A/N: Im finally getting around to posting some ff, its been quite a long time coming and i'd like to dedicate the very first chapter to the lovable, huggable, squeezable Ashley *smoooch* Who knows if this would be here without ye' love. xo

Disclaimer: Unfortunately the MacManus (who aren't in this chapter sadly) are not my property. I don't own them, they respectfully belong to the brilliant Troy Duffy... but I did put them on my Christmas list, so who knows? *wink* Everything else is totally me. Enjoy.

Chapter One; Discovering Worth

Her pleasant dreams had slipped away a while ago. She could barely remember a time when she had slept peacefully through the entire night, that was a lie, but it had been so long that she refused to acknowledge it as so. Kara Malcolm woke up with a start, her body slick with sweat and her heart pounding, falling off of her mattress in a tangle of limbs and twisted sheets she breathed deeply.

The rain pounded down heavily outside her window shaking the glass panels. Sporadic flashes of lightning illuminated her apartment, if a tiny room with an even more minuscule kitchen and a barely there washroom, could be labeled as so. Her place was barren, the complete necessities with a mere few comforts, but better than anywhere she had lived in a long while. Sure it was a complete shithole with leaking taps and poor heating, and even though every month she barely used any electricity and hot water to save on bills, she still had to scrap cash together in order to afford it. Her job at the Tool Shack had crap pay with a perverted boss and it seemed as if her rent was the only thing that appeared to be climbing up in her life.

The carpet that filled the dingy bedroom was a grungy pale yellow, littered with numerous stains she refused to examine any closer. She hopped around those spots as she blindly made her way to the kitchen area, pulling on her father's old ratty USMC sweater. She smiled as it completely swallowed her tiny frame; it was one of her most valued possessions, being one of the only things she had to remember her father by. She stepped onto the cold gritty tile of the kitchen, feeling the chill through her large wool socks as she padded towards the counter. The kitchen, better explained as a large closet with a broken window and sparse cupboards held one of the only comforters she had allowed herself, a tiny coffee maker. Feeling for the small machine she opened the lid and poured a generous amount of grinds into the top from the tin behind it. With an afterthought she reached for a small dwindling bag beside the tin and added a spoonful of cinnamon. Turning it on, she made her way into the washroom while pulling her long dark hair into a messy bun atop her head.

Reaching the bathroom she blindly spread her hands along the expanse of the counter until her fingers came into contact with freezing metal. Holding the Zippo in her hands she flicked it on, it came alive with gentle hiss and illuminated the washroom in a soft flickering glow. She lit the candles on the counter one by one until she could finally make out a clear reflection of herself, albeit distorted through the cracked mirror before her. She leaned down onto the sink and turned on the water, without allowing for it to warm she splashed her face with the chilling water and shutting it off she grabbed a bar of soap and scrubbed her face clean.

After rinsing her face with another couple splashes of cold water she padded it dry with a soft black towel that hung on the rack behind her. It was another of the small comforts she had allowed herself to buy, a small hand towel and another large one to wrap herself in after her brief showers. Pulling out the rubber band from her hair, she straightened up and hung the small towel neatly on the edge of the sink bowl, taking a moment's pause to stare at her reflection. Her skin was light and smooth say for the healing scratches at her temple and the slight bruising along her jaw, her eyes once a dazzling emerald green had by her own account grown flat, constantly surrounded with dark circles as a result of her constant sleepless nights. Her hair was a dark with slight burgundy undertones; it was thick and uncooperative with a mind of its own, never doing quite what she wanted but somehow always a compliment to whatever outfit she wore. It hung down to the small of her back in loose barely there curls, framing her face and hiding the dark yellowish bruising along the side of her face. Her body shook under her thick sweater; she was tiny for her age with a height of 5'1 and a petite but strong toned body. She may appear to be weak, an easy target carefully taken down but as many know, things are rarely what they ever appear to be.

The buzzing of the coffee machine broke Kara from her staring and back into reality, she inhaled deeply and smiled, snatching a candle from the counter and extinguishing the rest she allowed her nose to pull her back towards the kitchen. Placing the small candle beside the coffee pot she stood up on her tiptoes and she reached inside the only somewhat occupied cupboard. It held a plate, a small bowl and purple mug she stolen from a broken down diner outside of Nashville. Her hand closed around the mug which she preceded to fill to the brim with coffee, next her hand wrenched open the only working drawer and pulled out a Ziploc baggie filled with sugar packets taken from numerous and varied fast foot joints. She emptied four into her dark coffee and swished it around before taking a generous gulp. "Fuck!" she yelped sucking in a deep breath as the scalding liquid made a quick blazing procession down the back of her throat. She coughed hoping to ease the burn at the back of her throat as she carefully made her way back to her mattress.

Sitting down she wrapped her quilt around her legs and blew on her coffee, taking careful sips as she grabbed her cell phone off the floor. Other than her apartment it was the most expensive thing she had ever bought, with her constant changing of addresses and harsh lifestyle she had deemed it a necessity. She punched in 2 for the second caller on her speed dial and had just hit send when a loud pounding shook her apartment. She snatched the switchblade for under her pillow and jumped up; walking the few steps to the door she carefully slipped the blade into the back of her pants. She cursed her lack of a peep hole as she took a deep breath to steady herself and unlocked the door. Stepping back she swung the door inwards and immediately wished she hadn't, although it wouldn't have done any good in this case, she liked to pretend she still had that option.

"Duke," she said as politely as she could, "how are you this morning?"

"Stop with the fucking pleasantries Malcolm," he grunted out, "you know why the fuck I'm here." He staggered forward a bit, resting his filthy arm against the wall to keep from swaying. He was likely still wasted from the night before or had gotten a head start this morning with a powdered snort or two. Looking at the glassy red glaze of his eyes and the dry blood caked inside his left nostril she guessed they were both quite accurate. She couldn't for the life of her understand how he could put functioning sentences together while flying that high, let alone one containing the word 'pleasantries.' As the buildings landlord he was a complete screw up, anything gone wrong was not his problem, anything broke you fixed yourself and everything else didn't matter. He did nothing but sit on his fat ass, drink anything he could get his hands on, and took whatever drug walked up to his door first. Kara didn't know how he remembers what day of the week it was let alone when rent was due but low and behold it was the only thing he was ever on top of.

She took another look at his glazed eyes and decided to risk it; she gave him a small smile and said in a quiet voice, "I'm not sure what you mean sir."

For a minute he stood there, no doubt racking his brain for the reason he had climbed up all those stairs to be standing here talking to her now. In the next instant his eyes darkened and he balled his fists at his sides, "Don't you go playin' with me y-you stupid bitch," he rasped out stumbling slightly forward into the room. "Rent, now… you owe me about," he stopped for a moment before he smiled widely; revealing what little teeth he had left, cracked and broken they were pull of plaque and a thick black substance Kara did not care to know, "$850."

Her mouth fell open, "Eight hundred and fifty fucking dollars, since when?!"

He leered at her, his eyes roaming her small frame, "Are you sayin' that you won't be payin' me this month? 'Cause ya know I can always taken it out in other ways…" He reached out a grimy had to touch her, meaty fingers and dirt caked nails grasping at air as she took a step back.

Her hand reached behind her back and underneath her sweater, her fists closing tight around the handle of the blade she had stuck there, the warmth of the blade pressing against her back was a comfort as she took a step forward, "I'll get you the money," she said her other hand closing around the door handle.

Blood trickled out of his nose as he took a step back then smiled at her, he wiped the back of his hand across his upper lip smearing the blood across his face, "I best be gettin' it tonight," he said walking backwards down the hall, "'Cause one way or the other I'll be collecting rent tonight… in full." With that he stumbled around the corner and out sight, and Kara wished with everything she had that he'd barrel straight down those stairs and break his fucking neck.

She closed the door behind her and locked it; walking back over to her mattress she grabbed her phone and stared at the numbers. For a split second she considered pressing 3, the speed dial for the Tool Shack but dismissed it as quickly as it had appeared, there was no way her sleazy boss Richard would give her any money in advance. Her finger lingered over 2 for a moment, but once again she dismissed it, Lacie didn't have the kind of money to lend her and there was no sense making her feel bad about it. Finally her finger reached 4 and she hit send. It rang a few times before a young guy answered, "It's the Office. You got Nicky."

"Hey Nick, its Kay. Could I talk to Louie?"

"Kay," he said laughed into the phone, "It's almost getting to be like clockwork, huh?"

She almost wanted to chuck the phone at the wall, like she ever needed a reminder, "Just hand me over to Louie, Nicky. I'm not in the mood for any of your shit today."

"Oh, testy today aren't we princess?" he laughed once again before muffling the phone with what she guessed was his hand, and shouted something across the room in swift garbled Italian.

There was a small click, then silence before a smooth voice took over the line, "Kay, Buongiorno bella, what can I do ya for today?"

"Ciao Louie, I need in tonight."

"I don' know bella, it's pretty last minute. I'm not sure we've got any available slots tonight."

She took a quick moment to panic then stopped, he was fucking with her. She was gold around there and she knew it, "Comon' Louie, you know the crowd loves me. I'm sure you squeeze me in somewhere. I…I need this."

He must have heard the small glitch of desperation in her voice because she could almost hear the shit eating grin on his face through his next words, "Well, I should be able to squeeze you in tonight but… with all the rearranging and recallin' it'll need to be worth it bella…" he trailed off, probably for nothing more than dramatic effect but when he didn't continue right away, she knew he wanted her to ask him.

"What's the worth, Louie?"

"Well, I'll have to think it out… recalculate costs… reclaim a few here an there…"

She wanted to reach her hands through the phone and choke him to death, better yet run over there now and do it nice and slow, up close where she could see the vibrant purple his face was sure to turn. Instead she gritted her teeth and ground out, "The worth, Louie."

He cleared his throat again, a deep guttural sound that almost made her ears bleed, "Sorry bella, got lost in tha' business there… It'll cost ya four. My terms and the nights I choose… take it or leave it."

Once again she fought down the rage, bottled it and tucked it away for later. She took a deep breath to calm to pounding in her ears and choked out, "Deal." It's not like she had any other choice.

She was just about to disconnect the call when Louie cleared his throat again, "And principessa, try and look you're best for me tonight eh? I got some important clients comin' in and I'll need to give 'em a real show." Click.

Hands shaking she dropped her phone, she glanced down and saw she still gripped her switchblade tight within her fist, knuckles straining white again the skin. Pulling her arm back she flung it and with a satisfying metallic clunk it dug itself into her wall.

A/N: Please review, i'll upload faster... and the boys are in the next chapter. xo

For those who may not know;

Buongiorno = Italian for 'good morning'

bella = Italian for 'beautiful'

principessa = Italian for 'princess'