Story and original characters © E. Phillips 2001, all other characters and UC: Undercover Premise remain © Shane Salerno and NBC and associated companies. No Copyright infringement intended.
If… In the End
Three years and seven months, all flooding back in the moment she said his name. The laughter, the joy in feeling right for once in his life… even the tears they shared – and then nothing.
And the continuing nothing over six months of frantic searching, of swirling worry, of fear that had left him sleepless and sick – aching… all brought back in a simple, "Frank… I need to talk to you."
So much so that he missed the tone… missed the body language that that would have warned of trouble before he heard the sound that halted his long strides toward the door of the bar.
It wasn't the way she almost at once called after his retreating back, almost begging him… imploring…
"Frank please… just two minutes… I need you to hear what I have to say."
Or the way she raised her voice in desperation, "Don't walk away from this… don't walk away from me…"
But the soft click of a weapon being cocked.
He stopped walking, ignoring the screams and panic erupting around him, and turned to look at her again, this time taking everything in, including Jake and Alex who had appeared, seemingly from nowhere and were pointing their own weapons in her direction.
She was pale and in the bar's flickering dim lights the dark circles under her eyes were heavy on her cheeks. She'd lost weight, but it had been over a year… almost a year and a half, and her eyes – he knew they were blue – were wide with fear.
"Saran, it's okay," he said outwardly calm. "I'm sorry, okay, we can talk."
"Tell… t-tell them to put the guns away," she was shaking so much he worried that the gun would go off in her hand. Her normally soft voice was taught and discordant with emotion.
"Nobody needs the guns," he said, taking a hesitant step forward when the heavy weapon started to dip in her hands. He stopped when she brought it up again, bringing her left hand to cradle the right. He held his hands out to the side.
"Tell them…" she squeaked, then almost screamed, "And shut these people up! I can't think… I can't…"
He nodded to his two agents. "Alex, secure this area. Call it in…"
"Wait!" Saran instructed. "What do you mean?"
"I'm assuming the last thing you want is this place crawling with cops," he said to the terrified woman and then added, "Do it Alex. Jake…"
He waved his hand closest to Jake down toward the ground and out of the corner of his eye saw Jake lower his weapon, but knew he held it still ready for use.
"They're always heavier than you think they're going to be," he continued softly, nodding toward the weapon she held. "Why don't you give me the gun and we can sit down and talk, hmm?"
"I… I tried your cell phone… it was disconnected." It was a totally ridiculous thing for her to have said, shaking her head as she was, but he understood. Her mind was bouncing around like a rubber ball. That made the situation dangerous. Any other stand-off and he would have been confident he could resolve the incident without bloodshed, now he could only pray that he could.
"I've moved on, Saran," he said, taking a slow and careful step forward. The noise behind him started to dissipate as Alex cleared the bar. "I have a new job now – a new apartment."
He slowly continued to take step after step toward the trembling woman.
"T –there… I could never get through at work. I… I don't know where to start," she said. He could see she was fighting to keep the weapon raised, pointing in his direction.
"Why don't you start by giving me the gun?" he suggested softly.
"Why," she implored, "couldn't you just leave it alone?"
"What, Saran?" he took another careful step toward her. He was almost there, but saw her flinch. He held his breath as her finger shook against the smooth metal of the trigger. "I can't help you unless you tell me what's going on."
Her face creased in emotional pain and she let out a sudden shuddering sob, tears beginning to flow down her face. The gun twitched in her hand and Jake started to raise his weapon. Frank flung out a hand to stop him.
"Stow it, Agent Shaw," he growled, and started to reach forward toward Saran Farlain, the woman that had shared some of the best times in his life.
"I'm scared Frank," she barely managed to force the words out past the sobs and the tears.
"I know, baby," his whispered for her only, "I know. Give me the gun."
He reached forward a little more closing his opened hand around each side of the gun barrel as she started to relinquish the weapon.
"That's it…" he barely dared to breathe as he felt the weight of the gun starting to settle into the palms of his hands, the barrel of the gun was still pointing at him and he needed to turn it aside.
He peeped up over the top of the bar. There were just two of them now, and the woman with the gun. They had her distracted; one of them almost had her in his grasp. They were Feds. He didn't like having Feds in his bar. It discouraged a certain kind of clientele that more than doubled his revenue from time to time.
He needed to get them out. He needed to end this, and end it more quickly than Mr Softly-softly was getting things done. With the woman distracted…
He reached for the weapon stashed under the counter of the bar.
"Put it down!" Alex suddenly cried out from behind him, she may have said more, but he didn't hear it. The air in front of him exploded into sound and heat and pain.
A white hot fist slammed into him, against his chest, exploding through him as a fiery destructive trail. A second, hard on the heels of the first, higher and more centrally – knocked him and he staggered back.
A third gunshot vaguely registered somewhere a long way outside of the dark blanket that was descending over him. The tried to take a breath and felt as though he were drowning, and hardly noticed the impact against his knees as the ground leaped up toward him.
Just as she turned back from ushering the last of the customers out of the door she caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eyes. She watched the barman straighten up from behind the bar, holding a gun pointing in the woman's direction.
"Put it down!" she yelled, snatching out her own weapon.
The woman in front of Frank let out a small scream. Tightly wound, as she was, it was all that it took and before Alex's horrified eyes, in reflex her finger tightened on the trigger.
"Jake!" Alex yelled, covering the bar keep she couldn't also deal with the woman. She flicked her eyes his way and saw his gun come up, but it was not quick enough.
Two clear shots rang out in the horrified heartbeat of silence that descended in the wake of the woman's scream, and Frank staggered back, as a third shot – Jake's weapon – followed.
She crossed the room and caught her boss before he fully hit the ground. She ripped off her jacket and screwed it up into a ball to press it as hard as she could against his chest, trying to stem the flow of blood. He was coughing, and where she wrapped her arm bare across his back, she felt the heat of his blood.
"Al-ex," he gasped, blood flecking his lips as he forced the air – precious and irreplaceable – over his teeth and tongue to make the words. "Not… h…"
"Frank no," she moaned. "Don't try and talk."
She flicked her head around in search of Jake and took the time to pull her cell phone out of her pocket and throw it in his direction as he stood up from checking the woman he'd winged with his disabling shot. Then she pressed her hand back against the jacket with which she vainly tried to stop Frank's bleeding. He tried to push her hand away, but had no strength.
"Frank Donovan don't you dare do this to me!" she snapped at him through clenched teeth, fighting with the emotions rising in her memory of another place and time – and another man, whom she had love, and who died in her arms.
"I won't accept this," she said firmly. "I won't accept this!"
"EMT's are already on their way." Jake crouched beside her. Moving her hands away from the jacket and peeling it aside to look at the damage. She saw him wince. "From when you called it in."
"He's not going to make it," she whimpered, sitting back on her heels and bringing a shaking hand, that was red with Frank's blood, to wipe away tears she hadn't even realised she was crying.
"He'll make it," Jake said, without looking up from the dying man on the ground. "He's too bloody minded not to!"
If… In the End – Act 1
Even after all the years and everything that has happened I can still remember quite vividly the first time I ever saw him.
I'm an artist – oh not with paints or pastels, but with words – a poet, though I hate that word as it conjures up images of musty, wrinkled old men writing unfathomable verse. So… I was sitting beside the river, watching. Watching nature, watching the few people that went past. He was one of those people.
He had been running, and for quite a while I'd say. The singlet he wore was damp with sweat, showing the muscled planes of his chest through the fabric as he jogged along the towpath. His muscles moved in harmonic counterpoint to the pistons his arms had become. He was breathing hard, in time with his long striding steps and looked every bit the athletic, fit young man I believed him to be.
I found myself suddenly breathless as he got nearer, but he was so lost in his little world that he didn't see me at all. Or so I was to believe for quite a while.
We actually met about a week later in the Northern Trust Bank on South La Salle. I hate banking at lunch time. It's always crowded and hurried, but I had little choice that day. I'd received a royalties cheque, thank God… because my account was about to go the wrong side of the wire thanks to my bastard of an ex-husband who had yet again refused to pay his share of the mortgage. Although we were divorced, and had been for a couple of years, as part of the settlement, he'd agreed to still pay one forth of the mortgage. I really needed to get that money into the account.
We arrived at the same time, he and I, and I almost turned right around and walked the other way in spite of the urgency of my situation, but at the very moment I was going to turn around he looked up and straight into my eyes.
I was like a deer, caught in the headlights of a car, and I know that's a cliché, but that's exactly the way I felt. Captured in his dark eyes and fascinated by the way the goatee beard framed his full lips that looked incredibly inviting even if they were set into a firm line.
Then he reached out and opened the door.
"Please," he said, indicating with a wave of his long fingered hand that I should go before him. But his voice – it wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket.
"Thank you," I virtually whispered.
"You're welcome," His ushering hand settled in the briefest of touches in the small of my back and I felt as if I'd been touched by a live wire.
I couldn't remember the last time a man held a door for me… especially one as masculine and almost classically divine as he was. The thought somehow helped me to catch a hold of my wits and to remember the promise I'd made to myself not to get involved with another man for a very long time.
"Not from around here are you?" I asked as he moved to stand behind me in the line.
"No," he said quietly. "I just moved here,"
I think he was going to say more, but his pager went off. The sudden sound made me jump and he raised an eyebrow, and then moved the bottom of his jacket aside to glance at the pager. He sighed.
"Duty calls, hmm?" I asked, though truly it was none of my business.
"Yes it does," he said and sounded worried. "Excuse me."
And he turned around and walked from the bank. Such an innocuous
UC CRIB: 6.30am Friday
He loved it at this time in the morning. None of the rest of the team would be in until at least eight. It gave him the chance to maintain the essential technical equipment. And keep his reputation as untarnished as it was.
Bringing his coffee to the briefing table he turned on the many computers and logged in.
"Incoming mail," The wav sound played as the computers finished booting up, not unusual. There was usually a string of mail and most of it garbage, which he sorted through, and separated into the ones that were relevant or important to the many cases and those headed for the oblivion of the recycle bin. Cody took pride in his work.
It leaped out of the screen and hit him right away, marked highest priority as it was, and addressed to the UC team. He opened it cautiously after running three separate virus scans on it.
It was a short message, but something about it sent a tight whorl of knotted worry into his belly.
Subject: Case relevant. Vital importance
I don't know how you might do it, but I beg of you, please don't
let Donovan take the Masterton case.
Still feeling the unwelcome knot, but now with something to push against, he set to work on the mail, as he set the "trace-route" programme running he skated his chair across the panel of computers and snatched up the headset that was attached to the computer controlling the com and hit a sequence of keystrokes, before returning to the original pc.
"Come on Jake, pick up!" he whispered as the programme sent back the results. Whoever sent the mail hadn't even tried to cover their tracks, but… he swore softly. The originating computer was in a downtown library. He'd put money on the account being just some poor unfortunate that happened to have forgotten to log out properly.
RESIDENCE JAKE SHAW: 6.40am Friday
He groaned as he finally registered the telephone ringing and that it was not going to stop. It meant it had to be one person.
"This had better be good Cody!" he said crossly as he snatched up the bedside receiver and rubbed his hand across his eyes and looked at the clock.
"I need you down here as quick as you can – and definitely before Frank."
"What's going on?" Suddenly he was wide awake.
"I'll tell you as soon as you get here," Cody hung up before he could ask another question. He sounded odd, as though he was trying to hold some kind of stress under wraps. And in before Frank…
He leaped up out of bed. Cody must have finally cracked the encryption on the file they had found in Donovan's personal record. That had to be it. He checked his watch. If he hurried, he could be there in thirty minutes.
UC CRIB: 7.15am Friday
"It could have been sent by anyone," Alex argued, looking at the printout that Cody had given her. "Like you said, whoever this SCF is, she or he, I mean you're only assuming it's a woman, sent it from someone's email account at a public library."
"And we don't even know that Frank's going to be bringing in a case of that name… what the hell is it anyway?" Jake added. Alex thought that he looked disappointed.
"Until we do we should just…"
"Hello?" Cody exploded. "Trouble for Frank involves us. It means trouble for us. Or maybe you're forgetting that. I don't believe you guys, we could be in serious trouble and you…"
"All right Cody, all right," Monica put a hand onto his arm. "We hear you, we do, but can't you see that we just don't have enough to go on we…"
"When has that ever stopped us?" he mumbled, throwing himself back into his chair and retrieving the data for the woman whose email account had spawned the mail that had thrown him into this mood that Alex saw as being close to panic. She frowned.
"We don't even know if this is legit." Jake protested.
She looked over at him. He was the only one of the group that hadn't softened in the face of the mood that Cody had inspired.
"Jake," she called softly, stopping his tirade. To Cody she added, "How would it be if I we agreed that if Donovan comes in here with this "Masterton" case, we'll consider investigating this, hmm?"
"Good enough I guess," he said softly.
It was two weeks before I saw him again.
I'd had THE morning from hell. A meeting with my attorney had gone badly. Alan was refusing to make the payments any longer and what's more he was demanding that I buy him out of the house altogether. I was left with the conclusion that I was going to have to either sell the house or take out a second mortgage to be able to do that. I wasn't about to take that lying down.
Then a meeting with my agent had topped it off with the gem that unless I gave them ten more folios for the poetry collection that Capunburn were going to publish, they were pulling the plug altogether. It wasn't that I couldn't give them the extra work, just that it put more pressure on me that I just didn't need. I felt like crying.
"Hi again." His voice drew my face up from the table top of the café I often frequented on my business mornings. I tried to smile. I think it came out as more of a grimace because he added, "You want me to get out of your hair right?"
"What?" I didn't… if anything the opposite. Any other person and yes maybe I would have told them to get lost, but I simply found him the most amazing enigma, and once more forgot totally about my promise.
He was handsome – more than that he was perfect and should have long since been snapped up, but there was not evidence of a woman in his life. He was masculine to the point of appearing hard and dangerous and yet he had been the first man in more time than I can remember to hold a door for me, and he was sensitive enough to know that I was having a dreadful day as he continued.
"Looks like you're having a hell of a day?"
"Yeah," I sighed. "You could say that."
"You want some company?" he asked.
"Thanks, I'd like that." I blushed. I actually felt the progress of the flush as it spread over my face. He didn't mention it.
"Refill?" He pointed at the coffee cup I was cradling. I nodded and thanked him again. He shook his head, meaning that it was not a problem as he signalled the waitress. "Frank Donovan," he said.
"Saran Farlain," I responded, and then sat back as the waitress refilled my cup and poured coffee into his empty cup.
"Can I get you anything else?" she asked.
"Thank you, I'm fine," he said. "Saran?"
"No, no." I said. "I'm good thanks."
He glanced at the waitress, summarily dismissing her and turned those dark eyes back in my direction.
"I apologise for running out on our last conversation," he said quietly.
Of all the things he could have said it was the last thing I expected and it made me laugh. He smiled a little, more in his eyes than in his face.
"When you gotta go…" I said recovering from the laughter but not from the warmth the smile kindled in me. "I hope it was nothing too serious."
"We got a result," he answered, the smile fading. I knew not to ask any more of my enigmatic companion on that subject.
"That's good," I said instead.
"And how about you?" he asked and I frowned in confusion then gave him and a startled look as he said, "That day beside the river. You looked as though you had the weight of the world on your shoulders."
I could have died. I didn't think he'd noticed me, and to think he must have seen the way I had been looking at him… watching him. I swallowed hard.
"No," I assured him. "I was just watching the world go by, waiting for inspiration."
"Of sorts," I answered with a soft smile.
"I'd be interested to see some of your work," he said seriously and I felt that rising colour again.
"I hardly know you," I protested and then kicked myself. It was a ridiculous thing to say and gave him the perfect opening.
"Then maybe we should have dinner some time," he suggested.
Dinner, dear god the man didn't hang around – and I bolted. Dinner was a big step for me, especially since I was already breaking my word to myself even in having coffee with him.
"I erm… I really don't know I…" I stuttered
He reached across the table and gently laid a warm hand over the top of mine. His fingers were long, and I could feel their strength. The contact sent a tremor of something extremely needful and personal through me that had me almost bucking and agreeing in the next breath.
"Saran, it's okay, really," he smiled. "Why don't I give you a call some time? Let me have your number and next time I'm around we can maybe have coffee."
Coffee… coffee was safe. I reached into my purse for one of my business cards and passed it over to him.
"Thank you," I said. "I'm sorry, I…"
He held up a hand to stop me from struggling any further. "It's fine, really. Not a problem, but you'll have to excuse me. I have to get back to work."
"Of course," I blushed again – I was starting to hate that. I watched him reach inside his jacket for his wallet and slipped my card inside. Until he did that I was sure I'd never see him again. Afterward, I was almost certain that I would. He bid a quiet farewell and walked over to the counter to pay for the coffee, before leaving.
A few moments later the waitress returned to the table and set down a fresh cup of steaming hot coffee in front of me and a folded piece of paper.
"From the gentleman that just left," she said and returned to her station. I opened the piece of paper and read…
"In case you change your mind, Frank. 312-555-4311"
UC CRIB: 7.50am Friday
Frank blinked in surprise as he walked in and saw the whole team waiting for him.
"Good morning," he said softly, frowning in confused suspicion as he put the files down onto the table top. "Thank you all for being so punctual."
"You want some coffee?" Alex answered, handing up a coffee cup into his now empty hand and taking the slide carousel from him to fit it into the projector.
"Someone want to tell me what's going on?" he said, feeling more than a little off balance. Everyone looked at Monica, so he did too.
"They've spent the last eight months giving you a hard time," she shrugged, a note of speculation in her voice. "Maybe they're feeling guilty."
He gave her a look and she shrugged again, by which time Alex was back in her seat and they were all looking at him expectantly. Letting it go for the moment, though not forgetting the prickling sense that he was being excluded from something he placed the files onto the table in front of his agents and turned out the main lights, at the same time hitting the button to bring the projector to life.
He shivered as the first of the slides came into view on the screen, a tall man, jogging, in sweat pants and a green t-shirt that hid nothing of his bulky physique. His short brown hair was slightly windblown and he had a furious expression on his face.
"The subject's name is Iain Reeves-Masterton," he schooled his voice to be neutral, deep and low to avoid any emotion that might have crept into it, as he flicked through the slides that accompanied his briefing.
"Investigations almost conclusively proved that he was responsible for several arms deals involving military forces in the former Soviet Union and several Middle Eastern underground organisations.
"Then without any warning the case was buried, and most of the evidence lost until several years later when allegations of arms shipments to rebel forces in Eastern Europe began to surface. He was the obvious candidate, but attempts to detain him were unsuccessful and even requests to question him made by AFT agents were denied before finally they were ordered to drop the case, their superiors citing the death of one of their agents several years previously as the reason for cessation of their involvement.
"Sixteen months ago he orchestrated an elaborate," he sighed, and swallowed a mouthful of coffee – cold by now – to cover the slip, "distraction to throw investigators off the paper trail that might have led to the identity of his collaborator; the name of the man that had ordered the closure of the investigations."
He pressed the button one last time to flick to the one slide guaranteed to get a rise out of his team: A picture of Agent Iain Reeves-Masterton taken in the line of duty.
"However, since the sudden marked increase in domestic terrorism, the director has ordered investigations be re-opened as he believes Reeves-Masterton may be behind the supply of armaments. Naturally, ATF don't want the case, even though it is within their jurisdiction, so Bloom suggested that we might be able to get to the man at the top and take both him and Reeves-Masterton down."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Jake finally exploded. Frank almost smiled. If he could have picked one of them to object it would have been Jake. He watched his agent point to the screen. "That guy is a Spook."
"Very astute of you, Jake," he said. "He is indeed CIA, which may also mean that this reaches higher than anyone is comfortable with."
He paused, looking over each of his horrified agent's faces. It appeared that uncomfortable didn't even come close to describing the feelings of his team.
"I will personally authorise a temporary leave of absence to any of you that feel unable to work on this case," he said.
Not one of them moved.
We met for coffee several more times before I actually agreed to entertain the notion of dinner. He was patient and persistent, I'll grant him that. He was also good company and very positive.
I can't ever remember him saying the word "no," in all the time I knew him. It was almost as if it wasn't in his vocabulary. If I suggested something that he obviously didn't like, he would make a alternative suggestion and listen to my response – more than just the words I was saying – until we came up with something on which we could both agree. It was almost as if we were negotiating the progress of our relationship
But I'm getting ahead of myself…
After our fourth coffee meeting, as he left, he actually tried to kiss my cheek. I think I might have offended him a little when I pulled away, because it was a while before he called again to suggest another meeting, but I couldn't help myself.
I was so startled that he would do that I just pulled back and stared up at him in astonishment and afterwards I sat there at the table, my heart racing and kicking myself – and cursing Alan for what he'd done to me.
I'd not been quite as miserable as I was in those three weeks that passed without seeing Frank in a long time and then out of the blue he called me.
"Coffee?" he said as I answered. I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Who else would be calling you at this time in the day and suggesting coffee?" he teased. It made me look at my watch. It was five forty in the evening. He must have heard my hesitation because he said, "Just coffee – no problems."
"Frank I…" I meant to apologise for the last time we saw each other.
"You want me to pick you up?" he didn't let me.
"Would you?" It would have taken me about an hour to get to our usual haunt at this time of the day.
"Sure," he agreed. "Be there in ten."
"Where are you?" I frowned. He had to be fairly close if he was going to get here in ten minutes.
"Corner of West Washington and North May," he answered. "Just a second."
He went quiet for a moment, no doubt negotiating the corner, and I started fretting. He was going to be here really soon and I was nowhere near ready – not fit for any company, let alone his. I made a grab for the cordless and high tailed it up to my room to change.
"You still there?" His voice purred in my ear.
"Yep," I answered, pulling the sweater off over my head and grabbing a more respectable one.
"What are you doing?" he asked, I could hear the frown of puzzlement that would be on his face.
"Changing," I confessed.
"I'm sure you look fine."
"Shows what you know," I quipped, and he chuckled. It was nearly my undoing and I had to sit down heavily on the bed as all the breath rushed out of me at the warm, almost suggestive sound in my ear.
"Okay, Saran," he said on the end of the chuckle. "I will let you finish changing and see you in five." He hung up before I had a chance to say anything else.
About a minute later the phone rang again and thinking he'd called back I picked up the telephone and answered cheerfully, "Hi again."
"Well hello to you too, bitch."
"Alan…" I gasped.
"What the fuck are you playing at?" he snapped. "I told you, no argument."
"I don't have time for this," I told him. "I said all I was going to through my attorney, and if you want to take it further, you'll have to speak to him."
Before we got caught up in arguing again about me buying him out of the house I hung up the phone and pulled on the rest of my clothes, ignoring the phone when it rang again. That would come back to bite me in the ass, but I didn't want to deal with it just then – or the way he always made me feel vulnerable and under pressure.
Frank arrived and I could quite easily have thrown a hug around him. I didn't, but I thought about it. Which again made me wonder just what I was getting myself into with these frequent meeting. It might actually have been that moment that started me thinking about accepting his dinner invitation.
"Hi," I greeted him, somewhat subdued, and still ignoring the ringing phone.
"You want to get that?" he asked, "I can wait."
"No it's okay. If it's important, they'll call back," I said, a little flat and he turned his head on one side to give me a querying look. I shook my head.
"Okay," he said. "You have your keys?"
When I nodded, he reached past me and closed the door for me, and then with that same slight contact as when he ushered me into the bank all that time ago, he guided me toward his car.
We settled into our usual corner table and the waitress, shaking her head and smiling in amusement brought out habitual coffee to the table, leaving right away.
Sitting opposite from me Frank peeked down at my lowered head and asked, "You want to talk about it?"
I sighed. "My ex is being a prick," I said.
"And that was him on the phone, right?" he surmised. I nodded. "Will you be okay?"
I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn't want to talk about this and the concern – genuine concern that I felt from him as he asked that – brought me one step closer to dinner.
"Saran?" he reached out and took my hand. "You can tell me to mind my own business if you want to, but if you need my help, you call me, right? It doesn't matter the time."
I looked up and him and smiled faintly. "Thank, but would you mind… I really don't want to talk about Alan."
He nodded and suggested cake to go with the coffee.
"If you can risk eating cake that is," he teased. It had the desired effect and made me laugh… although I blushed as well – damn the man!
So we had cake… and it wasn't quite dinner, and nor was it just coffee, but I was comfortable with that. I don't know how long or about what we spent the evening talking, I don't remember, but it all came apart when his cell phone rang unexpectedly. He checked the display for the number.
"Excuse me, I need to take this," he apologised and answering said, "Donovan."
His face fell into the serious expression it had when we had first started seeing each other – where the hell did that thought come from – did having coffee together on a regular basis count as dating?
"What?" he continued and he gave me an apologetic look. I knew he was going to have to go. "When? How long ago?"
"It's okay," I mouthed to him, but he frowned and shook his head.
"I will be with you as soon as I can," he told the person on the other end of the phone. "Saran, I'm sorry, that was work. I have to go."
"I know. I guessed," I answered, and reached out to put my hand – trembling from my earlier musing – onto his arm, standing up at the same time he did.
"I'll call you soon," he sounded frustrated. "Will you be all right to get home? I don't want you to think I'm abandoning you, but I…"
"It's all right," I said, recognising that whatever had prompted the call was urgent. "Go."
"Frank…" He reached out to briefly brush his fingers down the side of my face. I froze, determined not to flinch. The touch of his fingers liquefied not only my knees but my entire body, insides, outside – everything – and then it was gone as quickly as it had begun.
"I'll see you soon," he said.
My eyes had close and when I opened them he was at the door. Something made him stop and turn back, and then come back to my side. I looked up at him in query at just the moment he leaned down toward me. Before I even had a chance to register his intention to kiss me, his lips had landed softly against my cheek, his light beard scratching slightly, enlivening the kiss. My hand pressed against his chest, not that I'd registered even moving it, to feel his heart beating strongly and a little fast against my fingers, and then he once more straightened up.
"When the lady is ready, call her a cab." He told the waitress, and
raised his eyebrows in my direction to prevent me from arguing. I
couldn't have contradicted him if my life depended on it. I was still
reeling from the sudden breech of the unspoken restraint that was between
UC CRIB: 7.40pm Saturday
"Is this where I say, 'told you so'," he asked quietly as Jake and Alex came back in from where they had been trying to find the owner of the email address. "Or did you actually manage to find something."
"Has he gone home?" Alex asked.
"Nope," Cody answered. "Upstairs with Monica, working out the details of Jake's cover."
"So you haven't managed to start the decryption software on the file we found?" Jake asked.
"Oh it's running," he answered. "Just not getting anywhere."
He reached out and flicked the switch on the bottom of a monitor, while glancing up toward the stairs.
"Don't want to get your juices flowing or anything," he said, "But one thing I have found about it. It's the same basic encryption pattern as Frank's file."
He glanced at the screen and then waved a hand toward where the numbers were flicking through the millions of combinations possible for the decryption of the file.
"Nada!" he hissed, frustrated. "What about you two?"
"Vague description of a woman at the library that the librarian said looked, quote/unquote, "tense" – list of names of all the people registered to use the computer bank that day – that's all. No-one with the initial SCF," Alex answered.
"Let me have the list, I'll run them all," Cody offered, and took photocopy of the list from her. "Jake?"
"I got a meeting with a guy from the AFT that worked the case at nine," he answered.
"Barnardo's, down town," Jake answered, and then added, "Yeah, yeah, I know, Alex. I'll be careful."
"You better," she said. "If you're going UC, last think you want is a messed up face."
FRANK DONOVAN'S OFFICE: 10pm Saturday
He'd long since send them home, but couldn't go home himself. He closed his eyes and sighed. The cover was good – Monica had worked hard on it. Everything was all set to go. Why in the hell did he feel so uneasy about it?
There had to be something he'd missed – some key that would let him crack the case this time and put the bastards away for good. At least then he knew that, wherever she was – if she was still alive… he growled away the thought – that she would be safe. And he could finally lay the other ghosts to rest.
He shuddered and let out another long slow sigh.
He flipped open the file – the one he hadn't shown any of the others – and then covered his face with his hands and let out his breath in a rush. He didn't need to see the photograph that he knew would be staring up at him out of the file.
He knew every inch of her face, of all of her. He could still
see the sky blue in her eyes, framed by long dark lashes and the light
brown of her hair, with the red gold flecks that ran thought it; the pale
peach of her skin and the blush of her full lips, but he took his hands
away to look none the less, to stop the thoughts of the way she fit him
perfectly, even thought she was a small, slight little thing that he probably
could have broken like a twig…
Expecting Frank to pick me up for that much anticipated dinner date – finally – I threw open the door with a happy and excited smile on my face that fell when I saw who it was. I didn't even have time to close the door on him before he'd reached out and grabbed the front of my dress and slammed me against the side of the porch, before pulling me away again, to hang almost from his hands, the tips of my toes barely touching the ground. I tried to fight my way free, but his grip was just too strong.
"Alan, please," I gasped, pressing my hands against his chest, still trying to escape. "I told you, we have to let the matter go through the courts again."
"And I told you, you're selling the house!" he snapped, his breath hot on my face.
"No," I was so close to tears; so afraid of what he might do that I couldn't think straight. "This isn't helping, Alan. You're supposed to stay away, you…"
He cut me off by swinging me again at the side of the porch. My head hit the corner of the brickwork and stars exploded in my vision, my legs folded under me and it was only his strong grasp on my dress that kept me upright. I felt something warm trickle down the side of my face.
"Hey," Alan's grip loosened slightly as the shout, followed by the rapid footsteps came closer. "Let her go!"
"Fuck you!" Alan threw the words back over his shoulder, and through blurry eyes, both from the blow on the head and from the lack of oxygen I saw Frank, dashing across the driveway, his car was parked at an angle across the road.
"Let her go, and step away," Frank instructed in a voice that sounded as though it was the kind of thing he said every day of his life.
"Mind your own business," Alan replied, sounding bored, and then added, "And get the hell off my lawn."
"Alan," I didn't realise how close to choking I was until I tried to take a breath and couldn't. He sifted his grasp a little as I struggled and I managed a gasping breath and turned my head to Frank, panicking – hating that he had to see this. I was afraid it would scare him off. Too much baggage… but then he did something that I never would have believed possible. He reached inside his jacket and his hand came out holding a gun.
I didn't even have the strength to react to the shock and horror that flooded though me just then, because Alan let me go and I staggered back to sit heavily against the porch step, watching the drama in front of me.
"Whoa, easy," Alan raised his hands and backed away slightly. Frank had side stepped to put himself between me and my ex husband. He reached into another pocket and took out a black, wallet-like cover, which he flipped in Alan's direction.
"Hands on the hood of the car," he instructed, nodding toward Alan's car that I hadn't even seen in the driveway.
I grabbed the wall for support, feeling suddenly sick as I watched Alan do exactly as he was told – always a first time, I snorted – before Frank followed, still covering him with the gun, and took cuffs from his back pocket.
"I didn't know, man! I didn't know," Alan whined. I closed my eyes against the gathering ache and only heard the cuffs closing around his wrists. Something about him whining – didn't exactly move me to pity but I knew he'd had a taste of his own medicine – I just wanted him gone… and I didn't want the whole fuss that went along with getting him arrested for breaking his injunction.
"Frank," I breathed. "Just let him go… please. I don't want to press charges."
"You sure?" I opened my eyes in time to see him pull Alan from the car and turn him around, before returning his weapon to its holster. Alan's face was white and he looked as if he was going to mess himself. He looked pathetic.
"Yeah, I'm sure. I just want him the hell out of my life." I felt tears prickling at the back of my eyes.
I think I must have phased out for a moment, because when I became aware of what was going on again, Alan was gone, Frank's car was in the driveway and Frank was there in front of me. He was crouching in front of me, one hand on my elbow, the other gently turning my face to the left.
I breathed his name, holding onto the emotion that was threatening to flood through me just then for all I was worth.
"It's all right, Saran," he said softly. "Let's get you inside, clean up that cut."
He practically lifted me up, and I clung to him as he led me into the house, and into the lounge to sit me on the couch. I felt cold when he let go and reached for him again. He took my hand.
"It's okay. I'm just going to get the first aid kit from my car," he told me. "I'll be right back."
I nodded, and instantly regretted it as the ache in my head increased. I tried to sit still until he returned, but my mind was jumping all over the place. A gun… cuffs… his sure manner. Was he a cop? Was that why he had to keep running off?
"Saran?" His soft voice made me open my eyes again.
"Hmmm," he had an extremely concerned look on his face. "Not too sure about that, honey. I think maybe the ER might be…"
"I don't want to go to the hospital." My lip started trembling. "Please… just…"
He sighed and opened the first aid kit that was on the floor beside him. It was not the average in-car first aid kit… he saw me looking and turned my head away as he took an antiseptic wipe from its wrapper.
"You promise me that if I think you're getting worse, you won't fight me, and I'll hold off for now. Deal?" he asked.
"I promise," I told him.
"This is going to sting," he warned.
I hissed loudly and grabbed the cushion as he started to clean up the cut that the corner of the wall had made on my temple. It cleared my head for a little while at least. For long enough to notice the two tape stitches he was fixing into place.
"I want you to go to your doctor's office in the morning," he said firmly as he covered the injury with some gauze and taped it into place. "How do you feel?"
"Foolish," I said mournfully. "I'm sorry you had to see that Frank."
He smiled gently and shook his head, telling me that it wasn't a problem. Then he packed up the first aid kit and moved to sit beside me on the couch, but not before he had unclipped the gun holster from his side and put it on the table with the kit. I couldn't help but watch.
"You're a cop," I said. He turned toward me and took a hold of my hand again.
"Would it bother you?" he asked, and he looked – I don't know – somehow vulnerable and lost as he waited for my answer that it made me chuckle slightly.
"No of course not," I frowned in confusion. "Why would it?"
He sighed and handed me the same black wallet that he had flashed at Alan and said, "I wouldn't expect being a cop to bother anyone. That might."
I looked up at him, suddenly nervous and he nodded at the ID. I opened it slowly and breathed out the breath I'd been holding as I saw the three letters that graced the side of the badge. Not a cop then, but an FBI agent.
I blinked and then swallowed. My head ached, but it didn't stop me from coming to the same conclusion I would have reached with a clear head, at any other time in my life. It didn't change the fact that he was patient, kind, good company, attractive, gentle…
"Frank," I said at last, handing back his identification. "Why would your being a Federal Agent bother me?"
"It doesn't?" he asked, no doubt thinking of the length of time I'd been sitting silently staring at his badge.
"It's different," I admitted, not quite what to say to reassure him. "But it doesn't change the way I feel. If I didn't feel like my head was about to explode, I'd still want to go to dinner with you."
The slightest of smiles twitched at the corner of his mouth for a moment.
"That could just mean you're still hungry," he said deadpan.
"It could, but it doesn't." I freed my hand from his and pressed it against his chest. His chest rose and fell, warm beneath my touch, his heart beat slow and steady against my fingers.
"It was never that I was particularly hungry that I agreed to come to dinner with you," I whispered.
His right hand came up to cover mine, while his left reached out to cup the side of my face. Almost three months to get to this point, in this day and age it might as well have been forever, and that he'd waited – never pushing… until now.
He leaned down to brush his lips against mine… softly… I could almost have said tenderly, except that I couldn't say anything at all. My fingers curled around his against his chest and my lips parted slightly to let out the tiniest of whimpers. It had been almost two years since I'd been kissed and in spite of the fact that I'd seen it coming, and had perhaps even invited it, I wasn't sure I was ready.
Ready or not, as my lips parted he moved again and captured them beneath his own, more firmly, a brushing caress as his fingers slipped carefully backward into my hair, avoiding my injured head to make the contact firmer.
Everything I was, and ever could have been started coming unravelled at the feel of his lips possessing mine, the feel of his beard against the softness of my face and then the brush of his tongue along the line of my lips. I became water, no longer fighting with him, but leaning against him as I softened and melted into the kiss, allowing his tongue to caress mine, to map the shape of the soft moan that came from my mouth as the kiss deepened.
He broke the kiss, and then held me close. It was only then I realised how much I was trembling…as his fingers stroked though my hair and he breathed against the top of my head.
"Have you any idea how long I've needed to do that?" he asked softly a few moments later. I shook my head against his chest. He let out his breath in a long, slow, contented sigh.
"Good," he said. "But since I came straight from work, I do also need to eat. I'll just go order dinner."
"Okay," I sat back from him, reluctant for him to let go now that we had got this far. "The phone is in the hallway."
"I know," he smiled as he got up, and I watched as he walked to the door and then leaned back against the couch to try and ease my aching head. I felt him behind me before his fingers brushed gentle at the sides of my head, and he kissed me again, up side down this time, and briefly.
"I won't be long," he murmured.
UC CRIB: 7.30am Monday
Cody looked up as one of the computers pinged at him then scooted his chair over toward the machine to see what the problem was. His face lit up when he saw it wasn't a problem at all, but that a search that had yielded a result.
"Bingo!" he breathed in amazement as he read the information that came up on the screen.
Saran Ceria Wilts, née Farlain. Marital status: divorced.
He skimmed through the information, trying to find anything else that might make sense to him as to why she would be trying to get the team to stop Frank making them work this arms case.
"SCF…" he mused, looking back at the initials she'd have if she used her maiden name. "Divorced… Jesus…"
He whispered the words just as Alex came back into the room with the coffee. She must have seen his body language at once because she came tearing across the room.
"What? What have you got?" she demanded.
"I think I've got our mystery woman, but look," he pointed at the relevant line of information. "Someone ran this woman's details almost five and half years ago."
"Who?" Alex asked. "Frank?"
"Hold on," Cody expertly made a number of keystrokes, and entered a code that would send the request flashing round various FBI field offices to disguise the fact that it was his team that were requesting additional information. He swore and pounded the desk when the response came back.
Access denied, please enter password to continue.
"Well it looks like that answers the question," Alex said, peering over his shoulder. "It's standard practice for a senior agent to run potential…"
"Yeah but you're forgetting this Reeves-Masterton is also a senior ranking agent. Just not with the FBI!"
They both sighed in turn.
"Is there no way you can crack that, Cody?"
"Yeah sure," he answered sarcastically, "Given about, oh lets see – eight months so far isn't it?"
"Point taken," Alex answered, and then moved in front of the monitor when the door opened even as he reached double quick for the power switch on the display. He stopped at Alex's exclamation.
"Jesus, Jake," she gasped, "What happened to you?"
He waved her away as she came to help him to a seat and limped over to it by himself.
"Did you manage to find anything on that list Cody," he asked, reluctantly allowing Alex to examine the cut on his eye and then unfasten his shirt to get at the obvious injury to his chest.
"Only the name and address of our mystery Email sender," he answered proudly.
"Jake who did this?" Alex asked, and Cody winced as he saw the gash across the front of Jake's chest.
"More to the point how are we going to explain it to Donovan?" he said.
"We're not," Jake said firmly.
"What?" Alex exclaimed.
"That meeting I had Saturday… guy didn't show." Jake winced as Alex set about cleaning him up. "Not until last night – when he showed up at my squash club intent on persuading me not to ask any more questions about old ATF investigations."
"I told you to be careful," she said.
"I was careful," he told her. "You should see the other guy."
"You didn't," she demanded, roughly pushing back his head to get at the cut.
"Oh brother," Cody hissed as he walked toward Jake's locker to find him a clean shirt. They could at least hide some of the evidence from Frank.
"What was I supposed to do?" Jake asked, taking the shirt that he brought back to him and starting to put it on. "Roll over and play dead?"
"I hope it was worth it." Cody nodded toward his eye. "Boss is going to want to know what you did to your eye – it's a mess."
"Him wanting to know about my eye is the least of our worries," Jake said and finally pushed Alex away, snatching the antiseptic wipe from her hand and the mirror from the first aid kit he set about cleaning up his face himself. "Before he passed out, our friend from the ATF told me the name of the agent that died in that investigation."
"And?" Alex prompted.
Cody smiled. He knew how much she hated having to fish for information from Jake, and also how he loved to lord it over her when he had it. If they weren't so pressed for time it would have been funny to watch, but any minute now Frank Donovan was going to be walking through the door.
"Come on, Jake. Spill!" he demanded.
"We need to talk to the person that sent that Email Cody," Jake answered. "Because this case is not only dangerous… my guess is it's also personal… personal to Frank. It was his brother."
"What?" Both Cody and Alex said together.
"The agent that died, whose death got the ATF thrown off the case against
Reeves-Masterton was Max Donovan." He said softly. "I'd say
that makes it personal."
I have no idea what kind of a night we would have had if not for Alan's interference, but they say that everything happens for a reason, right?
Away from the public eye Frank was an amazingly sensitive, attentive and caring man. He ordered take out from the local Thai restaurant that had a delivery service, and we shared this in front of the warmth of the fire, long since abandoning the couch just so that… well I still blush when I think about it… just so that we could get close enough to hold each other as we wanted.
He lounged against the couch and I lay against him, listening to the steady beat of his heart. So that I could rest in the safety and comfort I felt in his arms… that I always felt when he held me.
"How's your head," he asked quietly.
"Fine," I said. In truth I was almost dozing against him as he ran his fingers through my hair and gently stroked my hip and sides.
"Saran?" he called and I looked up at him.
For the second time that evening he captured my lips in the deepest, most sensual of kisses that I could ever remember. It was as if he were putting everything of himself into the way our lips met and moulded together… into the way his tongue swept into my mouth to tangle with mine.
I wanted so much more in that moment that it almost hurt, but Alan had been such a selfish lover – besides which it had been such a long time for me – that I had no idea how to make him understand what I needed.
His fingers moved as we kissed, over my back and upward on my side to brush the underside of my breast. I gasped, then moaned as sensations swept through me that I don't think I can ever remember having before. It felt as though his touch was pouring liquid fire inside me that made everything ache and tingle; that settled every atom of my awareness low in my belly and released a flow of need to the space between my legs that felt suddenly more than empty.
"Frank!" I gasped, and he pulled back and moved his hand away from my breast. His head came forward to rest against my shoulder and he breathed apologies. The tension that spread through his body, that I could feel under my fingers was unreal, but still he stopped himself.
"No." I cut off his apologies, "Please… I… I don't want you to stop."
He raised his face then from the crook of my neck, his deep brown eyes, darkened with passion bore into me, as if he was trying to fathom the truth of my words. As though I was trying to prove my intentions, I reached for the buttons on his shirt, and trembling with my own pent up needs, began to unfasten them. He grabbed my wrist.
"Not here," he breathed, and nipped at the pulse point on the inside of it, soothing away the sting with his tongue and growled. "Come to bed."
I nodded shyly, and moved away to get up, but he stopped me, and once more pinned me down with a smouldering gaze.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"I'm sure," I answered in a whisper. "But it's been a while."
He got up and helped me to my feet, taking me into a fervent embrace, and kissing me deeply, pressing the whole of his body close against mine as we shared breath, shared our very being through the kiss.
I don't remember the journey up to the bedroom, but I do remember that by the time we fell together onto the bed, we were hardly wearing anything at all. I don't think there was anywhere his hands didn't touch and find me sensitive… alive to the feel of the heat from his hands, dying from each kiss he pressed against my neck and shoulders, and the way his beard scraped gently over my already sensitive flesh.
My back arched as he cupped my breast in his long fingered hand and sank his mouth around my nipple to nip and suck – at first gently, maddeningly so – but then as passions flared, as my nails scraped over his back and my fingers kneaded his taught firm muscles he became almost furious in the way he devoured me.
There wasn't an inch of him I didn't touch and find firm and hot under my fingers. Not a muscle that didn't respond to the way I touched him and the hardest of all he pressed against my hip as though to contain it until we were both ready to feel the moment we would join, inseparable for the rest of time.
I skimmed my fingers along the line where our bodies met to find that caged firmness, to feel the heat of it with my hand. He broke from the kiss and gasped as my fingers encountered him, stroked him carefully and traced shape of the domed head of his desire risen.
"Saran," he warned softly, little more than a growling moan, and nipped the sensitive flesh below my ear on the side of my neck. His fingers found their way to the top of my thighs and dipped between them.
I raised my leg to encourage his fingers to find the place I needed his touch, pausing in my gentle assault on his sanity to hook his wrist with my own and draw his hand closer still to the heat at the centre of my body and then cried out when he touched me, raising my hips to try and catch that first fleeting touch and make it last.
Far from teasing he pressed the touch against me, and into me, his thumb and the side of his hand squeezing against the silken nub as his fingers possessed the dewy satin within until gasping, my hand falling away from him and crying out for him, I shattered, pulsing against his rhythmic touch that did not slow or cease until he moved over me and surged inside.
He filled me; stretched me to admit him deep within. My taught, still trembling muscles creating friction that made me moan softly as I felt each marvellous inch of his claiming me and making me his, as if time itself had slowed and was waiting for us to reach to point at which we would complete each other, be healed and made whole.
He pressed against me, holding the both of us still until with a kiss that mirrored the action of our bodies below he moved inside me, and eased away to return again, alternately filling me and leaving me empty and aching for him.
I clutched him to me each time I feared he would move too far away, my fingers tangled in the short hair at the nape of his neck as we kissed, as the pace of our love increased, consuming us both until we had to break from the kiss or risk drowning, each in the other.
"Frank, please," I gasped, needing an end to the sweet, sharp tension that seemed to be all that I was. Such as delightful agony, I was lost in it. "Please…!"
My hands reached for the tight curves of his buttocks to pull him deeper inside and I actually felt the pulse of the wave that broke over us both in the next moment beginning somewhere deep inside him, where the base of him pressed against me.
The rhythm broke and with a shuddering groan against my shoulder
where his head came to rest, his liquid heat rushed into me. Pulse
after pulse he spilled into me in time with the uncontrolled thrust of
his hips that had me spiralling off to splinter under him, and crying out
his name, I came not once, but seemingly in many almost frightening waves,
drank him deeper still, shaking… trembling… and sobbing with the rightness
of it all at our release.
TABIARA MALAHAI CLUB: 9.45pm Tuesday
"You think she'll show?" Jake hissed at Alex as they sat intimately close, to hide that they were watching the door and the bar at the same time.
"Invitation like we gave her?" she replied. "From Frank… of course she'll show."
"Then where the hell is she," he asked.
"Shut up and kiss me," she invited, "We're being watched."
She buried her fingers into his hair and guided his mouth to find hers in the dim lit club, taking in a deep breath to push away the feelings that might have flowed through her as his tongue found its way into her mouth. She had no romantic feelings for Jake, she knew that, but hell she was flesh and blood and he was a good kisser.
"At the bar, third seat from the left," he breathed in her ear as their lips parted.
Pretending to laugh at something he said she moved back in the seat and turned to look at the place he'd directed her. The woman her eyes found there was almost exactly like the photograph that Cody had managed to extract from the file. Short, delicate – an almost elfin look – her hair, though longer was exactly the same shade of brown under the stronger lights near the bar. She wore pants and a light blue blouse, but the one thing that Alex really noticed was how pale she looked, and that she was shaking.
UC CRIB: 9.50pm Tuesday
"All right, Cody, I'm going to ask you this question once, and once only," Frank didn't even greet his Tech-op as he stormed into the crib. "Where are they?"
"Erm… who?" Cody tried.
Frank crossed his arms and glared at Cody and then turned on Monica who was returning with the take out.
"Shit!" she hissed.
"Where are they Monica? And don't screw around – this gets messed up and people are going to die," he snapped.
"Like Max?" she answered.
"Don't," he raised his hand and pointed at her. "Don't try and psychoanalyse me."
"Then why not trust us from the beginning," she backed up a step to remove his pointing finger from her personal space.
"I could ask you the very same thing," he snapped and took a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket. He shook it open and then slapped it into the middle of her chest. Then he threw a dangerous look over his shoulder at Cody. "Wherever they are Cody, I want them here by eight am sharp, both of you as well. This ends now!"
He saw Monica glance at the piece of paper before he started for the door. She swore again and called after him.
"Go home Agent Davis!" he instructed.
"Where are you going?" she ignored his instruction. He slammed the door behind him.
TABIARA MALAHAI CLUB: 10.15pm Tuesday
It was almost as if she had heard him call her name, or somehow felt him walk in through the door. She turned slowly in her seat and watched.
She hadn't seen him in over a year, but he was exactly as he always had been, looking darkly handsome and deadly serious. His eyes were scanning the people in the club, searching – she hoped – for her.
She fought to keep the tears from her eyes, remembering the ultimatum she'd been given. You persuade him to drop the case, or kill him… Fail to do either and… she shook her head. The alternative was not something she was prepared to consider.
Their eyes found the shared space and locked as he moved across the bar toward her.
Jake hissed in discomfort as Alex all but fell against his injured chest as she straddled him and then hissed again as she buried her head in the side of his neck.
"You give me a hickey, Cross and I'll kill you," he growled then almost yelped as she grabbed a handful of hair and pulled his head down into the crook of her neck. "Alex!"
"Jake, it's Donovan," she breathed against his neck.
"What?" He wanted to look, but knew if he did they risked discovery, instead he sank lower in the booth. To the casual observer it would have looked as if he and Alex were getting into some seriously heavy petting. They wouldn't be the only ones. "How did he…?"
"I don't know," she murmured and looked as though she was trying to see around his shoulder. "I can't see. You?"
"Noth… wait, he's… Oh shit, he's talking to her." He sighed. "We are so busted!"
"This isn't funny, Jake!" Alex slapped his arm. "And watch what you're doing with your hands."
"Do I look like I'm laughing?" he snapped, sliding his hand from under her ass and then catching her when she almost fell.
She was trembling so hard she didn't know how she kept a hold of the drink that she had in her hand. Neither of them said anything, though he was giving her that look that meant he was waiting for her to speak, but she didn't know what to say, or where to start. Just as she found the end of a thread that might actually lead somewhere toward the desired end, he surprised her by speaking.
"So what… this is it? You walk out, barely even leaving me a note and after a year and a half of nothing you just turn up and expect me to come running? No word of explanation – no apology?" his voice was clipped. She knew the tone and it brought tears to her eyes.
"Frank I…" she stammered.
"No – Saran!" he said sharply. The first time he'd even used the word in her presence. As if to belabour the point he repeated it. "No. Not this time. It's too late for that now."
But he wouldn't meet her eyes… and she knew him well enough to know that this was important; that maybe he didn't mean what he said.
"Please look at me," she said softly. He took a deep breath and sighed, but didn't stop looking over her left shoulder.
"I came here to tell you to leave me alone," he said.
"Frank… I need to talk to you," she murmured, and tensed her body, leaning away from him and clutching her purse close to her chest. She felt her heart sinking when he started to turn away – not hearing her… not understanding the urgency of her needing for him to listen. "Frank please… just two minutes… I need you to hear what I have to say."
He kept on walking. She couldn't persuade him to stop if he didn't listen, if he didn't stop walking and turn back to face him. More tears blurred in her eyes as her fingers closed around the grip of the gun they'd given her. In desperation she tried one last time.
"Please don't walk away from this… don't walk away from me!"
He still didn't stop walking toward the door. This was about more than just him and her. But she still felt the same as she always had… the love that almost two and a half years together had kindled, and left burning still after that long time apart… she didn't want to kill him… wasn't even sure she could if she wanted to. But now, he left her no choice, she had to.
She pulled the gun from her purse and let the empty vessel fall to the floor of the bar as she fought with the hammer of the gun to pull it back.
At the sound of the soft click he stopped and the tear she'd been holding back rolled down her cheek. The bar erupted into noise and people started running aimlessly, like ants when their nest is disturbed. Her eyes widened in shock that one simple action could have galvanised so many into frantic self preservation. The sound of it hurt her ears – assaulted what sense she had left and made her want to run for the silence, but Frank…
He turned back to face her. A tower of calm strength in the sea of panic, and two others, a man and a woman appeared at either side of him. They also had guns and were pointing them her way. Her insides knotted sharply and she thought she might be sick, but Frank…
"Saran, it's okay," his voice, so warm now – so quiet and tender against the discordant cacophony behind him. "I'm sorry, okay we can talk."
"Tell," she stammered, "T-tell them to put the guns away."
Somehow she knew the others were his subordinates. The gun shook and wavered in her hand, so she tightened her grip and made sure it was still pointing in his direction. But it was so heavy that after a moment it started to sink lower.
"Nobody needs the guns," he soothed and started to come back toward her. She knew that if he reached her it would all be over and part of her wanted that. She wanted him to walk up and take the gun from her. Or talk her down… that was his job after all, wasn't it? Moaning softly she raised the gun again to point it at his chest, holding it now in both hands. He stopped, and opened his arms out one to either side. Part of her wanted to be rescued… but at what cost…?
"Tell them…" Her voice was barely a squeak. How could he hear her in all this discord? "And shut these people up! I can't think… I can't…"
She saw him nod, and half turn his head toward the woman, though his eyes never left hers.
"Alex, secure this area. Call it in…"
"Wait!" she snapped. What did he mean – was he calling for backup? Were they going to send in more people, with more guns to stop her… to endanger… "What do you mean?"
"I'm assuming the last thing you want is this place crawling with cops," he answered, "Do it, Alex. Jake…"
He waved his arm toward the ground. The man whose gun was still pointing at her lowered his weapon as the woman moved to start taking the people outside. Soon it started to grow quieter and quieter, but her arms were getting so tired, and she still didn't know how she was managing to get the sobs she felt – that she was crying inside – to stay inside.
"They're always heavier than you think they're going to be," Frank continued softly once it had grown quieter. He nodding toward the weapon she held. "Why don't you give me the gun and we can sit down and talk, hmm?"
She nearly softened, almost swooned but pushed aside the rising warmth and feeling. He wasn't going to listen to her… when she tried to call him he hadn't… he…
"I… I tried your cell phone," she said. "It was disconnected."
"I've moved on, Saran," he stepped toward her slowly. She knew she should have pulled the trigger right then, but she didn't want to. She wanted to hear what he had to say. She wanted to hear about him, about his day, like when he would creep into her house at night and wrap himself around her in bed to warm her when she was cold… his fingers scraping along her… she moaned again, and gritted her teeth. "I have a new job now – a new apartment."
He took another step, then another; coming closer… slowly… perhaps he did want to talk after all… perhaps he would listen.
"T –there… I could never get through at work. I… I don't know where to start," she said, her arms trembling to keep the gun in place.
"Why don't you start by giving me the gun?" he suggested softly.
Yes… give him the gun and then they could talk… she could make him see that it solved nothing, him forcing the truth out into the open… that it only hurt people… hurt her, and him and…
"Why," she implored, "Why couldn't you just leave it alone?"
"What Saran?" He took another careful step toward her. He was almost right in front of her. His nearness startled her and she flinched. He stopped moving, even appeared to stop breathing until he said, "I can't help you unless you tell me what's going on."
He wanted to help her. He did want to listen; everything was going to be all right after all. The relief made her hurt inside – all through her body hurt. She finally let out the sob that had been gathering under her breath as a low pitched whine and shook as the tears started to flow over her face.
The man behind Frank started to raise his gun as hers twitched in her hand when her body shook, but Frank threw his arm out to the side and told him, "Stow it, Agent Shaw." Then he started to reach up toward her.
"I'm scared Frank," she sobbed.
"I know, baby," he whispered, and she sobbed harder as she heard him call her that again after the way he had spoken to her earlier. "I know. Give me the gun."
He reached forward, closing his hands around the side of the gun, supporting the weight of it a little and relieving her tired and tense muscles.
"That's it…" he murmured.
"Put it down!" the woman's voice, yelling, startled her, but not as much as the sound of a shotgun behind her being primed. She felt a flush of confusion rise from her belly to begin to strangle her, to wrap confusion around her already tired mind. Then the woman pulled a gun too, and Saran screamed, and jumped in fear, pulling her finger against the trigger.
The sound of it was like nothing she could have imagined. She felt as though her head was splitting in two and her arms jerked in her sockets as though they were being ripped out. She recoiled in panic and the sound came again, then something warm and wet sprayed across the front of her, across her hands and splashed on her face, and movement in front of her showed her the nightmare that was Frank, staggering backwards as though she had pushed him.
A flash from the side was accompanied by searing pain in her shoulder
that wiped out even the sound. The pain unlocked her fingers from
around the gun and she realised she was sailing backward, toward the bar.
When she connected, everything went dark.