A/N: Okay, I wasn't going to continue but there seems to be a high demand for this so I suppose I'll be nice and make a part 2. The first part took me 6 days to write, and so far this one took me 4, so thanks for the reviews! This centers around their growing relationship, and Gabriel being unsure how to move on, but of course there are wrenches thrown in along the way with a bit of mystery, because that's how I roll. I'm not sure where I'm taking this either. I'll probably do a part 3 with the way I end this. Lyrics are 'Little Talks' by Of Monsters And Men.
You're gone, gone, gone away
I watched you disappear
All that's left is the ghost of you.
Now we're torn, torn, torn apart,
There's nothing we can do
Just let me go we'll meet again soon
Now wait, wait, wait for me
Please hang around
I'll see you when I fall asleep…
He'd lied…if only a little.
Even so, it ate at him, lying to Riley. It sat coiling like a snake in his stomach. He believed Mei Chen. Despite every camera angle and render he went through, he wanted to believe Amelia could be alive.
Yes, he'd let Amelia go. He hadn't lied about that. Her death, real or faked, had already happened a year ago. He felt himself moving on, paying more attention to the looks he received from waitresses and sales associates…even the appreciative once overs from Riley he caught when she thought he wasn't watching.
Sometimes he wondered if he ever really knew his wife. They'd been apart longer than they'd been together after all. People changed. He had. A man once so against the constant connection to technology now walks around with a microchip in his brain? If that wasn't change, he didn't know what was.
Sighing, Gabriel tossed and turned, battling his own mind while fighting sleep. He went through the what if scenarios and came out with little more than a headache for his troubles.
Gabriel knew he was angry more than anything. For Mei Chen to have opened Pandora's Box all over again, after he'd closed the lid on Amelia, was tearing him apart. It seemed the evil that escaped was the one that had kept him going, searching, for so long. Mei Chen had given him hope.
And all of it culminated on one thought he could not have felt worse about. It shot 'til death do us part and promises of loving and cherishing each other out of the water:
He wished Mei Chen had never told him his wife was alive.
Their relationship was fairing better lately. Riley was more than relieved. The tension had eased and he seemed back to his charming self, but the pinprick of doubt still stuck. She willingly let it go, as it wasn't affecting their work or her job.
Of course, she should have known better.
The small café offered the best view of their target for surveillance. It also offered the best croissants Riley had ever tasted.
"Enjoying this assignment quite a bit, huh?" Gabriel prodded as he pushed his eggs around his plate.
"Maybe. It's not my fault they put us in such a compromising location," Riley smiled, clearly taking in the late morning sun and delicious confections for all it was worth.
"Compromising to your waistline, you mean," Gabriel jabbed lightly, nodding to the blueberry scone she'd started in on.
"Please, if my waistline is compromised at all it's because of your incessant cooking!" she grinned, raising an eyebrow and daring him to deny it. Hell, she was starting to feel like a permanent guest in his apartment. He'd started making dinner for two almost consistently since their talk not two weeks ago. She was ambivalent at first, but he'd won her over with eggplant parm and copious amounts of good wine and cold beer. The conversation and the company weren't exactly lacking either.
"Well, maybe I should stop offering my services then," Gabriel smirked.
Riley's eyes widened. "No way, you promised chicken cacciatore, and I refuse to go back to takeout Chinese after your Kung Pao recipe. Face it Gabriel, you're stuck with me now."
He shrugged. "Well if I have to be stuck with someone…"
"Careful how you finish that sentence," she added, pointing at him with her fork.
He put his hands up in mock surrender. "I was just going to say, if I have to be stuck with someone, at least it's you. I can't think of many people I'd willingly wish to be stuck with."
She stared at him for a long moment, trying to gauge his level of seriousness. He wasn't kidding though; nothing in his eyes said he was messing with her in the least. Her smile was small and sincere. "Me too," Riley responded quietly.
Gabriel glanced over. "Looks like our guy is on the move."
"That's our cue," Riley agreed, watching as Gabriel threw down a fifty, more than necessary, to cover their bill.
"Don't say I never took you anywhere," he stated with a wink. She rolled her eyes, sighing.
"Show off," she mumbled.
They successfully brought in their suspect without injury or incident. Well, mostly. Gabriel being Gabriel tumbled headlong down a hill chasing after the guy and was currently being scolded by a particularly irate Dr. Cassidy.
"C'mon Doc, it's not that bad. It's just a scrape. I didn't even really hit the rock that hard," Gabriel pleaded. It fell on deaf ears. Riley could barely hold her laughter in check.
"Yes, I can see how hard you didn't hit your head Gabriel," Dr. Cassidy lamented sarcastically as he hooked up wires and ran scans. "I'm rather surprised Jill didn't go tumbling down after you," he said, staring pointedly at Riley.
She tried to keep her barely contained amusement in check after that. "I can't be entirely responsible for general stupidity and pigheadedness Dr. Cassidy. The Chip gives him Intelligence, not grace."
"Ouch," Gabriel mocked. "Remember who makes you dinner."
She conceded his point. "Touché."
Even Dr. Cassidy had to laugh after that.
The sound of Lillian's heels clacking had them all biting their tongues though. "How is he?" she asked by way of greeting.
"Fine, Lillian, thanks for asking," Gabriel said with a wave. She didn't acknowledge him.
"Well, a bruised ego never killed anyone," Dr. Cassidy answered brightly. "I think."
"Thank goodness for small miracles," Lillian responded warily. "Riley, a word."
"Oh, someone's in trouble with the principal," Gabriel teased.
"Please, teacher's loved me," Riley scoffed as she left, trailing behind Lillian.
Dr. Cassidy looked on, utterly amused by their interaction. "So, is there anything going on that you want to tell me about?"
"What do you mean?" Gabriel played dumb, knowing exactly where today's session of Q&A was going.
"Oh, I don't know. You went from disliking her to making her dinner?"
Gabriel huffed. "Yeah, it's just dinner, Doc. Would you like to join us?"
"I wouldn't presume to interrupt whatever's happening between the two of you. But Gabriel, for whatever it's worth, it's been a year…and frankly it's been six before that. You're doing well, I think. Maybe it's time to get back out there. You're both young and attractive. Don't let that door close."
Gabriel nodded, giving Dr. Cassidy a tight smile. "I know Doc. I just…need time."
Lillian closed the door quickly behind the two of them, ushering Riley into the seat across from her desk.
"What's this about?" Riley asked in her most professional tone, as she always did when Lillian pulled her aside.
Lillian sat ramrod straight in her chair, clearly frustrated. "We…may have a problem. And for Gabriel's sake, I'm demanding your confidentiality. You will not repeat what I'm about to say or so help me I'll have your job. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Riley said stiffly. A disgusting feeling of dread washed over her. She definitely did not like being blackmailed into keeping things from her protectee, let alone someone she considered a friend.
"We've found evidence that supports that Amelia is alive," Lillian stated firmly. She pulled a file folder out of a locked desk drawer, handing it to Riley. The woman in the photos was unmistakably Amelia, from the night of the explosion no less. She was wearing a set of blue doctor's scrubs and pushing a gurney, completely unharmed.
"How is this possible though? There was maybe…thirty seconds after I pushed Gabriel out the window that the bomb went off. She would not have had the time…"
"Yes, but according to your report Amelia said someone else had the remote detonator. We couldn't have known if she truly had a Red X bomb inside of her or not. There was nothing left to autopsy. Even with so little time, she could have planted the bomb and run for cover, and then just as easily slipped out with the crowd."
"That's still pushing it."
Lillian looked down at her hands. "The boy you and Gabriel interviewed, the one that had the perfect clue to figuring out where the bombing would take place? I went back to see him after everything. Amelia gave him that paper. She wanted Gabriel there, for what reason I can't be sure. But I'll give her credit, she was always resourceful."
"So this is…proof of life?" Riley questioned, numbly shuffling through the photos.
"For all intents and purposes, yes. She hasn't made contact with any of her old colleagues, the CIA, the terrorist group she infiltrated…nothing. For now, she's off the grid. And, she hasn't tried to reach out to Gabriel either?"
Lillian's tone suggested things that were seriously beginning to damage Riley's calm. "No, she hasn't," Riley answered sharply, a bit offended. "I'd know."
"Good," the older woman eyed her curiously. "It would suit Gabriel to get over any lingering doubts of her death, Agent Neal."
Riley looked up, startled. "What are you implying?"
"Nothing, other than the two of you seem to have grown quite close this past year," Lillian said plainly. Riley flushed, increasingly uncomfortable with her boss's inference. "You've been through a lot together, it's understandable. As long as you can do your job, I'll stick to a need to know policy. As I said, it's best he let go of his dead wife. We don't need the likes of Mei Chen putting doubts in his head."
Riley's forehead knit in confusion. To her recollection, Gabriel had only told her what Mei Chen said to him in that office.
"Didn't know I knew about that little statement? I have my ways Agent Neal. Always remember that." Lillian smiled. "You're dismissed.
Yep, I take it back. Definitely a Disney Villain.
Riley stood, happy to be out of Lillian Strand's crosshairs. It wasn't until her hand was on the knob that she realized something wasn't adding up. She didn't bother looking at Lillian when she asked. She already knew. "You wouldn't threaten my job, one I didn't apply for according to you, so severely if you were just confirming Amelia was alive. Gabriel's either hoped she was or assumed as much since Mei Chen. You're keeping something from us. Something you don't even want to know about. I don't know what that is, but you have no right to keep any of this from him," Riley said darkly.
Lillian stared blankly ahead. "Maybe I don't have the right, Agent Neal, but neither do you. There are things you don't need to know. Your job is to protect Gabriel, even if it's from himself. Don't make claims you have no evidence to support."
Riley slammed the door on her way out. She wanted to scream. It wasn't fair, putting that kind of burden on her. But Lillian was right. It wasn't her place, and she had no proof. All she knew was that Amelia Vaughn was alive.
Gabriel caught her as she grabbed her black leather jacket, desperate to get out of the building and clear her head.
"How was today's lecture?" he asked, following her lead and grabbing his own jacket.
"How was yours?" she asked a bit more abruptly than intended.
Gabriel's jovial attitude fell away. "Lillian didn't give you crap about me rolling down a stupid hill, did she? I've got a pretty hard head. It would take a lot to shake that Chip loose."
Riley cracked a small half smile. "She was just making sure I could do my job. I told her it would be easier if my charge knew that."
"I promise, I'll try to make your job easier. You can watch me cook and make sure I don't burn myself or cut a finger off or something," Gabriel tried.
"I'm…just not feeling like it tonight," Riley said, knowing how bare her fridge was. Even so, she wasn't exactly hungry anymore.
Gabriel grabbed her elbow gently as they neared the car. "Not two hours ago you were practically threatening me to make you dinner, and now you're not hungry?" Riley looked away, unable to meet his pale blue gaze. "Whatever she said, it wasn't about today, was it?"
"Just…let it go, Gabriel. For my sake," she mumbled, shaking his hand loose and getting into the driver's side.
Gabriel glanced back up at the building. Lillian Strand stared back. He'd never seen Riley so upset coming out of a meeting with Lillian before, not since the Red X business. Something was going on.
By seven o'clock, Riley was regretting telling Gabriel she was passing on dinner. Despite the anger she felt towards Lillian, her stomach growled in protest, and it wasn't like he'd done anything to upset her.
Hoping he wouldn't mind her crashing his dinner, she pulled on dark jeans and a white tank. Slipping into flats and her leather jacket, she made her way to his place. Something felt different as she crossed the few feet between apartment buildings. She slowed her pace involuntarily, feeling the hairs on her neck rise. Her hand slid to her gun reflexively, but no one was behind or in front of her. Riley stopped before the steps, surveying the outside carefully.
She couldn't shake the feeling of being watched.
Regardless of the fleeting feeling of paranoia, she knocked lightly on his door, relieved when he opened it quickly. He answered with a smile on his face. "Thirty two minutes longer than I thought you'd hold out for. I think you set a record," Gabriel stated. Riley shoved his shoulder.
"Couldn't let you eat all that food by yourself," Riley threw back. "Then whose waistline would be compromised? I mean, if you get fat, then you run slower and the bad guys with guns have an easier time shooting you, and then where does that leave me? Jobless."
"Your concern is touching, Agent Neal, but," he lifted up his already form fitting gray tee, revealing a well defined six pack. "I think I'm okay."
She crossed her arms, shaking her head. "Now that we've got that settled…"
"Is that a blush I see? Red is definitely a becoming color on you."
Riley slid onto one of the barstools. "Well, it's not everyday a girl has guys just take their shirts off for her."
"I wouldn't say I took it off. I'd say that was more a sneak peek. Besides, you do see me shirtless every morning when you pick me up for work."
"And every morning, when I arrive promptly at six forty five, I wonder why you don't have a shirt on," She noted, propping her elbow on the countertop and cupping her cheek.
Gabriel shrugged, handing her a beer. "I never hear any complaints." She would have thrown the beer at him if she had the heart. "So, seriously, you're not in trouble for anything I did, are you?" Gabriel asked as he browned the chicken. Riley shook her head.
"No. It's nothing important."
Gabriel gave her a sidelong look. "Which means it's undoubtedly important."
"Lillian just…gave me some advice I wish I didn't have to take," Riley answered, skirting the issue as best as she could.
"Sounds familiar," Gabriel replied offhandedly.
Riley picked at the label on her beer. "What do you mean?"
"Dr. Cassidy recommended I try dating, while I'm still young and attractive, apparently."
Riley almost dropped the bottle. She bit her lip, before the laughter broke through. "You've got to be kidding me!"
"Nope, serious as a heart attack. Thank God Nelson wasn't there. I'd never hear the end of it."
Riley smirked evilly. "And you never will," she snickered.
Gabriel shook his head. "Said the Pot to the Kettle. Your social life isn't exactly a revolving door of handsome suitors either, my friend. Other than Griff the Job Stealer, who have you been out with in the past…year?"
She scrunched her nose, cringing. Other than you? She wanted to say.
"That's what I thought."
She sighed. "You're kind of a 24/7 job. I told you, I don't get days off. But it's not like I had much of a life before I met you anyway. I'd have to screen everyone…it's just too much work. And then there's the whole, 'you're a glorified bodyguard for a living' issue."
"You have a built in background checker right here. That's not an excuse," he said, drinking the last of his beer and tossing it in the recycling bin.
Riley crossed her arms, starting to feel as defensive as she had in Lillian's office. "What's your excuse?"
He looked up at her harsh tone. "Riley, I meant it as a joke. I'm sorry," he offered, not wanting to answer her question.
"Oh no, you don't get to do that," she started, leaving the stool to stand in front of him. "What's your excuse, Gabriel? It's not like you don't have options, I see the way other women look at you. Amelia is gone. She has been for a year. Why won't you let yourself move on?"
She realized belatedly she was verging on manic, but between Lillian's implications and Gabriel's continuous flirting, she could barely see straight anymore. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All on her.
Whatever happy, playful light had been in his eyes was gone now. She may as well have pushed him out that window all over again, but she couldn't back down now.
His breathing was jagged and angry and he clenched his hands into fists. She was infuriating as hell when she got like this: a dog with a bone who wouldn't let go to save itself.
"That's not your business," he practically spat, willing himself not to look away. If she wanted to go toe to toe with him, so be it.
"You are my business," she countered.
He shook his head. "Yeah, my well being. Not my personal life."
"I beg to differ, Gabriel. Give me some credit, I know why you won't move on. It didn't take Mei Chen telling you Amelia was alive to give you hope. It's been there all along, and you won't let yourself let her go!" Riley exclaimed, irritated for reasons she couldn't understand.
"Why do you care so much?" he demanded. "What does it matter to you?"
She leaned back reflexively as he stepped into her space. She swallowed, hating being put on the spot and speechless. "First and foremost, you're my friend. And second, I need to know that you won't disappear on me again, or run off on some stupid search for a ghost," she answered quietly.
He half smirked. "Nah, that's not it. There's a lot of things friends won't let friends do. And you've already said and done things that prove you're not it in for the job title. But you wouldn't be this…put out if there wasn't something else."
Riley turned away, putting distance between them. "I'm just going to leave. Enjoy your dinner."
Gabriel ran a hand through his hair. How did they always end up here, so close and so far? "Dammit," he said to himself as the door slammed. He leaned heavily against the sink, looking up at his partner's apartment. He tilted his head, confused. "What the…"
His senses kicked into high gear, and he tore out of his apartment, practically hurtling down the stairs. "Riley!" he yelled. "Riley!"
He couldn't stop his forward momentum when he saw the flash of brunette hair turn towards her name, and therefore he nearly toppled them both down the stairs. As it was, he caught her by the waist, half tackling her.
"Gabriel, what the hell!" she snapped, grasping the banister and his arm for support.
"Someone's in your apartment," he breathed.
"What? Who?" she questioned roughly. He shook his head going through the cameras in her building.
"There's…nothing. The tapes black out at seven fifteen."
"That's right after I got to your place. I had to have passed whoever's there," Riley observed, pushing away from Gabriel and pulling out her gun.
"Where are you going?"
"To see who's been eating my porridge and sleeping in my bed, what do you think?" she snapped.
"Riley, no," Gabriel half shouted, grabbing her arm firmly, and turning her to face him. "It's one thing for you to sweep my apartment and car and find nothing. It's another for you to know someone's in yours. We don't know what they're doing or if there's more than one person. I don't need my protector blown up too. Besides, I already called the police."
She looked furious but relented. "Fine."
Two hours and a whole lot of nothing later, Riley couldn't shake the earlier feeling she'd had of being watched when she initially went to Gabriel's. The police found nothing disturbed, no forced entry, and Riley couldn't tell anything that was missing or even disturbed. The police said they'd drive around a few times and check out the perimeter, but both Riley and Gabriel knew nothing would come of it.
As it was, Gabriel was apprising Lillian of the situation and Riley could practically feel the woman's tension through the phone.
"How'd she take it?" she asked absently, doing a sweep of her apartment for the thousandth time.
"She's not thrilled that an 'enemy' might know where we live. But until I can try to repair the footage, if I can, you're staying with me."
Riley looked insulted. "I'm not letting some…shadow kick me out of my apartment Gabriel."
"Hey, you're lucky I talked Lillian down from throwing us both in a safe house. She's worried they'll come after me next, so for the time being you're going to have to suck it up," Gabriel added a bit of his own annoyance into the mix. Riley nodded her agreement. She was fighting a losing battle.
"I'll pack a bag and meet you by the door." He turned to leave her to pack but her voice stopped him. "Gabriel…I'm sorry about earlier. I shouldn't have pushed. You're right, it wasn't my business."
"No, it is. You are my friend and for that I'm grateful. You're the only one that does push me, you know. The only one who isn't afraid I'm gonna break when I hear her name or something."
She shoved a strand of hair behind her ear, smiling as she headed into her room. "Someone has to keep you on your toes."
Despite their wayward apologies, Riley still felt out of sorts having to stay at his place. Her own apartment felt violated and strange, and even her protests at having to leave were half hearted. She would have rather gone to a hotel for the night, but the security implications behind that would have taken hours to go through, and she just didn't have the energy to fight.
They managed to finally get around to dinner at ten thirty, and even then neither ate more than a few bites, pushing what was on their plates around until Gabriel broke the awkward silence and declared he was doing the dishes and she could shower if she chose.
She decided a hot shower would do her good. Well, it would have if her thoughts would leave her be. There were times she envied Gabriel's ability to render things on command, to see memories over and over. But then there was the downside. Days like today even she didn't need a microchip to remember every detail. Lillian practically gave her permission—no, incentivized—that she sleep with Gabriel. Maybe she was reading more into it than she was, but how else could it would suit Gabriel to get over any lingering doubts of her death be interpreted?
As charming and flirtatious as Gabriel was, it didn't mean he felt anything other than a platonic fondness for her anyway. She'd always been a guy's girl, could roll with the punches and hold her own where other girls faltered and balked. It didn't win her many dates, but it sure was fun.
She'd picked up on the subtle nuances Gabriel started exhibiting. He'd been relatively upset when she'd ruined his chances with the blonde at the coffee shop, and she'd noticed he was more aware of the looks women threw his way when he would have ignored them previously. He was genuinely trying to move on with his life. Lillian wasn't wrong; feeding Gabriel information like Amelia being alive would bring all that progress to a crashing halt.
She leaned heavily against the wall as the water pelted her. What could she do? What should she do?
Her assumptions were only that.
There was a knock on the bathroom door. "Um, yeah!" she called.
"You okay?" he asked back.
She realized the water streaming down was ice cold and flinched. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'll be out in a second!"
Riley stopped the water to prove her point, towel drying her hair and changing into the gray running shorts and black tank she'd brought to sleep in. She stared at her reflection for a long moment. "Protect Gabriel, even if it's from himself," she whispered to the girl in the mirror.
"Thought you drowned. I was starting to think I'd have to break down the door," Gabriel joked when she finally emerged, hair still damp and face flushed from the water. He'd changed out of his own clothes, opting for low slung sweatpants and a tee. If she had to guess, it was for her benefit. She couldn't see him wearing that many clothes on a regular night.
"It's…been a long day. I needed time to think," she offered quietly.
He nodded. "Understandable. I know I give you crap about sweeping my place and all, but it matters."
She gave him a small smile. "Could you tell if it was a man or woman…in my apartment?"
"Give me a second." He recalled the scene, watching the movement of the person and trying to gauge height and weight. He shook his head. "I could only guess…there's not enough data to support my assumption. Your curtains were closed so the image is fractured at best. Plus…I was more in a hurry to get to you than sit and watch."
"So we're nowhere, really," she sighed, frustrated, dropping onto his couch.
"Hey, I'm sorry I can't give you more. It wasn't my priority Riley."
"No, it's okay. I should have listened to myself. I should have…gone back."
He narrowed his gaze, grabbing them each a beer and sitting next to her. "What do you mean?"
"On my way here earlier I felt like I was being watched. There was no one there, nothing. But I couldn't shake it," she replied, accepting the beer. She twisted the cap off, glad to have something to do with her hands.
"Why didn't you say something?" Gabriel asked with more than a touch of concern.
She shrugged. "I didn't think much of it." He was starting to look as agitated as she felt. She put a hand on his forearm, pulling his attention to her. "We'll see if I missed anything tomorrow. I mean, whoever was in there clearly isn't a criminal mastermind. They didn't even take anything. Besides, we both need the rest."
"I made up the bed. You're taking it, no arguments," Gabriel said before she could protest. "I'm a Ranger. Trust me, I can sleep anywhere."
She shook her head. "But you shouldn't have too. Don't let me kick you out of your own room."
He shook his head, refusing to respond. Instead he stood, grasping her upper arms and pulling her up with him. "Now, if you don't mind, you're sitting on my bed."
She rolled her eyes, throwing back the last of her beer. "Night, Gabriel," she called as she walked away.
"Night Riley," he answered, even as she shut the bedroom door.
Riley could never sleep in a foreign bed, even one that belonged to her partner. It was comforting and disconcerting at the same time. It smelled like him, which was the part she found reassuring. But what made it all feel so unsettling was the knowledge that he'd shared this bed with his wife…one who was very much still alive. Not that he knew that.
She felt like an intruder.
She wished at the very least that she knew which side was his. She'd feel a lot less awkward then.
She threw back the covers, getting out of the bed before she could start picturing things she didn't want to think about. Riley definitely wasn't getting any sleep tonight. Instead she padded across the floor, opening the bedroom door as quietly as she could. Just because she was an insomniac didn't mean he had to suffer.
Riley walked the apartment out of habit, giving herself something to take her mind off…everything. Once she was satisfied she stopped in the kitchen, leaning her elbows against his sink and staring up at her balcony. If the curtains were open she supposed he would enjoy the view a bit more than he ever let on. She'd have to scold him on that later and make a note to keep the blinds shut at night.
"You secret service agents sure do take your job seriously," came a sleep-laden voice behind her. She gasped, startled by the sudden noise.
"Jesus, Gabriel, what are you thinking!" she shrieked, throwing a hand over her heart reflexively. "Don't do that to people…especially your bodyguard!"
His eyebrow rose. "I'm not the one traipsing all over my apartment at three in the morning." She gave him a withering look to which he responded, "Ranger."
"I didn't mean to wake you up. I just can't sleep," she stated, answering the unasked question.
"What's it to you anyway?" she snapped.
"Whoa there Thriller, I think I can help," he said with a quirk in his voice. He held out his hand. "Dance with me."
She shook her head, unamused. "No way. I know you can dance. I'm not impressed anymore. How is that supposed to help me sleep?"
"Just trust me? It works."
Her curiosity got the better of her in the end, and he was a very good dancer, she could attest to that from experience. Considering counting sheep was her only viable alternative she surrendered, favoring a good nights rest to walking in circles all night. "Fine."
They mimicked their same stance from the charity gala. It held a different tone this time, she thought idly. His left arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her body closer than they'd been at the gala. So much so they were practically aligned, and she tried to stop the breath she sucked in when his hand slid under the hem of her shirt. The last time they'd danced, he held the hand of hers that wasn't resting on his shoulder out, as if he could spin her. This time he curled their entwined hands against his chest. He could feel her uneven pulse jump, pressed up to his own.
"Nervous?" he questioned lightly. She could feel his smile against the side of her head.
"Never," she answered softly, stubborn pride in her voice. "I just thought with a microchip in your skull you could play some music."
He smiled as they swayed in his pitch dark kitchen. "Sorry, no app for that yet."
She bit back a laugh, not wanting to ruin the relative quiet. They were silent for a long while, and Gabriel felt her slowly relaxing in his arms. Her head came to rest along his collarbone, and he could tell she was still fighting sleep.
"What's the real reason you couldn't sleep?"
He felt her exhale in a deep sign before she responded tiredly, "Felt intrusive."
Now that made sense. He hadn't given any thought to having her sleep in his bed. Where he and his wife had slept. Hell, even he felt intrusive sometimes.
"Sorry," he whispered back. "I didn't think."
She made a small sound in the back of her throat, and he took that to be her reply.
He kept them swaying a while longer, enjoying the feel of closeness and humming an old country song his mother used to sing to him at night. The moment her body went completely lax, he bent down, grasping under her knees and drawing her up into his arms like a child and made his way to the couch. He laid her down on the makeshift bed, brushing her long hair away from her face before covering her with the throw blanket he'd been using. He sat on the floor in front of the couch, leaning his head back to occupy the pillow she rested on.
Had he been more awake…more aware…he would have picked up on the camera aimed into his window. He would know they were being watched. As it was, he'd been too caught up in their moment, and the observer slipped away like a ghost in the night.
The smell of coffee woke him. Coffee and…eggs…and toast? Gabriel moved, wincing at the shooting pain in his back. Sitting on the floor had not been the best idea, even if he was a former Ranger. He stretched, blinking rapidly. For a brief, fleeting moment, he swore Amelia was the one standing in front of the stove with a cup of coffee in her hand, a wooden spoon in the other. The pang it caused didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He smiled at that. Maybe he was more ready to move on than he realized.
"She cooks!" he laughed. Riley half turned, rolling her eyes at him. "She speaks…three languages, knows how to incapacitate a man with her pinky, and she cooks," he rattled off.
"No, I cook eggs and I can not burn toast. My culinary skill set stops there. And I speak far more than three languages," she added for his benefit.
"I have no doubt about that." Gabriel hovered behind her, placing a hand on her back and grabbing a small handful of fluffy yellow egg, promptly tossing it into his mouth.
"Hey! Stop that!" Riley scolded, threatening him with the wooden spoon. He smirked triumphantly, taking her coffee mug from her hand and gulping the rest of its contents. This time she hit him in the arm with the egg covered spoon.
"Hey, no damaging the asset," he taunted, backing away.
"Then make yourself useful and get us plates, Caveman," she commanded dryly.
Gabriel realized he liked this. He was enjoying himself for the first time since Amelia had gone missing, since she'd died. He didn't feel…guilty. He knew it wasn't just that he was letting go, or moving on, but that it had to do entirely with the woman trying to cook eggs on his stove. Maybe it was one of those inevitable things, he wondered. They were always together, always saving each other, bleeding together, supporting each other. Despite their rather strange roles in each other's lives, they were…equals.
Riley filled the plates, placing a new cup of coffee down on her side while narrowing her gaze as if to say touch and die.
He wasn't sure what possessed him to ask. It could have been a combination of their dance or the way she could hold her own against him or the way she felt in his arms, but when the words started he couldn't stop them. "Why don't we do dinner Friday, somewhere…nice?"
She paused mid bite, staring at him as if he'd grown another head. "Are you…asking me on a date?" she asked, somewhat perplexed but also intrigued by his sudden boldness.
He shrugged. "Why not? It can just be two friends…both of which need to get back on the dating scene according to other outside forces. No talking about work, no mention of departed wives or bad childhood experiences. Just…conversation and a fancy dinner."
She bit her lip. She felt guilty, playing into Lillian's suggestion…but he was the one suggesting. "You don't have to make it sound like a pity date. Just have the guts to ask me out," she chided, wanting to make sure his request was genuine.
"Well alright. Riley, will you go out with me Friday?"
She nodded, feeling her face turn a shade of pink he decided not to comment on. "Okay."
They finished their breakfast in amicable silence. Riley excused herself to the restroom, changing into jeans and letting Gabriel know she was going to check her apartment again.
Nothing stood out of place.
Seriously, who broke in and didn't take anything? Her laptop sat on the kitchen table and there was a small flat screen TV in her bedroom along with a slew of DVDs. Riley was about to call Gabriel and let him know she was headed back when she froze at the door.
What kind of criminal didn't take anything?
Who said they had to take something?
Glancing to her kitchen table where she'd noted her lap top remained, something caught her eye. She wouldn't have noticed, not immediately. She usually stacked her mail in an orderly fashion, which she went through later at night. Her mail was scattered across the tabletop, an unmarked beige envelope lay on top like a flashing neon light. Riley picked it up carefully, pushing back the seal.
She tilted the envelope, allowing the contents to slide into her hand. A piece of paper and a photo tumbled out. Riley read the paper first.
What will you do?
She set the note down, confused, before turning over the photo. She felt like someone punched her as she instinctively memorized the image.
Riley almost methodically tucked the note and the photo back into the envelope, taking a deep breath before walking back into her bedroom. She hesitated a second, just one, before putting the envelope and its contents through her shredder.
She could barely look at herself in the mirror.
What will you do?
Whatever I have to do to keep him safe.