This is a sequel to "If It's Worth Saving Me," which you should probably read first. Credit goes to bprice for requesting a sequel, but the blame is all mine if it tanks.
I stretched the timeline a little-it's set about five years after "Saving Me," but also between seasons two and three.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except Jo and the other OCs. I also mean no disrespect to TNT, the writers, the actors, or Dean Devlin.
Studio Three at The Gym was filled with grunts and thuds and cries of effort as the students tried to immobilize each other with every trick in their growing arsenals.
The door creaked open. Jo turned around and saw a long-haired man in a blue thermal shirt and jeans walk in like he owned the place—which he did. She finished explaining to a young man that a little leverage sometimes worked better than brute force and headed over.
"Spencer," she said. "Everyone back safe and sound?" She knew they were, or he wouldn't be here, but she needed to hear it out loud this time.
"Yeah, last night." He looked over the fighters with a critical eye. "This your advanced class?"
"Mostly," she said, not taking offense at the lack of detail. He'd tell her more when and if he needed to—it had been a rough month for everyone. "What do you think?"
He shrugged. "Wanna show 'em how it's done?"
She smiled. "You know how much I love dumping you on your butt in front of an audience, but I have another partner for you today, if you don't mind."
Spencer nodded, like she'd figured he would. She often asked him to assess her best students one-on-one. And it didn't hurt the students—permanently—to face someone whose main objective in a fight had nothing to do with belts, ribbons, or trophies. Did their egos some good, too.
"Great." She clapped her hands twice and the bouts broke up. "Show and tell time," she said, and the students moved back, leaving a large space with Spencer in the middle. She pointed. "You're up."
A compact teenager loped up, shook his pale brown cowlick out of his eyes and grinned. "Hey, Spencer."
Spencer didn't crack a smile. "Dougie. You ready?"
"Let me know." He dropped into a stance and Eliot mirrored him. "Sensei?"
Jo clapped her hands. "Make your mother proud."
Three minutes later, Dougie flew through the air. He landed in a graceful roll, but instead of standing, he kept low and swept a leg around, catching Spencer on the attack. It wasn't perfect, but Spencer stumbled back. Dougie sprang at the older man, who deflected him.
Jo circled the bout. She saw room for improvement, but for a fourteen-year old, Dougie was good. He wasn't trying to match Spencer's skill and strength; he was playing to his own—grace, speed, and an uncanny ability to be where you didn't think he was.
In the end, Dougie got bounced hard once and didn't manage to take Spencer down, but he had no reason to be ashamed. From his grin and posture as Spencer clapped him on the shoulder, the teenager felt exactly the opposite.
Jo had another student lead the cool down and the stretches. "Well?"
"Kid's good. Young, but that won't last. He'll never be a power hitter, but looks like he knows it."
"He does. He's taking gymnastics, too. Strength and flexibility."
"And Parker. They've cooked up some kind of special training thing. They run together, too, when she's in town."
"Better watch that," he growled, but Jo knew it was a reflex. Dougie was one of the few people Parker would die to protect, even from herself.
"Dougie claims it was his idea. And so far, there's been only minor bruising and a scraped nose. Right before school picture day."
"I saw that. Sophie has it on the fridge at Na—at the office."
Jo caught the pause, but didn't say anything. If she could strangle Nathan Ford for taking everything on himself, for leaving his team, she would, the arrogant control-freak . . . but she, of all people, couldn't fault him for wanting to protect his family.
"I think she was more upset than Ron's mother." Sophie was holding it together—holding everyone together—but there were moments, usually small and relatively insignificant, when her stress escaped into overreaction. "And she had one of her special migraines, I was told. At length."
Spencer finally smiled. "How is Gladys?"
"Four states away, thank God. She's a good woman and I'll always love her for raising a good man, but holy cow, the woman drives me insane." Jo saw the class finish their last stretch. "That's it for the day. Practice, practice, practice. Philip," she added to the student who'd tried to force his win, "that means doing your katas, not picking fights in bars you shouldn't even be in, understand? Or you'll pray your parole officer finds you first."
She waited for the young man's sheepish nod and turned back to Spencer. "Of course, she was hoping for someone like Sophie for a daughter-in-law and got me instead, so we're probably even."
He chuckled. "Sophie's not even like Sophie."
"I know, but Gladys is all about appearances."
"Talking about Grandma?" asked Dougie.
Jo didn't reach out and ruffle Dougie's hair while the other students filed past, but she did smile. "Good job. You almost got him."
"You wanna try?" asked Spencer.
She started to answer when Ron came in. "Phone, Jo." He bent to give her a kiss that curled her toes and handed over her cell. "It's Maya. Jo give you a run for your money?" he asked Spencer.
"Nope, the kid did."
"Yeah? Good, isn't he?" Ron looked proud and Dougie beamed. "Now, if he would put that much effort into algebra . . ."
Dougie sighed. "Da-ad."
Jo smiled as she put the phone to her ear. "Maya?"
"Sorry to bother you, Jo, but it's Tiana again. She's threatening to walk."
"Her boyfriend call her? Or her brothers?"
"I don't know, but something must have happened—she was fine this morning. We can't keep her here against her will, but . . ."
"I'm on my way." Jo ended the call. "Shelter business," she told Ron. "Can you get Damien to take my Tai Chi?"
"I'll go tell him—if not, I've got it. You get your homework done?" he asked Dougie as they left.
Jo gathered her stuff together. "Good thing I took it easy today," she said. "Don't have time to shower."
"You want backup?" asked Spencer, walking her out.
"Not for this, thanks. But you could do me a favor."
She led him into the employee lounge. "Come to our place for dinner tonight?"
He rubbed his chin. "What are we having?"
She smiled. "Potato soup?"
He folded his arms. "Are you asking, or telling?"
"Asking?" She opened her eyes wide. "If it's too much trouble, I can make it. The canned stuff isn't as good as yours, but—"
"Canned soup? Do you know what's in that stuff? Salt and mush."
"It's easy and it doesn't taste that bad."
"Doesn't taste . . . are you kidding me?" He scowled. "You've been spending way too much time with Parker. I'll go get the ingredients. Maybe take Dougie with me—kid's got to learn nutrition from somebody around here."
"Only if you really want to."
"Of course I want to—" He stopped. "I was wrong. You've been spending way too much time with Sophie." But he didn't look too upset as he sauntered away to rescue her son from his math homework. Except she knew it would be done by the time she came home.
Jo put on her jacket, backtracked to kiss a passing Ron and tell him about dinner, and left. She climbed into the truck, turned the ignition, and paused. Without knowing why, she dug in her bag for the small plastic box she'd started carrying with her two months ago.
She opened it, pulled out the tiny plastic object from its foam, and stuck it in her ear. She didn't hear anything—she wouldn't until she alerted Hardison by turning it on. She didn't know why she wanted to wear her panic button now—she wasn't planning on doing anything more dangerous than listening to Tiana and maybe sharing a story or two of her own in hopes of keeping the girl from running back to the life she'd escaped only a week earlier.
But she'd rather have it and not need it than leave it where she couldn't get to it.
She tossed the box onto the seat and drove away.