Chapter 39: To Err is Human
I don't get many things right the first time
In fact, I am told that a lot
Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls
Brought me here
And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face?
Now I see it every day
And I know
That I am
Dedicated to Evelyn and D-Tepes, who stayed up late to help me write this story, and to all of you who helped me finish with your constant encouragement. You amaze me. This is not the end.
Lazily getting dressed, Maxie got bored halfway through recovering all her clothes and just settled on pulling Spinelli's jacket on to cover her lingerie. He was asleep, curled into the couch with a throw pillow pressed over his face. Slinking back over to his side, Maxie gently tugged the pillow away from him, leaning in to wake him. She gently blew air in his ear, watching his face crinkle as the stream of breath tickled. One murky green eye peaked open, seeming confused. She smiled as realization dawned on him. He reached out a hand a brushed the side of her face.
With a gentle kiss, Maxie snuggled back onto the couch.
"Victory is mine," Spinelli sighed, closing his eyes again, dreamlike. Maxie giggled. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. It felt good to laugh again.
"Does Jason know you are lurking in his spare penthouse?"
Spinelli tentatively wrapped his arms around her. "Stone Cold would encourage it."
"What do you mean?"
He paused, smiling. "Welcome to my humble abode, a.k.a. Casa de la Jackal."
It took her a minute to realize what he said, but she didn't understand. "What?"
"The Jackal lives here now."
Her mouth fell open. "Jason just gave you a penthouse?"
"…Well…yeah he kinda did. It was just being used for spare storage."
"Sweet?" Spinelli wiggled excitedly. "Yeah, definitely. It has become a nice place to raise our progeny these past few days."
He was grinning like a fool. Maxie didn't know what to say. Spinelli had his own place. There was no Jason in sight, no more pink bedroom. They'd made love in his home….And here she thought they were being kinky, sneaking into a secret residence.
"You know, it could really use a woman's touch," Spinelli tapped the tip of her nose.
Maxie raised an eyebrow, inching closer to his lips.
"Did you have a certain woman's touch in mind?"
"Yes…" he breathed, closing the gap.
He nodded, their noses almost touching. "It has come to my attention that Kate Howard is really good at designing stuff."
"Spinelli!" Maxie slapped his bare chest. Spinelli yelped in pain but was laughing at the same time, his eyes delighted. She rolled her eyes and pulled him in for a kiss, lingering for a moment to enjoy the peace that only being that close to Spinelli could bring her.
When they parted, Spinelli sat up. "What do you say?"
Pulling on the zipper to Spinelli's jacket, Maxie played coy. "What are you asking?"
"I think you know what I'm asking, Sassy Max." Spinelli looked serious. "Why are we doing this ridiculous run around town trading the baby thing? It doesn't make sense. It hasn't made sense. The Jackal…I want you to be with me."
His face fell as if she'd told him he only had days to live. "Maxie…don't take it back. Don't. Please. I thought we connected…"
For a moment, Maxie wondered who was speaking through Spinelli. He was so different. It wasn't even a year ago they mocked one another, the easy girl and the freak. Who were those people? Did they die with Georgie Jones? Or, were those people masks? Maxie felt real for the first time in her life. Spinelli was speaking more naturally, taking control of his life. Maybe they were just the people they were always supposed to be.
"I'm not taking anything back. I'm really tired of pretending I can live without you."
And in a flash, the ghost of Spinelli's worry was gone. He kissed her shoulder, looking at her with a childish gaze in his eyes, the innocence she adored. After everything, he hadn't lost that. Maxie traced the deep scar over his chest where the bullet had passed through him months before. Too close.
Unaware of where Maxie's focus was, Spinelli spoke lightly. "…Something tells me Caleb will be happy about not being traded day in and day out…"
"Want me to go get him?"
Spinelli slowly rose from the couch and threw on some clothes, going across the hall to retrieve their son from Jason, who was probably wondering where Spinelli had gone. Maxie pulled on the rest of her clothes while she waited, already mulling around things in his apartment that needed to be changed. The curtains were drab. She wondered if they had been there for years. The mantle was nice though, it had potential.
A small creak of the door brought her out of her thoughts as Spinelli reentered the penthouse with a bundle of green in his arms, little Caleb dressed in footie pajamas pressed closely to his father's chest. Maxie smiled at the pair of them, the memory and the souvenir.
"Look, Caleb…Mommy found our secret lair."
Maxie skipped over to them. "Awww…He's sleepy."
Caleb blinked at her blearily, unimpressed. His expressions always made her laugh, so serious for such a small person. Pushing the black tuft of hair out of his face, Maxie kissed his forehead. Spinelli gently passed the infant over to her. Maxie bounced him in her arms slightly as she walked back over to the couch, curling up. Spinelli joined her.
"Spinelli, you do realize you haven't called him by anything other than Caleb, right? I mean, Stone Cold, The Blonde One, etc. etc…Does our son get a Jackal name?"
Spinelli watched them both quietly and shrugged. "The Jackal knows a good name when he hears one. Caleb is a good name."
"Well, okay then, Jackal."
Caleb yawned big, still completely unimpressed. Her baby was low maintenance, and she enjoyed that considering how extreme his parents were.
"Maxie…" Spinelli spoke softly.
A slight pause and then Spinelli replied, a goofy grin on his face. "This feels right, doesn't it?"
Maxie sighed and looked around the room for an answer, scanning the bare walls that were like blank canvases. She gazed out the window at the blue sky, feeling the heavy warmth pressed close to her chest where a small heartbeat pattered away. Finally, Maxie turned back to Spinelli's awaiting stare. He really loved her, didn't he?
"For the first time in my entire life…yes."
"Alright, Caleb…Time to observe The Jackal in action. Your most sassy and sexy maternal one decided to go 70 miles per hour in a strictly 55 zone on her way to work this morning…It is my job, nay, my DUTY to rid her of one annoying speeding ticket. Are you ready?"
Spinelli turned excitedly to Caleb's stroller. There was little to no reaction, as per usual. Spinelli laughed at his son's blank stare. He did a few preliminary stretches in his seat (his latest hacking venture would take place in the relaxing family atmosphere of Kelly's) and reached for his orange soda, taking a quick swig. Time for battle. He could hear the Rocky theme song building in his head. Dun nun nun…
As soon as he touched the pads of his fingers to the keyboard, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Spinelli jumped, all the excitement of doing a quick hack flooding out of him in the fear of being caught.
"Spinelli." Mac Scorpio stood by his table, looking stern. Spinelli quickly pressed the escape button on his laptop to end running the program he was planning to use to hack into the police records. It wasn't a really smart idea to try and hack right in front of the Police Commissioner, especially if he was still a little bitter that a criminal had knocked up his only living daughter. One of those 'don't press your luck' situations. Spinelli cleared his throat and smiled widely, probably looking guilty as sin.
"Yes, Commissioner, Sir."
Spinelli waved at the chair opposite him at the table, attempting to be cordial but really hoping Mac didn't want to sit down. They didn't always get along, though it had been a lot better between them in recent months. Mac kept his opinions to himself for the most part, though Spinelli was now able to translate the slight squint of Maxie's father's eyes as being "displeased".
After one of these combination squint/stares, Mac pulled back the chair, raking it noisily along the floor. Caleb watched the newcomer to his father's table with mild interest. Nervous under the watchful stare of his new audience, Spinelli smoothed the hair on his son's head for reassurance. Mac watched this gestured quietly and smiled just a little. Then, his expression turned serious once more.
"Look. You are not my favorite person in the world."
Spinelli nodded, and began to attempt for the thousandth time an explanation as to why he acted the way he did.
"Understood, though I wish--"
Mac held up his hand. "No. My turn to speak." Spinelli slunk down in his seat as Mac continued. "I do not trust you. You work for Jason. You are the absolute last person I would want involved in my daughter's life."
Heat flushed Spinelli's cheeks. "Sir-"
Holding up his hand again, Mac hushed him again. "No. Still my turn. Maxie has been through a lot. She has lost a lot of people. It has been made clear to me that you actually have some…level…of feelings for her, whether I like that or not."
For some reason, that last statement felt like a punch to the gut.
"I love her, Commissioner," Spinelli said, his voice almost cracking.
Mac sighed. It was obvious by his expression that Mac believed what he said, but the knowledge didn't seem to make him feel any better.
"Be that as it may, as genuine as your affections for my daughter might be, you still choose to bring her into your lifestyle knowing full well that there is a risk to her life. And, let's not forget a child is involved now."
Pausing, Mac looked over at Caleb and gingerly adjusted his blanket. The baby seemed fascinated by this sudden attention. Spinelli suspected that Mac and Caleb were going to be very close. That would be good. His son needed to have some sort of grandfather figure in his life. For a moment, Spinelli wished it was his own father sitting across from him, sharing a table at Kelly's, three generations united. He was pulled out of his daydream when Mac continued to speak.
"That child has essentially made it so that I cannot just ask Maxie to leave you. You are connected for life now. It's not my decision to make concerning how you raise your son. If I had my way…" Mac shuffled a salt shaker, shaking his head, and trailed off. "Anyways…Spinelli. I am imploring you to look deep inside yourself. I know you could actually be good for my daughter…but this mob stuff…It will always hinder you from being all you can for her."
It must have been the way Mac was looking at him, or his tone, or something, but Spinelli felt like ice had slipped into his stomach and froze him from the inside. There was such a finality in Mac's gaze, as if he knew something Spinelli didn't concerning the future. Swallowing hard, Spinelli tried to reply.
"…It's just…tech support…"
Mac closed his eyes very briefly in a pained expression. "For Jason Morgan."
Spinelli shuddered a little, a rush of nerves building in his skin just by the way Mac looked. What did he want from him? He was doing the best he could, it had been an overwhelming year, and Spinelli was still adjusting to the radical changes in his life.
"What would you have me do? I can't just leave..." Spinelli said stupidly. His gaze fell from Mac's serious stare, but the commissioner snapped his fingers in front of his nose, snapping him back to attention. Maxie's doting father wasn't going to let him slip out of this conversation.
"Jason Morgan made his choice," Mac whispered with an edge to his voice. "Open your eyes, Spinelli. Things are getting bad out there, and you know it. It's only going to get worse."
This was true. Spinelli knew it was true, he just didn't want to admit it. It meant more than danger. It meant loyalty to Jason. Did Mac understand that? This wasn't easy…Spinelli felt his eyes burning, a swell of emotion rising up inside. Mac had unknowingly tapped into a very deep and complicated question Spinelli had been mulling around in his own mind ever since Maxie had found out she was pregnant—How did the mob fit into his life?
"But…Stone Cold…Jason is my family, Mr. Scorpio."
"Maxie and Caleb are your family," Mac corrected gently. Spinelli bit his lip. He looked at Caleb and wondered if he was already a terrible father, not able to make painful choices because he wasn't brave enough. Or, in this case, Spinelli was making poor choices because he didn't want to disappoint anyone.
"It's not as easy as you make it sound, sir," Spinelli sputtered.
"I know that," Mac annunciated each word softly, gripping Spinelli's shoulder in an almost concerned fatherly way. "But if you make a strong decision now to at least attempt to put distance between you and this madness, you can eventually get out."
Spinelli nodded weakly, burrowing his face in his hands.
"Did you know your father, Spinelli?"
He looked up, meeting Mac's eyes sadly. "No…he died."
"And your mother?"
"She's…" Spinelli began to explain, but didn't know how to answer. "I have no idea. I don't know her."
"Do you wish you could have known them both?"
Andrew Millhouse and Sarah Spinelli, his invisible family. Known them? Spinelli wished he could have just seen them, really seen them. They were see-through ghosts that haunted picture frames.
"…More than words can express, Commissioner."
Mac smiled sadly. "Try. For your son, try."
"Yeah. Yeah, okay."
"I'll never bring it up again. I think we understand each other."
They were silent. The conversation was over, and Spinelli knew Mac was serious when he said he would never bring up the subject again. It was time for Spinelli to be a father and make grown up decisions. Mac shuffled a little in his seat, turning to face Caleb. He reached out and plucked the baby from his stroller, and Caleb expression changed from severe boredom to bubbling interest in the arms of the commissioner. Spinelli laughed.
"Wow. He reacted to you."
"What do you mean?" Mac muttered, adjusting the baby. He yanked some car keys out of his pocket and paraded them in front of Caleb's gaze, which delighted the infant.
"He looks mesmerized by you. He's pretty bored with me and Maxie."
"Kids like me." Mac shrugged.
"Caleb, you and Grandpa Commissioner will probably be fast friends."
Mac smiled and continued jingling the keys.
Maxie leaned over the edge of Caleb's crib, her head cocked to the side in amusement as she watched her son sleeping peacefully, finally. It had been a long day, and she had worried it would be an even longer night if Caleb decided he wasn't quite ready to end his socializing. A soft shuffle of steps came from behind her as Spinelli entered their bedroom. Their bedroom, what a concept. Their home, their bed, their place to plant seeds and watch them bloom and grow.
"Coming to bed?" Spinelli tugged on the bottom of her soft cotton shirt, teasing her skin with a soft touch. Maxie wrapped her arms around him and placed a kiss on his neck, burrowing into their embrace.
"He's finally asleep," Maxie muttered as Spinelli ran his hand over her hair. They were so lucky, Maxie thought. Caleb was stronger every day; Spinelli and Maxie had found a place to flourish and love one another without pretending there were alternatives. Finally, maybe, there could be some quiet in their lives.
"You're a natural, Maxie."
"Mother? Pffff. Hardly."
"Sassy Maxie, you have a deeply caring nature, whether you want to admit it or not, and said nature makes you inherently strong in areas such as child rearing. The Jackal knew you would be."
They did an odd shuffle backwards away from the crib and out of the baby's room, never breaking their embrace, heading for their bedroom in an intense dance of pulling and tugging and kissing and breathing. Maxie found herself crashing backwards onto the plush comforter, Spinelli gaining the upper hand in their positioning. He pressed the softest of kisses on her lips, eyes searching hers for permission to trace his hand a little higher under her shirt and up her small frame, which she quickly and eagerly granted.
It was like melting with him, every time. Sometimes like candle wax, a reshaping, molding kind of love. Sometimes like an ice cream in the sun, sticky sweet sugar. Either way, her heart dissolved with each word breathed, each touch tested. Later, when they were busy finding a way to solidify again, Maxie wondered how this man had come into her life.
Spinelli was watching her with a small grin on his face, tracing a shape on her bare shoulder. Maxie pulled the blankets up around them and found a place to rest her head on his chest.
"You really are a good mother, Maxie," he muttered quietly. "I don't know why you seem to doubt that…"
"You lying suck up. I'm winging this whole parenthood thing and you know it,"
Spinelli kissed her forehead. "I guess you are blind to just how amazing you are with him."
Sighing, Maxie played with a stray thread on the edge of the blanket. "I have to work hard at it just to counterbalance all the bad I will inevitably bring to him, what with me being cursed and all."
"Cursed?" Spinelli laughed. He didn't grasp what she meant.
After a long pause, Maxie answered him bluntly. "There's a trail of dead and suffering following me, Spinelli."
"You aren't cursed, Maxie," Spinelli sounded indignant, tightening his arms around her.
"…BJ…Georgie…My mom…and dad…Jesse…" Maxie grumbled. Feeling Spinelli shaking his head in disagreement distracted Maxie long enough to make sure that each face didn't cross her psyche for too long, lest bitter memories ruin a good evening.
"Mac. Robin. Sam. Caleb. Me," Spinelli rattled off, emphasizing the "me". He cleared his throat loudly, shifting to look her in the eyes. "If you're cursed…how do you explain us?"
"A fluke," Maxie tried to joke. She averted her eyes and stammered. "Or…"
"Or what?" Pushing the hair out of her eyes, Spinelli wanted to make sure she couldn't escape him.
Her lips would be bruised the next morning, surely, with the pressure she was causing as she pursed them together, trying to not let her voice break or a tear to fall from her eyes.
"Borrowed time," Maxie admitted sadly. As happy as they were, as lucky as she felt, Maxie couldn't pretend she would be surprised if it all came crashing down in a moment, whenever the world decide she'd had her fill of fortune.
Spinelli scoffed. "You will have to introduce me to your Time Loan Officer. There's some stuff I've always wanted to do and if The Jackal could just borrow some time to accomplish it all…"
"I'm not joking."
His voice lowered. "I know you're not. Look, Maxie…The supernatural has nothing to do with it. Black magic, curses, voodoo" Spinelli waved his hands over his head. "…There is nothing in the world that has singled you out and deemed you unworthy."
Maxie let silence be her response.
"If it takes the rest of my life to do so, I will prove to you that you can be loved." He said seriously. "Well, assuming you would even want me around the rest of your life."
The genuine intent that sparkled in his eyes and in his words allowed Maxie to quietly accept the terms of his promise. He might be disappointed by it all one day, but Maxie would selfishly allow him to try and teach her the world had opportunities for her, for them.
"I never want to be without you again. My life doesn't work without you," she let the words that had been stuck in her heart for a while tumble out freely. "Because…With you…I feel like I'm beating the odds. Like I'm lucky…"
"Fortune Favored Spinelli…that's what they call me…"
Electricity hummed in the air around them. She pulled him to her, needing to taste him one more time. As always, he obliged her enthusiastically. As they pulled apart, Maxie wondered if it would be possible for them to freeze that night for a while, just a little while.
"I love you," she breathed.
"I love you, too," Spinelli replied, then collapsed into his pillow laughing softly.
"What's so funny?"
Poking her on the nose, Spinelli grinned sheepishly. "Are you a mirage? How are you real? The Jackal, assassin of the internet, socially misunderstood nerd managed to find a beautiful & ferocious creature to call his own…In what world?"
"In this world," she teased.
For a moment, Spinelli simply laughed quietly with her watching in amusement. The electricity was back though as his expression changed. Instead of being the focus of Maxie's gaze, Spinelli seemed to be examining her in a new way.
"What?" She questioned.
Still, he silently watched her, biting the corner of his lip, thinking. Maxie couldn't help but feel a little nervous as he fidgeted a little.
"Seriously, Spinelli, why are you looking at me like that?"
Ignoring her, Spinelli sat up and reached over to the nightstand. He felt around in the top drawer, opening a small dented pencil box inside. A glint of light sparkled in the dim room. Spinelli let it sit in his hand, weighing the small object as if it was all he had in the world of any value. Slowly, Spinelli turned his hand just enough for Maxie to see what it was he was holding so delicately.
It was a small, gold hoop earring. The earring she thought she'd lost the night they slept together the first time, the missing piece to a set Georgie had saved up for just for Maxie's birthday. She thought it was gone, lost and forgotten a long time ago.
Maxie swallowed. "Wow…where did you find that?"
Spinelli was quiet as he looked at the tiny piece of jewelry.
"On the floor the day after we…you know…" he shrugged.
She sat up, pulling the blankets around her frame. Maxie held out her hand for the earring, expecting him to hand it over to her, but Spinelli kept his gaze lowered and rolled the gold his hand. Dropping her hand, felt that electricity run through the air again.
"I thought I lost it…it was a gift from Georgie."
Spinelli sighed. "I'm sorry."
"You kept it all this time? Why?"
"I don't know," he shrugged again. A light laugh flitted through him. "A weird souvenir? I kept meaning to give it back to you…"
"But…?" Maxie pressed him.
Spinelli still wouldn't look at her. She could see a small pink blush rising in his cheeks.
"But I kept it…" explaining slowly, Spinelli examined the earring closer. "I thought it was the only thing of yours I would ever have. I was... confused the day I found it, feeling all these weird things. I was confused, and the confusion just grew stronger…I'm sorry, I'm not making any sense. It's just an earring."
Maxie held her breath. Finally, Spinelli met her confused and waiting stare.
"I think I can give it back to you now. I know…" He laughed, a relief in his voice Maxie hadn't ever heard before. "I don't need a keepsake with the memory in my arms."
He gently took her hand in his. Maxie was confused as to what he was doing. Bringing her finger to his lips, Spinelli kissed them softly, looking into her eyes. He lazily looped the hoop around her ring finger where it dangled loosely, like she was wearing a ring that was too big for her. A strange laugh escaped Spinelli, like he enjoyed the glint of gold against her skin.
"Maxie…" he breathed her name.
He adjusted the earring on her hand nervously. "Do you want to marry me?"
As realization dawned on her of what he was asking, Maxie could almost hear Georgie's sweet laughter, her cosmic amusement like a thick static in the air. Every breath and every move had led her to this moment, to this man. She'd seen faces fade away and blur, mundane choices affecting larger errors. Maxie believed it was all one tragedy after another without a design, but how wrong her assumptions had been.
"Yes, I want to marry you, Spinelli." And she did, she really did. Not because of the baby, not because of a sense of "doing the right thing"...Because every fiber in her being wanted to make a promise she could keep, forever. His eyes sparkled at her steady answer. Maxie met him halfway in a kiss so intense she wondered if she had ever really been kissed before. Was it possible to taste love? Probably, since every other one of her senses seemed to have no trouble registering the emotion. She saw it, felt it, smelled it, heard it…of course you could taste it. This was it, on the tip of her tongue devouring her and she had no choice anymore, didn't want a choice, glad that something finally seemed to be perfectly planned.
Maxie understood. Every wound had a reason, now. Her life had been hard, but without the hurting, would she have trekked out on a cold January night and met the only other person in the world just as lonely as her? A connection, a life, a bloodline, and a love had been created because of pain, the "curse" she hated so much.
Was it a plan of fate? Some divine scheme? Poetry? Organized chaos? Or, perhaps Maxie was taking her love story and making it more special than it really was. Maybe it was simply human error and a bit of dumb luck that caused Maxie and Spinelli to stumble into fortunate circumstances.
No, no. That wasn't it.
It might have been an unforeseen miscalculation, but, and Maxie finally was sure of this…it had never been a mistake.
(There is a lot from the first two chapters referenced in this chapter.)
One year later and I finally have completed a story that began as a mere musing in my head last winter. Look how far we have come! I had the pleasure of writing this fic at the same time that Spinelli and Maxie developed as a couple for real on the small screen. I really want to thank everyone for making this writing experience as pleasurable as it has been. The story is no shorter or longer than I wanted it to be. It feels whole and truly complete in my heart, and I can ask no more of it.
Oh, and if you want a sequel, now would be a good time to mention it. Just because a chapter has ended doesn't mean the story is over, if you know what I mean. There's always more to tell if someone wants to sit around the campfire with me some more.
Thank you for reading. I love this story. It has been my pride and joy for a long time. I know how many people read this fic and it would be absolutely stunning and wonderful if I could hear a reaction from all of you. What do you say? Click review below and leave this fic a proper goodbye?
With Love and Respect for those who stayed on the journey,