ETA: I'm considering expanding this outward into a longer work, continuing forward. (Actually, I've already started.) Of course, this is just for fun for a busy person here and because I haven't found enough Burn Notice fanfiction around to keep me satisfied and I assume there are others that feel the same. If I see enough interest--considering the relatively small fan-base of the show--I'll continue. If not, there's no need to write it all down. I'm looking for a minimum of 10 different relatively-positive reviewers. Not much to ask. I'm just saying-- no need to continue this if it's just for myself alone.
This is a companion piece to the Season 2 episode "Hot Spot." I would recommend watching the episode again, if you have access to it, and then reading this bit. This is a character development work based on some of the more interesting details of this fan-favorite episode. It contains further (self-fabricated) details for some of the scenes depicted in the show, and fills in some of the off-camera stuff as well. This takes place from a third-person viewpoint, mostly limited to Fiona, with occasional peeks into the minds around her. The stream-of-consciousness narration should be read as belonging to her.
Warnings: This is your last chance to leave. Story deals with past molestation/rape.
Disclaimer: Any of the writing you recognize, and of course all of the characters, do not belong to me. However, do not quote, archive, or link to this story without my permission. Thank you. Enjoy.
One of the worst-- and best-- things about working with spies is that they are trained to control their emotions. A cool head is a desirable trait in a lot of situations, but for some campaigns, you need to let your emotions carry the flag. Emotions keep you human, and sometimes, they help you make the better decisions. And it's just more FUN.
Fiona shook her head as she watched Michael head into the storage facility. Part of her was sure that he was only trying to irritate her by pretending to not be interested in revenge. The other voice in her head, though, whispered that he was still shaken up from the bomb blast.
Michael disappeared into the office trailer with the manager, so Fiona headed back to the car to be prepared for the getaway in a few minutes. Just as she shut the door, her phone rang.
"Where's Mikey? He didn't answer his phone." The voice had the tiniest flavor of panic to it. Fiona couldn't really blame him, since the recent murder attempt on Michael's life.
"He's fine, just busy. What do you need, Sam?"
Sam hesitated on the other end of the connection.
Fiona guessed right away, "You have a job for him? What is it?"
"I'll catch him later. Never mind."
"Sam, I'm going to end up involved anyway, so what's the deal?"
"It's just a side-job," Sam insisted. "You need to concentrate on finding that bomber."
Irritated, Fiona blasted, "I can decide my own priorities, thank you. And Michael can take care of himself."
"Look, Fi," Sam soothed, risking the use of her nickname, "it's just a favor for a friend for a couple of football tickets. Try to help Mikey relax a little."
"He doesn't need to relax-- he needs to take care of this bomber."
"Right," Sam capitulated, "but we both know you'll end up doing more of the work than he will toward that end. Just have Mike call me, okay?"
Fiona scowled at the phone as she glanced at the timer. Twenty seconds. Twice as long as most conversations she had with Sam. What did he mean by saying she would do most of the work? Michael didn't skimp on his work or delegate beyond what was necessary. It was true, however, that she had done most of the legwork so far on researching this bomber. She'd sent the chemical samples in for analysis. She'd checked for the most promising security cameras in the area...
Ah, there was Michael.
Fiona started the car and put it into gear. As soon as the door was open and Michael was halfway inside, she started moving.
"Chinese takeout and a movie?" Fiona suggested, gesturing toward the stolen security hard drive.
"Sure," Michael said, dialing back the missed call on his cell as Fiona sped off.
"The one you love is closer than you think," Fiona read aloud. Ha, she thought. Michael hadn't shown any interest in her in months. Of course, that could have something to do with the cold shoulder she'd given him.
Michael didn't respond, fixated as he was on the security footage.
Irritated, Fiona tossed her fortune away and smashed his fortune cookie for him. "The one who burned you is closer than you think," she faked.
"Not funny, Fi," Michael said.
Or maybe you're the one burning me, she privately admitted. To let off frustration, she needled him about being Carla's errand boy again, but he wouldn't take the bait.
"I think I found something," he said.
Annoyed as she was with him, she leaned in to have a look. "I'll get on it," she said as Michael began printing copies of the still-frames. Fi gathered up the trash from their lunch and tidied up the counter.
"Wait, where are you going?" she asked as Michael snatched up a set of the stills and grabbed his keys.
"Meeting Sam for drinks," he answered. "Lock up when you leave, k?" And with that, he was gone.
With the reminder of Sam, Fiona steamed. Sam had hinted that she had more at stake in this bomber investigation than even Michael did. And here she was, about to head out in search of the city-worker's identity even as he headed off to relax with Sam. Well, someone has to make sure revenge is had! she excused herself. Even if Michael won't do it himself...
A lot of people think that spies use special resources to find their information. That's not always true. A stack of Yellowbooks and a good map of the area can get you a lot further than you'd realize. City records also contain a lot of information if you know how to read them.
After a boring couple of hours looking into demolition crews and beginning to narrow down where to look, Fiona went home, took a shower, changed, and headed back to the loft.
Michael wasn't there, but she was just helping herself to a yogurt when Sam showed up, along with two teenagers.
"Fiona, this is Corey and his sister Tanya."
Fiona smiled at them in quick greeting, and then turned back to Sam. "Where's Michael?"
"Carla wanted to chat," Sam said, waving his guests toward a seat on the edge of the bed and heading toward the fridge. "Corey, Tanya, you need anything, maybe a.... yogurt?" he finished lamely, realizing the fridge was, as usual, devoid of any substantial food offerings. Both teenagers accepted a yogurt and a spoon.
"This is your 'favor?'" Fiona ribbed Sam quietly in the corner by the fridge. "Does Michael know you've signed him up for this?"
"He agreed," Sam defended. "Carla ran into us just as we were about to go pick them up."
"He's still on the fence," Sam confessed. "But he'll change his mind."
Fiona fixed him with an arched-eyebrow look and walked away from him. She perched in a chair near the teens as she dug another spoonful of yogurt from her cup. "So what's your story?" she asked.
Corey looked toward Sam over Fiona's shoulder. Sam nodded, and Corey began. "A gangster named Felix Cole is after me. Coach Martin said Mr. Axe could help me." And he gestured at Sam, who grinned reflexively.
"Why?" Fiona asked. "The gangster," she clarified.
Corey glanced at his sister before answering, "He was disrespecting my sister, so I went after him with a baseball bat."
Fiona made an "Oh, I see" face, nodded, and glanced over her shoulder toward Sam. Attacking a gangster wasn't a wise move. It hardly warranted Michael on a white horse, though, especially when Michael had other things to worry about.
Sam intervened, "There's more to the story than that."
Corey looked over at his sister, who hugged herself but nodded her permission to go on. "He attacked her," Corey said bluntly.
Fiona froze mid-spoonful and looked up at Tanya. Perhaps encouraged by the older woman's sudden and obvious interest, Tanya spoke up for herself, looking into Fiona's eyes. "Felix made me get in his car and drove us to an empty alley. He... took my shirt off and his hands were.... everywhere...." Corey wrapped his arm around his sister for support. Fiona sprang to her feet, unable to remain sitting.
"His cell phone rang, and he stopped to check it. I figured it was my only chance, so I ran," Tanya went on. "Corey found me and went after him. I tried to stop him, but-"
"No, Corey had to do it," Fiona interrupted. A bit of yogurt oozed onto her hand and she realized she was squeezing the plastic cup in her clenched fist. She went to the trash distractedly and threw the yogurt--spoon and all-- into the bin. Then she began pacing the floor back and forth behind the chair. Sam stared at her, somewhat at a loss to explain the sudden passion in her behavior, but did not comment.
"What did you do to him?" Fiona asked Corey, but her eyes had a faraway look to them.
As Corey briefly described how he had beaten and humiliated the gangster, a sinister, appreciative smile spread across Fiona's face. "But I just made things worse," Corey went on, "and now he's after both of us."
"You've done nothing wrong," Fiona interjected.
A loud rumble interrupted. All eyes turned to Corey, and he mumbled an embarrassed "Excuse me..." as he covered his complaining stomach with his hands.
"I can take a hint," Sam said, jumping at the opportunity to break the odd atmosphere. He gave Fiona a long, searching look, as he offered, "Pepperoni okay? Good. I'll be back in a few." Then he was out the door and gone.
"How old are you, Tanya?" Fiona asked after they had all stared at the door for a few moments and heard the gates begin to squeak open below.
"Fifteen," she answered quietly.
Corey stood, as much an effort to calm himself and his sister by breaking the tension as anything else. He took their empty containers to the kitchenette, rinsed the spoons, and left them in the sink. Glancing toward Fiona to make sure she wasn't paying attention, he rescued the spoon she'd thrown away as well. Coming back to sit with his sister, he tried to soothe the atmosphere by saying, "Look, we really appreciate it. Anything you can do to help would be amazing, but I don't want you to get into trouble with this gang."
"Oh, don't worry, Corey. I'll personally see to it that this is taken care of."
Just then the door opened and Michael strolled in, apologizing for his delays.
After introductions and a brief explanation of the situation, Michael pulled Fiona aside. Fiona thought she was being rather restrained, but apparently he could read the high emotions in her clenched teeth, clipped words, and flushed face.
"Michael, I'm going to say this once, we're helping these kids."
She refused to give in to his attempts to dismiss the case as a simple police matter.
"That sick son of a bitch is going somewhere, and this is not a discussion."
"Fiona, you're letting your emotions get the better of you."
"No, I'm doing better than that. I'm letting my emotions run the show, and I feel very strongly about this."
Operatives often don't want emotions to run the show. They say they get in the way of making good decisions. But they lie. Good operatives trust their instincts to know when to get out of bad situations or to know when to press an advantage. And what is instinct? Little more than a developed sense of fear and desire together. If your desire is to stamp out a fear, then it's really just an instinct to solve a problem. Nothing more.
"Anyone who attacks fifteen-year-olds is a pervert, not a gangster."
Michael listened to the tense conversation between Fiona and Corey the next day, resolving to talk to her soon about her involvement in the case. She was more attached to the case than made sense, under normal circumstances.
They dropped Corey off with Sam, who was guarding Tanya while she quickly packed up clothes at home for herself and her brother. "No sign of Felix. We'll be done in a few minutes," Sam said.
"Fair enough. Come back to the loft when you're done here," Michael said, and waved Fiona back into the car.
"We need to talk," he began.
"There's nothing to talk about," Fiona immediately replied, having a fair clue that he was merely going to repeat his little they-should-just-go-to-the-police bit from the day before.
"Fi, there's more to this than just the kid, isn't there? You're fighting demons that aren't here right now."
Damn him. "Michael, I just want to see them safe. They're two innocent kids all alone here, and they've done nothing wrong."
"You're doing an awfully good job putting yourself in their shoes."
"I'm just trying to see things their way to help plan out the actions," she argued.
"And you have a plan?"
"I'm working on it."
"Look, Fi," he tried again, "I'm just trying to make sure I know what I'm up against here. I know what it looks like when someone's trying to fix something that happened a long time ago. Your interest in this case is unnatural. So tell me straight," he concluded through clenched teeth, "have you fought this battle before?"
"Fiona, you know what I mean. Are you fighting this gangster for Corey and Tanya or for yourself?"
"For them!" She crossed her arms.
"Then why do you care so much?"
Fiona glared at him. "Why wouldn't I care? Why don't you?"
Michael sighed heavily. "I'm not saying I don't care, Fiona, but emotional decisions aren't always the best."
"How would you know? Ever tried it?"
This was derailing very quickly, and Michael knew it. He drove in silence for a few minutes, letting her questions fizzle and lose power by not responding. Fiona seethed.
Finally, Michael tried again. "I'm not against helping these kids," he said in a soothing tone. "But I need to know what your interest is in the case."
"I've already told you, I just want to help them," Fiona said in her most casual-- and most deadly-- tone.
"You're not reliving something from your past?" he asked, as delicately as he knew how.
Fiona stifled her emotional response as best as she could and searched for a flippant response. Perhaps she took too long trying to find a believable way to voice a denial...
"Fi..." The unexpected tenderness in the way he spoke the syllable clearly indicated that he was sure his guess was accurate now.
"Michael," she said sternly, setting her jaw stonily and hoping he would get the picture that the conversation was over. Damn it! Why? Why couldn't I think of an excuse? Surely there were a hundred other reasons why she would be in a furor over this case. If she weren't so angry at Michael, she might be able to think of one yet...
"Fiona.... Fiona.... Fi..." She pointedly kept staring out her window and refused to turn her head. He sighed again and continued without earning her acknowledgement. "I need to know this kind of thing, Fi," he said with more than a touch of irritation creeping back into his voice, "It affects me."
"It does?" she asked incredulously, hopefully, before she could stop herself.
He shot her an annoyed look. "Of course it does."
Fiona's heart sank as she interpreted his quick response. Ever the cold professional, he was. "I'm not going to be a liability to the job," she said lightly, doing her best to disguise the double-about-face her emotions had just taken. From upheaval to hope and back to strained control.
Michael pulled up in front of the gate beside the club he lived above and turned to Fiona, words on his lips.
But, deliberately cutting him short, not wanting to hear his response, not wanting to know whether he saw through her emotions or not, she purposely misinterpreted his look and responded, "Yeah, I'll get it." And she sprang from the car to open the gates for him, not looking back as she climbed the stairs to the loft.
Michael stayed where he was. What had she been asking? Of course it affected him. She could have her emotional response, as far as he was concerned. He just needed to know what he was dealing with as they worked the case, so he could be prepared to control her and bring her back to reality when she'd gone too far into old grudges. She had enough training and experience to be able to recognize that he wasn't just prying into her soul for spite.
And... of course he cared. But they'd gone over that. She knew what he thought about that-- about what caring for her could mean.
Sam's Buick appeared behind him. Michael shook his head and drove forward to park within the gates, making room for his friend in the alley behind him.
Sam recognized the pensive look immediately and noticed Fiona's absence from the immediate territory. He waved the teens up the stairs.
"Fiona?" he asked, cutting right to the point as soon as they were out of earshot.
"She's inside," Mike said, not volunteering any explanation for why he had been sitting thoughtfully behind in the car. He considered for a moment, but decided it wasn't fair to Fiona to share his suspicions with Sam. So he merely shook his head.
Sam didn't let go, though: "Did you ask her?" Before Michael could pretend to not know what he meant, he went on, "About why she's so worked up about this case?"
"She..." Michael clamped his lips together and breathed out through his nose. Then, careful to make convincing eye contact and drop his voice into a confessional tone, he lied, "Turns out this Felix guy blitzed her on a deal for Glocks."
Sam raised his eyebrows.
"You know how she is about revenge, especially now," Michael added, knowing it would resonate with Sam's awareness of Fiona's stance on dealing with the bomber. "Trying to show me how it's done." He added an eye-roll for good measure.
"So keep an eye on her?" Sam checked.
"Oh yeah," Mike responded, widening his eyes in a light-hearted "this could be special" face.
"Gotcha." Sam clapped him on the shoulder and headed up the stairs while Michael pulled the gates closed. After that, Sam wasn't surprised when, a few minutes later, Fiona presented the plan she'd come up with on her own: running Felix and his gang out of business. Sam raised his eyebrows at Mike, who shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"I've got thermite and pepper grenades at my place," Fiona said, waving for Corey and Tanya to join them at the door from where they had been perched upstairs, whispering quietly to each other. "Michael, you've got Corey and Tanya, then? Sam, you get tabs on Felix and run by your place. We all meet back here in an hour and a half, think Men in Black, got it?"
Neither of the two men commented on her authoritative stance, though each was lost in very different thoughts.
Sometimes, interrogators catch even the most experienced liars off-guard, and you find yourself compromised. The important thing to keep in mind is that you can't retract anything you said. You can only change your story by adding more details. Of course, if you volunteer the extra information too easily, you're only going to make the interrogator suspicious. So you look for ways to work it in casually.... Keep it simple, and sketchy, and always, always, act like you don't want to talk about it.
Fiona had her story now. Better late than never. It was so obvious. She needed to fabricate a history with Felix. Then, she would still be fighting past demons, keeping everything Michael already knew true. Of course, she would have to be careful how she sold the story. Directly feeding new details to Michael would only make him suspicious. Good old useful Sam, coming in handy once again.
She herded Sam out the door and down to the car a moment before Michael had finished tucking in his white shirt or put on his black jacket. "We're waiting," she sniped at Michael as the door closed.
In the car, with the precious few seconds she'd earned, Fiona started a conversation with Sam by making a well-placed comment on the pleasure of revenge. She saw Michael emerge and lock the door.
Sam, fortunately distracted, made an offhand comment right away about not letting it go to her head as Michael descended the stairs. She didn't even have to lead him to it. Good old useful Sam.
"My head?" Fiona shot back, secretly gleeful. "I was talking about Michael and his bomber. What are you talking about?"
"I..." Sam stuttered, feeling trapped. He made a note to complain to Mikey later about teamwork with Fiona.
Michael slid into the passenger seat just in time to catch Fiona's explosion, "You told Sam?"
"I..." Michael stumbled. He glared at Sam.
As Sam began to back the car out, he tried to disarm the situation, "Look, Fiona, you got a legitimate bone to pick with this Felix guy, that's fine by me."
"I do," Fiona said forcefully.
"Fair enough," Sam replied.
"Michael seemed to think it was a bigger deal," she said spitefully.
"Hey, business is business," Sam went on in a reconciliatory air.
Michael didn't answer. He'd lied to Sam, saying it was only a business affair, because he'd thought it was something much darker than that. He got out to close the gate to save himself from having to comment immediately.
"We would just like to know if you have a history with someone before we get involved. Will he recognize you?" Sam was asking as Michael got back into the car.
"I only know him by name," Fiona went on. She had been baffled at first that Sam responded so easily to the accusation that Michael had leaked. For a moment she thought Michael had leaked his suspicions. When Sam accepted her answer, however, it became clear that Michael had just fed Sam some sort of lie about her involvement with Felix. She could have kissed Michael. Way to make it easy, she thought, inventing my story for me.
Michael twisted in his seat to look back at Fiona, his eyes narrowed. Was this real? Or was she purposely trying to confuse him?
Fiona stared out her window, studiously ignoring Michael for as long as she felt necessary. Then, she turned to meet his gaze. She intentionally misinterpreted his penetrating look as a request for more information, so she gave it to him. Going out on a limb, and injecting as much venom into her tone as she could (rather easy, considering how irritated she was), she guessed, "I was trading by proxy. Paco was orchestrating the deal for me. Happy? Conversation over."
Sam nodded. Michael looked stumped as what he had thought was his own lie took on life as a truth. Had he misunderstood what Fiona had meant in the car earlier? Fiona sat back, satisfied that her passion had been buried beneath the "bad business affair" story. She would have to be careful to hide her emotions from now on. After all, Michael clearly didn't want to let emotions into the equation.
Acting casual is sometimes harder than it seems. If you've been dropping innuendos for weeks or months that you want to get back together and you suddenly stop, it's going to tip him off that something has caused you to retreat. Sometimes, you might want that attention. But if you're trying to show that you've got no reason to retreat, you need to make sure you keep dropping the hints. It's hard, speaking the exact opposite of what you're feeling, but sometimes, you have to control your emotions. Can't let them bear the flag all the time.
Fiona remembered, much after the fact, to update Michael on the research she'd done toward finding his bomber. "There's a chance he works for ASA Dismantling," she said, showing Michael the completed "hockey puck."
"Yeah, beautiful," Michael agreed, looking more at Fiona than the explosive concoction.
"Me or the bomb?" Fiona asked coquettishly.
"Both of you," Michael said lightly, his tone clearly indicating he wasn't about to be trapped into this conversation. "Both are beautiful, and both dangerous."
"So you mean--"
"No," Michael interrupted, cutting her off before she could make a relationship allusion, and taking the charge from her hands. "Sorry, Fi." His voice was as light as though he were refusing to lend her a twenty dollar bill.
Back to normal, then, Fiona thought, for once relieved that he didn't want to discuss anything emotional. She sighed. Really for the best that they didn't get back together. She didn't really know what she wanted of him anyway. Just when he began to really get inside her, she realized she didn't want him inside the darkest parts of her soul. Somehow, it felt like a betrayal of what they once had, letting him see a weak, injured spot in herself. He didn't share his vulnerabilities with her, even though she knew they were there. She wasn't upset that he didn't discuss such things, but their relationship attempts had always been a matching of strengths, not of weaknesses. At least until this case was long over and she had reburied the hatred she had learned as a young girl, she needed to keep Michael at bay and guessing.
"Coming?" Michael interrupted her thoughts.
"Of course," Fiona said, making a mental note to restrain herself for the duration of this mission.
"We're meeting Sam at Mom's. Don't be chatty," he warned playfully.
"Michael," Fiona admonished. "If you would talk to her occasionally, then I wouldn't have to."
"Just don't give her wrong ideas," he said, and Fiona knew he blamed her for the way his mother constantly nagged about their non-existent relationship. What could she say? His mother was probably the most accomplished interrogator and manipulator Fiona knew, something that Michael didn't fully appreciate.
The more you deal with normal people, the more you start to treat normal people like normal people. Which can be a mistake. Usually, the most insidious attacks are the innocently gentle suggestions of people who present themselves as normal people acting for trivial reasons. Let a normal person get under your skin, and it's hard to hang on to the view that everyone in the world is an operative trying to accomplish a mission. Which, of course, everyone IS.
A light knock on the door came seconds before the smell of smoke and the light voice, "It's Madeline."
"Come in," Fiona called in response. "It's your room, after all." She had borrowed the space to change into her "uniform" of black suit and white shirt.
"Listen, Fiona," Madeline began quietly, closing the door behind her. "I know you know what's up. Michael seems a little... different. What happened?" A puff of cigarette smoke curled across the air between them before she added, almost as an afterthought, "Does it involve you?"
Fiona pulled her already-buttoned shirt over her head and smiled behind its cover. Madeline was amazing, the way she could pin you down. Either Fiona would have to admit that someone had rigged a bomb to Michael's front door and made him a little extra careful (and he would never forgive her for telling his mom) or she would have to let Madeline think that some great emotional event had happened between them. To buy herself time, Fiona went with a relatively safe approach: "Different how?"
Madeline gestured circularly with her cigarette, a wispy ribbon of smoke marking its path. "You know better than to act oblivious with me," she chided kindly. "He's been a little less cold-shouldered than usual, don't think I didn't notice. Did you tenderize his stringy heart a little?"
Fiona paused as she tucked in her shirt tails and gave her a fairly genuine look of shock and indignation.
"Not that I'm against it," Madeline added.
"You give me too much credit," Fiona admitted reservedly, straightening her blazer. Then she smiled, checked herself in the mirror, and extricated herself from the situation before she could accidentally give Michael's mother any extra fuel to bring at him. "We've got to go," she said, gliding from the room. "Date with Corey's friend."
Never assume your opponent is weakened. You go in to a confrontation expecting an easy target. You relax your defenses. You make moves you wouldn't risk against a full-strength enemy. You usually leave the confrontation with something broken. If you're lucky, it will just be ribs. Of course, if you forget this rule, there's nothing like a little internal bleeding to remind you.
Fiona should have known better than to test Michael. Especially not after the delightful accomplishment of insulting Felix again. She should have known better than to reminisce.
But she wondered if perhaps Madeline was right, and Michael was acting a little more vulnerable than usual. Perhaps he would be a little more forthcoming if she gave him the chance now. Or perhaps Madeline was wrong, and Michael would just shut down Fiona's innuendos as neatly as usual. Either way, it seemed worth the risk, at least.
Whatever response Fiona expected to her casual comments about Michael McBride, though, she didn't expect him to undermine their past connection so cruelly. He'd actually had the balls to suggest he had merely played the character he had to in Dublin. She didn't expect his casual throwaway words, and she didn't expect the tears the crept into her eyes. She wasn't sure what was more irritating, though-- him, or herself.
It felt like an impasse to her. She had let her eyes get wet. She had let that wishful tone creep into her voice as she admitted to Michael she doubted whether she understood who he was at all. Once again, quite unintentionally, he had found an opening into a tender, hidden part of her. Once again, she was letting him deduce something about her without getting a fair trade. Once again, she was being genuine, open... weak. And he was still strong, in control, in character, closed off. Everything she intended to be. She almost envied him, almost hated him for his strength and solidity in that moment.
Angry, knowing there was no way she would be able to bluff away these tears, retract those words, hide the slow bleed from the wound he'd just ripped open, Fiona left him. Michael McBride, Michael Westen, Johnny, whoever he was. Left him with all the evidence he needed of her vulnerability, damn him.
Michael looked down at his hands as the door closed behind Fiona. She'd commented that his Johnny character reminded her of "Michael McBride," then suggested that he always played a cover and never played himself. He sighed. What he wanted to remind her-- but what he refused to allow himself to say-- was that cover IDs, like any good lie, were always built on a grain of truth. But it would be easier for her to accept if she could just convince herself that the Michael Westen of today was a different character, unable to connect with her like Michael McBride had been able to.
They'd tried to start over, shortly after he'd first been plunked down in Miami. And it hadn't worked. She hadn't wanted to acknowledge it, had argued that at least they could still have sex even if nothing more jived. But they both knew that was a lie. She scratched and kicked, punched, slashed, shoved, as though she were winning her orgasms from an unwilling participant, taking what she needed. Part of that spunk attracted him, but it drained him as well, made him feel more like an attacker than a lover. Good sparring practice for training, not so great for emotional gratification. And, as he would only admit to himself, he felt too vulnerable. His tender, weaker side felt mismatched with her intensity. Her barbs stung him.
Then Fiona had finally moved on, and he had been relieved. Still, he had been secretly pleased to see the end of Campbell... until he realized that Fiona was renewing her mission to rekindle their old flame.
They were still the same people. It still wouldn't work.
The next day, late in the afternoon, Sam and Fiona happily watched Felix's place across the street as he and his cohorts grumbled inside about Michael's--Johnny's--current meeting with Tony Soto. Soto's men, the gang boss's collateral for Michael's safety, had obeyed Fi's commands without complaint. Their compliance, more than anything else, proved this was a genuinely respectful gangster meeting taking place between Soto and Michael. The two well-dressed thugs submitted to a thorough search, twice (Fiona and Sam both had a go, to be doubly sure), and then stood apart from each other and apart from the car by ten paces. Both patiently waited for the return of their boss's car.
If Michael weren't back in ten more minutes--fifteen at the most--his friends intended to pack up the collateral thugs and drive off to wait elsewhere. For now, though, Sam and Fiona leaned against the car, their elbows on the roof, each managing the lookout in opposite directions.
"Explain," Fiona began.
Sam thought it was a credit to himself that he at least ran through every conversation he had had with Fiona in the last day or two, searching for something she would be upset about, before he shook his head and admitted he would need more of a prompt than that.
"You think I'm taking on too much of the bomber investigation?" she said, surprising him a little that a minor phone conversation had seemed to bother her so much.
"No," Sam denied, right away. A moment or two of tense silence passed, and Sam realized Fiona wasn't following his reasoning in pushing her toward the brunt of the legwork. So he went on, "He's a little raw right now, agreed? Funny how near-death attacks do that to you, yeah? He needs at least one of us pulling harder on helping sort that out, and it makes more sense for you to do it. If both of us outworked him on that case, though-"
"It's hard to recover a sense of normalcy when everyone's treating you with kid gloves and doing your job for you," Fiona finished for him. "And if I do most of the work, I just look like my normal vengeful self, whereas if you did more work, you would look suspiciously not-lazy."
"Right," Sam said, not at all cowed. "Don't underestimate how hard it is for me too look lazy, though," he added in an attempt to lighten the conversation.
Not minding Sam's analysis of her as a spiteful creature, Fiona turned back to the concept of a mentally bomb-blasted Michael. "So... aren't we treating him with kid gloves, acting like he can't take care of the bomber on his own?"
"Stop, then," he shrugged.
Fiona furrowed her brow, but didn't comment further. Most of her irritation with Sam melted away when she realized his reasoning had more to do with Michael than herself. Still, she didn't see Michael as being substantially weakened, as Sam and Madeline both seemed to think. The way she saw it, the man was a solid wall. He was fucking Jericho-- it would take something far weirder than one ordinary bomb explosion to break through his defenses.
Sam and Fiona continued their wait in silence and didn't speak another word until Michael reappeared, waved Soto's two thugs back to their car, and debriefed on the drive back to his mother's house.
"Soto wants to meet again in an hour. I assume he'll want to test us," Michael finished as they pulled into the driveway.
"Great," Sam said, pulling a list out of his pocket. "Plenty of time for this, then. Second shopping list from Maddy in two days, Mikey. You owe me."
Michael smiled but didn't answer. "Meet me at the loft around 5."
Sam, already walking toward his old Buick parked down the street, gave a thumbs up and wave over his shoulder without looking back.
"Sounds boring," Fiona said as they watched him walk away. "I've got business on the other case. Call me tomorrow if you're ready to finish Felix." And she left without speaking another word, slightly proud of herself for her first clean getaway from Michael in the last few days.
"Where's Fiona?" Sam asked as they pulled into Madeline's garage with the Maserati later that evening.
"Working on the bomber investigation," Michael replied as he set about laying out the tools he would need.
"You know, Mikey, she's been a little... off recently. You're not..."
The moment of silence grew while Sam searched for words. "I'm not what?" Michael asked, cocking his head to the side to show his annoyance.
"Look, buddy, I'm no stranger to matters of the heart. She looks pretty chewed up these days. What did you do?"
She looks chewed up? Michael was the one who'd been attacked, and she looked vulnerable? Well, at least his emotional control had Sam fooled, he thought. Michael wasn't sure he would sleep well for at least another week. "Sam, I haven't done anything and I don't intend to. She did just break up with Campbell, maybe she's still stewing about that. Why don't you talk to her about it?"
"Actually," Sam said, "I talked to Campbell. Ran into him a the pub, small world. His story's a little different than Fiona's." Michael didn't seem interested in the bait, so Sam went on, "Did you talk to her about him?"
"No," Michael said flatly, hoping to stop the conversation there. "Do you have a match for this car or not?" He waved at the notebook of car VINs in Sam's hands. "Come on, hurry up. I want to get this back to Tony Soto in the morning. This case is practically over once we hand this car over and set up Felix's attack."
Success breeds success. The best time to set off on a new mission? When you've just successfully completed another. Especially when the fool you're setting up makes it so easy for you. Sure, the high might block the inexperienced from being able to make wise choices, but used correctly, the buzz is enough to get stuff done.
Fiona hung up the phone to cut off Michael's protests over her entering the house alone. Fifteen minutes later, as she burst through the gaping hole that had been a window moments before, she knew she was in for an "I told you so" of mammoth proportions. Staring down at her crispy cell phone, she sighed. She smelled like burnt hair, her jeans were singed, and her shirt had caught fire, thrice. Luckily, she'd put it all out before it did much more than turn her skin pink. She figured she'd go home to shower the fried ends off her hair and change and then head over to the loft. He'd want to hear about this, anyway, and her phone was out of commission.
Michael wasn't home when she got there, nearly an hour later. As a second hour slowly passed with no sign of him, Fiona considered leaving, but when she saw the storm brewing with the approaching sunset, she settled instead for rummaging around looking for his spare cell phones. After a long and unfruitful search, she sighed and flumped down at the kitchen counter to enjoy a yogurt.
She was just finishing it when Michael came through the door, a sodden and defeated figure.
"There you are," Fiona said, hoping her sweet tone covered the worst of the boredom and annoyance at having to wait so long. "You have got to get a landline in here," she added, jumping straight to the cause of her annoyance.
Michael's expression was unreadable. Did he not know what had happened? So Fiona explained, "Poole rigged his place to burst into flames. No surprise," she said, straightening her back with an air of practiced indifference to soften the confession of her own mistake, "but I let my curiosity get away with me."
Michael's keys fell to the floor as he stiffly approached, but he said nothing.
"I waited for a burnout in one of the windows, and now I need a new cell phone," she finished, holding up a burned bit of plastic that had once served that purpose.
Michael's odd, wordless, slow advance toward her hadn't altered. He looked as though he weren't registering her words at all. As he halted before her, close-- so close-- she could finally read the shock and hopelessness still trapped in his doubting face. She had assumed he didn't understand her story because he didn't realize the place had burned.
But what if he had gone by and seen the burning building...?
"Michael," she hesitated, "you didn't think that..."
He didn't speak. Water dripped down his face as he cradled hers close. It wasn't just rain, she realized suddenly. And he was kissing her. It was not a joyful kiss. It brought to her a taste of all the pain he was feeling. She felt defeated, and lonely, and soaked with tears, and broken... every trapped emotion that had bruised his soul in the last two hours slid into her. When he pulled away, and she looked up at him, the pain didn't stop. Except now, it was her own heart that was aching.
This certainly wasn't on the docket for what this evening was supposed to hold. She was in retreat, didn't he know? No, she had hidden her hesitation from him. Now, quite unexpectedly, he seemed ready for her, but she didn't feel prepared anymore. She wanted to say something. She wanted to leave. She wasn't ready for this insidious attack, the way this unexpectedly came at her on an otherwise quiet evening.
But instead, she let him fold his arms around her, pulling her tighter against him so he could kiss her again.
This kiss soothed and stung at the same time, and she felt tears escape the corners of her eyes, matching his. With eyes wide open, he devoured her mouth hungrily. But gradually, he slowed, became tender. She squeezed her eyes closed, unable to meet his gaze anymore. If she didn't look, she could pretend that this could work. She could do this.
Then, he clasped her hips tight against him, showing her his intention. No, she wasn't ready. She couldn't do this. All she could think was that she didn't feel up to fighting for herself just now. He pulled at her, tugging her toward the mattress on the floor that served as his bed.
Fiona closed her eyes on a fresh line of tears as she realized what was coming if she didn't stop him. He couldn't-- not now-- she couldn't fight now. She had to fight, she always fought, but how could she fight this wounded creature? How she bring herself to hurt him more, even to save herself? Yet she couldn't speak what she needed to say, didn't know how to explain it all to him, and so Michael kept pulling at her, guiding her. And her legs, damned rebellious things, collapsed as he sank down with her to the floor and stretched her on her back at the end of the mattress. She wanted to close her legs and kick at him, but instead they straightened for him to slide her clothes off. They parted to welcome him between them. He knelt on his knees before her, and she bit down on a sob as he bent over to kiss her again, his hair dripping into her eyes. She moaned her pain into his mouth, but he didn't seem understand as he bent further over her. Pain is so close to pleasure. How do you explain the difference to your lover when you can't bring yourself to speak, when you have an essay to say but can't speak two words of it aloud?
Expecting the touch of the wet denim of his crotch against her naked core, she was shocked at the touch of tell-tale ultra-soft skin below. It seemed an oddly delicate part of man--she'd always been intrigued by the contrast. When had he shed his own jeans? One of his arms snaked beneath her hips as he knelt over her, the other hand slid between their bodies to touch her. Then... then, he was pushing at her, delicacy aside, and suddenly was within before she had time to adjust to the thought.
A shudder ran through her as she realized the breach. Sobbing silently, uncontrollably but slowly and without hysteria, she tried to kiss him back as he took her. Tried to at least bite his lower lip, but couldn't seem to bare her teeth. Fiona wanted to shove at him, but her muscles wouldn't respond. She wanted to claw his back, but her fists flattened ineffectually. She wanted to force him to touch here or hold there, but he was giving without being asked, without being controlled. She realized her hands were actually pulling him closer to her, locking around him, clinging to him. She groaned in shock, in confused heartache, and then in sudden and startled pleasure, and he swallowed it all in the kiss.
Long after he too shuddered and groaned and stop moving, he kissed her, frozen to the spot, unwilling to move. Fiona didn't want him to move, either, afraid she would be shattered if he took away a single piece pinning her to this moment. He was finally ready for her, just as she thought she'd wanted. And then he had taken her, just as she should have taken him, and she hadn't been able to stop him. She hadn't wanted to stop him. She hadn't fought him for it.
But why, why hadn't she fought him?
Michael awoke with a start, and found himself on the floor, legs folded stiffly beneath him, his head propped on his curled arms on the edge of his low mattress. Fiona had apparently slipped away from him and was curled under the blankets. Stretching and twisting the kinks out of his back, he pulled off his still-wet t-shirt, and tugged at the crumpled jeans still stubbornly clinging to one ankle.
As he slid gently into the opposite side of the bed, Fiona stirred nonetheless and looked up at him. He knew they should probably talk, particularly about the haunted look in in her eyes, but she closed them tightly before he could ask and hooked her hand behind his neck. They kissed, slowly, for what felt like an eternity. Finally, when it seemed he would break it and speak, she crawled atop him. Michael's hands settled on her hips automatically, but he felt a tiny jolt go through her as he did and so he released her. He stretched his arms above his head, making himself vulnerable for her, knowing she would want the dominance, willing to make the sacrifice.
But she took his hands in hers and set them back on her hips. And when, in his building excitement, he held onto her harder and harder and pulled her down onto him rougher and faster, she buried her face in her own hair against his chest and cried but refused to let him stop.
Then she rolled off of him and pretended to fall asleep immediately until she was sure Michael had finally stopped staring at her back in disbelief, until she was sure he had finally fallen asleep himself.
Carefully, she eased herself out of bed and wrote a note to leave on the pillow: "Thank You, Michael. Love, Fi." And, dressing quickly, she let herself out into the night.
Michael sat up, snatching the note from her pillow as soon as the door clicked shut behind her. Thank you? That's all? Michael frowned. He came to her frightened and humbled this night. Bared himself before her. Showed her exactly what she'd been hoping for: a grain of love and hope mixed together in the darkest corner of his soul.
Yet he'd had the distinct feeling that she was the one being shattered into a million pieces. But she wouldn't let him stop. Both times, she had urged him on, pulled her punches, sheathed her claws, and held him tighter.
Somehow, he knew: They weren't still the same people any more. He had spent the evening desperately calling Fiona's cell phone as he drove to every emergency-rendezvous place in the city that he had arranged with Sam and Fi. He had even called her past three cell numbers, and even Seymour. As the rain began, he checked Sam's favorite open-air pub, and a corner of the beach Fiona liked to use for weapons deals. Finally, he had returned to the site of the burned house, but couldn't do more than a U-turn for all the firefighters still clustered around the smoldering ruins. The whole time, Fiona's face swam before him, her lips curled down sadly, her eyes red and wet. Her words echoed through his head until they felt like a bullet ricocheting painfully inside his skull: "I wonder if he's the one I fell in love with.... Everyone gets to guess who you really are."
And he knew now, after tonight's intimacy, knew for sure that she hadn't been fighting this gangster for an arms deal gone wrong. She hadn't really been fighting Felix at all. How had never deduced those scars in her, all the times they'd had sex but never made love?
His jaw clenched as he realized what she'd given him with her submission.
Then, incredibly, he heard a sound: Fiona's soft step coming back up the stairs. He replaced the note and rolled over, desperate to give her this chance to stay, desperate that she should take it. He listened to the soft flutter of crumpling paper as she threw the note away, and the liquid slide of her clothes falling aside once more, and the whisper of a lithe body sliding between the sheets beside him. He was afraid to breathe lest he spook this creeping, frightened, beautiful bird.
He could scarcely sleep. He awoke constantly, reaching hopefully toward the spot beside him in the bed, and each time smiling in happy disbelief to himself: She's still here. She's still here. She's still here.
Finally, when the rising sun gave him permission to trust and believe at last, he dressed silently and left to walk around the corner and a block over to a diner to pick up breakfast, barely able to contain his huge smile. She'd stayed the night. They'd made it. This would work.
Pyrite. Fool's gold, they call it. It looks every bit as valuable as the real stuff, to the unpracticed eye. But it's got no substance, no weight, and it's worth nothing. You can think yourself pretty rich with a bag full of pyrite and never know any difference until someone hands you your first sack of real gold.
Fiona gathered her things, dressing and slipping out as quickly as she could, her heart broken anew as she realized its years of scratching, fighting emptiness.