Author's Note: So, this was inspired by the pictures that Michael was flipping through at the beginning of 'Long Way Back." This is how I see the end of his time in Ireland.
As an operative, you're trained in the art of creating and disposing of identities. You know that a name is just a name, and that it can change in a minute: Sean Dalton, James Moore, Roger Pierce, Gregory Stewart…they're just words. You learn about document forgery: passports, driver's licenses, birth certificates. You learn accents, postures, limps. You learn which clothes will give you the exact image you're trying to portray. They practically send you through cosmetology school. All of this, just so that you can change your appearance and walk away from your life a new man…in half an hour or less.
But some covers are harder to drop than others. When you spend an extended period of time in one place, cultivating a single identity, it stays with you. The relationships that you form with other people get harder to let go. In many ways, a cover ID worn for a long time becomes a part of you…it is you. You start to get comfortable with the people around you, and you stop thinking of them as assets, which is when things start to get dangerous.
It's been a week and a half since our close shave in Belfast, and we're still nursing our wounds. I've got at least four broken ribs and a torn muscle in my shoulder. Fi's doing the best she can to hide her limp, but leg wounds are nasty. As we walk into the pub, I have to shorten my stride so that she can keep up. I know she's frustrated, and I am, too. It hurts, and every time I open the door for her, I get a reminder of the mistakes I've made that got us in this situation. Cooking dinner earlier tonight was by far one of the most painful, not-spy-related things that I've done. But then I see the understanding in her eyes, and it's all worth it.
We both know that we shouldn't be here, but we have to meet with our contact or my cover is going to be blown. We've met here before, so we already know that there are three doors: the entrance we came through, the back door for receiving shipments, and the side employee's entrance. There is one large front window, and two on the wall behind us. While it can be dangerous to meet in the same place, it's also handy because you know everything about it. It's also public, which usually keeps the body count low.
"Fi, you really shouldn't be here," I told her.
"If I weren't here, things would look wrong. You need me here," she said. She wasn't wrong. I did need her there. I needed her there in more ways than one. Yes, I needed her for the cover, but I also needed her there because…well, just because a trip to Bridget's just wasn't the same without Fi. We'd been introduced there, and I hadn't been back without her since. I know it wasn't the smartest thing I'd ever done, but it was the way things were.
"Do you see him?" I asked.
"Not yet. But the rain is making the visibility awful outside. We can't see him coming, but—"
"He can't see us, either."
A passerby knocked Fi's chair and she instinctively tried to balance her weight on her leg. The average person never would have known that she was in pain. It was just a tensing of the muscles in her jaw, and the slightest hitch in her breathing. Her hand tightened around mine.
All the possibilities of what could go wrong flooded my mind. If we had to make a quick escape, it would be nearly impossible for her to escape. Her best bet would be the window slightly to her right, and then down the alley and through the apartment building next door. Still, with a bum leg, she was a sitting duck. The though of it all sent panic flooding through my veins.
I want nothing more than to pick her up, throw her over my shoulder, and spirit her away from this meeting. Of course, given my shoulder and my ribs, I know that this is impossible, and I also know that Fi would completely object to my thinking of her as a damsel in distress. Even on her death bed, Fi would never be a damsel in distress. If anything, it is more likely that she'll save my ass. But even knowing this doesn't stop me from trying to get her out of harms way.
"Fi. You should go home. If something goes wrong, if we have to get out of here fast—"
"Then make sure nothing goes wrong. Besides, I've got my Walther and the H&K. That's enough if it gets really violent, though I wish you would have let me bring the C—"
"If we need C-4, we're doing something wrong."
"You spoil all my fun," she said, though I could tell she was just trying to lighten the mood. She was visibly paler than she should be. I knew I didn't look my best at the moment, but my injuries were easier to hide. "What time is Colin supposed to be here?"
"He was supposed to be here seventeen minutes ago," I answered, looking the pub over for the eightieth time. Colin had never been this late before and it was nagging at me. Something didn't feel right. Where was he, and why hadn't he called?
"We should go. Whatever happened, he's not coming. He'll call to arrange another meeting. I'm ready to go—"
"Home. To bed." She arched her eyebrow suggestively, and I can't keep a grin off my face. It would be a relief to go home and collapse into the bed. I know that I shouldn't think of my little flat as home, and I shouldn't expect to come "home" to Fi everyday, because that's only something that normal people get to do. But it's a nice dream, and I'm not ready for it to end.
"Yeah. Let's go home." I stand and pull her against me, ignoring the pain blossoming across my chest. She smiled up at me, selling the image of the perfect, happy couple. Of course, we're not perfect, and usually we're unhappy. Not because we're together, but just because life is rarely happy when you're constantly looking over your shoulder and waiting for someone to kill you. The thing about this sort of lifestyle, is that when there are moments…those moments are golden.
"You call it home now," she whispered, kissing my injured shoulder. No matter how light the touch, it sends tingles down my spine every time. Despite the pain, I pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head. She smiles up at me, and I can't resist kissing her again. Her arms tighten around me and the kiss deepens. The pain starts to creep in, but I can't pull away. I don't want to pull away. I want to take Fi home to bed and never let her leave.
"Is it home for Michael Westen or Michael McBrid—" I kiss her again, this time to silence her. It isn't the first time she's asked the question, and it isn't the first time that I've dodged it. It isn't that I don't want to tell her that I love her. But acknowledging Michael Westen means that one day I might have to leave. It's just something that I don't like to think about. It's easier to think about the situation at hand.
I know that picking her up is going to hurt, but I don't care. She has me thinking too much about leaving, and it hurts. I know that a good, by-the-book spy would never find himself in this situation, but it's Fi. Even when I was in St. Petersburg with Sam…it was never like this. It never ached when I was away from her. But Fi is different. Completely different in every way. Sam was colder, controlled. Fi thrives in the chaos, but somehow it doesn't matter. I love her anyway.
She pulls away, and is looking at me in a way that makes me want to lay her out and take her right there on the table. Unfortunately, that's illegal in Ireland, too. Instead, I picked her up and carried her out the door, ignoring the cheers from inside the bar. I also ignore the pain in my ribs, and smile instead.
The rain is pouring down in sheets, but we step out into it anyway. After all, it's always raining in Dublin. Fi is shivering in my arms, despite her thick wool sweater. It could be cold, but it's more likely pain. She's been refusing to take her painkillers, and it's coming back to bite her in the ass. Pain killers have a tendency to make people fuzzy, which is why she wouldn't take them. When we get back to her place, I'll convince her to take a pain killer.
"Are you alright?" I asked once we got into the car.
"I'll be better when we get back to the flat," she answered, a sexy smile on her face. Her fingers are entwined with mine, and it's slightly distracting. Not distracting enough to keep me from watching for a tail. Of course, it helps when the person riding in the car knows exactly what to look for and you don't have to worry about frightening them.
"I don't see anyone," she whispered.
"No, it's just us." It doesn't stop me from taking several evasive maneuvers though, just for precautions. It gets to be second nature when they're someone constantly trying to kill you. It's also the reason that I check the door for booby traps. I enjoying living, and I sure as hell wouldn't want Fi to take the fall for my carelessness.
The flat is clear, and we head straight to the bedroom. It's different from the way things usually are. Normally, we're pulling at clothes, tossing them every which way, just trying to feel skin on skin. Today it's slower. We have to help each other. I can't get my shirt off without her help, and it takes both of us to get her pants off. Her fingers are trembling as she pulls my shirt down my arms. I try to be as gentle as possible with her leg, but wet jeans are not easy to slip off. She can't stop the whimper that slips past her lips.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, ditching my pants and lying beside her on the bed.
"Why? You didn't shoot me," she answers, running her fingers lightly across my chest. She's tracing the bruises, which are now starting to fade to a sickly yellow color.
"No, but I hurt you."
"Well, you can kiss it and make it better."
When working as an operative, sometimes your phone can be your only source of communication with a contact, so it isn't surprising that a spy is almost always going to have theirs nearby. Even on vibrate, a cell phone is going to wake an operative on the first ring.
I'm lying beside her, studying her features, which are only more beautiful in the moonlight. Even in her sleep she still looks feisty. I reach out and gently stroke her hair, needing the contact. Tonight was…different. It was tender, loving. We trusted each other enough to know that we would take care of each other's needs. Kisses were feather soft instead of rough, but passionate nonetheless. Touches were gentle, but still enough.
I could chalk it up to injuries, but that's not what it is. There is no escaping the fact that I am—whether I like it or not—in love with an IRA gun runner. It should bother me, but it doesn't. What does bother me is when my cell phone vibrates in the middle of the damn night. It's a text message.
I flip it open and the words glare back at me. It says only seven little words, but they're enough to bring my world crashing down around me. "Cover blown. One hour. Get out. –Colin."
It would have hurt less if someone had ripped my heart out and ground it into the floor with the heel of their shoe. It's the one thing that I tried to never let myself think about, and here it is, slapping me in the face. Because as many times as Fi had asked me that question—"Is this home for Michael Westen or Michael McBride?—the truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter. Michael Westen, Michael McBride…they're both me, and for me, Fi is home. And now, I don't get to have a home anymore.
I have to get up and get moving. With my injuries, it's going to take too long to get dressed, and I have to clean out my flat. There is too much stuff there to tie me to this job, to these people…to Fi. I can't let them get a hold of anything that is going to lead them back to Fi.
I want to wake her so much, but I know that I can't. I want to wake her up and kiss her like there's no tomorrow and beg her to come with me. I can't, of course. Spies aren't like cops; they don't have partners. If I wake her up, she's going to follow me to my place, and try to fix whatever mistake it was that I made that got us busted. All so that we can stay together.
But I can't let her do that, because it's going to get her killed. Instead, I get up as smoothly as I can and start getting dressed. I grab my gun from under the pillow, and my toothbrush from her bathroom. Even though I don't have the time, I study her for a minute, trying to write her face into my memory because there's a good chance I'll never see her again.
It crossed my mind to write a note, but I know I can't do that, either. If I leave a note, it's concrete proof that ties her to me, which is only going to make life more difficult, and possibly shorter, for her. Instead, I lightly kiss her forehead. She sighs in her sleep, but doesn't wake.
I have to leave, but I can't leave without some memento. It's stupid and dangerous, I know, but I'm leaving. No one will have a chance to find what I take with me. A few days ago, she was flipping through a stack of pictures of us. I don't remember where she put them, but I know her.
In a shoe box at the bottom of her closet, she has her favorite .357 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk Flattop revolver. Sure enough, sitting in the box right underneath are the snapshots of us. A kiss on the street. Fi smiling in a pub. My arm around her outside a church. I grab them all, knowing that they're the last little piece I'm going to get to have of this life, and walk towards the front door.
"Good bye, Fi."
Just one last look. I have to have just one last look to remember her clearly. The pictures don't do her justice. They don't capture the way that she sighs when she's happy or the way that she laughs when I've said something funny. They don't capture the way that I love her. In that moment, as I say good-bye, I know that those pictures aren't enough.
But they have to be, because that's all I'm going to get.
Author's Note: So, there it is. I hope you enjoyed. Reviews are my yogurt...please? =)