We arrived at the safe house, or rather the safe condo, just as the sun was beginning to rise over Biscayne Bay.
"I see why you like it here, Sis," Sean commented as the two of them admired the view. "Not often we get a cloudless sunrise like this back home."
Fiona's automatic smile hid deep thoughts. "No," she murmured more to herself than to anyone else in the room.
The high-rise space had a breezy, open floor plan with three bedrooms. My mother, alternating between helpful and irritating, settled our things into the three rooms as Sam and I retrieved them from the cars in alternating shifts. We'd left Sean and Fi with orders to relax in the living room.
I dropped the last bag on the floor by the door, locked us up tightly, then joined Sam in the kitchenette to talk.
"That's it," I informed him, keeping my voice low in hopes that Fiona would stay in the other room and not try to get involved. It was not that I didn't value her advice or appreciate her insights, but she'd already gone through enough in the last 24 hours. The last thing she needed right now was another mission to worry about.
"Great." Sam offered me a mug of coffee but I shook my head. He took a sip of it himself. "So what's our next move?"
I pushed the heel of my hand to the bridge of my nose in hopes of stalling the headache that was brewing.
"The only lead we have right now is Strickler's phone. My bet is whoever took out Diego was working with Strickler. We have to be careful though, we have no idea what side this person's on or what kind of resources they have at their disposal."
Sam nodded. "Start digging too deep and we'll be next on the list for sure."
I leaned on the counter, watching Fiona across the room as she tried to find something on TV that she and Sean could agree on. "Yeah," I turned back to Sam. "I think we need to take this one slow. We're good here for now. We can lay low, take our time before we get back out there."
"We can't just shoot them and be done with it?"
I jumped at Fiona's voice, surprised to find her suddenly standing right next to me. Sam disguised a smile behind a large sip of coffee.
"You," I replied quietly, forcing my shoulders back into a relaxed position, "are not going to be shooting anyone in the near future."
"Oh, Michael," she threw her head to one side dramatically, "haven't I suffered enough these last few days? You'd really take away the one thing that I love right now?"
Sam grinned and turned to the sink to rinse his mug.
I narrowed my eyes at her. "The one thing?" I asked quietly.
Her face was serious but her eyes belied a touch of whimsy. "You're right," she replied. "I'll always have shoe shopping."
I rolled my eyes as she padded off to the bedroom we'd claimed for ourselves. Opening the refrigerator, I found it unacceptably devoid of yogurt.
"Sam, do you think you could make a grocery run soon?"
"Sure thing. Not a problem."
My mother wandered out into the living room, already looking like a caged animal. A trail of smoke followed behind her like a leash.
"And could you maybe take my mom with you?" Sam started to protest. "Sam," I whispered, "it'll be best for all of us if she has a chance to get out. You know, stretch her legs."
"We just got here!" He looked at me like I'd just betrayed him to the enemy. "Fine, but you'll owe me."
"I already owe you, Sam," I told him, trying to keep my tone lighthearted. 'More than I'll ever be able to pay back,' I thought to myself.
As the two of them walked out, I settled myself in the living room to watch a rugby match Sean had found on one of the nosebleed channels. I leaned my head back against the overstuffed pillows and found my eyelids getting weightier by the second. I was apparently tired enough to sleep through the screaming fans and nauseatingly repetitive commentary.
I was not, however, tired enough to sleep through the cacophonous crash that soon emerged from the other room. Especially not when it was accompanied by a scream and then a string of curse words from Fiona.
Sean was still too injured to move on his own, but I bolted off the couch and into our bedroom. I had to use all of my balance as I stopped short right before tripping over a jumbled pile of guns and hardware that covered the floor.
She was sitting on the floor on the other side of the pile, clutching the bandage on her arm. She looked up at me and her expression showed more embarrassment than pain, though I knew both feelings were present.
"Fi," I picked my way around to kneel beside her. "What the hell were you trying to do?"
"I just needed to move that bag, " she winced as I pulled her fingers away from the bandage. "Someone left it on the bed and I was going to lie down, but…"
"You pulled your stitches out," I finished for her. The red spot growing on the white bandage told me that without even having to remove it.
"You two all right in there?" Sean called from the living room.
"We're fine," I yelled back. Fiona thanked me for my discretion with a small smile. I sighed. "Why didn't you ask me to get it for you?" I helped her up and onto the bed.
"You were resting…and besides, I'm not helpless," she grumbled.
I dug around in the bag with the medical supplies and tossed the bottle of Advil over to her. She snatched it deftly out of the air with her good hand.
Continued digging finally produced fresh gauze, antiseptic spray, scissors, tweezers, and a needle and thread. When I turned back to Fiona, she had the medicine bottle pinned between her knees while she struggled to push and twist the cap off with one hand.
I dumped the supplies next to her on the bed and took the bottle from her. When I handed her two of the pills, I was shocked to see her eyes welling up with tears.
"These'll help with the pain," I offered her the pills again. "Water?" She shook her head and wiped a forearm across her face.
"It doesn't hurt," she hiccupped, trying not to cry.
"Well it's going to hurt when I start stitching it up again, so go ahead and take those."
She swallowed one, then the other as I grabbed a clean towel out of the bathroom. Sean's rugby match still blared in the other room. When I got back to the bed, she'd already peeled the soaked bandage off of her arm and was slowly pulling out the threads that were still attached to her skin.
"Let me get it," I pushed her hand away and picked up the tweezers while I wiped up some of the blood with the towel.
Her chin tucked against her chest and she knit her brow as I started to work. She was jumpy, but that was nothing new. I'd patched her up before and she was never an easy patient. At least it seemed she'd stopped crying. She turned her head away when I sprayed the area with the antiseptic. I heard a sniffle and her hand swiped at her eyes again.
"Sorry," I tried to be empathetic.
"Doesn't hurt," she maintained.
I tried to strike a balance between slow, methodical sewing so that she wouldn't have too much of a scar and working quickly so that it could be over faster. She was uncharacteristically quiet.
I snipped the end of the thread and started to rewrap her arm. "I'm done, Fi. You can look again." There was no perceptible movement, so I reached over to pull the hair away from her face. I tucked it behind her ear and made a few more passes with the tape over the gauze before ripping it from the roll.
I ran a hand up her back. "Fi? That's it. I'm done." I reached out and pulled her face around to meet mine. Her eyes were red and her cheeks were covered with tears. "Hey," I wiped some of them away, "I thought it wasn't hurting you."
"It didn't hurt," she mumbled again.
She might not be in pain, but I certainly was. My head was starting to hurt again from the confusion. If it didn't hurt I didn't know why she would be crying, but it was Fiona…who could say why Fiona did anything?
She stood and started gathering the supplies off the bed. I decided not to push it and went to rinse the bloody towel in the bathroom.
She was picking up guns one by one when I got back. "Here, let me get those," I knelt down to finish picking them up, and that's when she exploded.
"Damn it, Michael!" She clenched both fists involuntarily and winced as pain shot through one arm. "Can't you let me do one damn thing by myself?"
I was too shocked by her outburst to reply immediately so I just took a step back and sat on the bed.
She continued picking up the contents of the bag for a few moments, then finally said, "I'm sorry. I just…I need to not feel so helpless right now." She glanced at me and I grabbed her good arm and tugged gently to bring her to sit next to me on the bed. One arm made its way around her back as I laced my fingers with hers.
I kissed the top of her head and I pulled her in towards me. "The Fiona Glenanne I know is never helpless," I assured her.
"She was yesterday," she whispered, and finally I understood. She wrapped her good arm around me and buried her face in my neck, her chest started to rise and fall more forcefully as she tried to fight off tears again.
I mumbled unintelligible assurances into her hair.
She pulled back to face me. "It was close, Michael…too damn close. You could have died. Sean could have died. I could have died. Isn't it time now to just let it go? How many times do you have to almost fall off the edge of the cliff before you go back to the trail?"
"I've never been a big fan of hiking."
She rolled her eyes at me. "You know what I'm saying."
"I know what you're saying, Fi." I paused, unsure whether it was a good idea to actually voice my next thought. "But you know I can't stop now. If you still want to leave, try to get out of Miami…I don't like it, but I understand. Let me help you this time. I'll help you find some place safe. I'll-"
She cut me off with a kiss.
"I never wanted to leave, Michael. I just couldn't stand to see you stray so far from your moral compass." I couldn't continue to look her in the eye and lowered my gaze to my lap.
"I have to go after this, Fi. Diego died because of me. I have to know why and I need to do something about it."
She collapsed against me and sighed. "I know," she whispered.
I wasn't sure if that was her approval or just an acknowledgment of the unavoidable truth, but she was relaxing in my arms and, for the moment, that was enough for me. The rest could be sorted out in the coming weeks.
I kissed the top of her head. "So how about that nap you wanted?"
She shifted against me and pulled us both down to lie on the bed. She smiled at me sleepily. "Now that's a plan I can fully embrace."