Well, folks, this is it: the final chapter. Thanks for your comments along the way; I appreciate every one of them. See you around!
Chapter 6: The Long Goodbye
Alan: When you care about people, feel responsible for them, it can blind your good sense.
Don: Yeah, well, that's the question, when does it come back? Or does it?
"Congratulations on getting your paper accepted, Dr. Ramanujan," Charlie said with a grin.
Amita grinned from her position in the doorway to his office. "Thank you," she said. "It's a great way to start a Monday morning, that's for sure. I just hope I earned it."
"Of course you did," Charlie replied. "It was a brilliant piece of work."
She gave a tiny smile and came forward. "The editor mentioned something in his letter about ensuring that it was truly a double-blind review and that none of the referees knew who had written it."
"See, that's what I mean. No one's name got that paper accepted for you." Or prevented it from being accepted, he mentally added.
"There's something else," she said, coming forward to perch on his desk. "I got an e-mail from one of the organizers of the Munich conference. One of their speakers cancelled and they wanted to know if I was interested in attending."
"And are you?" Charlie asked.
Amita shrugged one slim shoulder. "I know that I shouldn't turn it down out of spite, but believe me, I am tempted."
"Did you already make plans for that week?"
"Not really," she said, shaking her head.
"We should go a week early and hang out in Germany," Charlie said. They'd gone on a couple of weekend trips together, or stayed on after conferences for a few days, but never on an extended vacation.
"I'd like that," Amita said with a smile.
Charlie smiled back and stood up to kiss her. "Mmm," he said as they pulled apart. "I'm taking you out to dinner to celebrate that paper."
"And the end of the case," she said. "Thanks to us cracking the code."
He nodded. When he found out later how just-in-time their results had been, enabling the FBI to find Don, he'd felt ill. The thought of how closely his brother's life depended on him and his work was thrilling and nauseating all at once. In the end, though, it made him realize that even given a mistake here and there, he was contributing something to his brother's team that they wouldn't have otherwise, and that was enough to make him want to stay.
There was a tap on the doorframe, and they both looked up. "Hey, Larry," Charlie said, waving him in.
"How's Megan?" Amita asked, turning to face Larry but still sitting on Charlie's desk.
"Recuperating at her home, now that the case has been largely wrapped up." Larry shook his head and came forward. "I continue to be amazed that at the woman's tenacity. Eight hours out of the hospital and she was in the field with her team."
"Amazed or disapproving?" Charlie asked knowingly.
Larry spread his hands wide. "It's part of what makes her who she is, which is the most amazing woman I have ever had the privilege to know."
"She must really be something if she's gotten you to come down from your mountain," Charlie gently teased.
"She is," Larry said softly, and Charlie couldn't help the smile that crept over his face.
"Aww," Amita said with a grin.
Charlie put a hand on her back. "How are you doing, Larry?" he asked, settling in next to his girlfriend on the desk.
Most people would quickly answer, "Fine," or at least most people that Charlie knew, so it was odd to have Larry actually consider the question for a moment. "As I said, I am amazed at Megan's resilience. It's made me contemplate my own, or the lack thereof."
"What are you talking about?" Charlie asked. "You're plenty resilient."
Larry cocked his head to the side. "My method of dealing with problems seems to be avoiding them. Divesting myself of my house and possessions, attempting to divest myself of ties to this university and my colleagues…I went all the way into low Earth orbit, for goodness' sake. There may be something to be said for going to the woods to live deliberately, but even Thoreau came home at the end of every day to have his meals cooked for him."
"Maybe he just didn't want to live on nuts and berries," Amita cheekily suggested, leaning closer to Charlie.
"Maybe he understood that even in seeking out our inner selves, we cannot do it without the assistance of others," Larry replied.
"And the monks aren't doing it for you?" Charlie asked dryly.
In reply, Larry steepled his fingers and leaned forward in his chair. "For a time, yes. But if I am going to love someone who is so much of this world that she puts its needs above her own physical well-being, then I need to be of this world, too."
"So you're okay with it." When Larry looked puzzled, Charlie went on, "With her job being so dangerous. I mean, you've seen that first hand now, right?"
"I admit, it is not the most comforting knowledge to have obtained, but you have adjusted to it with your brother, right?"
"Yeah, but he's my brother," Charlie shrugged. "I don't have a choice about accepting him as he is."
"Neither do I," Larry said softly, and that was when Charlie knew for sure that his best and oldest friend had gone totally head over heels.
"I'm glad you were able to persuade her to take some time off," Amita said, and from the fondness in her tone, Charlie understood she had come to the same revelation about Larry's feelings for Megan.
"I think her physician was more persuasive than was I, but the end result is the same." Larry stood up and rubbed his hands together. "And now I am off to gain a small head start in adjusting to domestic life."
"What does that mean?" Charlie asked, laughing.
"I feared I would not have a home to move into upon my return from the monastery, but Megan's loft is quite large and I have few possessions to clutter up her space. Before she returns at the end of the workday, I was hoping to make a few adjustments to enable us to cohabitate more successfully."
Charlie grinned. "You're moving in together? That's great."
"At least while she is on the mend," Larry clarified.
"I'm sure it'll be longer than that," Amita said.
"One hopes so," Larry said with a small smile. Then he gave a little wave and headed out.
Charlie slipped his arm around Amita and pulled her towards him. "You think you could consider cluttering up my space with your possessions?"
She rested her head on his shoulder. "I could think about it."
He grinned and kissed the top of her head. "I'll make it worth your while."
"I already spend more hours of the day with you than not," Amita mock-grumbled, but the kiss she gave him told him she didn't mind.
What if I want to spend all of the hours of all of the days with you? Charlie thought, but he only kissed back and didn't reply. There would be time for that later. Amita wasn't going anywhere, and neither was he.
Monday morning dawned bright and early, but for once, Colby Granger wasn't having any part of it. After the excitement of the past week—and it was hard to believe that a week ago at this time, the name Hector Simeon meant nothing to him—he'd accepted Don's suggestion of taking a day or two off. He and David were meeting up for a few beers in the afternoon, maybe clearing the air a little, maybe picking up where they'd left off before a guy named Taylor Ashby entered their lives.
After taking all of the men and weapons into custody the other night, they'd prepared for another series of long and difficult interrogations. To their surprise, Esteban had been more than willing to give up Simeon's location in exchange for reduced charges, and Don had leapt at it. They'd caught the Salvadorean gang leader hiding in a relative's condo in the Valley, and it had been one of the more satisfying times Colby had slapped handcuffs on someone.
So Saturday and Sunday had been devoted to mopping up, and after a full seven-day week, Colby hadn't complained when he was offered the day off. He was caught up short when he realized that there was no need to take advantage of it by arranging a meeting with Dwayne—for the first time in a long time, his free time was entirely his.
He still got up early, taking a morning run that was longer than usual, enjoying the stretch and burn of muscles dealing with five miles instead of three. He showered, made a proper cup of coffee, and slowly realized that he had no idea what to do with himself. He eyed his phone, sitting on the dining room table. Maybe David wouldn't mind meeting up early, if he called him…
The knock on the door was almost perfect timing, and Colby wondered if his partner had somehow acquired telepathic skills while Colby was away. He didn't bother looking through the peephole before opening the door, and was therefore taken aback to see a petite brunette standing on his doorstep rather than his taller partner.
"Hi," Theresa said, her expression somewhere between hopeful and wary. "I went to see you at the office, but they said you had the day off, and I was afraid if I called you'd just hang up, so I thought I'd come here instead."
"Why would you think I'd hang up?" Colby said calmly.
She blinked at him. "Because the last time I saw you, you weren't exactly feeling friendly towards me."
"The last time I saw you, you saved my life," he returned.
Despite the busy work of mopping up the operation, he'd had a lot of time to think over the past couple of days. Aside from the initial debriefings, where he saw Theresa exiting the conference room from a distance and never actually talked to her, he hadn't seen her since leaving the warehouse in Chino. When he found out that she had fought to keep working on uncovering the FBI mole, even when she'd been accused of betraying him and his team, his estimation had changed slightly. By the end of the weekend, he'd come to understand that she'd just been doing her job, and if he saw her again, he could at least be cordial.
But now, seeing her again, here at his apartment where he'd seen a lot of her the other night, it was hard to think about being only friendly.
"Do you have a minute?" she asked.
"Yeah, sure," he said, opening the door and stepping aside to let her in.
She looked around with the same deceptively casual sweep of her head that she had the other night, what Colby now recognized as professional interest as much as personal. It was a hard habit to turn off, he knew, but it was still a jolt to see it from her.
"Sorry," Theresa said when she noticed him looking at her. "Habit, I guess."
"Yeah, I know." Colby shut the door and motioned to the couch. "You want anything to drink?"
"You never got to demonstrate your coffee-making skills," she said, slightly hesitantly.
He looked toward the pot and saw that there was about a cup left. "Yeah, just a sec," he said.
Colby grabbed a mug from the dishwasher and filled it with coffee. When he turned around, he flinched a little, surprised that Theresa had followed him into the kitchen without him noticing. "Sorry, I, uh, didn't know you were there," he said, handing over the mug.
"Sorry," she returned, accepting the cup and taking a sip. Her eyebrows went up. "Oh, my."
He could feel a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. "Strong enough for you?"
"It'll do," she said, returning the smile. Then her face fell. "Colby, I'm sorry. I didn't—you were never supposed to know."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that," he said tightly, leaning back against the counter.
"That's how it usually works, after all," she said, taking another sip before setting the mug down on the counter. "One of us goes into an office where there's trouble, quietly investigates, and 'gets reassigned' once we figure it out and finger the source of the problem. No one knows who we really are except our supervisors and maybe the director of the local office."
"And how deep does that investigation usually go?" Colby asked, unable to keep the sharpness out of his voice.
Theresa instantly shook her head and took a step forward. "Not to the extent of seducing the subjects, if that's what you're thinking. Hell, I could probably get fired for being here the other night, or at least demoted."
"Then why were you here?" he asked quietly, his eyes searching her face.
She rolled her eyes. "Why do you think, Granger?"
That loosened a knot of tension that had been lodged in his chest ever since Don revealed her real job to the whole team. "I'm that irresistible, huh?"
Theresa gave a small smile and looked down. "You should know what it's like, Colby. Not being able to let your guard down around anyone, even the people you work so closely with, even the people who know you better than family. I felt like I could do it with you."
Colby's throat tightened. "Because of that 'other job' I had to do?"
"No," she assured him quickly. "Because of who you are."
"And who's that?" he asked.
Theresa let out a huff of breath. "You're really going to make me do this, aren't you?"
He cocked his head to the side. "Do what?"
She licked her lips nervously, and his eyes were drawn to the motion. "Explain why I fell for you about a day and a half after we met."
It was Colby's turn to blink in surprise. "Really?"
"Is it that hard to believe?" Theresa asked wryly.
He shrugged one shoulder, his earlier words to Don coming back to him. L.A. was tough, even when you weren't working undercover with the Chinese. "I might be out of practice," he admitted.
"I am, too," she said, and then she was taking a step forward and then another, until she was right in front of him. "That's the disclaimer to make it clear that I don't know what I'm doing here."
His hand came up to rest on her shoulder, his thumb just brushing her collarbone. "And you think I do?" he asked.
Theresa reached out and put a hand on his hip, warm and solid through his sweats. "I really am leaving L.A. soon," she said. "Probably by the end of the week."
"More corruption to root out?" Colby asked, sliding his hand up so it was resting along the side of her neck.
Theresa swallowed as his hand touched her skin. "Unfortunately, there always seems to be more."
"Good thing you're good at your job, then," he said, and he waited long enough to see the comprehension dawn in her eyes that it was forgiveness he was granting her before he bent forward and took her mouth with his.
He ended up calling David to cancel their afternoon get-together, but Colby figured he could always make it up to his partner later.
Another long Monday was over. Don rested his forearms on the railing and looked out at the skyline of L.A. The buildings were starting to light up in the dusk, the streams of cars on the freeway below inching their way along even though the conventional rush hour was long over.
He'd told his team to take the day off; they'd more than earned it after the past week, including saving his ass not once but twice. Not to mention tracking down the stolen RPGs and both the buyers and sellers, as well as the original source. Not bad for a week's work.
Colby and David seemed to be on track to working things out, and that was as good of news as any of the incident reports he'd filed today. Don had had a long conversation with their Assistant Director about Theresa's presence among them, and then a somewhat shorter talk with the woman herself that morning when she came by looking for Colby. Don hadn't hesitated very long before sending her to Colby's place; it seemed like the initial resentment and betrayal had burned off in the heat of working together on Friday night, and it would do Colby some good to close the door on this chapter before moving on again.
Megan was healing up under Larry's close supervision, and that was still something that made Don shake his head whenever he thought about it. Talk about opposites attracting. They made it work, though, and he wished that all of his people could find a significant other who was so understanding of the dangers they faced and the suddenness with which one's life could be completely turned upside-down.
There was no small amount of irony in those thoughts, considering who he was waiting for out here. Liz had scheduled a meeting with the Assistant Director, and he knew full well what it was going to be about. They'd barely talked at all after the near-disaster in the warehouse the other night, the one that was entirely his fault, but he knew what she was thinking, and he didn't blame her one bit.
A few more minutes passed before he heard the click of heels on the cement, and he turned to see Liz striding towards him, head held high and expression calm. "Hey," she said as she came up to him.
"Hey," he returned, turning to face her, feeling like he was facing an execution squad.
Liz's expression softened almost instantly. "I'm sorry," she started.
"No, no, I'm the one who's sorry," he said quickly, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder. "I haven't even gotten to tell you that, have I?"
She shrugged one shoulder. "I know you didn't mean it."
"But that's the problem, isn't it?" Don gave her a rueful grin. "When the chips were down, I didn't trust you to have my back. I thought you couldn't do your job and take the shot, and I should have. I'm so sorry for that, Liz."
Liz heaved in a big breath. "I suppose I didn't help by telling you the other night that I would have done anything to keep you safe."
He shook his head and moved forward, folding her into his arms. She held herself a little stiffly before relaxing. "It's not on you, okay? If you couldn't be honest with me, that's no good either, right?"
"Right," Liz said softly into his shoulder. He thought he heard the slightest hitch in the next breath she drew. "So, um, I talked to the A.D."
Don briefly closed his eyes and then let her go. "What did he have to say?"
She tapped her fingers on the railing a few times. "There's a position open in Denver. It's kind of a promotion, or at least there'd be opportunities for advancement earlier than if I stayed here."
"The same kind of work?" he asked, trying to keep his tone light.
"More or less," Liz answered. She gave a little frown. "I wonder if I'd have to learn to ski."
Don almost managed to smile at that. God, this hurt. Part of him knew it was the right thing, and of all the possible ways for them to break up, this was probably the best, on friendly terms and without damaging either one of their careers. It was just too bad it had taken a monumental screw-up on his part to make that happen.
"I'm sure you'll do great," Don said softly.
She looked up at him, and although he could see the sheen of tears in her eyes, he could also see that she wasn't going to let them fall. "Thanks," she said quietly, reaching up to pat his hand still resting on her shoulder. "The transfer wouldn't be for a few weeks, so…"
"Good," Don replied. "'Cause all of your stuff is still at my place."
She let out a short laugh. "God, this is awkward."
"What?" he asked, not sure if she was referring to the whole situation or something in particular.
Liz shook her head. "We are breaking up here, right? I mean, in my experience there's usually a lot more shouting and accusations being thrown around, you know?"
"Maybe we're just being grown up about it," Don said, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, a gesture that was bittersweet in its familiarity.
"Huh," she replied. "So that's what it feels like."
He gave her a half-smile. "Guess so."
There was a pause. Then Liz moved forward and wrapped her arms around him. "I do love you, you know, Don. Just not—not like you deserve it."
"Yeah, I know," he replied, bending his head to kiss her hair. "And thank you."
She squeezed him before letting go. "Are you done for the night?"
"Yeah, I was going to head over to Dad and Charlie's for a late dinner," he said. "You could come along if you want."
She was already shaking her head sadly. "I probably better not."
Don wanted to protest, but he understood. "Yeah, I guess not."
Silence fell again. Then Liz licked her lips and stepped back. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Don said, watching her until she had disappeared into the building.
He stayed there for a while longer, thinking about the whirlwind of the past week and everything that he and his team had learned about each other. It had been a rocky ride, that was for sure, but in the end, it was the external pressures that had cost them the most. They'd pulled together, trusted each other—mostly—and come out the other side with the bad guys in custody and no major damage done, at least none that they wouldn't learn to live with.
At the end of the day, Don supposed that was the best he could ask for.
He set his e-mail for an out-of-office message for the following day, shut down his computer, and took absolutely no paperwork with him. He nodded at the regular janitor mopping the floors by the elevator, and again at the guards at the front entrance.
Then Don headed off for ribeye and a quiet dinner with his family.