"You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving." Anatole France

Andreani Estate, outside of Kildare, Ireland, December 2015, 18:58 GMT

It was dark and he was disoriented.

His jaw was throbbing and his ears were ringing, but somehow the massive headache which was radiating from the top of his skull into every nerve ending in his head made that of secondary importance. It slowly dawned on him that the blackness was related to his eyelids weighing about a thousand pounds each, and the effort to open them was beyond his capacity at that moment.

Some time ago, and Michael really wasn't sure how long ago, someone had come into the room and sat beside him on the bed. He'd thought it was Fiona, or maybe he just wanted it to be Fiona so badly that he'd imagined it…He'd called out to her and then…

"Aye, tis Fifi. Ya rest now. We'll talk later when ya feel better."

But the voice had been off and he wasn't sure what was real anymore. Memories he could never fully escape sometimes taunted him at inopportune times. Michael knew he was laying on a fairly comfortable bed, which was an improvement over any number of circumstances he'd woken up to in his life, but he still needed to assess his situation.

Unfortunately, the very thought of opening his eyes or sitting up was making him queasy. Even trying to raise his hand or turn his head was sending waves of nausea rolling from his stomach to the top of his throat.

"Whoa there, brother, you're not going anywhere."


"Trust me; you need to lay flat and stay asleep right now."

Trust me. He trusted Sam so implicitly at this point that it was redundant to speak those words. Which is precisely why it was their code phrase for: No matter what you hear or see, do exactly what I say because I know better than you what is going on right now.

And since his aching, exhausted body was in total agreement with his friend's orders, he let the darkness have him until…

"I can take care o' meself!"

"Dinnae look like thot from whar I wa' standin'."


"If ya warn't such a damned hothead, we'd not have the problem now, eh?"

"I wa' aimin' fer tha family jewels. It warn't me fault he tried t'take off with tha family fortune instead!"

…Voices so almost familiar and yet somehow not quite right…

"Gran woulda done a better job o' it with a rusty butter knife if thot's all ya meant t'do."

"Thar's no use goin' on about it, tis done!"

…Strident, exasperated voices…

"Aye, tis thot, but didja have t'kill him, ya bloomin' idijit?"

His whole life has been filled with angry people using angry words. He didn't want to hear any more; he couldn't forget what he'd already heard in his lifetime. He wanted to shut the voices out, but they wouldn't go away as memories welled up to fill the silence when the other voices that were arguing had moved on and faded into the background.

"Jesus H. Christ, woman, ya can't be that gawd damned stupid!" as fists impacted flesh.

"Why did you let him do that? You're supposed to be watching Nate!" as glass broke.

"Mike, wait up! C'mon, man, hold up! Wait for me!" as feet pounded on the pavement behind him.

"Oh, there's gonna be hell t'pay now, boy!" as a leather belt whistled through the air.

"Why do you have to antagonize your father like that?" as the tears began to fall.

"Dammit, Mike, I just need a sawbuck 'til Friday! I gotta sure thing!" as he slammed the door so hard it vibrated in the frame.

"I am sick! I can't do this by myself. Why can't you come home?" as he crushed the phone in his hand and heard the plastic crack with a satisfying snap.

No more, no more arguments!... He'd gone half way around the world to get away from those … no….no, wait…wasn't he trying to get back to family? Yes, that was it- he wanted to get back to his immediate family.

But that didn't make sense either. Why would he want to get back to his family? It had always been better when he and his mother weren't in the same hemisphere. But ….

~~Dusty roads, hopeless nights, looking at blinding lights.~~

His mother… pictures of Madeline Westen filled his head. The images were there as always, but all jumbled up, mixed together, out of sequence. She was young, she was old, she was smiling, she was crying, she was bruised, battered, bleeding, begging…

She was gone.

~~Saw your ghost in here tonight. It lingers on and I feel your life~~

He had sent her away for her own sake, for his sake, for both their sakes.

~~Pulling me back to the place~~

The remembrance forced its way to the surface and he didn't have the strength to fight it off. He couldn't forget. He'd never been allowed to.

~~But the thought of staring back at you is more than I can face.~~

They had been sitting at the table in the dining room of his childhood home on North River Drive. It had been time for his mother to go into permanent protective custody. Out the kitchen door, through the back fence, into the waiting car and his once estranged mother would be just another reminiscence that haunted him like all the rest.

"I don't like this, Michael."

"I know, Mom."

She'd inhaled deeply and then blown the plume of smoke out with an irritated noise.

"We already discussed this," he had reminded her.

"I know, but I still don't like it."

"Mom," he'd huffed, rolling his eyes and looking up at the ceiling as his head fell back on his shoulders dramatically. He'd hoped the familiarity of the gesture would distract her.

"But you'll be all alone here, Michael."

"Mom, I have a team."

"A team, huh?" He had grimaced as she'd lit the next cigarette with the butt of the last.

"Yes, that's all well and good that you have people to help you with—what you do." Since Jesse's death, his mother had become less keen to be included in all the details of his life. "But what about you, Michael? I worry about you being all by yourself."

"Don't let Sam hear you say that."

"You know that's not what I'm talking about!" she groused, punctuating her point with a jab of her smoke and a little cascade of ash. "Nate has—Ruth."

He had chuckled internally- still not a big fan of her daughter-in-law, though his mother had been trying to work on her attitude and Madeline really hadn't had a choice in the matter. He'd wondered how she would've reacted if she'd known the truth about Ruth.

"And they have Charlie and little Maddy," she'd continued brightly and her other son had to admire the effectiveness of Nate's obvious flattery. "But what about you? You don't have anyone special. You should find yourself a nice girl when all this over. "

He hadn't bothered to tell her he'd already found the girl, he just needed it to be over. "Okay, a nice Catholic girl." It'd been as much of an admission as he would to make.

"Really, Michael? You see, you get that sarcastic streak from your father."

He had gazed at her levelly. No other reply had been required.

Then she had gone into defensive mode. "Why on the earth would you want a religious girl? They won't even kiss you until you're married to them."

That had made him smile in spite of himself. He had a momentary flash of his, "good Catholic girl" gloriously flushed and naked astride him. He had pushed the thought away quickly, but his bemused expression had lingered.

And his amusement had put her on the offensive. "Well, you shouldn't be kissing women you're not married to, anyway!"

He had laughed out loud then. His mother had been dispensing that same advice since she'd caught him giving a much older girl a tonsillectomy in the back seat of his stolen car de jour at the height of the herpes epidemic back in the early'80's. He'd just been grateful at the time that she'd caught him before he'd deflowered them both.

"I'll try to remember that," he'd assented, as though he'd actually had an option to do otherwise. Still, it had been a long time since he'd been that light hearted in his mother's presence and it had mollified her somewhat.

"Well, just remember this, too. You don't get to pick your family; they pick you and, even though you have to do things that are hard sometimes, in the end, it's worth it."

His good humor had vanished that fast and Madeline had sighed as she had seen his expression harden again.

"I just want you to be happy, Michael. Even if apples don't fall far from the tree that doesn't mean you don't plant one."

"O-kay." He'd plainly had no idea what she was talking about.

"When you have kids, they turn out to be just like you; little apples that don't fall far from the tree."

"Maybe you should have planted an orange tree instead," he had remarked, effectively ending the conversation. It was Nate's job to provide her with grandchildren. It was one of the few things his younger brother seemed to do well, although obviously Nate hadn't done it alone and Ruth had done the majority of work. What else was new?

Then they had sat in silence, as the implications of what they were about to do had washed over them both one final time. She was to go out the back door, meet up with Rebecca Lange and be whisked away to become someone else while he and Sam arranged for the electrical fire meant to burned away that part of his past permanently.

~~And it's a long way down from where I used to rest my head~~

Decades of hurt feelings had finally been set aside; they'd finally reconciled—and then she'd become leverage against him and now they were separating once again, forever.

~~And it's safe and sound. If only I could turn around~~

Part of him had wondered if it wouldn't have been better if he'd never come home.

~~There's no direction where I stand, just dead end signs and wasted land~~.

"Let's just get this over with," she had said suddenly, leaving her home with nothing more than the clothes on her back, a lighter and a pack of Marlboro Reds in her hand.

~~And it's a long way down, it's a long way now to you~~

He couldn't have agreed more at the time. Little did he know just then that he would to spend the next three days actually missing the foul stench of cigarette smoke.

Madeline's son forcefully pushed the rest of that recollection away and happily let the blackness have him again.


It was some time later, Michael felt the bedside depress again. He was too far away from consciousness and Sam's admonition to stay asleep kept him from seeking it. Somehow, he knew there was something too enormous to deal with looming out there on the edge of awareness and he was so exhausted. He couldn't recall ever being this tired and that in and of itself was saying something.

So, if Mr. Axe had assured him it was safe to rest, then it was and he would.

A small hand laid itself over his. The touch was gentle, but the skin was rough. It was simultaneously recognizable, but wrong somehow. Another hand caressed his cheek and again the feeling of familiarity and strangeness caused him to almost shy away.

He felt rather than heard the sigh. Then a weight was laid over his heart… Someone's head was on his chest-? He knew he should wake up, but he didn't want to. Still…

It took all his strength of the moment to will his hand to move from where it lay on his stomach towards whoever was occupying the space over his sternum. Michael felt movement and then his limb decided it was too heavy to move anymore and dropped.

The hair on the whoever's head was closely cropped and oddly textured. He couldn't ever recall encountering it before, but the spy was too weary to delve into the mystery.

He returned to Sam's promise that he was okay if he didn't.

Mr. Westen drifted for a moment—or two?- and then the weight and the warmth withdrew itself. That made him sad somehow and he wanted the comfort to return. Lips pressed against his cheek, lingered a second and were gone. He wanted them to stay, but the thought of the first time she had kissed his cheek suddenly took him away.

~~Well I was moving at the speed of sound. Head-spinning, couldn't find my way around~~

Michael had never been sure what combination of deity, circumstances or intention on his friend's part he had to thank for the meeting, but when he had seen Fiona Glenanne for the first time in that dingy little bar in Belfast, he had known then.

~~And didn't know that I was going down, yeah, yeah~~

He'd meant to have a meet with her brother at the Black Sand Pub that night. Bad enough that he'd connected with Sean Glenanne in the time he'd been in Ireland. They had been fighting for the same thing, albeit for different reasons, but an identical goal.

~~Where I've been, well it's all a blur. What I was looking for I'm not sure~~

Perhaps it was his older siblings' tendencies to beat sense into Sean that had forged the alliance. Michael had certainly sympathized with the resentment and distance that came with that dynamic as well Sean's overwhelming need to try to protect his sister and her twin's self-proclaimed miserable failures to do so. It was all too familiar ground.

~~ Too late and didn't see it coming. Yeah, yeah~~

But when he had seen her that night for the first time, he'd been stunned by the darkness that hung over her like a pall, trying to consume the passionate fire that radiated from within her. He'd known plenty black hearts in his day and she was one of the worst if her reputation was to be believed. But it had been the core of love and light that refused to be consumed by her evil acts that had drawn him to the tiny Irish woman like the proverbial moth to the flame.

~~ And then I crashed into you and I went up in flames~~

Michael had understood back then the incredulous looks that had flashed his way as he'd approached the corner booth where she'd been conducting the REAL IRA's business, looks that said whether he was insane or merely stupid, he was a dead man.

~~ Could've been the death of me, but then you breathed your breath in me~~

He'd asked her for a dance. Simple enough request, though he had no business making contact with her like this. Sean was his asset, not his sister. She was too well known a radical for such a direct approach. His handlers would've been infuriated.

~~ And I crashed into you, like a runaway train~~

Fiona had waved off the multiple men surrounding her as they'd all started to stand and simultaneously draw their weapons. She'd walked sinuously towards him, her standard uniform of jeans, jumper and heavy boots doing nothing to detract from her feral femininity. The gleam in her eye had been predatory, but the slow smile that blossomed over her features said she'd been intrigued by his audacity.

~~You will consume me, but I can't walk away~~

Michael had continued to flash his best winning smile as he stared into those stormy blue green eyes. He'd felt like he could see straight into her soul, which was probably why he'd missed the snub nosed revolver until it was firmly pressed into his stomach. Ignoring the cold metal, the dark haired man had taken her free hand into his and laid his other on her waist. Tugging her gently forward, he'd closed the gap between them.

~~Somehow, I couldn't stop myself. I just wanted to know how it felt~~

He'd tossed off a line about assuming that was a yes since she hadn't killed him yet and waited for her response. Fiona's smile had grown to match his own as she'd shoved the revolver into the front of his jeans, expanding the bulge at the zipper. She'd then wrapped her freed-up arm around his back, pressing their bodies more firmly together.

~~Too strong, I couldn't hold on, yeah, yeah~~

As they'd begun to sway slowly out of time with the music, it'd soon become apparent that something else was as hard and unyielding as the pistol she'd tucked into his pants. He'd swallowed thickly and she had chuckled lightly at his chagrin, jibing about whether it was hardware or him being happy to meet her.

~~Now I'm just tryin' to make some sense out of how and why this happened~~

As the song came to end, Fiona's hand had drifted down until it'd rested just above his back pockets. Then she'd reached up under his sweater and removed his automatic from the waistband of his demins, her eyes never leaving his, her smile never wavering.

Drawing apart, she'd been silently mouthing "until next time," when Fiona'd leaned up, letting her lips brush briefly over his cheek before turning her back on him, clearly dismissing him. The Irish woman had sauntered away with his weapon and his heart.

~~Where we're heading, there's just no knowing, yeah, yeah~~

He'd come to senses enough to realize that it had been long past his cue to leave. As he'd backed away from the tiny dance floor, the crowd had filtered in around him, filling up the space. The air of stunned silence had been palpable and the low buzz that had characterized the bar upon his entrance had only returned after this departure.

~~From your face, your eyes are burning to me. You saved me; you gave me just what I need, oh, just what I need.~~

Even with perfect recall, he still couldn't say how long he'd spent sitting in his stolen car three blocks away trying to piece together what had just happened.

Michael felt yet another hand lay over the top of his and then it slid down to wrap thumb and forefinger over the pulse point at his wrist. These digits were larger and calloused, but he was too wrapped up in the images of being enraptured by her to care.


He had no idea how much time had passed when a single blinding white light pierced his sight and his consciousness. Michael groaned and tried to move away, but again his muscles were sluggish and loath to obey.

"Just checking your eyes, Mikey. That was quite a whack you took, well, several of them actually," Sam chuckled. Glad he could see the humor in the situation. "Looks like you've gotten past the concussion, brother." There was relief in the tone. "I think it'll be okay to give you something for the pain now."

The needle prick was nothing compared to what the rest of him felt like. As much as he hated drugs and the after effects, Michael was grateful now as the numbness spread throughout his limbs and the searing pain in his head toned down to merely a dull ache.

There must have been something for the nausea as well because his stomach began to settle. The former spy had an extremely high tolerance for pain, but he was just too exhausted to fight it anymore, so he didn't. Been fighting for so long, fighting for her….Since he couldn't stop the flood of memories this time, so he didn't even try.

The second time he had seen her, he had been driving the getaway truck. She had slid into him as her brother had pushed in behind her and slammed the door of their stolen transportation, its rear compartment full of weapons, explosives and REAL IRA members who just couldn't believe their good fortune and probably shouldn't have.

"Is it next time?" he had quipped before Sean had glared and shouted for him to get his ass as well as the lorry in gear. Michael had been grateful for the long winding drive and the confined space in the cab that had pressed her up against him, the smell of perfume and gunpowder mixing enticingly on her skin as she pointed the way, hands by his face.

Fiona had continued to play hard to get, only it wasn't an act. She was hard to get at, to get near. Sean's sister had a quick temper, no tolerance for things that didn't meet her approval and an insatiable appetite for violence and destruction. But somehow, he'd managed to meet her approval more than others. Like that first night, she'd dared him to risk her wrath and, since that first night, the initial results had been mixed at best.

He had tried to keep that flirtatious edge to their relationship, but he'd quickly and painfully learned that when she was on the job, she was on the job and nothing more.

The images began to accelerate, one bleeding into another with greater frequency.

~~'Cause what I want and what I need has now become the same thing you've been offering. ~~

Fiona fighting next to him, guns blazing and explosions aplenty; fighting with him, tempers flaring as they disagreed on their tactical analysis of the situation; her fists pummeling him as she vented her displeasure at his "poor" marksmanship; her gradual change in attitude as he introduced her to the concept of targeted retribution; Sean's approval as his dark haired comrade slowly turned his sister away from her rage.

~~As days go by, I've finally become what you want me to be~~

The reminiscence became sweeter, then unbearably bittersweet: her hands went from striking and slapping him to caressing and holding him, sometimes clinging desperately to him as she screamed at night. Visions of her, of her features, so delicate and yet so harsh, that softened only for him, the long auburn mane, flashing eyes, bewitching smile.

~~I look around me and I want you to be there, cause I miss the things that we shared.
Look around you. It's empty, and you're sad, 'cause you miss the love that we had.
You used to talk to me like I was the only one around, the only one around.~~

Her tiny perfect frame, once only swathed in heavy clothes and fatigues, became wrapped in robes and towels, wrapped in sheets, then blankets and then thick quilts, as they were lying beneath them, wondrously wrapped in nothing but each other's arms.

~~ We used to have this figured out; we used to breathe without a doubt.
When nights were clear, you were the first star that I'd see.
We used to have this under control. We never thought; we used to
know. ~~.

They had been an effective team, had become compatriots and companions. Then they were friends and then they were lovers and now they had become soul mates.

~~ At least there's you and at least there's me. Can we get this back? Can we get this back to how it used to be?~~

"Oh, dinnae do thot, no... Shhhh…" Anxious hands stroked his face and clasped his hand. "Shhhh, dinnae weep now. It'll be fine, it'll all be fine."

Weep? That caught his attention more fully and he tried to focus. Who was crying?

"Whot's wrong with him, Mr. Axe? Why won' he wake up?"

Michael wanted to stay in the moment and respond to the question, but he didn't have the answer and the inquiry triggered another flood of memories he couldn't control, recollections of another time when his body was wracked with pain, where other voices lingered just outside the reach of consciousness, familiar voices filled with the same concern and the same questions, while he struggled to reach them through the fog.

"Why won' he wake up, Liam?"

"Dey've beat ham t'wifin inch o' his life, girl. Ah gave ham sumthin' t' keep ham quiet."

Now he recalled why he never took pain killers if he could avoid it. As hard as he fought, he couldn't break free of the drug induced stupor or the clutches of awful memories.

He had been in Nigeria, ordering a wire transfer for a Russian warlord. With a good lead on a local arms dealer who'd had connections to the Glenannes back in the day, the spy was most keen to get the job over with and get on with his real mission in the gun running capital of Africa when…"We got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted."

Afterwards, the body guards had beaten him senseless and the only blessing in the whole sorry mess had been when they had taken him into a bathroom with all its useful hard surfaces to wash off the blood and vomit, the cold water reviving him.

Even with already broken bones, he had managed to not do any further damage to himself while taking out the two Africans whose job it had been to get answers from him and then dispose of his body. Now someone else would be disposing of theirs.

He hadn't been as lucky when he laid the bike down near the airport, but apparently someone had ordered the Nigerian military to make sure he got on the plane because they'd half dragged, half carried him onto the prop plane waiting on the tarmac for him.

He had a dim memory of an altercation, of being grabbed and pulled and then dropped, but he remembered quite clearly screaming as his battered body met the pavement and it had been a very long time since he had allowed pain to make him cry out like that.

He hadn't known where he was when he had roused again. The artificially chilled atmosphere had told him he was in an air conditioned somewhere. He'd been in a hospital often enough to recognize the feel of needles and strategically placed medical tape, but the bed was certainly not a hospital bed or even a field hospital bed. A woman was speaking… a moment of sobbing, then sniffling and then, much later…. singing?

~~Taken all I could take and I cannot wait. We're wasting too much time. Being strong, holding on.
Can't let it bring us down. My life with you means everything, so I won't give up that easily. I'll blow it way, blow it away. Can we make this something good? 'Cause it's all misunderstood. Well, I'll try to do it right this time around.~~

Once upon a time, he'd heard a voice like that, so severe when issuing orders, become soft and lilting as she'd whispered in the dark, but he couldn't recall ever hearing her sing. He hadn't been able to make out the words the first time he'd heard them, but he'd had plenty of time to listen to them over and over since then, searing them into his soul.

~~Let's start over. I'll try to do it right this time around. It's not over, 'cause a part of me is dead and in the ground. This love is killing me, but you're the only one. It's not over.~~

Someone had to have given him pain killers and a lot of them, since everything was a nauseating blur. As his head swirled and his stomach rebelled, Michael wondered absently if he would really have preferred to hurt. He hadn't been sure how long he'd been in that room. The voices had stayed on the edge of his understanding, but he'd known deep in his heart that she'd come for him; that Fiona had been taking care of him and that she would take him home soon and they would finally be together at long last.

Except that's not what happened in the end, was it?

There had been a lot of movement and probably cursing. Though the words were not plain, the sentiment was. After floating in a miasma of mismatched memories, Michael had been ready to be awake as he felt himself rushing towards consciousness. That is until he'd actually awoken, finding himself completely alone in that dreary Miami hotel room with no evidence as to who had been there or where they had gone.

He'd sat up on the bed and taken inventory of himself, his head pounding. His bare torso that'd been visible above the large wrap probably intended to secure broken ribs had been covered with fading bruises and healing slashes. His limbs below his rolled up pants legs had been in a similar bruised condition on the left and a brace had obscured the view on the right. His right arm had been wrapped tight in an unforgiving ace bandage and both his hands had ached, no doubt some tiny fractures there as well.

~~Feeling overwhelmed, I take a dive to a once overfilled but now empty place to hide.~~

Where had everyone gone? He'd been certain there had been people there, tending to his wounds and watching over him, taking care of him. Why had they left him behind?

~~The day you turned on me is the day I died.~~

He had moved stiffly towards the window, peering out the blinds. As he'd taken in the two FBI agents watching him from their large grey Ford, it had come back to him in a flash. He'd been burned, cast aside like yesterday's garbage, and evidently whoever had been tending to him had now abandoned him as well.

~~And I've forgotten what it's like and how it feels to be alive~~.

His foot had snagged something as he'd turned away and headed back towards the bathroom. The now former covert operative had bent down slowly and caught hold of a backpack that had apparently been kicked under the bed in someone's hasty exit. But he'd grabbed the wrong end and the clothing had spilled out onto the bed and the floor along with a hauntingly familiar CD player. There had been no ID's, no money, no passports, nothing useful to help him get out of the mess he'd found himself in.

~~Every time I see your clothes scattered out on the floor, I say I thought you would be home. You said you never would be gone. Every time I see the light not burning on the porch, I say I thought you would be home. You said you never would be gone, said you never would be gone. ~~

Waves of guilt, regret and helplessness had coursed through him, threatening to take him under and he could ill afford it right then. He'd left to try to protect Fiona all those years ago. Michael had never wanted to be gone; he had been trying to free her, to take her away from that life. Did she know how hard he'd fought to find her again?

~~Reach up to the sky, when nothing seems to go right, when nothing seems to go right for me.~~

Had she left him now to protect him or herself? Where was she now? How was he ever going to find her when he could barely walk and the feds were sitting at the door?

As if in answer to his query, a massive fireball had erupted, rattling the windows and Michael had looked out in time to see his FBI tail screeching out of their parking space towards the blazing inferno that had previously been a warehouse along the waterfront.

He'd remembered the joy that used to light her face when things would explode as he'd thanked his lucky stars and his wild Irish rose for the exit strategy he'd so desperately needed as he'd grabbed his shirt, his shoes and that CD player he'd keep in her place.


Mr. Westen awoke alone this time as well, though he was in far better physical condition than he had been in that memory he'd just relived. The relative improvement of his mental status was a matter of internal debate. He took in his surroundings, assured that the worst of the drugs had passed through his system and that he was truly awake this time, though the memory of what he'd done after leaving the hotel room lingered on.

He had gotten his former trainee, Lucy Chen, to keep and hide him while he recovered, watching all the news coverage he could about the warehouse fire. Besides telling him he'd looked better after Chechnya, an exaggeration he hadn't particularly appreciated, she had put him in contact with his savior from that prior disaster. If anyone could help him with this current burn notice fiasco, it was Lt. Commander Samuel Axe, Navy SEAL.

Where was Sam?

Rather than rush to sit up, Michael surveyed the room again. It was a dimly lit, more accommodating than the average field hospital and better stocked. Where he was lying took up the center of the room and to his right was a doorway into what he assumed was the en suite and to his left was the open doorway led into the corridor.

He closed his eyes and focused on what he could hear. The room was silent as well as sterile. Through the open door, he could hear voices several rooms away, or so it seemed. Michael couldn't remember ever having been here before or even how he got here; however, the tightness and the throbbing in his scalp bespoke of his earlier injury.

Then he heard a blooming laugh echoing from a distance that the former spy would have known anywhere and his anxiety dissipated immediately. His comrade knew well enough when the laugh was genuine and when it was forced or a cover. .

"Trust me," Sam had said.

Since Sam wasn't here hovering over him and apparently somewhere else nearby enjoying himself, it seemed reasonable that they were still safe and his injuries no longer precluded him from exploring his whereabouts as soon as he got his bearings.

Michael had learned to be cautious in how he dealt with his talents. He had to focus on what he was doing or what he wanted to remember, lest a million little details or a Daughtry song would rise up to distract him if he wasn't careful.

There had been a feminine presence, one or both of them hovering at the end of recognition. He tried to ascertain what he had known, what clues the past held.

Agent Westen had spent the hours while Sam had driven from Key West assembling together the evidence, the picture fragments, the news snippets, the underworld Intel, the whispers and the outright lies that Spencer had assembled and when he'd put the pieces together and realized what Fiona had been forced to do to survive, the guilt had shattered him and he'd retreated into the back seat and into his head.

~~Will you listen to my story? It'll just be a minute. How can I explain? Whatever happened here, never meant to hurt you. How could I cause you so much pain?~~

He'd been trying to take Fiona away from a brutal life of killing and retribution and instead he'd left her trapped in a web of violence and playing pawn to powerful people. How was he ever going to fix that? How could he ever get it back to how it used to be if the marker stone, that cold black hole sucking the light of his world, was to be believed?

~~When I say I'm sorry, will you believe me? Listen to my story. Say you won't leave me~~

Bile rose up in his throat and his fists clenched at his sides at the thought of his beloved Fiona being lost to him, dead and buried in the hard ground, for eight long years while he searched and hoped and fought and hung on by a thread, just waiting to see her.

~~When I say I'm sorry, can you forgive me? When I say I'll always be there, will you believe, will you believe me?~~

Another revelation followed hard on the heels of the last, he'd left her with a son, his son, their son, to care for and protect all on her own. The dark haired man felt the hot sting of tears gathering in his eyes against his will. Sean Michael McBride had grown up without even a memory for a father. How in the world would he ever set that right?

~~All the words that I come up with, they're like gasoline on flames. There's no excuse- No explanation. Believe me, if I could I'd undo what I did wrong, I'd give away all that I own.~~

A bitter laugh, full of recrimination, tore from his lips. O'Neil had died, died because he'd told his boy the truth about the old man. Of all the things the bloody bastard could have been killed for, after all the times Thomas O'Neil claimed to stand for the truth, tha fooking idijit had died for the truth. What the hell was he supposed to do with that?

~~If I told you, I've been cleaning my soul and if I promised you, I'll regain control. Will you open your door and let me in? Take me for who I am and not for who I've been?..~~

As he struggled to regain control of himself, another wave of sorrow washed over Michael, choking him with an irony he could almost taste it, setting his mind on fire. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and focused hard on every scrap of tradecraft and training he possessed to try to bring himself back under control.

If that feminine presence that had hovered over him here in Armand Andreani's estate was not that the long lost love of his life, then perhaps there was more than one child he had unintentionally abandoned? How was that possible? The voice of James Earle Jones hissed in the back of his brain – A sister? You have a twin sister!

And if that were so, what could he possibly say or do that would make that right again?

~~When I say I'm sorry, will you believe me? Listen to my story, say you won't leave me.~~

As he clamped down the feeling of spiraling out of control, fighting it with all his strength, he realized that for once, instead of posing another question, the words running through his head were trying to give him the answer.

~~When I say I'm sorry, can you forgive me? When I say I'll always be there, will you believe? Will you believe in me?

Sorry was something he never learned at home except to be sorry he had to be there;

Sorry was something they didn't teach you in the Army, you weren't allowed to mess up;

Sorry was something they didn't teach you in spy school, that was for the funeral afterwards;

Sorry was exactly what he was going to have to figure out how to say to those precious people that he had wronged the most in his entire life and he needed to do it now!

~~When I say I'm sorry, when I say I'm sorry, when I say I'm sorry. when I say I'm sorry.~~

Michael McBride Westen opened his eyes and pushed himself gingerly into a sitting position. Taking a breath to steady himself, he turned toward the open door to the corridor, from whence a peal of almost familiar laughter came drifting into the room.

As he rose on shaky legs, the covert operative took a few balancing steps before slowly making his way towards the door, pausing at the entry way to stretch his previously inert limbs. He had a team of good men waiting in silence in Germany, he had his closest colleague and best friend waiting for him to make the next move, but no one was more important than those two? young people who'd been waiting a lifetime to meet their Da.

~~Can you forgive me? When I say I will always be there, Will you believe, will you believe me?.~~


A/N: I would like to apologize to everyone I left hanging while I was dealing with my domestic drama these past four months. The story will be finished soon and updated regularly. Up next will be a new story on the M page called "Who We Leave Behind" which will follow Michael from leaving home at 17 up until the events of Asset Management and then will continue on with various events after AM until the opening of Burn Notice. For those of you patiently waiting, Asset Management will start updating soon as well. Thank you to everyone who still read, reviewed and favorite while I've been offline.

Many, many thanks and much love to amazing Amanda, equally awesome Purdy's Pal, the incredible Daisy Day and the lovely CJ for loving me and supporting me while I was going through my divorce. Thanks to Amanda for the BETA, to Purdy for helping with this chapter and all our research and to Daisy for making us all laugh every day. Many thanks to all the Burner Girls on Twitter for the shout outs and all the Burner Girls who post lovely pictures and comments on FB!