Consequences

Consequences

A small child and a letter spell trouble for Alphonse. Is this the end of the team?

November 1970

They were fighting again. Alphonse could hear them. Maria was crying, she wanted mommy and Luis was looking up at him with expectant fear. Alphonse grabbed the door handle and cautiously opened it. His stepfather was beating his mother, punches were raining down on her body. Alphonse sidled out into the hall. A particularly vicious punch landed and his mother cried out. It was too much. "Let her go!" He hurled himself at the man, scrabbling and punching at his arm, trying to make him let go. His stepfather spun round, one hand still buried in his wife's long dark hair.

"I'll teach you!" the snarl was barely human, he backhanded the five year-old viciously, Alphonse was thrown into the corner of the room, and Aldo followed his small stepson. Punches and kicks rained down on the solid chunky little body. Alphonse didn't move, didn't try to escape, he curled up and tried to protect himself. Grunts of agony were forced from him, but he wouldn't give his stepfather the satisfaction of screaming. The heavy workboot with its steel toe cap connected with his left arm just above the elbow, his arm broke with an agonising crunch, he screamed then, he couldn't help himself. Just as fast as it had begun, it was over. His stepfather was gone.

Maria picked herself up, she was in a bad way, bruised all over and her face was a mess. But her little son! She made her way over to him.

Alphonse was curled up, his broken arm at an odd angle. Maria picked him up, looked into the terrified, pain filled blue eyes. "Alphonse, honey, Aldo didn't mean to hurt you. He's having a difficult time finding work. So we must be good and brave¼¼.and help him." She was babbling at him. "If they find out that this has happened, they'll split us up. They'll take you and Luis and Maria away. So you mustn't say anything to anyone."

Alphonse held on to his tears, he knew tears would upset his mother. But he badly wanted to cry, his arm dangled uselessly at his side. He could feel the broken bones grating and the waves of pain were swamping him. He bit down on his lower lip in an effort not to cry out when his mother pulled him close and hugged him.

He struggled with the pain for two days, until a neighbour saw him struggling and called the welfare. Then came the screaming and shouting, his stepfather blustering, his mother crying and pleading. He hid with his brother and sister, but the police officer had found them. Luis and Maria went to the man readily. But Alphonse was too scared and in pain.

Officer Henry Wyatt looked down at the terrified blue eyes staring up at him. He swallowed, he really hated this part, the neighbour had said the eldest boy was hurt. He crouched down, so he would be closer to Alphonse's level.

"C'mon, Alphonse. I'm not going to hurt you." He held out his hand, thinking of his own five year-old son. This little boy had one plump little arm dangling useless, he was covered in bruises, and there was fear and pain that Wyatt hoped he would never see in a five year-old's eyes.

Tentatively a chubby little hand reached out towards his, Wyatt didn't dare move, the child was so scared he might run. Then Alphonse moved closer; careful not to jar the injured arm Wyatt gently wrapped his arms around the scared child and picked him up. Close up, under the grime and the tatty clothes, he was a handsome little boy, the beating hadn't quite destroyed his trust, the solid little body burrowed hard against Wyatt seeking protection. Wyatt could feel himself seething with rage. How could she be with that man!

"Clement, take a look at his left arm for me, will'ya." Wyatt's partner left the other two for a moment. Gently he examined the arm, it was bruised and swollen, hanging at an odd angle just above the elbow. The child whimpered when it was touched. Clement's expression was grim, he looked at his partner. "It's broken." He said quietly.

"Poor little guy." Wyatt gently stroked the unruly brown hair. The uninjured arm slid tightly around his neck and Alphonse burrowed closer still. Holding the shivering body in his arms Wyatt couldn't bear to wait for assistance; the way he figured it Alphonse had suffered enough, so he carried the frightened little boy down to the squad car. Handing the other two over to another officer, Clement followed. Wyatt turned, Clement looked strangely at him, the big officer avoided his partner's direct stare "We can't wait for an ambulance, we'll take him down ourselves." Alphonse was settled and Wyatt had no intention of disturbing him. Clement sighed. "One day that bleedin' heart of yours is gonna get us into trouble. Okay, get in the back and I'll drive."

Wyatt settled himself in the back, Alphonse sitting on his knees. He tried to make the child comfortable for the journey, but he could feel every bump in the road. Alphonse didn't cry out once, but the little arm round the officer's neck tightened involuntarily at every jolt.

"What's his name?" the nurse was tired, overworked and in a hurry. ER was full again.

"Alphonse Royo. Welfare's supposed to be here, child's stepfather beat up on him and his mother three days ago." Wyatt gently sat Alphonse on the gurney. He had to go and there was no one to stay with the child. He looked down into the scared blue eyes, "Alphonse, y'gonna be fine now. This lady will take care of you." He tried to just do his job, be professional, walking away leaving the terrified little boy was the hardest thing Wyatt had ever done.

Alphonse sat on the gurney. He was totally alone. People rushed past, the noise and confusion scared him, his arm hurt and he badly wanted to cry, but momma would be upset if he cried. The doctor came. "Now young man, let's have a look at you." He seemed a giant to the scared boy. He handled the arm as swiftly and impersonally as if the child had been a piece of meat at the butcher's. "Humpph! Broken." He looked up at the nurse. "We need x-rays," looked down at the little boy again, "and photographs, in case it goes to court."

Then followed a long session of x-rays and photographs. Alphonse just sat bewildered by it all. Then the nurse had taken him to the plaster room for a cast on his arm. Alphonse had never experienced anything like this, he was very frightened. He squirmed and wriggled, but a second nurse held him firmly, as they wrapped his arm in a heavy cast. When it was dry, they sat him back on the gurney again and taken another picture.

They kept him overnight. He was taken up to the children's ward. Surrounded by other little boys and girls. But every other child had mom, or dad, or even mom and dad. The nurse was too busy to do more than tell him to "be a good boy and go to sleep". Then she left.

The lights were turned down and anxious mothers soothed their sick and injured children off to sleep. Lonely and frightened, Alphonse hunched down in the bed and cried himself to sleep, but silently. He learned early on that tears upset his mother.

In the morning, a harried care worker came to take him to the home. She helped him dress in a hurry, he'd been slowed by the cumbersome cast and then he trotted in her wake, the laces of the shoes he'd been given still loose. She took him to the home, left him with another stranger and drove away.

Luis and Maria were pleased to see him, and the little family clung to each other. Luis was four and he was scared too. Maria was only two. A happy sunshiny baby, she was too young to understand. But the boys understood. They were very, very scared. Visiting foster parents would coo and rave over Maria, then move on to the boys. No one seemed to recognise the belligerent expressions for what they were: fear. Then they would see the cast on Alphonse's arm and think that he would be too much trouble to look after. Each rejection stung the five year old boy bitterly, and he became more and more withdrawn.

November 2000

Alphonse thrashed over in bed, images whirling around in his mind. He woke himself up with a jerk. Drenched in sweat and the sheets were damp. He sat up, man, have to get a grip. His eye was drawn to his discarded jeans. The letter was in his back pocket, he could sense its presence without even touching it. He sat up further, his right hand caressed his left arm just above the elbow; even now, thirty years on he could still feel the bump, the slight irregularity in the bone.

He smiled humourlessly. The first of many beatings, until he grew too big and tough to take on. Aldo liked the smaller weaker kind of punch bag.

The other two were worried. Since the arrival of that letter from New York, about whose contents nothing had been said, Alphonse had grown steadily more moody and distracted. Charlie had tried to ask him what was wrong, but Alphonse had brushed him off. Ice had set up this deal with Nagel, and Alphonse was the bag man. The leader was starting to doubt his own choice, should have sent Charlie in.

He said as much to Chrissy. "Should have put Charlie up for this one." Watching his friend's departing back.

"And that would have been a good idea?" Chrissy had experience of Charlie in the front line, and he certainly wouldn't normally be her choice as bag man. She glanced at Alphonse. "Okay, may be so. What is the matter with him?"

"Wish we knew!" Ice's tone was dry. "You ask him and he stonewalls you."

"Are you sure y'okay to do this, bro?" Charlie looked up at his fidgeting partner.

"I'm fine." Alphonse's response was more terse than usual.

"It ain't too late to pull you out!"

"Charlie!!"

Alphonse turned and left the van.

Nagel was a slimy creep. Alphonse was looking forward to the look on his face as they buried him.

"You got the money?"

"You got the diamonds?" Alphonse countered.

"Yeah!" They moved towards a convenient oil drum. The place for the meet was an ugly rundown concrete storm drain complex. As they moved a small girl crept forward holding up her hand. She said something that sounded like "money". Nagel snarled and back handed her viciously. The child shrieked and collapsed in a heap. He was about to follow through with a kick when he was spun back away from the little girl.

Nagel looked up into the face of his adversary, and knew that a long career of bullying and brutality was about to meet its match. A powerful fist slammed into his face and the lights went out. He dropped like a stone.

Oblivious to the FBI agents swarming all around him, Alphonse turned to the child. She was curled into a little ball, terrified brown eyes stared up into his. The memories hit him with the force of tidal wave. Alphonse hung on, it wouldn't help her. He crouched down and held out his hand. "C'mon" he whispered softly. Tentatively a thin dirty little hand reached out to him. He remained still so as not to scare her. The thin and dirty little body slid into his arms almost furtively. He picked her up.

O'Connor was beside himself.

"Royo what the hell do you think you were doing?"

"BACK OFF!" Charlie stepped between them, giving Alphonse the space to move away. O'Connor made as if to follow.

Charlie swung round. "Back off. Do y'think Alphonse would have stood by and let that creep hurt her?"

O'Connor seethed, but recognised the wisdom of what Charlie was saying.

Chrissy faced Ice and Charlie. "We have to find out what is going on. Alphonse just blew that bust. He carries on like this and somebody will get killed."

"You got our attention." Ice sat back. "He's been like this since that letter he got from New York. Think it's from his mother."

"Well we can't go on like this." Chrissy glared at them. "We will have to do some digging. Find out what's eating at him. Then maybe we can sort it out."

Charlie had hacked into the records with ease. The file had been sealed and dated back to the late sixties, but he'd managed to track it down. Now it sat there, like an accusation, daring them to open it. He looked up at Chrissy, "Are you sure we should be doin' this? 'Phonse finds out we snooped he ain't gonna be too happy."

Chrissy was about to say something when Ice cut across. "What's with you man. We need to know what's going on, we can't help him if we don't know."

"All I'm saying, Ice, is maybe we should go about this a different way."

"How different? He won't talk to us."

Chrissy cut across "Charlie, Alphonse is in trouble, and perhaps we can help¼¼..if we know what the trouble is."

Charlie sighed, he had a bad feeling about this. "Okay. Hope he don' find out!"

Chrissy picked it up. It felt quite heavy, as she moved to open it, a stream of photographs cascaded out. "Damn!" She stooped to pick them up.

"Oh my god!" She swallowed. Laying the file down. The other two watched her expectantly.

"What!" Charlie held his hands out wide.

Wordlessly she handed them the picture that had caught her eye. A small child sitting on a hospital gurney, left arm in a cast from hand to shoulder, terrified blue eyes staring back at the camera. She'd known who it had to be, but it was still a shock to recognise her loveable rogue in the chubby baby features. The pain and fear on the little face seared into her.

Charlie stared down at the thirty-year old photo and felt sick. He thought about his own childhood, sure it had been unhappy and periodically cruel, but no one had ever done that to him. He turned to Ice, saw the look on his partner's face and realised he didn't need to say anything.

Ice burned with rage. He wasn't even sure why. All this had happened years before either of them had known Alphonse and there sure as hell wasn't anything they could really do about it now.

Chrissy leafed through the other photos, if anything, they were worse. Close ups of bruises, clear marks of fingers on his little body. The ones at the back were of his arm, the swelling and bruising made her wince just looking at it. He couldn't have been more than four or five. Alphonse was roughly the same age as she was, Chrissy thought back to herself aged five and realised she didn't know very much. Sure she was trained, but nothing prepared her for this. On impulse she kept the first photograph back, tucked it in her bag. She had a sudden powerful urge to see her mother, realign her universe, a corner of her mind aware that they'd opened Pandora's box and nothing would ever be quite the same again.

Alphonse wandered aimlessly along the road. It was late. He wasn't going anywhere in particular, he just couldn't bear to go back to the loft.

He brooded miserably. The letter was still crumpled in his pocket. He didn't want to answer it, but somehow he knew he had to. Closure, what are the chances of that. His thoughts were bitter. Forgiveness. How can I forgive, I didn't even know I could feel anything after all this time. Dammit, I don't want to feel anything. A lifetime spent hiding his real feelings, schooling himself not to care or feel too much. Shit…….

Suddenly there it was. Bright red, beckoning irresistibly to him. Alphonse stared at the Ferrari, and his confused anger took over; right then he told himself it doesn't matter, the last four years don't count for anything. He ran his fingers over the door. Tried the handle which opened easily, careless, careless, the leather seat was smooth and soft to the touch. He slid in with ease, from there on it was simple, especially to an accomplished car thief like Alphonse.

The Ferrari flew. Alphonse pushed it harder and faster.

The flashing lights in the rear view mirror barely registered.

Mariko Kowalski looked at her daughter. "Why do you want to see the old family albums now?" Christine was not particularly nostalgic.

Chrissy fidgeted, now that she was there, she was longing to ask all sorts of impossible questions. None of them made any sense. Mariko looked down at her daughter, sensing the confusion in her. Wordlessly she handed over a photograph album. Chrissy took it and leafed through, finally turning up a picture, her five year-old self gazed back at her, the happy smile, the sparkle in her brown eyes, excitement and anticipation written on her beaming face and the pride……in her pretty red and white party dress.

Chrissy fished in her handbag, pulling out the picture that had burned itself into her soul from the instant she laid eyes on it. The contrasts couldn't have been greater. Her beautiful dress, his torn and scruffy shorts, her happy beaming smile, the tension and fear that radiated from him. Two children separated by more than the distance of a country.

She laid the picture down next to the one of her small self. Mariko looked over her daughter's shoulder, a shudder of sympathy passed through her, so that was what this was all about. She was about to ask the question when the telephone rang.

Chrissy opened the door to the interview room. Alphonse sat slumped down in the chair, his hands were cuffed in front and resting on the table, his head was bowed so that she couldn't see his face. She pursed her lips, if he wanted to get slung back in jail he was certainly going the right way about it.

"What did you think you were trying to do?" her tone snappish and accusatory. She was livid, four years of hard work and he was trying to throw it all away.

No answer.

She swung round in front of him, leant over the table, but still he kept his head bent. "Way to go Alphonse, just go out, steal a Ferrari. Give me one good reason why I don't let them sling you back in jail right now."

Still no answer and her fury mounted, she slammed her hand down on the desk and leant further over to give him a piece of her mind. She'd had it with this attitude, if that was the way he wanted it then he'd be back in jail so fast his feet wouldn't touch. Then to her utter horror, a tear splashed down on the table. Instinctively she moved in front of him so that the watchers behind the two way mirror couldn't see. There was no sound, the tears just fell.

Alphonse was feeling sick and embarrassed, he was crying in front of Chrissy, but somehow the floodgates were open, and he couldn't control the rush of emotions, the bottled tension welled up within him. Folding under the strain of everything, he put his hands up to his face and wept.

Chrissy's emotions warred with her training. A cynical little FBI part of her said that this was a ploy, Alphonse was a player, a skilled manipulator who used his obvious charms to deceive. But everything she knew about him after four years told her this was different, this was for real. She'd never seen him so distraught or defeated; and for the first time in four years she had no idea what to do. Her straight-forward, uncomplicated, loveable rogue had thrown her for a loop.

She moved so that she could shield him and try to comfort him at the same time. She slid her arms round his big solid frame, rubbing his back with her hand. Unbidden, the frightened five year-old with the broken arm flashed into her mind, as he slumped down and leant into her seeking comfort. His head rested on her lap, face buried against her thigh, cuffed hands on her hip. She could feel the tears soaking through her skirt, gently she tried to raise his head so that she could see his face. He resisted and she could feel the tension in his body. Another flash of insight told her he was ashamed, and had no idea how to handle it, well that makes two of us. Keeping one hand on his back to reassure him, she reached into her pocket for the keys to the cuffs, unlocking them and putting them away out of sight.

The moment they'd seen Chrissy move in front of Alphonse with her back to the window, Ice and Charlie had moved off. They didn't want to watch.

O'Connor had stayed a moment longer, expression grim. However Royo irritated him, the senior agent acknowledged his loyalty, bravery and inventiveness. It was a vague source of annoyance to O'Connor that he was going to make this latest escapade go away, really should let them sling Royo back in jail, then he scowled as he accepted he was going to save the big Latin from the consequences of his own stupidity. What was even more annoying to O'Connor, was that deep down he respected the big man and his two partners. Admitting that the idea of the three cons taking on their own kind had merit was hard for him. Thankfully Christine is dealing with this mess. A shudder passed over him at the thought of having to deal with the overwrought emotions of an ex con.

Chrissy sat on the edge of the table, awkwardly cradling Alphonse in her arms. He still refused to look at her. She glanced behind at the outer room, knowing that they'd left. Gently she encouraged him to stand, he kept his face turned away from her trying to regain some kind of control, but she took his elbow and walked him down to the elevator. Having assumed the responsibility, she guided him to her car. Not one word was exchanged between them, he didn't resist, but he was worryingly passive. Once he was safely in the passenger seat, Chrissy paused, she didn't know what to do next. He was so strung out, she could hardly take him back to the loft, he would hate that, she didn't want to take him home - quickly she slammed the door on that idea - a restaurant or café was out as well.

Chrissy got in the car, she had a feeling she would have cause to regret this sometime in the future, but she really only had the one choice left, she drove out to her mother's place.

Mariko Kowalski opened the door. "Christine, what a lovely surprise…." Her voice trailed off as she took in the young man standing next to her daughter, her eyes widened, then narrowed as she recognised the adult version of the picture her daughter had brought home. The look she shot at Chrissy was slightly accusatory.

Chrissy was confused and annoyed at herself. She couldn't believe she'd brought Alphonse back home with her. What am I trying to do, make up for his childhood. O'Connor finds out about this and we're both dead. Then she caught a glimpse of Alphonse's face out of the corner of her eye, and knew she made the right decision.

The next morning the four of them were watching O'Connor question Nagel. Chrissy, Charlie and Ice were watching Alphonse as much as what was going on in the room in front of them. Chrissy looked down at the file, damn, wrong one. Her thoughts were all over the place this morning, Alphonse had scarcely spoken to her the night before, but he'd roused himself sufficiently to charm her mother. She looked across at him, he was gazing moodily into space.

"Alphonse, would you get the file for me. It's on my desk." Desperately trying to include him. He stood up, and left without a word. Chrissy turned to the other two.

"Have either of you made any headway with what's worrying him?"

They shrugged.

"Nothing?"

"He don' want us to know." Ice's tone was final.

Chrissy looked back towards the door. "How long can it take to get one file?" Impatiently she pulled the door open, marching towards her office.

Alphonse dispiritedly shuffled through the pile of paperwork on Chrissy's desk. He couldn't work out what to do and he really hated this out of control feeling. Even worse, the others were worried about him, but he couldn't bring himself to tell them what was going on.

He pulled a file out, at last, he was just about to go when he caught sight of his name, curious, he pushed the papers aside. It was an old file, Alphonse shivered, he tentatively reached out to open it, knowing what it was and dreading it. The photos were lying on top. He closed his eyes for a second, praying that it wasn't so, that somehow the truth about his childhood was still a secret. The awful reality stared back at him.

Chrissy appeared in the doorway, Alphonse was standing by her desk. "Alphonse?" she faltered when he looked at her. She could see the mixture of panic and anger in his eyes.

Alphonse didn't need to ask, it was all there on Chrissy's face. Then his so-called 'friends' came looking for them, and he realised just how complete the betrayal was. Bile rose in his throat, and he shoved past them, barely making it to the mens' room before he lost his breakfast.

Charlie followed his friend. Ice had tried to stop him, but the wild look of panic in Alphonse's eyes as he pushed past them and fled towards the washroom was too much. The computer expert had never seen the self-assured Latin look so devastated before.

He cautiously opened the door. He could hear retching sounds coming from one of the stalls. Charlie moved a little closer, Alphonse was on his knees throwing up. Concern and horror at what they'd done rocketed through Charlie.

"'Phonse, you okay?"

Alphonse paused for a second trying to get himself together, then stood up and turned to face his former friend. "You just had to go digging around, didn't you?" He had no doubt that Charlie was the one who found the file. "Why couldn't you all just leave it?" His eyes darkened at the thought.

Charlie tried to cover up, "'Phonse….we wanted to help you." It sounded lame and he knew it. Alphonse didn't wait, the pain and bitterness he felt just came flooding out.

"So now you know. Everything. All about my stepfather…..the first one! And all the foster homes and the welfare workers…….and the concern" Alphonse's voice cracked with bitterness over that word, "Perhaps you'd like to know how I spent my eighth birthday………..only I don't remember it, 'coz I was unconscious in hospital…."

Charlie didn't try to stem the tide as the whole horror unfolded around him. To Alphonse's panicked brain the expression on his friend's face said pity. The big Latin's pride staggered under the blow, the last thing he could stand was being pitied. He stopped abruptly, pushed past his friend and headed for O'Connor's office.

O'Connor faced them in Chrissy's office. For the first time his entire sympathy was with Alphonse.

He glared at them, particularly Chrissy. "He says he wants to leave. Says if he can't get a transfer, just send him back to jail," O'Connor sighed, "this time, I have to agree with him."

Chrissy tried to interrupt. "We…"

O'Connor cut across. "Christine, the man is entitled to some measure of privacy;" he raised a finger when she tried to protest again. "whatever the situation, opening a closed file was not the answer."

Ice and Charlie just stared at him, after everything they'd been through together, they were going to lose Alphonse. Neither man could stand it.

Thoughts rattled round in Ice's mind. A thousand plans sprang up and were discarded. The smooth savvy leader knew it had to be something really good. The big Latin was a skilled player, he wouldn't be taken in by trickery.

The next three days were the worst Ice had ever experienced. Alphonse went through the motions, the smooth talking, flamboyant, happy-go-lucky façade was gone. He didn't utter one word to any of them that wasn't necessary to work. Charlie tried to get through to him, but Alphonse deliberately ignored him. He scarcely looked at any of them.

Chrissy was hurt and upset, she'd only wanted to help. Several times she tried to tell Alphonse that she was sorry, but he just walked away.

O'Connor tried to stall to keep the team together, but it looked like he was losing the battle.

Chrissy went through the bust again but she had the feeling she didn't have their full attention. Alphonse was sitting glumly by himself at the back of the room, fidgeting. Charlie and Ice were trying to listen to her and keep a wary eye on their big partner at the same time. He steadfastly ignored them all.

Alphonse fidgeted again. Chrissy scowled. Now what! "Alphonse, what is the matter with you." She glared at him. He was scratching the side of his neck. His hand dropped at her fierce glare, the hard cold look in his eyes hurt her, then all thoughts of hurt were swept aside as warning bells went off in her mind, there was a nasty looking rash on the side of his neck.

"Alphonse." She walked over and stood in front of him. "Let me see." He stared at her.

"See what?"

Chrissy ignored his belligerent expression and unfriendly tone. She put her hand on his jaw and turned his face away so that she could get a better look. The rash was raw and angry, his skin was hot to the touch, his eyes looked bloodshot, and then he coughed. Chrissy was about to say something when the phone went. Ice picked it up.

"Yeah!"

Chrissy sighed, she really had to do something about his telephone manner. Ice turned towards her, "She's right here, you wanna talk to her?" something in the tone of his voice made her curious. "Nah!"

"Well!" She stared at him.

He was looking past her, "'Phonse, that kid you saved."

"Yeah, what?" Alphonse's expression was closed and hard.

"She's got the measles. An' lookin' at you, I'd say y've got it too."

The three of them were staring hard at him. Alphonse suddenly felt like a bug under a microscope, an' this damn itch ain't helping any.

The doctor was examining Alphonse, so Ice took his chance.

"We got one shot at this, we have to convince 'Phonse that we care about him, and snooping around in his past was only 'cos we wanted to help. Otherwise, he's gonna leave."

Charlie spoke for all of them. "Agreed!"

The doctor reappeared in the doorway. "Measles. A bad case. Keep him quiet and warm…" he scribbled something on a prescription pad. "get this filled out and follow the instructions. I'll be back in a couple of days."

He glanced sourly at them. "Good luck." A meaningful look cast at the doorway behind them.

Charlie took the first shift. The computer expert was desperate to make it up to the big man. After about ten minutes, he nearly changed his mind. Alphonse was a very difficult patient and Charlie had a real battle on his hands.

Chrissy took over from Charlie. Alphonse was really sick now, he had rashes on his neck and stomach, his throat and glands were swollen, he had an appalling cough and the lights made him squint and turn away. All things considered he was in a very sorry state, but still sufficiently with it to try to hold his helpful partners at arm's length. They were doing their best to make things up to him, but he wasn't about to make it any easier on them.

Ice and Charlie had provided him with a pair of pyjamas, which Chrissy was grateful for, as he tossed and turned and thrashed around. She tried to calm him down, "Alphonse, stop scratching, you're going to make that rash worse."

Twin slits of blue squinted at her almost venomously, "So!", lower lip thrust out; she tried to keep a straight face, he was being really childish. Sitting down on the bed, she reached for the bottle that the doctor had left, reading the instructions.

"Come here." Reluctantly he slid a bit closer to her. She took a deep breath, she wasn't at all sure about the intimacy of this, but………..Chrissy got a hold of herself………………nonsense, he needs help. Clamped down hard on the butterflies and unbuttoned his pyjama top. The rash across his stomach was angry and red where he'd scratched it. Pouring some of the lotion into her hand, she gently smoothed it over the rash.

Alphonse was feeling miserable, everything ached, swallowing hurt, and his skin felt as if ants were crawling on it, he still hadn't forgiven her so struggled to keep his distance, but Chrissy's fingers were soothing the fiery itch across his stomach and his resistance was at a very low ebb.

Chrissy was slightly startled when he moved closer to her. An image of roguish charm sprang to mind, four years ago she'd played the lady to Alphonse's Columbian drug dealer to catch a crooked gallery owner. He'd used the opportunity to unsettle her thoroughly; now Chrissy's own traitorous thoughts were doing the unsettling. Laura's taunt flashed through her brain, Chrissy's eyes widened as she remembered the conwoman's mocking words Did I get the musketeer you wanted! Even to her own ears her reply had sounded a little unconvincing. Her fingers stilled. A strong hand came up to squeeze hers, "Please." The voice was croaky and hoarse and nearly inaudible, just the one word started off a fit of coughing.

Chrissy gave in, her fingers stroked his belly. As Alphonse leant against her, Chrissy took her opportunity realising that she might not get such a chance again. "Alphonse,"

"Mmmmhm" he rested his cheek against her hip.

"We were only trying to help you."

The brown lashes lifted a millimetre, she looked down, the blue slits looked a little less venomous, her free hand slid into the thick brown hair and she cradled his head against her thigh.

All Chrissy's gentle ministrations were having a strange effect on him, resistance had gone completely. Suddenly Alphonse was seven years old again, back at Mrs Gannon's place, the three children had been fostered by her, and somehow they'd all managed to get chicken pox. Memories of Mrs Gannon cuddling him and reading him stories washed over Alphonse; Chrissy's hand tenderly stroking his head reminded him of the one family where he'd been wanted, loved and cared for. Suddenly he just wanted to be a kid again, to be loved without any strings attached.

To Chrissy's amazement, he rolled over, resting his head in her lap, one heavily muscled arm thrown over her legs. For a second she tensed, thinking this was another pass, he'd been making passes at her since she'd first met him; then she realised he was seeking comfort. Chrissy melted; since he'd backed off and been ignoring her, she realised how much she missed the flirting, figuring out new ways to rebuff his advances was a game that they both enjoyed, so she hoped this meant he'd forgiven her. She tucked the quilt round him and settled back, one hand resting on his head, idly stroking the back of his skull.

Ice appeared with some food. As Charlie's culinary skills consisted of scorching everything almost to oblivion, Ice had taken it upon himself to cook something. Since his big partner was feeling really rough and obviously disinclined to swallow, Ice had tried to make chicken soup. With somewhat mixed results.

Alphonse was asleep in Chrissy's lap. Ice raised an eyebrow and she flushed. Feeling a bit flustered, she tried to shake the big Latin awake. There was a hoarse sounding grumbly noise.

"C'mon 'Phonse." Ice urged the big man to roll over. More grumbly noises, but he thrashed over onto his back. "Whass……….." the word trailed off into a coughing fit. They waited until the coughing stopped and then urged him to sit up.

Alphonse was feeling rather better. He'd decided on a little harmless payback, since everyone was trying so hard to get on his good side. So he slumped back against Chrissy, gonna milk this for a while. He groaned and made a fuss when they tried to persuade him to eat. It wasn't all fake, his throat felt like he'd been gargling with razor blades, and swallowing made his glands hurt more than they already did.

Having managed about four mouthfuls, he decided enough was enough. Ice's cooking was not that great. He slid down until he was resting back in Chrissy's lap again.

It was dark outside. Chrissy's left leg had gone numb a while back, Alphonse was a heavy weight, but she didn't have the heart to move him. Now she had to get up.

"Alphonse." She gently nudged him. No response. She nudged him again, this time he groaned and panic started to rise as her fingers encountered his hot, dry skin. She quickly put a hand on his forehead, the heat that met her trembling palm nearly caused her to scream.

She called for help. "Ice! ICE!"

He appeared in the doorway. "Whassup!"

"You need to get a doctor. Now." He moved up to the bed and checked Alphonse; the big Latin's temperature was soaring and he was lethargic and very sick.

Ice grabbed the phone.

The doctor came, examined Alphonse, gave a great many instructions and left again. The panicky trio tried to follow what he said.

Ice sat with the big man, while Chrissy had a break. Charlie had gone out to the pharmacy for the prescription that the doctor had left.

Chrissy had dimmed the lights because they seemed to make Alphonse worse. So Ice sat in the darkened room, doing what he could for his partner and praying that it would come right. For the first time in his life, he genuinely had no idea what to do. Any plan for making things up between themselves and Alphonse was now on hold. Ice hadn't figured on the big man getting this sick.

Charlie re-appeared clutching a bag full of stuff. "How is he?"

Ice shrugged. "Not good." Charlie wasn't taken in, Ice's tone was just a little too non-committal. Shit, we're both scared. The computer expert decided to say nothing, there wasn't really anything that needed to be said. Instead he pulled a bottle out of the bag he was carrying, reading the instructions, "We need to get him to take some of this as soon as possible."

They eased Alphonse up between them, he groaned and resisted but they were insistent. Ice supported him, while Charlie tried to get some of the medicine down his throat. The big Latin could hardly swallow.

Come Monday, Chrissy and Ice were in the office, trying to get some kind of handle on the case load. Neither could concentrate, their thoughts were back at the loft.

Charlie had been left in charge. Something that made him very nervous. Alphonse had improved a little over the weekend, but What if….. he prowled about, thinking about all the what ifs. Alphonse getting really sick, Alphonse……………..dying. Jeez, get a grip. He ain't gonna die. "CHARLIE!!" the voice was irritable and croaky. Unless, of course, I kill him!

"'Phonse, whassup!"

The big man rolled over, Charlie caught sight of his expression Uh-oh! He barely managed to get the bowl under his partner before Alphonse threw up. Charlie struggled to support his partner's weight and keep him from falling out of bed. Alphonse retched dismally.

"Easy, 'Phonse." Charlie tried his best, just ain't cut out to be a nurse. "Do y'wan' breakfast?" the question clearly redundant as the big Latin groaned and crawled back under the quilt.

"er….guess the answer's no then." Charlie got to his feet. Absolute silence from the bed. Feeling slightly foolish Charlie withdrew.

Half an hour later, and Charlie was getting antsy again. He was just considering whether to make lunch when there was a knock at the door. Puzzled he went to open it. One look at the young woman standing on the threshold and lots of things suddenly started to slot into place in his mind.

"Does Alphonse Royo live here?"

Charlie realised he was staring and pulled himself together. "Yeah he does."

"I'm his sister, Maria." Totally redundant statement from the statuesque blue eyed brunette standing in front of him, she was enough like his partner to be a twin.

Charlie got through staring and remembered his manners. "Er….you want to come in" he stepped back, "now ain't the best of times, he's……." he considered how to put it best "he's kinda sick at the moment."

"Sick?"

"He got the measles from this kid he rescued."

"Rescued?" the brunette stared at him as though he was talking Greek!

Charlie sighed, indicated that she should sit down and began to explain everything.

In the middle of his explanation, the door opened. He looked up and caught the look on his half sister's angry face.

"I take a job which lasts two weeks, and you guys cause apocalypse. Great." Lucy scowled blackly at him. "Typical."

Charlie tried to placate her. "Luce…"

"Never mind. Leave me to sort it out."

She turned on her heel and left them gaping at her departing back.

Alphonse was feeling really rough again, he could hear voices from the other room. God, make them go away. The door opened behind him, perhaps if I pretend to be asleep they'll go away. The mattress gave beneath the weight of a body, Alphonse could smell perfume. Lucy! he almost purred in anticipation, rolling over and into his girlfriend's waiting arms.

"Hi," she whispered softly, easing her knees under him, so that she could pull him close. His only answer, a sort of hoarse growly noise deep in his throat, followed by a bout of coughing. Keeping his eyes firmly closed, his hand explored her body from memory.

Lucy could feel the heat from his skin. So she clamped down her response to his enticement.

Charlie was embarrassed, Lucy's forthright approach to everything was usually just rude, Maria was staring at him. "I'll just go see……." He waved a finger in the vague direction of Alphonse's room. "Er….right!" He opened the door.

Alphonse was sprawled across the bed, lying back in Lucy's arms, head flopped down on her shoulder, one hand had edged under her top, Lucy cuddled him against her and glared defiantly at her half brother, Alphonse leaned into her, eyes closed, a half-smile on his face. Charlie was forcibly reminded of a big lazy jungle cat and his huntress mate. Jeez, mental note to self, gonna have to stop watching the discovery channel. Lucy scowled at him. Charlie swallowed, Lucy's fierce temper always made him nervous and social graces were not her forte.

"What?"

"That's 'Phonse's sister out there. She must think we're all nuts…."

Lucy cut across. "So."

"So….all this has been about his family. I thought perhaps she needs time alone with him."

"Right now?" Lucy looked down, her love had dozed off.

"Yeah Luce…..right now." Charlie withdrew, beckoning to Maria.

Maria entered cautiously. Charlie had given her some idea of Alphonse's reaction to their mother's letter and she wasn't sure if he would want to see her.

Lucy made as if to move away, Maria anxiously signed her to stay. If he don't wanna see me, it will be easier if she's here.

"Alphonse."

The brown lashes half lifted. "Hi" she hadn't felt this nervous since her high school prom.

"Maria?" his voice was hoarse and croaky, but there was no mistaking the warmth in the way he said her name. She put her hand in the large one stretched out towards her, emboldened by his response, she sat on the bed next to them.

Lucy and Maria talked, Alphonse just lay back and drifted in and out of the conversation. Two women fussing over him, it was like heaven on earth. He relaxed in Lucy's arms and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Maria realised he'd drifted off. She looked down at the brother she'd adored as a child, time hadn't changed the affection between them, though she hadn't seen him since she was seventeen. Even with a four day growth of beard and two nasty angry looking rashes on both sides of his neck, he was still her handsome hero. She smiled affectionately and said as much to Lucy.

Charlie's sharp featured, tough sister grinned back at her and a look of complete understanding passed between the two women. Maria began to tell Lucy all about their childhood and was surprised at how much she already knew. She eyed her companion with a deeper interest, Alphonse must be serious, not even Rhonda knows the full story! Lucy was the complete opposite of what she expected, then I never thought he'd end up with some of those brainless bimbos he used to hang around with. She found herself talking about things that she would never have considered bringing out into the open.

"When I was five, I did something to piss Aldo off. Anyway he started in on me, and Alphonse stepped in………." Maria paused in distress, her voice dropped to a whisper, "Aldo beat him unconscious…it was his eighth birthday." She laid her free hand on her brother's cheek. "That's the way it always was. Alphonse used to get the worst of it, because he was always protecting us."

"So, when your mother wrote to him, saying that she was back with Aldo and that she wanted Alphonse to forgive him, that triggered all this off."

"I guess. Mom wrote to all of us. Well, five of us. None of us has heard from Luis for at least ten years, he'd changed his name last I heard."

Charlie was tired of hanging around like a spare part. He opened the door, "Er….do you want something to eat."

"Not if you're cooking it." Lucy growled. She eyed Maria, "He can't cook, so how about we send out for something. Alphonse could use some decent food."

Charlie scowled. "Thanks for the vote of confidence." He started to withdraw.

"Charlie." He paused. Lucy smiled at him, "Stay with 'Phonse, I'll get us some food." She eased out from under her lover. There was a sleepy protest, then he settled back into the pillows.

Charlie looked down at Maria, she was oblivious to his presence, holding her brother's hand and talking to him quietly. Charlie slipped out leaving brother and sister alone.

Maria sat and watched her brother sleep, and let the memories wash over her. The better memories. Alphonse taking her to West Side Story for her tenth birthday, okay, so he stole the tickets from a wallet he lifted, singing 'that' song in a growly off-key voice to her whenever she felt miserable. Maria smiled affectionately at him, Domingo had nothing to worry about that was for sure.

They'd never known their father, he just drifted in and out of their mother's life, staying long enough to father three children and finally disappeared long before Maria had been born. Then Aldo married Mom and along came Nikki, Christa and Tony. All the foster homes and welfare workers hadn't been able to prevent the beatings and cruelty, the never-ending stays in hospital, until Alphonse turned fourteen or so, then he'd been too big and strong to take on, so Aldo laid off.

But it was all too late, the damage had been done. Her brother was gentle and loving, but he hid it well behind a carefree façade of womanising, thieving and wild behaviour, never let your guard down, he'd lived that one to the full. He was smart, but he'd dropped out of school as soon as he could. Luis had followed. Maria had stayed in school, schooling was going to be her ticket out. When it came time to apply to college, she turned to her brothers for help, which they'd provided in large measure.

Feeling more than a little emotional, Maria gently stroked her brother's cheek, she owed everything to him and Luis. And Alphonse had paid a very high price for what he'd done for her. But that was going to continue to be their secret, pride dictated that.

Charlie walked into the office. Ice was instantly on his feet. "What you doing here, man?"

"Lucy came back, tore me off a strip for upsetting 'Phonse. Then Alphonse's sister shows up. When I left, they were fussin' over him like a pair of mother hens, trying to get him to eat." Charlie's tone was slightly sour, Lucy had virtually shooed him out. The two women were in perfect harmony, which didn't bode well for Ice's master plan.

Ice sighed. He figured on most things, but the female barricade wasn't one of them.

Chrissy was working late. Ice had left early with Charlie. She hadn't been too happy about that, but understood their need to be with Alphonse.

Chrissy put her pen down and pushed the file she had been working on aside. The big Latin was in her thoughts a lot. So much of what she knew about him didn't jibe with the file information she had read about him. She reached over to the file that had caused all the trouble and pulled in front of her.

She settled down and began to read and to think.

Ice and Charlie weren't making much headway, Alphonse was more elusive than ever with his sister and his girlfriend to run interference for him and between times he slept a lot, which made it even more difficult for them to get close. The very few times either of them managed to get him alone to talk things through, he would change the subject or drift off to sleep.

Lucy watched them try to make things up with him. Then took matters into her own hands again.

She bided her time until he was a bit better and taking an interest in life again, and they were alone in the loft. Her chance came one afternoon when they'd taken possession of the couch together, Lucy sat back against the arm and let 'Phonse cuddle up to her. She slid her arms around him and eased him into a comfortable position.

"'Phonse?"

"Hmmmm."

Lucy stroked his hair back, she knew he was awake. "Y'know, they wanted to help you. Because they care about you."

"Gotta funny way of showing it!" he grumbled and snuggled a bit closer to her, sliding his hand further up under her top. Lucy ignored the distraction of his fingers trailing patterns across her stomach.

"Sweetheart, I know you didn't want them to find out, but they did want to help you."

There was an indistinct grumbly noise from her lover. Lucy slid her hand under his chin and tilted his head back slightly so that she could look into his eyes. Alphonse was very good at burying his feelings behind flirtation and bravado, and she wasn't about to let this fester on.

"'Phonse?"

He looked shifty and embarrassed. "Yeah, Luce….but"

"But nothing. You forgive them, y'know y'do!"

He actually blushed. Then in a swift move, he rose up, caught his weight on his elbows and tugged her into a more reachable position. Suddenly Lucy found that her top was on the floor and strong fingers were stroking her stomach, sliding beneath the waistband of her combats. She gave up and abandoned herself to their mutual passion.

Ice walked into the loft and dropped his keys on the counter. Lucy was cooking dinner, at least that's what it was supposed to be, but since Alphonse was trying to make love to her, Ice figured dinner was going to be a long time in coming, especially as Lucy's only covering appeared to be the shirt Alphonse had been wearing that morning.

Ice cleared his throat.

Alphonse looked at him. "Yeah, what!"

"You two wanna be left alone."

"Nah!"

Ice eyed him in slight surprise, the first time in nearly a month when the Latin hadn't been on the defensive. Never a shrinking violet, Ice took his chance.

"We forgiven then?"

Alphonse actually looked sheepish. "Yeah" he mumbled and quickly buried his face in Lucy's neck, before he had to answer any subsidiary questions. Lucy squirmed, turned in his arms and they abandoned dinner altogether.

Ice sighed and reached for the phone, take out again tonight, but at least he's talking to us again!