"Will you relax, Criminal? You're wearing me out just lookin' at ya."
The rest of what Ayn said disappeared into the red haze that was forming. She had broken Anson's hold over Michael, but apparently not his reach. She'd already foiled one of his assassins. When she found out who it was this time who was trying to kill her, she was going to tell Michael and then- But Ayn wasn't giving her the name, she was stalling, she was-
She was going to talk!
"Quit with the games. You tell me his name now!" Fiona demanded, finding her hand clamped around the woman's throat as she slammed her up against the bars.
"Easy now, I'm trying to protect both of us here. I can't have your broadcasting the guard's name over the visiting room phone. Okay? Just write down what you want your boyfriend to know. I'll make sure it gets delivered. Works better for both of us."
That made sense. Of course, what had she been thinking?
She'd been thinking she couldn't trust her, that's what. She'd been thinking that if she didn't tell him herself, he'd never know. She'd already trusted someone in here who'd ended up trying to drown her in a kitchen sink. How could she trust that Ayn was not trying to set her up as well? But the woman was right. If she did tell him over the phone, a monitored line, it would only tip them off that she knew.
She'd just have to trust her for the moment and pray she was right this time.
"Sorry," Fiona muttered, lifting her hand to her own throat as she stared back at Ayn's direction, though not quite meeting her gaze.
"Yeah, well," the dair skinned woman drawled, adjusting her neck where Fiona's hands had been a moment before. "Place changes all of us sooner to later. Looks like sooner for you."
And she left the Irishwoman alone with her thoughts.
He'd manage to finally shake off what had happened last night and compose himself, though it had taken hours. Years of suppressed tears which wouldn't take 'No-I-won't' for answer anymore had come flooding out. That was why spies didn't have friends and family, they just had assets and co-workers. He'd forgotten how much this could hurt, no wonder he had avoided it at all costs.
Yes, he had been comfortable is his self contained, needing-no-one life.
Comfortably numb, that is. Surrounded by adrenaline inducing circumstances, but carefully insulated from it all. None of it touched his heart, touched his soul.
Who the hell had he been trying to kid? Himself? God?
Neither one of them was buying it anymore.
When he'd come out of the shower, he'd found a carry-out box containing a breakfast sandwich in line with his lean tastes in meat and a still steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee from a diner that Sam preferred.
Michael appreciated the fact that Sam understood his need for solitude right now almost as much as having more than yogurt to carry him through the morning. It was a long drive to Allarod and he had to be there early.
His improved mood over Sam's steadfast support lasted until he was about twenty minutes down the road headed towards the prison. It had been him, Sam and Fiona against the world for so long that it was both good to have the help, but disturbing to have other people in the mix, taking the place that she had once occupied.
There was a time when he would have choked before having Nate and his mother join a mission. Now he was grateful for their assistance. He shook his head slowly, as he sipped his coffee with one hand and held onto the steering wheel with the other. He had a quick flashback of Nate backing him up while his mom sat there, demanding answers before agreeing to go to the Bahamas.
At least he'd been able to help Pearce get some closure after eight long years, although he'd done it with selfish motives. He wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that she'd have never gotten that opportunity if Anson Fullerton hadn't been trying to get her to ruin her career in a bid to obstruct his path to freeing Fiona.
"I get it, Westen, but some things are more important than a career. You're not the only person who ever lost somebody."
If Kimberly Danielle Pearce, one of the most by the book agents he knew, could figure that out, why had it taken him so long to get it? This led him to wonder what it was Jesse had said to her to get them back in her good graces so quickly?
"I had a hard enough time convincing them not to send a team after Michael! You know it's not lost on me by the way that no one told me about him until now."
It had apparently been lost on him that there was a connection between them that had been formed during their previous mission on the Bahamas. It wasn't Pearce and Porter with them for the most part, it was Jesse and Dani. Pearce had been furious with him for weeks in the wake of Max's murder investigation and yet somehow Jesse had been able to explain destroying her laptop and everything else in such a way that she had actually sent backup to help him instead of arrest him?
There'd been a time when Jesse had wanted to kill him for getting him burned and now the man was spending his vacation days hanging out with Mexican drug cartel enforcers and overdosing on prescription drugs to help him, despite the fact that he'd blown up his leased Porsche a couple of times. But it had been Fiona who'd saved that relationship with his mother's help; no one else could have done that. He owed her so much, so much more than she had gotten from him over the years.
Fiona and his mother, even Sam, had pointed out to him that he was kind of oblivious when it came to his family and friends. But now that Fiona was gone from this life, he understood why that was. He had taken them all for granted.
He just assumed they'd always be there when he needed them, didn't think about them or their lives except where it intersected his. Part of it was his training and part of it was his personality, but it had been wrong, all wrong, of him to treat any of them that way. That was why he had almost lost her three years ago. It's why his friends were now risking their lives to help him, just so he could free her now.
It's a wonder anyone came around him. He was radioactive; anyone who got near him got hurt or worse. Card had said Fiona would ruin his life, but the truth was he had ruined hers. Why did she, why did anyone think he was worth the trouble?
He finished off his sandwich in two quick bites and washed it down with the last of the coffee. Fiona would have slapped him for thinking that, never mind saying it, but it was because of him that she was waiting for him in prison instead of here to administer her own brand of shock therapy. Then he remembered her words:
At times, your job has made it hard to be with you, but it's never shaken my faith in you. I can't let you ruin anyone's life to save mine. I have to force you to tell what you know. If you don't, you won't be the man I loved. Do the right thing.
Was he still the man she loved? Would he ever be able to do the right thing?
She was sitting handcuffed to the table in a holding cell next to the non-contact visitation room, resisting the urge to scream with all that was within her, while a large hunk of heavily muscled humanity in a familiar blue uniform stood in the corner watching her.
Soon Michael would be on the other side of that door. The anticipation of that alone was enough to make her antsy without being chained up with someone staring at her and no possibility of moving, no way to wipe that sneering half smile off his face. It reminded her way too much of her interrogation by Jason Bly.
That she remembered Bly had been understatement. Clearly she did, though she wasn't entirely sure what was on her face when he'd said that, but she knew what was in her head. The memories, of sitting naked in Michael's bed, half covered with a sheet, slowly lowering the gun as Bly had openly stared at her, and then watching as he handed Mr. Westen his burn notice dossier, flooded her mind again.
"Stop it!" she commanded. She'd been thinking about days of Belfast past so much lately, between what she was doing to stay alive and the ever present ache of missing him. Any memory that involved Michael's abandonment of her, whether to pursue his burn notice or his CIA reinstatement, immediately fed her fears about losing him altogether. What if he couldn't get her out? What if he was killed?
She remembered the horror that had swept through her when Bly had presented her with Michael's alleged autopsy report. Just seeing his name on that form alone-
"I wish you didn't have to find out this way, but I thought you should know before you throw your life away for him."
Was that what she was doing?
"Enough!" she ordered. She was tired and she was run down from lack of proper food. That textured vegetable protein they were fed instead of meat was intended to keep the population docile as well as save the FBOP money. It was difficult to maintain her edge without proper nutrition and rest. She'd been a decade and half younger at least the last time she'd tried to live on nothing but adrenaline.
Suddenly, a buzzer sounded, muffled by the concrete block, plexi-glass and steel that separated them. He was on the other side of the wall; she'd see him soon.
He thought he had prepared himself, utilized that mental discipline, those years of trade craft and training to steel himself for what was to come, but the dreadful sinking feeling that had crept over him as he approached the facility and then he wound his way through the various layers of security was hard to shake. How could such a lively, vibrant woman as Fiona survive long in this sparse grey hell hole?
He thought about the times he'd been imprisoned recently, about doing time in Dade County lock-up, about going to prison to protect Sam's friend. How he wished he could give Fiona the same sloppy wet kiss she'd given him, but he knew as he sat down in front of that large piece of safety glass that it was a vain wish.
The worst part really is what they make you give up in here. It's not just your freedom. They take your dignity, your hope. So you give up and do what you're told and you know how good I am at doing what I'm told.
The closest he could come in recent memory to what she must be going through was when he'd been in Vaughn holding cell, waiting and wondering who had him, what they wanted and if he would ever get out. He remembered trembling in her arms as the feelings of his desolation and loneliness had washed over him again. Of course, that was right after Fiona had smacked him for pouting.
He watched as his own reflection in the glass started to tear up at the knowledge that he'd take another slap right now, just to be able to have contact with her again.
Locking his fingers together and setting his jaw, he looked away at the floor to his left and tried to clear his mind and shore up his crumbling self control. He didn't want Fiona to see him like this. She didn't need the stress of worrying about him.
The discordant noise of a loud buzzer derailed his train of thought and turned his attention back to the window in front of him.
A door opened and suddenly she was there. A hulk of guard behind her closed the door and then they were alone. Except that they weren't, but those who were watching from elsewhere didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was sitting now on the other side of four inches of bullet proof lexan, but she was alive and he was there.
They stared at one another. His mouth hung open and her face remained blank and impassive. There were no words for this moment. He nodded and tried to force a pleasant smile onto his face, but it soon crumbled and he was biting his lips in a vain effort to stem the tidal wave of emotion welling in his heart or water welling up in his eyes. For her part, Fiona was in shock. She simply couldn't believe that he was really here and the feelings writ plainly on his face stunned her.
He reached for the phone and she did the same. Fiona had more success in forming a smile than he'd had, though her own eyes were starting to glisten. She'd expected him to be worried, but the other things she saw in his eyes made her long to comfort him, to break the tension.
"Now you see why I never wear orange," she said with a hint of her old humor barely masking the tremor in her voice.
"You look beautiful," he rasped. She looked exhausted and frightened. He could see it in her eyes and he could tell she'd lost weight, even in that over-sized burnt orange uniform. But she alive and there was nothing more beautiful than that.
The tears started leaking from his eyes and spilling over onto his cheeks of their own volition, just as they had last night, though mercifully there were less of them. He didn't care. The only important thing right now was her.
"I'm going to get your out," he promised her in a rush. She needed to know that. She needed to know that he was fighting for her and not to give up. "I promise you that… and we're getting close. The CIA-"
"I love you, too, Michael," she told him, tears forming in her own eyes in response to his. The last time they had cried together like this was over bomb that was meant to end both their lives. She needed him to hear those words, needed him to know that right now, before anything else could come between them. They'd wasted enough of their lives talking about other people, thinking about other circumstances and dealing with other things.
"We don't have much time. I don't want to talk about that." They only had two hours. She didn't want to waste of a second of it on the outside world. There was too much of that waiting for her on the other side of that door when this small slice of heaven smack dab in the middle of hell would be taken from her.
"You know what I was thinking about the other day?" he asked tightly, as the water flowed freely down his face. She nodded for him to continue, still finding it hard to find her own voice as she stared at all the emotions being so vividly displayed. This was the Michael that she'd thought she'd known long ago, who didn't keep his feelings to himself, who lived and loved with abandon, the one she thought loved her.
"Remember that dingy little bar in Belfast, the Black Sand Pub?"
Recognition flashed in her eyes, which were quickly becoming as wet as his.
"You mean where we first met?"
"And I made the mistake of asking…" But it hadn't been a mistake. He meant to approach her, had meant to ask her for a dance. He'd done it to further his mission, but it had turned into so much more. "Would ya like t'dance? And ya pulled a snub nosed revolver on me," his voice morphed into the lilting tones of Michael McBride, though it was as tear soaked as Michael Westen's voice had been.
Fiona clutched the phone, feeling herself slipping into the past along with him. "Tha' I did. And you said-"
Michael was laughing and crying at the same time. "I assume tha's a yes?"
The Irishwoman closed her eyes and tightened her grip on the handset. She was sobbing as she held onto to the sound of his voice, the precious memories they invoked as she gave herself permission to relax, to not pay attention to her surroundings, to not be on high alert, to let go of everything she had been holding in, holding onto, holding back, and lose herself in another time and another place with the only man she'd ever loved.
And so they talked, talking in code as they had back in the day. And they wept, tears of joy and of sorrow. And they reminisced, finding the release they both so desperately needed, for those precious two hours. It was the food they had been starving for, the strength they required to hold on, repairing the connection that had been frayed and tested, but never broken. They had survived a decade apart, seeing one another only here and there over those intervening years. They would survive this, too. They had to. There was no other alternative.
They pressed their hands one upon the other on the glass and stared into each others eyes, willing all the love and the warmth they had between them to penetrate the cold barrier.
And he let her know that he loved her, that he had always loved her and that he had never stopped thinking about her. It was dangerous to say out loud on a monitored line, but she was already in there because someone knew that he loved her. He needed her to know it and she needed to hear to be able to hold on.
So he told her, no matter how many lies he'd told her before, had told himself for years, about how and why they couldn't be together, he never stopped loving her, that he couldn't stop loving her. Even when he'd tried to leave her, tried to push her away all those times for her own good, it had been because he loved her. And right before the buzzer sounded, he said those precious words to her that she'd been waiting to hear for so very long.
A/N: Wow, almost forgot to add the note! Much love to the PCC and CJ and many thanks for Matt Nix for creating such wonderful characters which none of us own but all love to play with! Thanks as always for all the reviews, alerts and fav's that are truly, truly appreciated. Look, guys, I made the stack! Hoo-rah!