Author Notes: I can't promise how long this will continue, but here's another installment nonetheless. I intend to stay mostly canon, though with a lot of author's license and shipper's speculation. I love action (as I assume most Burn Notice fans do), but I also love drama, which the show sometimes skimps on. So this is mostly the drama side of things. I've added a few more notes to help the reader follow how my fabricated events fit into the course of the episode.
Warnings:Contains adult themes and language. I won't be held responsible if you corrupt yourself.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize (including characters and direct events and writing from the show) do not belong to me. I only own whatever details are new to you. I make no money and mean no harm.
We start right where we left off, at the end of the Season 2 episode "Hot Spot" and move through the next episode, "Seek and Destroy."
Fiona started peeling off her top and kicking off her shoes as soon as her own front door shut behind her. Her shirt and one leg of her jeans had lain against Michael's rain-soaked pants at the foot of the bed for most of the night, and they were decidedly damp. She pulled her underwear out of her pocket and tossed them at the laundry hamper before yanking off her jeans. Her scorched cell phone went straight into the trash after she cracked out the SIM card and memory chip for further destruction later. Within twenty seconds of her arrival home, the shower water was running. As soon as she stepped under the stream of hot water, she breathed a deep sigh of relief and let her shoulders slump downward. Only then did she finally allow her mind to address what she had studiously tried not to think about the whole way home: What, exactly, had happened last night?
As soon as those thoughts were broken loose to stew, she turned to face her front into the streaming water and reached down between her legs. She rubbed the whole area furiously with her bare hands, even though she knew it would do no good. The half-dried, sticky goo only became more oily when combined with water. She sighed as she snatched a loofah and body wash from the shower caddy to begin erasing the most obvious evidence of last night's unexpected coupling. Well, at least the physical signs of Michael's attention would be gone in a few moments, but he had left fingerprints in places that were harder to clean. Just as she knew that it took solid soap-scrubbing to get rid of cum, she also knew she would have to find the answers to some difficult questions before her mind felt cleansed.
Starting with Michael was easier. What were his motives? Well. It seemed that the trumpets had sounded, the spiritual armies had marched around Michael's walls seven times, and then his defenses had come crashing down around her ears. She knew that touching someone else's death always seemed mysteriously more eye-opening than touching one's own death. If Michael had believed her dead, then of course he would have been living through his regrets in his mind. That seemed simple enough, but she still honestly never expected that he had indeed been hiding a steadily-burning flame for her inside his stony facade. After all, he had carefully ignored her attempts to connect for what felt like a very long time now. She shook her head. Ah, Michael.
And herself? Well, that was a completely separate story.
Fiona watched the water swirling down the drain for a moment and then turned her back to the spray once again. Eyes closed, she let her mind wander freely as the water sank its fingers into her hair, circled around her breasts, and licked its way down her legs. She imagined that if she opened her eyes she would see that the draining water had turned murky, stained with miniscule pieces of herself knocked loose by the downpour. One moment, she felt sure the water was almost definitely flowing red around her feet as her heart bled itself dry and and left her body nothing but hard bone, wiry sinew, and incorruptibly rigid muscle. The next moment, quite the opposite, she could almost convince herself that she felt gravel sweeping along in the current beside her feet, as the relentlessly pounding water beat her bulwarks and turrets and towers and walls into a gritty dust and left her defenseless, soft, and exposed.
No-- She was solid, and the holy rain was washing away her weakness and sizzling her lava emotions into cold, black rock.
No-- She was broken, and Michael's tears were hammering away at her remaining armour like acid.
It was the memory of Michael, silently weeping as the rain dripped down his face, that made her open her eyes and move. As she hastily shampooed and rinsed, she didn't dare look down at the water flowing over her feet, in case she really did see a stream of dirt or blood.
Back at Michael's loft, Carla had just left Michael alone with his takeout breakfasts after hassling him to work harder on figuring out the bomber. Carla's exit did nothing to cheer Michael up. In fact, she had barely left before his thoughts turned, not to the investigation of who had tried to kill him, but directly back to Fiona.
Last night, Fiona had started to leave him-- but then she'd come right back. A seed of twitter-painted hope had slowly grown in him throughout the night, as dawn crept closer and she was still there beside him. For twenty minutes--perhaps half an hour--this morning, he had felt almost completely happy. His heart had swelled, his shoulders felt light and unburdened, his smile was stuck in place. Then he'd come back only to find that she'd sneaked away while he went to get her an omelet. It only added insult that Carla was there instead, teasing him about Fiona staying the night. She must have seen Fiona's car parked around the corner, or seen her exiting. If anything, he was almost jealous that Carla had seen Fi last.
Automatically, Michael dialed Fiona's cell as the door shut after Carla. He told himself perhaps she was taking care of business already, getting a new one, but in truth he knew it was futile. He hung up before her voicemail greeting was over. Then, deciding to leave a message for her to find when she switched phones, he dialed back a second time... and hung up again before the beep. He slouched onto a stool. What was he supposed to say?
Years ago, or even a few months ago, Fiona's post-sex absence might have hurt Michael, unless he knew she had business to deal with. This morning, though, while her absence still stung, it was with new eyes that he saw her escape. He had privately always thought that the reason they didn't quite match smoothly was because the scarred and gentle man he hid deep, deep within himself didn't match the chaotic sprite that hid inside Fiona. Now, though, rather late, he realized that her sharpest attacks were not the sign of a violent soul--they were her last, deepest set of defenses around an equally trampled, puppy-eyed spirit. He'd seen glimpses of it before but had sadly accepted that they were the anomaly and not the rule. He could easily forgive her for leaving this morning in the light of this new understanding, but it still saddened him. Once, he might have thought she were abandoning him by leaving. But after last night... he had the distinct impression that she wasn't abandoning-- she was fleeing him.
Which brought him to the line of thought he most wanted to avoid: Last night, had he forced...?
No. Surely not.
But, well, was he too eager?
No. She hadn't said no. She hadn't stopped him. She hadn't fought him off-- and heaven knew she was capable of fighting him off, and three more at the same time.
But... she was never that submissive in sex. Never. And she had cried at one or two points.
Well, so had he. And, she had held him as he kissed her and as he moved inside her. She had participated, she had... she had wanted him to come back to her, had been hinting at it for months.
She wanted last night, right? Didn't she?
Michael got shakily to his feet, his heart deflating, sinking lower and lower in his chest. Why did he feel like a villain? A small, hopeful part of him had started to believe that Fiona's submission to him last night was a precious gift--a difficult piece of herself she was sharing with him, a token of trust that he wouldn't injure her fragile soul. But her disappearance this morning introduced doubt--a sphere of doubt that had doubled in size every thirty seconds since he'd walked through the door a few minutes ago and found the wrong woman waiting for him. What if last night had not healed Fiona as it had healed him? What if he had hurt her? What if she hadn't been giving him that piece of herself-- what if he had been taking it? Oh, Fiona...
His cell phone was against his ear and ringing before he even realized he had picked it up again. He felt oddly disconnected from his actions as he listened to the recording and clipped off his desperate message in a thousand-word-per-minute rush.
And then the phone was lying on the counter, off, and Michael stared at it in wide-eyed, panicked amazement, as though the phone had just executed the poorly-judged call and message on its own. Oh no, oh no-- why did he do that?!
His still-sinking heart dragged at his stomach, which gave an almighty heave, as though trying to shove away the sickening thought that was slashing its claws through his guts. He wouldn't be able to eat now, he knew, but he gulped down the rest of his coffee and started on Fiona's as he snatched the bag of take-out boxes off the counter. Just before he let the parcel plummet into the trash, though, he paused, reached into the garbage, and pulled out a crumpled scrap of paper resting on top. Dropping the food in then, he perched on the stool again and carefully spread the rescued note out in front of him.
"Thank You, Michael. Love, Fi," he read aloud. It was the note Fiona had started to leave the first time last night, which he had secretly read before she came back. "Thank you," he repeated, letting his voice carry echoingly through the mostly-empty loft. "Love. Thank you."
Another glance around the obvious surfaces in the apartment-- bed, counters, door-- showed no hint of a second note. His eyes narrowed, chin bunched up thoughtfully below his lips, and he stared into space, trying to decide whether to be comforted that she had written the note at all or worried that she had, in the end, decided to leave without a word. Did she still mean thank you, or had she decided you don't thank someone who steals something important from you?
The knot of nauseated anxiety in Michael's stomach gradually mutated into irritation and then anger and even fury. How could she have not talked this all out with him before? How could she have left him to find out when he was desperate for her and aroused, too late to think clearly? How could she think it wasn't important enough for him to need to know before now?
Fiona's phone went straight to voicemail for most of the morning, but then it changed to the canned-voice lady who told him the number had been disconnected, which gave him hope that all his desperate voicemails would be buried with the disconnected service. Sam, on the other hand, answered on the first ring when Michael called just before noon. "Hey, Mikey, hang on a sec," Sam said cheerfully, and then promptly hung up. Michael stared at his phone quizzically, as though it could answer for Sam's apparent rudeness, but a second later he heard footsteps on the stairs below and then his door swung open.
"What's up, brother?" Sam had crossed the apartment and had a beer in hand before Michael could put his phone back into his pocket. "What did you find out at Poole's house last night?"
"That he doesn't like company. Firetrap," Michael explained simply, an edge to his voice that didn't quite match his words. "This guy's a professional. We're going to need a weapons expert to try to track down Poole's business, or his materials, or something."
"In other words, we need Fiona," Sam summarized, eyeing Michael carefully. The younger man looked... much more solid this morning, on fire even. Even if it did seem a bit forced, there was a bit more bad-ass in his demeanor, and there was fuck-this-burn-notice-shit in his voice again. Maybe he was back to normal, Sam wondered.
"Right," Michael agreed, cracking open a beer for himself, joining Sam for once. Sam raised an eyebrow and mentally revised his opinion. Whatever had Michael cooking-hot, it couldn't be good if he was drinking before noon. "Can't raise her on the phone yet. Her cell got toasted in the firetrap last night, and I don't think she replaced it yet."
"Wait," Sam winced, "she was in the place when it went up in flames?"
"Yeah..." Michael said slowly and Sam whistled. Turning candidly toward Sam after replacing the church key in its drawer beside the sink, he lowered his voice, even though they were the only ones present. "I think she's a little embarrassed about that. Might not want to talk about it much."
"Saw her last night," Michael answered vaguely. Sam didn't have a chance to point out that this didn't actually answer his question before Michael plowed on to a new subject: "Saw Carla this morning. She looked pretty shaken up. Scared, even."
"Still behind in the investigation?"
"Seems like she's almost completely reliant on whatever I tell her."
"Hmm." Sam took a long, thoughtful pull from his brown glass bottle. "A couple of bombs shook up her support structure that badly?" His own interest in the investigation ballooned a bit bigger in curiosity over its effect on Carla's organization.
"I need to find out who hired Poole, and why, and before Carla starts doing some of her own legwork," Michael was saying, apparently bitten by the Initiative Bug again. He dug his phone out of his pocket, but Sam stopped him.
"Not now, though," Sam insisted, draining his beer. "We don't have time." Michael looked lost. "You didn't forget, did you? Come on, Mikey, game time in a couple of hours! We're not missing this. You're not missing this." Sam pulled something out of his back pocket and then waved a three-ticket fan at Michael's face. It was their "payment" for taking care of Felix Cole. Michael had completely forgotten.
"Call Fiona," Sam said, "we've got to get moving if we want decent parking."
"Her cell is fried," Michael reminded him flatly.
"Then we'll pick her up," Sam said decisively. "Are you going to finish that or not?"
Michael raised his beer and threw it back, shaking his head as he let Sam bully and bluster him from the loft apartment.
Fiona was just stepping out of her front door, wearing a tight child-size Dolphins jersey and denim shorts, her attention on a new cell phone in her hand when they pulled up in front of her place.
"See, Fiona didn't forget," Sam grinned to Michael as she climbed into the back seat.
Michael unwilling flinched and then gave a full-body shudder at the close proximity to Fiona as Sam put the car back into gear. Is this how attackers feel around their victims? He was completely at a loss of how to act around her after last night. He needed to talk to her alone...
"Perfect timing," Fiona was saying, "I was just about to call." Michael watched her closely, trying to find hints in her body language. Was she comfortable around him or not?
"New phone?" Michael asked, mentally kicking himself because he knew he didn't sound casual. Sam shot him a sideways glance at the odd tone to his voice.
"New service, even," she responded, still fiddling with the phone, not looking at him, not giving him any hints into how she felt.
Michael's innards gave another interesting lurch, though he wasn't sure if it was a hopeful or a disappointed maneuver. Had she indeed cancelled the other service without hearing any of his desperate voice-mails from last night or the particularly bad one this morning? He knew asking at all was an enormous risk, be he had to know. So, as cool as he could: "Did you get my messages on the old one?"
"No. What were they?"
Sam cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow at Michael. It was clear something was up, but Michael was ignoring Sam's subtle gesturing. Sam wasn't an idiot. Half an hour ago, Michael had seemed almost enraged under that clanking, emotionless armour of his. Now, Michael was awkward and hesitant. The only thing that had changed had been adding Fiona to the mix. Sam exhaled heavily, but neither of the other two paid him any attention--just more evidence that something was amiss.
"Nothing important," Michael said as his pulse leapt sky-high in a fluttering dance with a disappointed kind of relief that he wouldn't get to or have to wait for her responses to the voice-mails. His phone rang, and he was thankful for the distraction.
"Just me," Fiona said from the backseat. "That's my new number." Sam's phone rang as well.
Michael saved the number as he changed the subject over his shoulder, finally achieving an operative-perfect nonchalance that he thought hid his roiling thoughts well, "Fi, I need to find out more about Poole."
"So Carla's got a leak in her organization," Fiona said dismissively. "Everyone does. What do you gain by figuring it out? This Poole guy probably doesn't even have a clue who hired him." Fiona didn't sound particularly interested anymore in chasing the bomber lead. Just like that. Michael's eyebrows lowered as he tried to figure out her sudden boredom with the search. Was she angry with him? Was her ego hurt by nearly being caught in Poole's trap?
"Ah-ah," Sam interrupted before the conversation could go any further. "No business today. We agreed. We're just normal guys going to a football game."
"Normal?" Michael asked.
"I'm a guy?" came Fiona's jibe simultaneously from the back seat.
Unfazed, Sam answered, "Yes, you are" to both of them. "The only approved activities include drinking, yelling, and scratching your balls."
"Don't have balls." Fiona rolled her eyes.
"Pity." But Sam saw in the rearview mirror that she had obligingly taken two mid-sized tubes of body paint from her hand bag and was already industriously painting teal and orange stripes across her cheeks. "Now, that's what I'm talking about," he said proudly, nudging Michael and jerking his thumb back at her.
Sam stuck to his vow to stamp out all business for the rest of the day, and in the end, Michael and Fiona both privately admitted to themselves that acting like normal, carefree fools for once was amazing.
Sam painted his entire face and even slicked his hair with Fiona's paint in a Cruella-Deville look as soon as they got inside the stadium, and then he promptly disappeared to buy their first round of beer in huge plastic cups with his own money. (If that wasn't a sign of how serious he was about having fun, nothing was!) Back in possession of the body paint, Fiona insisted that Michael join herself and Sam in the spirit of the game. Fiona could be persuasive, one would have to give her that much. One moment, Michael was refusing ("Normal guys don't paint themselves for every game"), and the next, he was standing bare-chested ("Do I have to?") as Fiona finger-painted an orange football over his sternum ("No, Fi-- come on...") followed by a large teal goalpost that sprouted up from the waistband of his jeans ("Easy, Fi.") and crossed his nipples with the two arms framing the football ("Fiona, stop!"). He plunked down in his seat, holding his shirt against his lap, a surly expression glued to his lips. She left with a bright smile to wash the paint off her hands, and as he turned to watch her go, the line of fans sitting behind him gave him several thumbs-up and appreciative nods. "She's a keeper," one of the men said with a lascivious grin.
"She's not my--" Michael began, but Sam returned just then, balancing three large beers in a cardboard tray, smiling a half-blue, half-orange smile.
"That's the spirit, Mikey," he beamed, sizing up Michael's new festive look. "Except, Jesus, you look like a little boy. When are you going to grow some chest hair?"
Michael sighed heavily as he mentally admitted he did feel like a middle-schooler for reacting to Fiona this way. He ended up spending the remaining twenty minutes of pre-game sitting uncomfortably, annoyed at his own body, desperately confused about Fiona, trying to look casual about the shirt he was pressing against his erection while Sam and Fiona argued across him about whether the Dolphins' newest lineman had been a wise acquisition or not. By the middle of the second quarter, though, in spite of himself, he had relaxed to the point of jumping up and cheering with the best of them, and by the time Sam dropped him at his apartment that night, after a post-game visit to a rib-shack bar, Michael couldn't remember the last time he'd had so much fun.
He sat on the edge of his mattress to pull his shoes off and scratched absently at the filmy white stain on the corner of the bedspread. In the morning though, it was back to business, he promised himself. Including this business with Fiona.
Fiona's shower water turned an odd brown as swirls of teal and orange bubbled together around her feet. She kicked the colored water toward the drain until it finally disappeared, and then she peeked out of her shower curtain to check her face in the mirror. She was free of paint, but she stepped back under the jet of water, letting it hammer away at her body as she willed it to soak further inside and clean more than just her skin.
On the bathroom counter, beside her towel, lay a crumpled slip of yellow paper. It read, "Thank You, Mich--l. L----, Fi." Two runny inkblots (tear-stains?) had consumed part of the short message. Fiona had noticed the very edge of the note poking out of Michael's pocket as they had bustled along with the crowd out of the stadium at the end of the game. How or why it had been in his pocket, she could only guess, since she was sure she had thrown it away before Michael had noticed it.
Considering messages, though... Fiona closed her eyes and plunged her face under the water. She was curious, of course, about the voice-mails that Michael had seemed so worried about. But somehow, it seemed easier to just let it go, pretend nothing happened, and go back to the flirtatious but comfortably hopeless status quo they were used to.
[Fiona]: When you accidentally let information slip, when you make a mistake, when you're forced to scrap a plan and implement a new one, your line of action is simple: Confiscate all evidence and deny, deny, deny.
[Michael]: It's easy to tell when someone is trying to change reality to a version they like better. They confiscate all evidence and deny, deny, deny. As soon as you see that behavior, you know you're on to something.
"You think the sarong is too much? Suddenly I'm feeling over dressed," Fiona complained, looking around at all the other attendees of Seymour's little soiree. The day after the game, Michael was all business again. He'd called early and set her off to find out what Seymour was up to today.
Michael glanced down at the small scrap of material slung low around Fiona's hips. "You look fine, Fi. Besides, we're here on business."
"What is the big deal with this bomber?" came the real cause of her irritation after he dismissed her wardrobe fussing. "If we looked for everyone who tried to kill you, we'd do nothing else."
Verified, Michael checked off in his mind. He suspected that Fiona, either due to her bruised ego at being caught in the firetrap or in trying to distance herself from himself since their rendezvous the night before last, was trying to get herself off the case. She'd certainly taken a lot of persuading this morning when he told her to find him a way to approach Seymour today. Of course, she had made it clear from the beginning that she thought it would be a massive waste of time tracking this lead anyway, but she had been willing to help him avenge himself, at least. Now, not so much?
"I need to find out what this guy knows," Michael said lightly, not wanting to get into another argument about his motives.
"Well, if there's anyone in Miami who can track down a bomber," Fiona said, resigning herself to simply trying to get the investigative work over with quickly, "it's our old friend Seymour here."
"Hope he's still not mad about the face full of gunpowder last time we dropped by," Michael mused.
"Well, he was pretty enchanted with you once upon a time." Fiona privately admitted that she could understand why gentle Seymour was enamoured by Michael's bad-ass exterior. It was exactly the opposite of what Seymour himself was, and no one ever appreciates the value of their own best traits. Seymour's openness was a gift, she thought. Part of her wished Michael was as open as Seymour, but a larger part of her was glad that the closed-off Michael wouldn't want to discuss their little get-together.
"Pretty enchanted with me? Yeah. He showed it when he attacked me with a baseball bat," MIchael responded, glancing around to see what kind of security Seymour had posted. He didn't notice much in the way of guards, which surprised him a little.
"Will you do my shoulders?" Fiona suddenly attacked (at least, it seemed like an attack to Michael). Presenting him with a tube of sunblock, she wheeled around and pulled her hair off her back, determined to show Michael things were casual and normal between them.
Michael mentally swore as he automatically cracked open the tube and squeezed some into his hands. At once, unintentionally, he was remembering Fiona's purposely erotic touch as she rubbed paint onto his skin yesterday at the game and his cock twitched slightly.
"You know, Fi," he began hesitantly, rubbing the sunblock between his hands, "if, uh..." He hesitated. It was clear she didn't want to talk, though he still wasn't sure why she didn't want to talk. But he couldn't just pretend that nothing unusual had happened between them. He couldn't carry on the usual meaningless flirtations. Couldn't touch her and pretend it was platonic. "If you wanna talk about what happened the other night--" he continued carefully, touching her shoulders hesitantly with sunblock-coated hands.
"Oh, there's nothing to talk about," Fiona interrupted. "We were just blowing off some steam, right?"
Michael's mouth clenched shut. Blowing off steam? Blowing off steam. He'd seen her blow off steam before. Anger-steam, frustration-steam, relief-steam, horny-steam. Going practically limp while he fucked her response-less body while she cried was not blowing off steam. Not even close. This was how she was wanting to remember it? He pulled his hands off of her as though physically burned.
"We should go in," he said curtly, defensively all-business once again, and set off resolutely up the path without her, rubbing the sunscreen into his own hands and wrists to get rid of it.
Fiona watched him go for a moment, frowning. Since when did he want to discuss things? This wasn't in the Michael manual. Why couldn't Michael make this easy for her and play his usual tight-lipped part? But then she smiled appreciatively. He does have a great ass, she distracted herself as she followed him up the path.
After meeting with Seymour, Michael discussed his financial options with Fiona. He needed some cash to spread around to get people talking. She refused to lend him money, but dropped him a bone, a job she had passed on for herself. So as soon as he had parted ways with Fiona, he called Sam, his go-to forger.
"Sam, need a favor."
"Yeah, what is it, Mikey?"
"I need some cash to fund Seymour's investigation."
"Mikey, you know I'd love--"
Michael interrupted before Sam could make an excuse about why he couldn't lend any money. "Fi's got a job for me. Security for an art dealer. Just need a clean cover ID, Sam."
"Right. I'm on it."
"Can you have it by 1:30?"
[Sam]: In order to stay alive in hostile environments, surrounded by enemies, an operative deals in information-- all kinds. The most important information, though, isn't about your enemies. It's about your allies. Who they talk to, what they're up to, how they like their drinks. If you don't truly know your allies' moves and motives, your missions with them become suspect, and someone could get hurt. When your allies suddenly change, you need to know why.
"Mike, do you have to work with Seymour? I mean, the guy's unstable." It was early afternoon, and Michael had just been giving Sam the run-down on the discussion he'd had at Seymour's brunch party.
"He's connected, and he doesn't mix well with government types," Michael said. He had the distinct impression that Sam still thought he was unstable himself from the bomb blast. And, frankly, he was getting tired of the delicate treatment. "Do you have my new cover ID?"
Sam handed over a thin folder of documents, and Michael sized up the new identity quickly. Before he could discuss the job application much more with Sam, though, his phone rang.
"Yeah, Fi," Michael began, "looks like I'm good to go for that art dealer job."
"Well, you owe me twice then. I fronted Seymour some cash for you. Meeting with Paco now to see if he knows anything."
"Thanks. I'll call you later," Michael said, relieved that Fiona had given in at least partly to his request to be freed from owing money to Seymour. "Maybe we can grab dinner," he finished in a rush.
"We'll see. Bye." And the connection clicked off in his ear. As he checked his phone compulsively to see if he had missed any calls before that one, Sam lifted an eyebrow at him.
"So you two are just... grabbing dinner?" Sam had been glad when it was clear Michael had developed the good sense to steer clear of Fiona. Then, he'd been completely relieved when Fiona had started dating other men. Now, though, he wasn't entirely sure what was happening, and it made him a little nervous, for Mikey's sake.
"Just to debrief," Michael said, in a light but still defensive tone.
"Right," Sam said, doing his best to annoy Michael into divulging a clue. "Debrief." He took a swallow of beer and then grinned an irritating grin at Michael.
Michael's tight-lipped answering smile said clearly that he wasn't going to play this game. "She's looking around to see if she can dig up any clues without Seymour's help. It's probably a dead end, but if you don't want to deal with Seymour, gonna have to let Fi do her thing."
"I never said anything about keeping her from working," Sam said. "I'm just saying-- I've never heard it take a whole meal's worth of time for her to debrief. Then again, maybe I just haven't heard the good stories...?"
Michael didn't answer the bait. Instead, he packed up his ID folder, finished off his tea, tossed a few small bills onto the table, and stood to go send in his false resume. "I'll call later."
Sam shook his head and took another swig of beer. Was it possible...? No. Luckily, he was pretty sure Fiona had finally quit chasing Michael. Although she had been behaving rather sweet (for her) since breaking up with Campbell, she had acted quite coldly toward Michael at the game yesterday, as much as he saw. She had barely spoken to him. The last thing Michael needed was Fiona's claws sunk into him again, in Sam's opinion anyway, so he was relieved to see that she seemed to have changed her mind about warming up to Michael. Don't let me down now, Fi, Sam thought to himself, keep playing the bitch.
Michael sent in his false resume that afternoon (under the name Miles Davis) to Scott Chandler, the art dealer. He got a call back within the hour, setting up an interview meeting the next day.
[Fiona]: An important thing to remember in covert ops is that while people DO change, they don't change randomly. There's always a reason. When the target suddenly changes his routines, you have to ask yourself why. He might be onto you, there might be something else going on in his life that you need to make yourself aware of, or he might be just be bored. The point is that, no matter what the reason is, the change will affect you, and you have to be prepared to face it.
Fiona pushed noodles around on her plate, idly re-enacting cell mitosis. Half the DNA noodles scoot to this side, then half the DNA noodles scoot to that side. Next, a membrane appears between the two sets of DNA (Fiona drew a line through the sauce between her two groups of noodles), and what was once a single unit now becomes two separate, closed-off cells. Still practically identical, but completely separated thereafter.
"I warned you it was probably a dead end," Fiona answered without looking up, as she set about dividing each of her new noodle-cells into halves again. "Paco doesn't usually deal in explosives. Prefers things that are silent and deadly."
Michael sighed. Fiona had barely made eye contact with him since arriving at the restaurant, late, ten minutes ago. Her meal, which he had ordered ahead for her on her request, arrived well-timed directly after her, but she let it get cold while barely picking at it. Michael couldn't make sense of her. At the football game yesterday, she had either flirted cruelly with his libido or ignored him altogether. This morning at Seymour's, she had been more civil toward him, almost normal, even, until he had dared to mention the taboo subject. She had casually brushed off his suggestion that they talk about it, but she had also been virtually silent in the car on the way back. This had to end. It was torture, not knowing what was going on in her mind. The event itself--that night--became more and more horrible in his mind the more silent she was about it.
"Fiona," Michael began decisively--
"So you're all set up for the art dealer gig?" Fiona interrupted, pretending she hadn't heard him and hadn't noticed his intensity.
His chin and eyebrows scooted closer toward each other as he sized her up. "Interview tomorrow," he said shortly, closing the subject as quickly as she opened it. "Fi, I think we should--"
"Paco apparently tried to call my old phone just before I cancelled the service. I got the feeling he short-bid me today just because I missed his voice-mail."
Michael's eyes narrowed. She clearly didn't want to talk. She usually was the one who wanted to talk. It couldn't be good that she wanted to remain silent on this front. And why was she bringing up melted-phone voice-mails? Was she trying to tell him she hadn't listened to his, Michael's, messages or that she had? Or that she still intended to try to get access to them yet? He decided to play along, though: "You think he might have proposed a better deal in the message than directly to your face?"
"Maybe. But why would leaving me a message be different from speaking directly to me?" Fi asked innocently, still executing bizarre noodle maneuvres Michael was trying to ignore.
"Sometimes people act differently based on how someone responds," Michael offered. Like sometimes people feel horrible about sex only after their partner responds by ditching without an explanation and then refusing to talk about it. "Leaving a voice-mail doesn't give you the opportunity to gauge the person's reaction in real time, so the reaction might be different."
Fiona took out her cell phone, poked at it for a moment, and put it away again. "Sounds convoluted. I always assume I'm speaking to the actual person on a voice-mail."
"You are," he agreed. "If they check their voice-mail," he added carefully. Part of him hoped she would listen to his desperate voice-mails yet and answer his concerns, while the other part of him panicked when he realized the things he had said in all those messages he'd left that fateful night and the next morning.
"Michael, why are we here?"
His internal engine sputtered and stalled at the blindside. "Here? We--"
"I mean, why are we on neutral turf located equally between your place and mine?"
He couldn't help a small smile at her accurate observation, but it fizzled away as he tried to put an answer together. "I thought it would be easier to talk here without anyone getting hurt," he said finally, his voice low, his eyes pleading with her to understand. There was a long pause. A strange series of expressions crossed her face in quick succession.
"What is there to talk about?" Fiona finally asked, stubbornly sticking to her version of the story where nothing major had happened that night-- but she watched closely as he flinched at her words.
"Well, you left without explaining a few things," Michael started, beginning to get hot about her continued denials, but Fiona's cell ringing interrupted him before he could go on.
Glancing at the display, Fiona said, "I've got to go. See you later, Michael." And she snapped open her phone, stood, and walked away, saying "Hello?" as she went.
But Michael was almost certain that Fiona's "phone call" was nothing more than a cell alarm she'd set a couple of minutes before. He leaned over the table, peering at her plate of uneaten food, trying to interpret meaning in the swirls of noodle separated by lines of sauce.
Michael was getting angry, Fiona realized. Angry at her? Was he not even willing to meet with her in the loft now? If she had thought figuring him out would be simpler than figuring herself out, well... she was wrong.
Then again, she had also assumed that long, hot soak would make her feel better. Not so. Another thing wrong. Instead of feeling cleaner, she felt as though she were merely marinating in her own filth. She was nothing more than a great tubful of dirty Fiona-stew.
What right did Michael have to be angry? She was the one that had been forced to bare herself to him. She was the one who'd had to muster the strength and trust to let him control the sack session--a feat that was not to be undervalued, mind. What had Michael suffered compared to that? So His Great Stoniness had thought she were dead for a couple of hours. Suffering indeed.
Given a chance to do it over now, Fiona certainly wouldn't-- wouldn't... Well. Maybe. Okay, so she was sure she would probably do it all over again. It still didn't change the fact that Michael had no right to be mad at her!
Fiona stretched her legs out as straight as she could in the tub and stared into the water. She could swear that she saw clumps of dead skin cells and grime drifting through the water, even though she knew it was impossible. She'd scoured her entire body twice a day for the last two days. Even dust particles wouldn't be able to lodge on the surface of her well-exfoliated skin.
At least she was self-aware of her obsessive compulsion. (Self-awareness had to count for something, right?) She was perfectly cognizant of the fact that she was trying cleanse herself of the guilt she felt at prostituting her most fragile pieces for a deluded chance to turn Michael into what she wanted him to be. She felt distinctly as though she had allowed him to take her virginity, exactly like a teenager who lets her crush have sex with her while she wrongly imagines it means more than just another fuck for the guy. Her vulnerability; her sympathy for Tanya, the teenage girl who had been molested; her memories of her own humiliations and pain; her inexplicable embarrassment that Michael had figured out her secret so easily at first (before she had tried to mislead him into thinking he was wrong); her desire for a Michael who was open about his affection for her; her contradictory envy of Michael's ability to build bulwarks to hide behind-- all these things had combined into a new kind of innocence, perhaps as close as she had been to true innocence in two decades. And, just like a foolish high-schooler, Fiona had let Michael have all of that vulnerability, all of that innocence without realizing the scope of the sacrifice she was making in the moment of bald excitement.
However, she certainly took the blame all on herself. It was her fault. She should have run in those moments of doubt when he first started kissing her.
But there was still no forgiving Michael for being the one that could sway her in the moment of weakness. And why did he have to keep bringing it up when it was so painful to her? Why wouldn't he just take her hints and let it go? Why did he have to act as though she had done something to him? And why did he have to choose now to finally want to talk about their relationship?
The next day, Michael had a meeting with Scott Chandler, the art dealer. The meeting goes quickly and smoothly from job interview to on-board and discussing the problem. It seems that someone bugged Chandler's phone, which he discovered by the buzzing sound. Now he wanted to find out who's spying on him and why. Michael got a phone call from Seymour right as the meeting was wrapping up, so Michael requested some floor plans and other preliminary documents from Chandler and then went to meet Seymour.
Michael sat down across from Seymour, still flicking his gaze here and there around the outdoor cafe seating, sizing up the customers. He risked a second glance at a group of guys that looked particularly interesting.
"So I asked around about that explosives guy you were looking for," Seymour was saying. It sounded more like a question than a statement, Michael thought. Seymour couldn't seem to be firm and solid on anything he did. "He does demo for the city, but he moonlights for the Russian mob," Seymour went on. "This is their hangout. He's their go-to guy when something's gotta go boom."
Michael looked up again quickly at the men he had identified as persons of interest on his first visual sweep of the area. So they were mobsters. Fair enough.
"Any idea where he's hiding?" Michael asked, half expecting to hear that the Russians were involved somehow in keeping Poole safe. Why else had Seymour brought him here?
"No," Seymour said quickly.
Michael frowned and sighed. "Seymour, you said you had good news," he said, making sure to let his exasperation shine through.
"No, I do," he said quickly, urgent to make sure that his accomplishment wasn't discredited. Michael was unwillingly captivated, if only for a moment, by how open and genuine Seymour was. Bit hashy to work with, like Sam had said, but Seymour couldn't hide his reactions or emotions at all. It made it rather easy to read him. A deaf person without lip-reading ability would be able to understand Seymour. That's how open he was.
"He's got a girlfriend," Seymour went on, sounding as though this were obviously good. "And they're hot and heavy," he added, leaning closer and screwing his face into a voyeuristic grin. "I mean, they can't be apart for more than a couple of days without some together time, you know what I'm saying?"
Michael stared in half-annoyance and half-disgust at the crude "together time" gesture Seymour was making. "I know what you're saying," he said quickly, wincing at Seymour's apparent inability to just have a simple debriefing with all this embarrassing extra trapping.
"I bet you do," Seymour derailed immediately, his eyes brightening even as Michael's darkened. "You and Fi-- God! A molten hot action couple. I can't even imagine what it must be like in the bedroom. Just-- Tss-boom!" He mimed an explosion with his hands.
"Don't do that," Michael insisted in a low tone, a startled expression on his face. He knew a note of desperation had seeped into his voice, but at least Seymour didn't seem to be the type who picked up on subtle clues. Michael's innards gave an acrobatic lurch. Even Seymour seemed to be able to realize that his and Fiona's sex life--when it existed--was supposed to be energetic. It was like salt directly into a wound, reminding Michael about the uncharacteristic way he had dominated Fiona, something she wouldn't normally allow. They were supposed to have explosive sex.
Seymour seemed completely oblivious to the panicky, nervous reaction that his simple words had stirred in Michael. "Right? Am I right?" he was saying, his eyebrows up, inviting juicy details, expectant.
"We're not together," Michael said flatly, hoping to close the subject quickly.
"Are you serious? Oh, my God. You guys are like the... the--"
"Bomber's girlfriend," Michael said, shaking his head slightly. "Stay focused."
Disappointed, Seymour pointed out the Poole's girlfriend, Bianca, a waitress who was just arriving for her shift. This is what he had wanted to share with Michael here. Then he said, proudly, that his bodyguard Jackass was about to plant a tracker on her car.
"In front of the Russian mob?" Michael asked, horrified. "No more moves on your own." And he dashed off to intercept Jackass before he could make a disastrous mistake.
As he left the meeting, though, driving back toward the art gallery to pick up the papers he had requested, it wasn't Seymour's ill-judged tracker that stayed on his mind. He was thinking about Seymour's bluntness. He needed to talk to Fiona. He would just have to take a page from Seymour's book and speak without reserve. They needed to settle this. He snatched up his phone.
"Fi, uh..." When would he learn to plan his words before calling her? "Doing anything?"
"Just some inventory," she answered. "What do you need?"
"Meet me at the loft in 30?"
Michael managed to get in and out of the art gallery without getting hung up. As he had promised, Chandler had left the documents Michael ("Miles") had requested with the receptionist in a sealed manila envelope, so Michael left without having to speak to Chandler at all.
As he dashed back to the loft, he practiced his words. Fiona... No, too serious. Fi... No, not serious enough. Fiona, I think there's something you need to explain. No, she'd find a loophole in the vagueness and slip away. Just be blunt--that was the plan. Fi, did you want that night or not? Did I force you into it?
He passed her car at the corner as he turned toward the gates. Now that he was here, though, just a short staircase away from facing her, his nerve faltered. There were a lot of things he could do confidently that the average person wouldn't be able to deal with. But this conversation was not on that list. It had to happen, though. Had to. He scrambled for his resolve as he closed the gates behind the Charger, steeled himself to accept whatever her response would be as he climbed the stairs, readied himself to attack with questions the moment he opened the door, and... breathed a sigh of disappointed but hearty relief when he saw that Sam had invited himself over as well.
Fiona sprawled wordlessly on the bed while Sam interestedly looked over Michael's shoulder at the art gallery floor-plans he'd just picked up. She didn't contribute as they discussed the likely route Chandler's spy must have taken to get into his office: following the cleaning crew after midnight. Finally, she interrupted the conversation with a loud, dramatic sigh. Both males' heads went up, ears perked. Sure she had their attention, Fiona began with a clearly hostile undertone to her voice, "As stimulating as all this is, I still don't see why you called me over here, Michael."
Michael had frozen when her sigh indicated she was about to speak about. Her words did nothing toward making him relax, either. It was rather clear to him that she saw right through his intentions. Was she going to try to bring up the long-awaited conversation now, with Sam here as a witness? But he managed to stay collected as he explained with a simple lie, "It always helps to bounce ideas, Fi." He gave a small gesture at the gallery map, but didn't make eye contact with Fiona at all. An awkward silence fell.
Sam felt his neck and arm hair bristle involuntarily at the violent electricity that suddenly infused the air. "Uh," he squirmed, "I'm gonna grab another beer and, uh--" he gave them both disapproving looks-- "drink it on the balcony." And, as promised, he promptly retreated to the balcony, where he thoughtfully sipped at his new beer, shooting occasional glances inside to judge their body language and shake his head disappointedly.
[Sam]: Work with special agents long enough, and you start to realize how damaged they all are. Something about the work draws that type of person. This means, of course, that the most capable operatives tend to make horrible relationship choices. You start to pity them. You try to protect them, if you're close. But ultimately, sometimes you just have to sit back and watch the heartache. It's part of the deal with having complicated friends.
Fiona pushed herself up off the bed and crossed over to Michael. "Is this about the other night?" she guessed sagely. "Is this about me not staying for breakfast?" She managed a smile, teasing him for trying to make a big deal out of it.
Yes and no. It's about you leaving without an explanation for the crying and for not leaving scratches on my back. The words in Michael's head tumbled through his refining filter and came out smoothly, "Is it so strange that I would want your opinion on a job?"
Fiona leaned closer to him. "Look me in the eye and tell me that's all this is."
There was a hesitating pause. Michael fought a smile. She was nearly impossible to deceive, and he loved that about her. He did. But the talk couldn't happen now. Maybe he would never get the truth out of Fiona about that night... He stood abruptly. "I have to go see Chandler," he excused himself, grabbing the files of papers and escaping.
Fiona closed her eyes and sighed to herself as he left. She compulsively kept dangling the carrot in front of him, begging him to open up and talk about what he thought about their odd lovemaking, but once again, she was grateful that he didn't take the bait.
"Where's he going? What do you do?"
Fiona opened her eyes. She'd forgotten Sam was still there. He'd come inside when he saw Michael leaving. "To meet with Chandler. What makes you think I did something?"
"Looked more like an escape, the way he ran out," Sam said suspiciously.
She shrugged. "I just asked why he wanted me over here." She ignored the shrewd way Sam was looking at her.
"Just play nice, okay?"
"You know, for the record," Fiona said, irritated at Sam's big-brothering of Michael, "I don't see Michael as being all that vulnerable. You don't need to protect him from me."
"Yeah, well, you didn't scrape him off the ground outside after that explosion nearly killed him," Sam argued, pointing out the window toward the ground beneath the loft's entry door.
Fiona privately conceded the point, but she parried back, "He's had plenty of recovery time. Besides which, he's immune to me anyway. Nothing I do hurts him." She just managed to keep the bitter bite out of her tone. He still won't drop his defenses even for me to get close. There's no way I could get in to hurt him. Just make him angry, apparently...
"You've got an odd view of things, sister," Sam said heatedly. "Sometimes it looks like everything you do hurts him." There was a small pause, and then Sam kicked back the rest of his beer. "I've got to go."
And then Fiona was left alone to stew. That was at least the second conversation in only a few days where Sam had tried to get her to go easy on Michael. Madeline, Michael's mother, had hinted that Michael seemed a little off recently. Could there possibly be any truth to their observations? Was she misreading Michael?
Well. It looked like it was time to get over herself and investigate...
After Michael shared his suspicions with Chandler about someone sneaking in after the cleaning crew, Chandler arranged for him to go see the property manager for access to security camera tapes the following day. Then Michael swept for more bugs in Chandler's office, found a wireless keylogger in the keyboard, and disabled it so the 'spy' would have to come back to fix it.
"I'm going to need to work late tonight," Michael said over the phone to Chandler.
"You have a lead?"
"Maybe. We'll talk tomorrow." No sooner had Michael hung up, though, before his phone rang again. Glancing at the ID, he sighed heavily but ignored it so he could quickly pack up his things and head out of the gallery building, smiling offhandedly at the receptionist. Right on cue, as he hit the parking lot, the phone rang again, and this time he picked it up.
"Michael, you've got to come over. I need you."
"Toaster broken?" he dead-panned.
"No, Michael," she said shortly, managing to sound offended, but avoiding providing him a reason all the same. "Can you come?"
"Yeah, Ma, I'm on my way."
Michael refrained from commenting on his mother's "emergency." She showed him her dull chopping knife, a knife sharpener, a pile of vegetables, and a bleeding thumb, and told him about the girls coming over tonight and how she had to get this veggie lasagna going, but she couldn't seem to sharpen the knife correctly. Dully, automatically, he began honing the blade and then waited for the attack that he knew must be coming.
"How's Fiona? I haven't heard from her in a few days."
He hesitated. Whatever he was expecting, this wasn't it. "And that's unusual?" he asked.
"She usually checks in, says hello every day or two," Madeline said, as though it were normal for ex's to contact his mother as a routine. "Did you do something to make her mad, Michael?"
"Why does it have to be my fault?" Michael said defensively. "What do you two have to talk about anyway?"
"Oh, just woman things. Shopping, you know, that kind of thing."
"Mom, you don't go out shopping."
"Doesn't mean I don't like to."
Michael closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't know, you'll have to ask her."
"The last time I talked to her, she said you were warming up to her again," Madeline hinted carefully.
"She what?" he spat out, not able to swallow that comment at all.
"Well, not in so many words, but--"
"Ma, I already told you, it doesn't work between us. She admits that too."
"Michael, don't play these games with me. I can tell a broken heart when I see one."
It didn't occur to him until he was on his way back to his apartment to wonder whose heart his mother had meant to say was broken-- his, or Fiona's?
[Fiona]: Few cell phone service providers will simply let you cancel a contract. This can be a good thing if you decide later that you need access to a service you tried to close. That's also why it's so helpful to use a false ID when you buy a plan. Then when you decide to drop the service in breach of contract, at least they don't have your name and can't link the cancellation bills to you. Want to reverse it? Just be prepared to spend a little extra money. The cell service makes it hard to cancel a service, but easy to continue it. Piece of cake.
"I didn't know you could just get a new phone on the same contract," Fi drawled stupidly to the phone tech behind the counter. "Only cancelled 'cause I broke the damn thing. Wouldn't've cancelled it anyway, if I knew about all those fees."
"Your account's only suspended right now," the man reassured her. "The cancellation paperwork hasn't gone all the way down through processing yet anyway."
"All those fees will be cancelled, like you said?"
"Easily. As soon as the suspension is removed."
"Does that take long? The suspension, or undoing the cancel?"
"Automatically, faster than the cancellation itself would have taken. System updates overnight, so you should have service again tomorrow, Ms. Carlisle."
"My new phone will work tomorrow?"
"You'll need to bring it by for activation. Can't be done until the system updates your contract as active and without holds."
"And my voice-mails will still be there?"
"Thanks, darling," she said in "Ms. Carlisle's" southern accent and turned toward the door. "You've been a big help."
Sliding the replacement phone she'd just bought for her old service back into her pocket, she pulled her currently-functioning phone out as she walked back toward her car. Somehow, part of her wanted to warn Michael that she was about to have access to these voice-mails he seemed so fidgety over. What could he have possibly left as a message that he didn't want to discuss with her?
Well, she certainly wouldn't warn him. But she dialed his number anyway, deciding to sound him out in case Sam and Madeline might actually be right about him. Might he actually have a sensitive part that he chose to hide from her? Could she lure that part of him out into the light, if only she acted carefully, so as not to spook it?
She only let it ring once or twice before she hung up, changing her mind. Then, she waited nervously for the callback Michael was sure to make when he saw her number on the caller ID. The return call never came, and even though she wasn't sure what she would say to him, her nervousness turned into irritation as she waited. Irritation would become determination later, as she went through the motions of checking her inventory of personal artillery that evening.
Back at the loft, Michael groggily lifted his head. A short noise had awoken him, but what? He waited patiently for one minute, two, three, but the sound never repeated, so he rolled over and pulled the blanket over his head to block out the daylight still streaming through the windows.
[Michael]: If you're a 9 to 5 kind of person and you prefer sleeping at night, then intelligence is probably not the line of work for you. You get used to working late nights and sleeping when you can at all times of day. It's just part of the life.
Fiona removed two pairs of shoes from opposite ends of the rack in her closet so she could grasp the shelf. Then, she slid the piece of furniture over three inches to the left, followed by three inches straight up to remove it from the L-shaped bracket that held it in place over her favorite-items cache. Seating herself cross-legged on the floor, she pulled her clipboard and pen toward her and slid the trapdoor sideways and open. As she began going through Uzi magazines, rolls of detonation cord, her stores of C4, Semtex, and other specialty demolition tools, and a variety of mildly or mostly illegal bits of artillery, her mind shifted again toward Michael. Could Madeline and Sam be right? Was he finally ready to let his sensitive side out a little? Was she hurting him more than she realized by refusing to discuss their last tryst?
Finally, very late into the evening, she took a shower, mixed herself a quick cocktail for courage, gather her resolve, and set off for the loft.
Late that night, at the art gallery, Michael caught Melanie, the receptionist at the gallery, sneaking in to fix the wireless keylogger Michael had broken to lure out the art spy. She told Michael that if he were to turn her in, Chandler would certainly kill her. This sounded quite extreme for an art dealer, so it intrigued Michael enough to hear her out. Calling Sam to back him up for the debriefing, he took Melanie to a late-nite dive to discuss the story over drinks. According to her version of things, Chandler had apparently killed Melanie's painter-father over a valuable painting, and she had been spying on him to try to find out what had happened to the painting.
Michael followed Melanie home, serving two purposes: If she were innocent, then he was just seeing her inside safely. If she were lying, then he would know where to find her. Then he headed back to the loft to wait on Sam. With Sam's seemingly limitless resources of contacts all over the country (and sprinkled throughout the world), who all seemed to owe him favors, Michael knew that if there were any proof to be had verifying Melanie's story, Sam would have it within an hour or two. Invigorated after sleeping through most of the afternoon and evening in preparation for his late night at the gallery, he was wide awake now even though it was just past one in the morning. He would just wait for Sam, naturally a night owl himself, to return to the loft with the results of his information digging.
When he got home, though, he was startled to find Fiona at his loft. Not only was she there, waiting on him, but she was curled up in his bed, asleep. She woke when he shut the door behind him.
"At the art gallery?" Fiona asked, blinking through her sleepy vision, trying to focus on his face.
"Yeah," Michael answered slowly, trying to decide whether he should ask why she were here, or just take take in stride as her idea of "normal." "There's been a new development."
Michael explained about catching the receptionist as the spy, and about her story that Chander the art dealer might be trying to sell her murdered father's final painting on the black market. Fiona listened interestedly to the story, asking questions to clarify details as he spoke. She never truly awoke, though, and smelled faintly of rum. At length, without explanation, she began putting on her shoes and picked up her keys and cell phone, asking Michael to call her tomorrow if he needed her for the job.
"Should you be driving?"
"It's not that far, and I'm not drunk, just sleepy," she assured him. "I've got enough energy to get home, barely." And it looked as though she was about to escape without explaining her unexpected late-night presence.
"Did you... want to talk about something?" Michael called to her from his chair as she started toward the door, deciding he couldn't let her get away without explaining her unexpected late-night presence.
Fiona hesitated at the door. She had come over to talk, but when she had come in and found an empty apartment, all her resolve and courage seemed to have melted away. She couldn't know that Michael had been doing the same thing, building up his courage and then watching it deflate like a spent dick before a word was said. So Fi merely smiled sadly and mumbled something indistinct about being too tired and it not being all that important.
And then she was gone. Michael sighed. Sam was right, of course. Wasn't he? Fiona would never change, never stop hurting him. Right? Why did a large part of him not care whether she hurt him or not?
Michael scowled, trying to be irritated with her, but truly, he was more irritated with himself. He just wasn't sure what bothered him more. Part of him wanted to get very mad at her continued avoidance of the conversation he knew they should have, but another part of him felt guilty for trying to push her to talk about something that was likely more difficult for her than it would be for him. But she still should have told him what he was getting into when he had sex with her! All those years ago, she should have spoken up!
But... what right did he have to know? Had he shared any of his more painful scars with her? Wasn't that kind of emotional fair trade an important key to making a relationship work?
Those introspective thoughts only made him more furious with the entire situation. How could he be so oblivious? This was exactly why he wasn't good at relationships, and it only stung worse that he knew it.
[Michael]: When you think of people as assets, you make it easier for yourself as an operative to not get too attached. But you're also creating problems. Chunking information down into its simplest form always makes it easier to deal with, but over-simplifying a person can often leave out important details. Stereotype a businessman as being clean-cut and normal, and you might miss that his greed has led him to pay for someone's murder. But with an asset, it's harder. Simplify one of your assets too much, and you miss details that affect how they relate to you, which could cause you to lose them as an asset. Get too involved, though, and you're tied down. It's an impossible balance, which is why, ultimately, you always have to choose between distancing yourself or letting affection get the best of you.
Michael was still beating out frustration on a training bag when Sam came back with an apartment lease between Melanie's parents that proved her story checked out. So, Michael instantly got to work making a car-battery-powered electromagnet to wipe the security footage to protect her. Then, the next day, he used the mysteriously wiped footage as proof to Chandler that the problem was more serious than he originally thought. He convinced Chandler that he needed access to his computer files in order to find out who the spy's motives and identity.
[Sam]: When you think of people as assets, you're closing off a portion of yourself that makes you human. Keeping your distance protects you in some ways, but it also keeps you from seeing some of the details that matter most. Eventually, all that cold stand-offishness will bite you squarely in the ass. The best you can hope is that one of your assets will turn out to be a reliable old friend who's watching out for you even when you don't realize it. And all you have to do is buy me--er, him--a six-pack every now and again.
Sam spent a few hours going through Chandler's computer files before calling Michael for another typical late-afternoon drink-and-talk.
Michael, a bit bleary-eyed from his skewed sleep schedule, seemed a little preoccupied.
"The week Melanie's dad died," Sam was saying, "Chandler's calendar had a lot of blank spots. So.... I cross-referenced that with the phone records, came up with a guy." He passed a folder across the table. "Jacob Orr, a so-called security consultant. He did a stint for manslaughter."
"Chandler's wet work guy."
"If I'm a betting man."
Michael bit back a comment about Sam and vices. Betting was at least one thing that Sam wasn't particularly prone to. "Wanna make a new friend?" he said instead, knowing he couldn't let himself be seen by an associate of Chandler's or he'd blow the operation. "You can take Fi."
"Oh, boy. You sure know how to sweeten the pot, Mike." Sam's voice was greased with sarcasm as he leaned back in his chair with a grimace. Not that Michael was aware of it, but Sam had been particularly annoyed with Fiona recently for her brusque behavior and her direct opposition to Sam's opinions of what Michael's friends should act like. He was also suspicious about what was going on between Fiona and Michael, another sore spot with him. The thought of his last small argument with Fiona reminded him that she hadn't answered his curiosity about what was going on with them. The notion that Michael might be more forthcoming spurred Sam to ask, "Hey, uh, speaking of Fi... what was that whole business at the loft, you know, with the weird energy?"
[Michael]: Body armour is made for glancing shots and friendly fire, mainly. See, even in today's advanced age, there are few defenses for direct fire. Your best defense is just to avoid a direct shot whenever possible.
Michael gave a little shrug, sipped his iced tea, and looked away.
Sam's face began to distort. "Oh, no, Mike. Tell me you didn't." Michael still wouldn't look at him, which only fueled Sam's theory. "You did, didn't you?" His face finally arrived at the disgusted look he had been saving ever since he first began to fear, a few days ago, that Michael might be softening toward Fiona again. "You did!"
Sam's finger viciously jabbing in his direction seemed to startle Michael. He jumped, and tried a very unconvincing play at snapping out of a daydream. "What? No. I don't know what you're talking about. What?"
"How many times do you have to touch the flame until you figure out that it burns?"
"You gonna help with the job or not?" Michael said, eager now to simply close up business and escape. Damn Sam.
"Of course. But I object to the fact that you wanted me to work with her without telling me that you were doing a little booty call." He made a rude gesture that uncomfortably reminded Michael of Seymour's similarly childish notions of faux-sign-language for sex.
"Check!" Michael called, hoping for a quick rescue.
It wasn't until half an hour later that Michael began kicking himself and called Sam back. "Sam, uh... I was just thinking we might want to switch tactics on how to get a bug on Orr's phone."
"You need it done faster? The guy's a barfly anyway, we could go early, and he'll probably already be drinking," Sam suggested over the connection.
"I... just thought Fiona might not want the mission."
Sam's was caught in a mixture of extreme suspicion and distaste at what was troubling Mikey, but he didn't ask. Instead, he said simply, "I've already called her, and we're set. Standard pick-up. It'll be simple."
Michael felt a swimming sensation in his stomach. It was too late, Fiona was involved. But how could he ask her to pull a ploy that required her to sell herself to some scum-bag, to seduce him just for the sake of wiring a cell phone?
Michael realized he'd gone silent for too long. "Just... watch her, Sam," he said, not knowing what else he could say that wouldn't make Fiona righteously furious with him when she found out.
"Right, Mikey. Running back-up, I got it. I'll let you know when we're out." As soon as Sam hung up, he frowned thoughtfully. It was worse than he thought. Since when was Michael protective of a woman who could claw a lion's eyes out before it knew what was coming?
On Michael's end, though, the conversation had revived the seasick feeling that had made him so ill a few mornings ago. What if something went wrong? What if Orr took advantage of her? How much would be too much? Was a hand in the wrong place too much? Would he feel her up? Could she cope, or would she go home and cry in the shower as she try to scrub off the memory?
No, this is Fi, he reminded himself. No matter what her past experience was, she could handle herself. He wasn't going to worry about her like she was some inexperienced woman walking into a trap. She was an operative walking into a relatively simple mission.
But a tiny voice in the back of his head reminded him that, apparently, at some point in her past, Fiona had been taken advantage of. He tried to ignore the physical illness that threatened to reacquaint him with his lunch.
Please forgive me, Fi.
For sending her into this close-to-prostitution mission? Or for doubting her?
[Fiona]: A good bartender is an operative's best friend. Any female would do well to learn that lesson, to be honest, though. Just make sure your bartender understand you don't want to get drunk, tip him well, and you're set.
Fiona arrived first, early, to the location that evening, spotted the target, and quietly ordered a quarter-strength cocktail at the other end of the bar so he wouldn't hear her talking with the bartender. She sipped her way slowly through the first drink while she waited for Sam to arrive with the goods--a bug and some rufy's or something similar, he had promised. When Sam arrived, he ordered himself a drink and a refill for "his friend" (Fiona winked at the bartender). As Sam led her to a corner of the seating area, perched with a view directly toward Orr, and began to discuss him, Fiona sipped her new drink and was pleased to note that the man behind the counter was sharp enough to realize she didn't want to get drunk. Without being asked, the 'tender had made her second drink just as weak or weaker-- she could barely taste any alcohol at all in the mostly-water solution.
Sam handed Fiona the transmission device he'd prepared. "You sure you're up for this?" he asked, more as a reaction to Michael's odd phone call earlier than out of concern that she couldn't handle herself.
"Planting a bug in a cell phone. You think I can't get a guy to go up to his room?" Fiona asked carelessly.
"No, I'd say you have a gift for getting men to make bad choices."
"Michael told you."
"He didn't have to." Sam sipped his drink and glared at her, just to make it perfectly clear he didn't approve.
"Well, don't look at me," Fiona said, restraining herself from a fiercer reaction, "he started it."
"Fi, Mr. Orr is waiting," Sam said.
As Sam lingered in the background, taking care not to connect with anyone else while also trying not to look like a creepy lurker, he wondered what Michael was worried about. He was just thinking about how smoothly everything seemed to be going for Fiona when suddenly, Fi and Orr stood and left the bar. Very smoothly indeed! They'd be out of here in no time.
But as Sam patrolled the hallway outside the target's hotel room, an ice-bucket under his arm in case a passerby should wonder what he was doing, he was startled to hear the tell-tale sounds of a struggle break out. The only possible explanation was that Orr had tried to go too far too fast, and Fiona was having to defend herself. In a split second, as Sam dropped the ice and braced himself to try to kick the door in, he suddenly understood something, though he wouldn't be able to connect the dots and make sense of it until later. The sudden concern he had for Fiona's welfare gave him a taste of how Michael must be feeling about Fiona. What surprised him, though, was that worrying about Fiona's safety reminded him of the way the he himself was currently worried about Michael. Later, he would muse that he was worried about Michael because he knew that Michael was more vulnerable than he let on. Perhaps, similarly, Michael saw something vulnerable and forgivable about Fiona that Sam had no inkling of?
Now, though, Sam was cursing himself for not planning on providing Fi better back-up. He really hadn't thought it would be necessary. Otherwise, he would have at least swiped a housekeeper's master key or something. The hotel door was proving too solid and he would admit he didn't keep himself in service-ready shape anymore--
And then, almost as suddenly as the scuffle began, Fiona slinked out of the room, Orr unconscious on the floor behind her.
The next morning, Fiona awoke suddenly and very early, startled. She hadn't showered when she got home last night! How could she not have? A small voice in her head whispered something nonsensical about Orr's touch not being anywhere near as painful or humiliating as Michael's. Orr was just another man who saw her as some woman, the role she was playing, and somehow being treated objectively felt more gratifying in some ways. It felt more natural to just play a role. You don't get your hands dirty when you play a role. Michael, though, knew her better than she really wanted, forced her into taking her gloves off.
She climbed quickly out of bed and headed toward the bathroom, but her shower felt more like a ritual and less about effect.
[Michael]: You just can't maintain high levels of tension for a long time. Something's got to give. That's why, if the operation requires adrenalin, you do it fast. That's also why, if the operation requires a steady hand, you wait for the tension to relax away. The only thing to watch out for is when the tension tips over a reasonable point and snaps. You do everything you can to keep away from that, no matter what your mission or goal.
[Fiona]: You just can't maintain high levels of tension for a long time. Eventually, it snaps and leaves utter exhaustion behind.
That morning, Sam was at Michael's place monitoring phone calls on Orr's phone bug (Sam had already overheard a very juicy conversation) when Melanie, the client, came looking for Michael. It seemed that Chandler was paying to have the footage restored. The escalation in the job kept Michael busy enough that he managed to avoid personal conversations with Sam and Fi for the most part, though he honestly wasn't sure if he were avoiding them on purpose or only accidentally.
Fiona, on the other hand, was actively looking for openings. And, after another day passed, she thought she had found one, when she found herself suddenly alone with Michael in a breezy diner after Melanie left an impromptu meeting the next afternoon.
"You know," she began teasingly, picking up right where the conversation had ended with Michael's entreaty to Melanie to go about business as usual, "pretending nothing's going on is easier for some people than others."
Michael sighed, moved his mouth in a way that unintentionally parodied a dead fish, and then set it into a resigned frown. He was saved from commenting, though, by his phone ringing. It was Seymour, calling them out to see Poole's hideout, which had been discovered.
The meeting with Seymour made Michael uncomfortable for more than one reason, but it was Fiona who was most glad when they could drop him off at the end of the brief reconnaissance. Seymour had taken an opportunity alone with her to ask about the status between herself and Michael. Thinking of two identical but separate cells on her plate of spaghetti a couple of nights previous, she had explained that they were in "different spaces," but Seymour would have none of it. "It's destiny, you two. Forces bigger than us." The words were exhausting. The unspoken words floating between herself and Michael were exhausting. The uncertainty was exhausting. If she could ever just find a good moment, she would broach the subject with Michael.
And so, by the time Seymour was dropped off, Fiona had prepared herself for another attempt at opening the conversation. However, as soon as the unstable weapons dealer was out of the car and waving farewell at them, Michael instantly whipped out his phone and called Chandler. He had no sooner hung up than his mother called him and frittered away the rest of the drive back to Michael's loft. Frustrated, Fiona led the way up the stairs.
Sam brandished a fresh beer bottle at them as they entered, and offered teasingly, "I can drink this outside if you two need some... alone time."
Fiona glanced at Michael blandly, thinking of the undiscussed elephant that was following the two of them around, but had to admit it wasn't going to be discussed now either. "Drink it here, Sam," she urged. It didn't escape her notice, though, that Sam acted a little less thorny towards her. She wondered why.
She didn't have much of a chance to wonder, though, since Melanie suddenly called and they were sent off on a spree that took up much of the rest of the afternoon. But there was satisfaction in wrapping up the case early, one would have to admit. And in blowing up a car.
Fiona left the cell service store at the mall with a sense of awkward anticipation. She'd managed to slip away from Michael and Sam as they went to meet Melanie for a summative visit. And now, in her hand, in the shape of a new phone and reinstated old service, did she have answers? Or would it only raise more questions?
She nearly jumped when her other phone--the one she had switched to a few days ago--suddenly rang as she opened her car door. "Poole time. Ready?" came Michael's voice before she could even speak a word. "We're at your place, thought you were here."
"I'm coming," she said simply, and then hung up. Tossing that phone into her passenger seat, she picked up the other phone, dialed the voicemail retrieval system, and backed the car out.
"You have twenty-two unheard messages," a spayed female voice told her as she pulled out into traffic and began driving toward home.
"Twenty-two? Are you serious?" she couldn't help muttering out loud.
Some of the first ones were from business associates of hers, one wanting to make a sale and one wanting to make a purchase. She made a mental note to update her new phone number for one of them, but decided the other didn't need to know her contact information had changed. Business associates were responsible for a total of five voicemails, she would realize as she listened, and Sam was responsible for one, reminding her about the Dolphins tickets, but Michael's voice filled the other sixteen messages with increasing levels of panic and despair evident in the tone.
"Fi, I'm at the address you gave me. Answer your phone! I need to know where you are!"
"Fi, you've got to answer your phone. Where are you?"
"When there's an emergency, you GO to a rendezvous point, Fi. I've been to them all. Where are you?" (Fiona had to admit he had a point there. She had violated their protocol in going straight to her own home and then his loft in the event of a failed operation when communications were severed. But at the same time, she hadn't considered it an emergency situation since it had only involved herself and she was unaware that anyone else knew her situation had become compromised in the house that became a fire trap.)
Somewhere around the tenth or twelfth message, the tone changed entirely for the worst, the words abandoned her whereabouts as a focus, and Fiona almost hung up because Michael's voice was heartbreaking to listen to.
"I wish I could be Michael McBride. He made you happy."
"You've never used a cover ID on me. I should never have been two-faced with you." (Fiona realized tears of guilt were streaming down her face. But, she had always kept him at arm's length, hadn't she? She had played parts with him.)
"Fiona... Fi! Fi!"
She was getting close to her place and she knew that she should hang up, dry her eyes, and fix her appearance before she arrived. Knew she should save the rest of them for later, or better yet, just delete them all, unheard. Yet she let the messages keep playing in her ear. She had lost count of how close she was to hearing all twenty-two, but somehow she could tell Michael's messages were coming to an end as he seemed to lose coherence altogether. The current message she was listening to sounded more like a dying, groaning troll calling for help in its grunting language.
"Next unheard message, sent Sunday--" That would be a message from someone else, Fiona figured, since it was sent the morning after that crazy night. And she really had to clean herself up and get ready to face Michael and Seymour without raising questions about puffy eyes or distracted demeanor. Just as she was about to hit the End Call button, though, Michael's voice, much clearer than before, but also much more panicked. She pressed the receiver to her ear and just managed to catch the last two words: "rape you."
A cold sensation spread through her middle. And she frantically punched the number for "replay this message" over and over and over until the voicemail system accepted it. Then there was Michael's voice again, panicked and desperate, clipping off the words in a semi-automatic volley of piercing rounds: "Fi, I need to know I didn't just rape you."
She gave a startled cry, clicked the phone off, and tossed it away from her. Is that what he-- Had she give the impression-- Well, had they-- Should she have--
Michael picked up on the haunted look in Fiona's eyes immediately, but between Seymour's excitement over the caper and his own eagerness to get going, he couldn't find a moment to catch her to ask.
Forty-five minutes later, when they were finally creeping up on Poole's hideout, Fiona seemed normal enough and he wondered if he should just let it go. Yet he was still aching to know that he hadn't hurt her, and seeing her upset for an unknown reason only awakened the seasick feeling in his guts. He ignored it for the sake of the mission, but he knew they would have to face things sooner rather than later. It was simply too exhausting waiting it out like this.
[Seymour]: Funny thing, destiny. It's inescapable, and yet you make your own. Convince yourself that you're a failure, and your failure is inescapable. So the trick is not in finding your destiny. The trick is in convincing yourself (or in convincing others), fully and completely, that your destiny is to be legendary (or that their destiny is to be together). If the belief is there, the unconscious will guide the actions. Trust me. I know. I know.
Fiona opted to stay outside while Michael and Seymour took Poole inside for interrogating. Leaning against her car, she looked up at the stars that were visible through Miami's light pollution and forced back the tears that wanted to rise to the surface.
Why were things so complicated?
Or was that even true? She had been avoiding Madeline for several days, perhaps a week, now, because the woman had a knack for simplifying things down to its essence. She would never acknowledge her own ability and would point to her failed relationship with Michael as proof, but for Fiona's sake, she thought it would work if only Michael would give it more of a chance. Maybe Madeline was right, though, and everything was simpler than Fiona thought.
What about her own relationship with Michael?
Fiona blinked and looked down from the stars, idly drawing patterns in the road dust on the hood of the Saab. Was nothing ever as it seemed? She had been angry at him for skulking behind one cover ID after another, hiding himself from direct view. But she had done the same, hadn't she? Yes, she had to admit she was no better than him. She wanted his closeness but hadn't been prepared herself to offer the sacrifices of self that intimacy required. She had been saddened that he didn't seem to feel comfortable opening up with her, but she had been closing him out as well, hadn't she? What was worse, she had suffered her demons alone and never considered the effect they had on him, or what his own demons might be.
"I need to know I didn't just rape you."
Goddamn. How do you respond to that? No, Michael, I wanted that night to happen exactly the way it happened. But she couldn't say that-- it wasn't true. She regretted that it happened at all, even though a part of her appreciated that it had forced her to reexamine herself and have another look at how she had dealt with old wounds. She couldn't explain that to him, though. It wouldn't help him. It just sounded bad. Don't worry, Michael, it wasn't completely against my will. It's just that you were so sensitive that night, I didn't want to hurt you by saying no. How horrible those words sounded! ...even though it was rather closer to the truth. Anyone else, she would have fought off easily that night.
Fiona sucked in a slow, steadying breath as she realized something. Was that it, then? Was it really the sex that had broken her? Or was it the willingness to suffer for Michael's sake? All right then, I'll go to hell,* she thought, and found the words fit her feelings very well.
The front door suddenly opened and Michael came striding out.
"That was quick," Fiona greeted him, pleased with herself for having shed no tears to have to hide from him now.
"I got the account number used by the man who hired Poole to kill me. I just need to turn it into a name," Michael said, sounding relatively satisfied. She had always marveled at his ability to appreciate every minute step in an investigation. It took a patience and resolve that was remarkable to be able celebrate baby steps.
Before she could comment, though, the house burst open again to spew an excited Seymour onto the lawn to chase after them. "Hey," he called as he ran awkwardly. "I almost forgot. Here." He passed two thin, rectangular boxes at them. "It's a little-- It's a little something I had made for, uh-- Well, it's in honor of our first operation together. Go on, open 'em!"
Michael and Fiona exchanged curious, quirked-eyebrow looks.
"Oh!" Fiona began hesitantly as she examined the contents and threw a glance over into Michael's box. "Matching throwing daggers. That's... very thoughtful of you, Seymour." She lifted the blade to test its weight, though she would have to admit this kind of weapon was more Michael's expertise than hers.
Seymour, apparently oblivious to the social awkwardness of the entire gesture, nodded and went on to point out further details of his strange thoughtfulness. "And if you look at the engraving there, it means destiny. It's a symbol of your bond. Of-of our bond actually," he added quickly, digging into his pocket to pull out a wrapped package roughly the same size as their blades. "I made one for myself too. Oh. I'd better get back. You know, uh, don't wanna leave Jackass alone too long with the captive." And with that, he was gone again, dashing back toward the front door in his ungainly way.
Admiring the knife, Fiona grinned and said, "That was kind of sweet."
Michael didn't answer immediately. It didn't make sense, but somehow, holding this knife that matched Fiona's was the last straw. It seemed like one final lie on a list of too many silent lies. The sunken look she had had at the beginning of the kidnapping venture a couple of hours ago was still weighing on him as well. He inwardly stumbled under the exhaustion of the load, sinking to his metaphorical knees under the burden. It was time. It was past time. He looked up at her. "You know, the morning after we, uh--" He gestured vaguely with the silver dagger.
"Yeah," Fi said quietly, breathing a slow sigh of relief. It was time. It was past time.
Michael's words were gentle, careful. He didn't ask any hard questions or make any painful accusations. "I brought you a Spanish omelet, egg white only. But you were gone," he said lightly.
"My favorite," Fiona sighed thickly. "Maybe next time, I'll have to stay."
Two small, reserved smiles made it to their eyes, and then they walked around the car and got in. Michael's Charger was parked at her apartment still, so she turned the Saab toward home. Silence reigned for most of the drive, and while it wasn't exactly a comfortable silence, the lack of discussion didn't make skin crawl or minds cry this time. The line was open, which felt like enough of a start.
Finally, Michael dared to go one step further and ask, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Fiona didn't have to ask what he meant. "Would you have treated me differently?" she said immediately, fast enough that Michael knew she was speaking her deepest fear about her decision to hold the secret.
Michael thought before answering. When he had sent Sam and Fiona after Orr, he had been horrified when he realized that he was sending a sexually abused woman into a situation that carried at least a small risk of the same. But in the end, he had let her proceed, trusting that she would want him to simply hold faith that she could take care of herself. Did the worry count as treating her differently, or did the action of letting her carry on count as treating her normally? "I don't know," he finally admitted.
The silence stretched long again before Fiona brought up her own most weighing thought. "You're all of them, aren't you?"
"There's truth in every lie," he whispered enigmatically, but she knew he meant it to say, "Yes, I was in all of the characters that have loved you."
Fiona pulled up next to the Charger and turned to give Michael a sad smile. "See you tomorrow, Michael." She leaned over to give him a quick kiss and then left him in the car as she went inside her apartment.
Michael sat in the car for five minutes, and then ten, debating. Was he wrong to force his way into her heart, or was it the sort of proof she wanted of him? Finally, he made his decision.
He didn't have a key to her place, something that made him smile wryly to himself. Well, to be fair, he'd never asked, as she had asked him for a key to his loft. The lock was easy enough to pick, however, and he was soon inside. The shower was running, and he followed the sound. He knew she would have heard the small click of the doorknob or sensed the change in air pressure as he slipped through the open door, so he spoke to disarm the defensive attack he was sure she was already preparing for her intruder.
"You can tell me to leave, Fi, anytime," he said in a carrying voice, trying to make many things clear to her with that one sentence.
She peeked around the edge of the shower curtain as he stepped into the bathroom. "I know," she said flatly. He was encouraged, at least, that her voice held no antagonism.
"Are you dirty?" he asked. His tone was ambiguous, and Fiona couldn't tell if he were teasing her for jumping so quickly into the shower after returning home or if he were genuinely concerned about her psychological status.
Either way, she took her time before she answered, wanting to be honest. "No," she said at last.
"Do you want to be?" This time, the words were accompanied by an easy-to-interpret, Michael-trademark grin.
Something about him formally requesting permission like this pained her but also soothed her, giving her the opportunity to accept or deny him without causing either of them to suffer as before. "Come on in," she answered quickly, ready to give him another chance at the sort of night he had expected and wanted the first time, several nights ago.
She couldn't help laughing when he promptly pulled back the shower curtain far enough for him to step into the spray of water, exactly as he was, clothes and all. "Michael! You're going to make a mess," she chided, imagining his wet clothes draped everywhere in her apartment to dry.
"I hope so," he said.
End of chapter
*Note: All right then, I'll go to hell. This is the climactic line of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The character of Huck Finn is debating whether to help his friend Jim the slave escape to freedom. The church at the time backed slavery and claimed that anyone helping slaves to escape was committing a crime against God as well as against community laws. So it is particularly telling when Huck decides that he is willing to sacrifice much and accept great personal loss and even eternal damnation for someone else's sake and against the advice anyone else of the time would have offered him.
**Additional note: If you are the sort that doesn't usually leave reviews, either because you don't want to take the time or can't think of anything to say, consider going to my profile and voting in the poll that's posted at the top. I would appreciate it. Thanks!