Contessa

by Sassy

What begins below is pure melodrama. And my very humble tribute to one of my all time favourite romantic movies - The Barefoot Contessa. How it ends? Well that's another question :)

She realised as she made the leap that she'd miscalculated, her timing was off, the name of the man she loved a fading scream as she plummetted downwards.

They burst through the swing doors, "How is she?" "She gonna be alright?"

Ali turned. "Ah......" his voice trembled. "Ah don't know." He swallowed hard, pinning the swing doors opposite with a desperate glare. "They took her in about an hour ago." He finished, his voice fading out as the reality hit.

A minute's sterile pause, and the doors opened. Charlie stepped through. They beseiged him with questions, gradually falling silent as they remained unanswered.

He stood in the doorway. Feet apart, head up, challenging them all. "Lucy's still alive." He took them all in, one at a time. Ali, O'Connor, Ice, Chrissy, and of course, he reserved his look of cold contempt for Alphonse.

A cold icy rage grasped at him. "As far as I'm concerned, each and every one of you has used her and hurt her. Y'ain't gonna get the chance to do it again, just to ease y'consciences."

Alphonse sprang forward. "I gotta see her."

"No way." Charlie's tone was pure steel.

"You gonna stop me........You and what army." Alphonse tried to push forward and found himself stopped by a large security man.

"Family only, sir."

Charlie looked round the room again. "And they ain't family." He turned on his heel and moved smoothly back through the doors, leaving the shell shocked team behind him.

He sat down by the bed. His sister. Charlie didn't even bother with the "half" any more. Lucy was his flesh and blood. Reduced to flesh and blood, his beautiful, vibrant, passionate sister. Very gently, he put his warm hand over the slim, cold lifeless one resting on the bed nearest him.

"They ain't gonna hurt you again. I promise." He gently stroked the silky soft skin of her arm. A movement registered, he looked up at the doctor.

"Mr O'Bannon, you had better prepare yourself. We've done what we can, it's up to Lucy now. If she wants to fight, she will probably make a good recovery. But....." He looked down at the still form. "so far."

Charlie swallowed. "I know."

The doctor turned. "It might be kinder............" he looked down at the distraught young man ".....to let them say goodbye."

Charlie choked, the tears were flowing freely now. "No." He gently tugged the hand up to his cheek, "I won't let y'go. Y'can beat this thing. Luce, y'emotional viewpoint........it's very important." The doctor moved away, the patient's brother wasn't talking to him and he was anxious to leave them alone. The girl needed all the fight she could muster, and just maybe her brother could give her that hope.

Ice was carved from stone. He could see and hear, but he couldn't touch or feel. Touch or feel, a vision swam before him, a tight red dress, a sparkle in the blue eyes, a mocking smile on the lovely curved lips, how did that old song go, a wiggle in the walk and a giggle in the talk.

They were dancing, every inch of Ice aware of the sexy, catlike beauty swaying and moving in front of him, steps matching. They were making love, slow sweet love. His hands slid over the body, frisson of passion igniting with every electric movement.

A discordant note, a hand stretched out, spinning her away. The challenge in her eyes, and in her voice, nobody owns me. Twirling back into his arms, luscious lips parted, his met hers, and the kiss spun on and on.

They danced on, heedless of the anger building in the corner of the room. The drinks, glasses piling up on the bar. The cold look in the normally warm blue eyes. The unsteady progress to the elevator.

Chrissy sat and stared at the floor, her thoughts were unpleasant ones. You tried to help little voice in her ear screamed LIAR, guilty, guilty, guilty as charged. She watched him standing in front of her, the way she'd seen him in the office that time, was it only two nights ago. He was drunk, she'd known that, she was alone (alone, alone, alone, ringing in her mind like a church bell, for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.) She'd always loved Hemingway, now she was living it.

He'd come close, she could smell his aftershave, that warm smell of strong, sexy, reckless man, lifting her senses. Moving in, she put her hand on his chest, perhaps she was intoxicated herself. Their lips met and this little voice urged her on. Find out now. You know you want to.

She broke the kiss and stepped back slightly, catching Lucy in the doorway behind them.

"But what about Lucy?" She wasn't even really sure what she was trying to do, get him to admit he loved the wild and reckless beauty.

"We're finished." His tone was sour and mocking, for a second she was bewildered as his eyes narrowed, then she realised he could see Lucy reflected in the computer monitor on the desk. Every word calculated to wound. "There ain't no Lucy, no more." Hurting, as he'd been hurt. Then he swept her in again.

For a second time and space hung still together. There was no shouting and screaming. Lucy merely turned and walked away.

O'Connor put the phone down. He'd called in to the office, shifted case loads around, gathered in some back up.

Unemotionally, he considered his portion of the guilt. You sent her out there. You called the shots. You knew she was distracted, not with it. You saw the pain in her eyes. He admitted it. The bounty hunters were in many ways more expendable than his creative and unusual team. So he'd expended them.

He saw her as she sat in his office, when was it, only four hours ago. Taut as a bowstring. He'd looked at her. "Lucy, can you do this?"

"Yeah, don't I always." Her tone was sour, her timing was off. He could hear it in her voice and he'd just closed his eyes and held out the file.

"Take him down."

She'd picked up the gauntlet and walked from the room without a backward glance. The last time he'd seen her was entering the elevator.

The last time I saw her. Now that may very well come true. The last time he would ever see that beautiful mocking smile, the cocky sashay of her hips, the fiery passionate clinches that would go on round corners at any time. They'd even figured out how to stop the elevator between floors.

He didn't know if he could take the guilt.

Ali moved up to the window. He hadn't felt this lost since Anna had left him. An' it was yer fault. Ye knew she was hurtin' and ye ignored it. He looked back over the last five hours. Everything was running smoothly, he'd taken the front door, she'd taken the roof door, as usual. Now he wished he'd insisted. So jumping five foot onto a gantry was not his idea of a good time, and Lucy was much better at it than he was. But not this time. He remembered the moment of heart stopping terror as he realised she had missed. She hit the railings hard, and somehow managed to get some kind of grip which slowed her fall, but then her fingers had slipped and she fell the rest of the way. The mark forgotten, Ali reached her side, he knew without even checking that it was bad.

The worst part, even in her terror, her thoughts were for the man she loved, his name a piteous cry as she fell. Ali's gaze rested on the culprit, his pain centred on the man.

Alphonse stood outside the door. He could feel the eyes of the others on him. He couldn't say anything, he didn't know what to say. Slowly he wandered down the corridor. The door to the little Chapel was open, his feet led him inside without even realising it.

He sat down and slumped forward, putting his head in his hands. The little gold cross on one of the chains he always wore, slithered into his view. Alphonse's eyes rested on it. He'd had it so long he'd forgotten about it, what it represented. Now suddenly it was there in front of him and his whole being was focussed on it.

His mind was a blank, he couldn't remember anything, suddenly he couldn't even picture her face, the face that meant everything in the world to him. His fingers clenched hard through his hair, pressing into the back of his skull as he tried to visualise her.

Charlie sat and waited, his back was stiff from sitting so long, but he wasn't leaving her. Even though there was no sign.

Charlie's eyes focussed on the hand, the fingers had moved, he was sure of it. He got up and bent over her.

"Lucy."

The eyelashes flickered slightly, the lips moved, Charlie didn't need to hear the word, he knew. His jaw tightened, if that was what she wanted, that was what she was going to have. He straightened up, back muscles tensed.

"Luce, I'll find him for you. Just hang on. Please, hang on."

He pushed through the doors and scanned the room. The object of his searching gaze wasn't there. Now there's a surprise. He pushed past them without speaking and walked down the corridor. The Chapel was open and Charlie walked in. Alphonse was sitting at the back, head in his hands, staring at the floor.

"She wants you." Charlie's statement was flat.

Alphonse didn't look up. "I…………….can't."

Charlie's jaw muscles tightened, and his eyes took on a fierce light. He reached out and grabbed the front of Alphonse's jacket, hauling him forward so that their eyes met, the agony in the big Latin's eyes was obvious, but Charlie didn't notice or care. "Lucy's dying. So you're gonna tell her whatever she wants to hear."

Alphonse didn't try to defend himself. Right then, if Charlie had pulled out a gun and shot him between the eyes, he would have welcomed it. The pain of a life without Lucy wiped out any future he might have had.

Charlie let go and turned away. The rage building within him that this man should walk away unscathed, he spun back, the punch had rage, pain, grief and real hatred behind it and it did damage, still Alphonse did nothing. Twice more the fist pounded into his face.

Charlie's steely grip on the front of his jacket, hauled the battered Latin through the waiting room towards Intensive Care.

Whatever Alphonse had expected to see, the reality was horrific. Lucy lay on her back, her left leg was broken and in plaster, he could see the edge of the heavy bandages which covered her chest and continued down to her hips, thin strips of tape covered a nasty head wound, and they'd clipped the hair away slightly round it. The whole left hand side of her face was bruised and swollen.

He slumped down in the chair and leant forward, then realised his nose was bleeding and it dripped steadily onto the white sheet. The big square hands clasped her slender right hand, the fingers lay motionless between his. He started to talk to her, telling her everything that was in his heart, the sick feeling that it was all too late made no difference, he had to say goodbye.

Hours passed, Alphonse sat next to his love and talked to her, it didn't seem to matter what he said, he just needed to keep the contact. A very angry nurse had patched up the damage to his face, his right eye had swollen shut, and breathing was painful through his broken nose; the nurse had wanted to take him down to ER to stitch the cut beneath his eye, but he refused to leave Lucy.

Charlie sat outside and thought. Deep, unpleasant, self-revealing thoughts. Punching Alphonse out had relieved his stress and fear. Now he was wracked with guilt over what he'd done to his best friend. He shredded the styrofoam cup in his hands, wishing that somehow he could make it up to the big man.

The painful part was listening to Alphonse's thick-sounding, confused ramblings as he talked to Lucy about nothing. The doctor had been unimpressed when he'd seen the state of the Latin's face. And he'd given Charlie the third degree.

O'Connor had got the rest of the team out of there, figuring that two at a time was enough. So Charlie sat and waited with nothing to do.

Suddenly, he was through waiting. He slipped in behind Alphonse, tentatively put his hand on his friend's shoulder. Alphonse turned his head slightly at Charlie's touch and the computer expert caught sight of the bruises on his face.

Charlie was horrified, he gave the Latin's shoulder a light push, trying to get a better look. Alphonse looked up at him.

"Jeezus, 'Phonse! Did I do that?" The handsome Latin's face was a mess, the whole right side was bruised and swollen, his nose was thickened and turning black and purple across the bridge.

"Yeah." Alphonse was embarrassed, he looked away. "It was my fault."

Charlie made a swift decision, he urged his partner to his feet. "C'mon, they need to fix that up properly." Alphonse started to protest. "Luce sees what I did to your face an' she's gonna kill you and me both. Okay. S'c'mon."

It was for Lucy, so Alphonse gave in.

Ice slipped into the seat by the bed. It had been two days now. Despite the early sign of movement, there had been nothing since and the doctors were worried. Alphonse was beside himself with grief. Charlie had swung from anger to a relentless upbeat optimism that had the breath of desperation about it. Ice........

Ice didn't know what he felt; he only knew what Lucy meant to each and every one of them. What he'd discovered she meant now she wasn't "around". Ice was learning a lesson he wished he'd paid attention to before. The one about not coveting thy neighbour's......anything. A moment's excitement, a moment's over-confidence and he'd put the lives of two people he loved in jeopardy. If Lucy died, Alphonse would be lost too.

Ice probed his own feelings. It was like flicking a fingernail over a healing scratch, painful memory. He reached out to the lifeless hand and drew it between both his own. "I'm sorry Lucy, sorry for what I didn't try to stop. If you'd just try. We need you." he leant over closer to her. "We all need you, Charlie punched 'Phonse out. 'Phonse is a mess. I'm a mess."

Nothing, just the hospital silence, and the cold clinical atmosphere. Then he focussed hard, the fingers were moving again. Gently he stroked them, "That's it, Luce...C'mon." The tough, unsentimental leader didn't even realise there were tears running down his cheeks until they splashed down on the back of his hand.

Lucy lay and listened. She spent most of her time pretending to be asleep. The boys were all falling over themselves to be forgiven. Forgiven for what? My own dumb fault, wasn't concentrating. She was easily worn out, she hadn't broken a leg in years and had forgotten how exhausting it was.

It had taken her almost five days to come to sufficiently to start interacting with the outside world again, and she'd been livid with Charlie and Alphonse when she'd clocked the state of 'Phonse's face.

The door opened, uh-oh, what is it this time, bedpans, 'Phonse coming to unburden himself of guilt, Charlie - he tells me one more time that my emotional viewpoint's important - I swear I'm gonna blow him away, Ice, more guilt, or Ali?

"Lucy."

"Yup, what!"

"It's me, Chrissy!"

"I ain't deaf or senile, I know it's you!"

Chrissy sighed, she was almost grateful that the tough bounty hunter was flat on her back, having several broken bones had done nothing for her disposition.

"This isn't easy for me...."

"Gawd, here we go again. What is it with you guys. I missed a jump, I hit a gantry, then I hit the floor. Occupational hazard, not death wish, okay."

"That night?"

"That night, I'd stayed, I'd ha'punched him out. That was giving him space to find out what he really wants."

"So we're okay."

"Yeah."

"Okay."

"Okay. So I don't suppose you've got some kinda peace offering. Bourbon, four course candlelit dinner for two, big lug with a beat up face feeling sorry for himself, y'know?"

"Er. No. Basket of fruit actually."

"'S'll do for a start I suppose."

"LUCY!"

"Give the shocked thing a rest, okay. I ain't no saint. And if you see the dumb lug on y'way out, send him in here, okay."

Chrissy sighed.

Alphonse sidled in furtively. The swelling had subsided a bit, he could now see out of both eyes, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. Both eyes were black, and purple, and several other colours. Clear imprints of knuckles, the whole thing bracketed together by strong white tape, bracing his broken nose.

Lucy scowled at him. "Willya stop sneaking around. Y'driving me crazy. I MISSED A JUMP, IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL PROBABLY HAPPEN AGAIN......TO YOU, IF Y'DON'T STOP ALL THIS SNEAKING AROUND!"

"Luce, y'ain't supposed to get excited."

She subsided back into the pillows a little. Suddenly a really devilish smirk crossed her face. "Y'sure about that?" An eyebrow peeked a little, and despite his worry and guilt, something danced across Alphonse's senses like a breeze across a harp.

He leaned over, an insistent hand urged him closer still.

Penny Carducci headed for the staircase. Ice looked at her, she shrugged, "Lucy's back today."

"So. How did you know?"

She gestured at the angry little group by the elevator door, headed by O'Connor. "Call it a hunch. Elevator's stuck between fourth and fifth." Ice and Charlie exchanged glances. "Stairs? Anyone?"

She opened the door.

"ROYO??" O'Connor banged on the elevator door with his fist. But not too hard.