Standard Disclaimer

A/N: Ah, well...so this is the end of the first part. I've already started on the first chapter of the next part,but unless I get my butt in gear there won't be much else. And freedom's days are fast approaching completion! So, feedback is vital, let me know your answer to the question I've got posted after the chapter. Until then, enjoy! And if you think it sucks, let me know. I can work on it.

Disconnected

Marcus Shakespeare really had a magnificent bedroom. It was wide, with a huge, four-poster king-size bed in the middle, a huge walk-in closet on one side and a private bath on the other. On the wall facing outside was a huge set of glass patio doors that led out onto an impressive balcony. For safety reasons, there was usually a guard posted there, but for some reason, there wasn't one there that night. The doors, instead, were heavily barred, which meant that the only way through them was if they were broken, which would make a lot of noise. Not the kind of thing a potential intruder wanted to do.

"Vincent," Victoria whispered from beside him. "Please...please don't."

"Why not?" he asked one final time.

"Because...I don't want you to."

"Because," Marcus Shakespeare interrupted, "I can pay you triple whatever they're paying you, just to walk away."

Vincent raised an eyebrow. "I've been made that offer a dozen times before, Mr. Shakespeare. It's never worked yet."

"Four times. Or you name a price. You name a price and I will pay it."

Vincent chuckled. "With those boys ready to bust in here, I'm sure that they will give you the time to get that kind of cash before they blow both me and your doctor here to little bits."

"Claudia, give me your radio!" Marcus barked down at her. She scuffled through her pockets, her expression pure sullenness, and handed him her radio. He spoke into it, "Jefferson, can you hear me?"

"Yeah, boss?"

"Stop. Whatever you're doing in the hallway, stop now."

There was a pause in the hallway, then the tapering off of all the various noises. Then, it stopped.

"Boss?"

"Go to the safe downstairs," Marcus continued. "Whatever is in there, bring it up here."

There was a confused bustle of static, and then, "Whatever you say."

Vincent laughed again. "This is ridiculous. There isn't anything to stop those boys from starting right back up again and-"

"My word is enough to stop them," Marcus snapped.

"Your word doesn't mean puppy shit," Vincent said. "You don't have any reason to live up to your bargain. I don't kill you, I'm dead myself."

"You're dead if you do kill me, Mr. Vincent," Marcus returned.

Vincent looked toward the patio doors. "You don't know me too well, Mr. Shakespeare."

"Marcus," came Victoria's voice, "he does have a point. Why do this? I mean, other than the obvious reason, to save your life...but we don't have any reason to trust you to keep your word."

Marcus stepped forward just a little, and Vincent steadied his gun. Marcus cast Vincent a quick glance, then looked straight at Victoria.

"Your husband's death," he said, "is my fault, Dr. Potter. For this, and for the many risks you've taken for me these past nights, I owe you a life. If you wish that life to be Vincent's, say the word."

She opened her mouth in astonishment.

"What are you saying?"

"He's saying," Vincent said, "he's serious because he feels he owes you. And he's going to pay you back by not killing me, even though he should."

"I realize that this situation doesn't please you, Mr. Vincent," Shakespeare said. "After all, you do have a reputation to uphold. But you don't need to worry. I am tired of this life. I am going to disappear, I promise you all that." He glared at Claudia. "My past associates have disappointed me, and I have no real reason to take these risks any longer."

There was a rap at the door. The radio in his hand crackled. "Sir? We have the money."

"Good." Marcus gestured to the door. "Who do you wish to get it?"

Vincent hesitated. He looked to Claudia. "Let her go," he said. "Make her use her broken arm."

Claudia looked to Marcus, who nodded. She pulled herself upright, and as if the arm were not broken at all, she went to the door, cracked it open, and accepted the large package of money handed to her. It was a brick of bills, two feet by two feet, wrapped in shrinkwrap.

"For emergencies," Marcus said.

"Like this one," Vincent said, looking at the money. He rubbed his chin. "I don't like this." He pointed at Claudia, who still stood by the door, holding the money. "Set it down and open it up. I want to see it."

Claudia obeyed...and pulled out from the midst of the smaller bricks of cash a hold-out pistol that she brought up and aimed right at Vincent.

Vincent reacted so quickly, Victoria wasn't even fully aware that he had crashed down on top of her until she heard the terrible sound of someone's throat rupturing. She looked up from underneath and saw that Marcus had been thrown back on the bed, and there was a small fountain of blood squirting up.

The jugular, the doctor inside her said. The artery was like an oil pump without a basin. She heard a terrible crashing noise, swore there was furniture flying in the room. The felt the hot spray on one cheek as Vincent pulled her up by her waist, her feet hardly touching the ground as he dragged her toward the patio doors, which had been blasted open by bullets from Vincent's gun. Then, she was outside, on her feet, Vincent was firing wildly behind them, then grabbed her hand and they were running.

What had happened was this:

Claudia shot at Vincent, who was just fast enough to throw Victoria down under him and duck the bullet. Unfortunately, Marcus was right behind him, and the movement sent the bullet right into his throat. He fell back, dead within seconds from blood loss. Claudia aimed again but Vincent was too fast. He opened fire, caught Claudia in the shoulder, and she reached behind her, throwing down the chest of drawers Vincent had pulled against the door. The chest nearly fell onto them, but Vincent caught it as Claudia pulled the door open, allowing other men through, although there were too many trying to come in too fast in a small space. Vincent didn't even blink - he used gravity to shift the weight of the chest so that it flew through the patio doors, then grabbed Victoria and half-carried her outside with him. Knowing he couldn't carry her the whole way, he set her down just long enough to turn and open fire, taking out a few of the guards in the process. Then he grabbed her and headed for the nearest ledge.

Below was the roof of one of the garages. He picked Victoria up, one arm around her back, the other around her knees, and jumped. The roof of the garage was sturdy enough, but the crack as they landed was unmistakable. He kicked down, finding the soft lining through the heavy supportive beams, and made a hole. He grabbed Victoria by her wrists and lowered her through, hearing the soft thud of her landing. He looked down. She had landed in the back seat of a convertible. He followed, aiming for the driver's seat.

Victoria picked herself up, dazed, her backside screaming bloody murder but otherwise unhurt. Vincent had landed on his feet in the driver's seat, but was climbing over the door, onto the concrete floor. He went to a rack on the far wall, his fingers gliding over several sets of keys. He glanced over his shoulder quickly at the car, then pulled the keys of the rack that held the large letters "BMW." He came back, and she scrambled into the front seat as he climbed in and started the engine.

"What about the door?" she asked.

"Duck," he said, reaching for her and pulling her head down, almost into his lap. He hunched his shoulders forward as they plowed through the wood and plastic, scaring the hell out of a few other guards who had started to close in on the garage in the chaos. Before she knew it, they were in the street, tearing down the winds at an incredible speed.

"They're going to follow!" Victoria said, raising her head up and watching behind her. The wind from their velocity whipped up her hair, sending it flying into her face, and she struggled to push it back, unsuccessful until she turned around again.

"Maybe," he said, taking a sharp turn. There was an exit straight ahead, a guard posted there. Vincent tore through it, not bothering to even slow down. Out onto the open street, he made a series of twists and turns until finally they hit a freeway exit.


"Where are we going?" Victoria asked, after they'd been on the road a good ten minutes without any more detours. She also noticed that they weren't being followed.

"I don't know," he said. "Where do you want to go?"

"We can't leave Max behind," she said, not thinking. Realizing she had spoken the dog's name out loud, she put her fingers to her lips.

He looked at her, pointedly. "You named the dog Max?" he asked.

She shrugged. "It fit."

He sighed. "Great. Well, you're right, we can't leave him. I didn't spend eight hundred and fifty dollars for nothing."

More time on the freeway - Victoria caught the signs, they were on the 405, going east - and a few changes - to the 134, to the 210, back into Pasadena - and they were pulling out across the street from the Marriott. But Vincent didn't pull in - instead he pulled into a parking lot across the street, went way toward the back, where a security light was burned out. He got out of the car, and Victoria heard the sounds of metal scraping. She looked back, found him pulling off their license plate and shoving it into the trunk. Then he went to another car, pulled off its license plate, and put it onto the BMW.

"What are you doing?" she asked in a low voice.

"Shhhh," he said. "I'm working."

The license plate affixed, he came back to the car. He had been working with nothing more than a pocket knife, which he put back into his pocket. "Replacing the plates," he said in a low voice. "So they'll have a harder time tracking us."

She nodded. He took her back over to the Marriott, parked the car himself, not bothering with the valet parking, and turned the engine off.

They sat in silence for a moment. Victoria looked around her, wondering that she felt so awake, so alert. She had expected to feel that dream-like state, but no, it was all real. Too real.

Then, Vincent reached into the back seat. She heard the crinkle of shrinkwrap. He pulled the big bag of money with them into the front. Victoria's eyes widened.

"You took it?"

"Of course, I took it," he said. "You deserve something for your troubles."

She swallowed, hard. "I can't take that."

"Sure you can," he said, his eyes not meeting her. "After what you've been through, you're going to need it. Trust me."

But Victoria did not touch it. She got out of the car and headed for the elevator. She heard Vincent's foot steps behind her, glanced over her shoulder as she waited for the elevator to arrive, and noticed he had the money dangling from his fist at his side.

The elevator came. They went back to their room.


Max had been sleeping, curled up in the towel they'd left in the tub. When Victoria entered, he immediately raised up his head and greeted her with a tiny, happy bark. She picked him up, kissed his soft fur, and cradled him against her chest as she went back out into the hotel room.

Vincent had flung the money down onto the bed and pulled open the wrap. He flipped through the stacks of bills, looking at them closely.

"You know, I have to admit," he said, "I expected this to be fake, but it's real."

"How do you know?"

He held up a hundred. The large face showed clearly, and when he put it against the light, she could see the smaller face on the lower right side. Yes, it was real.

"Gotta love these new hundreds," Vincent said with a wry smile. "They are very hard to counterfeit."

Victoria stared down at him, at the money. "How much is there?" she asked quietly.

"More than enough to set you back up again," Vincent said, pulling the rest of the money out of the bag. He pulled out his brown leather satchel and emptied it of the laptop, then started putting the bills inside. It was a tight fit, but he managed to get most of it in. "I'll take a little bit myself, for my troubles," he added, shoving some of the bills into his coat pocket.

"I'm not taking that," Victoria said again.

He looked up at her, his face tightening in frustration. Although, to his credit, he was being patient. "Why not?" he said.

"It's not mine," she replied.

"It is yours, Victoria," he said. "You deserve it."

"Maybe I do, but it doesn't make it mine." She pulled Max closer, stroking his little head, which had nestled into the crook of her neck. Which still tingled, if she thought about it, from where Vincent had been kissing her before.

He shook his head. "What, you want it to go into the dumpster? Where some crack-head can find it and go smoke out his life with it? Or worse, it just goes to the landfill, where no one gets any use from it? What do you think you're going to do, Victoria? Go back to your house and then to your office tomorrow morning and resume business as usual?"

She arched an eyebrow. "I don't know. Am I?"

"No," he said. "You think Shakespeare's people won't be looking for you? You think the police won't? You have to leave L.A., Vic. Go somewhere else, start up again. I know it's a raw deal, but trust me, you'll be happier for it. From what I've seen, you don't really have much to keep you here, anyway."

She considered his words, then softly said, "No, I guess I don't."

"Well," Vincent said, "I guess that's settled." He picked up the laptop, walked into the bathroom. She heard some loud, awful noises as he destroyed it in the bathtub. Her eyes wandered to the clock. It was midnight. She wished he hadn't used the bathtub - she suddenly really wanted a shower.

He came back out, looked at her, still standing there. She turned around, sat down gingerly on the bed. The satchel with the money in it was at the foot, untouched.

"So what now?" she breathed.

He looked at her, leaned against the door frame. "Now? Well...I have a plane to catch. I'll take the BMW, leave it at the airport. I don't think you want it hanging around here."

"So that's it?" she whispered. "You just leave?"

He paused. "Well, considering the circumstances, and how you've been acting for the last few days, I would think you'd want me the hell out of your life as quickly as possible."

She dared to look up at him. The thought that he was actually going to leave her - more than that, that he was going to leave her alive - was suddenly too much. The conflicting emotions of devastation and gratitude rose up in her and choked off her ability to speak.

"Victoria?" he said, his voice sounding far away. No doubt her prolonged silence was unsettling to him. "Did you hear me?"

"I heard you," she managed.

He stepped closer, then crouched down in front of her, their eyes meeting. He reached out, gently took one of her hands, pulled it closer to him. "Victoria?" he said, more tenderly this time.

"What?" she whispered.

"Do you want me to leave?" The hesitation, the un-sureness in his eyes, it made him seem like a totally different person.

She almost smiled. "You hate L.A., remember?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Too sprawled out and disconnected. How many millions of people here, and none of them know each other?" He smiled. "Not for me."

"How many less, now that you've been here a few days?" she returned, lowering Max into her lap.

He shook his head. "Makes no difference, darling," he said softly. "Who notices?"

"I notice," she said, thinking of Allen. "It does make a lot of difference." She met his eyes, gripped his hand closer. "Vincent," she said, "why are you leaving me?"

He seemed stunned by the question. She'd grown to recognize his various degrees of mood, even though his face hardly changed much. A simple widening of his eyes, a twitch in his eyebrows, that was all. "Well, I really should go home-"

"No," she said, letting go of his hand. She put Max onto the bed beside her, leaned forward, staring him down as well as she could. "You let Max and Annie go before. Now you're letting me go. Why? Why are you leaving us alive? It's not exactly the smartest thing for a contract killer to do. Why are you doing it?"

He pulled back a little. "Why are you so concerned about why I'm letting you live? Most people would just be grateful."

"Because I can't get my head around it," she admitted. "I can't understand...why did all of this happen? I can't believe that you were using me the whole time. Or were you?" She drew a breath, leaned closer to him, pinning him with her eyes. "Just tell me the truth and I'll believe you."

"The truth," he breathed. "You'll believe me?"

"I promise."

He stood up, pulled her up onto her feet in front of him. His hands were on her shoulders, as if holding her in place. He looked down, his eyes unfocused, away from her, as if he was struggling with the things inside him - against his reason, against his better judgment, against the years of bitter experience that railed at him to stop now, while he could.

"The night that I killed Daniel," he breathed, "that trumpet player...there was this waitress there. For some reason, she reminded me of you. I couldn't stop looking at her. Sure, I had to watch her, make sure she wasn't around too long, but there was something else. Something in her face." He flinched. "I've never told anyone this. I really felt bad about having to kill him. I really wanted Daniel to get that question right. But he didn't, and I had to do my job."

Victoria frowned, puzzled. "Vince---"she whispered, but he cut her off.

"Shh. Please, just listen. I told you I took the MTA back to you. Truth was, I didn't know if I was going to live or not. I wasn't sure you could fix me." He paused, there were muscles in his face that were twitching with the tension. There was one particular one in his upper lip, it gave his face such a sad appearance. She wanted to reach up and smooth it away.

He finished, "But I wanted to see you one more time before I died."

Her eyes widened, and she realized he was looking at her, looking into her, with those huge, dark eyes of his.

"Truth is, Victoria," he said, struggling to keep his voice steady, "I've never been able to stop thinking about you. Not since we first met. It's always the touch of your hands that I think of first - how you always are so sure, and yet so gentle." He smiled a little, bashful. Not believing he was saying these things. She could see the strain in his forehead, the way some of his veins pulsated slightly.

"Since we first met?" she managed.

He shrugged. "My job doesn't really afford me a love life. My life doesn't afford me a love life. Not that I would ever think you'd be...well..." he choked off, losing his confidence. His hands left her shoulders, spreading out slightly, and he shook his head, his eyes closing, and for a moment, Victoria was sure he was going to stop, just leave it there, only partly said.

"Go on, Vincent," she urged. "Please."

He opened his eyes. She had never really thought of him as a person to pity before that moment. He hid his pain so well, so deep inside of him. He never let it out, never let anyone see it. It was his only defense against the world he hated so much. Against rejection, against loss. But now, it shone brightly on the surface, and she realized now why his eyes had always seemed so empty before. His soul...the one she thought he didn't have...was lost in a sea of pain. Overwhelmed by it. His hands gingerly returned to her shoulders and she felt his grip tighten on her, as if afraid that she was going to just add to that pain, that now he had revealed it, he'd just left himself open for more of it. The thought was unbearable, for both of them.

She leaned forward, and kissed him.

At first, he jumped against the kiss, as it wasn't anything he'd probably experienced before. All the other times had been about seduction and lust, but this one - it was an invitation, a comfort, a sign of love.

"Tell me," she whispered against his cheek. "Say it."

"I...can't," he said against her cheek. This close, his eyes burned her. It was overwhelming. She couldn't do anything to help him, even if she told him she loved him back. It was so much, her reason told herself. She couldn't take this burden. It was too much.

"Victoria," he said, after a deep, withdrawing breath, "do you want to come with me?"

"Where?"

"Home. Where I live. Come and stay with me. As long as you want to, anyway. I know this last week has been...insane." He chuckled, relieving his own tension. "But it will be different. I promise."

She considered him. He'd given her so much...more than he'd taken away. And really, truth be told, this week had not been his fault. Not really.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Very," he replied.

What she was about to say...it defied everything within her. But she couldn't help it, it surged out of her, unwilling to be repressed. "Yes," she sighed, almost dizzy with her own headiness. "If you want me to. I want to go with you."

He smiled at her, that same smile she had seen before - that happy smile, the one that lacked his ego, lacked the bitterness and disdain it always had before. "Then let's go."


Max sat in the back seat, wrapped in a towel they had snatched from the hotel room. The brown satchel was tucked underneath the seat, in spite of Victoria's objections. Vincent promised her they could donate the money to some free clinic in Mexico, got knew there were enough of them that needed it.

In the front seat of the BMW, her hair wrapped in the hat and scarf Vincent had bought her from before, Victoria fiddled with the CD's she found in the small compartment between the seats.

"This one looks good," she said, holding it up. Vincent just shrugged.

"If it's not Jazz, I'm not really interested," he said. "But go ahead, if it'll make you happy." He tossed her a smile.

She slipped the CD in, pressed the button to make the tracks play randomly. The song started to play.

"Life, it's ever so strange

It's so full of change

Think that you're worked it out, then BANG

Right out of the blue

Something happens to you

To throw you off course, and then you...

Break down, yeah, you breakdown

Well, don't breakdown, listen to me,

because...

It's just a ride, it's just a ride,

No need to run, no need to hide

It'll take you round and round

Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down

It's just a ride, it's just a ride

Don't be scared, don't hide your eyes,

It may feel so real inside,

But don't forget, it's just a ride.

Truth, we don't wanna hear

It's too much to take,

Don't like to feel out of control

So we make our plans, ten times a day,

And when they don't go our way, we...

Break down, yeah, we break down,

Well, don't break down, listen to me,

because...

It's just a ride, it's just a ride,

No need to run, no need to hide

It'll take you round and round

Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down

It's just a ride, it's just a ride

Don't be scared, don't hide your eyes,

It may feel so real inside,

But don't forget, it's just a ride.

Slowly, oh so very slowly, except that

There's no getting off.

So live it, just gotta go with it,

Because this ride, it's never gonna stop.

Break down, don't you break down,

No need to break down, no need at all,

because...

It's just a ride, it's just a ride,

No need to run, no need to hide

It'll take you all around

Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down

It's just a ride, it's just a ride

Don't be scared now, dry your eyes,

It may feel so real inside,

But don't forget, enjoy the ride."

Victoria smiled as they cruised down the 5 into San Diego. They would be in Mexico by dawn. She sat back to just enjoy the ride.


A/N: Ah well, oh well...is that the end? Whatever. They don't get off that easy, not in my litte universe. So I need some help--where to I put the next story? Do I just keep tacking it onto this one like one huge story, or do I start another one? Because I'm really undecided. So...votes, everyone! I need to know the consensus of my readers, because, well, hopefully, you guys will be reading it.

Par! Thank you for all your warm, wonderful comments. And here I am, stuck on the one about a certain triple X-rated night...yeah, I like leaving things to the imagination. You know it's always better that way. Heh heh. YOu can fill in your own blank. :) LOL Don't quiver with frustration! Quiver with...something else. Heh.

cerebralgoddess18: Don't worry, there's more...just this coming chatper will be the end of part one. So stay with me! And I don't think you'll be disappointed! Sweet Treats: Even if the French wasn't right, it still looked very cool. And I know that poem...that was the poem in the movie Identity...where the guy had like fifteen
different personalities...hmmm...okay, I won't go there. You do know I was just kidding about the meds, right? Right? (knock knock) anybody there? Hellooooooo?

Byrony Cel: I can relate, believe me. Computers can majorly suck sometimes. That's okay, you review when you can, I know you're out there. Hope you enjoyed the last chapter, and I need some feedback about whether to just continue this story or start another thread, or whatever they call it.

LET ME KNOW, GUYS! You, the viewer, get to decide! In the meantime, I'm going to go watch some reruns of the Surreal Life on VH1. That show just totally cracks me up.