A bullet, depending on its intentions, can accomplish many things. It can keep peace – or destroy it. It can protect the ones you love – or annihilate them. It can end a life or simply open a whole new chapter. Unpredictable, yet predictably effective, and once it was been utilized it can never be called back.
"How do you do that?" Steve marveled as Jaime seemed to flit through the kitchen at 90 miles per hour without any use of her bionics.
"Do what?" Her right hand squeezed droplets of formula onto her left wrist to test the temperature while her left hand stirred a large pot of spaghetti sauce. She had just finished her third round of 'Teddy Bear Picnic' (keeping Jenna entertained and Adam quietly enthralled) and reached with her elbow to shut off the cassette player. Jaime used her hip to rock Adam's infant seat then – in one perfectly efficient motion – she turned down the stove burner, covered the pot and wiped the splatters from the counter before sweeping the baby into her arms. Her free hand swung a plate of cookies onto the table along with a mug of milk for Jenna and coffee for Steve before Jaime finally sank down into a chair beside him, smiling happily.
"Teach me?" Steve requested, his mouth full of fresh-baked cookie.
"Sorry, Austin; it's hormonal. I think you're outta luck."
"Well, I bow to your expertise," he said with a flourish of his arm. "Oh – Rudy called while you were giving Adam his bath."
Immediately, Jaime and Steve fell into their own personal shorthand/code-speak. Bionics and the OSI were topics they absolutely refused to discuss around their children, and so they were well-rehearsed at imparting necessary information while saying nothing much at all.
"Assignment?" Jaime asked.
"No. Needs to talk to you."
"No. Nothing like that."
"Serious?" Jaime wondered.
"Maybe. A decision – yours."
Steve nodded. "We'll talk." He smiled reassuringly to let her know no one was dying and then reached for another cookie.
"Yum!" Jenna affirmed, her arm fully extended but not quite reaching the plate. She gave her Daddy her sweetest face (since it would never work on Mommy). "Cookie...pweese?"
"Better ask Mommy, Bug," Steve hedged. "...Mommy?"
Jaime sighed. "You're worse than she is. OK – one more cookie and then nap for you, Young Lady." She looked at Steve, who was on his third or fourth cookie, and grinned. "When did we become such grown-up old fogies?"
"I think having the second kid does it."
Half an hour later, Adam had been fed, burped and re-diapered and both children were sound asleep. Steve had coffee waiting for Jaime when she joined him in the den.
"So what's the bad news?" she asked immediately.
"It's not bad, really," Steve explained. "Rudy was talking to Oscar -"
"Yes, about you, and they had an idea they wanted me to run past you."
"So far, I'm not liking this. Why do they need you to run interference?"
"Just listen before you go all 'Jaime' on me, ok?" Steve took a deep breath and braced himself for a firestorm. "What if, instead of turning your bionics back up, they left you the way you are now?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"Jaime, we have two kids now, and -"
"They wanna put me out to pasture?"
"They feel you've earned a peaceful retirement. I know you're tired of that life, and -"
"And nothing!" Jaime was on her feet and already on a furious roll. "You have the same two kids that I do! Are they gonna tune you down, too?"
"Yeah, I'm tired of that life but it's who I am. It's who we are, Steve! And Adam and Jenna, just by virtue of being our kids, could be targets at any time. I have to be able to defend them, if it comes down to that! No way!" She paused, suddenly frightened. "It...is my decision...isn't it?"
"I'm not sure," Steve admitted. "They wanted me to talk to you about it, and we're supposed to meet with both of them after your check up tomorrow."
"They can't do this!" she protested, knowing in her heart that if they chose to, of course they could.
No matter how firm a decision might be, or how solid the reasoning behind it, sometimes a bullet can change anyone's mind.