Many thanks to ILovetoWriteSMP, R&AFan, Jennifer, Sarah, Sparky, StarryAquarius and YZX for taking the time to leave me your feedback! If you enjoyed this story and want more Scorpios and Maricks, I'll soon be posting an AMC/GH crossover fic, "Strangers" on the AMC board.

Chapter XXXII

Paris, France

One week later

Anna Devane sat at the dining room table of her apartment, cupping a hot mug of tea in her hands.

Robert was in the room with her, pacing.

He rubbed the back of his hand against his growing beard. "I don't have the patience for this," he growled.

"No kidding."

"A week, luv. It's been seven days and still no word from Mac and Valencia!"

"Robert, stop it." Anna set down her teacup. "You're making me want to jump out of my skin. We did get a phone call from him via Robin, remember? He said things were fine."

"What the hell does 'fine' mean? I need to know what's happening to them!" Robert exclaimed, sitting down across from her. "I know for a fact that there are phones in Colombia."

The last few days had been a challenge. For both of them.

Making it safely through customs in Hungary hadn't provided them with the relief they'd been expecting. Instead it was the beginning of a bumpy ride into a new life full of uncertainties.

Robert had taken the news of Robin's HIV status as hard as Anna knew he would, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Just as they were about to land in Budapest, and needed to be calm and composed in order to go through customs, Robert had fallen apart.

That they made it through without incident had been part miracle, part luck.

Anna vaguely remembered waking up to the sound of voices arguing in the cabin of her sister's plane. Because whatever Alex had given her had made her feel sleepy, the voices weren't particularly clear in her memory. But she remembered enough of what was said that it could still make her feel uncomfortable now, a week later.

"HIV? You're telling me my daughter has AIDS? What kind of a sick joke is this? Robin, tell me this isn't true..."

"Not AIDS, Dad. HIV. Big difference."

"HIV causes AIDS!" Robert had exclaimed. "Everyone knows that."

"HIV can cause AIDS, it doesn't have to."

"I don't understand…"

Anna had heard Robert's voice crack when she stepped into the cabin, her presence stopping the conversation dead. Alex flashed a concerned look in her direction.

"I'm sorry…" It was the only thing Anna could think of to say. "I'm sorry, Robert. I should have told you."

But Robert had ignored her, transfixed by his daughter.

"I don't believe you…" He hadn't been able to take his eyes off Robin. "You don't look sick."

"Dad, I'm not sick."

"But you're HIV positive?"

"I'm HIV positive, yes."

"Which causes AIDS."

"Dad, the chances of it turning into AIDS are really slim in my case…"

But Robert hadn't understood then and Anna wasn't sure whether he truly understood now.

Last night, when they'd both been wide awake and restless at three in the morning, he asked her the same question that ran through her mind all the time.

"She said she caught it from her first boyfriend. Do you ever think that maybe if we'd been around, that…"

He didn't need to finish.

"All the time."

"How do you stand it?"

"I try to… remind myself that I can't change the past."

"But how do you stand knowing that our girl has a ticking time bomb in her body and there's nothing we can do? Not a single damn thing? How do you live with that?"

"It's not as though we're powerless. We can be there for her now. We can love her. We can make sure she takes care of herself."

"We can do all that and at the end of the day she's still HIV positive!"

His words had made her cry, and Robert, though he couldn't have seen her tears in the dark, was still Robert. He'd told her he was sorry. Sorry for his anger and frustration. Sorry for his absence. Sorry that he couldn't remember sooner. He was so damn sorry for everything…

And when she had angrily told him to stop, he silently wrapped his arms around her until she fell back asleep.

It was one of many arguments.

Afraid of being recognized, Robert rarely left the apartment. Even though he now sported a growing beard, he didn't want to risk walking through the streets of Paris while his disappearance was still headline news in South America. He went so far as to insist that Anna do the same.

"Our faces are still plastered across every newspaper in Colombia," he had reminded her. "We should lay low for at least a couple of weeks, until the casual reader's forgotten what we look like."

"No one here is covering this story," Anna had protested. "Any Colombian visiting Paris will be too busy looking at the sights to notice two strangers walking down the street!"

"It's too much of a risk."

Maybe Robert had been right, maybe it was a risk, but after three days of being locked up in her apartment, two of which Alex had insisted she spend in bed, Anna had tied her hair in a ponytail, put on a baseball cap and sunglasses and left to walk to the grocery store, leaving Robert behind to pace by himself.

A little risk was worth her sanity.

Of course he'd lectured her when she'd returned, and on top of it Anna had to admit the short walk had exhausted more than she thought it possibly could. Still, it was worth it for the half hour of fresh air she got and the unmistakeable look of relief on Robert's face as soon as she walked back through the door.

Ironically, there were moments when Robert's resolve to be careful took a complete turn and instead of hiding, he began insisting on turning himself in. Those moments caused the worst arguments; sometimes making Anna think they didn't stand a second chance after all.

"I need to go back to Colombia and face the charges against me," he'd announced after one evening of spending an inordinate amount of time staring out the window.

Anna had bit her lip, knowing what was next. "Don't start that again…"

"I promised Valencia. I promised myself," he had reminded her. "I spent nearly a decade working to end corruption in my police force, and then I desert it by helping an inmate break out of prison to go on the run with her?"

"If you go back and surrender yourself, then it means I go to prison too. Once they know who you really are, they'll know who I am…" Anna had shuddered at the thought of another night at La Catedral. She was certain if she entered that prison a second time she wouldn't come out alive again.

"Not if I go back and testify as Roberto Sandoval…"

"Do you think for one moment that I would let you go to prison for something that I did?"

"Robin needs you."

"Robin needs you too, damn it!"

She had seen the conflict written all over his face. Nothing brought it on faster than a mention of Robin. Anna might have resisted using her daughter as leverage before Robert knew who she was, but she wouldn't hesitate to do it now in order to bring him to his senses.

"You're asking me to turn my back on everything I believed in and stood for during the last ten years. If I lose those principles…what's left of me?"

"If you spend the rest of your life in jail cell, what's left of you then? What good can you do there? Helping me break free because you wanted to see your daughter doesn't make you a criminal, Robert, and I'm not asking you to become one. I might not have always understood your inability to see the world in anything but shades of black and white, but I know your integrity, is what makes you who you are. I love you for it."

"Then you do understand…"

"Oh no…I don't! What I understand is that you have a choice to make…between your ethics and your family. This time I'm asking you to choose your family."

He didn't have an answer for her then. Choosing instead to avert her gaze and keep staring out the window.

"I don't want to hurt you, Anna. I love you too much for that," he'd admitted, without looking at her. "But I don't know if I can do what you're asking me to do. I committed a crime and left an entire police force believing I was a fraud."

"Roberto Sandoval broke me out of jail. Not you."

"I am Roberto Sandoval."

"No, you were always Robert Scorpio, living under a false identity because you couldn't remember your own."

He had turned back to face her. "Are we arguing legalities now, Anna?"

"No, not legalities. Facts. The fact is the police are looking for Roberto Sandoval and Filomena Soltini, two people who no longer exist."

"How convenient," he had snickered.

"You promised me you wouldn't leave again."

"You know I meant it. I can't live without you."

"Then don't go back and face your charges. Please, I'm begging you…"

That was one argument she hadn't won or lost yet, and even now, one week later. Robert still debated surrendering himself to the Medellin Police, just as Anna thought he had given up on the notion.

Compounding their stress and irritation, was that their injuries weren't healing nearly as fast as they'd have liked.

Alex had been right when she suspected that Robert's shoulder wound was infected. As a result Robert had spent the first few days in Paris in a feverish haze, in more discomfort than he was letting on. Even now, he couldn't manoeuvre his arm well enough to do certain simple things, like put on a shirt, and whenever Anna changed the dressing on his shoulder, she winced when she saw the ghastly colours swirling around the entry wound.

The bruising on her face had healed enough so that she no longer cringed each time she caught her reflection in a mirror. Not as quick to fade was the lingering headache she couldn't quite shake, one that seemed to lessen and worsen depending on the state of her mood. And when she got up too fast, everything still had a habit of spinning around her. Robert had noticed as much and now had a habit of hovering around her whenever she did anything more strenuous than boil a pot of water.

One morning he had caught her holding on to her chair and forced her to sit back down. Of course the gesture had brought on yet another argument.

"You have got to stop fussing over me if you don't want me to lose my mind!"

"Fussing? I'm not fussing, I'm just telling you to take it easy."

"Easy? I was getting up, Robert, not lifting weights!"

His look had been one of amusement rather than irritation, "Don't be so difficult, luv."

"I'm not being difficult," she had shot back, her hands squarely on her hips. When she then saw his smirk she'd given up and sighed.

"What I am is …frustrated. I'm worried about Mac. I want to be able to walk out of my apartment and not worry about getting arrested. I want this damn headache to go away."

"Hey…" He'd massaged her shoulders, gently easing the tension out of them. "Didn't Alex say we needed to be patient? That it would take a few weeks to recover? Or what were her exact words…something about being damn lucky we weren't worse off?"

She'd given him a lopsided smile, "Do you think we're getting too old for this adventure stuff?"

He had laughed. "Speak for yourself."

"What are you thinking?"

Robert finally stopped pacing and sat down at the table across from her, pouring himself a cup of tea from the kettle.

"I was thinking," Anna answered, her focus back in the present. "That we've been fighting too much since we got here."

"We're both on edge," he admitted. "Both of us have strong opinions. On top of it we're cranky because we're sore," he added. He ran the tip of his index finger along the rim of his cup, looking up, with a half-smile. "But we make up nicely."

Anna smiled back at him. "True."

He had a point. While they might have spent much of their time in Paris arguing, they spent as much time making up. Rediscovering each other.

"I love you."

Anna looked at him, not knowing what to say. He had a habit of doing that, of reminding her that no matter what they had to face, he was back in her life. Robert was back. And he loved her, as much as he always had. In light of that, not much else mattered.

"I know." She met his gaze, enjoying how she felt when he looked at her the way he did now. "I'm kind of crazy about you too." It was true. With the exception her daughters, she couldn't think of anyone she'd ever loved as much as Robert. Lover, friend, soulmate, husband. He had walked through every path in life with her, and now she'd been given a second chance, to walk with him again.

Robert put down the half-empty cup and stood back up, staring at the phone that hung on the wall.

Anna caught him as he moved towards it, deftly hooking two fingers into the belt of his jeans. "You're not going to start pacing again, are you?"

He sighed. Sometimes it seemed like he really did carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. "No, I was getting something from the fridge…"

Anna laughed. "Liar. You were going to stare down the phone and hope it would start ringing. Out of fear, maybe."

"Funny." His blue eyes smiled in response, "You think you know me so well."

"I do."

He grabbed the hand she'd used to catch him with, and moved it to his lips, kissing the inside of her wrist.

"Very smooth," she conceded, enjoying the feel of his lips against her skin.

Robert's hand raised her arm, his lips moving along, inside it, before coming to a stop at her shoulder.

It was warm in the apartment and all she wore was a tank top with two thin black straps, one of which Robert was now easing off her shoulder.

"I've missed this spot," he declared, kissing the soft flesh beneath her collarbone. "Even more than…" Now his lips moved downward, to the nape of her neck, "This one. But it's a tough call."

He was kneeling in front of her now, letting go of her arm to focus on lowering the second strap of her top.

It gave Anna's hands the chance to loosen the belt on his jeans.

She slid down onto floor, into his lap, laughing when he nearly lost his balance in the process.

One of his arms wrapped itself around her back, lowering her to the ground with an ease that reminded her of his physical strength. Robert may have been older than her, but he was in good shape, still a firm believer that a strong mind went hand in a hand with a strong body.

"Hold still," Anna whispered into his ear, as the buttons on his shirt slipped out of her fingers. Her breathing had quickened, excited at the prospect of discovering something else she may have forgotten. Whether it was the subtle curve of his lower back, the way his eyes changed colour and darkened when he narrowed them pleasure or how his lips knew her body with an intimacy that no other man ever had. Everything about him was at once new and thrilling. Familiar and comforting. It was an intoxicating combination.

His new beard tickled her stomach as his lips moved lower. Anna had wanted him to shave it, not because the stubble bothered her, but because the scar hiding beneath it fascinated her. She caught a glimpse of it when he did shave nearly four days ago and had been shocked at how much it now defined his face. It ran straight along his jaw line, from his chin to the top of his cheek.

"It's not pretty, is it?"

"Do you know how you got it?"

"I had it when I first woke up…after the explosion. It was a souvenir from the Before. But how exactly I got is still a mystery to me. It's one thing I still can't remember…even now."

Even though she had seen it before when he'd first come to see her at La Catedral, Anna had been unable to stop staring at it.

Her reaction made him turn away from the mirror.

"I'm used to people staring at it, but I've never cared enough to do anything about…but if it bothers you, that's different. I can make inquiries with a plastic surgeon to see if…"

"No! Don't even think about it." Anna had stopped him in mid-sentence. She had cupped her hands on his chin, and forced him to look at her, "It's a part of you now. It's a reminder of what we had to go through…to be here." She had stood on tip-toes and kissed his scar. "If you think a line across your face changes anything, maybe you don't remember so much after all…"

The first time they had made love, it had been a frantic affair. An urgent need to reclaim something neither of them imagined ever having again. It had left them weak and exhausted. But now, they were starting to slow down. Everything was gentler. Smoother. Better.

"Damn it," Anna cursed. "These are the most secure shirt buttons in all of Europe. Are you sure you didn't buy a straight jacket?"

Robert laughed and it lit up his face, his earlier stress fading from it.

"I could spend the rest of my life here, in your arms," she told him afterwards, content as her head rested on his chest, his shirt finally tossed aside on the floor in a messy heap.

His fingers played idly with her hair. "Works for me."

"Maybe on the bed instead of the floor though."

"But then we'd have to get up."

"True. Scratch that."

He was right, Anna thought sleepily as she watched the comforting rise and fall of his chest; they did make up nicely.

It was worth the fights.

Paris, France

Outside Robin's Apartment

"What if Robin is not at home?" Valencia Munoz asked him.

"I don't know," Mac shrugged. The thought hadn't occurred to him. "This is your first time in Paris, isn't it? There must be something you want to see…climb the Eiffel Tower? Walk along the Champs Elysees?"

"Estas loco!" Valencia laughed. "Roberto would kill you if he knows you are here, going up the Eiffel Tower, while he is waiting to hear from you."

Mac knocked on his niece's door again, louder this time, only to hear her impatient voice on the other side.

"Je viens!"

Both of them grinned when Robin opened the door in shock, holding her hands over her mouth to stop from screaming in delight.

She jumped up to hug Mac. "Mac! What are you doing here? Why didn't you call?"

Mac held her close, "I…we wanted to surprise you."

She rushed over to embrace Valencia, telling both of them to come inside. "I can't believe you're here and didn't tell me you're coming!" Robin was grinning from ear to ear. "Do Mom and Dad know?"

"We wanted to see you first," Mac told her.

"What about your wound?"

"It's fine," Mac assured her. "In fact, I had Monica have a look at it in Port Charles and she said that in about a week you'll barely see any trace of it. It nicked me, that's all."

"That's fantastic news," Robin told him. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you." She gestured to her loveseat. "Both of you, sit down…let me get you something to drink and tell me everything that happened after we left Payita."

"There isn't much to tell from our end," Mac admitted, sitting down while Robin dashed into the kitchen. "Everything went pretty much according to plan. Mind you, the story we sold them wasn't all that far from the truth, all we did was leave out the parts that had your parents in it."

"They bought that you were working on a mission in Central America and hired Valencia to help you out?"

"That part was trickier," Mac pointed out. "You could say I got an earful after the Medellin Police contacted the PCPD and my next-in-command ended up contacting the State governor, because, although he backed me up at the time, he of course had no clue about this supposed mission. The governor threatened to relieve me of my duties for causing, what was it he called it," He turned to Valencia. "A diplomatic incident?"

"Oh no…" Robin frowned as she took a seat across from them. "Mac…did this cost you your job?"

Mac grinned. "Almost. But then the next day there was a Corinthos related mob shoot-out down by the pier and all of sudden my secret mission became a moot point next to the idea of having a police force without a Commissioner."

Robin's eyes widened and she chuckled. "Does this mean you owe Sonny?"

Mac was serious, "Actually, I went down there and spent an entire sleepless night trying to help clean up the mess. Two teenagers wounded, one critical, a drug dealer shot dead, blood and guns everywhere…and you know what? I realized I couldn't stand it anymore. All the senseless violence that never goes away. That no matter what you do or whom you manage to arrest, at the end of the day all you're doing is cutting off the head of a serpent that re-grows another one the next day. Either that or finds itself a smitten lawyer that gets it off the hook." He sighed. "I handed in my resignation the next day."

Robin gasped, "What?" She looked at him as though unsure of what to make of it all. "Mac…that's crazy."

"Wait until he tells you what he did next…" Valencia added.

"There's more?"

"I really missed Val," he said simply.

"So you called her?"

"No. I flew back to Medellin."

"You flew back to Colombia because you missed Valencia?" Robin's eyes widened further, understanding slowly dawning on her.

Mac laughed and looked at Val, "Is it me or do you hear an echo too?"

"I don't know what to say…" Robin started.

"It was crazy, I know," Mac admitted. "So much so that I almost turned back right after I landed. I'm not a very impulsive man anymore, Robin. I don't do things like that."

"I know!"

"But something happened in Colombia…"

Robin smirked. "You mean aside from Dad coming back from the dead and breaking Mom out of jail and all that."

Mac sighed. "Are you going to let me tell you what happened next?"

"Yes, go on!" Robin exclaimed. "I'm dying to know."

He stole another glance in Valencia's direction; "I thought she was going to laugh at me, when I showed up at her door with no warning."

"And?" Robin pressed.

"I didn't laugh," Valencia finished for Mac.

"What did you do?"

"She, uh…" Mac felt himself blush. "No, she didn't laugh."

"Mac! Tell me what happened!" Robin turned to Valencia. "What did you do?"

Mac's eyes met Valencia's and he wondered how she would put that moment into words. How would she explain opening the door and finding him standing on her porch unannounced? How could she put into words what was written on her face in that moment? Was it possible to describe the look in her eyes that suddenly justified one of the craziest things he'd ever done and made him feel something he hadn't felt in a long, long time?

Valencia hadn't said anything at all then.

What she did do was wrap her arms around him and kiss him.

He remembered it well, that kiss. Like much about Valencia, it was warm and beautiful and it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

"What do you think?" Valencia asked Robin, while her eyes sheepishly met Mac's. "I asked your uncle to come inside."

Robin eyed them both, exasperated. "And then?"

"I met Val's mother, and her son, Daniel. You should see him, Robin. He's amazing. So smart. " Mac laughed, "He's even taught me some Spanish."

"So you didn't think my uncle was crazy?" Robin's grin was huge when she looked at Valencia, and it made Mac smile to think that she might like the prospect of having Val in his life as much as he did.

"Well, yes," Valencia told her, "He is crazy. But I'm happy he came. I missed him too."

"I stayed for three days," Mac continued. "And, it was…nice. Really nice."

It was more than that, he thought, thinking back now. It had given him a chance to get to know Valencia, away from the madness of the week before. Not just Valencia the cop with nerves of steel, but Valencia the mother and the woman. And after three days he liked her even more than he did before. Being near her made him realize that while he might have flown to Medellin on a whim, he was staying on because of something much deeper. Something too precious to let slip away.

She had told him that she too had resigned from the Medellin Police because Juan Dominguez had been relentless in trying to find out the truth behind her leave of absence. Dominguez knew there was more to it than she had admitted. Because Valencia knew him well enough to know he wouldn't stop until he found something to incriminate her, she decided the risk wasn't worth it.

Both of them were looking at uncertain futures, but neither of them wanted to taint their time together with talks of it. They spent three glorious, hot evenings talking about everything but and Mac now knew that no matter what his future held, he wanted Valencia and her family in it. He hadn't yet figured out how, but he had no doubts he would find a way.

Robin looked at him in astonished amusemen. "You spent three days visiting Val in Medellin while Mom and Dad were going out of their mind worrying about you?"

"I told him to call you again," Valencia told her.

"I needed time away from everything," Mac explained. "I really needed it. I didn't tell anyone where I was, not Georgie, not Maxie. No one. I figured for three days everyone would have to find a way sort out whatever problems came their way on their own." Then Mac's lips lifted in amusement."Besides, after all they grey hairs they've given me, the girls owed me one. So does Robbie and your Mom."

"You're right. They do." Robin smiled, in agreeement. "But they'll still kill you. Now I get why I you came to see me first." She set down the glass of water she was holding and got up to hug him again, "Oh Mac…I don't know what to say. It's crazy and I can't believe you're not Commissioner anymore but at the same time I'm really, really happy for you."

She turned to Valencia with a huge smile. "I have a feeling my uncle's a lucky guy too."

"Tell me, how are your parents doing?" Mac asked Robin.

Robin's expression changed along with his, serious now. "They're okay I think. They're restless and impatient, like tigers in a cage. Still recovering, even though they don't like to admit it. Alex tried to get them to check into a hospital in Hungary…but," Robin shrugged. "You know how stubborn they are. Mom refused, insisting on flying back to Paris two days after we got to Vadsel."

"Of course."

"Dad didn't take the news of my HIV too well," Robin told him. "He found out by accident on the flight to Europe."

Mac cringed. "Oh no…"

"He didn't know how to handle it," Robin admitted. "He was convinced it was a death sentence and even though I tried to explain…well, it didn't go too well. Dad likes to fix things. The notion that he can't fix this doesn't sit well with him."

Mac eyed her knowing exactly how his brother must have felt. How gut-wrenchingly helpless he himself had felt all those years ago when Robin had told him the same news. How he would have given anything in the world to trade places with her.

"In the end it was Alex who calmed him down," Robin went on, with a lop-sided smile. "Gave him the cold, hard, scientific facts, and told him if he didn't get a grip she'd hand him a parachute and open the cabin door."

"Wow." Mac chuckled, "Tough love."

"I know…" Robin grimaced at the recollection. "But truthfully, I think it's what he needed. Mom and I were worried that Dad was so upset it would make him a mess at customs. But he was cool. Made it through with no problems, in spite of his borrowed Hungarian passport." Robin pushed a strand of hair behind her ears, "They're amazing when it comes to that. Of pulling themselves together when it counts. They did the same after that shoot-out in Payita. I guess that's what makes them pros at this."

"You were amazing in all this too," Mac added. "You're the one who arranged the whole rescue."

Robin shrugged her shoulders, "I just had an idea and we were lucky that it happened to work out."

"Oh, it was more than that. It was a brilliant move, sweetheart," Mac said with pride. "I'm convinced you got your brains from my part of the gene pool."

Robin laughed. "Alex tells me I get it from hers. Either way Mom and Dad aren't getting a lot of credit."

"Should they?" Mac set down his cup, still grinning. "Speaking of your parents. You think we should go and pay them a visit?"

Anna's Apartment

"Let me help you," Anna offered, after he picked up his shirt from the floor and tried to slip back into it, even though his shoulder protested.

"I'm going to have to dress myself at some point," he sighed.

"I took it off," she teased. "It's only fair I put it back on."

The were sitting on the bed in the bedroom now, where they'd moved to when Robert saw that Anna was on the verge of falling asleep.

It was the one thing they had in abundance right now; time. Time for dozing off in the middle of the afternoon.

"Why don't you stay here?" Robert suggested. Anna needed the rest. More than he did. "I'll make dinner tonight. That way we'll actually be able to eat it."

Anna stopped buttoning his shirt and poked him in the chest. "Just for that you can dress yourself "

She sank back down onto the pillow, making him grin. He loved the dreamy look she had after waking up. The way the loose strands of her long hair fell messily over her face. It was one of the few times she seemed vulnerable rather than invincible.

He soaked in the sight of her, grateful that she'd managed to make him stop worrying about his little brother for a good chunk of the afternoon. Robert knew he still had a habit of letting his glances linger for too long. Of wanting to savour certain images for fear that he might forget them again.

He bent down to kiss her forehead, "Truth hurts, luv, doesn't it?"

He got up, leaving his shirt half unbuttoned, surprised to hear a loud knock on the door.

Anna yawned and made no move to follow him. "Robin?" she asked. "She didn't say she'd stop by tonight, did she?"

Robert frowned, "She didn't."

Knocks on the door made him uneasy these days and almost instantly a knot tightened in his stomach. For all he knew it was Interpol on the other side, ready to drag him back to Colombia in handcuffs. "Stay here, luv. I'll get it."

His heart pounded when he moved to answer it. Whoever it was, Robert took solace knowing that he had spent this afternoon making love to Anna. He'd made one more beautiful new memory, no matter what happened next.

'At least I didn't instigate another damn argument,' he thought ruefully, making a mental note to stop fighting Anna so much. Would it kill him to let her have her way now and then?

The pounding in his heart magnified as he pulled open the door.


Robert's eyes nearly fell out of his head.

It wasn't Interpol standing outside Anna's apartment door. It was his daughter, along with his brother and Valencia Munoz.

"Mac?" he stepped forward to pull his brother into a hug, flooded with relief. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Hello to you too, Robbie," Mac answered with a grin.

Robert let go of him and stared at Valencia. As happy as he was to see her, he suddenly realized what her presence implied. "Val…"

"Hello, Commissioner," her grin was as big as Mac's. "It's good to see you again."

"Robert…" The commotion had drawn Anna into the living room. She spotted her daughter first, "Robin…what's going on?" Then she saw Mac, making her shriek with delight. "Oh my god… Mac!"

Like Robert before her, she ran up to embrace him. She brushed her hair out of her face, her eyes moist, laughing. "Geez Mac…we're a mess. Why didn't you let us know…" She hit him in the chest, "You've heard of phones, yes?"

Mac laughed, "Where's the surprise in that?"

Anna moved to hug Valencia, "I can't believe you're both here…just like that."

Robert put an arm around Robin's shoulder, the knot in his stomach still tight. "Tell us what's happening. We've been going mad wondering about you two."

"Hey, I did call Robin to tell her…" Mac protested.

"To tell her you're fine!" Robert waved his hands into the hair. "What the hell does 'fine' mean?"

His brother grinned, "It means exactly that."

"What about your gunshot wound?"

"That's fine too. You're the one who actually got shot, Robbie, how are you and Anna doing?"

"I'll live. And I'll make sure Anna does as well. Sit down," Robert gestured to one of the chairs around their dining table. "Tell us everything."

"I'll go make some coffee," Anna told them.

"Don't bother," Mac told her, reaching for her shoulder. "We're going out for a celebratory dinner." His grin spread, "Robbie's treating. He offered after that shoot out in Payita. You thought I'd forget that, didn't you?"

"First tell me what's going on!" Robert demanded.

"Over dinner," Mac insisted. "It's Paris. We're not going to sit here and have brewed coffee or worse," he glanced at Anna. "…have your wife cook for us."

"Thanks," Anna mumbled.

"I am starving," Robin agreed. "Have you gone out for dinner even once since you got here, Dad?"

Robert looked at all of them in disbelief. His brother was acting as though dropping in for an evening visit was the most natural thing in the world. Like he hadn't just spent a week frantically worried over how Mac had handled the Medellin Police after killing one of its officers. Like he wasn't still on Colombia's number one most wanted list, along with a slew of drug barons. "I can't just…go out for dinner! Anna and I wanted for a list of charges as long as our arms!"

Valencia looked at him, puzzled, "Roberto Sandoval and Filomena Solitini are wanted by the police, not you and Anna. And they are wanted in Colombia, not in France."

"I already tried to explain this to him," Anna snickered.

"But you…" Robert finally worked up the nerve to look Valencia in the eyes. "You're here to take me back, aren't you?"

"What?" Valencia looked at him as though she had no idea what he was talking about.

"What I said in the Barrio, about facing the charges, I meant it…" Robert said softly. Now it was Anna he couldn't bring himself to look at. "If you're here to take me back to Colombia, I'll go freely."

Valencia's eyes widened, "You think I am here to arrest you? Have you lost your mind?"

"I made a promise to you in the Barrio."

"You had just been shot. I was not going to argue with you."

"I won't take the cowardly way out of this…"

"Dad, what are you talking about?" Robin demanded.

"You are not going back to Colombia, Roberto!" Valencia's hands were on her hips now. Adamant. "You going to prison is not going to accomplish anything for anyone."

Robert bit his lip. As a Medellin officer, Val would surely understand that which Anna couldn't. "For ten years I fought against corruption in the force, Val. Ten years!"

"Exactly," she shot back. "You gave ten years of your life to Medellin and you did something no other Commissioner before you could do. You showed us a different way of doing things. You showed us that it was possible to be a cop with integrity. You don't owe us anything, Roberto. We owe you a chance to have a life with your family now."

Robert didn't know what to say. It was the last thing he expected to hear. Yet hearing her say it made him realize how much he needed to hear it.

"Believe me, Roberto," she said softly. "I am the last person who would arrest you and take you back to Colombia. You deserve your happiness. More than anyone else I know."

Maybe she was right. Maybe for once it wasn't about doing the right thing, but doing what made his life worth living.

Silence hung in the room now, and even Mac's grin had faded.

It was Anna who spoke first.

"Look, if you…if you have to go back and face your charges, because you won't be able to face yourself if you don't, then I won't stop you. I don't have that right." Her eyes were suddenly moist. "If you have to do it, I'll even try to understand."

"I don't understand…" Robin's voice came out of nowhere. "What are you talking about, Dad? You want to go to Colombia and face charges, for breaking Mom out of jail? They're going to put you prison!"

If Anna's insistence and Valencia's approval weren't enough to cement his decision, the disbelieving look on his daughter's face was all the convincing he needed. He had already lost so many years, how in the world could he not do everything in his power to make sure he wouldn't lose any more? "I'm not…" he said softly. "I'm not leaving you or your mom again. I'll do whatever it takes."

Valencia smiled. "Good decision, boss."

Robert gave her a mock salute, "Not anymore, Officer Munoz." He saw Anna wipe her eyes with the back of her hand, as she gave him a lopsided smile. He put his arm around her shoulders and winked at Valencia. "In other words, it's perfectly fine for me to take you out for dinner."

Robin's look of relief mirrored her mother's.

"Well, then what are we waiting for? There's lots I need to tell you and even more that I want to know," Mac told them.

"I want to go up the Eiffel Tower after dinner," Valencia informed Mac, taking his hand in hers, much to Robert's surprise.

"You think those two…?" he whispered to Anna, after his brother had turned around, heading for the door.

"Yeah I think so," she whispered back. She was putting her hair up in a clip, in a hurried effort to make it look neater, and gave him a nudge towards the door, grabbing Robin's hand at the same time, winking to her. "He did say he has lots to tell us, didn't he?"


Paris, France

One month later

She spotted the fish from the corner of her eye.

It swam against the murky currents of the Seine, completely oblivious to the danger that was about to swoop down on him.

Anna grimaced, knowing what would happen next. The grey bird that flew above the river, and spotted the fish long before her, suddenly nose-dived into the water and yanked it out in one cleverly timed movement.

She watched the bird fly back up from the water's edge, as fast as it had descended. The fish squirmed inside its beak now.

'That's how quickly your life can change,' Anna realized. 'In seconds.'

She closed her eyes and fell back into time.

An elevator crashed with her inside it. An unborn child gone forever.

A man she loved coming to tell her good-bye. To die in her arms.

An explosion on a tanker. A world set on fire. A world forgotten. In seconds.

A newborn baby girl whose heart was too weak to keep beating.


Anna opened her eyes again, blinking as they filled with tears.

Then she heard a splash and, even though it was much higher in the sky, she could still see the grey bird. She saw that its beak was empty now. The fish had squirmed its way out of it and fallen back into the river.

Anna leaned forward against the iron railing, raising the corner of her lips into a smile when she saw the fish come up to the surface of the water again. Swimming against the current once more as if it hadn't nearly been dinner.

Sometimes, in spite of everything, you got a second chance.

"Hey, luv."

Anna gasped. Robert had appeared out of nowhere. Wrapping his arms around her.

Even after all this time, he was still the only one who could sneak up on her like that. Staring out into the river had nearly made her forget that she was supposed to meet him here, after her final check up with Alex, which her persistent sister had specifically flown to Paris for.

Anna smiled, enjoying the warmth of his arms around her.

He eyed her, his lips creasing into a frown when he took a closer look at her. "Hey…what's wrong?"

Anna wiped the tears from her eyes. "It's nothing."

He his arms tightened around her and he waited until she was ready to tell him.

"I was thinking about Leora," she said softly, after pausing long enough until she could say it without being threatened by more tears. "I miss her so much sometimes. I know we didn't have a long time together, but I loved her as much as I love Robin. She was my miracle."

Robert kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry, luv. I'm so sorry she never had the chance to grow up. To be loved by you. And I'm so sorry I never had the chance to meet her."

Anna nodded. She wasn't used to sharing her grief anymore. She hadn't wanted to burden Robin with it and David hadn't been able to deal with his own grief, much less hers. It wasn't until now that it dawned on her that she did need someone. Someone she could share her loss with. Someone who was as strong as she was.

Anna kept staring out into the river.

It was getting dark and cold now, a reminder that winter had arrived, stealing a little more daylight every evening, but Robert made no move to leave. Instead, he too stood against the iron railing, propping his elbows against it and stared out into the distance with her.

"I decided to deliver Spencer Gooding's mask to Colombia because I needed to feel something again, after feeling empty for so long," she confessed, leaning against him. "I thought maybe if I risked my life, I'd feel alive again."

"You just lost your daughter," he finished for her. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost Robin. But I think it might be something worse than smuggling a stolen mask halfway around the world."

"I'm not making excuses…"

"You don't have to explain."

Anna stopped staring into the increasing darkness and turned to look at Robert. His beard was fuller now. It changed his face but eyes his eyes were the same, and now they were focused on her.

"This is going to sound crazy but sometimes I think that Leora…" Her voice broke.

"That she…brought you to me," Robert finished for her.

Anna looked at him in surprise. It was the last thing she expected him to say. Robert didn't believe in things like that. Robert was like Alex, he believed in facts and proof.

"You think it's coincidence that you ended up at La Catedral in Medellin of all places? That the interpreter just happened to be unable to translate for you that day?" he pointed out. "That's too much of a leap of faith for me, luv."

Anna nodded, unable to say anything else. The notion that her little girl might have led the way to Robert was overwhelming.

One miracle lost.

Another miracle found.

Was it really possible?

Anna shivered in the cold.

"I wish," Robert said softly. "That I could have seen her and known her."

Anna smiled. "She was beautiful."

"I bet she was." His hand reached over to cover hers, fingers entwining with fingers.

"It's getting cold, luv." He gently led her away from the railing.

Anna didn't resist. She didn't want to talk about Leora anymore. While she was grateful that she could, it still wasn't easy.

Robert sensed as much and he deftly changed the subject.

"How was the check-up with Alex?"

"Good. Clean bill of health," she told him. "Although she did suggest I wear a helmet for the rest of my life."

Robert chuckled. "I like your sister."

"You can tell her that over dinner tonight."

"I will."

They kept walking in the chilly evening air. Robert was no longer afraid of being recognized and it felt good to stroll through the streets of Paris with him.

Walking along the storefronts, Anna spotted a jade figurine in a shop window and nudged Robert towards it.

It was Chinese dragon. More than the intricate design, what caught Anna's eye was the obvious quality of the stone. It had a smooth, polished surface and a striking blend of emerald greens with occasional streaks of blue. It was something rare and beautiful and she noticed it even at a distance, through the glass window. It beckoned to her.

The store's door was open and raised her eyebrows, excited at the prospect of holding the figurine in her hands. "Let's take a look inside…"

Robert stopped dead in his tracks, looked at her, then started laughing, "I don't think that's a good idea, sweetheart."

"Robert, did you see the dragon? It's incredible!"

His arm was around her waist now, leading her away from the shop window. "Do you remember what happened the last time you walked into an antique shop?"

Anna let him lead her away, smiling back at him as she clasped her hand in his. "Maybe you're right. Just this once."

The End