First Time

A/N – This is an original idea, based around the S2 episode Fallen Angel, and, like And **WHEN** Was The Wedding, it will be told from several different points of view. Hope somebody enjoys it. This chapter marks the end of this little story arc...but, if anyone has any other episodes they'd like to see receive this type of treatment, PM me and we can discuss it. Enjoy this final chapter. – robertwnielsen

Disclaimer – Don't own 'em, just taking them out for another non-profit play date, since DPB and Universal won't anymore.

Chap. 5 – Michael

I have to be honest, I don't remember much of what happened in the beginning—I had snuck into East Germany to rescue a former lover of mine, Maria von Fuerster. She had gone on the KGB "white list," which to me meant she was living on borrowed time. You see, people on the "white list" are people who the KGB has marked for assassination. What I didn't know was that Comrade Kinskov and Karl Kruger were behind the whole thing.

I guess there are any number of reasons I didn't see through Kruger's plan—the fact that I've been chained to a desk for so long, and not actively involved in field work. The kind of work I usually leave for people like Gabrielle, and Marella, plus the fact that I had Maria on my mind. I had tried to bring her with me in Stockholm once, but Kruger had already seen to it that wasn't going to happen.

The machine they used on me was an interesting concept—I was strapped down in a water tank, and shots of a mind-altering drug were introduced into my system at various intervals and dosages. I still remember Kinskov saying, "I want you to sleep, Michael" during one of the interrogation/programming sessions. I have to admit, I was completely unsure what Kinskov and Kruger were up to. Plus, I had Katerina in the back of my mind.

Katerina, my daughter with Maria, who was born shortly after the Stockholm incident – that's when I tried to bring Maria out the first time, and Kruger nearly killed me doing it. Katerina was born soon after that, and I was furious that Kruger had raised her for the past eleven years, but that was going to change if I could get Maria to come with me. We would have raised her together, if Maria would have had me, and if she'd come out with me in Stockholm. Now that I think back on it, I think that's part of the reason that this whole thing happened—Kruger and Kinskov were upset that the man who is now Deputy Director of a major intelligence organization slipped through their fingers, and now were willing to do whatever they could to get me back.

What I don't understand is why. I mean, it's not like I have any information that could be useful to them—I know for a fact that my section's been frozen out—All codes changed, all data erased. So anything that their torture might have gotten out of me was already obsolete before they even got it. I soon learned, however, that information wasn't what Kruger was after.

When I learned that Maria and Kruger had become lovers, as she and I once were, I realized the full implications of Kruger's plan. She was never on the "white list"—she would have been dead long before I got there if that were true—that was just part of the plot to ensnare me. I have to admit, it was brilliantly planned, and executed. Any rookie should have seen through it—I guess, as Kruger was so blunt as to point out, they were lucky I've been at the FIRM twenty years, and my instincts aren't what they once were.

When I wasn't hooked up in that crazy contraption of theirs, I had a lot of time to think...and one person kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts—Marella. The woman who's been like my right arm ever since she came to work for me a few years ago. I remember how, during the Red Star incident, I grabbed Marella and threw her down just as Moffet began firing on the base, and I must admit, I've had nightmares where I didn't manage to save her in time, and she died, sometimes there in my arms, and sometimes I was informed of her death in my hospital room, while I was recovering from the injuries that took my left eye, and left me with my permanent limp and need for a cane.

One day as I sat in my cell, something happened—I realized something that had been in the back of my mind for a long time—I love her. I love Marella. I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out. For Heaven's sakes, she's a beautiful woman, and I can't believe there aren't hundreds of men in the FIRM who haven't tried to ask her out. But then, they might be put off by the fact that she works so closely with me. People might think we already were in a relationship, or at the very least, that she had feelings for me. Or maybe they're just scared because of the fact that she works for me. I seem to have that effect on people, I remembered saying to myself. Scaring them to death. About the only people I don't scare to death are Stringfellow Hawke, and Dominic Santini.

I finally made a decision a few days before Hawke came and rescued me—if I made it out of there, alive, I was going to tell Marella how I felt about her, and whatever happened afterward would happen. Of course, if she didn't feel the same about me that I did about her, I knew I'd lose her—there would be no way that she'd want to continue working as my aide under circumstances like that—and I wasn't sure if I could deal with that possibility, either personally, or professionally.

But at that moment, I had other things to worry about, mainly, how the hell I was going to get out of there. Considering where I was, I figured the only way I'd be getting out of here, alive, would be if Hawke and Dominic came with Airwolf to rescue me. I knew the East Germans, and the Russians, wouldn't be too crazy about a prisoner exchange for me, so rescue appeared at that point to be my best hope. And to be honest, it was a small one, considering that our section had been closed. I didn't even know if Marella would have been able to contact Hawke and Dominic under those circumstances. I supposed the only way I'd find out would be if—And, that's when I heard the explosion, like an air-to-ground missile slamming into Kruger's compound, even as I was hooked into the brainwashing machine for another round of what I perceived to be torture.

I couldn't really tell what was going on, other than all the technicians and doctors were running around like the proverbial headless chickens, along with a good deal of the soldiers, and I swore I heard small arms and anti-aircraft fire, along with other weapons explosions. I didn't know what was going on until I looked up and saw...

"Hawke?" I gasped. Then, I saw her.

"Maria?" I asked.

"Yes, Michael. Maria," she said as she and Hawke each grabbed one of my arms and pulled me to my feet. They led me through the castle, outside, and I saw Airwolf in the sky above us, knocking out missile and cannon emplacements, along with machine gun nests. Then the three of us ran to where Dominic had Airwolf hovering, and I heard him shout "Get aboard! Get aboard!" over the weapons fire. I knew Hawke had climbed into the countermeasure specialist, or copilot's seat, and I climbed into a seat behind him, seeing someone in Dominic's usual spot in the Electronic Data Command Center who I didn't recognize at first...but then I saw the eyes behind the flight helmet, and I knew who it was from a photo we had back at FIRM headquarters—Caitlin O'Shannessy, Dom's new employee at Santini Air. I was at first puzzled as to why she was there, but then I realized someone had to take Dom's place at the EDCC when he took command of Airwolf while Hawke was in Kruger's compound trying to rescue me. I felt myself being pulled into Airwolf, and knew Hawke had tried to pull Maria in behind me, but that's when I heard the single gunshot and saw her collapse onto the pavement. I tried to get out and rescue her, but Caitlin pulled me back in, and Hawke had already taken over command of Airwolf and turned us away from the castle.

I have to admit something here—I was puzzled at the lack of resistance from the East German air force as we made our way out of Magdenburg. I had expected a full-on dogfight at least until we reached the border, but no one even questioned what we were doing in East German airspace. A few hours later, after we took a final refueling from a KC-135 tanker, which Marella must have arranged, Hawke said,

"Michael. When we land, give me your sidearm."

"What?" I demanded, not exactly sure what Hawke was thinking. "Why?"

"Didn't you notice how easy our escape was?" Hawke demanded.

"You call that easy?" I countered.

"Yes," Hawke said. "Either Kinskov has the worst gunners on the planet, or they weren't trying to hit Airwolf. Plus, doesn't the fact that we didn't encounter any elements of the East German air force strike you as just a bit odd?" Hawke had just articulated what I'd been thinking—that it was very odd that we encountered no East German resistance to our escape.

"What was that apparatus we found you in, Michael?" Hawke wanted to know.

"I—I'm not sure, Hawke," I answered him, honestly. "I think it was some kind of brainwashing device, but I'm not exactly sure."

Once we'd landed Airwolf, before we met with Zeus and the Committee, as requested, I handed over my sidearm to Hawke, and he replaced the ammunition in it with blanks. "At least, if I'm right, you won't be arrested for murder," Hawke said when he handed the weapon back to me. I noticed the full upper body cast that Dominic was in, and I knew he had to be in incredible pain. Before we went to meet with Zeus and the Committee, however, I excused myself and met up with Marella in my office.

"Welcome home, Michael," Marella said, walking over to me and giving me a warm embrace.

"Thank you, Marella," I replied, and smiled at her, then my tone turned entirely businesslike. "Hawke, Caitlin, and Dom are waiting outside. Shall we?"

"Yes, sir," Marella said, and the two of us walked out and met Hawke, Dominic, and Caitlin, and I noticed something—Caitlin was giving Marella a very angry, almost hostile, look. I resolved to ask Marella about it later, but knew I had no time as the doors to the meeting room opened, and Marella and I led the procession in. She followed me right up to my chair at the far end of the table, and I noticed that Hawke, Dominic, and Caitlin had taken up a position right behind Zeus. There was a small smattering of applause as I took my seat, and noticed Marella at her familiar position at my left shoulder, then Zeus spoke.

"Welcome home, Archangel." I heard Zeus say. "I'm afraid we were going to have to write you off for good, this time."

"I always seem to make it back, Zeus. However this time, I did have just a little bit of help." I nodded at Caitlin, Dom and Hawke.

"Yes. Miss O'Shannessy, Mr. Hawke, Mr. Santini. We want to thank you for your bravery and valor. Marella, however, will have to be suspended, until a review board can determine whether she is capable of following orders." I have to admit that on the one hand, this surprised me—I can't believe that Zeus and the Committee were going to rest high and mighty on rules and regulations, knowing that if Marella hadn't broken those rules, I wouldn't be sitting in that room. But on the other hand, rules are rules—hell, I helped create them. Zeus, as head of the FIRM, was just doing his job to enforce them.

"Of all the hypocritical bull!" Dom shouted. I was surprised to hear that—I don't think Dominic Santini has ever stuck up for Marella to anyone, let alone Zeus. That took some guts, I thought to myself, even as I worried that Dom might do something he'd regret. Fortunately, Hawke tried to silence his friend. "Hey, Dom!"

"Aah! Well, somebody has to tell this egotistical bag of hot air where to go!" In the short time I've known Dominic Santini, I've learned that his temper is probably the worst I've ever encountered—even worse than Stringfellow Hawke's—and I was glad I wasn't on the receiving end of it. Just then, Marella added her own voice to the discussion.

"Dominic, he's right! Rules are rules!" Marella said from her position next to me.

"If you believe that, then you're as sick as he is!" Dom shot back.

"If she believed it, she wouldn't have come to you and Hawke!" I shouted, and I found myself wrestling with a question I'd had when I was in my cell in East Germany—how does Marella feel about me? Just like that, I was snapped back to reality when Zeus spoke again.

"This interview is over," Zeus stated coldly. I've heard Zeus' voice sound cold before, but his tone just then was the coldest I'd ever heard.

"Not quite! I want my staff back. And full access to FIRM facilities. That means complete restoration of my division, including Marella," I insisted.

"I said the interview is over," Zeus repeated, and his voice seemed to me to grow even colder.

"I think your title has gone to your head, Zeus!" I shouted.

"That's enough!" Zeus shouted back.

"No, it's not enough! You would've left me out there to rot, after 20 years of loyalty!" I roared, feeling something in my head, like a voice. Kruger's voice, and it was telling me to assassinate Zeus and as many members of the Committee as I could.

"Those are the rules, Michael. You helped create them! And now that I'm head of the FIRM, I'm here to enforce them!" Zeus shouted back, and angrily pointed at the desk to emphasize his point.

Zeus and I stared at each other across the table for a moment, then I reached into my jacket, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and calmly shot Zeus. Everyone in the room began to panic, and four of the FIRM's security guards rushed in, two grabbing hold of Marella, and the other two grabbing me. "Michael Coldsmith-Briggs..." one of the guards holding me began, and I knew I was being arrested for Zeus' murder. But then one of the other guards holding Marella noticed Zeus beginning to move, and the guards released us both.

"I—I'm all right," Zeus stammered. "What happened?"

"I'll answer that," Hawke said, stepping forward. "Michael had been programmed to try to assassinate you, Zeus. That was part of what happened to him in East Germany. I figured it out after we escaped—it was too easy. Either Kinskov has the worst gunners in the world, or they weren't trying to hit Airwolf. They wanted us to escape, so that Michael could come back here and kill you, and probably a few more members of the Committee. Once I figured out what was going on, I substituted blanks for the ammo in Michael's gun."

"Thank you, Hawke," I said, nodding his head towards Hawke and his friends. "That's two more I owe you."

"I'll send you a bill," Hawke said, and I saw Hawke grin at Marella and me, which was one of the few times I'd ever seen him smile. Then I told Zeus that I wanted to go back to East Germany and get the formulas and research for Kinskov's mind control, and to get Maria out if I could, even though Hawke tried at length to explain that Kruger had shot her at point-blank range—there was no way, at least in Hawke's mind, that she was still alive.

"What if Kruger was firing blanks, just like I did?" I demanded, and I could see that my question had started Hawke thinking. Just then, Marella pulled me aside and said, "Michael, when you get back, we need to talk." And, I could tell from the tone of her voice, not to mention her expression, that the subject on her mind was not going to be about FIRM business.

"All right," I nodded and left the room with Hawke and Dominic, but noticed Caitlin staying behind. Wonder what that's about? I asked myself as the doors closed behind us. Then I remembered Caitlin's expression when we walked out of my office. I suppose she'll tell us about it, someday, I said to myself when she came out of the meeting room a few minutes later. Not long afterward, we were back in Airwolf, headed for East Germany.

I knew where the serum was stored, of course, and I began collecting bottles while Hawke went looking for the formulas, so that our scientists could study them and hopefully formulate an antidote. As I was putting serum bottles into a bag, I heard Kruger's voice. "Michael! How? HOW?"

"Hawke figured it out," I said. "My rescue was too easy. After all those years in 'Nam, he realized that either you have the worst gunners in the world, or they weren't trying to hit Airwolf."

"But YOU ASSASSINATED ZEUS!" Kruger shouted.

"I tried," I said. "Hawke put blanks in my gun."

"Ah," Kruger said, a sadistic smile on his face. "Then the serum works!"

"It works," I said. "I did everything you programmed me to do, only I fired blanks."

"Put those serum bottles back!" I ignored him, even with the gun pointed at me, even as I cast my eyes towards my own gun, laying just a few inches away. "I said to put those back!"

Just then, I heard Hawke's voice. "I found the formulas, Michael."

"Hawke, look out!" I shouted, and Kruger turned his gaze on Hawke, which gave me the opening I needed to grab my pistol and shoot Kruger, killing him instantly.

"Let's go!" he said, and we turned to leave, and then I saw her standing there with a gun pointed right at Hawke and me.

"Maria?" I said, incredulous. I think Hawke was even more surprised than I was that Maria was still alive—after all, I was the one who suggested that Kruger might have been firing blanks when he shot her, but I couldn't believe, after what we'd meant to each other, that she'd just coldly shoot me.

"Give me that book and the pouch," Maria said.

"No." I stated clearly, my own weapon aimed at her. I didn't want to shoot her, but I would if I had to. And I didn't want to think what Hawke might do.

"I can't let you go with it. I swear, I'll kill you, Michael," Maria said, aiming her gun at me.

"Will you, Maria?" I asked her, as I lowered my gun and tried with my eyes to communicate that in spite of everything, I still loved her, and still wanted her with me and Katerina. I noticed her squeezing the trigger of her gun slowly, so that none of us would know when the trigger would break—and then, I heard the gunshot, not from her gun aimed at me, but from Hawke's, which was aimed under his arm at Maria. This time, knowing what an expert shot Stringfellow Hawke was, and that he had live ammo in his gun, I had little doubt that she was dead, and that was confirmed a second later when I checked for her pulse. Somberly, I followed Hawke out to the roof where Airwolf was waiting, and as I surveyed the damage around us, I began wondering what these two missions would end up costing the FIRM, counting the costs of the refueling aircraft, and all the ordnance Dom and Hawke were expending. A few minutes later, we were back in Airwolf and headed towards safe territory, after a minor dogfight with the East German air force, and Caitlin's nerves finally got the best of her when it was over.

"Scope's clean! Whoo-whee! Highway Patrol was never like that!" she exulted.

"Like what?" Hawke demanded.

"That dogfight!" Caitlin insisted. I began trying to think of a way to tell Caitlin that she'd just imagined the whole thing—but I knew that would not be possible.

"What dogfight?" Dom piped up, trying to keep up the secrecy as best he could—but failing miserably.

"Oh, no you don't! This time, I've got a witness! Now, they can't tell me that..." When I heard Caitlin's voice break, I saw that she had turned towards me, and I knew that she was going to try to use me as a witness so that Hawke couldn't deny what had happened, but I was in no mood for that sort of discussion. A few seconds later, her voice confirmed my suspicions.

"Michael, what's wrong?" she asked. I almost asked how she knew my name, but then I remembered—Zeus called me by name just before I fired at him. And I'm sure Hawke and Dominic have mentioned me.

"Maria's dead." Hawke answered, knowing I was extremely upset.

"She was working with Krueger all along," I said, and I knew the others could hear the sadness in my voice.

"I'm sorry," Caitlin said, and I nodded slightly at her, then turned my next words to Hawke.

"It couldn't be helped," I said. "I do know that, Hawke."

Hawke glanced back at Caitlin and me, and gave me a small nod of acknowledgment. We flew on in silence for a few minutes, then Dom spoke up.

"I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry. Whataya say we stop off for some beer and bratwurst, huh?" Dom asked, and I knew he was trying to lighten the mood.

"Where?" Hawke asked, incredulous.

"Well, I dunno," Dom replied. "Any place that's got beer and bratwurst, I suppose!"

"Yeah, we can discuss our next mission," Caitlin said.

"What mission?" I asked.

"Oh, you know! Whatever you assign them to do next in this helicopter!" she replied.

"WHAT HELICOPTER?" Hawke, Dom and I all demanded, practically in unison. If I can help it, Caitlin's going to forget everything she's learned about me, Airwolf, and this part of Hawke's life. But something tells me that's not going to be nearly as easy as it sounded. Well, I remembered saying to myself, it might be nice for there to be a backup in case something happened to Hawke or Dominic.

We finally found a small cafe just outside of Munich, and Hawke began making plans to set Airwolf down in a clearing about a mile away.

"Hawke, are you crazy?" I demanded. "You're just going to leave Airwolf out here, unguarded, while we go and have lunch?"

"We've done it before, Michael," Hawke said, in a tone of voice that I had learned a long time ago meant that Hawke didn't want to discuss it further. Of course, I knew that if anyone found Airwolf and got aboard her, they couldn't start her without the security code, which meant they'd be trapped inside when we got back.

"But, Hawke..." I said, then stopped. "Never mind." I recognized Hawke's tone of voice, and decided not to press any further on the matter. We finished covering Airwolf with a camouflage net, then hiked back into town to the cafe we had identified from the air.

Once we were seated at an outdoor table, and Caitlin, Dom and I had ordered bratwurst and beer, and Hawke ordered a salad, I turned to Caitlin, and I realized this would be our first face-to-face meeting. Now that I had seen her face without the flight helmet, I realized she was very pretty...pretty enough, in fact, that if I were twenty years younger, and Marella wasn't such a large part of my life, I might have been interested in her. But I got a feeling about her when I looked into her eyes and said, "Ah, this must be Dom's new employee. Miss O'Shannessy, correct?" I asked.

"Sorry, Michael," Hawke said, shaking his head. I think he realized he'd never formally introduced us. But he really didn't have a chance, I said to myself.

"Michael Coldsmith-Briggs, this is Caitlin O'Shannessy. Caitlin, this is Michael. Or, as we call him, 'Archangel.'"

"A pleasure, sir," Caitlin said, giving me a friendly smile.

"Likewise, Miss O'Shannessy," I replied, shaking Caitlin's hand. "And thank you for all your help. I don't know if Hawke could have pulled this one off without you."

"You're welcome, sir," Caitlin said, and something in the way she said it told me that she wasn't entirely comfortable knowing who I was.

"Miss O'Shannessy," I began again, about to tell her that Dominic and Hawke have never, ever called me 'sir,' and so I didn't expect her to.

"Please, call me Caitlin," she said.

"Fine, Caitlin. But, if we're not going to stand on formalities, please don't call me 'sir.' Neither Hawke nor Dominic does, after all. You may call me 'Michael,' or 'Archangel,' if you like. Caitlin, I hope you realize what Hawke has involved you in. And, I don't think I have to tell you to keep everything that happened, and everything you saw, between the four of us," I said, hoping that my tone of voice would convey my concerns.

"No, Michael, you don't," Caitlin replied. "I know that what happened, and what I saw, has to be our little secret, and I accept that. I just hope you don't expect me to up and forget what I saw."

"Well, I won't say that it wouldn't bother me if you did forget about Airwolf, me, and everything you've seen, but I don't think that's possible," I said with a grin directed at Caitlin. "But, I have to say, you handled yourself as well as I've ever seen under the circumstances. Hawke and Dom must have taught you very well."

"They did," Caitlin said with a smile directed at Hawke, which I saw made him feel extremely uncomfortable. I began to wonder if there wasn't something more than friendship between Stringfellow Hawke and Caitlin O'Shannessy, or at least whether Caitlin had feelings about Hawke that were more than just friendship. Kind of like the way I feel about Marella, I thought to myself, especially the way her eyes light up at the mention of Hawke's name. I thought about telling Caitlin about the curse Hawke feels like he has—the one where anyone he loves, or might love, will die—but I decided against it.

Then, Dominic asked a question that had been bothering me, also. "By the way, Cait," Dom had to ask, "where the heck did that flight suit come from? I gotta admit, it fit pretty nicely. But I thought String and I had the only two flight suits." I noticed String looking at Caitlin at the same time I did, and I had a feeling we both wondered the same thing.

"Oh, Dom. You remember a couple weeks ago when that limousine came and picked me up? Well, that was Marella, and I guess she arranged the whole thing." Dom looked over at me and saw me smile and nod—I remembered how Marella had left the office one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, but not told me, Laura, or anyone else where she was going. I guess now I know, I said to myself as we finished our lunch. Something else I owe Marella. After hearing about that, it didn't take me long to figure out why Caitlin had given Marella such a dirty look at Knightsbridge—Marella didn't tell Caitlin she works for me. No wonder Caitlin looked so upset, I remember thinking to myself. Then, I decided to ask Dom about something I had been wondering about. "By the way, Dominic," I said, "I've been meaning to ask you—why did you defend Marella the way you did back at Knightsbridge?" Dominic proceeded to tell me that he felt like Marella was only doing what she thought was right—which, in all honesty, she was, and that he felt like Marella shouldn't be punished for what she did. I thought about what Dominic said for a minute, then I said, "I think I understand, Dominic. And, thank you again. And, Zeus and I are going to have a discussion about some of the regulations and rules. I think you're right—Marella shouldn't suffer some kind of punishment for doing what she thought was right." Just like that day at Knightsbridge, I was surprised Dominic Santini and I had agreed on something—and, I don't intend to let him forget it, either, I said to myself as we finished lunch. After we ate lunch, we hiked back to Airwolf and, after removing the camouflage net, started her up for the journey home.

A few days later, with our division restored and everyone home safe, I surprised Marella one day after work with an invitation to my house, for dinner.

"You did say we needed to talk," I said back at my home, when I noticed Marella's expression.

"Yes, Michael, I did," Marella replied, trying to relax. "Michael, that woman. Maria. Were you...?" From her tone of voice, I instinctively knew the last word that she left unspoken—lovers. But, she has to know. I can't lie to her about something like that, I said to myself.

"At one time, yes," I said. "We were lovers when I was a field agent with the CIA, before the FIRM was established."

"I see," Marella said, and something in her tone of voice just then betrayed something in her emotions.

"Marella," I said, concerned, "it's a long time over. Maria was working with Kruger to try and capture me. And anyway, Maria's dead. Hawke shot her, just before she would have killed me. But, why would you ask me a question like that?"

Marella couldn't say anything, so she pulled me closer to her and kissed me. I was shocked at first, both at the intensity of the kiss, and the fact that she'd kissed me at all, but finally I allowed myself to relax in her arms and return the kiss, knowing that this was exactly what I had wanted for a long time.

"Michael," Marella said after she had pulled us apart and found her voice, "I have something I need to tell you. I—I love you. I have for a long time, and when you went missing..." I heard her voice crack and did the only thing I knew to do, reaching out once again and enfolding her in my arms, knowing that I wanted nothing more than to hold her, just like that, for the rest of our lives.

"Marella," I whispered, pulling her closer to me, "I—I love you, too. I have for a long time. I just never knew the right way to tell you." I hoped Marella could tell how embarrassed I was, but her next words allayed all my fears magnificently.

"Michael," she said as we held each other, "I understand. I mean, I never knew the right way to tell you about my feelings, either. So, we're even, okay?" She smiled up at me, and I knew her smile was not the smile of a co-worker, but the special smile that a woman saves for the man she loves, and I felt something in my heart that I hadn't felt for a long time—the deep, abiding love that I knew was there for Marella, but I had just not allowed it to rise to the surface, because I didn't know how she felt about me.

"Okay, Marella," I replied, and smiled back at her. "But this is going to change some things. We—we'll have to be careful around the office, especially if we're dealing with Zeus."

"Michael," she said, and tightened her arms around me, "there are couples who work together at Knightsbridge—there's no rules against employees dating, even if one is the other's direct supervisor," I knew that, of course—I wrote most of those rules, after all—but I also knew it would not be good from a PR standpoint, if the news got out that the Deputy Director of the FIRM and his number one aide were carrying on like a couple of lovestruck teenagers.

I heard Marella say, "Don't worry, Michael. The fact that we're getting closer personally won't affect how I behave around you at the office. I'll be able to separate our personal relationship from work. Unless," she said, and I noticed her expression turning decidedly sultry, "your front door is locked. I believe the walls in your office are soundproofed, correct?"

I knew Marella saw the light come into my good eye. "You are observant, Marella. And, that will definitely come in handy," I said, pulling us closer together. Then he added, "Two things will come in handy—your powers of observation, and the soundproofed walls in my office." Then I leaned down and kissed Marella again, more passionately this time, and I knew I wanted her. More than I've ever wanted any woman ever, including Maria. But not just as a lover, I said to myself before taking Marella upstairs to my bedroom so we could make love properly, I want her by my side always. As my wife, my partner, my best friend—and, my lover. Then I felt Marella's lips on mine again, and I knew there would be no more time—or opportunity—for us to speak, for a while.