Mischa smiled and took the dress from Davan, carefully wrapping it for them.
Once they left the shop, he hailed a cab and they returned to her shop.
"I need to go to my place and change. I'll pick you up in two hours."
"All right." She kissed him goodbye and headed for the bathroom for a long, hot bath and primping for their date. She couldn't believe that her secretive lover was actually taking her out in public for dinner and dancing.
She was ready and waiting for him when he returned. Her breath caught as she saw him. He was dressed in a tuxedo, and his tie and cummerbund matched her dress. He locked the door for her and then helped her into his car.
"I hope you don't mind, but I forwent the driver, for this evening."
"I don't mind in the least, love."
There was a valet at the restaurant, and they were seated at a nice, intimate corner table with a full view of the rest of the diners and a window beside them. They sat with her facing the window, while he faced the room. Most of his attention was on her, with only the occasional scan of the other diners.
She had only one glass of red wine with dinner, in consideration of her unborn child. He was solicitous of her at all times, and she couldn't help but blossom under his attention. She'd suspected he loved her, knew it, inside, but here, in public, if view of others, he proved it. She was certain he'd chosen this restaurant particularly so as to limit the possibility of anyone who knew him seeing them. After they ate, he held out his hand and led her to the ballroom, where he swept her into his arms and they danced the rest of the night away. It was after midnight when they left. She was thrilled with the evening. The only disappointment came when he dropped her off at home and left her there. She decided, however, to allow the pleasantness of the evening to linger, rather than to think of his having left. She undressed and sat on her bed, rubbing her tired and slightly swollen feet. She heard a sound and turned to find him standing in the doorway. Seeing her surprise at seeing him, he frowned.
"I had to park the car," he explained. She stood and ran into his arms.
"I though ye had to work tomorrow, then?"
"To hell with work. I'd rather be here, with you, a ghra' mo chroi'." She laughed happily and kissed him soundly.
Later, after making love, he lay there with her in his arms, her heavy breathing indicating her state of sleep, he thought long and hard. It was true. He'd much rather spend his time with her than saving the world for democracy. Or whatever it was he did and had been doing for more than forty years. He was in good health and if he was careful, he might actually live to see their child grown. There were other things to consider, however. He'd never put himself or his needs first, not since.... He quickly tried to turn his thoughts away, but the memory insisted he deal with it, now.
He sighed, wondering if it were possible for him to change after all these years.
Uncertain and worried, he fell asleep.
He hadn't thought of her in decades, but the pain was as fresh now as it had been then. Davan was jolted awake when he abruptly pushed at her and turned away. Frowning, she sat up. Remembering his warning that he didn't always awaken well, she called to him. "Love? Control!" He didn't react, except to bury his face in his pillow and moan. Unable to resist touching him, she stretched out behind him and wrapped her arms around him. "Love, please wake up. Come along, then, it's all right, yer here wi' me, love. Hush, then. It's just a dream, love."
He awoke with a gasp, the soft, slender arms around him and the hard bulge of her belly against his back. Her voice was as soft as her body, and he began to breathe more normally.
"Are ye all right, then, love?"
He turned towards her and held her close as he calmed. "I'm all right." He waited, but the questions didn't come. Pulling away, he gazed down into her face. There was curiosity, but strongly overshadowed with concern. Still no questions. "There was a woman, once. A very long time ago, before you were even born," he began; speaking softly, as though afraid someone might hear him.
"Ye loved her, then?"
He smiled. "Not at first. At first, I was too worried about staying alive, but as time went on, I fell in love with her." For the first time, he willingly thought of her and that time, and though there was still an ache of loss, it no longer was a raw, gaping wound.
Davan said nothing, allowing him to tell her what he would in his own time. She'd promised to ask no questions, and she would continue to adhere to that promise.
He could see her face, the concern, and the care. "I asked her to marry me, and she agreed, providing I quit my job." He looked away, even after almost forty years, the memory still brought tears to his eyes. Swallowing hard, he forced his eyes back to meet hers and saw tears there to match his. He brought his hand up to gently wipe hers away. "I'd written out my resignation and was going to go and turn it in to my contact, when a policeman stopped me and asked to see my passport. I handed it to him, and he asked me to come with him. I went with them, and wondered why. He wouldn't say anything, until we'd gotten to the morgue. They took me into the...storage room, and stood me next to a body. Then they pulled the sheet back, and." He choked on a sob. His breathing became harsh and shaky. "It was....oh, God." He sobbed. "She'd been killed by a street thug. A mugging, though they weren't called that, then." He sobbed again, burying his face against her. He'd never allowed himself to cry for his lost love, before. Now, at long last, in the arms of a woman who truly understood him, who didn't expect any more of him than he could give her, and because of which had totally won his heart; at long last he could allow the grief to have voice.
She held him tightly, her own tears falling to mingle with his. She never said a word, only holding him to her and rocking gently.
An interminable time later, exhausted, they slept, still tightly entwined.
When he awoke, he felt an odd sense of relief. Davan lay snuggled in his embrace, but he realized that wasn't the reason. Gazing down at her peaceful countenance, he smiled. For the first time, he was at peace with himself and his life. He'd continue to protect her from his world as much as he could, but until he could train his replacement and hand over the reins, he would continue as he was, but he wanted more than what they had together. He was finally ready once again to make a commitment to another person. If only she'd accept him.
She awoke in his arms, content and feeling very loved. Her patience was paying off, as he'd finally begun allowing her to learn of him. His mother was from County Kerry, but he wasn't half Irish. She couldn't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, he wasn't all Irish. Not that it mattered at all, only that she thought it would have pleased her family. The fact that he was older than her parents would have been was immaterial. Now, he'd shared his broken heart with her, and was still there when she awoke. She lifted her face to his and was pleased when he gently kissed her.
"Good morning, then, a chuisle mo chroi'," she whispered.
"My name. Peter Murphy."
Her breath caught and she smiled broadly. "Good morning, then, Peter Murphy, a ghra' mo chroi'." He smiled at her, a bit shyly, which only endeared him further to her. "Ah, love. Gi' us a kiss, then."
He did as requested, which led to other things.
She missed the six a.m. Mass, and decided not to hurry to make the seven o'clock Mass. Instead, she took her time, fixing coffee and smiling when Peter came out to join her, still looking mussed from sleep.
"Are you going to Mass, then?"
"Yes, love." She almost asked him to go with her, but didn't even know if he was Catholic.
He watched her prepare, frowning. "When did you last go to confession?" he softly asked.
She froze and her head dropped. "Not since the first part of August," she softly admitted.
"Oh, love. It's not yer fault, ye know. 'Twas I who asked ye ta stay, if ye recall?"
He watched her, concerned. "I haven't been to Mass, or confession since 1964."
She turned to look at him. "D'ye feel the need?"
He sighed. "I've a lot of sins to atone for."
"Do ye? Did ye willfully commit them?"
He smiled. "I willfully did whatever I had to in order to get the job done." He realized she didn't know exactly what he did, but she still wasn't asking any questions. "I guess you could call me a patriot, working for my country against its foes and anyone who means us harm."
"A soldier, then, like yer friend, Kostmayer?"
"Well, sort of a soldier, yes."
She smiled. "But not a terrorist, then?"
He looked her steadily in the eye. "No. Not a terrorist, though I have fought dirty on occasion, when necessary."
"And did ye take pleasure in what ye had ta do, then?"
"Sometimes." He didn't explain.
She nodded. "Yer a just and honorable man, Peter Murphy. And I love ye." She gave him a challenge in her look.
"A ghra' mo chroi', more than life itself."
She smiled and nodded. "Ye'll go when and if yer ready, and not before. I'm well content."
"And has the priest spoken to you about the baby?"
She blushed. "Only ta ask if I knew the father."
"And do you?"
She looked him in the eye again. "I think so. P'raps more than he does himself, then?"
His breath caught for just a moment and then he smiled; leaning close, he kissed her. "Mayhap you do, then."
With a last smile and touch of her lips to his, she left. He showered and dressed and sat at the table for a long time, thinking hard about what he believed and what he wanted.
The only thing he was sure of was that he wanted her in his life, for whatever time remained him.
A week later, she had her first sonogram, and returned to the shop in a daze. She still didn't have his phone number and it hadn't occurred to her to call the one Mickey had given her. She couldn't help wondering if her news would change his feelings towards her. She hoped not.
As she dusted the shelves and polished the counter, she came across the card Kostmayer had left. Biting her lower lip, she picked up the cordless phone and dialed.
"Hallo, this is Davan O'Meara. Would ye do me a favor, please?"
"Sure. What do you need?"
"Could ye ask yer friend ta gi' me a call, then?"
"Hold on a second." Mickey grinned and held his cell phone out towards Control "It's for you."
"Love? I've some'at ta tell ye. Oh, wait a bit, I've customers." She set the phone down without disconnecting. Her welcoming smile abruptly turned into a frown. "Get out of my shop. I don't want ye here, and take yer friends wi', ye."
Control stiffened as he heard crashing sounds and raised voices. Standing abruptly, phone pressed tightly against his ear, he looked at Mickey. "You drive." He started to move, Kostmayer right on his heels, while Eriksen scowled after them in confusion.
"But what about...."
He was tense, trying to hear what was going on. They were still several blocks away when he heard what could only be a gunshot. "Oh, God, no."
"What?" Mickey asked, worriedly.
"Gunshot." He went cold, the rage turning him to ice, his heart pounding and preparing him for the worst. The sense of deja vu was giving him a tightening in his chest and shortness of breath. He turned off his emotions of fear and love, and let the rage take over. All he could think of at the moment was revenge. There was silence coming from the phone, now. Deathly silence.
He was out of the van before Mickey had completely stopped, double-parking in front of the bookstore. He burst through the door, gun drawn, prepared for anything but what he saw. He slid to a stop, his mouth hanging open. He scowled, and looked at the five young men standing with their hands over their heads; the sixth one was laying on the floor, grasping his upper arm, his fallen knife just a few inches away. Davan stood, shaking like an aspen leaf, except for the steady aim of the revolver pointing at the group of very frightened young toughs.
Mickey came barreling in behind him, ready to fight, and slid to a stop right behind his boss. He looked at two of the young men and glared. "You didn't get the message last time?" he growled.
"Mr. Kostmayer, would you mind watching them while I take care of the lady, please?" Control asked softly. He could read the hysterical glaze in Davan's eyes and knew he had to act very carefully to avoid further bloodshed.
"You got it. You're not going to do anything stupid, are you, boys?"
"Davan? It's all right, now, a ghra'. You can put the gun down, ce'adsearc." His voice was soft and soothing. Mickey couldn't help but smirk. Certain things he'd noticed about Control of late were suddenly and finally coming into focus. He guessed the girl wasn't too young for the old spook, after all.
She was shaking so hard. She'd never hurt anyone before. But the police lieutenant had suggested she get a gun, and had arranged for the permits and a bit of training, but she'd never thought to actually shoot someone. All she could see was the blood flowing from the boy's arm, and it took her back to the day her family had died. All that blood.... There was a roaring in her ears, and after a bit, a soft, soothing voice penetrated the horror. But all she could see was the blood.
"A ghra' mo chroi', give us the gun, then, a ghra'." He stepped between the injured thug and his lady. Once the blood was blocked, she blinked and lifted her head and saw him.
"Ce'adsearc?" she whispered. His left hand came up and gently removed the gun from her hands and she was safe in his arms, sobbing and clinging tightly to him.
He set the gun on the counter and gathered her close, softly speaking to her. They were both shaking. Her from the horror of what had happened; he from the relief at finding her safe.
Mickey couldn't stop grinning. Who'd have guessed the old spook had it in him? He contemplated telling McCall, but almost immediately changed his mind. There was no way McCall would believe it, even if he saw it. One of the punks moved, and Mickey pinned him with a glare. "You know, you're lucky."
The one with the broken nose stared at him, having gotten said broken nose from him not so very long ago. "You're kidding."
Mickey grinned and softly purred. "If you thought I was tough, I've got nothing on him. If you'd hurt his lady, he'd have taken you all apart, one joint at a time. And then, I'd have had the dismal task of disposing of the parts left over and cleaning up the place. Thanks for saving me the extra work."
"That old man?" one of the new group asked, snorting in disbelief.
Control heard him and turned his head, his clear, pale blue eyes pinning the scoffer in his tracks. The young man took an involuntary step backwards and his hands climbed a few inches higher in the air.
Mickey snorted in amusement. "It might be nice if one of you'd dial 911, boss, seeing as you've got my cell phone." Seeing a flash of movement, his left hand snaked out and caught the thrown cell phone. Still grinning, he flipped it open, turned it on, and dialed in a number. "Yeah, Lieutenant? Mickey Kostmayer. No, I haven't killed anyone and I'm not confessing to any crimes. You remember that little bookshop? Yeah? Well, two of them came back, and brought some friends. Nope. I wasn't here when it started. But you might want to bring the paramedics with you. The owner had to shoot one of the punks. He seems to have started for her with a knife. Got him in the arm, the knife's at his feet, and his friends are all waiting very patiently for you to come and haul their asses away. That would be very nice, thanks." He disconnected. He shook his head at the punks and sighed. "One little piece of advice? The lady does not need protection from the likes of you. She's got more than enough, as you can see. Like I said, he's the toughest man you'll ever meet, and the only reason he's not tearing all of you apart, is that he's momentarily distracted, taking care of his lady. I suggest you stay very far away from this shop. In fact, I suggest you avoid this street altogether. 'Cause if I spot any one of you within half a mile, that's six blocks, of here, I'll take offense and remind you why you want to steer clear. And if he ever spots one of you again, the rest of you will never know what happened to your buddy. Got that?"
The would-be toughs looked at each other and all of them nodded. They understood very well. Besides, that chick was mean! They were all grateful as the approaching sirens all stopped outside the shop and uniformed policemen entered.
Shaking his head, he sighed. "Mr. Kostmayer. Same bunch, huh?"
"Yeah, two of them, but they brought the rest of their friends, this time. You'll have to ask the lady what exactly happened, though. She shot that one."
The young man was in shock, but had managed to stop the bleeding himself, by grasping his injured arm. The lieutenant looked over at the gun lying atop the counter and sighed. Motioning for the uniformed officers to begin cuffing and reading rights, and the paramedics to tend the injured man, he walked over to the counter.
"Excuse me, folks, but I need to talk to the lady."
Control turned to glare at the interruption. "Not now."
"I'm afraid it has to be now, sir. I need to know what happened, here."
Control sighed and nodded. He turned back to Davan and spoke softly to her. He gently guided her back to the small office under the stairs and got her seated in the chair behind the desk, and crouched before her, still speaking softly to her. The lieutenant followed them, frowning in concern at how the woman was acting.
Davan was calm, for the moment, but Control knew that it was a very delicate calm, and would be easily shattered. He raised his voice only slightly, so the lieutenant could hear. "I'm going to question her for you. I don't want you saying a single word. No questions, no badgering her. She's calm, now, but that won't last if you start bullying her." He didn't bother to look to see if the lieutenant was agreeing with him, or not, he gently began to speak to Davan. "A ghra', tell us what happened, then. You called Kostmayer on the phone, and he handed it to me. We spoke for a moment, and then you said you had customers and put the phone down."
"Yes. I saw the two from the other day, then? And I told them ta get out of me shop? That they weren't welcome here and I'd not pay them, then?"
"Yes, a ghra'. I heard loud noises then, what happened? What did they do?"
"They knocked over some displays, then? They started coming towards me? And I backed behind the counter, then? The one boy, he pulled out his knife and threatened ta cut the babies from me, then? Ta 'show everyone that they weren't jokin' about the protection money?' I backed up some more, and I felt for the gun that nice lieutenant got me?" Her eyes focused on him and she looked troubled. "Ye don't mind, do ye, love? That he gave me the gun, then? He got me the papers so's I could have it in the shop, then? And he showed me how to shoot it? Said that I could defend meself if I'd need to? Ye don't mind, do ye, love?"
Control smiled, fighting back surprising tears. "No, a ghra'. I don't mind at all. So, you took out the gun, then?"
"Aye. I did, and I pointed it at the lad wi' the knife, who laughed at me, then? Asked me if I really thought I could shoot them all? He came towards me, behind the counter, then? So I pulled the trigger, just like the lieutenant showed me?" Her face showed the horror she'd felt at what she'd been forced to do. "The blood? He dropped his knife and sat on the floor? He started cursing somethin' awful, and the blood? It just flowed. Like water, it was, only dark, and thick, and red." She swallowed hard. "The others, they all stopped moving around and got quiet-like? Then." Some of the tenseness went out of her and she looked at him, a slight smile tugging at her lips. "Then ye were there, love?" She touched his cheek and the smile firmed. "Ye came."
"Of course I came, a ghra'. As fast as Kostmayer could drive. Hearing that gunshot, I was very worried. No, I don't mind that the lieutenant got you the gun and the permits and a bit of training in how to use it. I just wish I'd known about it, so I wasn't thinking the worst when I arrived. If you'd been hurt...." He trailed off and shuddered, his eyes closing at the thoughts he couldn't help but remember.
"Oh, love. I'm sorry, then." She reached for him and he gathered her into his arms, inordinately grateful that she was safe.
The lieutenant closed his notebook and quietly walked out. Spotting Kostmayer by the register, he sauntered over to him. "How'd you know they'd come back?"
Mickey grinned. "The big fish send out the little fish, first. She was too tough for the little fish, so the big fish came out to play. How come you gave her a gun and permits?"
"Because I thought it would be a good idea." The two men smiled their understanding at one another. "Your boss and the lady?"
Mickey shook his head. "Who'd'a guessed? I certainly didn't."
"They're good for each other, I think."
Mickey grinned. "Seems like. Did you get what you needed?"
"Yeah. I'll need her signature on her statement, so if you'll remind them, I'd be grateful."
"Sure. I can do that. Uh, you think it'd be okay to just lock up and leave them here, alone?"
The lieutenant glanced back towards the office and shrugged. "Don't see why not. He'll take good care of her, I'm sure." Mickey nodded and grinned.
"I'll lock up, then. Thanks, Lieutenant."
"Now, if these punks will just get the message."
Mickey chuckled. "Maybe we can get him to talk to them?"
Remembering the stark glare from the man, the lieutenant shivered. "That might work. I'll see what we can do."
"Control?" He was careful to keep his voice soft and low. No need to upset the man further. He knew better.
"The cops have taken out the trash, and I've cleaned up the mess. Not sure I got the displays back quite right, but they're off the floor, now. I'm going to turn off the lights and lock the door on my way out. I'll explain it to Eriksen and we'll see you when we see you. I'll tell her it was.... What do you want me to tell her? Not a family emergency, that's for sure. Suggestions?"
Control looked up from where he had Davan cradled in his lap, and sighed. Considering the options, if anyone had to have found out, Kostmayer was on the short list. "Tell her whatever you like." His voice was hoarse and his tone said that he didn't really care.
"We need to synchronize our stories, Control. You don't really want word to come out about your relationship, do you? Talk about putting her in danger." There was no judgment or censure in his voice, only concern.
Control sighed. "Tell her. Tell her it was a friend in trouble."
"You got it. A mutual friend. I won't even mention gender." Mickey suddenly chuckled. "She'll probably assume it was McCall."
Control couldn't help but smile at that and his eyes finally met Mickey's. "Poor Robert. This might get back to him, but he'd never believe it."
"Well, he won't hear it from me. You just take care of your lady, there. Oh, and Control?"
"Lose the 'then' when you talk. I was wondering where you'd picked it up."
Control shook his head and smiled. "Spent too much time with her, then?" Hearing himself, he chuckled. "Right. I'll be more careful in future."
"When's she due?"
"End of May or thereabouts."
Mickey frowned, counting. His eyes widened and he shook his head. "She was your 'simple dinner and early night' back in August?"
Control's eyes went hard and Mickey immediately backed off. "Well, all I can say is, best of luck to you both. Take care of your lady, Control. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Mickey."
He sat with her for several more hours, his warm presence comforting and reassuring her of her safety. When she began to stir, he took her upstairs and fixed them a light supper, and then took her to bed, where he continued to hold her through the night.
She awoke from an unpleasant dream to find herself in bed with her lover. Peter, she thought to herself, and smiled, snuggling closer to him.
"Are you all right, a ghra'?" his gravelly, early morning, just awakened voice softly asked.
"I'm fine, love, though I did have an odd dream that those thugs came back."
"Davan, that wasn't a dream."
She went very still. "Did I shoot one, then?" she asked in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"Yes, though not too seriously. Kostmayer and I arrived a few minutes later, and you had them all at bay. He called the police, and I took care of you. Of course, that means that Kostmayer now knows about us, so this isn't a safe place for me to hide, any more, but I don't think he'll tell anyone. For one thing, he'd have a hard time getting anyone to believe it."
"Then they're fools, they are." She sighed. "Are ye upset then? Angry?"
"No. Not now. Not with you. Never with you. I was just very worried about you. I do want to teach you how to shoot better, however. And maybe post a target in the shop with a sign on it indicating your prowess. That might deter future troublemakers."
She giggled. "An' it might scare away some of me customers, then."
"Not real customers, love. Just those looking for trouble or an easy mark."
She looked up into his concerned countenance and smiled. "Perhaps ye can teach me ta eat with chopsticks at the same time then?"
He chuckled. "It's a deal."
Later that day, he took her down to the police station and, while she was reading and signing her statement, he requested a few minutes alone with the young punks.
"They're in interrogation, waiting for their lawyer, at the moment. I really shouldn't let anyone else talk to them."
"I promise I won't lay a finger on any of them. You can even watch, if you like, to make sure."
The lieutenant looked at him hard, then shrugged and led him down the hall to the interrogation room and let him in. He went into the observation room next door and watched the proceedings with great interest.
The six young toughs looked up at him as he entered. "You're not our lawyer," the leader brightly observed.
"No, I'm not." He took a new pack of playing cards from his pocket, slit it open with a thumbnail, and removed the deck. He was smiling in gentle amusement. "Simple pack of cards. New, see?" He showed them the cards, how they were all in suit order. He cut them, and shuffled them twice, then began to deal out four hands of cards in front of the boys. "Here's a little trick you might like," he softly murmured as he came to the fifth card for each of them, with a sudden, sharp flick of his wrist, the next four cards dealt flew across the old, battle-scarred wooden table and impaled the four cards beneath them, standing up proudly like four identical throwing knives. He was smiling as he set the rest of the pack down on the table, and leaned on it, towards the six startled young toughs. He looked each one in the eyes as he softly spoke, "Now, imagine what I could do with a real weapon." He straightened up and turned towards the door. "Oh, and each of those hands is a royal flush, by the way." He calmly walked out, and the nominal leader reached over and had to struggle to remove the card impaling the others, as it was firmly set in the tabletop, through the other four cards. He examined the card closely, but it was just a playing card, a ten of spades. Turning over the four pierced cards, he found the jack, queen, king, and ace. Then he checked the other three hands, and swallowed hard. The old guy was right. He looked at his friends and swallowed hard again.
The lieutenant watched the six punks as the demonstration concluded. He shook his head, grinning and thinking that had been a pretty good trick. When the lawyer arrived, he was surprised and pleased that the entire group opted to plead guilty. When he left the observation room, he looked around to thank the guy, but he'd rejoined the lady and they'd already gone.
Too bad. He'd have liked to learn that trick with the cards.
He left early on Fridays, in order to spend as much time with her as he could. Since Mickey didn't react to it, neither did Eriksen. He'd made a deal with Davan, to attend the six a.m. Mass with her in exchange for her modeling for Mischa later in the day. There was a certain advantage of going to the early Mass, in that there were few parishioners there at that hour. The priest frowned at him, but said nothing, simply going through the service as usual. As he greeted the attendees as they left, he looked Control over rather closely and wondered. "Won't you introduce us, Davan?"
"Oh, Father, he's just a friend, then."
The priest scowled at Control, wondering just what his relationship with Davan might be, and sniffed disdainfully. "Oh? Are you Catholic?"
"I was raised in the Catholic Church, yes."
"But you no longer believe?"
Control smiled. "Believe? I believe a very great many things, Father. I also disbelieve a great many things. My beliefs are personal, and not for sharing with most people."
"Not even in the confessional?" The priest sounded affronted.
"Especially not in the confessional."
"You sound like a heretic, Mr.?"
"I've learned that man cannot forgive my sins, Father. Only God Himself can do that. Perhaps I've ignored that fact too long. I'll have to consider it." He gently took Davan's hand and drew her away. "I'll let you know what He says, Father." With that, he turned and led his lady away from the pompous priest and walked her home.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, a ghra', but the man struck me wrong, somehow."
She sighed in relief. "He's very harsh in his judgment of others, I've noticed. I've seen more than one leave the confessional in tears."
"Well, maybe we need to find a different church to attend, then? How about St. Patrick's?"
She looked at him in surprise. "The big Cathedral? Oh, no. It's too far."
Control smiled. "I know a nice little church in Brooklyn."
She tilted her head at him. "Ye really don't like Father Thomas, then?"
"No." He shrugged, unable to explain his feeling. "He reminds me of someone who is very good at pointing fingers at others and hiding their own misdeeds."
Davan smiled and sighed. "I thought it was just me he didn't like."
"We'll find another church, then." He grinned. "I'll take you there next week, if you'd like?"
She smiled. "All right, then." If it took changing which church they attended to get him to go with her, she was more than willing.
They met Mischa uptown, at a very fancy hotel. He was thrilled that she'd agreed to come, and insisted on adjusting the dress to best effect, and did her makeup for her, as well. She was told to simply walk normally down the runway, turn around a couple of times, and if she wanted to twirl so that the skirt of her dress flared out, that would be wonderful. She wasn't to try and pretend to be a fashion model, only a beautiful woman who just happened to be pregnant, but still more than capable of dressing well and stylishly. She watched the other models, all of whom were professionals, though most were actresses, rather than models. She watched them, fascinated by the whole thing. When it was her turn, she turned, terrified, to Mischa, who shook his head, smiled, and pushed her towards the runway. Pausing in the opening, she spotted her lover at the far side of the room, drink in hand, and his entire focus on her. Without realizing it, her posture straightened, her chin came up, and she proudly strode down the runway, twirled so that the skirt of her dress belled out, paused, put a hand on a hip, and looked over her shoulder at him. There were gasps and murmurs throughout the room. Here was a truly beautiful woman - even pregnant, she was absolute perfection. Every buyer in the room looked down at their program and checked off the dress as a design to purchase.
When Davan left the runway, Mischa was there to greet her. "Lovely lady, you have made my show!" He kissed her on the cheek and then turned to his next model, leaving her to return to the dressing room to change back into her street clothes.
He was waiting for her when she came out of the dressing room, smiling broadly. Taking the bagged dress from her, he bent down to kiss her. "You looked magnificent, mo ghra'."
She blushed and smiled. "Thank ye, love." Taking his arm, they returned to her shop, to spend the rest of the day together.
Later that evening, as they were relaxing together after having read another of the books from the third floor, when she was nearly asleep, he asked, "Last week, when you called Kostmayer, you said you had something to tell me."
She stiffened in his arms. "I did, at that," she admitted hesitantly.
"And when you were talking about the punk with the knife, you said he threatened to cut the babies from your body."
"Yes." Her voice grew softer still, and she shivered slightly.
"Does that mean that there's more than one?"
He sighed. "Twins, or triplets? What exactly does it mean, a ghra'?" He tilted her chin up so she had to look at him. He could sense her disquiet, and wondered why?
"Twins, then?" She looked up into his eyes, searching, "Are ye upset, then, love?"
He smiled, relieved. "Why would I be upset? I love you and I'll love any child, or children, you have. I'm only concerned for your welfare, a ghra' mo anam." He looked deeply into her eyes and lost his smile. "You do know that I love you, don't you?" he asked uncertainly.
"Oh, love. Ye've not truly said it before, but I knew, I did." She smiled happily and kissed him. "So, two babies is not a bother to ye?"
"Well, maybe at two in the morning, but more than worth it."
She hugged him, hard. "Duit mo beatha," she whispered.
His heart almost stopped at her declaration. "More than my life is worth, you are," he replied.
She shook her head. "A fine pair we are, then."
He smiled and kissed her. "A fine pair, indeed."
"Kostmayer, is your brother still at St. Christina's?"
"Your brother, Nick? Is he still at St. Christina's?"
"Uh, I don't know." He shrugged. "I haven't talked to him in a few years. Why?"
Control frowned at him. "Find out for me, would you?"
Mickey scowled. "Why?"
Control leaned close to him and spoke very softly, "Because Father Thomas at St. Crispin's is rather harsh in his judgment of Davan."
"Oh. Uh, let me make a couple of calls, and I'll let you know?"
Actually, it had been closer to a decade since he'd last spoken to his brother, so he was rather surprised to find that Nick was now in Manhattan. Control accepted the information with a smile. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Thinking of going to Confession, Control?" The moment the words left his mouth, he knew that had been the wrong thing to say.
"Father Thomas at St. Crispin's is rather...judgmental, shall we say?"
"Offended your sensibilities, did he?"
Control smiled and relaxed back into his chair. "Well, he did ask if I was a heretic."
Mickey snorted a laugh. "What'd you tell him?"
"Nothing he wanted to hear, I can assure you. He seems rather...unforgiving."
"Yeah? Well, you know, Nick's not going to be any better."
Control looked at him until he began to squirm. "Come on, Control, you know how the church feels about kids born out of wedlock."
The older man sighed. "Or conceived out of it. Yes. I know. But Father Thomas is...." He shook his head. "I don't know. He reminds me of Jason, only a lot older."
Mickey shuddered. "That's a name I could have done without hearing. But I understand what you mean. Anyway, Nick's church isn't really very far at all from your place. Less than a mile, isn't it?"
"It's about the same distance as St. Crispin's, actually. Just in the opposite direction, is all."
"Well, tell him hello for me, will you?"
Control frowned. "You didn't speak to him?"
"No. I just called St. Christina's and asked for him, and they told me where he is, now, why?"
Control shook his head and stood up. "Take my advice and go see your brother, simply because he is your brother, hmmm?"
Mickey frowned. "Why?"
"Because he's about all the family you've got."
"He doesn't approve of what I do for a living."
"So? You don't approve of what he does, either. Just tell him that your career is just as much a calling as his is, just in a different direction."
Mickey blinked in surprise. "Hmmm. I'll think about it."
"Good. Meanwhile, I'm going home, now. I'll see you in the morning, and if you see Eriksen, tell her that I left the chart on the floppy in the middle of my desk, will you?"
"Sure, I'll tell her. Do you ever actually go to your place any more, except for more clothes?"
Control paused and grinned. "Do you mean do I ever sleep in my own bed? Yes."
"But you'd rather sleep in hers?"
The grin turned into a narrow-eyed scowl. "You're treading on very thin ice, there."
Mickey shook his head. "Man, you are so hooked." His expression suddenly went slack. "Wait a minute, is that why you want to talk to Nick? You're going to marry her?" His mouth hung open in amazement.
Control sighed. "Well, it would make certain things somewhat easier, don't you think?"
Mickey looked confused. "You're Catholic?"
"Is that so surprising?"
"Uhhhh, I don't know. Is it?"
Control grinned. "My father was first generation, and my mother immigrated from Ireland, so what do you think?"
"Don't look so surprised. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Uh, yeah. See you tomorrow." He stared at the closed door for several minutes afterwards, amazed to have been given the privilege of being allowed just that inch closer to Control. Irish. Huh. Who'd a thought?
"Thank you for seeing me, Father."
Nicholas Kostmayer smiled. Oddly enough, his older brother now looked younger than he did, but then, Mickey was the kind of man who didn't worry. Ever. "Is Mickey all right?"
"He's fine. I told him he should contact you." He shrugged. "Whether or not he'll listen is another question, entirely."
Nicholas sighed. "I don't think he approves of my calling."
"He doesn't think you approve of his."
Nick looked surprised. "What?"
Control shrugged. "He thinks you don't approve of him or his life. I told him that he should talk to you. We'll have to wait and see if he listens."
"Yes, we will. Meanwhile, what can I do for you?"
"A friend of mine is looking for another parish, as the one where she goes now's priest isn't, well, he seems just a bit austere."
"A stickler for propriety?" Nick asked cautiously.
"He's rather acerbic, from my observation."
Nick watched him closely, trying to read him, and realized that he couldn't. "Acerbic?"
"Judgmental and unforgiving?"
"Oh. May I ask what church?"
Nick smiled. "Father Thomas at St. Crispin's?"
His visitor smiled. "You know him, then?"
Nick shook his head. "No, but I've had a fair number of families transfer here for one reason or another. Is that why you're here? Your friend has offended Father Thomas for some reason?"
Unlike Nicholas, Control was easily able to read him. There was no judgment in him, only concern for him and whoever his 'friend' might be. He nodded. "She was unfortunate enough to get pregnant."
Nicholas blushed and looked away. "Oh, dear."
Control inclined his head and looked narrowly at the priest. "Is that a problem?"
Nicholas looked at him in surprise. "No. Not personally. Does your friend know who the father is?"
Control's expression became almost amused. "I am."
Nicholas blinked at him. His mouth opened for him to speak, and he changed his mind. He shifted in his chair, started to speak again, and again changed his mind. Finally, he took a deep breath and asked, "Have you any desire to marry her by any chance?" His expression was a combination of hope and doubt.
Control smiled. "If she's willing. I haven't asked her, yet."
Nick sighed with relief. "What about you? I mean, she's obviously Catholic, but the Catholic Church frowns on marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. Particularly if there are children involved." He sounded as embarrassed as he looked.
"I was raised Catholic, although I haven't been to a church before last week for nearly forty years."
Nick was shocked. "Why not?" Remembering that this was his brother's boss, he blushed. "I mean, if you'd care to tell me, that is?"
"I was rather angry with God at the time. The woman I had planned to marry was killed in a stupid street mugging. It's taken me this long to get over it." He shrugged, "Well, this much time and Davan."
Nick smiled. "Is that her name? Davan? She's Irish, then?"
"From Belfast, so you know how hard it's been for her."
Nick nodded. "I'd love to have you both attend here."
"Well, if you're kind to her, I don't see that being a problem."
"I'm afraid I'm still reserving judgment. It's been a very long time."
Nick smiled. "Well, I see my job here as bringing the lost sheep back into the fold."
Control smiled and nodded. "I'm looking forward to you trying - and maybe even succeeding." He stood and offered his hand, which Father Nick gladly accepted.
When his visitor had gone, Father Nick went into his quarters and began to pray for guidance. The opportunity to bring such a man back into God's fold was exciting, but he knew he had to tread warily, or he'd lose two souls.
"Yer early, love." Davan smiled happily when he walked into the shop.
"I found another church. It's just as close as St. Crispin's, and I think you might like the priest."
"Ye've talked to him, then?"
She frowned at him. "And what did ye say, then?"
"That we were dissatisfied with the priest where you had been attending. I didn't mention Father Thomas's name, but he knew who I was talking about. I think you'll like him."
"Is he yer friend, then?"
He smiled and gently took her into his arms. "I hardly know him. He's Mickey's brother, Nicholas."
She pulled away and looked up at him. "Are ye tellin' me that Mickey Kostmayer has a brother who's a priest?"
"Is that a problem?"
She simply stared at him, trying to comprehend the dichotomy. "Is he anythin' like his brother, then?"
"Well, he doesn't like it when people deliberately hurt those weaker than they are."
"All right." She wasn't sure, but she was more than willing to give it a try.
"...Therefore, judge not, lest ye be judged." Father Nicholas Kostmayer looked out over the congregation and was pleased to see several people looking concerned, and even more pleased to see people nodding. Best of all, there was a look of contentment on the face of his brother's boss, and the young woman beside him was smiling happily. Nick caught the older man's eyes, and smiled at his nod of approval. Not that he was looking for approval from this man, but that approval was the first step towards bringing him back into the fold. He prayed for the patience to wait until they were ready.
"He's very nice, then. He seems a kind man."
"Do you want to meet him?"
She bit her lower lip and shook her head. "Not today, then?"
Father Nick watched the couple leave. He could see that the woman was afraid of him, and it saddened him that Father Thomas had caused her to be afraid. He decided that he'd do whatever necessary to help them.
It took a few weeks, but Davan soon accepted Father Nick, as he preferred to be called, as her priest.
They'd gone for a picnic that Sunday afternoon. As they sat on the pier, watching the sailboats out on the water, Control's attention focused on his lady. He loved how she made him feel, or perhaps more accurately it would be let him feel. He shifted and put his arm around her, kissing her temple. She turned her smiling face to him. "What is it, love?"
"What would you think of having me underfoot all the time, mo chroi'?"
She snuggled closer to him. "What do ye mean, love?"
He rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. "Just what I said. Would you want me around all the time?"
"Yer thinkin' of quittin' yer job, then?"
"Well, retirement, maybe."
"I think ye should do what ye think best, love. Is that what ye want? Ta hang around the shop wi' me all day, then?"
"I'd like to be with you every moment of the rest of my life, to tell you the truth, a ghra', but I wouldn't want to annoy you by doing so."
"Love, my favorite moments are like now, wi' yer arm around me, and being close ta ye. But what would ye do all the day? Ye'd go mad wi' boredom, I'd think."
"Well, in a few more months there will be a couple of babies to take care of."
"I don't want ta bottle feed them, love."
"Then at those times, I guess I'll have to learn to run the shop, then, won't I?"
The concept was nearly overwhelming. She'd truly expected him to vanish from her life after their one night of passion, but he'd returned and they'd begun to develop a relationship. When she'd found out she was pregnant, she again expected him to disappear, particularly after the offer of money, but he hadn't meant it that way. He'd stayed and they had developed what seemed to be a firm and strong, loving relationship. Now, he was offering to give up his career to be with her, not because of any other reason than he wanted to. She felt like crying. "What are ye wanting, then, love?"
"Do you want to know what I'd really like?"
"Yes. More than a'most anythin', love."
He brought his face close to hers and whispered into her ear. "More than anything, I'd like to spend the rest of my life with you, and our children. For however many more days, months, or years I might have. I want to be a father to my children, and a husband to you."
Her heart nearly stopped. She shivered at what she thought she'd heard. "What are ye askin', then?"
"I'm asking you to marry me, Davan. To be my wife. To allow me to be your husband and truly the father to our children." She was silent for the longest time, to the point where he was beginning to feel a bit foolish. Maybe she didn't want him as her husband? What if...
"Ye want ta marry me?"
"Yes. Very much."
"In the church?"
"Yes. Though I still have some doubts about that, I do believe it's better to raise children in a church than out of one." He wanted to squeeze her and shake an answer out of her, but he simply sat there, his arms still loosely around her, his cheek still pressed to the top of her head, waiting beyond his patience for her answer.
She sighed, and her eyes closed as she pressed herself more tightly against him. "I'd love ta be yer wife, then, love. And ta have ye 'underfoot' as ye put it every minute of every day for the rest of our lives."
"Thank God," he whispered softly, hugging her tightly.
Father Nick was thrilled, but there were certain things, first. "Um, I'm not sure what you think about it, but I'm a firm believer in pre-marital counseling. There are a lot of things to consider before you take this step."
"I understand, Father. We're more than willing to jump through whatever hoops you think we need to, although I would like to have the wedding before the children are due, if at all possible?"
Knowing the Church's official stand on that subject, Father Nick nodded his agreement. "I understand. Normally, we like to give the couple several months of counseling, prior to the wedding, but I agree that in this case, we can accelerate the process. I'd like to speak to each of you individually, first, and then together, later." He looked at Control, a bit uncomfortable over what he was about to say. "Uh, generally, part of the process includes confession." He swallowed hard and glanced away. "I understand why you might not wish to...."
"That's all right, Father. I'm willing."
Nick looked at the older man in surprise. Then he noticed how tightly he was holding his lady's hand and smiled. "Bless you, my son."
"Father, I've not been to confession in some months, myself. Would ye hear mine?"
"Gladly, my daughter. Any time you like."
She glanced shyly at her lover, who smiled back.
They made appointments for the counseling, and decided to do it in conjunction with their confessions.
When they'd gone, Nicholas smiled and prayed a very long time, first giving thanks for the return of the lost, and then for wisdom, patience, understanding, and forgiveness for the ordeal he saw coming. Somehow, he didn't quite believe that his brother's supervisor would be an easy confession to hear. He wished Michael would call him. He could use some insight into the man whose confession he would soon hear. Barring that particular miracle, he went back to praying for guidance.
It took a very long time to confess the last forty years of his life. Father Nick listened with mounting dismay and occasional horror. The man had so much misplaced guilt. He listened to the iteration of the past forty years and the things done because of his job, and he wanted to cry for this man. Even when he had killed, though it was sometimes in anger, there had never been any pleasure in it. Tentatively, he asked if the petitioner ever had nightmares from the things he'd done. He was appalled to learn that until meeting Davan, the man hadn't slept through the night, or even for longer than two or three hours at a time, in more than thirty years. He could name every name and describe the face of every single person he'd ever killed, of those who had worked for him who had been killed in the line of duty, and most of the loved ones they'd left behind. Nicholas was horrified. Despite it all, he sensed that this was a gentle and honorable man; and it made him wonder about his brother, whom he'd spoken so harshly to about what he did for a living. He gained a great deal of insight over the six hours in the confessional. And more than anything, he wanted to grant absolution and give comfort to this man.
"For your penance, say one hundred Hail Marys."
There was a stunned silence. "That's all?"
"Fifty Our Fathers. And speak the Rosary ten times."
The penitent's shock brought a smile to Father Nick's face. "Do you regret your actions?"
"Honestly? No." There was a moment of stunned silence before he continued. "What I regret is the need for my actions."
Father Nick began breathing again. "And there was need, was there not? If not every time, at least most of them?"
"I can think of a few times when there might have been another way, but took the simplest way out, yes."
"Then the penance stands. Go my son, and sin no more." He concluded with the standard words of absolution, and sat quietly in the confessional for a long time after the older man had gone. It took a very long time for his tears to stop, as he wept and grieved for the lost soul who had stayed away so long because he felt unworthy of God's love and forgiveness.
He murmured softly as he drove back to his apartment. "Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen...." Good thing he'd stopped off at the little shop the church ran to purchase a rosary before he'd gone in.
Once in his apartment, he opened the drapes and the window in the living room. Taking off his coat and tie, he sat on a straight-backed wooden chair and continued to say his penance. He got into the rhythm of the words and with his eyes closed, found himself almost transcended by the words and the surprising comfort they brought him. He said a few extra, just because. Then he fell silent and after a few minutes, opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He stretched for a moment and began again. "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen." He repeated the prayer fifty times and stood up to stretch before again sitting down. Now, if he could only remember the Rosary....
Just over two hours later, he finished; amazed that he actually remembered it after so many years. To his surprise, as well, he felt relieved, as though his decades of sins had been forgiven him, in truth. With a sardonic twist to his lips, he looked up and softly spoke. "Thank God."
Exhausted, he dragged himself to his bed and for the first time in far longer than he could remember, he slept well and long, and awoke refreshed, and without the benefit of drugs, alcohol, or Davan.
She knew he was going to confession, and she worried about him and wondered if he'd come home to her. When he didn't, she prayed for his safety and well-being and then went to bed, where she curled up around his pillow and dreamed of him.
He awoke relaxed and refreshed. Looking at his bedside clock, he was shocked to realize he'd slept uninterrupted for a solid twelve hours. If he hurried just a bit, he'd be able to join Davan at her usual six a.m. Mass.
She was just locking the door behind her when he arrived. She heard his footsteps and turned, startled. "Are you all right, love?"
"I'm fine. I'm afraid I fell asleep and just woke up. I fully planned on coming back after seeing Father Nick." He looked at her closely and wondered how she was doing.
"Are ye all right, then?"
He smiled. "I slept as well as if I was in your arms, but much prefer waking up with you."
She smiled with relief. "I missed you, love."
He wrapped his arms around her. "I missed you, too. Soon, though, there won't be any reason not to wake up with one another ever again."
"I'll like that a great deal, I will, love." She returned his embrace and lifted her face up for a kiss. After, she stepped back and looked up at him, smiling. "Come wi' me ta Mass, then, love?"
Father Nicholas was pleased to see them at Mass. He noticed that the man's shoulders weren't quite as square as before, and realized that the stress of the emotional baggage he'd carried for so very long had lifted. He was truly happy to see them both. Now, if her confession and the counseling went as well....
"The problem, Father, is that I truly do not regret wha's happened, then. Even though it was fear and desperation on my part that asked him ta stay wi' me, it's brought me more happiness than I could ever imagine."
Father Nick was trying to understand. "If you had it to do again, you would?"
"Had I know wha' would have come of it, I'd ha done it sooner, I fear, Father."
He sighed, frustrated. She was right. The circumstances had been right this one and only time for this couple. Had she not been afraid, she wouldn't have asked him to help her close her shop. If he hadn't been so lonely, he'd not have agreed to a cup of coffee, and if she hadn't judged him as she had, she wouldn't have shown him her library of valuable books, and if he hadn't been the man he was, he wouldn't have understood her need/desire to read them all. And if he hadn't understood, she would never have asked him to share her bed. It was one miracle after another, and he could only believe that God, Himself, had caused it all.
"Five Hail Marys and two Our Fathers."
"Thank ye, Father." She left, knowing full well she'd gotten off far too lightly. But then, Father Thomas would have castigated her roundly, berating her and calling her evil, as she'd heard him tell other penitents. No wonder she recognized so many here. They'd all come to escape Father Thomas. It made her wonder, though. Which Priest was the truer man of God? She prayed that it was Father Nick, who seemed to genuinely care about his flock. She found herself looking forward to the counseling sessions.
It had been a very hard week of counseling. Control had had three, and Davan had one, followed by three more with both of them together. The only thing that eased Control's peace of mind was the knowledge that anything he said here was in confidence and would never be shared with another living soul. That reassurance was something he desperately needed. At the end of the sessions, Father Nick was more than happy to set the date and time for their wedding, though he was rather surprised and a little saddened to discover that neither had any family or friends to join them, though Control did mention he had a couple of friends to invite to act as the legally required witnesses.
That Sunday night, as they sat watching the sunset from her living room, he softly asked, "Would you go out to dinner with me on Tuesday? There's someone I'd like you to meet."
She smiled and snuggled against him. "I'd love ta go anywhere a'tall wi' ye, as ye well know. Ha' ye told me about yer friend, then?"
"No. Robert's retired and runs around saving people."
He chuckled. "Well, Mickey does a lot of work with Robert. He's probably my oldest friend, and one of the very few people whom I trust."
"High praise, indeed, then. I'd love ta meet him, then."
He kissed her, lightly. "Good. I'll make the arrangements, then."
He made the call a bit later. "O'Phelan's."
"Hello, Pete. Is Robert about?"
"Well, hello there, stranger. I haven't seen you in months. What have you been up to?"
"Still about six feet, though I think I may well be shrinking. How're you doing, Pete?"
"Business is good. Your suggestion of taking interns from the Culinary Institute was a great idea. I've just hired a new pastry chef, though the latest group doesn't look nearly as promising. Robert's not in yet, this evening. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Is there any chance of dinner on Tuesday?"
They both knew that the restaurant was normally closed on Tuesdays, so if he was asking for dinner on that night, it had to be important. She frowned worriedly, then thought and nodded to herself. "Sure. What's the occasion?"
"I've a couple of things I'd like to talk over with Robert, and you're more than welcome to join us."
"I'd love to. What would you like for the menu?"
Control paused, gazing over at Davan, who had fallen asleep on the settee while watching television. He smiled, and softly spoke, "Something special. Surprise us. And I'll have a guest with me."
A guest? Control wanted to talk to Robert about 'a couple of things' and was bringing a guest? And she was welcome to join them? "What time?"
"I'll take care of everything."
"Thanks, Pete, you're the best."
Pete sat with the phone to her ear long after he hung up, until the annoying buzz of the 'phone is off the hook' blasted her back to the present. Control was bringing a guest, to talk over a couple of things with Robert. The only guest she could imagine would be a woman; and she could hardly wait to see if she was right, and if she was, just what kind of woman it took to capture the heart of the most heartless man she knew. Although, come to think of it, he had been the one to introduce her to her late husband, and who had been very upset when they'd been forced to quit due to company policy - which he'd tried to fight for them, but failed.
When her partner came in a short time later, she grinned at him. "Control called."
"Oh? Is anything wrong?" He hadn't seen his friend in months, not since the day after the blackout, the previous August.
"I don't think so. He's coming here for dinner on Tuesday."
"Oh? Must be important, then. Did he give any indication as to what it was about?"
She shook her head. "Only that he had a couple of things to talk over with you, and that he was bringing a guest."
"Odd. Mickey hasn't indicated that there's anything wrong, so hopefully, it's not too serious." He smiled. "Well, then, what are we going to do, since the staff has Tuesdays off?"
She grinned. "I think our CI interns need a little test. I'll ask each of them to devise a menu and present it to me, then I'll choose the chef du jour from that and the rest can take care of everything else."
"Brilliant idea." He grinned at her and sat down and discussed the business end of their partnership, as they did at least once a month.
"I don't know why she picked her over any of us. Maybe it's a pity job." Derek sniffed disdainfully. He was a chef, not a busboy. For some reason, he thought playing maitre' d beneath him.
"Who cares? I just wish we'd get some customers. It's hard enough to waitress when it's busy, but it's worse when it's quiet," Heather whined.
"Well, I'm just glad that I'm not Ann's sous chef, tonight. Can you imagine having to take orders from her?" Courtney sniffed and quickly straightened up as the boss lady and her 'partner' walked by, heading for the office. They all smiled at one another, but as soon as the older couple had vanished behind the door, the three were again slumped down and leaning against the nearest piece of furniture.
A few moments later, the front door opened and a couple stepped in. Courtney stalked over and took their coats, staring in astonishment at the obviously pregnant woman. She haphazardly hung up their coats and watched as Derek showed them to a table and then Heather sauntered over to get their drink order. To her disgust, neither of them wanted anything.
"Are Robert or Pete around?" The man asked.
"Yeah, they're in the office." Heather turned away without waiting to see if there was anything else the couple wanted. She returned to where Derek was standing and staring at them. "Man, what an old goat. She's got to be young enough to be his daughter."
"She's probably just a gold digger, Heather. Wonder if the little bastard's even his." The two snickered as Courtney approached.
"Expensive stuff, that's for sure." She snapped her gum and leaned against the wall. "What do you think she sees in him?"
"Money," the other two chorused, then burst into laughter.
Control was shocked. He knew the staff this evening was students, but didn't they have any idea what running a restaurant was all about? He could see Davan looking uncomfortable.
"And did you catch that accent of hers? Oh, puhleeze! Who is she trying to kid, anyway?"
"What was that, anyway? I'd be too embarrassed to go out looking like that. What a slut."
Control stiffened, enraged. He could see the tears glistening in Davan's eyes. "Do you want to go home, a ghra' mo chroi'?"
"Yes, please," she softly replied. She looked up at him, mortified that she should be the cause of such horrible embarrassment for him, but she saw only his concern for her and realized that he had never, even once, looked at her with less than respect, and after the first few days of their relationship, with love. "I didn't think I'd be finding that, here, love. I'm sorry, but yes, please take me home, then?"
He stood and took her hand as she stood. He paused by the three 'hosts' on their way out. "Tell Robert that I'll call him later." They even had to get their own coats.
The door had hardly closed behind the couple before the three were laughing together over the 'horny old goat and his slut.' Unfortunately, they neither saw nor heard the office door open and the owners come out in time to hear their comments and rude laughter. Robert glanced around the restaurant and stiffened.
"Oh, dear Lord."
"They can't have gotten far, Robert. Try and stop them while I have a word with the staff." She pushed him towards the door, which he sprinted for past the three surprised workers.
"What's his hurry, do you suppose?"
"He's trying to intercept his friend to apologize." Pete O'Phelan's voice could have frozen mercury.
"What for?" Derek asked, turning and grinning at her.
"What do you think a restaurant does?"
The three frowned in confusion. "Makes food."
"Serves people," Pete corrected. "What did you say to my guests?"
"They were just an old man and his knocked up chick, Pete," Derek made the mistake of thinking he was on equal footing with the owner of the establishment.
"That's Mrs. O'Phelan, to you, Derek. And Courtney? I'd be very careful indeed about who I called a slut." She was furious. She'd have some very serious words to say to the administrators at the Culinary Institute about the kind of people they sent out to intern. "I'm a little...." There was a crash from the kitchen, and the young woman who had been tasked to prepare the meal for their guests came storming out.
"Sara just told me the guests left? Why?"
"Oh, calm down, Ann. Don't worry about it. It was just some old goat and his... girlfriend." He smirked at Pete.
Ann was almost in tears, she was so enraged. "You chased them off? You chased my customers off?"
"Oh, who cares? Probably just as well they didn't have to eat your slop."
Ann was shaking in fury. "You were rude to my guests. You were so rude that they left. You didn't get chosen to be the chef, so you'd do anything at all to ruin it, wouldn't you. Well, I'm glad I don't have a lot of money like you three. I'm glad my parents aren't as rich as Midas and give me anything I want. I'm sorry my retraining is being paid for by the state, but you had no right to be rude to my guests. I bet you wouldn't have done that at home, or would you? When your dad's boss comes to dinner, are you such an arrogant little bastard that you make rude comments to him?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Ann. This is hardly the same thing," Heather began to defend them, but Pete interrupted.
"Ann's right. The three of you had no business treating our guests in any manner other than with respect. I'll be calling the institute first thing in the morning and complaining that you ran off two very important guests."
"You didn't tell us they were important!" Courtney gasped, appalled.
Pete turned to her. "I shouldn't have had to. You know perfectly well the restaurant is normally closed on Tuesdays, yet we are open tonight, for a private party, and very important guests. The gentleman just happens to be a very dear and important friend."
"Then why did you let her cook?" Derek demanded.
"I told you each to prepare a menu for special guests. I gave you thirty minutes to come up with one. You all scattered to the wind to work on them. All but Ann. Ann asked if she could ask me a question, to which I said yes. She then asked if the guests were carns or vegs. I asked what she meant, and she explained that to make a menu, she needed to know if they were carnivores or vegetarians." She smiled at the still distraught young woman, and then continued. "I told her that at least one of them liked meat. Then she asked me how he preferred it. I told her that he likes rare, but that I didn't know about the other guest. She then asked how Robert and I like our beef. I told her. She was the only one to ask what the guests would like, not what could she do to show off for herself. Not one of the rest of you thought of the guests and their tastes. Only what would show you off. But what you didn't understand was that you can cook the most magnificent meal on earth, but if it's not something the guest likes, you've wasted your time and theirs. I chose Ann because she was the only one to take the guests into consideration."
There was an embarrassed silence broken by a soft sniffle from Ann.
"Imagine my horror to come out and hear you laughing and calling my guests names. I am not at all pleased." She looked up as the door opened and Robert came back in...alone.
He stopped but didn't turn around. "Not now, Robert. I'm too peevish to talk to you at the moment."
"My apologies. I don't know what they said to you, but I do sincerely apologize."
"They upset the lady, Robert. I'm taking her home, now." He and the woman in the heavy coat began to walk to the curb, where Control's car sat.
Control bent down to speak softly to the woman, who nodded and continued over to the car to wait for him. He turned back to his friend and glared. He took two steps closer and began in a low, intense voice. "I don't give a damn what they say about me, but the lady didn't deserve to have to listen to them. She was upset because she thought she was causing me embarrassment, Robert. If I had stayed, I'd have been sorely tempted to do something that would have upset her even more. Now, I'm taking her home. I will call and talk to you later, after I've gotten her calmed down and I am not so angry." He turned away again.
"But what did they say?"
He sighed and turned back again. "They made fun of her accent, Robert."
McCall frowned, not understanding. "I don't understand."
"She's from Belfast, Robert. And she's Catholic. She naturally took their rudeness in that light. Think about it."
"Oh, dear Lord." He watched as his oldest friend stalked to his car, unlocked the door, and gently handed the lady in. There was a flash of something odd, but he didn't quite catch it, and then the door was closed and he watched the catlike grace of Control as he circled around the car and got in, started the motor and drove away.
Furious, he turned back and re-entered the restaurant.
"Robert? Where are they?"
"He's taken the lady home." He was staring at the interns and was nearly shaking with fury. "I need to speak with Mrs. O'Phelan. I shall deal with you lot shortly. Go into the kitchen. Now!" The five scurried away. He waited until the swinging door had closed before he turned to his partner. "Did you know about her?"
"No. He just said he'd be bringing a guest, was all."
He closed his eyes. "She wouldn't even turn and look at me." There was a wounded plaintiveness in his voice. "She was too embarrassed, and my bloody accent no doubt didn't help."
Pete frowned, "Why?"
He turned stricken eyes on her. "She's a Catholic from Belfast, and those little prigs were making fun of her."
"Son of a bitch."
Derek, Courtney, and Heather were giggling and carrying on about the pregnant woman's accent. "She just talked funny. And did you hear what he called her?"
"Ah-something, wasn't it?"
"Agra McRory. What the hell kind of name is that, I ask you? I wonder if Agra stands for agriculture or aggravating?"
"Agriculture, cause somebody sure plowed her field." Derek's snide laughter filled the room.
"A ghra' mo chroi'?" Pete's voice came softly from right behind them. Ann and Sally were over by the stove. Sally was trying to comfort the distraught Ann.
"Yeah, that's it." Derek grinned, thinking all was forgiven.
Pete turned very pale. "Get out. Get out right this moment, and do not ever come back." Her voice was soft, but there was such rage and fury behind it, that the three young people stepped back from her. "You heard me, get out, right this minute, or I won't be responsible. MOVE!" The three ran, suddenly fearful. Shaking she turned tear-filled eyes to Robert, who looked confused.
"A ghra' mo chroi'," she whispered as the tears broke free and trickled down her cheeks. She stared at him with blurred vision.
"Isn't that what Mark called you?"
He took her into his arms and held her gently as she sobbed. "It's Irish, isn't it?"
"What does it mean?"
"Love of my heart."
Robert's arms tightened and his eyes widened with shock. Control had called the woman who was with him 'love of my heart' in Gaelic? "Bloody hell."
They had both lost their appetites. All he wanted was to get her home and hold her and tell her how much he loved her and that he'd have been more than willing to commit mayhem on the three young people at the restaurant. Once they were safely in her apartment, he took her in his arms and held her, and told her again and again just how much he loved her and the rest of the world could just go hang itself. After a while, she pulled away and wiped the tears from her face. Looking up at him, she could only smile. She took a deep breath, "I'm sorry, love," she whispered.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Davan. If anyone should be apologizing, it's those three little brats at O'Phelan's." He sighed. "I'm afraid I didn't give Robert much of a chance to explain, although I do realize those had to be the current batch of interns, working for them."
Davan frowned. "Interns? Like doctors, then?"
He chuckled. "They're studying to become chefs and restaurateurs. I rather suspect that the three samples we saw tonight won't get any farther. I doubt they could get a job flipping burgers." He looked closely at her. "Are you all right, then, a ghra'?"
She sighed. "Your friend Robert seemed very upset."
"Yes, I'm sure he is." He sighed. "Well, I did promise to call him."
"Go on, then. Mayhap we can try again one day."
"Davan, I want him to stand up for me at our wedding. I kind of think we need to try again very soon. Maybe on the weekend, then?"
She smiled shyly. "When they're normally open and we don't have ta deal with the children, then?"
He grinned. "Done."
Robert followed the three vastly annoyed former interns, making sure they left, and locked the doors behind them. Returning, he followed the voices to the kitchen, where the last two of the CI students stood. The chef du jour was staring sadly at the meal she'd slaved over. He took a look at it, and thought it looked very good. Understanding that the girl was more than a little upset, he commented. "It looks absolutely wonderful, Ann."
She looked up at him, tears still streaming down her face. "You don't understand. They can afford to flunk out. I can't. I'm there because the welfare department is paying for me to go, so I can get a job and get off of welfare. I've got two kids, Mr. McCall. It's not fair that they put me with those three. They've been giving me a hard time from the first day." She sniffed and turned away. She took a deep breath and turned back. "And the worst thing? They hurt my guests' feelings. What are they going to school for? You don't call your customers names. You don't embarrass them. You don't hurt their feelings."
Pete was staring at the obviously upset young woman. She wasn't any older than the three that had just been put out, but she had exactly the right attitude. She glanced over at Sally. "What do you think, Sally?"
"I think the trifling trio are just thinking that they can be the next Emeril." She shook her head. "Mrs. O'Phelan, I'm at CI so I can go to work for my dad. He said that you've got to have some smarts to run a restaurant. Those three don't have enough sense to come in out of a hurricane." She sounded almost as annoyed as Ann did. "What you said. About Ann asking what the customers would like." She shook her head. "I never thought to ask." She smiled at the older girl. "You're right. She definitely deserved the job, tonight. And every other night, I think." She shook her head. "Of us all, she's really got the best grasp of what it's all about. She actually thinks of them as her guests." She smiled. "I think I want to be like her."
Pete smiled. "Good choice. Meanwhile, would you care to join us for dinner? There's no sense in letting that beautiful meal go to waste."
Ann smiled. "Thanks." She served them herself, to praise from all.
"Tell me, Ann. You mentioned that you're on scholarship to CI?" Robert asked, softly.
She sighed. "Sort of. My boyfriend, well, my ex-boyfriend, was beating on me a lot. Until one day when the cops came and caught him, because a neighbor called them. When they searched him, he had six ounces of crack on him, so instead of getting busted for assault, they added the drug charges. He's in prison, now, and me and my two kids were on welfare. So now I'm trying to pull it all together for my kids."
"How old are your children, Ann?"
"Four and two. I'm lucky, since my grandmother's willing to watch them when I'm at school. With any luck, I'll get through the training program and maybe get a job, somewhere." She smiled at them, rather sadly. "I'm not expecting to ever work anywhere as nice as this, but a real job and enough to take care of my kids. That's all I want."
"Ann," Pete began softly. "You have one thing that none of the other interns who have come here have. You care about the customers. You refer to them as 'yours'. 'Your' guests, 'your' customers. I bet you would be wonderful in any restaurant you worked in." She exchanged a glance with Robert, who smiled and nodded almost infinitesimally.
"When our friends return, I want you to cook for them."
Ann lifted her head and stared. "Really?"
Sally grinned at her friend. "And I'll be your sous chef." She looked at Pete. "I mean, if that's okay with you, Mrs. O'Phelan?"
Pete smiled and nodded. "I think it's a great idea. The two of you make a pretty good team."
Ann grinned broadly. "Thanks, Mrs. O'Phelan. I'll make you the best dinner you've ever had."
"I believe you just might, at that." Pete looked at her partner and cocked her head.
"Well, ladies, I'm afraid I need to get going. I'll call you when I find out what's going on with him."
"All right, Robert. Let me know, would you?"
"Of course." He nodded to the others and left.
"Darn. I should have made those three stay and clean the kitchen." Pete grinned as she looked at the pile of dishes waiting to be washed.
"Come on, Control. Answer the bloody phone." He slammed the phone down and scowled. He'd tried Control's cell, first, and found it turned off. Calling the office and apartment got him voice mail and no answer, respectively. He was starting to worry. A thought occurred to him, and he dialed another number.
"Mickey, where can I find Control?"
"I thought he was going there for dinner?"
"He was, he did, and the interns working the front were rude to them to the point that they left. Do you have any idea where I can reach him?"
Kostmayer groaned silently. "Do you need help hiding the bodies?"
"Mickey, this is not funny."
"I'm not cracking wise, McCall. I would not want to see him if he'd heard somebody making fun of Davan. You know how he can be."
"Davan? Is that her name?"
Mickey sighed. Open mouth, insert foot. Although, since Control had taken her there for dinner... or at least that had been the intent. "Yeah." He didn't offer further information.
"Mickey, what the devil is going on?"
"Yeah. Smitten. Head over heels, loopy, lost, crazy. You know. In love."
Control? In love? He recalled his friend telling him once that he'd wished he had Robert's courage to try having a family and a normal life outside the company. "When did this happen?" he asked plaintively.
"Uh, last August?"
"August?" He frowned. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Control at all since then. August. That was when the blackout was, during the heat wave. Control had mentioned having a light supper and early night.... "During the blackout?"
"Uh, yeah." Mickey really did not want to be having this conversation. It wasn't his place to tell McCall this information. Then again, Control had been planning on telling him. Still. "Look, let me make a call and I'll call you right back. You at home?"
"Yes." Control had been involved with this woman for six months and he'd never heard a single word on it? Good Lord, what must she have thought when he went to the Middle East? "Tell him I'm sorry and that measures have been taken."
"So, I will need to help you hide the bodies?"
Robert couldn't help but smile at the hopeful tone in his friend's voice. "No. I think we'll have to do something far more devastating to them than that."
"Cool. Give me a few." Mickey turned off his cell and sighed. Shaking his head, he reopened his cell and hit the newest programmed number. A number he knew only he possessed, at this particular time.
"Hey, Davan. He there?"
"What is it, Kostmayer?"
Mickey winced. He definitely didn't like that tone of voice. "Uh, McCall asked me to have you call him. He tried you at home and your cell's off. He, uh, told me what happened." Realizing that might not have been the thing to say, he quickly added, "No details, only that they were rude to your lady. I, uh, asked if you needed me to help hide the bodies, but he said you didn't do anything to them."
Leave it to Mickey to defuse his fury. He smiled and relaxed, pulling Davan closer to him. "No. It would only have caused more distress at that point. I told Robert I'd call him, and I will."
"He's pretty worried. He said he had some ideas of what to do to them. So, if you need me, I'm there."
"Thank you, but I think I have some ideas of my own. Ones that won't call for any bloodshed."
Control laughed and when Davan lifted her head to look at him, he kissed her. "Where is Robert, now?"
"All right. I'll call him, then. How much did you tell him?"
"Uh, that her name is Davan, that you're smitten with her, and that you've been involved since August."
It was enough. "All right. I'll call him. Oh, and Mickey?"
He couldn't help the grin as he replied, "Any time, boss." Disconnecting, he sat back and kept on grinning. Boy, was McCall in for a surprise.
"Stop fuming, Robert. I told you I'd call."
He sighed in relief. "I'm sorry about earlier. I make no excuses for their behavior, as it was inexcusable and unconscionable."
"Robert, stop apologizing."
McCall heard 'that' tone of voice and switched gears. "We'd like to try again. Would Saturday work for you?"
Control sighed and covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Saturday, mo chroi'?" She was comfortably snuggled against him and simply nodded and he realized she was falling asleep. Smiling, he spoke into the phone. "All right. Seven-thirty?"
"That would be perfect. I assure you that there won't be any further problems."
He smirked. "If you give me their names, I'll make sure of it."
McCall became cautious. He'd seen this man in a rage, before, and was fully aware of what he was capable of. "Oh?"
He stretched languidly and his left hand, which had Davan cradled against him, slid down her arm. "I'm not going to do anything physical, Robert. There are better ways to deal with misguided children of privilege."
Robert smiled in relief. "By taking away all privileges? Do you think you can do that?"
"I can if I know who to target. You know how often such people cheat on their taxes?"
McCall shook his head, grinning. He was right. An IRS audit was a nightmare, even if you didn't cheat on your taxes, and the wealthy had a great deal more to account for than most people. "You are a dangerous man, Control."
"I can be. We'll see you Saturday."
"So you will be bringing your friend?"
"She's far more than a friend, old son. She's agreed to become my wife." He disconnected, unaware of the shock and consternation he left at the other end of the line.
"You look beautiful, Davan." He sighed in dismay. She was fine when in her shop, or alone with him, even going to Mass, but she was afraid in public. She'd always been unsure, but those three little brats on Tuesday had her doubting herself far more than he could bear. "You know, we could always cancel and invite them to dinner at my apartment."
She blushed and giggled nervously. "I've never been ta yer apartment, love."
His smile was seductive. "Would you like to?" he softly purred.
She looked up at him and saw the desire and love he felt for her and could only smile. The realization that she could still arouse him, even grossly pregnant with twins, helped bolster her flagging self-esteem. "Oh, love. Let's go, then." She took a deep breath and slid her hand into the crook of his arm.
There was a cab waiting. He helped her into the rear seat and climbed in beside her. He gave the address to the driver, and they were quickly on their way.
"Robert, stop being such a nervous Nellie," Mickey Kostmayer advised his friend.
"Easy for you to say. You've known about this for months and could have seen it coming."
"Not hardly, McCall. I didn't know a thing about it until February."
McCall frowned. "What?"
Mickey shrugged. "I got him back from the Middle East in January and took him to the hospital, where they patched him up. While they were doing that, I called in and reported that I'd got him back, and where he was. The hospital kicked me out, 'cause I'm not family, and they were dumb enough not to keep an eye on him. He walked out. Nobody could find him. I checked his place, all the safe houses I know, and was reduced to searching the streets in his neighborhood. I got lucky and remembered something I'd seen on his desk, once, and went into this shop. Davan was there, and I asked if she knew him. She's good, McCall. Didn't give anything away, like the fact he was asleep upstairs. I asked her to have him call me if she saw him, and left. She did, and he called." He shrugged again. "It wasn't until a month ago I found out."
Mickey chuckled. "So, how much did he tell you about her?"
"Not a thing."
Mickey was a little surprised, but could understand Control's reticence. He just hoped that Robert managed to control his shock when he saw Davan for the first time. Maybe he should warn him? He looked up and realized it was too late.
McCall stared. Control was understandably solicitous of the woman with him, but he was absolutely shocked when he got his first good look at her. Good Lord, she wasn't much older than his son! He turned to speak to Mickey, but Kostmayer had beat a quick retreat, damn him! Taking a deep, hopefully calming breath, he turned to his oldest friend and his guest. Good Lord, the girl was pregnant, as well! Bloody hell!
"Control." His smile was a bit weak, but no one had seen fit to prepare him for the shock.
"Davan, this is my friend, Robert McCall. Robert, this is Davan O'Meara, originally from Belfast.
"How d'ye do?" she asked tentatively. She remembered he was English, by his accent, and wasn't confident of her welcome.
She needn't have worried. McCall was ever the gentleman when it came to frightened women and children, and he was somewhat surprised to realize that she was afraid of him. What on earth had Control told her about him? "My dear lady, it's my great pleasure to finally meet you." He smiled and accepted her extended hand, bowing over it and kissing her fingers, much to Control's secret amusement.
Davan looked up at her betrothed like a frightened rabbit cornered by a fox. He smiled. He glanced around, taking in everything, and turned his attention back to her. Placing a gentle hand in the small of her back and shifting his weight towards her, he looked at McCall. "Robert, stop terrorizing my fiancee, if you please? She's nervous enough without you making it worse."
Robert immediately withdrew, a stricken expression on his face. "My apologies, Ms. O'Meara. I meant no offense."
His formality only made her discomfort worse. She looked up at Control for help. "Love?"
That single, soft, plaintive plea was like a slap in the face for McCall. He frowned at Control. "I think we need to talk, my friend." There was an ominous tone in his voice. "Why don't we get you settled in the lounge, Ms. O'Meara, and then I need have a few words with your escort?" His voice was honey over iron. Control calmly followed him to his favorite spot by the fireplace. Davan looked around, fascinated by the rich but understated decor. Control placed her in his favorite chair, crouched beside her and whispered softly. She smiled adoringly at him and nodded. Gently touching her cheek with his fingers, he rose and turned to follow Robert to the office.
As soon as he closed the door, he spun on his friend and hissed, "Would you mind telling me what the bloody hell is going on? That...that child is terrified of me! What have you said to her?"
Control leaned his hip against the desk and folded his arms across his chest, waiting for McCall to run out of steam. When the silence had lasted a few seconds, he straightened up and brought his arms down. "I told her I'd like her to meet my oldest and dearest friend." His voice was low and intense. "I arranged a private dinner, because she's a little sensitive about going out in public, lately. She's starting to really feel the strain of the pregnancy, and she isn't sure that she's still attractive. Damn it, Robert. She was looking forward to meeting my friends. As you can imagine, I haven't exactly displayed our relationship in public. She met Kostmayer because he was looking for me, and he happened to be on hand when some punks tried to shake her down for protection money. She's possibly the bravest woman I've ever met." He shook his head, lowering it until his chin nearly touched his chest, then he peered up at his friend without lifting his head.
"She loves me, Robert. Me. She doesn't care what I've done, or what work I do. She doesn't ask questions, and she makes no demands. She's a warm, safe haven for me, and I love her with every atom in my being. If she asked, I'd resign tomorrow and follow her anywhere she wanted to go, do anything she wanted me to do. My God, Robert, she even managed to get me to go to Mass, and for the first time in decades, I've been to confession!"
McCall was in a state of shock. He'd been friends and colleagues with this man for thirty-five years or more, and had never seen him anything like this. Good Lord, there were tears in his eyes! "Why is she so afraid of me, then?"
"Hell, Robert. She's from Belfast. She heard those little bastards calling her a gold digger and slut." He shook his head and looked beyond his friend. "She had a boyfriend in Belfast, a man her father didn't care for. The day of her grandfather's birthday, as she was about to leave, he came to her flat and pushed his way in." His anguished eyes turned to his friend. "He forced himself on her. She doesn't recognize it as rape, but it was. While he kept her occupied, the bomb he planted at her grandfather's went off."
McCall sucked in a sharp breath with a hiss. "Oh, my Lord."
Control nodded and looked away. "Her grandfather and one sister lived a few days, but thankfully never woke up. She realized he was the one behind it, but the police didn't believe her. After all, she's Catholic." His voice was bitter. "So, she started looking for somewhere to go, away from it all. Someone showed her Sol Levine's ad for the shop. She called him, sold everything she owned, and came here."
"That's where I've seen her, then. Haven't been by in over a year, though."
Control smiled. "Good, or you might have been the man lucky enough to have her fall in love with you."
Robert sighed. "So, it's the accent, is it?" He sighed. "Bloody hell."
"Those three made fun of her accent, and then called her a slut. Robert, she's suffered with that all her life because she was the wrong religion. It makes her shy, sometimes, and coming back here so soon, well, she's just a bit more sensitive. Give her time, she'll come around."
"How on earth did the two of you get together?"
"The lights went out at closing and she was afraid." He shook his head. "the first of a long chain of miracles, Robert."
McCall nodded, then flushed a bit, "The, uh, child? Is it yours?"
Control smiled, a somewhat amazed look on his face. "Twins." He shook his head. "I'm still getting used to the idea. I keep wondering what my chances are of living long enough to see them grow up." He gave his friend a sidelong glance and grin. "I'm planning my retirement, at the moment. Among other things."
"The agency will collapse without you."
Control shrugged. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." He didn't bother trying an accent to go with the quote.
"Congratulations, then." He looked Control over critically and realized that the man was the most relaxed he'd ever seen him. His color was good, and it looked like he'd been getting a bit of sun, as well. Mickey had said the girl was good for him, and he was beginning to believe it. "Shall we rejoin your lady?"
Control's smile could only be described as joyful. "The sooner, the better."
She looked up in surprise. "Mr. Kostmayer!"
He flinched. "It's just Mickey, okay?" He sat across from her. "So, where's your guy? I figured he wouldn't leave you alone for a second." He smirked.
"His friend, Mr. McCall? Said he needed ta speak wi' him, then?"
Mickey shook his head and sighed. "I saw how nervous you were when you came in, and I'm sure he did, too. He's probably grilling Control about how he treats you." He winked at her. "McCall's a little, uh, protective of women in general. He's a pretty nice guy."
"He's yer friend, then?"
Mickey thought for a moment. "Yeah, I guess so. We get along pretty good."
She smiled, remembering his saying that he wasn't Control's friend. The knowledge that Robert shared the friendship of both men eased her anxiety, however. She looked up as a woman approached them with a tray.
"Hey, Pete. Have you met Davan, yet?"
The elegant woman smiled as she set the tray down on the table. "Not yet. I'm Pete O'Phelan, you can call me Pete." She straightened up and offered her hand to the younger woman.
"Davan O'Meara, and ye can just call me Davan, then?"
Pete sat in the chair next to her and handed her a glass of some pale pinkish-orange drink. "Here, I thought you might like something while we're waiting for the pissing contest to end."
Mickey snorted as he picked up a bottle of beer from the tray.
"Oh, I'm not drinkin', then?"
"It's just a fruit juice blend, dear."
Davan smiled and accepted the glass. "Thank ye, then."
"So, tell me, Davan. How on earth did you land him?" Pete was smiling conspiratorially. Mickey quietly stood up and walked away. He didn't need to be part of the hen party, he decided.
"'Twas a miracle, it was."
"Really?" Pete leaned closer, watching the girl and was amazed that Control had unbent enough to even talk to her.
"I bought Mr. Levine's bookstore? A Little Dickens?"
"Oh, I remember Sol! He moved to Florida a few years ago. So, you bought his shop? I've heard it was haunted. Is it?"
Davan smiled. "Well, if it is, it's a very quiet ghost. Himself was a friend of Mr. Levine, then? And when I took over, he continued to come in and buy books, and the occasional odd magazine?"
"He's very loyal," Pete murmured.
Davan smiled. "He is, that. A time or two, we'd flirt a bit?"
Pete blinked. "You flirted with him? And he flirted back?"
Davan nodded, grinning. "Aye. It always made him smile, then? So, one day in the summer? He was lookin' for somethin' to occupy himself on a trip he had to take?" Pete nodded. "He couldn't find anything, and I was askin' him what about puzzle books? Showed him a book of logic problems? I'd found them rather hard ta do, but he looked at it and decided ta give 'em a try, then? Just after I gave him his change, the power went out?"
Pete remembered. She'd had a full house that night and business had been brisk.
Davan blushed and looked away. "It startled me, then? Back in Belfast, losing power usually meant somethin' bad? He saw I was upset, then? And offered ta stay and help me lock up?"
"Of course he would." Pete could easily see that.
"I offered him a cup of coffee, then? An I took him upstairs ta my flat? We talked a bit, about books we've read and liked? He's read a great deal, ye know?"
"I'm not surprised in the least." She read a very great deal, herself. Lonely people often did.
"Well, when I'd bought the shop? I'd not been here, yet, so I didn't know what I was really buying, then?"
Pete looked at her in shock. "You came all the way from Ireland and bought a shop sight-unseen?"
Davan smiled. "I did. Mr. Levine met me at the airport and handed me the keys? He was on his way ta Florida, and he told me ta take care and that he trusted that the shop would meet my expectations? I took a taxi there, and went in, and it was just as he'd described it, then? He'd sold me the whole building, even the furniture in the flat above the shop, then?"
"Sol was always an honest man," Pete agreed.
"What he didn't tell me was what was on the third floor, then?"
"What?" Pete wondered what this had to do with Control's seducing the girl.
"Books, then? Thousands of them. First editions, they are, and most are old. Leather bound books, then?"
Pete's eyes widened in shock. "Oh, my, they must be very valuable."
Davan shrugged. "I don't know, for sure? I feel like I need ta read them all before I can think of selling any of them. Do ye think me foolish?"
"Foolish? No, but I don't know if I could be that patient when sitting on a fortune."
Davan nodded. "Yes. That's how most feel, then? When I took him up ta see the books, he was amazed. But then I told him that I couldn't sell any until I'd read them all. And he smiled at me and said it might take a lifetime, then, and even then I might not finish them all."
Pete shook her head. Leave it to Control to know the right thing to say.
"As we went back down the stairs, I asked him ta stay wi' me."
Wait a minute.... "You asked him to stay?"
Pete stared at her, mouth agape. "You asked him."
"And he agreed?"
"He kept askin' if I was certain sure. And I kept saying yes."
Pete shook her head, trying to comprehend. She looked up to see Robert and Control coming back. She smiled and stood. Davan followed her gaze and smiled happily upon seeing her future husband.
Control smiled when Davan turned to smile at him. He saw a somewhat confused expression on Pete's face, and wondered what the two women had been talking about. "Ladies," he cautiously greeted them.
Pete glared at him. "You. I've got a question for you, Control."
He sighed, wondering why she was so angry with him. He glanced at Davan, who was looking as confused as he was feeling.
"What question, Pete?"
"Why did you introduce Mike and me?"
He shook his head. "What?"
"You remember Mike O'Phelan? The man you introduced me to and who I married?"
"I remember him. What are you talking about?"
"You. The person who introduced us. Why did you do that? We worked in vastly different departments, so why did you introduce us?"
"Pete, what does it matter, now?" Robert asked softly, wondering what on earth had gotten into her. She turned her formidable glare on him.
"Keep out of this." She turned back to Control. "Answer the question. Why?"
Davan was starting to get very nervous and stood up. She cautiously stepped past Pete, and placed herself beside her man, who put a protective arm around her. He looked down at her, a question in his eyes, but she returned the confusion with her own uncertain gaze.
"Why do you want to know now?"
"Because I have a theory, and I need to know if it's true or not. Answer the question!"
Control looked up and sighed. "You want to know why I introduced the two of you?"
"As I recall, Mike and I were discussing his last mission when you delivered some files to me, so I introduced the two of you and you started to talk to one another while I took a look at the files. Is that how you remember it?"
"Yes. Answer the question."
"I don't see how you can think I had any kind of ulterior motive in the introduction." He shook his head in confusion. "What are you thinking?"
She smiled. "I think that you are the biggest closet romantic I've ever met. Prove me wrong."
Control smiled. "Prove yourself right." He shook his head and sighed, looking down at Davan, who was obviously feeling very uncomfortable. He shook his head sadly. "I guess this wasn't such a good idea, a ghra' mo chroi'. Do you want to give it up?"
Pete froze upon hearing him say those words to Davan. "I'm sorry. Please don't go. She was telling me how you met and I jumped to a conclusion. Don't go." There were tears in her eyes. "I thought that you'd introduced us deliberately, and I wondered what had given you the idea."
Davan was looking curiously at him. He sighed. "When Mike got back from Uganda, after his debriefing, he talked about not wanting to die like all those people he saw there. He said what he really needed was to find a nice girl and settle down." He smiled sardonically, "I knew that the two of you shared a lot of the same interests, so I took a chance. I'm sorry if I was out of line." He looked down into the shining eyes and smiling face of the woman he loved. Forcing himself to leave the safety of her gaze, he looked over at Pete, who had tears running down her face.
"Pete?" Robert asked in concern.
"I'm sorry, Pete. We'll go."
"Don't you dare," she whispered through her tears. "What you did." She had to stop and swallow hard. "What you did, was the sweetest thing anyone could ever have done." She smiled through her tears. "Davan, I suspect you know just how lucky you are?"
Davan was smiling, too, with relief. "I do, that." She looked up at the two very confused men and hugged hers. "I know well how lucky I am."
Mickey returned in time to hear her. He cocked his head to the side and grinned. "Good. Now that that's settled, let's eat."
Dinner was a bit strained, until Pete asked a question. "Tell me, Control, Davan said you'd bought a book of logic problems?"
He glanced at Davan, who had a stricken look on her face. "Yes." He lifted his gaze to the older woman while his left hand drifted off the table to gently touch Davan's arm, reassuringly. If Pete wanted a battle of wits, she was on.
"How'd you do with them?"
He smiled. "Well, I've done most of them, but as to how I've done, I wouldn't know."
Pete frowned. "Why not?"
He sat back and took a sip of his wine. "Because I haven't finished them all, and won't look at the answers until I have."
"It's not a test, Control," Mickey said, chuckling.
Control's soft chuckle and shaking head belied that belief. "It would be like cheating at solitaire. When I've finished them, then I'll check and see how I did."
"You could always allow someone else to check for you, you know," Robert suggested, smirking.
Control grinned. "I've got a better idea. Why don't each of you get a copy and see how well you do? Davan can keep the answer sections and let everyone know how they're doing."
"Whoa, count me out, guys. I hate puzzles and word games."
"They're good mental exercise, Kostmayer. Maybe we need to start requiring them at the agency?"
Mickey groaned, burying his face in his hands, and missed the glint of mischief in Control's eyes.
"What do you think, Robert?"
"I think that it could be an interesting screening tool for agents, but I wonder how well the upper echelons might fair? I think those in the field would do quite well."
"Much as I hate to say it, I have to agree. Maybe I need to give them to the staff?"
"And when most of them fail?" Pete asked.
Control shrugged. "They we see about transferring them out."
"Lovely idea, old friend, but highly unlikely in practice."
"Unfortunately, you're right." He smiled down at Davan; then looked up at his friends with a mischievous look in his eyes, "But that doesn't mean I can't challenge you to try them."
Robert smiled as Mickey groaned.
"Sounds like fun, guys. What's the matter, Mickey, afraid to even try?" Pete asked with a broad grin.
"You can play, too, Pete," Control softly challenged. Her eyes widened and she took a breath to protest.
"Hey, if you will, then I will, too," Mickey quickly interjected before she could give a good excuse.
Before anything could be decided, Sally and Ann brought out their dinner and everyone's attention turned to the food.
Ann had done her utmost to prepare a meal that would please their guests. Having learned that the unknown guest was from Ireland, she'd searched every source she had for something to please her. She finally decided on a beef roast, but served a dish called Champ with it. Champ is an Irish dish of mashed potatoes with scallions, to which she added garlic and parsley.
Davan had recognized the dish the moment she saw it and smiled broadly at the two girls. "Champ?"
Ann smiled back. "Pretty much, but I added to the basic recipe a little." She watched anxiously as Davan tasted the dish and silently sighed with relief when she praised her for it.
The two interns headed back to the kitchen, pleased with their success as their guests enjoyed their repast.
"So, old friend, what was it you wished to discuss?" Dinner was over, the coffee and brandy had been served, and everyone was comfortably full and relatively mellow, now that the earlier confusion had been sorted out.
With a soft smile and a glance at his lady, Control took a sip of his brandy-laced coffee and leaned back in his chair. "We were wondering if you were busy next Saturday."
Robert shrugged. "Not to my knowledge."
"Pete?" Control asked, taking another sip as his left hand quietly sought Davan's right and their fingers intertwined.
Pete shrugged and shook her head. "Just the restaurant. What time are you talking about?"
"I'm free," Pete watched Control curiously, and then added, "Why?"
"Yes, I'm free. What did you have in mind?"
"Meet us at St. Aloysius'?"
Robert exchanged a frown with Pete, then glanced at Mickey to see the younger man positively gaping at Control.
"You, too, Kostmayer."
"Are you serious?" Mickey asked, jaw slack.
McCall and Pete exchanged another confused glance and turned back to Control. "Whatever are you talking about, Control?"
"Davan's agreed to marry me. Next Saturday at noon. We'd like you to join us."
There was a long, shocked silence, finally broken by Pete's soft exclamation, "Davan, do know what you're getting into?"
Davan looked at Control and smiled. "I know that I'll never love another. That's enough." She turned a calm expression to his friends and leaned against her fiance'. His arm came up and around her shoulders. Watching them, he kissed Davan on the temple and was pleased to see how shocked they were.
"You haven't answered. Will you stand up for me, Robert?"
McCall jumped from the surprise request. He stared at Control with a blank expression as he tried to come to grips with the concept that this man he'd known for approximately half his life had, at this late date, decided to marry and settle down. The silence dragged out far too long as he tried to picture these two as a couple. He hadn't actually considered it, before. When he read the disappointment in Control's eyes, he realized that his silence was being misinterpreted, and blurted out, "You're mad, you know that?"
Control simply nodded and stood up. "Undoubtedly." He dropped three fifty-dollar bills on the table and looked at Pete. "That should cover dinner. It was excellent. Thank you." He turned from them and held his hand out for Davan, who stared up into his stoic face and blinked hard, wondering that those he thought of as friends would be so against them. With her chin up, though trembling, she took his hand and rose. With his hand at the small of her back, they headed for the door.
"McCall, sometimes you're an idiot," Mickey hissed as he rose and followed the couple.
Robert turned to Pete, who was just as much in shock as he was at the invitation, but who was recovering much faster. "He's right." She shook her head. "I'll tell him you said yes." With that, she sprang to her feet and hurried after the others.
Realizing his egregious mistake, McCall stood up and followed.
Mickey caught up with the departing couple as they gathered their coats. Control was as calm and collected as he usually was, showing no sign of the hurt and disappointment he undoubtedly felt.
"What is it, Kostmayer?"
"I want to go. If you want me there, that is?"
There was nothing in the blue eyes to tell him one way or another what Control thought or felt, but Mickey was relieved when he received a nod of acceptance. "We'd like that. Thank you."
Mickey grinned to hide his sigh of relief. "What, and miss the miracle of the century?"
He got an almost smile in response, when Pete skid to a stop beside them. "I want to come, Control. Please?"
He turned his usual stoic and taciturn expression on her. "Are you sure?"
Her breath caught at the uncertainty in his expression and realized that Robert's lack of response had hurt him deeply, and then recognized the question that Davan had said he had continually asked her the night they'd first slept together.
"More than anything." She reached out and placed a hand on his arm, desperately wanting to convey her sincerity. His weary nod was all the answer she got as McCall joined them.
The two older men stood staring at each other. Control was still as a stone, waiting. His expression showed nothing whatsoever. McCall gazed at him a long time. "This was all somewhat of a shock, old friend."
Control said nothing, silently continuing to wait.
"It's taking a bit of time to understand all that's been going on. I don't see or hear from you in months and when you do finally make an appearance... well, it was somewhat a shock." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, almost squirming in his desire for some reaction from his friend.
Control continued to say nothing, waiting.
McCall shook his head. "I apologize, Control. I would be honored to attend your wedding."
"Are you sure, Robert?" There was infinite weariness in his voice. He gazed calmly and unemotionally at the man he had, until just a few minutes previously, considered his oldest and dearest friend.
"Damn it, Control, I don't see you for most of a year and you suddenly appear with this child and announce you're marrying her because she's going to have your child, and you expect me to be pleased about it?"
Control stiffened and his eyes narrowed. "First, I'm not marrying her for any reason other than the simple fact that I love her. As for not seeing me, I've hardly had a great deal of free time in the past two and a half years, if you'd care to think. You knew where I was, but I only heard from you when you needed something from me. As for whether or not you're 'pleased' with my decision, I don't care if you're pleased or not. I'd hoped that my oldest and closest friend would simply be happy for me, but obviously that was too much to expect."
McCall stepped back as though struck, his eyes widening with the shock. Love? Did Control even know what it was, he wondered. "I remember a conversation we once had, about a woman named Susan? How you almost left The Company for her? You've always chosen your career over any personal entanglements. Do you honestly expect me to believe you've changed so much that you'd be willing to forgo The Company for this girl?"
Control shook his head sadly. "I've often wished I'd chosen differently back then. There was another woman I was ready and willing to quit for." He gazed steadily into the confused eyes of his friend. "I had my resignation in my pocket when the police came to tell me she'd been killed. After that, I was very careful not to get involved. Until Davan." He smiled down at his fiancee, who smiled back up at him, leaning against him when the arm around her shoulders tightened for a hug. He looked back at Robert. His voice stayed low, but became very intense, his pale blue eyes burning with passion and fervor. "Davan's a very special woman, Robert. She not only understands about not asking questions, she makes no demands, reasonable or not. She's kind, and gentle, and loving. For the months we've been together, she's never asked what I do, or with whom I deal. She's never demanded any kind of information, or even my time. She's been satisfied with the bits of myself I've been able to give her, and every time I've shown up at her door, she's greeted me with a smile, just happy to see me. God, Robert, when I'm with her, I have hardly any nightmares at all! And the ones I have had were mostly right after I left the hospital." He shook his head in amazement.
"Have you considered how you're going to handle both The Company and a wife and infant, Control?" McCall had to ask. His friend had been in the business so long, had used and misused so many....
"I'm going to retire, as soon as my replacement is trained and able to take over."
Robert had the same expression a pole-axed steer has before it collapses to the ground, and Pete's was nearly identical. "You can't be serious," Robert whispered.
Control shrugged. "I've got forty-nine years in, four in the military, the rest with The Company. I'm tired. I've been tired for years, but there's never been anything tempting enough to draw me away from work. Now there is."
"Do you honestly believe this child can keep you entertained?" McCall's disbelief was palpable.
Control's smile was sad. "She doesn't 'entertain' me, Robert. She loves me. God only knows why, but she does." He shook his head. "I guess you and Kay never had this sort of love, Robert. You can't possibly understand; and for that I am truly sorry." He took a breath to continue, but was interrupted by Pete.
"I know what that kind of relationship is like. I had one, and it's indescribable. I only know that there could never be another one for me." She touched McCall's arm. "You can't possibly understand what a love like that is, unless you've experienced it, Robert. Are you so envious that you'd deliberately hurt your best friend over this?"
McCall again took a slight step back as though struck by her words. He looked from one person to another, finally settling his gaze on Davan. She was looking at him warily, and he remembered her background and could have kicked himself. She was innocent, here. She wasn't some femme fatale' attempting to seduce Control for his secrets, the girl - woman, rather, was an adult, over thirty, and from the challenging look on her face, more than willing to stand up and defend her man.
And there was the crux of it. At a time of life when Robert was hoping that his children might settle down and produce a few grandchildren for him to spoil in his dotage, his friend was embarking on the initial adventure, and perhaps he did envy him just a bit. Still, it was no reason to destroy a thirty-plus year friendship.
"I apologize." He shook his head, thinking that it was at least partly his own fault for not bothering to visit his friend even once over the previous months. Of course he knew what kind of pressure Control had been under since that September morning two and a half years earlier. Had he been a better friend, he'd have gone to see Control, rather than waiting for him to come visit. "You're absolutely correct, and I'm honestly thrilled that you've found someone suitable." He knew the words were wrong the moment he said them and shook his head. "Forgive me. Obviously, my mind is still in shock and is unable to find the proper words. I am happy for you, old friend, I just need some time to adjust to it all."
Control half-smiled, one corner of his mouth hitching up in relief and amusement. "Of course I'll forgive you, old son. Just stop terrorizing my fiancee, would you?" His relief was tangible to those around him, causing everyone to relax.
Robert, relieved, turned to Davan. "I do sincerely apologize and hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me, dear lady."
She looked him in the eye, a challenge in her expression. "I'm not a child, Mr. McCall, ye needn't protect me from the likes of Himself." She glanced at Control and smiled, then turned back to McCall. "Ye'll no doubt disbelieve me, but he's the gentlest, kindest man I've ever met." Mickey's snort of laughter failed to distract anyone, except for Control, who glared at him, and which glare wiped the smug grin from the younger man's face.
McCall's eyebrows rose as he glanced at his friend and wondered....
Control met his gaze, a relaxed smile on his face. "So, will you stand up for me, old son?"
"I would be honored. Formal dress?"
"No, it's going to be a very small group. Davan has no family, and neither do I."
Both Mickey and Pete flinched at that. Glancing at each other, they understood that they were the closest things Control had to family, and it saddened them. Then Mickey grinned as he shot a quick and meaningful glance to Davan and back to Pete. That was certainly about to change, his expression told her; and she couldn't help smiling.
"Dinner here afterwards?" Pete asked softly, finally causing sufficient distraction from the residual tension.
"We're heading out of town immediately after the ceremony; we'll only be gone four days, but it's important to get away, even if only briefly."
"Eriksen will hate it. I just hope nothing major happens while you're gone."
Control smiled, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "I told her that if anything happens, to send you in to take care of it."
Mickey looked horrified, as Pete and Robert laughed. "You didn't. You wouldn't, would you?" Mickey looked as though he actually believed him.
Chuckling, Control slapped him on the back as he turned towards the door. "You should know better, Kostmayer."
"Oh, God, you did. Hey, can I bring a date?"
Control paused and stared at him in surprise. "Anyone I know?"
Mickey blushed, "Uh, yeah?" He looked nervous, and Control smiled.
"Does she know you're interested?"
"We've gone out for dinner a few times, is all."
"Well, since I've already told her, I don't see why not."
McCall stared at Kostmayer, eyes glazed in shock. "Good Lord, don't tell me you've finally found a...."
"Robert, aren't your ankles starting to hurt from sticking your feet in your mouth?" Pete asked, elbowing him hard in the ribs. "Good for you, Mickey. I hope she's a nice girl?"
Mickey shrugged. "We can laugh together. And we can work together. That's about all, so far, but there's possibilities there I haven't found, before." He glanced at Control, remembering hearing how he'd manipulated Pete and her late husband together. "I suppose you knew that?"
Control smiled enigmatically and shrugged. "You'll never know."
"Yeah, that's what I figured." But he was grinning as he realized that there was no way Control had anything more to do with it than having been injured - DC had thrown them together, and Control had chosen her as his replacement. She was, even now, trying to find an apartment to rent. "Hey, she's looking for an apartment, know of any coming available in the near future?"
"I may know of something suitable. I'll let you know." With that, and an uncertain smile, he turned and escorted his lady out.
When they'd gone, Mickey mused softly, "I wonder if she knows his real name, or if she's just going to be known as Mrs. Control?"
Pete and Robert simply gaped at him.
Control sighed. "Well, now you've met them, what do you think?"
"I think that yer friend Robert is a bit in shock, still, then?" She giggled. "Ye didn't warn him a'tall, then, did ye?"
He glanced at her, a bemused expression on his face. "It never occurred to me that I had to, then?"
She looked at him in amazement and shook her head, smiling. "Then ye didn't know him as well as you thought, then?"
He sighed, a sad look in his eyes, "So it would seem." She leaned over to rest against his shoulder and his arm came up around her to hold her close. "I forget sometimes, that not everyone realizes that I'm also human. Even my friends tend to forget."
"The more fools they, then. I know yer just a man, then. I'm just glad yer mine, and that I'm yer's, then?"
"I do love you, you know. Duit mo beatha, more than life itself, mo a'thas, mo chroi, mo anam."
She sighed and snuggled closer. "A'thas mo chroi."
The rest of the drive home was silent as the night, each comfortable with the silence and the presence of the other.
"Good morning, sir," Sue Eriksen greeted him when he came in the next morning. He frowned and glanced at his watch.
"Unable to sleep?" he asked. He was used to being the first one in. He was pleased, however, that she hadn't had time to start the coffee, yet.
She grinned, ruefully. "Not very well. When I couldn't go back to sleep after the people next door got in at two-thirty, I gave it up at three and got up."
He smiled. "Kostmayer said you're looking for an apartment?"
"Yes. I can't believe that the cost of an apartment is even higher here than it is in DC." She shook her head and sighed. "Even with the locality pay, I haven't found anything I can honestly afford."
"I know where there's an apartment coming vacant, soon. Fully furnished, if that's what you want."
She regarded him soberly. "Yours?"
He smiled and shrugged. "Seventh floor, view, forced heat and air." There was no missing her interest.
"And how much will it cost? Is it rent controlled?"
"No, but the rent isn't that high. The bottom three floors contain a women's shelter."
She frowned at him. "You live above a women's shelter?"
"Why not? It's in a nice neighborhood, though when the shelter moved in there were a lot of complaints, until one of the neighbors escaped her abusive husband late one night. After that, it was accepted by most of the neighbors - and those who continued to dislike it have all since moved." His smile indicated that the complainers might have had just a bit of encouragement.
"So, are you thinking of sub-letting?"
"No, you can get a lease from the owner, if you like."
She sighed. "So, how much is it per month?"
She frowned. "How big is it?" She'd looked at a few apartments under twelve-hundred a month, but they were either in very bad neighborhoods, or tiny little closets.
He shrugged. "It's not huge, about twelve-hundred square feet. Two bedrooms, two baths, fair sized kitchen, and a large living room."
She frowned at him. "What's the catch?"
He smiled. "No catch. If you want, I'll take you over at lunch to look at it."
She nodded uncertainly. "Okay."
"To avoid rumors, pick someone to come along." He smiled wryly and headed for the coffee pot.
"Right." She shook her head in confusion. If it were even half as nice as he made it sound, it would easily rent for a lot more than nine hundred a month. She'd just have to wait and see. Maybe Mickey would know more.
"Yeah, it's a pretty good-sized place. Nice neighborhood, too. Upper East Side, near the ocean. Seventy-fifth Street?"
"He mentioned it had a view?"
Mickey shrugged. "Yeah, It faces East, so I guess you can see the ocean. It's on the north-east corner of the building, so maybe you can see the park from there, too."
"It's near a park?"
"Yeah, a little one, but yeah."
"For only nine hundred a month?"
Mickey grinned and shrugged. "Got me. Maybe he knows the owner?"
Sue sighed. "Maybe. Care to come with us at lunch to look at it?"
He was surprised at the invite, but grinned. "Sure, why not? Maybe we can hit the deli on our way back?"
"It's a deal. Thanks."
"No problem." He kept grinning at her, and she couldn't help smiling back at him. She'd decided that his impish grin was quite attractive, and highly indicative of his personality. She sucked her lower lip in between her teeth, wondering if he was any good at practical jokes? She'd have to sound him out. She'd found that some of the suits Control had to deal with desperately needed something to rattle their cages, and she had the feeling that Mickey Kostmayer might just be the perfect partner in crime.
"I need a favor."
Mickey perked right up. Control wasn't generally the kind to ask favors, and when he did, they were important. "What do you want me to do?" After having had to deal with the suits, Control could ask him to do just about anything and he'd do it.
"When Davan and I are gone, next week, I need someone to go up to the fourth floor and clean it."
Mickey frowned. "Clean it?"
Control grinned ruefully and shook his head. "She's never been up there. I have. No one's been up there in years. You know about the third floor?"
Mickey's frown deepened. "No?"
"It's full of very valuable first editions, most of them leather-bound, and very old. Davan never got past them, so she has no idea what's on the fourth floor."
"Okay, so what is on the fourth floor?"
"The building dates back to about eighteen-seventy. The furniture was new, then. Big, heavy, Victorian furniture. All in dust covers, gas lights, maybe still functioning. There's no electricity on the third or fourth floors. I'd like to get it cleaned up so that when she's in the hospital, I can get someone in to wire it to turn it into our home. It takes up the entire floor, and I think it would be a wonderful place to raise our children."
"You want it kid-proofed, too?"
Control frowned, thinking. "It probably already is fairly child-safe. The coffee table I saw was a bit taller than standard, and has rounded edges. Mostly, it just needs a good cleaning. The dust is nearly ankle deep."
"And no vacuum cleaner." Mickey grinned. "I've got a two-hundred foot extension cord. And Nick's got a shop vac I bet I could use."
"The fewer people who know about this, the better."
Mickey nodded. "Okay. I wonder if my cleaning lady knows anyone who'd help, once I get the dust removed?"
"Whatever it costs let me know."
"Sure. I'll take care of everything, boss." Mickey grinned. He'd just been given the perfect suggestion for a wedding gift.
"I'll leave you a key."
Mickey blushed and looked away. "Uh, you don't have to. Davan already asked me to take care of the shop while you're gone, and I said yes."
Control shook his head and chuckled. "All right. Thanks, Mickey."
Sue looked through the apartment, amazed by the spacious layout and beautiful view. There were taller buildings around, and she was certain that the tenth floor had a better view, but this one was very nice. Certainly better than anything else she'd seen. She glanced over to see Mickey looking at the contents of the bookcase. If she took it furnished... but this wasn't rental furniture. This had Control's taste and personality all over it. She frowned.
"You mentioned I could have it furnished?"
"With this furniture?"
Control smiled and leaned against the wall. "Yes."
"But this is your furniture."
"Don't you like it?"
She stared at him. Not like it? It was beautiful. "I love it." She looked around again. The sofa and loveseat were leather, as was the recliner. The wood was mahogany, burnished to a beautiful, satin luster. It was masculine, but not overpoweringly so. It was very comfortable feeling. Something that surprised her, considering the apartment's occupant. "What does the owner say?"
"That it's yours if you want it."
She frowned. "How do you know?"
"The owner has the entire top floor, if you'd like to go up and ask him?"
She nodded. "All right. This just seems too good to be true."
He smiled and escorted them out and to the elevator, which quickly lifted them to the tenth floor. There was only one door opposite the elevator. Sue and Mickey watched curiously as Control took out a key and unlocked the door. He led the way in and turned on a light switch as he entered.
"Son of a bitch," Mickey said, wonderingly. "You own the building?"
"No. Mark Wainright does. But since he was killed and I sort of took his place, I guess you could say it's mine, now."
They looked around. The furniture was obviously expensive, though not quite in style any more. "Looks like it was decorated back in the sixties," Mickey commented.
"It was." He didn't explain further, and they didn't ask any questions. He looked at Eriksen. "So, do you want the apartment?"
She frowned uncertainly. "Furnished, as is?"
He smiled. "Well, I do intend to take my personal belongings, of course. I seriously doubt that my clothes would fit or look very good on you."
She blushed as Mickey snickered, but recovered quickly. "I really like it, but you can't be serious about the rent."
He smiled. "Why not? The shelter downstairs is a tax write-off, and the rest provides a fair profit as it is. I keep the building in excellent shape, as well." He shrugged. "Believe me, I'm getting my profit. The question is, do you want it?"
She stared up at him, wondering about him. There was obviously so much she didn't know...not even his real name. He owned the building as Mark Wainwright. She was going to have to do a little digging into that, just to satisfy her own curiosity. But that could wait. "You've got to be kidding. Of course I want it."
He smiled and extended his hand. "You've got a deal, then." She took his hand and shook. Then he asked, "So, do you want a lease?"
"Do I need one?"
He smiled. "I've got a standard one. I prefer no pets, but some of the elderly tenants do have them. Otherwise, they'd be alone, and that doesn't seem fair."
"How old are the other tenants?"
"Well, it varies. The three neighbors on your floor consist of an elderly woman with a couple of cats, Mrs. Hamish. Charlie Dawson is in his eighties and has a Manchester terrier, and Joe Schuler has a cat and a small Bull terrier."
"Do they make a lot of noise?"
"No, but if you hear a dog bark, go out armed, as it means something is very wrong."
She nodded. "I'll remember that."
"When do you want to move in?"
"Uh, whenever you want me to?"
He smiled. "I'll start packing, then."
She returned the smile. "Thanks."
The wedding ceremony was extremely private, just the couple and four witnesses. There was no pomp, and could just as easily been a civil ceremony as a church one. Despite the small wedding party, Father Nick treated it the same as he would the grandest gathering.
"... Do you, Davan, take this man, Peter, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and obey; to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live? "
"I do, then." She said it with a wide smile as she glanced at her man, who smiled back at her, nervously.
Father Nick smiled reassuringly at the obviously nervous groom. Turning from Davan, he asked, "Do you, Peter, take this woman, Davan, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love, honor, and cherish? To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do." His voice was barely audible and had a noticeable tremor in it.
"Then by the power vested in me by the State of New York and the Holy Roman See, I now pronounce you husband and wife." He looked expectantly at the couple and softly reminded, "You may kiss your bride."
She was wearing the teal velvet dress he'd bought her, and he was wearing his tux with the bow tie and cummerbund that matched her dress. Robert and Mickey wore suits, Sue Eriksen wore a beige skirt suit, and Pete wore a dark blue dress. Davan looked up at her husband and smiled. Once he turned to her, nothing else registered. He gently took her in his arms and bent down to kiss her. It was a shy kiss, chaste to befit the occasion; yet it also held great promise. Breaking apart, he took a deep, steadying breath, and turned to his friends, who were all smiling at them.
Mickey was the first to move. "Congratulations." He almost dared to call him Peter, but wisdom and self-preservation won out and he closed his mouth before anything more came out. He shook hands with his boss, and then kissed the bride's cheek. He might be crazy, but he was definitely not stupid. Sue shyly shook hands with the couple, murmuring her own congratulations. When Control had mentioned getting married, she'd pictured someone quite a bit older than Davan, and certainly not seven months pregnant!
Pete hugged and kissed both of them, beaming as she offered her congratulations. Then, it was McCall's turn. He shook his head at his friend, and then, to Control's shock, hugged him. "I wish you every happiness, old friend," he softly whispered. Then, he stepped away and smiled at Davan. He hugged her, as well, planting a gentle kiss on her cheek, and then whispered "Take very good care of him, please." He released her and stepped back, to see her smiling through her tears of happiness.
Father Nick watched as the company left, all but one; the youngest looking back and indicating that she'd wait. When they were alone, he turned to his brother. "Thank you for coming, Michael."
"What about him?"
"Is that his real name?"
"Mickey." His voice was chiding.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Uh, I've got a little project to do while they're gone. I could use some help."
"What kind of project?"
"The fourth floor of their building hasn't ever been brought up to code, but for now, he just wants it cleaned up. He's planning on having the renovations done when she's in the hospital having the kids. Uh, he said it hasn't seen a dust rag in decades. I was kind of hoping you might like to give me a hand?"
Nick grinned. It wasn't much, but it was a start. "I'd love to help. Let me change and I'll meet you there in an hour?"
"Make it two. I'll drop Sue off and I've got to go change, as well. If that's okay with you?"
"It's fine. I'll see you there."
"Uh, do you know where it is?"
Nick smiled. "Yes. I've been over to the shop a time or two. Are you going to be running it for her while they're gone?"
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I'll also be stayin' there as well. It's going to feel weird, knowing that they've been living there, together."
"Don't think about it. Just think about how you're helping your friends. That should make it a bit easier for you, don't you think?"
Mickey grinned. "Yeah, it should." He turned to leave, then remembered something and with a snap of his fingers, he spun on his heel and said, "Oh, and bring your shop vac, and I'll bring the extension cord."
Nick chuckled. "See you in two hours, Mickey."
"Where are we goin' then?"
"To my...our cabin."
"Cabin, then? Does it have power and running water?"
He laughed softly. "Yes, It has gas, electricity, and hot and cold running water."
"Good. I like me creature comforts, then."
"So do I, a ghra'. So do I."
The rest of the trip was made in near silence as she watched the scenery change from city to rural. She looked at him in confusion as he pulled into a private, guarded drive and stopped at the guard shack, rolling down the window.
The guard approached and leaned down to look in the window at the driver. "It's been a long time, Mr. Wainwright. We got your message, and your cabin is fully stocked and ready for you."
"Thank you, Symons."
Symons smiled, pleased that 'Mr. Wainwright' remembered his name. Few of the wealthy people who owned houses here ever bothered to learn any of the staff's names, but Mr. Wainwright had always been different, ever since his wife died some thirty-plus years earlier. He went back into the guard shack and activated the electronic gate.
Control smiled and waved to the guard as he drove through the opening.
Davan looked at him, curious about why the guard had called him 'Mr. Wainwright' instead of his real name. But true to her promise, she didn't ask.
They pulled into a narrow driveway that wound its way up a hill. At the top, there was a clearing amidst the trees, and a two-story house with a lot of windows.
"Ye call that a cabin, then? It looks like a mansion, ta me."
He chuckled. "That's what I thought the first time I saw it, myself, but that's what they called it."
Despite her curiosity as to who 'they' might be, she still didn't ask. He noticed, however, and it gave him that warm, squishy, excited feeling deep inside, reminding him once again of how fortunate - no, blessed - he was to have found her and won her heart. Then he smiled, realizing that he'd given her his heart and soul, as well. And she still didn't ask.
The house was magnificent. From the rear balcony off the master bedroom, there was an utterly fantastic view of Niagara Falls. Her breath caught as she first saw it. She turned her gaze to her husband and whispered, "Oh, love, I've never seen the like."
He smiled and wrapped his arms around her. "Neither have I." He bent slightly so he could press his cheek against hers and looked at the view from her perspective. "But you're far more beautiful."
Seven months pregnant with twins, and he could make her believe that she was attractive. Of course, the way he usually held her made her feel loved and cherished, but his words added something solidly emotional to go with the physical sensations.
"Mo chroi'," she murmured, turning to kiss him.
"Duit mo beatha, mo anam." To his surprise, she smiled and took his hand, leading him towards the bedroom, where she continued to take charge, much to their mutual delight.
Hours later, as they lay in each other's arms, sated and relaxed, he began to speak. "Mark Wainwright was a very wealthy businessman. He was also a thrill-seeking, alcoholic womanizer whose brother was about to take everything from him."
She stroked his chest and listened, her head on his shoulder, saying nothing.
"I was in East Berlin, running from some Soviet agents, sure that I was going to die any second. I ran across this square and ducked down an alley. Wainwright staggered out of the bar and into the street, where the Soviets shot and killed him. They heard a car coming and ran off, after making sure he was dead. I went to look, wondering why they had stopped looking for me, and crouched by the body; picking up his overcoat. I looked at him and to this day, it was almost like looking into a mirror." He couldn't help the shiver that went through him every time he thought of that night, the terror, the panic, the shock, horror, and finally the hope. "The car that scared them off pulled up beside us, and the driver, mistaking me for the dead guy, bundled me into the car and took off, back through Checkpoint Charlie and to a very nice hotel, where he 'helped' me to Wainwright's rooms and put me to bed." He shook his head, chuckling. "I guess exhaustion combined with terror and the aftermath of the adrenaline rush mimics a drunken stupor fairly well."
"So he saved yer life, then?"
"By losing his, yes. Eva realized almost immediately that I wasn't her husband, but she covered for me, in exchange for my pretending to be Mark and not sign over their business to Mark's brother. She then provided my cover for the next year, at which time I asked her to marry me, and you know what happened then."
"So, when the man called ye Mr. Wainwright, that's who ye are ta them, then?"
"So, do I need ta be callin' ye Mark, then?"
He chuckled, "No, a ghra', I much prefer what you already call me." He gently hugged her to him.
She sighed and hugged him back. "Yer a good man, Peter Murphy, that ye are."
"Only with you, mo chroi'. Only with you." His eyes drifted closed and he was soon breathing heavily in sleep.
She lay awake a bit longer, pleased that he was beginning to trust her more. Even though there was much she would never know, she understood. He was a spy for the Americans. He'd been in Europe a very long time ago, fighting the communists. Now, he apparently worked more in an office, with only occasional trips abroad - though she hoped that those days were over. She never wanted to go through the pain of that long separation, followed by the fear and worry after he returned. She had great doubts that he'd truly enjoy being retired - he'd been a vital and active man his entire life, it would be hard for him to settle down to being just her husband and the father to their children, but he was willing. She'd just have to work hard to make it as easy for him as she could.
Determined to make his life as good as she possibly could, she snuggled closer to him and soon joined him in slumber.
"Good grief," Nick marveled at the vast space that was the fourth floor apartment.
"Yeah," his brother agreed, looking around. "Man, talk about a ton of dust, though. Good thing I've got this two-hundred foot extension cord, huh?"
"Oh, my, yes." They looked through the entire space before going back and starting from the third floor, vacuuming up all the dust from the stairwell and then working their way through the enormous apartment, removing the dust from almost every surface, only refraining from anything that looked particularly delicate, like the chandeliers. Four hours and fifteen trips down the stairs to empty out the shop vac, they had finished the heaviest work.
"What now? Should we wash the delicate things, remove the dust covers?"
"Wash, but first, I want to take another look around. This place is something else." Mickey shook his head and while Nick perched gingerly on a dustsheet-covered settee, he took a good look around. He found a door that he assumed led to a closet, which they'd missed with the vacuum, and with a sigh of disgust, opened it, only to find a set of dust-covered stairs. Going back, he grabbed the vacuum. At Nick's questioning look, he shrugged. "Missed a spot. But you just sit there and take it easy for a while and I'll get it."
"Okay, thanks." Nick sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes. He couldn't remember ever working so hard, before.
Mickey started, naturally, at the bottom step and worked his way up, including sucking the cobwebs from the ceiling and walls as he went. At the top there was, naturally enough, another door. Curious, he opened it and stopped, absolutely shocked.
He wondered if Control had any idea that this even existed? He grinned to himself and decided that Control hadn't an inkling. With a little extra work, it would make a lovely surprise for the returning couple. Of course, it would be pretty hard work, but he was up to it. He decided to keep this to himself, not even telling Nick about it. Yeah, this would be his little secret. He couldn't wait to start on it.
Four days sped quickly and it came time for them to return to New York. Control sighed as he placed their bags in the trunk of his car.
"Are ye all right, then, love?"
He turned and smiled at his wife. He was beginning to get used to the idea that this was forever for them. "As long as you're with me, yes."
"Yer a sweet talker, ye are, love. But I hope ye never stop, then."
He chuckled and went to her, kissing her soundly. "I'll love you forever, Davan. That's a promise," he softly vowed, and then took her hand and escorted her to the car and handed her in.
Her heart fluttered wildly at his promise. She well knew that he didn't make any promise lightly. She watched him as he lightly moved around the car to climb into the driver's seat. In just four days, she'd observed how much he'd changed, relaxing and smiling more than she thought he had in years, if ever. It pleased her that she could do that to him.
They took their time driving back. Stopping along the way at every vista turnout to look at the scenery and just bask in each other's presence, holding hands and kissing. They came into the city at rush hour - with most of the traffic going opposite to their direction, which made their trip home very pleasant.
Mickey had been extremely busy, what between tending the bookstore and cleaning the fourth floor. On the Sunday, however, he'd worked on his surprise for the returning couple. He'd worked like Hercules to get most of it finished before collapsing onto the couch for a few hours of sleep. Each evening after closing the shop, he worked more on it, managing to finish by late Tuesday. With them expected back some time Wednesday, he heaved a sigh of relief. Question now, was, should he tell Control about it, or wait until after the babies came? He'd have to talk to Control, and hopefully not have to spoil the surprise.
He kept a close watch on the street outside, sighing in relief when he finally spotted Control's car pulling up out front. It was just past closing time, but he'd waited to make their debarkation a bit easier. He held the door open for Davan, as Control brought in their luggage.
"Thank ye, Mr. Kostmayer. Is everything all right, then?"
"Yep. And I'd really prefer you to call me either Kostmayer or Mickey. No mister needed."
"Mickey, then." She smiled at him and he grinned back at her, glancing at Control to see if there was any reaction. He caught 'the look' and shrugged.
"Hey, you know me. Ever the informal one."
Control just shook his head and smiled. "You look tired, Kostmayer," Control asked the question without giving anything away.
"Well, I found stuff to occupy myself with. That empty apartment makes a good workout room, you know?"
Control's smile broadened. "Glad you weren't bored."
Mickey caught the hidden meaning and grinned. Maybe he'd just leave his surprise for whenever Control found it... or when the babies came. Whichever came first.
"I've got something upstairs in the crock-pot if you're hungry."
"Something, then?" Davan looked confused.
Mickey blushed. "Uh, pot roast? Spuds, carrots, celery, onions and meat?"
Davan smiled. "Sounds lovely, then?" She looked up at her husband, who grinned, relieved.
"Thank you, Mickey."
"No problem. Let me lock up and I'll meet you upstairs."
To Davan's surprise, the meal was very good. She'd never even seen a crock-pot before. It had been one of the kitchen devices he'd brought with him, and now she understood why. After Dinner, Mickey made his excuses and headed for his own apartment.
Peter went up to the third floor and picked out a book to read. They didn't read it all the way through, but only the first few chapters before becoming sleepy. Davan was already dozing when he put the book down and turned out the light before spooning up behind his wife, as it was now just a bit uncomfortable for him to cradle her to him face to face. With his arms securely around her, he was soon sound asleep.
He was amazed at how easy it was to settle into married life. The joy he felt every morning, waking up to her in his arms; the relief he felt coming home to her each night. Within a week, they had settled into a happy routine - something he'd never before had in his life, but which, to his surprise, pleased him.
While Davan was down in the shop, that Thursday afternoon, Control, McCall, and Kostmayer were upstairs making plans.
"She's due in six weeks, so that gives us a little time to find an electrical contractor and get the upper floors wired."
"Are you certain that's what she wants? She didn't have electricity run to the third floor, after all."
Control smiled. "It took every penny she had to afford to buy the building and the business. She didn't have anything left to do any renovations with."
"Well, if she sold some of the contents of the third floor, she'd have had more than enough, I should think." McCall simply could not understand Davan's insistence on reading all the books before she sold any. The woman had a fortune up there!
"It's not your call, Robert, so let it go." Control was tired of people expecting them to sell the valuable books upstairs. For himself, he found the notion of trying to read them all quite tantalizing. So far, he'd not found a single dog in the batch...of course, they hadn't even finished the first shelf, yet, and there were over a thousand books. It was definitely going to take them some time. "Besides, I asked her about it, and she'd love to have electricity up there, so it only makes sense to do the rest of the building at once. I just need to be sure that they can get it done on short notice, and in under a week."
"That's asking a lot, but Nick says he knows a guy who can do it, and won't charge you an arm and a leg, either."
"Is he licensed?"
"Yep." Mickey grinned, having already gotten all the details. He handed a slim file to Control, who opened it and quickly looked through the documents. "Looks good. I'd like to meet him, maybe set the deal?"
"He's waiting for your call."
Davan stood behind the counter, stretching her back. Lately, it had started to ache quite a bit from her pregnancy. She was thinking of asking her husband to bring a stool down for her to sit on, but had forgotten that morning. The usual morning customers had come and gone and there was a lull in business, for which she was grateful. Ever since the blackout, business had been extremely good, particularly over the holidays. The bell above the door rang as it opened and she looked up with a smile, which quickly faded when she recognized the man who entered.
He was tall, over six feet, and built like the rugby player he had been. He was smiling, but she was not. "What are ye doin' here, then, Ryan O'Rourke?"
He seemed surprised by her greeting. "What do ye think, then? I've come fer ye, of course. Did ye think I wouldn't then?"
"Get out. I don't ever want to see you again. Get out of my shop, now!" Her voice rose a bit with her hatred of this man who had murdered her family and gotten away with it.
"Now, is that any way ta greet yer long-lost lover, then? I was very upset wi' ye for sellin' the farm, then. That was ta be mine, for yer dowry, then, wasn't it? And ye went and sold it on the sly and ran off, ye did. Now, was that any way ta treat yer man, then?"
Her chin came up in defiance. "Yer not and could never be my man, Ryan O' Rourke. Ye murderin' ..." he suddenly reached across the counter and grabbed her arm, making her gasp from the sudden pain.
"Now, ye know that the police didn't even hold me overnight, then. They didn't believe ye, darlin'."
"It doesn't change the truth, then. Yer a murderin' whelp, and I'll thank ye ta let go of me arm and get out of me shop." She spat in his face.
Furious, he hauled her from behind the counter, knocking over a display as he did so.
Upstairs, the crash drew everyone's attention. "What the..." Control muttered and started for the stairs to see what was wrong. A loud, masculine and very angry voice lent wings to his feet as he practically flew down the stairs. He didn't know the voice, but the accent gave him all the warning he needed.
For a moment, Ryan stared at the obviously very pregnant Davan. "What's this, then? Who's been plowin' my field, then? You vixen! Who did this? Who?" He jerked her closer and then released her, backhanding her back into the counter.
She grabbed for another display as she fell, knowing that the noise would bring help. As she sprawled amongst the books, she looked up into Ryan's enraged countenance and realized what he was going to do, and all she had time for was to scream, *"PETER!"* as Ryan's boot connected with her swollen belly.
As he charged like a bull through the door into the shop, he saw what his wife's attacker was about to do, which lent even more speed to his feet as he dove across the floor towards them. His wife's screaming of his name, followed by the hideous sound of Ryan's boot connecting solidly against her belly masked his own roar of rage. Snarling like a big cat, he tackled the larger, younger man, knocking him back and away from the fallen Davan, and to the floor. He landed on top, and quickly twisted away and to his feet as the larger man gasped for breath from the surprise attack.
Under normal circumstances, in a fair fight, Control would never have stood a chance against Ryan O'Rourke. However, this was certainly not normal, and Control had never been particularly fair in any fight in which he'd engaged. This time, his intention was to inflict as much pain as possible before killing his opponent. Once on his feet, he first landed two devastating kicks to Ryan's privates, and then his stomach. He followed up with a bone-crushing blow of his foot to Ryan's knee - the crunch of the breaking bones filled the room as Ryan began to scream. Totally berserk, and still roaring like an enraged lion, he then threw himself on his foe and began to systematically hit him with his fists, breaking Ryan's jaw and crushing his nose into a bloody pulp. There was no stopping him, and his friends wisely didn't try.
McCall, seeing that Control had his wife's assailant well in hand, hurried to the still fallen Davan. There was a pool of blood forming under her body, and he realized, to his horror, that if they didn't get her to the hospital immediately, both she and her children would die. "Mickey, where's your van?"
"Right out front. How bad is she?"
"There's a lot of blood. No time to call for an ambulance. We'll have to take her. Get Control!"
Mickey turned to the berserker who up to this point he had thought was the coldest and most emotionless being he'd ever met. He watched for a moment as Control's fists landed blow, after blow, after blow to the larger, younger man's face, and then Control shifted his weight from where he was straddling the man's chest further down and began breaking the guy's ribs...with his fists; the crunching sounds were rather hideous, and reminded Mickey more of the sound a baseball bat makes on ribs than fists. Taking a deep, shaking breath, he approached. He definitely did not want to come under fire of this man.
"Control!" He only received a growl of rage in return. "Control!" He realized he was being heard, but ignored. Good. That he could deal with. "Control, Davan's bleeding. We need to call her doctor and get her to the hospital fast, before it's too late."
To Mickey's amazement, Control froze, fist halfway to Ryan's sternum, which if the blow had landed like the others, would likely have stopped his heart. He lifted his gaze to Mickey's, the berserk rage draining from him. "Oh, God, no," he whispered and stood, leaving his adversary semi-conscious and whimpering on the floor. Control turned to see his wife of barely twelve days holding tightly to McCall's hand as he gently cradled her - the pool of blood beneath her spreading.
With a cry of anguish, already grieving his loss, he turned to place one final stomping kick to Ryan's privates, the crunch of splintering pelvic bones loud in the ensuing silence. Then he turned his back on his fallen foe and rushed to his wife, gently gathering her to him. He lifted anguished eyes to his friend, for once at a loss for what to do, tears of grief already coursing down his cheeks.
"Bellevue," Control choked out, burying his face in Davan's hair. She was barely conscious.
"Mo si'ocha'in, 'tis all right, then, love."
"Hold on, Davan, please don't leave me." The plea in his voice was heartrending to his friends, who looked at one another with little hope.
"I'll get the van. You get them moving, and I'll break every law I have to, to get them there in time."
McCall nodded and glanced at the now-unconscious reason for all this mayhem. "I'll stay and clean up the mess. I hope the police are in an understanding mood."
"You can explain it all to them." Mickey hurried out and got the back doors to his van open; glad he'd been planning on going camping that weekend, having already placed a mattress in the cargo area. So what if she bled all over it? It was soft, and would help avoid the jarring of the coming ride.
He hurried to the driver's side and got in, starting up and revving the engine.
"Control, we have to get her to the hospital, now. Come on, man, get moving before she bleeds to death!" He hated to cause more emotional pain, but he had no choice.
Robert's words landed like ice water on his ears, bringing him back to full reality. With his wife bleeding in his arms, he staggered to his feet and followed his friend to the door, and then to the van, where he climbed in the back and sat on the mattress, still cradling his wife against him. McCall slammed the doors shut and pounded on them, shouting, "GO!"
Mickey went. Fast. Pulling out of the cul-de-sac and heading for the larger street and the hospital.
"I don't suppose you know her doctor's number?"
Control took out his cell phone and tossed it to Mickey. He was in no condition to even try to verbally communicate. His throat was raw from the sounds he'd made while destroying the enemy, followed by the wail of grief at the realization that he was losing the most important thing in his life. "Five," he managed to growl before turning all his concentration on his wife as he begged her not to die.
Mickey had to dash tears from his own eyes. But he had a job to do and he was damned if he was going to fail. While he wove in and out of traffic, making all speed possible on the streets, he was grateful that the traffic wasn't all that bad, for once. Steering with one hand, he opened the cell and hit the buttons to speed dial. "Yeah, you Davan's doctor? Some guy just attacked her and kicked her in the kids. There's a lot of blood and we're headed for Bellevue. He's with her. We'll meet you in emergency. Thanks." He closed the phone and slid it into his pocket. "She'll meet us there."
"Thank you," Control whispered.
Mickey didn't bother to wipe the tears away. He had heard the hopelessness in Control's voice, and his heart broke for them.
He pulled into the emergency entrance, tires squealing on the turn and followed the same pattern ambulances did in backing up to the entrance. Throwing it into park and jumping out of the van, he hurried to the rear, shouting for help. Fortunately, there were a couple of orderlies out on the dock sneaking a cigarette, who quickly came over to see what was going on. They saw the blood and while one grabbed a gurney, the other ran for a doctor.
Too much was happening all at once, and Control was fine until they took her to surgery and he could no longer stay with her. At that point, Mickey was there to help him and get him settled down in the waiting room, where he fully intended to keep an eye on his boss.
He groaned as he sat down. Resting his elbows on his knees, he went to bury his face in his hands, only to hiss in pain. Mickey's head shot up at the sound and took a good look. "Hell, Control. How many knuckles did you bust on that guy?"
"All of them, I'm afraid." Control's voice was hoarse from his earlier screaming, and Mickey was a little surprised he could speak at all.
"Well, let's get them tended to while they're taking care of Davan."
Control's haunted blue eyes gazed at him in misery. "I need to tell them." He swallowed hard and tried again. "Tell them that if they have to make a choice, to save Davan."
Mickey's throat tightened. What a damnable choice to have to consider. "Let's get you down to have them look at your hands, and I'll make sure to tell the doctor when she gets here, okay?"
Weary almost beyond caring, at least for himself, Control nodded and allowed Mickey to herd him back down to the emergency room, where Kostmayer had to explain the entire story. "If they bring the guy in who hurt his wife? Do not let either of us see him, or we'll finish the job." He glared at the nurse, who nodded timidly at him. No, she did not want this man angry with her.
The door swung open and a woman entered. Striding right up to the receptionist, she asked. "Mrs. Murphy? Has she come in, yet?"
"They've rushed her into surgery, Doctor Collier. Third floor south."
"Uh, you're Davan's doctor?" Mickey asked.
She turned to him impatiently. "Yes? What is it?"
"If you have to choose, choose Davan."
Her heart skipped a beat. Was it that bad? She wondered. Seeing the man's earnestness, she nodded. "I'll do my best to save them all."
Mickey nodded. "Thanks. That's all you can do."
Swallowing, Dr. Collier nodded and hurried off.
"Yes, I saw most of what happened. I entered the shop in time to see that," he pointed at the unconscious and badly injured man on the floor, "Kick the shop owner in the abdomen. She's seven and a half months pregnant. Her husband, quite naturally, counterattacked."
The detective looked down at the behemoth on the floor. "How big is her husband?"
McCall shrugged. "Six foot, about a hundred and seventy pounds, give or take ten. Why?" He managed, somehow, to maintain his 'innocent' expression. Inside, he was just as amazed as the policemen were. The assailant had to be at least six foot four and weighed a good two-hundred-eighty pounds, and it didn't look like there was much fat on him at all.
The detective looked at McCall, who was a bit smaller than the lady's husband, and he shook his head. "How old is this guy?"
McCall smiled. "A bit older than I am." He wasn't exactly certain, but figured that was close enough. The cop's jaw dropped as he stared.
"Uh, okay. He some kind of martial artist or something?"
McCall frowned, no longer amused at all. "No. No, he's not. He was just very, very upset."
The paramedics were ready to transport the...assailant, and it took the two of them plus the ambulance driver and three cops to shift the man to the gurney for transport. "Uh, you know where I can talk to them? The victim and her husband?"
"Yes, they're at Bellevue. I've not heard from them, so I rather sadly suspect that they've got Davan in surgery." At least, he hoped she was in surgery, and not dead... that was not an event to contemplate. He'd seen an angry Control, before, but never anything like this. Control was hardly the term to describe his friend's actions. "I'll be going there, myself. If I see them first, I'll ask them to give you a call?"
"Yeah, thanks." The detective took out a card and handed it to him. "You sure the guy didn't have help takin' this brute down?"
Robert could honestly smile at that. He held out his hands. "You'll notice that I've not struck anyone. I'm sure that his hands are rather badly swollen and bruised. And if he managed to not break any knuckles, I'll be very surprised indeed."
The detective took a final look at the unconscious suspect and shuddered. "I gotta meet this guy."
Fortunately, Control was in X-ray when they brought in Ryan O'Rourke. Mickey was in the hallway outside, waiting - knowing that he didn't dare leave Control alone. The creep who hurt Davan would be coming here, and it was up to him to keep Control from finishing the job, damn it. For himself, he'd like to do it for him, but didn't want to go to prison for it. He was pretty sure that the cops and DA would ignore Control's little loss of it once they understood the whole story. At least, he hoped they did. Meanwhile....
"So, how does it look?" Control was haggard and looking positively ancient, his eyes were blank and hollow, as though he'd already accepted the loss of his family. Mickey wasn't feeling any better than Control looked, truth to tell. He liked the Irish lady, even if she did have unusual tastes in men.
Control sighed. "Like I popped a couple of knuckles."
"Have to go back and wait some more. Any word?" He didn't have to ask on what, but his demeanor indicated that he expected whatever news came to be bad.
"Not yet. I saw the doc and gave her your message. She's gone up to surgery. I'm going to stick with you until we find out how it goes, if that's all right?"
Control closed his eyes to hide his relief and nodded. "Thank you. What about Robert?"
"He's talkin' to the cops and will come when he's through."
"Did I kill him?"
"No. I think I stopped you. Sorry."
"Don't let it bother you."
"Who was that guy, and why did he attack Davan?"
"They were dating; her father didn't like him." He sighed and shook his head. "She was getting ready to go to her grandfather's for his birthday party when Ryan came over." His eyes opened and his anguish was palpable, "He raped her, and while he was doing that, the bomb he set went off and killed her entire family."
"Son of a bitch. I wish I hadn't stopped you."
Control almost smiled. "Just as well that you did, I suppose. The authorities tend to frown on murder, even with provocation."
"You were just defending your wife. No way they'd do anything."
Control chuckled, which worried Mickey, as he could hear the touch of hysteria in his voice.
"Think about it, he's half my age, and twice my size. They probably won't believe that I took him out."
"Well, I can attest to that. Man, you went nuts on him."
"I suppose I did." He frowned, concentrating, his eyes closed to help his memory. "I heard the first crash, and started moving, heard their voices and the second crash, and started moving faster, as I went down the stairs into the shop just in time to see him kick her. Oh, God," he groaned. "Davan," he whispered, the agony of seeing her bleeding on the floor, and the realization that he was covered in her blood. Her blood. He lurched to his feet and looked around frantically. Mickey, realizing what he was looking for, guided him to the men's room and then guarded the door while he vomited.
He understood what Control was going through, and wondered where he could get some scrubs for him to change into, and a shower, as well. He heard the water running, and poked his head through the door. "Leave trying to clean up until the doc sees you and I'll find you something to wear, okay?"
"Thank you." Control sounded world-weary and just a little like he was in shock. Mickey worried, hoping all this didn't send him into a heart attack! That was the last thing they needed. He kept close as they returned to the waiting room, just in time for Control to be called back again to have his hands looked at and tended to. Once he was sure that Control was being taken care of, he went hunting for something for him to change into.
"Mickey!" Robert called out as he entered the emergency room waiting area.
"Any word, yet?"
"She's in surgery, third floor. Control's in there," he jerked a thumb to indicate the direction, "Getting his hands tended to. Me, I'm tryin' to find him something to change into."
"No need. I brought him a change of clothes."
Mickey grinned, realizing that McCall had also changed. "Borrow some sweats from him?"
"Yes. I didn't think he'd mind."
"I'm sure he won't." He was careful to hide his amusement that McCall looked rather ragged...the pants were too snug, as well as too long, and so was the shirt, too tight, that is. "Why don't you take care of Control for a while, while I go see what's going on with Davan?"
"Fourth cubicle." With that, Mickey headed for the stairs. It might not be faster than the elevator, but it would burn off some of his excess energy.
Reaching the third floor surgery wing, he stopped at the nurses' station. He couldn't help grinning as he heard them talking.
"They said one man did that to him. Can you imagine?"
"I'd like to get a look at him, but from a distance, if you don't mind." The nurse noticed Mickey and turned to him. "May I help you?"
"Davan Murphy. The pregnant lady that bastard you were just talking about hurt. Can you find out how she's doing for me, please?"
"And your are?"
"A friend, who's asking for her husband, who is downstairs getting his knuckles taken care of."
The second nurse frowned. "Knuckles?"
"Yeah, from beatin' up the guy who hurt his wife? The one I'm askin' about?"
The pieces fell into place, and the first nurse smiled weakly at him and said, "Let me go check, all right?"
"Thank you. As soon as he gets cleaned up and his hands tended, he'll be comin' up to wait." If he wasn't so worried, the way the nurses scurried faster would have made him smile. Of course, he knew Control, so their fear was probably justified.
Five minutes later, the nurse returned. "They've done an emergency C-section. The babies are in incubators, now, but it's not looking very promising. They're still trying to stop her bleeding, and they found some other problems, but the doctor wants to speak to her husband, herself. I'm sorry."
Mickey frowned. "Since they're twins, why not put them in the same incubator together?"
The nurse frowned at him for a moment, and then smiled. "You know, that might not be a bad idea. I'll go over to the neonatal ICU and suggest that. Care to come?"
See Control's kids before he did? Not a good idea. "Uh, thanks, but no. Their dad should be the first one to see them, I think."
Remembering what the 'dad' had done to his wife's enormous assailant, the nurse paled and nodded. "All right, I'll go see what they say."
"Thanks. I'm gonna go back down and see how he's comin' along, and then we'll be back." On that rather ominous note, he turned and headed back down to the ER.
The doctor looked at the x-rays and shook his head in disgust. "Don't you think you're a little old to be having fistfights?"
"The man I fought with kicked my pregnant wife in the stomach. She's in surgery, trying to save her and the twins she was carrying," Control answered hoarsely, his voice barely above a whisper. "I'm not too old to defend my wife, doctor." He was annoyed. This doctor was no spring chicken, himself, and what right did he have in telling him off over defending his family?
The doctor scowled, looking at him, then understanding dawned, and his jaw dropped in surprise. "That giant they brought in? You did that?"
"If you mean Ryan O'Rourke from Ireland, yes."
The doctor shivered and turned his attention back to his patient's damaged and swollen hands. "Well, first, ice to reduce the swelling, and then we'll tape the knuckles. It's about all we can do, I'm afraid."
"All right. How many did I pop?"
Three on the right, two on the left." He shook his head as he sent the nurse for ice packs. "Considering, not too bad."
Control merely grunted in reply. The adrenaline surge was gone, now, and the post-stress exhaustion and lethargy was beginning to set in. "How long before you can tape them?"
"Well, I can probably do it now, providing you'll keep the ice on them for at least twenty minutes?"
"Not a problem." His voice had faded to a whisper as his abused vocal cords continued to swell. The doctor frowned and shifted his focus. "Open your mouth and let me see your throat."
Control shook his head. "I was yelling. Just overused them, is all."
"Fine, let me see, anyway," the doctor insisted. He peered down Control's throat and didn't need to use a scope. "All right. Try not to talk."
Control shook, trying to control his laughter. "I've still got to talk to the police. We didn't wait for them, because she was bleeding so badly."
The doctor shook his head. "They'd better talk to you today, then, because by tomorrow, you'll have no voice left at all."
Control smiled wearily and nodded his agreement.
When he left the cubicle, he looked surprised to see McCall leaning against the wall, waiting for him.
"Come on, I've found a place for you to shower and change."
"Thank you," Control whispered. "Any word?"
"Mickey's checking, now. Come along, the sooner you get cleaned up, the faster we can go see how she's doing."
Control simply nodded and followed his friend.
The hot water and soap made him feel better, but still not as good as he might have without the certainty that he was going to lose the most precious being in his life. He had already begun the grieving process, skipping over disbelief and rage, though he'd done the rage as he'd systematically destroyed the man who had stolen his lover from him, and going straight to acceptance. He'd never hurt so much in his life, and there was no medicine on earth that could ease it, except to render him unconscious for a time, but he'd long since learned that alcohol is only for occasional overuse - and this was not the time for it.
Dressed in the slacks, soft cotton shirt and sports coat that Robert had brought, he at least didn't feel the nausea he had while soaked in her blood. He couldn't imagine her being able to survive that much blood loss. And what of their children? Could they have survived that kick? He seriously doubted it. He took a deep, shuddering breath, and went out to find his friends waiting for him.
He looked at Mickey. "Any word?"
"Emergency C-section. Babies are alive and in an incubator. They're still working on Davan. Apparently there was something else wrong, but they sounded pretty hopeful."
It hadn't been what he was expecting to hear, and it froze the breath in his lungs for a moment. "What?" His vision dimmed as hope suddenly pounced on him, leaving him weak. She might survive?
"She wouldn't tell me, said the doc wanted to talk to you, herself. Come on, let's go see if there's any further word."
Control simply nodded and followed, dazed.
"By the way, I've a card from the policeman in charge of taking out the garbage, he'd like to speak to you at your earliest convenience."
The corner of Control's mouth lifted up in a sardonic half-smile. "Why don't you go and find him and bring him up to me, then?"
McCall nodded, patted him on the shoulder, and turned off at the next corridor intersection. He fully expected to be able to find the detective, as he was fairly certain that Ryan O'Rourke was undoubtedly in surgery, and that the police would be nearby. If it weren't so serious and painful, he'd have been looking forward to seeing the looks on the faces of the police when they discovered that Control had beaten that man so badly, using nothing more than his feet and fists.
Mickey got Control seated in the waiting room and headed for the nurse's station. The nurse looked up and her smile faded. She tilted her head to try and get a look at the man with him, but Mickey blocked her view. "How're they doin'?" he softly asked.
The nurse smiled and said, "Better. Putting them together seems to have been the right thing to do. They're holding each other and are sleeping."
Mickey grinned. "Great, but what about Davan? I got her husband, and he's kind of going into shock, now, which might be a good thing, if you know what I mean?"
The nurse swallowed nervously and nodded. She was dying to see the man who had beaten their other patient almost to death without using any weapons. The word was that the guy was a real mess. Smashed face, broken teeth, jaw, cheekbones, and no cartilage left in his nose, along with a broken collarbone, several broken ribs, a crushed pelvis (and privates) and a shattered knee.
It was hard to imagine what the man who had done all that looked like.
"I think they're getting ready to take her into recovery, and the doctor should be right out."
Mickey smiled, "Thanks."
She watched as he moved away and went to talk to the man with him. She frowned. The man was older, and not nearly big enough, in her mind, to have inflicted the damage on their patient, but his hands were bandaged and he had ice packs wrapped around both fists, so he'd obviously been in a fight. Then she noticed his face. Not a mark on him, but the saddest, weariest expression.... Her heart went out to him. If that was Mr. Murphy, he was a good bit older than his wife, so it was no wonder he was so upset. But how on earth had he done all that damage?
Both men looked up, and she mistook the younger one for her patient's husband. "Hi, I'm Dr. Collier. We haven't met."
"We still haven't. This is Mr. Murphy." It felt odd to call Control by his name - and his real name, at that.
Dr. Collier blinked in consternation and turned her attention to the other man. She was surprised he was so much older than Davan, but then, it wasn't really all that uncommon. She smiled timidly at him. "It's nice to finally meet you. Davan's told me a lot about you."
His eyes met hers, and the only word to describe them was 'dead'. There was no emotion, as though there was a steel door there, blocking any sentiment or feeling. It was unnerving, but she realized that he must have 'turned off' his emotions in order to deal with the pain of incipient loss. Thankfully, she was bringing good news - mostly.
"She's in recovery, now. She lost a lot of blood, as I'm sure you realize; both babies seem to be holding their own, although we don't normally put two in the same incubator; whoever thought of that one was a genius. They're apparently doing better than expected." She watched as Mr. Murphy's eyes came back to life and nearly gasped. She saw rage, quickly followed by surprise, and then hope in the glittering pale blue orbs. She smiled tentatively. "There was one complication, however."
"Will she live?"
Dr. Collier smiled, "It certainly looks like it. We'll have to watch for infection, of course, and there's that other problem I mentioned...."
"But she'll live? And the babies?"
"Well, the babies aren't out of the woods, yet, they are, after all, six weeks premature, and the boy has a very nasty bruise on his back."
"The boy?" There was surprise and wonder in his voice, "So, there's both a boy and a girl, then?"
"That's right, Mr. Murphy. One of each." She realized he was in shock, but then, he'd seen his wife brutally attacked, so that was quite natural. "About the complication?" She needed to prepare him, so he'd be able to support his wife.
"Complication?" He was still dazed. She would live, and their babies might, as well. Daven wasn't going to leave him! He took a deep breath to get his mind back to functioning. "What's the complication?"
She had his attention, now, and she found the intensity of his gaze disconcerting and almost frightening. "Do you know if your wife had regular checkups?"
He frowned, not understanding. "What do you mean?"
"An annual Pap exam?"
He looked confused. "I'm afraid I have no idea, why?"
The doctor sighed. "When we did the C-section, one of the interns noticed something. Both ovaries were inflamed, what is called pre-cancerous, Mr. Murphy. If she'd delivered normally in six weeks, and hadn't had the C-section, it might have been too late to save her. I'm a little surprised that she even conceived, let alone managed to carry them this far."
Cancer? Davan? "Oh, God, no..." His hoarse whisper snapped the doctor into reaching out and touching him. His eyes lifted to hers and his body stiffened in a manner that made her snatch her hand back. "No, you don't understand. We did a complete hysterectomy, and I'm pretty sure we got it all. It hadn't spread, yet. We were in time. But that means no more children. This is going to be it, for her. Do you understand?"
He was shaking, but yes, he understood. There would be no more children, but that was all right. As long as he still had her. "Yes. I understand." He looked earnestly into her eyes. "When can I see her?"
It was better than she'd expected. She smiled. "I'll come and get you when they're about to move her to a room, and take you up to meet your children and then to see her, all right?"
"Yes, thank you."
McCall saw the doctor talking to Control and Kostmayer, so he stopped the detective from entering the waiting room. "Give the doctor a chance to finish," he advised.
The officer nodded and looked at the two men. He could see that the younger one didn't look like he'd been in a fight, and turned his attention to the older one. He didn't look like he'd been in a fight, either, until he noticed the ice packs on his hands. McCall was right, this guy wasn't much more than half the size of the man he'd clobbered. Amazing. And at the moment, the guy looked positively ancient, until the doctor obviously gave him some good news. Remembering the victim was the guy's wife and that she could have died, he assumed, correctly, that she was going to live. He was glad for the guy, but his report was not going to be believed.
When the doctor stood up to leave, they entered.
"I've brought the policeman. Detective Farley, this is Mr. Murphy, the victim's husband, and our associate, Mickey Kostmayer, who was also a witness. He's the one who drove them here. In time, I take it?"
Control nodded wearily. "She should be all right. The babies are still touch and go, however." He looked at the officer. "You're wondering how I managed to do that much damage?"
"Yes, sir." He turned his attention to Mickey, "But maybe I should talk to Mr. Kostmayer, first. I've already got Mr. McCall's statement. Do you mind waiting?"
Control smiled. "Not at all. I've nowhere to go at the moment, until they let me see my family. After that, I doubt I'll be in any condition to talk to anyone about anything." His voice was cutting in and out, so he simply whispered.
"Thank you, sir."
Kostmayer's statement essentially matched McCall's, much to his relief. Whereas McCall had focused on the woman, Kostmayer focused on Murphy. He got Mickey's promise to come in and sign his statement and then turned his attention to Murphy.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"I heard something tip over downstairs in the shop and got up. We'd been discussing some plans for renovating part of the building as a surprise for Davan. As I started down the stairs, I heard him raise his voice at her. From his accent, I guessed who it was and started moving faster. When I came through into the shop, it was just in time to see him kick her. After that, I'm not real sure what happened, except that I wanted to hurt him." He shrugged. "I wasn't really aware until Mickey called me and said something about Davan bleeding and we needed to get her to the hospital as soon as possible." He looked the officer in the eyes and smiled. "Seems we just might have been in time."
Farley wasn't really surprised that Murphy didn't recall the particulars of what he'd done to the man who attacked his wife, but he needed more. "You said you guessed who he is, who is he, and why did he attack your wife?"
"About four years ago, her family was killed in an explosion in Belfast. They were Catholic, so the authorities concluded they'd been storing explosives for the IRA - only they weren't members of the IRA. Her boyfriend, however, who was very careful to keep her from joining her family, might be. The authorities didn't believe her when she accused him of murdering her family, so she sold everything she owned and came here."
"They were involved?"
"He certainly thought so." Control was able to meet Farley's eyes and the fire in his eyes caused the policeman to flinch back from him.
Clearing his throat, Farley took refuge in his notes. "His name?"
"Ryan O'Rourke, from Belfast, Ireland."
Farley nodded and finished writing down the name and closing his notebook, stood. "Thank you. I'd like to speak to your wife when she's able. Just to make it complete?"
"Of course." Control stood as well and shook hands with the officer. "To tell you the truth, I think I was trying to kill him."
"You came close. He's still in surgery, wiring his jaw back together, repairing his knee as best they can, and I heard they may have to operate on his pelvis to repair that, as well." He watched Control, wondering how this man, older, smaller, and apparently weaker than his opponent, had managed to do so much damage without being injured in exchange. It was hard to believe he didn't have any help, but looking at the other two men, it was obvious that they hadn't been involved, physically, at least.
"Mr. Murphy? Your wife is being moved to her room, now. If you'll come with me?"
Farley saw something change in Murphy as the man's eyes came alive with a light from within that gave him just a glimpse of the real man who had the strength and internal fortitude to have done what he'd so obviously done. He nodded, suddenly understanding. It hadn't been simple physical strength, but internal that had allowed him to take on the behemoth that had attacked his wife. "Thank you, Mr. Murphy. Go on and take care of your family. I hope they'll all be okay."
She felt odd, like she was floating. If she concentrated - or could concentrate, she thought that she'd probably be in pain, but at the moment, it was all floating and serene. The only sense really working at all, was hearing....
*"Poor thing. No more kids for her."
"Did you see what her husband did to her attacker, though? Talk about punishment to fit the crime!"
"Yeah, but what about her? She's never going to be able to have kids, now. And with her husband being so much older, that's kind of sad."
"Well, she's alive at least. That's something."
"Too bad about the hysterectomy, though."
"Better than dying from cancer!"
"True. Still unfortunate."*
The voices drifted away and she realized that they had been talking about her! Hysterectomy? Cancer? No babies? Her heart swelled with grief and she allowed the gray to fade into black.
He sat beside her bed, elbows on the mattress beside her, one of her hands grasped in both of his. All his attention was focused on her. Despite his loss of voice, he was whispering to her, telling her how important she was to him.
"The first time you flirted with me. I couldn't believe it. You're so much younger than I am, but it was flattering, so I guess I flirted back. I'm not sure, it's not something I've ever been very good at or confident about. But I got to where I enjoyed coming in, just for that. I still can't believe that you asked me to stay, or any of the rest of what happened. Do you have any idea how much you mean to me? I don't want to play the game, any more. I'd rather be with you. I could sit and watch you for hours, you know? Watch you sleep, work, cook... and when you catch me at it, that smile you give me makes me want to do anything to please you. I've never felt like this for anyone else, ever. Please wake up, mo anam. I need you, a ghra'. I need you so much." He turned his head to kiss her fingers.
Her other hand reached across her body to touch his cheek, surprising her with the dampness. Turning her head to see him, she could see he was crying. For her? Or for the loss of the babies?
"I'm sorry, Peter."
He lifted his eyes to her in surprise. "You've nothing to be sorry for, mo chroi."
"I heard the nurses talkin'. I heard what they said. I've lost our babies and there won't be any more."
"Lost? You didn't lose them. They're both still alive, although in ICU, love. You haven't lost them."
She frowned in confusion. "But I heard them. They said there'd be no babies for me."
He smiled and kissed her fingers. "They found cancer when they were doing the C-section, a ghra'. They had to do a complete hysterectomy to prevent it spreading, love. There will be no more babies. But we have two. Isn't that enough, then?"
"We have two? They'll live, then?"
"Our daughter is looking very good, but our son," he had to swallow hard and then continued whispering, "He's got Ryan's boot print on his back, and they aren't as sure about him." Seeing the tears well up in her eyes, he hurried on, "Whatever happens, we'll get through it, Davan. We'll get through it together, understand?" She nodded and he gently wiped her tears away, as she did the same for him.
"Have ye seen them, then?"
He smiled. "Yes, just like in the sonograms, in each other's arms. They're doing better than expected after someone suggested they be put in the same incubator. They're beautiful, Davan. Their hair is black, like yours, and - and oh, mo chroi'," his tears began again. "Do you know how much I love you?"
And for the first time, seeing him in tears like this, she did. "Stay w' me then."
"I dare them to try and make me leave," he promised, kissing her hand again. She met his tearful eyes with her own and smiled.
"Well enough, then, love." Secure in his presence and his love, she drifted back to sleep.
"Okay, McCall, we've got about a week before they get back. I made the arrangements with the contractor, and he's coming over Saturday morning. Can you come and help me make sure they don't make a mess?"
"Mickey, if they're going to be building, they are going to make a mess."
"They're working on Davan and Control's place. I'd like a little help in watching them, okay?"
"Ah, I understand. Yes, I suppose I could assist you in that endeavor." He thought for just a moment and then smiled. "I'll guard the third floor."
"I thought you might. See you at six, then."
"Wait! Six? In the morning?"
"Yeah. They're due to start work at six-thirty, so I figured I'd make sure there was coffee for 'em before they started, you know, make it nice for them?" Mickey couldn't keep the amusement from his voice.
McCall sighed. "Oh, very well, then. Six it is."
"Great. I'll make sure the first pot is ready when you arrive so you can finish waking up."
"Yes, thank you."
Mickey Kostmayer felt as uncomfortable sleeping in Control and Davan's apartment while she was in the hospital as he had when they were on their honeymoon just a couple of weeks earlier. But going through their closets and drawers in order to gather some clean clothes for his boss was even more uncomfortable. Especially when he pulled out one of Control's t-shirts, only to have a very slinky silk nightie come out with it and fall to the floor. He stared down at it for a long moment before stooping down to pick it up. There was a post-it note attached to it. It said.... "Too much information, people," Mickey muttered, thoroughly embarrassed. Although, it was kind of nice to know how much they were in love. It was sweet, and touching...and totally embarrassing to see evidence of it. He carefully tried not to see just how revealing that nightgown was as he gently refolded it, put the post-it back in place, and proceeded to bury it once more in amongst the t-shirts.
He got the sports bag packed with enough clothes to last three days. After that, he'd pack a second bag and do an exchange. One good thing about staying here, they had a washer and dryer... great, he'd be doing Control's laundry, too. Oh, well. Whistling softly, interspersed with humming, he locked up and headed down to the hospital. This time, he hoped to get a look at the kids.
"Hey, Farley, what are you doing back here?"
The detective turned to see him and waited for him to catch up. "Mrs. Murphy's awake. I still need to get her statement. Oh, and I just happen to have yours here, as well, if you wouldn't mind signing it?"
"Sure, no problem. Come on up, I was going to stop off and get a look at the kids, see how they're doing. Then we'll go up and you can talk to Davan."
"Sure, why not? Kids?"
"Twins, boy and a girl. The girl's doing fine, but there's still some question about the boy's chances." He was careful to keep his voice neutral and unemotional.
"Oh? Why is the boy doing so bad? Smaller?"
"No, they're about the same size. He just has this big, honking boot print on his back. Can you imagine getting whiplash before being born? And being six weeks early, to boot? He's hurt, Farley, and he's premature. You tell me why he's not doing as well as his sister."
Farley frowned as he quietly followed Kostmayer up to the neonatal ICU. Mickey smiled at the duty nurse and asked for the Murphy children and was pointed in the proper direction. Thanking her, he led the way. "Man, look at how tiny they are. Two pounds three ounces for her, two pounds four ounces for him. Man, is that ugly."
'That' was a perfect footprint, complete with shoe tread pattern. Farley blinked and turned back to the nurse's station. "Excuse me?"
"The Murphy boy, I need a photograph of the mark on his back, please?"
The nurse looked at him, scowling. "What for?"
"To nail the guy who did that to him." The nurse frowned for just a moment and then went through the files, extracting several photos and handing them over. Farley looked at them avidly. "Were there any internal injuries, pelvis damage?"
"No, mostly just stress and shock, and whiplash, of all things. He wouldn't stop crying, wouldn't sleep, wouldn't relax, until someone suggested we put the two babies together. Two minutes later, they were sucking each other's fingers and sound asleep." She smiled. "They say that twins have a special bond, but that's usually between identical twins, not fraternal. It was pretty amazing. Personally, I think that as long as they're allowed to be together? They'll both be just fine."
Farley nodded and looked at the photos. He was going to need to get a look at Ryan O'Rourke's boots. After he talked to Davan Murphy, that is.
He followed Mickey up to Davan Murphy's room. It was still early in the morning, not yet visiting hours, but no one stopped them or tried to chase them off. He did notice several people looking at him oddly, until he realized that it was his companion they were all looking at - and backing away from. Now, why would anyone here be afraid of the little guy?
Entering Davan's room, Mickey shook his head. "Now why am I not surprised they let him get away with that?"
'That' was Control stretched out on the bed beside his wife, his head on her pillow, and her head on his shoulder. There was something tender and protective in the way he lay, and Mickey couldn't help but shake his head and smile.
"If you wake her..." Control's broken whisper sounded softly. Mickey held his hands out to the side.
"Hey, don't blame me. I just brought you some clothes and stuff. Farley, here, he's just needing signatures on statements and to talk to Davan, when she wakes up."
Control sighed. "It's too damn early for this," he grumbled, but eased up so he could lean over his wife. "Mo chroi', the guarda is here to speak with you, wake up, now."
There was a grumbling sound from the waking Daven. "The guarda can go and..." Whatever she'd been about to say was muffled by her husband's kiss.
"Come, a ghra', you don't even know the man, then. While you talk with him, I'm going to go and see about some coffee."
"I brought coffee." Mickey held up a thermos and grinned. "I also brought your stuff," he added rather pointedly. Taking the hint, Control sighed, took the sports bag and the thermos and disappeared into the bathroom to shower, shave, and change. Looking at Farley, he offered, "If you want, I can step outside until you're through."
"That won't be necessary. I just need to hear what happened from Mrs. Murphy's point of view." He smiled at her, but received a frown of mistrust from her. "Can you tell me what happened, Mrs. Murphy?"
"I can, that, then? Ryan was me feller back in Belfast, then?" Her eyes narrowed, and she watched Farley closely. "I believe the olc mallacht killed me family, then?"
"Olc mallacht?" Farley asked, confused.
"He is that, then? An evil curse he is, and a curse be upon him from now until the trump o' doom, and beyond, then? I know he killed me family, then, but the guarda, they didn't believe me, then? So I sold me granda's farm and bought me shop, then? Nigh about three years ago, now? Only one I told I was coming ta Americay was me best friend, Brigid, then? She vowed she'd never tell anyone where I'd gone, then?" She frowned, "But I fear for her, now. Ryan said he'd made her tell - oh, he didn't tell her name, but as she was the only one to know?" A tear slipped from her eye and she looked towards the bathroom, wanting her husband. To her surprise, Mickey came over and lightly perched on the edge of her bed, taking and holding her hand.
He could see how upset she was, so he only did what he thought might help. He sat on the edge of the bed and picked up her hand, holding it gently and smiling encouragement to her.
Braver with his show of support, she continued. "'Twas a quiet time in me shop, then? After the usual crowd that comes in first thing, and before those coming on their lunch time? I heard the bell and looked up and me heart nearly froze in me chest when I saw him. I was behind the counter, then, and he came over and I told him to get out, but he seemed unconcerned; told me how upset he were with me for selling the farm and runnin' away, then, and that he was my man, then. Said the farm should have been his for me dowry, then. I told him he was a murderin' ...and then he reached over the counter and grabbed me arm. He was angry, and knocked over a display of books. Then he pulled me from behind the counter and saw I was pregnant and then he wanted to know what man had been plowin' 'his' field. His! I told him I was never and could never be his, and then he hit me and knocked me down, and then he kicked me, then?" Tears began trickling down her cheeks as she relived the fear and pain of that time, but then her eyes cleared, and she actually smiled. "Just then, Himself came in, roarin' like a doin siddhe, and as Ryan turned towards him, he hit him, hard, tackling him to the floor, then. Then he sprang away and kicked him, first in the privates, then his stomach, then stomped his knee, and then he straddled him and began to hit him in the face, he did." There was wonder and pride and delight in her voice and expression, that her husband had been so out of control on her behalf. "An' then Mr. McCall was there, gatherin' me up and we realized I was bleedin' and I could feel the hurt and that me babies were hurt, as well." The tears again made their appearance. "I think mo fear was going ta kill Ryan, he was, but Mr. McCall told Mickey to get Himself and then get his van as I needed ta get ta hospital before it was too late, then." She looked at Mickey and smiled, squeezing his hand. "I thank ye, for that, Mickey Kostmayer, and like it or not, yer a friend ta me and mine. Deny it all ye want, but it's true, then, and ye know it."
Mickey, who had been about to protest, let the words remain silent as Control stepped out of the bathroom, showered, shaved, and changed into fresh clothes, and who had also obviously heard every word. "She's right, Kostmayer. Thank you."
There was a great deal in that simple thank you, and Mickey gave them his lopsided grin and moved out of the way so Control could take his rightful place by his wife, so they could face Farley together.
"Thank you. I've got a call in to the Belfast police. I'm hoping to hear back from them either today or Monday. If I have any more questions, I'll let you know, and if it's all right, I'll get your statement typed up and bring it back for you to sign, Mrs. Murphy."
"That's fine, then."
Farley brought out the other two statements he had with him and got Mickey and Control to sign them. With that, he rose and wished them luck, and left.
"Well, I'd better get going, too, so I can get the shop opened up on time."
"Thank ye, Mickey, I'm sorry ta be so much trouble, then."
Mickey grinned. "No trouble. I didn't have anything urgent to do, anyway." With a grin and a wave, he left.
Knowing what Control was capable of (Ryan O'Rourke had still not regained consciousness), the hospital staff was very accommodating. No one said a single word against the man's staying with his wife, or lying beside her in the hospital bed; particularly since she was so obviously happy when he was near. One thing that everyone noticed was just how gentle and considerate he was to his wife, and in the neonatal ICU, he was the model of gentleness when he was allowed to hold his children for the first time. When he requested they be moved to his wife's room so she could see them, there was consternation. Yes, they were doing well, but they were still highly fragile, but when they remembered Ryan O'Rourke - they quickly relented and moved the incubator down to Davan's room.
At Davan's request, she was allowed to breast-feed her babies, and almost immediately, they began to thrive. Of an evening, the adults could be seen cuddling their children as the father read to them, and there was no real surprise at how quickly the children developed as they responded more to the love than the medications they received. After a week, Davan was allowed out of bed, and after two, was ready to be released, although the children would have to be kept for at least two more weeks.
As far as the staff was concerned, it was little different from when she was a patient, as both parents spent most of the day with their children, who continued to thrive far beyond what had been expected. Though they did leave them late every evening to go home to eat and sleep, they'd be back again at first light.
Control's reputation as the man who had nearly beaten his wife's attacker to death was replaced by the reputation of a gentle, considerate man who loved his family.
Control looked up from where he was changing his daughter's diaper and frowned. "Detective Farley, isn't it?"
He was surprised Murphy remembered him. "Yes, sir. We got something back on your Ryan O'Rourke. Seems he almost killed a Brigid Hanrahan. Probably thought he had, but she managed to get to a phone in time. She identified O'Rourke as the man who assaulted her, and that he forced the location of your wife from her. She also told them that O'Rourke admitted killing your wife's family to her, and that he promised to do the same to hers if she didn't talk. They reopened the case on her family, and this time, I guess they've done a better job of it. After we're through with him, they'd like him back."
Control nodded as he finished fastening the fresh diaper to his tiny daughter. "I haven't heard, but then, I haven't exactly asked, either. What kind of shape is he in?"
"Well, he's out of ICU, but he's still in traction for his knee, and his pelvis will never be the same - nor will his face. They didn't even try to fix his nose, just removed the splinters of cartilage. They had to wire his jaw and put in a couple of metal plates and screws. There was no displacement on the broken cheekbone, so they left it alone. The ribs, they taped, and the broken collarbone, they taped and immobilized the arm." He couldn't keep the awe out of his voice that this so seemingly mild-mannered man could have done that much damage to his so much larger opponent. "Oh, and he'll probably never be able to, uh, rape anyone else, sir." He rather liked that particular bit of damage Murphy had done. It seemed somehow appropriate, under the circumstances.
"What about me, then?" He calmly lifted his gurgling daughter, cradling her gently in his arms.
"What about you? You defended your wife from the man who tried and nearly succeeded in killing her." Farley shrugged. "As far as the DA is concerned, he only wishes you'd had the opportunity to finish the job - although, maybe having to live with the results of his actions is a better punishment. He'll get ten to twenty for the attempt, and the Irish will probably give him life."
"Ulster. Not 'the Irish'. Ulster belongs to England."
"I know. But they're finally doing right by your wife, even if it did take them more than four years to do it."
Control sighed. "Doesn't change anything, though." He shook his head. "Actually, I should thank him."
Farley was taken aback. "What? You're kidding, right?"
He shook his head. "No. If he hadn't hurt her, they might not have found the cancer in time, and I could have lost her." He looked the detective in the eyes, "I do not want to have to contemplate what would have happened in that case. In the end, he did us a favor." His daughter began to whimper, and all his attention turned to her. "Shhh, mo ciste; we'll get ye back to your mother, now."
Farley watched, amazed, as possibly the most dangerous man he'd ever met carried his tiny daughter into the next room to her mother.
"May every happiness follow you and yours," he softly murmured before turning and leaving. It would be interesting to see the looks on the cops from Ireland who were on their way to try and extradite O'Rourke. He wanted a camera ready when they met Murphy and found out that he was the one to beat their bully-boy to a pulp.
It had been hard, once they started coming home at night, but Mickey and Robert managed to keep the upstairs construction from being noticed - although Control knew it was going on when he went up to the library to get a book to read. When they were finally allowed to bring their children home, Mickey was there to meet them.
"I've got a little surprise for you."
Davan smiled. "Supper, then?"
Mickey grinned. "Well, that, too, but something else. Come on." He led the way, up past the second floor to the third, where he flipped a switch and bright fluorescent lights came on. "The alcoves have some new furniture and softer lighting, but I thought that out here, in the stacks, the fluorescents might work better?" They hadn't had an opportunity to discuss the specifics, so Mickey had done what he, Nick, and the contractor and concluded would be best.
Davan was thrilled. "Oh, it's wonderful, then." She beamed at the two men. "Thank ye, Mickey, 'tis wonderful, it is."
"Uh, there's more. Come on, and I'll show you." He caught Control's grateful smile and grinned. He led the way to the doorway leading to the stairs that went up to the fourth floor. "Control said you never made it up this far, but he did. We've been working on it off and on since the wedding. Did you come up to check it out, Control?"
"No. I didn't have the time. How'd it turn out?"
"Well, I think you'll like it, but decide for yourself." He flung open the double doors that opened off the landing, and flipped another switch.
Control's breath caught. It looked even better than he'd imagined it would. He turned to watch Davan's reaction.
She gasped in amazement. The heavy Victorian furniture had been cleaned and polished, as had the chandeliers. The rich wood gleamed in the soft lamplight, and the wonderful velvets and tapestry fabrics seemed to beg her to touch them. Slowly, she moved to the center of the room and turned around to look. Her eyes turned to her husband's, who was looking uncertain. "Where did all this come from, then?"
"It was already here. I discovered it that first day, when you went to Mass? I was looking for you, and I found the stairs. When I realized what it was, I wanted to surprise you with it, but then things changed rather quickly, and my plans changed somewhat." He watched her amazement and began to smile. "Is it a good surprise then, mo a'thas?
"Oh, it's a wonderful surprise, then." She turned, smiling, to Mickey, who was grinning smugly. "Is there more, then?"
"Oh, yeah. The whole floor is one big apartment. I suggest, however, you drop the kids off in the nursery, first." His smirk turned into a delighted grin as Control looked askance. "We found some great stuff up here. I'll show you."
Therewith proceeded the guided tour, with Mickey delightedly showing them around. The nursery was typically Victorian, with two cribs that could be adjusted to toddler-sized cots, cradles, changing tables, bassinettes and... toys. Beautiful, pristine antiques. Hobby horses, dolls, wooden farm animals and wagons - it looked exactly like what it was, a Victorian nursery - with the addition of electric lights, and some very modern toys, soft plush animals and vinyl teething toys for as the babies grew.
"Who brought the toys?" Control asked softly as he placed his son in a cradle with his sister as Davan walked around the room, touching and marveling.
"McCall, Pete, Sue, me." He shrugged. "Figured that some of these things aren't as appropriate as they were when new."
Control grinned. "Thanks." He looked around and shook his head. "You did a great job. I can't even tell where they worked on the walls."
Mickey grinned. "Good. That's what they promised, although they had a hell of a time with the initial wiring, since they had to break through two and a half inches of wetwall lath and plaster." He shook his head, "Whoever built this place sure knew what they wanted. But that's why it's so easy to heat and cool, they said."
"Oh, Mickey, this is wonderful, then. Show us the rest, then?"
He did so, and gladly, grinning delightedly with every fresh revelation. When they came to the master bedroom, he stood back to watch.
The carpet was a magnificent Shiraz, in shades of midnight blue with a vibrant floral border. The walls were painted, rather than papered, and Control looked askance at Mickey, who grinned. "The wallpaper was in lousy shape, so we took it down and painted. Hope you don't mind?"
"Not at all. Who chose the colors?"
"Sue and Pete. Is it all right?"
"Oh, it's perfect, it is." Davan was gently stroking the heavy velvet drapes hanging from the canopy over the bed, they were sewn-together panels of the same midnight blue that was in the rug and a deep emerald green, which went so well with the pale sea-green walls and ceiling. The wood was ebony, and huge, and heavy. Yet the room was light and warm, and totally sensual. The bedspread was the same dark emerald velvet as was on the curtains hanging from the canopy, and the window curtains were an ivory colored damask lace. It was at once opulent and sensual, as well as warm and inviting. She imagined them in bed together, with himself reading to her and she shivered in anticipation of that and other things. She turned to Mickey, beaming, and compulsively threw her arms around him and gave him a kiss on the cheek, much to his relief. Then she spun away from him and threw herself into her husband's arms. "Ye knew about this, then?"
"Not how beautiful it would be, but I knew it was up here. Just not how much there was." He looked at the broadly grinning Mickey, his eyes narrowing. "All right, Kostmayer, what else? I know that look, you've got something else up your sleeve."
"If you'll follow me." He turned and led them out into the hallway and to the slightly smaller-than-standard door he'd found when cleaning. Opening it, he led the way up the stairs and opened the door at the top.
It had never occurred to him that there was anything above the fourth floor but the roof, and he was right, but what was on the roof took some getting used to. He stared in consternation, first at what was there, and then at Mickey. "When on earth did you find the time to do this?"
Mickey grinned, delighted. "Most of it was already here. I just pulled the weeds out, and did a little pruning. The plants are all volunteer, from whenever the last time it was planted. I don't know what most of them are, but those look like tomatoes, to me, and there's corn, and beans, and some kind of squash and some kind of melons, and I think that's a cherry tree, and I'm pretty sure those are apples." He was thrilled with their reactions. Who would ever have expected to find a complete garden on the roof?
Davan stooped by one of the planting beds. "Oh, herbs! There's sorrel, and borage, and lovage.... Peter, it's wonderful!"
He looked around and scowled at Mickey. "You didn't answer the question. When did you do this?"
"After we cleaned up? Only took us a day and a half. So that gave me two and a half days to work up here. Well, not really. One full day, Sunday, and every evening after closing the shop. I figured it might be something you'd like? You'll notice that the greenhouse isn't even visible from the street, but it's big enough for the trees, and when I went outside? There's more boxes out there, filled with more plants - and the parapet is four feet tall, so the kids will be safe up here until they're old enough to know not to climb the walls." He grinned happily. "So, do you like it?"
"It's wonderful," Davan cried. Control simply smiled.
"So, is it safe to say that the reveal was a success?" Robert McCall's voice drifted over from the door to the stairs. He came out bearing a tray with glasses and a bottle of champagne. He was followed by Pete O'Phelan and Sue Eriksen, who smiled uncertainly at them, unsure of her welcome. But when Mickey held his arm out to her, she smiled at him warmly and stepped over to him, taking his hand.
Control's smile broadened; he'd missed his friend over the past few weeks, and realized that he must have been helping with the renovations. Sue was only a slight surprise. Apparently, they had more in common than he'd at first thought. As they sat at the hundred-plus year old Victorian patio table and chairs, sipping their champagne, Mickey revealed one final new toy.
"And, for those times you need to get away and not go far." He flipped a switch on a small radio-sized box, and the sounds of snuffling and deep breathing infants could be heard. "Baby monitor."
Davan and her husband smiled and then laughed. "Perfect, Mickey. Thank you."
"Uh, don't thank me. I just installed it. It was Sue's idea."
Control turned to the woman he was training to take over for him. "Thank you, Sue." He smiled at her. "Which reminds me, how have things at the office been?"
"Busy, as usual, of course. Thankfully, nothing we haven't been able to handle; although, I'm looking forward to having Mickey back to his regular job, soon."
"I'm sure you are," Control murmured, getting matching glares from both Eriksen and Kostmayer, which only made him chuckle. "I think that I'm about ready to put in my retirement paperwork," he quietly announced.
Sue's eyes widened in horror. "I'm not ready!"
"Of course you are. It's not like I'm going to move to Florida, after all. I'll still be around if you need help, you know."
McCall and Pete exchanged shocked looks and even Mickey squirmed nervously.
"Uh, how's about you don't retire, but just cut back to part time?" Mickey suggested, fully understanding Sue's dismay.
Control smiled. "No, because then every single day, I'd be being asked to do some kind of 'emergency' backup. It's better if I make a clean break and then make them pay me by the job, like a contractor, as it were. Offering advice and solutions. Otherwise, I'll never get out. Besides, you've done just fine without me. And that was simply because you thought I was right there in case anything went wrong, which I wasn't, in case you didn't notice. And to tell you the truth, I simply do NOT want to even try to play catch-up on the past month. I haven't read a newspaper, or watched the news at all. I'm completely in the dark, at the moment. So that makes this the perfect moment to retire." He sat back and smirked, watching them fidget. He glanced over at his wife, who smiled serenely at him.
She'd worried about how he'd take to retirement, after so long in the thick of things, but he'd totally refocused on her and her needs, as well as the needs of their children. She imagined that he'd been formidable in whatever work he'd done, as the way he'd transferred that same intensity to caring for his family. He'd asked her once how she'd like to have him underfoot all day, every day. She could safely answer that, now. She'd love it. And, if he should get bored, he could always visit his old haunts and offer up his services - but only as an advisor. She wanted him home with her each night.
Sue Eriksen felt like the roller-coaster ride she'd gotten on had suddenly turned into a living, breathing monster, and she was caught up in its play. She was half terrified, and half excited, wondering if she could do this? But he was right. She had been doing just fine, thinking for herself. True, she'd thought she had his experience and expertise on call, but thinking about it, she hadn't even thought to call him, even once. Slowly, she nodded. "Just make sure you leave me a number where you can be reached."
He smiled. "Of course. The shop is listed, and we have an answering machine."
McCall watched in amazement. There was no threat of sanctions. No dire threats. None of the things he'd gone through when he'd quit. It annoyed him. Why were they letting Control go so easily? After all these years, why? He shifted in his seat, frowning in confused indignation.
"Robert," Control softly chided. "I'm not leaving in anger and with threats. I've been in the business for forty-five years, and even old spooks eventually get to retire. Our circumstances are very different. If you'll recall, you made a lot of threats when you quit. I'm offering my services if they're ever needed. I'm hoping they won't be, but will be available if they are."
McCall heaved a heavy sigh and nodded. "I understand, intellectually, but am having a bit of trouble actualizing it. I can't imagine you ever actually not being there, in your office, whenever I'm looking for you."
Control smiled. "I do understand, old son, but there had to come a day, and to be completely honest, I much prefer it this way to being carried out."
"Here, here, to that!" Mickey fervently agreed. He grinned at Sue, "So, boss lady, what've you got for me?"
She smiled slyly. "I've got a desk and a bunch of reports for us to go through, just like at the beginning."
Mickey groaned. "What about some action?" he practically whined.
"Oh, you'll see some action," Sue promised.
Control exchanged an amused glance with Robert and Pete, who both smirked back at him. Davan leaned close and breathed into his ear, "Was that a proposition she just made ta him, then?" Control chuckled and kissed her cheek.
"I do believe it was, mo chroi'. I do believe it was."
She smiled and kissed his cheek. "That's good, then."
"What's good?" Mickey asked, wondering what the whispering was about.
"Just predicting the future, young son," Control answered him with a grin. "Just predicting the future."
A soft mewling sound came from the baby monitor and both parents sprang to their feet to hurry and respond. They forgot that the baby monitor was still on, and that their very intimate conversation could be heard by their guests.
"Uh, that's a whole lot more than I want or need to know, guys." Mickey was blushing crimson as the conversation they overheard was graphic in the extreme. Without bothering to ask, he stood up and turned off the baby monitor. Recovering, he grinned. "Think that was a hint that the party should be over?"
McCall, who had been fascinated by the unintentional look into his friend's relationship with his wife, sighed. "Yes, I suppose so."
Neither man noticed the envious look exchanged by the two women. If they had, they might have been more attentive. As it was, they headed down the stairs to the apartment to say their goodbyes. The women lagged behind a bit.
"Davan is very lucky," Pete murmured. "He's even more attentive than my Mike was," she added, wistfully.
"Wow. No wonder she's so hooked on him. That is one hell of a man."
Pete nodded. "Men like that are very few and far between, and when another man sees that trait, it embarrasses them. Did you see how both Mickey and Robert reacted?"
Sue sighed. "Yeah. I wonder if they can learn, though?"
"I don't know. I admit that I never had any idea Control had it in him. He always portrayed the perfect company man, cold, hard, unfeeling. Who knew he had such fire and passion underneath?"
Pete frowned, "What?"
"Iceland. Cold, inhospitable, difficult to endure, but underneath, full of hot, molten lava, waiting to burst out."
"What a perfect metaphor. Yes, Iceland." She grinned. "I think you've just given him his new code name."
Sue giggled. "I think you're right." The two women grinned at one another conspiratorially.
"If only those two would get a clue, now," Sue grumbled softly.
"Within our lifetimes, preferably?"
"Yeah?" He was surprised to see Control. He expected they could have snuck out without being noticed, but that obviously was not the case. He stiffened nervously when Control put an arm around his shoulders and drew him aside. This did not look good.
"How involved are you and Eriksen?"
"Not very, or not yet?"
"Uhhhh, not yet?"
Control nodded. "One word of advice?"
Mickey blinked. Control was going to give him advice on women? Then he remembered what he'd accidentally overheard and flushed, realizing that maybe the older man just might have some good advice, after all.
"Always make sure you treat her like a lady, even if she isn't acting like one, and never be in too much of a hurry. Take your time, and unless specifically requested otherwise, always be gentle."
"And talk to her?"
Control, realizing that the baby monitor had not been turned off, blushed, and then smiled. He had nothing to be embarrassed about. He and his wife had just been a bit graphic in their professions of love for one another. "Never be embarrassed to tell a woman how you feel about her. Just don't be crude about it."
Mickey frowned, and then nodded, realizing that although the words might have been a bit too graphic for company, there had been nothing condescending or crude even suggested. "Yeah, okay." Then he scowled and looked up at the older man. "And just what made you ask about me and Sue?"
"Because I saw the way the two of you keep glancing at each other, as though afraid to be caught. Just don't get into trouble with the suits. Keep it discrete and take precautions, and you'll both do just fine."
"I don't wanna be like Pete and her husband, get kicked out because of our relationship."
"Well, it's possible, so think of your options should that happen. Of course, if you decide on children, that's going to seriously complicate matters."
Mickey sighed, wondering if Sue was worth the hassle? She wasn't really high-maintenance, but there could certainly be difficulties caused by the job. And he knew that, like Control before her, the job came first. This would require a great deal of care and planning. And discussion. There was no point in the first two if he simply made assumptions on her part.
"I think we need to have a nice, long talk."
Control released him and stepped back, smiling and patting him on the shoulder. "Good idea, young son." He didn't offer further advice - Mickey would have to forge his own trails, there. He watched as the two couples left and wondered if Robert would ever presume to become involved with Pete? Not unless she initiated, he decided as he locked up the shop and headed up the stairs to the fourth floor. The one big surprise he'd had was to discover that the second floor flat had been basically emptied and relocated to the fourth floor. Thinking about the beautiful apartment and all the luxurious furnishings, he hurried his steps, looking forward to their first night together in their new home.
He found her in their bedroom, staring at the bed. "What is it, mo chroi?"
She glanced at him, in embarrassment. "It's... it's so beautiful."
"By comparison to you, it's just a dead tree and whatever was used to make it."
She couldn't help but blush and smile at his words. He had a special knack for making her feel far more beautiful than she really was, but then recognized that perhaps, in his eyes, she really was that beautiful. "Yer a sweet-talker, that's for certain."
"May I only ever have sweet words for you, a ghra'. Sweet words and tender thoughts."
Tears sprang to her eyes and her throat closed with emotion as she reached for him, only to be fiercely embraced in return. She'd had a long talk with her doctor, and had permission to renew their physical relationship. Somehow, it was fitting that it should be here, and now. She touched him, indicating her desire for him.
"Are you sure, mo chroi'?"
"Yes." She began to undress him, as he gently touched her in return, still uncertain.
She pulled his shirt from him, pausing long enough to kiss him passionately. "Yes," she insisted and began to unbuckle his belt. When she had him undressed, she quickly removed her own dress and pulled the covers down. Pushing him down on the bed, she quickly climbed in after him, kissing up his chest as she moved over him.
"Are you certain, Davan?" he asked again, hoarsely, as his own desire built.
"Yes," she whispered, kissing him hard and moving against him.
He groaned softly with his building need, but still needing to be certain, he asked again. "Are you sure?"
"As sure as my love for you, as certain as the rising and the setting of the sun. As sure as the turning of the seasons, as certain as the tides."
Reassured, he eagerly joined her; caressing, kissing, and doing all the things he knew pleased her, just as she did everything he enjoyed as well.
Later, sated and limp in one another's arms, they slept, only to be awakened by the soft cries of their babies.
"I'll get them," He softly murmured, allowing her to remain abed.
"Bless you, love," she replied, preparing to feed their two hungry infants. She smiled and wondered what his friends would think of the names they'd chosen? Or the fact that their daughter was the one named for them? She'd been mightily pleased when Peter had suggested they name their son for her father or grandfather. As he entered, carefully juggling both freshly diapered infants, she softly crooned to them. The louder one, their daughter, would be tended first.
"Hush, sweeting. Shhh. It's all right, Roberta Michelle, shhh." As her daughter quieted, hungrily nursing, she smiled at her men. "And how is Peitor David doing, then?" He'd decided, to her surprise, on the Gaelic spelling of their son's name.
"Quieter, as usual. But he seems content enough." The boy fussed a bit, and his father rocked him softly and began to sing, although the words were meant for his wife.
my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art Thou my best thought by day or by night Waking or sleeping thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word
I ever with thee, and thou with me, Lord Thou my great Father, I thy true Son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my battleshield, sword for the fight Be thou my dignity,
thou my delight
Thou my soul's shelter, thou my high tower Raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise Thou mine inheritance,
now and always
Thou and thou only, first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of heaven, after victory won
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's sun Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.
She smiled, listening to his rich baritone, their eyes locked in loving embrace as they tended their family. She'd never thought to find anyone who could ease the loss of her family; yet now, she had a new one of her own making. She was well content, feeling his love for her in every glance, every touch, every expression. For her, it was more than she'd ever expected, and she was well content and looking forward to their future together.
He'd always felt that because of his work, he'd never deserved to have a family; that he was unworthy of love, but she'd taught him that love isn't dependent on deserving, but only on caring and giving love. He'd given her his heart, and she'd returned it threefold, with her own and two small, helpless humans to care for and love. He was looking forward to spending all of his remaining time doing just that, loving and caring for his family. He hoped he would live long enough to see them grown, and perhaps even to see grandchildren. At that thought, he nearly laughed. What a difference in his outlook. He remembered dreaming of the fall of communism, but the collapse of the Soviet Union hadn't really made a difference in his life. He remembered the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, but it had made no real difference in his life either, but this one, lonely, sad young woman had made all the changes, simply by allowing him to be nothing more than a man.
And she still didn't ask questions and, he suspected, she never would. It would be very easy to close the door to his previous life and head into the unknown before them. As long as she was with him, that is.
The phone rang and they looked at each other in surprise. Glancing at the clock, he sighed and picked up the phone.
"There's an emergency, and you're needed, now."
He shook his head and sighed. Smiling ruefully at his wife, he gently handed their son to her. "All right, calm down and tell me in ten words or less what's wrong."
"Oh, hell. I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up and sighed. "Sorry, mo chroi, but duty is still calling."
"That's all right, then, love. We'll be here when ye get home."
Home. Now there was incentive for you. "I'll be home as soon as I can get them on the right track, then."
She smiled. "We'll be waiting for you."
And that was a promise, he knew. He leaned over her and gave her a passionate kiss, and then he reluctantly turned away and started getting dressed.
When he returned, it was daylight. He wearily climbed the stairs, grateful to be home. While he was gone, he'd written, printed, signed, and turned in his request for retirement. To his amusement, they'd just opened an incentive deal to try to get people to retire. He more than qualified, and would most likely receive the maximum incentive.
As he quietly entered their bedroom, he couldn't help but smile. She lay on her side, both babies cradled against her. Quickly disrobing, he carefully eased into bed beside them, squirming until he could hold his entire family within his embrace. Sighing contentedly, he drifted off to sleep.
When Davan awoke, she smiled. He was home, and had her in his arms. She felt movement and frowned. Opening her eyes, she realized that their babies lay between them, and she remembered falling asleep with them still in the bed with her. For a moment, she wondered why he hadn't moved them to their cradle, until she noticed that his hand was touching both of them, as though making sure they were safe. She couldn't help but smile. Taking a deep breath, she slowly stretched, careful not to disturb the sleepers. Easing carefully away from them, she watched as Peter, still soundly asleep, shifted, bringing his children up to his chest to cradle them both in his arms. They all stayed asleep. Glancing at the clock, she sighed.
Shuffling into the kitchen, she started the coffee. When it was perking merrily away, she checked out the refrigerator for supplies, pleased to see that it was well stocked. She was bent over, trying to decide what to fix, when her husband came up behind her and bent over her.
"How about I fix breakfast while you take care of two very hungry little Murphys?
"And change them, I suppose?"
"No, I did that already. Since I can't feed them, the least I can do is change their diapers."
She stared at him. She'd come from a world where men did not change their babies soiled bottoms. And he bathed them, as well. "Bless you, love." She ducked under his arm and headed back towards the bedroom, where she could now hear two small voices softly complaining of their hunger. This time, their son was the more anxious, so he was fed first. It seemed that they took turns, and while one was being tended, the other would wait patiently. She hoped it would be an omen for when they were older, as well.
She smiled when Peter entered with a tray. She frowned as he carefully set it down, then smiled as he took a fresh strawberry and placed it to her lips. It was sweet and delicious, and totally decadent. While she fed their children, he fed her, sensuously, delicately, lovingly. When she'd had her fill, he quickly ate his now room temperature breakfast with no complaint, and then took their now fed and slumbering son and put him in the cradle, coming back to remove the tray, but leaving the carafe of coffee, and then taking their just fed and burped daughter to put down with her brother.
Sitting beside his wife, he handed her a cup of coffee, sipping his own, and then kissing her. "So, what do you think of the renovations?"
"I love them, then? And ye for arranging it all, then?"
"Well, I made my wishes known. That's what we were discussing that day." He didn't mention Ryan O'Rourke or anything specific. It would forever be referred to as 'that day' by both of them. "Mickey's brother had given him the name of a contractor. I was going to call him when everything went down. I guess Mickey just took over and did the job while we were gone." He needed to make sure that he talked to Kostmayer soon, to get the specifics and pay the bills. The work was perfect, no sign of anything having been changed or patched. The best thing, as far as he was concerned, was that all electrical outlets were above toddler height, meaning no bending over for the adults to plug anything in. It was absolutely perfect.
"It looks as though it was always part of the rooms, then." She smiled at him.
"Yes, it's beautiful workmanship." He kissed her. "Do you like it then, a ghra'?"
"Oh, yes. And the garden, the garden is wonderful." She smiled happily at him, and then sighed. "Much as I'd rather stay here w' ye, love, I need ta get dressed and downstairs ta open the shop."
He smiled. "All right. I'll take care of things up here. I'll be down in a bit, and you can show me how to run the register, for when you need to come tend the children." He was having a little trouble believing he had 'children'. But it was a wonderful feeling.
It took time, but they settled into their new life together. The babies thrived, much to the doctor's surprise. Peter Murphy became accustomed to being able to spend time with his family, though every once in a while, he'd get an emergency call for help.
At their first birthday party, their small circle of friends came to celebrate. The twins, used to the company, were delighted with all the special attention. As his children smashed their hands into their pieces of cake, he smiled.
"Well, old friend, are you satisfied?"
"Robert, old son, I've never been happier in my entire life. My blood pressure is down, my stress levels have dropped, my cholesterol is lower, and I feel as fit as I ever did when I was younger."
"Don't you miss the game?"
"No, no I don't. But I left for far different reasons than you did. And you're not completely out, even now."
"I've been called in four times since I filed my retirement papers. For each one, I was paid an almost obscene amount of money and never had to leave the city. I also never spent more than three days away."
"Yes, so I heard. Do you really not miss it, though?"
The man once only known as Control laughed. "Not for a moment. I've done my duty and, like you, have moved on to other things. Unlike you, I've found someone to share it with. I'm more in love with my wife now than I was when I first realized that I loved her. And the children." He shook his head in wonder. "It's better than I ever imagined it could be, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
"Not even world peace?"
That gave him a second's pause. "If I believed that was possible, I might be tempted. But since I don't believe it is, no."
Robert smiled. "I'm very happy for you, old friend."
"Thank you." He saw his wife look up and around. When she spotted him, she smiled happily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my favorite person is looking for me, and I never like to keep her waiting." With a happy smile, he turned from his friend to go to his wife, where he was pressed into diaper duty, and willingly complied. Robert shook his head, still amazed that his friend could have changed so much from the man he'd thought he knew.
"They're happy, McCall."
"Yes, Mickey, that they are." He glanced over at the younger man. "And you? Are you and Ms Eriksen happy, as well?"
"Who, us? We just work together, my friend."
"Oh, yes, of course. Anyone can see it, if they've the eyes to see, my young friend."
"Maybe out here, but at work, we play it cool."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. But wouldn't it be nice to be able to be open about it?"
"Sure, but I'm not ready to retire, thanks."
"From what? That lovely desk job of yours?"
Mickey cocked his head at his friend. "Looking for a partner, McCall?"
"Actually, no. However, I do know someone who has need of your type of expertise."
"It isn't a mercenary job. Simply head of security for a small company."
"What kind of company?" Despite his professed lack of interest, he was intrigued.
"It's a small software company. Three geniuses with no concept of how to protect themselves."
"Oh? They make stuff for the government?"
"Yes, among other things, they create battlefield simulations and the programming for flight simulators. They also create games for arcades."
"Yeah? So why do they need a 'head of security'?"
"Because there are people who would very much like to steal their work."
Mickey nodded thoughtfully. "I guess there'd be no harm in talking to them."
Robert smiled. "None at all." And if it was suitable, Mickey and Sue would have an opportunity to make their relationship public.
Time would tell.
Mickey chuckled. "If you didn't see it, would you have believed that?"
'That' was the man they'd known as Control, on his hands and knees, playing with his children.
Robert smiled. "I often wondered if there was a real human behind his facade. Of course I knew there was, but he was always so very good at hiding it."
"You don't believe that any more than I do. I always figured he acted so cold because he didn't want anyone to figure out how much he really cared."
McCall stared at his friend for a moment and smiled. "Much like yourself, then?"
Mickey grinned. "Not really. I'm crazy, he's not. There's a big difference."
Robert smiled. "Not as different as you might imagine, my friend. Not all that much different." He remembered a time or two when Control had been called insane by their higher-ups, only to find that the sly fox had been right. "The biggest difference is that there's always method to his madness."
"Yeah." With a grin, Mickey walked across the garden to where father and children were playing, and dropped to his knees beside them, joining in their play.
McCall shook his head, glancing down as Pete took his arm. "If you'd asked me two years ago if this was possible, I'd have said no."
Robert smiled. "And now?"
She looked up at him, a serious, questioning expression on her face. "I think that just maybe, anything is possible."
Robert's heart fluttered in his chest. "Oh?"
"Hmmmm. Care to find out?"
"What have you got to lose?"
"A very special friendship."
"Sounds like a good foundation to me."
He looked at her for a very long time. "Are you certain?"
"No, but then again, if we don't try, we've already lost, don't you think?"
"Very true." He took a deep, cautious breath. "I'm willing if you are."
She smiled and leaned against him. "Yes."
Peter caught his wife's eye and winked. She grinned in response. It was only obvious to them what was happening with their friends, and they were both pleased with what was going on. They couldn't help but want their friends to find happiness like theirs. It would be interesting to see how things progressed. The past was just that, past, and the future was bright with promise. The children were healthy and happy, and their friends seemed on the brink of settling down.
Later, as they checked on their son and daughter for the last time and then headed for their own bed, Peter sighed.
"What is it, then, love?"
"Just thinking. I've got more than I ever thought possible; you, the children, and a peaceful life."
"Oh, love, yer more than I ever dreamed possible, then?" She smiled and held her arms out to him. "Come, then."
He grinned. "Are you certain?" What had once been a sign of his uncertainty had become a familiar and reassuring custom.
"More than ever, mo chroi'. More than ever."
Her husband chuckled and came into her arms.
A chuisle mo chroi' My dear darling/love/treasure Ceadsearc Sweetheart A ghra' Love A ghra' mo chroi Love of my heart Ionu'in Beloved Duit a'lainn, a ghra' You're beautiful, love Chroi mo anam Heart of my soul Duit mo beatha You are my life Mo a'thas My joy A'thas mo chroi Joy of my Heart Doin siddhe Banshee Mallacht Curse Mo si'ocha'in my peace So'ch happy Me' tabhair tu' mo chroi I give you my heart Duit mo ciste You are my treasure Duit mo chroi is anam You are my heart and soul Olc mallacht Evil curse