Anna awoke in a panic, her heart racing. The remnants of her nightmare flashed as she struggled to get her bearings: the sound of a dog barking, loud taunting laughter, darkness, rope cutting into her skin and the feeling of overwhelming dread. A cold sweat covered her body making her skin gleam in the faint moonlight that strayed into the room through a crack in the blinds. She could hear the howl of the wind outside and the sound of branches tapping on the window. She took a moment to reassure herself that what she was hearing was indeed the noises of a blustery winter's night and not fingers scratching at the window latch trying to get to her and take her away again.
As her senses began to adjust to the darkness in the room she could hear the soft steady inhale and exhale of Duke lying next to her. She could see the outline of his body underneath the covers and feel the warmth radiating from his side of the bed. Anna regarded him for a moment. She knew that she should reach out to him, tell him her nightmare, confide in him... but she couldn't. And she didn't know why. He had been treating her with such care, giving her space, waiting for her to come to him with her feelings but all she felt was numb. It was as if Anna Devane Lavery was still locked in a cage or buried in the snow, frozen and alone.
The danger had not been new to Anna but this experience had shaken her to the core. As a WSB agent, she had trained to withstand interrogation, mental and physical torture but all from the perspective that her captors or enemies would be trained operatives and that well...they would be sane. Dealing with the unpredictability of the fractured mind of Grant Putnam was another story altogether and combined with the starvation, thirst, and exposure she had endured during her captivity she felt broken inside and feared she would never fully recover. What if she stayed this way. What kind of mother could she be to Robin? What kind of wife could she be to Duke? How could they accept this pale shadow of her former self? All she wanted, no- all she needed was to feel alive again. She wished she could be herself, the Anna before her abduction. She didn't how to reclaim herself? How would she be whole again?
Suddenly she knew what she needed to do. Carefully Anna rose from the bed, making sure she didn't disturb the man next to her. She felt into the edges of her closet searching for her black slacks and black cashmere sweater. After dressing quickly she pulled her hair into a bun and then moved towards her dresser. As silently as possible she opened the top drawer. Her gun and shoulder holster was there resting in the same place it had been when she had been fighting for her life only a room away so many weeks ago. A tear escaped down her cheek and regret washed over her. If only she had been wearing it on that day perhaps Filomena would still be with them. She hastily wiped her eyes and put on her holster feeling the comforting pinch of the elastic and the leather over sweater. It helps her feel as if she had taken one small step towards being herself once more and it bolstered her to take the next leap.
Turning back to the dresser she felt to the back of the drawer using her deft fingers to release a hidden catch which clicked sharply, cutting through the stillness of the room. She froze as she heard Duke start at the sound and feared he would awaken but soon his even breathing resumed and she returned to her task. The false back in the drawer came free and Anna removed a small black velvet bag. She opened the bag and a turned out its contents into the palm of her hand. It was a gold coin One side was imprinted with a crescent moon, on the other was two six-sided stars. She could see it in the pale moonlight and took a moment to trace her finger around the cool surface. She then shoved it into her pocket and took a flashlight from the top of her dresser. She carefully closed the drawers and then exited the room without looking back. Boots and a dark jacket were picked up in the front hallway. Now the tricky part began. Robert had placed her house under surveillance she would have to leave unseen and unfollowed.
Even though it is past midnight, Anna's body was wide awake. Adrenaline coursed through her veins but unnervingly she didn't feel the thrill of her escape. At any other time in her life this sort of activity would have energized her but now she felt oddly removed as if she was outside her body looking passively down on herself. In the end, it was easy to evade her security detail. She then walked to the main road and over to a payphone next to a convenience store. She was able to call a cab but exited three blocks away from her destination and walked the remaining distance. The storm finally broke loose and the wind and rain were biting cold.
Soon her destination loomed darkly before her, a tall imposing building jutting against the cloudy sky reflecting the light of the city. Taking note of the doorman's position she deftly eased herself through the door opened by a resident stumbling home from what must have been an eventful night out. She made her way to the elevators unnoticed, entered and hit the button for the top floor. The elevator whirred to life, whisking her upwards.
The Donely Penthouse was quiet. The lights were dimmed and Robert Scorpio sat staring at the files arranged in front of him. He had planned on using the time that Sean and Tiffany where away to catch up on his paperwork. God knows he had a mountain to get through. While Anna had been missing nothing else had mattered to him but now in the aftermath, he felt buried by all that he had let slide. He ran a hand over his face trying to clear the weariness from his head before leaving the couch and heading to the beverage cart that stood in the corner of the living room. He poured himself a brandy hoping the drink would fortify him for a night of filling out forms and reviewing reports. A knock on the door startled him. Bloody hell, who would be here at this time of night? On instinct, he felt for his holster which he hadn't yet bothered to take off and walked towards the door. Opening it he was surprised to see Anna standing in front of him, dressed in black, agitated and nervously chewing on the side of her mouth, as she had a habit of doing when she was anxious. She was visibly shivering with cold and her coat was stiff with ice.
"Anna? What in the world...?"
Robert pulled her inside the door shutting it swiftly behind him. He peeled the frozen jacket from her relieved that her clothes underneath were dry and in good condition. Looking at her up close he could see the scarring on her fingertips that still remained even after the rest of her wounds had healed- her physical wounds anyway. It was the wounds that can't be seen that worried Robert the most. He stood there for a moment looking at her face remembering the first time he laid eyes on her all those years ago in Sean Donely's office. A lifetime ago it felt.
"What are you doing here? Does Lavery know you are here?"
She took a step closer and placed a finger to his lips. It was icy cold.
"Shhhhhh. No one knows I'm here."
Robert was bewildered and not a little annoyed. What was the point of a security detail if they couldn't keep her secure? That would have to keep until morning. The most pressing question was what would bring her here at this time of night. Robert picked up his brandy and took a sip. He gestured to the decanter to offer her a drink but she shook her head. He moved closer to her and set the glass down on the coffee table.
"Tiffany and Sean aren't here-"
"I know that." She countered.
"Then why are you here?" he asked softly
She stood so close that he could see the ruddiness of her skin that was still healing from her night in the snow. But what took him off guard was her eyes. Her dark eyes, that always seemed to sear his soul every time he looked into them, were dull and lifeless. Suddenly, she reached for him and Robert felt something cold and smooth being pressed into his hand. Anna licked her lips nervously and took a deep breath. She seemed to be summoning her courage and when she found it she looked at him squarely in the eye.
"Stille Nacht." She said clearly
Robert jumped as if he had been bitten. He looked down to see a gold coin in his hand. He resisted the urge to throw it on the ground. He could feel the blood draining from his face and his mouth went dry. Somehow words choked out of his throat.
"Anna? You can't be serious? What...what are you asking of me?"
"Stille Nacht" she repeated. "Do you know what this means?" She asked looking at him intensely.
Robert swallowed and turned away and began pacing the room before he answered.
"Yes. It means you need my help. It means that if I accept this marker and give you the response, we will be making a pact under the WSB's Stille Nacht protocol. I will agree to do whatever you ask of me, legal or illegal, without question or reservation. Theft, kidnapping torture…" he paused for a moment and turned to face her, "...even murder. It's all on the table" Anna nodded and waited for him to continue "And once the task is complete both of us will forget the events of this night and move on as if it never happened, we will take the secret to our graves. Stille Nacht...Silent Night."
Anna looked him squarely in the eye and acknowledged his words with a curt nod of her head.
"And in return, you will have my coin which will give you the right to exact the same bargain from me at any time in the future and which I may not refuse." She said matter-of-factly.
Robert ran his thumb over the coin's smooth surface. He hadn't seen one in years. His was sealed away in a safety deposit box in New York. Suddenly his mind was transported back in time, standing in Sean's office at WSB headquarters. He smiled ruefully at the memory.
"I remember when I was given mine. It wasn't until then I realized how powerful in the WSB Sean was. Stille Nacht was supposed to be an urban legend used to get a rise out of new recruits. Imagine my surprise when Donely handed it to me and said-"
"Be wise..." Anna interrupted, " He said to be wise"
Robert shot her a surprised look. "Yes, how did you know that?"
"He said the same to me when he handed me my coin...before we left for France on our first mission."
They stood in that room and stared at each other. They had never really spoken of this, the past that sits between them, not since she had made Robert understand that she hadn't betrayed him but had saved his life. The bitterness of a life unlived and happiness unfulfilled was too difficult to talk about directly, even after all this time. Robert looked at her and in two strides closed the gap between them. His eyes searched her face for a clue to what was in her mind. He could always read her mood, understand her motivations and intentions but now he was at a loss.
"Anna, what is this about? Are you some kind of trouble? You know that I will take care of you, there is no need for this." he said gently.
He reached to place his hand on her shoulder but she flinched and backed away. She began pacing the room like a caged animal. She chewed on her fingernails and stopped her pacing only to fold and unfold her arms. Her level of agitation alarmed him greatly but he didn't know what else to do so he chose to let her be.
"Don't you understand? I don't know who I am anymore. I don't feel anything anymore. I feel like all that is left of me is a shell and empty husk. This isn't me Robert. We've trained to withstand more than this, you know me, you know what I can handle! Unarmed combat, demolitions, disguise, infiltration, interrogation, sabotage, hell even assassination! I'm not weak and fragile! But now the sound of the wind can frighten me! All I hear is that damn dog barking and his insane laughter in my head. Teasing me, taunting me, threatening you! He killed Filomena! I can't talk about this to Duke. He wouldn't understand. He wouldn't understand why I feel so ashamed. He would just pat me on the head and tell me not to worry myself about anything BUT I CAN'T! I CAN'T ROBERT! I AM TO BLAME!"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Robert grabbed her roughly by the shoulders forcing her to look into his eyes. "You are not to blame for this! Do you hear me! This is not your fault!"
He held her tight against him and he could feel her heart beating wildly against his chest. He held her there until he felt her relax ever so slightly in his arms.
"Shhh." he soothed, "It's Ok luv. You're here, your safe."
Soon she melted into him, her arms encircling his waist as he continued to hold her close. He rested his head against hers whispering words of comfort into her soft hair, gently rubbing the back of her head in a way he remembered used to calm her; back when they were in love and happy and their damned world hadn't been blown all to hell. He was content to hold her like this, something he hadn't allowed himself to do since she had been released from the hospital. But he had to break the spell. He needed to know what was in her mind, what she had planned and how he would protect her from any reckless decisions she was deciding to make.
"Why Anna? Why Stille Nacht? Putnam is locked up for good this time, there is no use in getting revenge on him. He had no accomplices. Why did you give me your coin?"
She looked up at him and moved one hand to gently touch his face, tracing the line of his jaw.
"Because I need to feel alive Robert. I need to feel myself again. I need you. I need to be with you tonight."
Robert looked at her unblinking for a long moment as the meaning of her words hit him. I need to be with you tonight.
Robert Scorpio was very rarely speechless but it this moment he couldn't think of anything to say. He took a step back from her, running a hand through his hair. He realized what she was asking of him. To be with her for the night, to comfort her with his body and then to leave it in the past and never speak of it again. Robert's mind raced. He should say no, he should urge her to go home to Duke. But as he looked at her all he could think about was how many times he had let her had failed her so many times before. In Paris after the accident he had caused, abandoning her because his pride wouldn't let him hear her out. He thought of her carrying Robin without his help. Hot shame filled him as he remembered ripping the fake scar from her face and humiliating her in front of the whole town. Hell, he hadn't even been the one to find her when she was kidnapped even if he had held her first. The list went on and on. And here she was now standing in front of him asking for his help. Suddenly Robert felt resolve wash over him. Dammit, he wouldn't let her down again. Whatever she wants he will give her, whatever she asks of him he will do. Whatever she wants.
With that thought in his mind he held out his hand, the coin still cradled in his palm. Anna looked at him questioning, then reading the look in his eyes she reached out and placed her hand on top of his, the smooth metal nestled between them. Robert brought her hand to his lips and softly kissed each of her knuckles. A look of relief filled her expressive brown eyes. She took a deep breath and said "Stille Nacht." Robert kissed her hand one more time, took a step closer and in a low voice answered back.
He took her into his arms and held her close, afraid she would vanish like a will-o-the-wisp. He breathed her in and she smelled of vanilla and cinnamon. Before he could stop himself his hands pulled at the clip that held her upswept locks in place and he was rewarded by the sight of her hair cascading down her back. He took a moment to feel its softness, remembering how it used to cover her shoulders like a dark waterfall. At that moment something snapped between them, like the first flash of lightning during a storm. The room fairly crackled with the electricity between them. Robert couldn't remember if her lips or his were the first to touch bare skin but when they finally parted they were both breathless.
His hands worked on her holster, then her sweater. He pulled her pants zipper all the way down and pushed them down over her hips till she was able to kick off her shoes and step out of them. She moved in perfect counterpoint, her nimble fingers made quick work of his shirt and holster. She pushed them off his shoulders, impatient to explore and trace his firm muscles. His trousers and briefs followed, landing on the floor with the rest of their clothes. Robert shifted his hips against her. After the years of hidden yearning, he was finally free to express his desire for her and he was not afraid to show it. He reached to cup her breast and felt her arch against him as she pressed her body closer.
Standing on the tips of her toes, Anna wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. His mouth still tasted like brandy and it complimented the flavor of him, something she savored without restraint. Her teeth grazed his bottom lip and she smiled as she heard him inhale sharply. Robert pulled her closer, the heat of their bodies now reaching critical highs.
Still on her toes, she gradually stepped backward, guiding them towards the couch. Her legs met the edge sooner than expected and she lost her balance. She fell onto the couch and pulled Robert with her.
"Whoa, luv! Don't break the goods!" Robert chuckled and he was delighted when he was answered by her own intoxicating laugh. It was a sound he had missed so much his heart ached to hear it. Robert's arms had softened her fall and he now held her close to his chest, and the cushions shifted gently under the weight of them as he laid her down with care. He continued to smile as his eyes took her in. Suddenly, his mind was in Italy remembering his beautiful bride, his Anna. He couldn't take his eyes off of her or keep his hands out of her hair. He had missed her. He had missed them! She must have caught the look in his eyes because she sat up, placed her hands on either side of his face and looked at him mournfully. He saw tears gather in her eyes and threaten to fall.
"Oh Robert…" her words trailed off but years of pain and grief were in her voice.
This wouldn't do, he had seen a small spark in her eyes and he would not let it extinguish now. He looked at her, pulled her to his chest, wrapped his arms around her and said fiercely,
"You're alive! Do you hear me, Anna? Your ALIVE!"
He tilted her face towards his and his mouth claimed hers again. Soon his lips began their journey down her neck. A moan escaped from Anna as he pressed against a tender spot on her clavicle. His hands caressed her hips and he felt her weight shift as she moved to sit astride him. He took a moment to slide his hands up the soft skin of her back until they paused at the nape of her neck. Robert leaned in close to her ear and whispered her name sending a rush of goosebumps down her spine She loved how he said her name.
She kissed him, feeling hot sparks igniting with each heartfelt touch of his lips She couldn't wait any longer. Swiftly their bodies align. They fit as she remembered, perfectly. Her hips pressed to meet his, she lost herself in the movement, wanting more from him. The hold he had on her became stronger. Anna inhaled sharply, grasping at his back as they continued to rock together. She relished the feeling of him as her hand moved to his jaw to deepen their kiss. Roberts' hands move across the smooth skin of her back. And soon, Like a tiny flame, a spark of pleasure started in her core. Soon her whole body is engulfed, the sensation taking over all her senses. She can hear Robert call her name as he follows her in complete fulfillment.
They lay still, both panting, sleek skin against sleek skin. They relished the sensation of being together so thoroughly after so long. After a moment Robert reached for a blanket laying on the back of the couch. He pulled Anna to him and helped her shift herself until she was cradled in this arms like a child and spread the blanket over her, making sure she was secure and warm. She rested her head on his chest and listened as his rapid heartbeat slowly returned to normal. Robert pressed kisses along her hairline and stroked her hair. Anna felt so bare and her emotions were so raw she felt like his arms were the perfect refuge. She snuggled against him and allowed herself to drift away. Nightmares no longer weighed on her mind.
She woke to the feeling of light kisses on her face. She slowly opened her eyes to see Robert smiling warmly at her. "Hello luv, how do you feel?" She ran a finger along his jaw and then pulled his face down so she could kiss him deeply. Her smile lit her whole face.
The morning sky was still dim but held the promise of a beautiful sunrise, the kind that could only come after a storm. Anna slipped silently into the back door of the house. Her home felt snug and cozy. She stretched her sore muscles, they were her only reminders of their Stille Nacht. Their night of passion and the soothing time spent in each other's firm embrace.
Walking into the bathroom she quickly undressed and reached for the robe that hung on the back of the door. SHe caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and paused. Her hair was tangled, her cheeks flushed, she looked completely undone but for the first time in a long time, she felt like she recognized the face looking back at her. She slipped the satin robe over her shoulders and tied the sash around her waist. She picked up a brush, but then thought better of it and set it down. Instead, she ran her fingers through her hair, taking a moment to indulge in the memory of how Robert's felt needing the back of her head as he pulled her in for a kiss. She smiled at herself in the mirror, her disheveled reflection oddly satisfying to her.
In bare feet, she padded into the kitchen. She set about to make coffee but before she knew what she was doing she was mixing up pancakes and singing softly to herself.
"Good morning", Duke welcomed her from the doorway, robe-clad as well, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "You are up early!"
He walked over and kissed her cheek and began to take coffee mugs from the cupboard. The sight of her made him halt. He walked over and reached to touch the long dark strands that framed her face. She turned and smiled, wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his shoulder. Duke smiled. Something about her was different. She seems more herself today. He didn't know what had made her turn a corner but he was grateful nonetheless. Perhaps a good night sleep was what she needed. Maybe she was finally coming back to him and they could finally have the future he had always dreamed for them. He stepped back as she moved to make sure she didn't burn the breakfast and he grinned at the sound of her laughter when she found that she had.
Back in the Donely Penthouse, Robert sat in the darkened living room watching as the sun began its ascent, creating shadows on the surrounding buildings. Absentmindedly, he turned a small gold coin over and over in his hands. He paused then flicked it up in the air and caught it with ease. He smiled as he looked at it. He had her marker and he felt certain that he would need to make use of it someday. And one thought kept the smile on his face. She was alive.