UPDATE 04/20/13: A big thank you to JET1967 who took the task of proofreading this story, I am very grateful!
It hurt more than she had suspected.
Her hand went to cover the wound as she fell to the floor.
Air left her body for a second.
A face above her.
Her phone in her hand.
She closed her eyes.
Mike Renko had his own apartment. It had come fully furnished, and that he knew was thanks to Hetty finding him the perfect deal. She had at first found him an old home with character in a good neighbourhood; it was so much like his home that had burnt to the ground that it had hurt.
"I don't need a lawn. I don't need all that space, Hetty," he had said to her. "I just need something small for a while- an apartment."
And she'd found him just that. It was small, almost cramped. Everything was old, from the blue couch that sported beer stains and cigarette burns to the stove that he suspected had once been white but was now a yellowish colour. The refrigerator made noise, and the faucet leaked. The bedroom was just big enough to fit his new king-sized bed (hell, he had to splurge on something) and a night table for a lamp.
It was perfect. For now anyway.
Still, he missed the third floor of the foreclosed upon tire shop where he had stayed with his partner, Angela Mercer, while there had been men trying to kill him, those same men who had burnt his house along with everything he owned to the ground.
He opened the closet in his room and started hanging up the duffle bag full of clothing Hetty had been going to get rid of. There was nothing wrong with them, or at least Renko didn't think so. After all, he had a closet full of OSP hand-me-downs that he'd been collecting over the past two months of living on his own. Hetty had given him that look over her glasses and a slightly raised eyebrow. Sure, one t-shirt had an explosion burn and another had a slight bloodstain, but wasn't that what bleach was for? There were jeans that had holes in the knees, but now people paid for jeans that already had holes, so he figured he was getting one hell of a bargain.
There were a few shirts and a few pairs of pants that he couldn't find a single thing wrong with; he figured Hetty had thrown them into the bag out of pity. He kept them away from the clothing that still had the scent of explosives on them.
A heavy knock on the door had him abandoning his clothing hanging and walking through the small space to the door. "Mikey! Open up. I have the pizza." Renko grinned and opened the door to his old LAPD buddy Matt Burnhart. The man tipped his baseball cap and shot him a grin in greeting. "You better have the beer," Matt said, walking in.
"Yeah, yeah," Renko replied. "It's in the fridge."
Matt looked around the small space. It didn't take long. "Sweet man-house to college kid's budget apartment?" Matt looked to his friend and raised an eyebrow. "What gives?"
"I have nothing to put in a house," Renko defended his decision. "Hell, I have nothing to put in here. If the place didn't come with a coffee table, I wouldn't have one."
Matt's face remained blank as he shook his head. "Mikey, look at that," he said, pointing. "That isn't a coffee table, that's beer-stained plywood over two cinder blocks."
"Well, it works," Renko replied.
"I thought you were staying with that red-haired partner of yours, the Nut Job."
Renko rolled his eyes. "Don't call her that."
"Hey, I like her," Matt replied. "But she was a little unstable there on that last case."
"You've met her for less than an hour," Renko said with an eye roll as he went to the fridge and pulled out two beers. "And while undercover."
"Fine... how about Miss Attitude?" Matt responded, putting the pizza down on the 'coffee table', shaking his head and letting out a sigh at how pathetic it was. "Or the Scary Ginger?"
"How about Angela?" Renko said, walking back into the living room and passing Matt one of the beers.
Matt shook his head. "Only girl on the team, only one that gets called by the first name." Renko didn't bother pointing out to Matt that his team's tech was female. Matt flopped down on the old couch and was met with a loose spring to the butt. "Ow!" He jumped up and glared at the couch that had a spring poking through and then at Renko. Matt pointed to the small television in dismay. "Seriously, next time we're doing this at my place. I know it's not the man-house your place once was... but, shit, even my LAPD pay gets better than this."
"This is fine."
"For a very, very temporary situation," Matt stressed, sitting down on the floor and grabbing a slice of extra meaty, extra cheesy pizza. "How on Earth would you get a lady friend to the bedroom? She'd see this and bail."
Renko shook his head. "I'm not worried about that; I'm at work too much to bother." Matt slowly turned to look at his friend and narrowed his eyes. "Stop that," Renko said.
"You've done the 'I-have-my-eye-on-someone-special-so-I-stopped-bri nging-really-hot-ladies-I-picked-up-at-a-bar-to-my -place-for-a-one-night-stand'. Who is she?" Matt said, raising an eyebrow.
In their twelve years as friends, Matt had only seen Renko do this once, at almost eleven years previous... and she'd been a set up from a Chinese gang. They'd wanted him to suffer after he'd arrested their leader during his time in the Guns and Gangs unit of LAPD. And suffer he did. He'd been more careful in his selection of women, even those he only intended on staying with for the night.
"Mikey," Matt shook his head. "It's your partner, isn't it?"
"It isn't anyone," Renko insisted.
"Bullshit!" Matt replied with a mouth full of pizza.
It was Renko's turn to shake his head. He grabbed the remote and turned on the game.
Matt was quiet for nearly a minute, which was quite the feat for him. "She's got one hell of a body."
"Well, she does," Matt smirked. During their undercover operation he'd had to frisk her before escorting her from the building. "Solid ten. Not too muscular, but not too soft."
"Stop it," Renko nearly growled.
"I'm just saying…if you're going to risk your working relationship, you might as well go for gold."
"Matt! Christ! Cut it out."
Matt rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying..."
"And I'm saying cut it out," Renko replied, leaning back on the half of the sofa that, while still rather uncomfortable, at least didn't have any broken springs.
Both men got quiet as the Lakers went down the court. When the opposing team took the ball, they returned to their freshly opened first beers of the game and warm slices of pizza.
"It's probably a bad idea to start banging your partner, though," Matt said. From Renko's position on the couch he could kick his friend on the back of the head and promptly did so. "Hey!" Matt rubbed the back of his head and threw a large bacon bit at Renko.
After deciding he didn't want to have to clean up a food fight, Renko didn't retaliate. "You're an ass," Renko said instead. "And stop using the word 'banging' as a synonym for sex. Just. Stop."
Matt rolled his eyes. "You've been getting classy covers, haven't you?" Matt took a swig of his beer. "I've been getting covers with gang bangers and drug dealers. Goodbye grammar. Sayonara nice clothing and regular showers. Au revoir good food and fine ladies."
Renko shook his head but didn't respond since his phone started vibrating in his pocket. He set down his beer on the plywood table, put the half eaten slice in the box and lifted his hip, trying to get the bulky phone from his jeans.
"Mike and Angela sitting in a- OW!" Renko kicked Matt once more to get him to shut up as he pulled out his phone.
Renko looked at the display and could practically feel his blood run cold.
"Mike?" Matt turned to his friend. "Hey, Mikey, you ain't lookin' so good." Matt put down his beer and slice. "Mike," he swatted the other man's knee.
"It's an agent needs assistance call." Renko said as if in a daze. Agent needs assistance calls automatically routed to the closest three agents, to the team members of whoever sent out the call, and to the Operations Manager of whatever branch the agent was under. In this case, Renko knew he was two of the three as he jumped up from his seat. "It's Ange."
Kimi was working on backing up aliases, case information, and general organization of her computer terminal while the rest of the agents she provided support for had the day off. It would be a short day for her, a four-hour morning shift to get everything into tiptop condition for when the team returned on Wednesday. Kimi hummed away to a tune she'd heard on the radio while driving in. It had her swaying in her seat.
The Ops centre was pretty calm, a few technicians walking around or quietly working at their terminals. A few agents had popped in over the course of the morning, but there wasn't much going on. "Even terrorists don't want to get up for work on Mondays," one of the technicians had joked earlier. It was oddly quiet, but that was always a nice and welcome change. But, when it went on for too long, everyone started getting paranoid.
She hit the print button for the documents she needed to get to Hetty and danced over to the printer, doing a little twirl, her bright floral dress spinning out around her. She continued her swaying side to side beside the machine as it spewed out the papers.
An alarm on her terminal went off. She quickly abandoned the papers and walked briskly to her computer in her little kitten heels. "Oh, no," she whispered to herself, looking at the screen. Her phone went off in tandem with the alarm, both displaying the same thing. An agent needs assistance call. She pressed the display on her phone, and it came up with the GPS location of the phone that had activated the distress call. She sat down in her seat, closed the alarm on the computer and quickly brought up her access to traffic cameras, looking for anything close to the address listed in Angela's personnel file.
"Miss Niigata?" Hetty said, walking into Ops just as her own phone went off. Since she was the Operations Manager, she got all distress calls. She pulled out her phone and looked at it. Closing her eyes and steeling her spine, she walked over to the Technical Operator. "Anything?"
"No, Angela lives in a complete dead zone. There used to be one camera, but kids knocked it out about a year ago. The city doesn't want to bother replacing it knowing it'll just be a waste of money when it gets destroyed again."
"Which agents are the closest?"
"Agents Faraday, Callen and Renko."
"Mr. Callen is under deep cover. He'll be unable to answer the call." Undercover agents couldn't risk their case, their alias, their lives to pull out and help another agent, no matter how much they might want to.
"Understood," Kimi replied, canning Callen's alert. It automatically went to the next phone in range. "Relaying." She tapped her foot as it went further and further from Angela's location. "Cooper," she said. "Her team is the closest."
Hetty put her hand over her heart. Agent needs assistance calls never gave you much to go on- nothing but a call, no information, no telling what you'd walk into- and always worried Hetty greatly. Rarely did such calls have happy endings.
"Oh, come on," Faraday said, waving a fork in the air. "The movie was not that bad."
Sierra laughed and shook her head. "It was, it really was." She stabbed some hash browns on her plate and took a bite, savouring the flavours. "But this nook is awesome."
"It is," Faraday agreed with a grin as he picked up a piece of bacon and had a bite. He thought she might like the place. He came often enough and thought it might be nice to share a late lunch. Lunch wasn't as serious as dinner. Their first attempt at that had unfortunately had some hiccups. She seemed content enough as they sat by the window, the afternoon sun giving excellent natural light to the happy little family-run restaurant.
"Too bad about the gangs infringing upon this territory," Sierra said wistfully. The food was great; their waiter was polite; and the place had a homey feel to it that made her feel secure... or maybe that bit was Noah. She broke her eyes away from his handsome features when she realized she was staring.
Faraday frowned; this was true. Every year the West Side Brothers moved further and further south, eating up businesses since patrons became too scared to go. Even this quaint little family-run all-day breakfast place was losing its loyal customers.
"I hope your truck still has tires when we leave," Sierra said with a faint joking smile. She didn't like that he seemed unhappy with the way the conversation had turned.
Faraday grimaced. "Me, too." His phone started going off. "Excuse me," he said. She nodded as he pulled it from his jeans.
And then he was on his feet. "We have to go," he said. There was no way he was leaving Sierra alone on this side of town; she'd have to go with him.
"Noah?" She whispered, her entire body so tense it hurt. She looked around, wondering if they were in danger.
He put his phone down and circled the table, grabbing her jacket. She glanced at his phone and knew the full screen display- the block of grey, the white lettering, the picture. She stood. He helped her into her jacket and pulled out his wallet.
"Is everything okay here?" The elderly waitress looked worried.
"Family emergency," Faraday explained and was shocked by how simply honest the answer had been. He handed her a fifty that far exceeded what their bill would be. "Keep the change," he told her. "Sierra." He extended his hand; she stared at it for a split second before grabbing it. He put his phone back into his pocket, and they raced out of the restaurant.
Luckily, his truck still had wheels.
Cooper stood in the doorway of his daughter's room. It was a pale pink in colour with tulle curtains of various colours. A handmade dollhouse sat predominately in the corner. Beside it was a wooden chest with two compartments, one for toys and the other for the costumes that she liked to dress up in. She had a little bookshelf that was so full there were books stacked precariously on top. To his right was a dresser that had framed photographs and a musical jewelry box on top.
"Hey," he said from the side of her bed. He pushed some dark unruly hair from her cherubic face. "Shortcake, it's time to get up. Come on, Emma."
She opened her dark brown eyes just a little and peered up at him. She gave him sleepy smile. "Hi, Daddy."
"Hi, Emma. Time to get up."
She yawned and sat up, adjusting her white nightgown with pink flowers back into place from where it had twisted in her sleep. She rubbed her eyes, sat there blinking for a second before she got moving and nearly tackle-hugged her father. "Hi, Daddy!" She said again, sounding much more awake this time.
He laughed. "Hi, Emma," he repeated. His chest only got the occasional ache from bullets he'd taken four months ago. They were healing quite well, but he still had another week left of his recuperation time. "Time for breakfast," he told her.
"Can I have Cheerios?" Emma asked excitedly. "The banana ones?"
"Only if I can have some," Cooper replied.
She swung her feet off the side of the bed. She gave a thinking face and rubbed her chin, causing him to grin. "Hmm... I don't know."
"You don't know?"
She shook her head with a big smile on her face.
"How about... now?" He launched a tickle attack that had her laughing and squealing with delight.
"Okay!" she yelled. "Okay!" He let her go. "Okay, Daddy, you can have Cheerios, too."
"Well, come on, I'm hungry."
"Me, too!" Emma said as her feet touched the carpet. She dropped down to the floor, reached under the bed for her ballet styled slippers and put them on her feet. She walked over to her dresser and studied the pictures. The one closest to her bed was the one she grabbed. Cooper knew exactly which picture it was. The woman with soft blonde curls, happy hazel eyes, and a heart-stopping smile. Emma pulled the frame forward and kissed the glass. "Good morning, Momma."
Cooper's heart ached. The first time she'd done it, he'd tucked her into bed, kissed the top of her head and managed to get the door shut behind him before he broke down.
Emma turned and smiled at him. "Ready, Dad?"
"The question is, are you?" Cooper responded, walking ahead of her in his pajamas pants.
"I'm super ready," Emma responded. "And hungry." She grinned when she walked into the kitchen. "Good morning, Mema."
"Morning, sweetheart," Margaret responded with a smile.
"Daddy and I are having the banana Cheerios. Are you having some?"
"I already had my breakfast. The early bird gets the worm!"
Emma scrunched her face. "I don't like worms, so I guess I'll sleep in."
Cooper laughed. He loved how his mother and daughter got along so well; then again, Margaret was crucial to him being able to keep his job and raise his daughter. His mother, who'd been widowed eleven years, moved in with Ryan right after Celeste, his wife, died hours after giving birth to Emma. It had initially been a temporary arrangement. Cooper had to go from husband to widow, along with figuring out how to deal with his loss and manage to be a father to Emma. Margaret wanted to help her youngest son. She, too, was dealing with the loss of Celeste and the concept of her granddaughter growing up motherless. Neither Margaret or Ryan knew how 'temporary' became 'permanent' but the arrangement worked out well for both of them and so neither brought it up.
"Can you get the box for me, Emmy?" Cooper asked his daughter.
"Yup." Emma gave a sharp nod. She opened the cabinet and pulled out the box, hugging it to her chest. She turned around and skipped to the table in the kitchen, sliding the box on top.
Cooper came over, setting the bowls, spoons and milk on the table, when his phone, that had been charging on the counter, started ringing. He turned and looked at it curiously.
"I thought you wouldn't be put on call yet," Margaret said with clear agitation. She started pouring the cereal for Emma who was holding her spoon in one hand and picking out the dry cereal and chewing on it happily.
"I'm not," Cooper said, walking over barefoot. "Might just be someone checking up."
"This early?" Margaret let out an annoyed sigh. Her son had it hard enough; couldn't they give him his recuperation time? "They should let you sleep in after what happened." She still didn't want to say 'since you got shot'; she was still getting used to the two scars on his chest that would forever be a reminder.
Cooper bit his tongue. He knew when to pick his battles with his mother. "Well, I'm up anyways," Cooper replied, picking up his phone. He pressed the button clearing the black screen. He swallowed hard, his mind racing into gear. "I've got to go." He pressed on the screen, and the distress call changed to a map with a pulsing red dot where the call had come from.
"What? Ryan?" Margaret followed her son from the kitchen to where he'd run into his bedroom. By the time she caught up he was coming out blindly pulling a plain white t-shirt over his head. "Ry? What's going on?"
"I just... got to go, work emergency," Cooper deflected, sliding his feet in the first pair of shoes he found.
"Where are you going, Daddy?" Emma's expressive eyes looked worried, and her bottom lip had jutted out in a pout.
He quickly kissed the top of her head. "I love you." He looked to his mother, a silent understanding passing between them. She knew she couldn't stop him, and he knew she hated the idea of him leaving. "I'll try to call soon."
Margaret nodded and watched as her son ran for his car.