Have a Happy Ending

PG

Most of the characters and situations belong to NBC and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. All other characters are my invention, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Feedback is most appreciated--my address is upleaf@yahoo.com.

This story was inspired by the comments that Mr. Salerno made on the Deep Undercover message board about the future he had in mind for his characters. I took the idea and ran with it...

Many thanks to Michelle, who beta-read, and to Sam, my indispensable reference for Spanish: What to Say and How to Spell It.

Attention: this story is rated US, for Unabashedly Sentimental. You have been warned!

2004

It was time.

Alex dropped the folder she was holding into the box on her desk, carefully--while the box was half-empty, the folder was fat with papers and ready to spill. That's the last. Now-- She swept up a couple of photographs in frames that had collected over the years and set them on top of the papers in the box. Jake laughed out of one of the frames at her, caught in a moment of clowning with Monica; another was a group photo of the team, all of them looking solemn, with their then-new leader looming up over the rest of them, dark and grim.

Little did we know he'd turn out to be a marshmallow on the inside. Alex grinned down at the picture, reflecting on the horror Donovan would feel at such a description, then turned to survey her office. It was small and cluttered and needed at least one more file cabinet--so much for the paperless bureaucracy--but it was hers, from the litter of empty juice bottles--now tidied away--to her raincoat hung over the door.

Had been hers.

Glancing at the overloaded file cabinets, Alex spotted something she'd missed. Leaning up, she unhooked the last photograph from its spot on the wall, where it had been half-hidden by a pile of folders and books. She blew a cloud of dust from the glass, then wiped it with her sleeve, and sighed.

It was an earlier group shot, much more informal than the one she'd just packed away. The five of them stood in a group under summer sun, backed by trees, relaxed and easy. Cody made rabbit ears behind Jake's head; Monica grinned under one of her outrageous hats. And John was smiling at Alex while she watched the camera. I never knew. Not until he told me.

But now the pain was muted to a wistful sorrow. What they'd found so unexpectedly had been killed when Keller had moved to take shots meant for Alex, and while she bitterly regretted his death, he wouldn't thank her for not moving on. And I am moving on, in so many ways.

Alex briefly considered leaving the photo for one of the others, but then laid it gently in the box on top of the others. This one she would keep. It was not possible to forget, so she would remember with love. He would understand.

She fitted the lid on the box, dropped her raincoat on top, and carried them out to her car, stowing them in the trunk and taking great breaths of the spring air, which was sweet even in the heart of the city. Late afternoon sunshine gilded the grimy walls around her, and she felt a wave of nostalgia even for the ugly building. Then she shook it off. One thing's for sure, I'll never have to deal with parking here in the snow again. And then Alex snickered, recalling a certain snowball fight...

Her hand moved automatically toward her pocket, and she stopped it deliberately and made a fist. It had been three months since she'd quit smoking, and while the cravings were gone for the most part, habit still snuck up on her.

She went back inside. None of the others were in evidence; they were probably in one of the side rooms, preparing for the next case. It made her feel odd to be left out. But the light was on in Frank's office, and the door was open. Alex unbuckled her holster and ducked out of its loop on her way up the stairs, then knocked on the doorframe.

Donovan looked up from the endless paperwork. "Come in." His face was closed and grave as Alex stepped forward to place the gun and holster on his desk. She followed it with her badge, almost ceremoniously.

Frank leaned forward to pick up the badge, turning it over in his hand as though it were something new to him. "Are you all set?"

Alex straightened. "Ready to go." She kept her face calm, letting no hint of her mingled relief and regret show.

Frank was silent a moment, contemplating the badge, and Alex glanced idly around the office while she waited for him to speak. It was much neater than it had been when Keller had occupied it, and she remembered moving Frank's stuff into it after the police corruption case, and the genuine, shy pleasure he'd shown at their efforts.

Something caught her eye in the array of certificates and maps on one wall, and she blinked. For some reason, her boss had a copy of the old photo she'd just put away. Doubly odd, when the man kept no other photographs at all. That is a promise, some part of her realized as she gazed again at the summer day captured years ago.

Frank stood up and tapped a button on his phone, and Alex turned back to him. "It has been a privilege working with you, Agent Cross," Frank said formally, with just a glint of humor at the old joke of her name.

She smiled back at him. "It's been an honor to work with you, sir." She hesitated, then added awkwardly, "I've learned a lot."

"You were a superlative agent. We'll miss you." He too hesitated, and for a moment Alex thought he would extend his hand for a shake, but then he surprised her by coming around the desk and enveloping her in a hug. She returned it, touched.

Then he was stepping away. "Enjoy your retirement. And give my greetings to Cortez. I owe him a debt." His smile was decidedly lopsided, and Alex wondered what on earth Carlos could have done to put Frank in his debt.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and the other three piled into the room, apparently in the middle of a mild argument. "Let Alex settle it," Cody said, and they all turned to her.

"Settle what?" she asked, amused, but trying to work around the sudden lump in her throat. She was going to miss them all so much...

"Where we're all going for dinner," Jake replied, and grinned at the look on her face. "You didn't think we were going to let you go without a farewell party, did you?"

Alex had to laugh.

*****

It was a merry evening, with Cody's wisecracks and Jake's takeoffs, Alex's own acid wit and Monica's wicked "profiles" of the other patrons in the restaurant. Frank took his customary back seat, smiling quietly and occasionally interjecting a dry comment that made the rest of them whoop appreciatively. There was a squabble over the check, as usual--Frank won--and Alex walked back to her car warm with hugs and promises to write and the knowledge that she had four firm friends if ever she needed them.

She sniffled as she unlocked the car door, and laughed at herself, wiping moisture from her eyes. It's not like you'll never see them again, she scolded herself. It's not forever.

But in a way it was, and as she slid into her seat Alex was overwhelmed with a sense of loss. No matter how many times she came back to visit, she would always be an outsider; the team would move on without her, and eventually her place would be filled by another. For an instant she felt adrift, cut off from the pattern of her life. Then she rallied and turned on the engine. Life is change. And I've made the right decision.

On that certainty, she drove home.

*****

Still, midnight found her curled up against the headboard of her bed, staring into the darkness and utterly without sleep. When the phone rang, she scooped it up without looking. "Hi, Jake."

"How'd you know it was me?" His voice was gritty with fatigue.

"Who else would call me this late?" Her lips curved, and her mind's eye she could see him smiling too, probably sitting on the old iron-framed bed in his room at Holy Cross.

He was silent a moment, then--"You want to talk?"

The lump was back in her throat. He knew her so well, as she did him. "How did you guess?"

"I didn't." His voice was warm and easy. "C'mon, Alex. I know perfectly well that you're not sure you made the right choice."

"Yeah, well..." She pulled her knees up to her chest. "Donovan's hardly going to take me back if I change my mind."

"You kidding?" He chuckled. "He'd snap you up in a second."

"Yeah, I can just see him, giving me one of those looks. 'Are you sure this time, Agent Cross?'"

They laughed together in the dark, and let silence settle between them for a moment.

"I made the right choice, Jake," Alex said finally. "It's just hard to let go."

"You've been thinking about it for a long time."

Alex sighed. "It seems like I've been fighting forever." She ran the phone cord through her fingers, trying to put her thoughts into words. "I fought so hard to do what I did, to be what I am...I kind of lost track of what I was fighting."

"I know what you mean," Jake agreed softly. "One more wall to beat your head against, and it doesn't really matter what wall it is so long as it's there."

"Exactly." She shook her head, even though he couldn't see her. "When I started in this job I was so sure of what I was doing...I was unbeatable. I was going to be perfect. And then..."

On the other end of the line, Jake sidestepped the obvious answer, there was no need to rub it in. "Real life happened," he said gently.

"Yeah, it did." She sighed again, and Jake lay back on his narrow bed, one arm behind his head, listening. "I loved my job, Jake, I really did. But I just..."

She couldn't seem to articulate what she meant, but he knew. He knew. "Hey. Don't think of it like that. You did your job, and now you're moving on. You're not quitting because you have to, you're quitting because you want to. It's that simple."

"Sure it is." But the humor was back in her voice, and he smiled a little in the glow from the lights outside the window. They'd always been able to balance each other.

It was going to be really tough without her.

"I'm going to miss you," Alex said quietly, and he bit his lip to keep back the prickle in his eyes.

"I'll miss you too," he answered, and cleared his throat. "But you're coming back for visits, right?"

"Couldn't keep me away," she said lightly. "Jake...you take care of yourself."

"You too." He managed a bit of a laugh. "Just do me one favor, okay?"

"Sure..."

"Never tell Carlos I saw you naked, all right?"

She burst into giggles, and he grinned at the ceiling. Some things wouldn't change.

*****

It had been a very long journey, complicated by delays, one missed flight, and a thunderstorm. If I had enough energy left, I would lose my temper. But the little boat was finally speeding toward the shadowed island, with sunrise waiting just beyond the horizon. Alex glanced down at the instruments to make sure her heading was right, and zipped up her jacket wearily. This might be the tropics, but it was distinctly chilly on the water.

It's been so long. Her stomach was giving notice of her nervousness. Not that she doubted her reception, but she hadn't been able to get in touch with him. Either her cellphone wouldn't work, or he wasn't available, or the line was busy, or... Take it easy. You're almost there.

She eased the boat into place among a varied flock of craft, and fastened the lines securely before grabbing her bag and jumping onto the dock. At first she thought the waterfront was deserted, but as she stepped onto land an old man strolled past, laden with fishing tackle. He grunted benignly, a battered hat shading his eyes from the harsh yellow sodium lights.

Alex relaxed as he thumped away down the dock. She'd been an agent too long; there was nothing, now, to guard against. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a map of the island. Left off the boardwalk, and then it's about a half-mile walk. She peered up at the sky, her hair ruffling in the rising dawn breeze. I should get there just about when the sun comes up.

The shell-graveled road was flanked by trees and ran more-or-less parallel to the shoreline. Alex crunched along it, watching the grey light slowly brighten, and listening to the bird sounds in the vegetation. She wasn't sure if they were night birds going to sleep or day birds waking up, but they sounded cheerful. Something small and low to the ground scuttled across the road some distance ahead, but she couldn't make out what it was and wasn't certain she could identify it even in broad daylight.

The road curved gradually away from the shore. The first driveway on the left. She'd already passed one on the right. There; ornamental gates stood invitingly open, and the narrower drive meandered away under thicker trees. Alex turned down it, shifting her bag to her other arm and wishing she'd been able to sleep on the plane. But it did not take her long to get to the house, a wide white two-story affair that looked more comfortable than elegant, but still spoke of money. All the windows were dark.

Weary beyond belief, Alex dumped her bag on the verandah and kicked off her shoes. If I sit down, I'll fall asleep. But she didn't want to wake anyone by pounding on the door.

What the heck. I'm already trespassing. She followed the sound of waves around the side of the house. The long white beach beyond was unlittered, empty, tinted rose by the rising sun, and Alex headed for it, deciding to dip her feet in the gentle surf.

As she rounded the wing, a figure came into view; a tall man, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, standing at the edge of the water and looking out to sea. As Alex watched, he bent his head and scrubbed at his face with one hand, the line of his body expressing some sadness, and then straightened again. The first direct rays of sunlight touched him with sudden gold, and Alex smiled for what felt like the first time in days. Yes, it's definitely time. Stepping from grass to sand, she began to walk toward him.

She was about halfway there when he seemed to feel her gaze on him, and turned. The light was strong enough now for her to see him clearly, and to savor the astonishment and dawning joy that lit his face.

She didn't remember running, but suddenly she was in his arms, held tightly to his chest as he rocked back and forth and murmured into her hair. "Mi amor. Mi amor." Her own arms were banded around him, and every choked breath she took was laden with the clean scent of him, the smell she'd missed for so long.

"Carlos--" She barely managed his name. He raised his head enough to look down at her, smiling, his warm fingers smoothing away her tears while his own went ignored. "Carlos..."

"You came. Cariña, you came. Just as I dreamed it. Walking down the beach to me."

The sound she made was half-sob, half-laugh, and she leaned up and muffled it against his mouth.

*****

"Tell me you're staying." He'd watched her sleep for hours, watched the exhaustion slowly fade from her features. She was too thin, his beloved, and worn with strain. He would change that.

Alex smiled up at him, stretching luxuriously in the cotton sheets, and reached out to lay her palm tenderly along his cheek. "I'm staying. For good."

He covered her hand with his own and pressed it to his lips. "Tell me you'll marry me."

The smile became a laugh, a laugh without the hesitation that had hindered them so long. "I'll marry you."

"Good." He slid down beside her again, pulling her into his arms and cradling her against him. "When?"

She snuggled close, and he could scarcely believe he wasn't dreaming. "Whenever you like. I'm retired, I have all the time in the world." Her face went solemn, and she tilted her head back to see his eyes. "Tell me you love me."

"I love you. Alex. I love you." He held her tightly, as though she might vanish. "Always."