As the old saying goes, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth; but, on the streets of Miami, it's only hers, his and theirs that matters.
It was scorching hot outside, a completely expected condition given her locale near the beach. This was Miami and it was nearly summer after all. There was only a minimal breeze now, which did nothing to negate the stifling reflected heat coming off the concrete sidewalk and nearby blacktop that was A1A as she perched stiffly on the hard, hot wood of the bus stop bench, staring intensely at the passing traffic, her mind reflexively cataloging the flow of people and vehicles even though her focus was elsewhere.
Her forest green mini dress was short and sleeveless, and caused no small amount of stir amongst the male passer-by's, but she was still hotter on the inside than her body had a chance of being on the outside. The sulfurous thoughts rampaging around in her head warred over who she was angrier with: him or herself.
Damn him! Right at this moment, the former spy was winning that particular contest.
Michael, and Sam for that matter, had been acting weird ever since this new client had come along. Michael Westen had let something distract him from pursuing his burn notice? Since when?
He'd had the necessary papers in his hand to go get his new identity. It meant the freedom he needed to go to DC, to confront Phillip Cowan, the man he said had ruined his life, and suddenly Michel would rather meet with a client?
The fact that Sam had sputtered some nonsense about Michael needing yogurt and practically dashed out of the loft when she'd questioned him about Evelyn pretty much told her that even he knew everything she didn't really want to know. So much for the improvement in their partnership, though it was not surprising that Sam would cover for him.
Fiona shifted uncomfortably on the bench and contemplated hitch hiking for a moment. There were certainly enough options available. She'd gone out armed and prepared as always, so safety was not a primary concern. She was actually debating whether running into some trouble would be a good idea. It might help her blow off some steam.
On the other hand, she might injure someone a little too seriously while working off her pique. Ms. Gleananne had no desire to add time spent in county lock-up to the list of things she hadn't planned on doing today. Riding the bus was enough of an unanticipated inconvenience. Still, she'd deal with whatever life threw at her and get some fun out of it somewhere, somehow. She wasn't helpless or needy... or even pretending to be, unlike this new client.
She'd let curiosity get the better of her when Michael had asked for backup. Apparently, Sam was off pursuing some new leads as to where Evelyn's husband might have taken their little boy. Mr. Westen had explained the situation to her on the drive from her condo by the Intracoastal to the beachfront hotel where his client was staying. While she was always on board when it came to rescuing a child from an abusive parent, there were too many things in this story that just weren't adding up. It really bothered her that he apparently didn't see this. Was this new client that attractive?
Securi-Corp wasn't cheap and neither was the beach front hotel they were heading to. So, where was a suddenly separated stay-at-home mommy getting her money? But since it appeared that she did have the money to hire Securi-Corp and stay in such an expensive place, why hadn't she done something else with her money, like hire her own private detectives or better yet a high priced lawyer to resolve her custody issues, instead of waiting around for Lucy to contact Michael to take the job?
Evelyn's connection with Lucy was troublesome as well. She just happened to meet Lucy because she heard Ms. Chen worked for a big security firm that might be able to help out? Except of course the job was too small for them.
Fiona was as much a fan of fortuitous circumstances as the next fellow, but she'd learned the hard way that if something looked too good to be true, it was best to shoot it, just in case.
"Ooooh, the damsel in distress."
"She said it was an emergency. What do you want me to do?"
"Be her knight in shining armor, of course."
She'd tried to temper her sarcasm with a smile and it seemed to work for the moment. But Fiona could see that this case was hitting too close to home for him, even if he couldn't. Madeline had never come out and given a blow by blow, so to speak, recounting of Michael's childhood, but his mother had said enough for the fiery Irishwoman to fill in the blanks. She wanted to kill his father all over again. Taking that together with what else didn't add up in this case, it seemed that Michael was being targeted by someone with resources and skills and that was never a good thing.
A thundering diesel engine propelling the city bus down the road spewed tiny flecks of oil in its noxious exhaust fumes as it rumbled by, scattering her thoughts momentarily as she checked the route displaced on the front. No, dammit, this wasn't the one she was waiting for. Hailing a cab was starting to look better and better. Ms. Glenanne blew out an irritated huff of a breath and checked her watch. Five more minutes to go.
"Evelyn, this is Fiona. We work together."
She was used to the way he introduced her to everyone. Even back in Ireland when Michael McBride was actively pretending to be her boyfriend, he never would verbally acknowledge their relationship in public. Yes, she was used to it, but it still pissed her off, most especially now.
As soon as the sunglasses had come off and the tall buxom blonde had started blathering about emergency custody hearings and vague numbers of multiple assailants, Ms. Glenanne knew. And it was clear Mr. Westen didn't.
The makeup job wasn't even that good. She'd done better herself with an eyeliner pencil in the field. But if he couldn't or wouldn't see that he was being played, then what was she supposed to do about it? She certainly wasn't going to stand there and watch while Michael fell for the emotional blackmail as Evelyn, or whoever the hell she really was, was blubbering into his shirt.
"What happened to the trademark Westen emotional distance?" she had demanded as soon as the door to the Charger closed. She had wanted to slap him so badly, but she knew the blonde was watching their every move.
"She was upset."
Even now as she was remembering it, she couldn't believe that he'd fallen for the act and he certainly had no compunctions about hurting her feelings.
"Obviously," she snipped. "Where's your head at?"
"Fi, if you're gonna help me, you can't have this attitude."
And there it was, Fiona fumed. Michael wasn't seeing what she was seeing and he had written off her reaction as jealousy. Seriously? She was a Glenanne woman, dammit! She didn't moon over men like some love sick puppy.
"Attitude? If you're gonna be like this, I think I'm entitled to an attitude."
"Maybe I should do this one alone then."
Maybe he should do a lot of things alone. Why the hell was she wasting her time trying to get through his thick skull?
"Maybe you should."
"I'll drive you home," he declared, clearly dismissing her as well as her tactical analysis.
"No, I'll get there myself."
He hadn't trusted her. That's what infuriated her and that's what had just plain hurt like hell. After all they'd been through back in Ireland and all they'd done together here in Miami, that's what it came down to. Michael could put his life in her hands time and again, but all it had taken was some tearful trollop with a sob story for him to break faith with her.
Cat calls from a passing car interrupted her reverie momentarily. She didn't have any trouble getting male attention, just a particular male's attention, and she'd had to work very hard to get his attention. And she had thought she was achieving some small measure of success in renewing their former relationship recently.
That's why she was here in Miami, to discover if there ever had been anything real between them, to see if she could get through to him while he had to stay in the same spot instead of running away. She didn't understand him at all. He'd always made it clear that his job was the obstacle in their relationship. Well, he didn't have a job now, so why was he so damned determined to keep her at arms' length?
"We were profoundly unhappy." That had cut deep. She was only unhappy because the man she had trusted with her heart had turned out to be an American spy. It had taken no small measure of forgiveness on her part, but once they had gotten past that issue, she'd thought they were working well together again.
That is, until he had snuck away in the middle of the night. Coward!
Still, they were becoming the friends they once had been in Dublin and then they had become reacquainted on a much more intimate level. A tiny smile played on her lips despite her frustration while she remembered their first night in the loft, the renewal of a passion that always lingered just below the surface waiting for the spark that would set them both on fire.
Then Fiona flushed hot, a combination of indignation and injured ego making her long to commit an act of destruction, as one memory led to the next. She might as well have vanished the moment Bly'd handed Michael his burn notice file.
She stalked past him completely naked to the shower, washing away the sting of rejection along with their sweat and his sweet scent on her body. He never even looked up from that damned dossier as he mumbled his goodbyes when she left, banging the door on her way out.
In a city of over four hundred thousand crammed into thirty six square miles, shouldn't there have been a violent crime being committed somewhere that she could conclude for the better?
Fortunately, the former IRA operative didn't have to wait long.
Immediately in front of her, stopped in the line of cars that were ever so slowly snaking their way down the two lane blacktop, sat a smart looking white compact with the windows rolled down being driven by someone's grannie, who was sweating bullets behind the wheel. This was not the best part of town for someone her age to be sitting trapped in a car like that, exposed to the heat and the opportunists who might…
They had rushed the car from both sides after weaving silently through the stopped traffic. The one nearest Fiona had a cheap pistol tucked in the back waistband of his loose fitting denim shorts which became exposed as he leaned in through the window of the passenger door to open it. The other one threatening the Hispanic senior citizen with a knife on the driver's side continued to scream obscenities and demands at her while she tried in vain to figure out how to resolve her very sudden turn of bad luck
Fiona had no problem at all discerning how to turn the woman's fortunes and her mood around. She practically leapt off the bench. The strong lithe woman grabbed the young man by throat with her right hand, slamming the back of his head on the upper door frame as she jerked him out of the vehicle, and relieving him of his gun with her left. A swift application of the confiscated weapon to his temple and a brutal kick to his ribs left him staggering away from the scene.
The other youth stood and met her predatory gaze over the top of the vehicle before his abode colored skin took on an unhealthy pallor and he quickly dropped the knife as though it had burned him. Throwing up his hands, he backed up and then ran away from the automobile and its sobbing occupant as quickly as he could.
"Good to see you again, too," Fiona called after him, remembering that she'd sold the Beretta she'd taken off of him in the MIA parking garage not long after acquiring it from him. Perhaps this would teach him not to car jack people; at least not while she was around, anyway.
She went swiftly to the other side of the car. Traffic was trying to move again and people were getting curious. Ms. Glenanne assured the woman in her proper Castilian Spanish that it was alright and they needed to go now. The shaken elderly lady had moved over into the passenger seat, clearly trusting Fiona to continue to take care of her and the situation.
Someone she'd just met and rescued had had more faith in her and her abilities than Michael had. In between explaining that she was taking her neita's car to the shop to have the air conditioning fixed, the grateful grandmother had continued to thank her profusely for saving her and the Toyota.
"No," Fiona assured her, still feeling the adrenaline rush course through her veins and sooth her hurts. "Thank you."
Michael sat in the cafe, staring into space. He had his back to the road, though he wasn't unaware of the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that flowed there. Still, it was a poor tactical choice and it highlighted his distraction to himself.
This, this was why he avoided getting into any kind of relationship that didn't have some sort of professional connection. Even his friendships, which had been few and far between to begin with, had started for job related reasons. Of course, since he'd been burned, his options for friends or associates had gotten very small: Barry, Sam, Lucy and Fiona…
So, there he was, waiting on Sam to show up to help him with the case Lucy had gotten him involved with in return for a huge favor and Fiona…
He'd taken what he thought had turned out to be wise counsel from a surprising source after Ireland when he wasn't sure how to move forward. He'd done as he'd been advised and put his feelings in a box, the good as well as the bad.
He'd learned that he could take the warmth and the sense of belonging he'd felt only in her presence and store it away for when he needed it, just like he'd learned decades before how to bottle up the pain-fueled rage and hatred, and put them to good use, too. It wasn't just that Arabic celebrity magazine that had gotten him through those three days in that Riyadh storage facility.
As long as there was time and distance between him and Fiona, he could open that box, add another precious layer of intimate memories to it and close it again, keeping them safely to himself. It allowed him to do his job and it allowed him to let his guard down with her on the rare but welcome occasions when he saw her again during the last ten years.
But now he had no job to order his life and that aggravating, enigmatic, intoxicating Irish woman kept refusing to stay in the box. He remembered the feeling that had hit him squarely in the chest with great clarity as he'd watched her ascend that rusted metal stairway, washing away all the sake and the hormones in one huge wave of panic.
They weren't headed to a hotel, or a safe house or a deserted building, a place where they could carve out a moment of happiness and then go their separate ways. They were headed for what was, for the foreseeable future, his home and the thought terrified him. He'd taken the first excuse he could think of to push her away, a totally cruel and lame one at that, and he'd felt like crap for doing it. Still, he was thanking his lucky stars he hadn't ended up like the drug dealer's hired muscle as a result. He'd spent the rest of the time whilst finding an appropriately abandoned alley way in which to stash the unconscious behemoth thinking about what had happened between them in Dublin and more recently in Berlin. He still remembered feeling the swish of the blade as it had passed almost too closely by his face.
"Fi, do you remember when we were together? We were profoundly unhappy. I still have scars to prove it. You remember?" He had pointed to his chest and then his arm. "Dublin? Germany?"
Michael knew that Fiona had known back then there was something wrong, that something was off between them but she couldn't piece together what it was and that made her profoundly unhappy and she kept pushing, kept trying, determined to figure him out.
Which in turn had made him profoundly unhappy because Fiona Glenanne had become more than an asset. Because he had come to hate lying to her and her family every day. Because he hadn't known what he was going to do when the mission was over or what he'd do if, more likely when, she'd find out that he'd betrayed her. Because she had made him feel things he hadn't felt ever and, because of that, she was tearing away, bit by bit, the scar tissue that he had layered over his wounded heart and his secret yearnings for decades.
"No. Fi…As unhappy as we were, I don't think there's anyone I could be with that would make me happier than you."
With Fiona, there were more things he longed to feel and things he was terrified of feeling because they made him vulnerable and there was nothing Michael Westen hated more than feeling vulnerable.
"I don't know if that's good enough."
He might have been the one to initiate their return to intimacy, but as soon as he had opened that door, Fiona had kicked it off its hinges. Though in fairness to her, he hadn't exactly tried to board up the opening either. He hadn't fought her all that hard when she'd seduced him on the kitchen floor after Perry Clark had tried to garrotte him a few days back when he'd given her the Makarov on her birthday and he'd been the one to follow her into the shower, giving them both a present as it were.
It had been only natural when he'd accidentally found her in between removing her street clothes after the tuna with tahini lunch and putting on her bathing suit that afternoon that something other than a day at the beach had resulted. While he had gratefully accepted her invitation to lunch that day, knowing that she was working on forgiving him for the dossier disaster, spending time sunbathing with the rest of the tourists on Miami Beach was never really ever in his mission parameters under normal circumstances.
But these were far from ordinary circumstances and he'd felt guilty about the way he'd treated her after Bly had delivered the information he'd fought so hard to get. Of course, that hadn't stopped him from bringing it with him to lunch either. Even though it was everything he'd wished for, it had made his life much more complicated.
"I just can't believe it's the only thing on your mind these days."
"Fi, I know we haven't talked about what happened the other night. It was—well, you know what it was. But I—there was a reason why it didn't work before—"
"We were in a war zone. This is Miami, Michael."
But she was wrong. He was in war zone just the same as they had been back in Belfast. As long as he was out in the cold, he was a moving target with no good Intel as to who was shooting at him. That meant everyone around him was in the kill zone as well.
Though missions were not comfortable walks in the park, he'd had training, he'd known what the big picture was and he'd had an entire government backing him, but not anymore. This was why he needed to keep his relationship with Fiona under some kind of control. But she was going to keep pushing and testing him with the emotional equivalent of artillery fire.
"I didn't think we were in a relationship, Michael."
He hadn't wanted them to be and yet, sometimes, that's all he could think about and that was dangerous. But he also realized that there was going to come a time when he was going to have to watch her be with another man, just like she had rubbed it in his face with Thomas McKee daring him to prove that he cared, because he couldn't be the man she wanted him to be. Michael McBride had died a decade ago.
Agent Westen had left him bleeding out on the bed next to Fiona's sweetly slumbering sweat slicked form when he'd gone to meet with Liam Glenanne that night, knowing full well what that encounter would probably mean. He just hadn't realized that he'd be out of the country within the hour when he'd left their apartment that evening. Making dinner and desperate love to her had ensured that she'd stayed asleep and it was all the apology he could offer in advance.
The shuffle of familiar feet behind him alerted him to Sam's presence before the smell of Old Spice and gun powder did. His friend took the seat next to his, practically crowing.
"Okay, Mike, tell me I'm a genius."
"You're a genius," he agreed mechanically, still wondering what this latest breach of faith with Fi was going to cost him.
"Come on, you can do better than that," the older man urged. "Remember the mail we were sorting through at Doug's place? Outdoor Life, Field and Stream? Got me thinking. Outdoor types always go back to the woods. So I got a hold of a buddy of mine, he's at the Coast Guard, he knows a guy at Park Service, and hey there's a couple bottles-"
The story ended with a location: Mangrove Park. Michael jumped from his seat to give Evelyn the good news. He'd drive straight to the Keys and they would get her son back. At least that was something he could fix.
Fiona came down the stairs none too quietly and then announced that Doug was sleeping peacefully. He quickly concluded that she'd helped their new client achieve that state of unconsciousness and she'd confessed to doing so quite unrepentantly.
Michael focused on the table laden with gun parts and cleaning supplies, stealing only brief glances at her while they discussed their preparation for tomorrow's operation. He knew what was coming and saying 'sorry' was not one of his favorite things to do.
Growing up, an apology was always demanded, but virtually never accepted. It was just part of the ritual that preceded the beating, the proverbial salt arriving ahead of the wound. After he'd gone into the army, it was not much different. The focus was always on ensuring that you never had anything to apologize for.
"Great," she smiled, now that all was as in order as it was going to get for the night. "We can talk finally."
"There's nothing to talk about. You were right. I was wrong. I'm sorry." There, he said it.
"It isn't that simple, Michael. You think you can let the job be who you are, all you are, and you can't." When was he going to understand that being a spy had been what he did, not who he was? Any more than being an IRA guerrilla was all that she was. "It's dangerous to think that you can."
He pulled a face and concentrated on the hardware in his hands.
"I know I can be... passionate..." she continued. Several definitions of the word drifted through both their heads simultaneously. "But I'm good at what I do."
"I know," he agreed. She'd seen right through the ruse and he'd been blinded by Evelyn's obvious attraction for him. If it hadn't been for that hairpin in his wallet, they wouldn't be having this conversation right now. He laid it on the table.
"It's no secret that things between us have been-"
"Little rocky," he assented quickly, already not liking where this conversation was headed.
"It isn't easy for me either." Fiona still wasn't sure what upset her the most, that he had so casually disregarded her abilities or that he'd done so thinking that it was because she viewed the blonde as a rival for his affections. "Evelyn comes along and she's attractive...sweet, needy. Don't deny it."
"Fine," Michael said curtly, giving her a glare. This was getting embarrassing. He'd been played by an attractive woman who turned out to be an assassin with an obsession. Okay, so, sometimes, maybe he did have tunnel vision.
"Isn't it interesting that she turned out to be... well, who she turned out to be? What shall we make of that?"
His words from earlier came back to him. Just couldn't help yourself, could you? As well as her reply, Sadly, no.
"Made your point, Fi."
She was entitled to her attitude this time.
"Did I?" she countered.
He just wished she'd quit rubbing it in.
"Yep. You did."
Even if he did deserve it.
"What about DC? You still going?" Perhaps now he'd listen to what she had to say.
"I have to," Michael declared. "If I don't, it won't be long before Cowan sends someone else down here to kill me. I need him to know I can get to him too. I need him to know that right now."
"And you need help." He needed her and they were both well aware of that fact. "And you know it," Fiona stated confidently as she gave him a sidelong glance. She was going to make him say it.
"I don't think that's a good idea," the dark haired man returned, refusing to meet her eyes.
"Is that a, a tactical judgement or a personal one?"
"Both," he said firmly, slapping the clip into his repaired weapon and looking her straight in the eye. "Everybody I know is in danger right now- everyone I'm close to."
If anything happened to Fiona because of him... He couldn't tolerate that.
She held his gaze for a long moment. It was also intolerable that he could be hurt over trying to protect her. When would he understand that they were better, safer, together than apart? She picked up the hairpin slowly and held it up to him, hoping that he would get the message, and hopeful that his slow slight smile meant that he had. She wound her hair into another loose bun.
"Well," she drawled slowly, securing her hair with the implement that had saved his life. "I'm willing to risk it."
It was plain Fiona meant more than risking taking on the people who had burned him. "If you are."
Michael drew in a long breath and sighed. He did need her and he did know it on a tactical level. But there was that other level, the one they had been on in Ireland. The one she wanted to take them back to. The one, if he was truthful with himself, he wanted to be on with her.
But, unfortunately for both of them, he would never admit this to her because he never admitted it to himself. Years of secrets and deceptions both growing up and in his job had made Michael an accomplished liar. Sadly, the only thing he was more skilled at than lying to other people was lying to himself when it came to his feelings.
Denial wasn't just a river in Egypt and self delusion about painful facts wasn't the only thing he learned from his mother. He just deluded himself about different things than Madeline did.
He shook his head slowly. "We can't- I can't afford to risk it, Fi. And neither can you. Not right now."
"Michael," she whispered, her eyes were a heart breaking mixture of defiance and defeat.
"We should, should try to get some rest. We're going to have to leave before dawn. You can have the bed," he informed her as he rose quickly and started to turn toward the balcony doors.
It was her turn to sigh heavily now. "There's room enough there for both of us," she pointed out, meaning it in more than one way, ways that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with trust and intimacy.
"I know," he said quietly. "I just need to get some air."
As she watched his retreating back, she felt as far away from him as she had when the Atlantic Ocean was still between them.
A/N: Much thanks and luv to Daisy Day, Purdy's Pal and Amanda Hawthorne for reading thru parts of this and to amazing Amanda for quick BETA. Thank you to everyone who continues to read and review (and fav and alert) and who did groan out loud when I started yet another series ~ LOL! All is very much appreciated. Next up will be Hard Out/Eye for an Eye. Less than two weeks until Season6. Burners, start yours Chargers!