A.N. And we're back, folks. So, for those of you starting out, it might be a good idea to go back and read "Angel of the Bronx" before starting on this fic. That said, I will try to sum up the important stuff you need to know so you're not totally lost.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Troy Duffy is the master of this universe. I'm just trying to get by in it.
Anna O'Reilly let out an audible sigh of relief as she signed out from her shift and grabbed her backpack from the locker she shared with a fellow employee. She was unsurprised to see the woman's personal effects were not present, despite the fact the woman was taking over the shift after her's. Slamming the locker closed, she swung the backpack offer her shoulder and headed towards the main lobby. Waving briefly to Susan, the secretary at the front desk, she opened the front glass doors and marched into the cold of a New York winter.
A quiet snowfall had descended finally, softening the city's sleek angles of brick, cement, and metal into a smooth skyline of cobalt grey. On her side of the river, the snow coated everything in a surreal quiet not yet banished by blackened tire treads and the bright lights of the evening. Shivering slightly, Anna pulled up on her scarf till the lower half of her face was covered by the navy blue material. The wind whipped through the short, serrated locks of her raven black hair, blowing them over her eyes in the way of her vision. Passing by the offices, shops, and delis that crowded the main streets of Brooklyn, she made her way quickly towards the towering structure of St. Peter's Cathedral.
Solemnly entering the sanctuary, she cast a brief glance at the ornate alter at the front of the church. Absently fingering the silver crucifix around her neck, she glanced around to see if anyone was watching her. Her eyes caught sight of a few parishoners, kneeling in prayer, with the heads bowed contritely. They hadn't noticed her come in and wouldn't notice her leave. Briskly walking down the side aisle, Anna made a beeline for the moderately sized oak door just left of the alter. Carefully opening it a crack, she slipped in, closing it gently behind her. Groping around a second for the switch, she flicked the light on. A baren room looked back at her. The cathedral's grey walls stood firmly over a plain hardwood floor. In the corner, a metal staircase swirled upwards towards one of the bell towers. Walking to staircase, Anna cautiously stepped onto the rickety looking structure and descended to church's basement. As she drew closer to the floor, she could make out the distinct sound of two male voices.
"Ye hav' to fuckin' eat, Murph," the first of the voices rang out, clearly exasperated.
"The fuck I do," replied the other, angrily, "Jesus fuckin' Christ, Connor!"
"Lord's name!" the first called out, warningly, "Mother Mary full..."
"...Full of grace," the other spoke at the same time.
"This is a House of God, Murph. What are ya doin' cursin' like that?"
"T'was ye that started it," the other replied sullenly and Anna was certain she could hear the creak of someone laying down.
"Me!" exclaimed the first, "I did no such thing ye daft twit. Now will ye please eat yer..."
Anna peaked around the corner just right of the stairwell into the room just behind the wall. She could make out the owner of the first voice. Connor MacManus stood at the far end of the room, a tv diner clearly visible in his hand. Though she couldn't see him, Anna was certain the other voice belonged to his twin brother Murphy. The pair comprised all that was left of the infamous Boston Saints.
"No, Connor!" Murphy's voice rang out, sounding petulant to Anna's ears. She saw Connor glower a moment, glancing down at the microwaved meal in his hand, before his shoulders fell. Moving out of her view, she could hear him drop the tray on the small wood table furnishing the room provided the two men. A moment later, the sound of the bed creaking sounded again followed by quiet talking.
Closing her eyes, Anna let out a soft sigh. It would be in bad taste to intrude the boys' private moment. Yet she found herself unable to move away. It wasn't as though she hadn't had enough of people like the twins during her working hours, but the same scars now carried over to her personal life. It was hard to believe that merely six months had passed since she had first come to know the Saints of South Boston.
"We can hear ya breathin'," a male voice called out, startling Anna from her reverie. Jerking in surprise, Anna grimaced, mentally kicking herself for not leaving when she had the chance. Straightening up, she tucked a few loose strands of her hair behind her head and stepped into the room.
The spartan quarters greeted her. The white stone walls lay bare, save for two small windows on the upper half of the wall across from the hallway. A plain wood table had been placed beside the entrance with two plastic folding chairs on either side. The remnants of the tv dinner sat precariously on the edge, small tendrils of steam rising from it. On the far wall, two cots were shoved side by side. A lamp hung precariously between them, it's bulb casting a yellowish hue to the entire room.
Two men sat on the cot to her right, or rather, one layed down on it as the other sat on the edge. The second was lighter haired projecting a strong, dangerous prescence even as he smiled up at Anna. The other was dark haired with a narrow face holding more shadows than that of his brother's. One needn't be a professional counselor or even greatly astute to notice the man's eyes looked particularly haunted. Anna was one of the few people in the world who knew the reason why. Six months before, she had found the lighter haired man bleeding to death on the streets of New York. Despite her initial mistrust and dislike of him, she had helped him find and recover his brother, whom she found chained to the ceiling of a dank basement in Queens. Unfortunately, in the time it had taken to find him, the man had suffered and changed.
"Hey guys," Anna said, giving a slight wave. She ignored the Murphy's slight stiffening at her greeting.
"Anna!" Connor exclaimed, standing up, "What are ye doin' here, lass? I thought you were working today."
"Just got off," Anna replied, smiling softly and taking off her scarf and gloves, "Just thought I'd drop by...see how you guys are doing. Can I?"
"Sure, sure," Connor nodded, allowing her to take a seat in the chair she indicated, "Let me jus' get that outta the way."
Picking up the tv dinner tray, he cast a glance in his twins direction. Anna watched as an inaudible conversation passed between the two before Connor disappeared into the hallway. Alone with Murphy for a moment, Anna allowed her friendly persona to drop back to her professional one. Murphy, she noticed, had not looked at her yet. Despite her reassurances that she bore no grudge towards his attack on her when she found him, he always remained guilty in her presence. It presented itself in a persistent resitance to look her in the eye, even when he could sometimes ignore the other shadows the past. She had been working with him on it, but didn't feel right pressing the issue today. Especially with what she was about to do.
"How have you been?" she finally said, unable to take the silence and still concerned for the man's well-being.
"The nightmares are goin' away," Murphy replied casually, making it a point to stare at the two small windows, "'ve been sleepin' through the night...most days."
"Good," Anna said matching his tone as she ran her finger against the table's grain, " Good. It's a start."
Murphy's jaw tightened as he turned to glare at her. Any response he had, however, died on his lips as Connor walked into the room. Walking around Anna, he took a seat in the chair opposite her's.
"So wha' brings ye down here, lass?" Connor asked, his full attention on Anna. He had nothing but grattitude towards the young woman. Though four years the younger to him and Murphy, she had shown herself to be wise for her years and insitful in her deliberations. Despite the fact she often disagreed with them on ethical grounds, she had stuck by the pair after a less then cordial introduction six months ago and was still helping them through their recovery. Every night, Connor had thanked God for the divine providence of the young woman entering their lives.
"Like I said, just came to see how you guys are doing," Anna replied, smiling again. She felt her cheeks throb at the sudden tightness. Shifting to share a quick look with his brother, Connor faced her, his head tilted in a questioning glance.
"I see," he said judiciously, "An' that's all?"
"Yeah," Anna replied, feeling her gut recoil at the lie. Connor snorted and even a slight smile played along Murphy's lips.
"Anna, please," Connor replied, still bemused, "Wha' is it, lass? Ya know ye can tell us anythin'."
Anna dropped her eyes to her lap. Fingering the sleek material of her shirt, she bit the inside of her cheek. It had been so easy to come to the decision in the safety of her apartment, now empty of injured guests. Facing the pair of them, however, she wasn't sure she could go through with it. Not that she feared they would come after her for her decision. Despite the fact she didn't agree with their bloodthirsty agenda, she knew there was an honesty about them and a real concern for those they deemed innocent. They didn't have it in themselves to hurt her. No, the thing she feared most was her own conscience and sense of duty. Her professional experiences told her Muphy had been lying through his teeth about the nightmares. The fact that both men had bags under their eyes was physical proof of it. She knew he might not be able to take the sudden stress her decision could reak on the pair and if he went, Connor would soon follow. Yet selfish as it was, she couldn't deny the fact she was being drawn into their world and if she didn't do something soon, she wouldn't be able to get out again.
"I," she started, looking up. A stabbing pain raced through her chest at the concern now etched on Connor's face. For a moment her resolved almost slipped, but she continued, "I...I just came to tell you guys..."
"Well, out with it," Connor urged as she paused. Murphy nodded, sitting up against the wall.
"I just came to tell you guys that," she closed her eyes, forcing the words in her head into existance, "That, this will be my last visit. I won't be coming back."
"What!" two voices exclaimed in chorus.
"What do ya mean yer not comin' back?" Murphy exclaimed at the same time Connor cried, "Have ye lost it, woman?"
"Guys! Guys!" Anna yelled over them, holding her hands up defensively, "You knew and I knew that there was no way I was going to keep contact with you forever. I don't believe what you do is right and I can't actively say that and still help you. It's hypocritical."
"Ah, that's fuckin' bullshit!" Murphy replied, "An' you know it!"
Anna fixed a glare at him and continued, "You two don't really need me anymore. You're well on your way to recover and besides, Murphy, you're the one who said your nightmares are going away."
"He what?" Connor interrupted, casting his brother a look.
"Look, you'll be fine," Anna continued, standing up and grabbing her clothing, "You've got enough fans and supporters here to protect you. You don't need..."
She paused as Connor took hold of her hand. She glanced down at his, seeing "Truth" looking back up at her. Raising her gaze to Connor, she felt more of her resolve chip away at the sudden desperation clouding the bright blue of his eyes. Swallowing, she shook her head, throwing off the Saint's spell. Stiffening her back, she looked him once more in the eye.
"You don't need me anymore and I've done more then I ever thought I would. More then I ever promised. I can't keep doing this. I can't let myself be sucked in," she said solemnly, pulling her hand away, "Goodbye, Connor."
Then, with a quick turn, she was gone. Her footsteps echoed a moment on the stairwell softly fading into silence.
She barely remembered the walk home. St. Peter's closeness to her apartment had originally come as some sort of blessing. When Murphy had proven to be strong enough to move on his own, it had provided a safe distance he could go where he trusted his brother to care for him. Now, though, it would only serve as a painful reminder.
Of what, though? Anna thought, as she unlocked the door to her apartment. Even now, the place seemed empty despite the fact Connor hadn't been living on her couch for nearly six months. Nevertheless, the boys had often visited and Murphy had slept there once or twice when she felt it necessary to keep him under supervision. Tossing the keys onto the coffee table, she walked to the kitchenette, intent on making tea. Unfortunately, she got about two steps before she heard knocking.
Glancing at the offending door, she closed her eyes steeling herself for another conflict with a MacManus. Though she'd never admit to anyone, she had grown to take a perverse sort of pleasure in brow-beating either man into a surrender when it was in their best interest. Now it was time to use it to defend her own. Not even bothering to glance through the peephole, she swung the door open, freezing at the sight on the other side.