Little morning noises always roused Guerrero— slippers padding over carpet, drawers opening and closing, water in the pipes, Ames' faint, off-key humming in the shower. Today he listened to all of this from the sofa in the living room, where he'd all but collapsed after sneaking in around four. His duffel, coat, and shoes, lay discarded on the floor alongside Ames' socks and a scattered pile of last week's newspapers. He was too tired to mind the mess, and he had a feeling that when she got a look at him she'd be too annoyed at his condition to chide him for not telling her he was coming home so that she could clean up first.
He heard her coming down the short hall from their bedroom to the living room. He didn't turn his head to look in that direction; the light was too damned bright, and it was much more comfortable to stay just as he was, with his arm draped over his eyes and the rest of him prone and limp on the cushions.
"Oh!" then, in a relieved gasp, "Jesus," followed by a whispered "Guerrero?" as if her previous exclamations wouldn't have instantly jerked him awake.
He angled his arm to peek up at her with his right eye, then offered a tired smile. "Hey."
She knit her brow. "How long have you been here? When did you get in?"
"Last night. Didn't want to wake you."
Her eyes flicked over the length of his frame as she approached. He knew the moment she spied the telltale lump of bandaging just shy of his heart because her eyes widened and leapt to meet his. With a sigh, he drew back his arm— you never realized how many muscles were involved in little movements like that until they all started screaming at you at once— and he eased it down to his chest.
She took one look at his face and her lips compressed to a thin line. There was a flash of fear-anger in her eyes, like a mom who'd just seen her kid race towards oncoming traffic. She knelt at his side and touched his arm. Her words, though sincere, frayed at the edges.
"Are you okay? What happened?"
"I'm fine." He nodded slightly towards the coffee table, where he'd set his bottle of industrial-strength Ibuprofen shortly before collapsing on the couch. He could do with another one now, actually. Hard to tell if it was because the last one he'd taken was wearing off or because Ames' frown had set off an anticipatory headache. "Doc said I just need to rest for a day or two."
She reached over to stroke the hair away from his forehead, carefully avoiding the swollen knot that had become his left eye socket. "Do you need anything?"
He shook his head. Then, on second thought, "The ice pack."
She retrieved it from the kitchen and brought it to him wrapped in a dishtowel. He thanked her, then set it on his eye. The shock of cold soothed the dull pain there at once.
Ames' focus dropped from his face to his chest again. He sighed.
"It was a lucky shot," he said. "It happens."
Her expression frosted over like a pane of glass. There was still worry there, behind the mask, but all traces of sympathy vanished.
"Right," she said flatly.
Her lips pursed like she'd tasted something sour as she leaned over to kiss him. She meant it to be brisk, he was sure— a welcome, but not an approval. But he was achy and tired and feeling mean because of it, so when their lips met he slung his arm over her back (bad idea, he remembered too late— his shoulder sang protests at him long after the action was complete) and held her in place.
She made a startled noise and tried to rise up, but not enough to really shake him. And when she narrowed her eyes at his smirk, and her lips parted to unleash whatever comment was brewing there, he put on the most innocent face he could manage and said, "Missed you."
He could actually hear the sound catch in her throat. Her eyes narrowed to slits, and she exhaled sharply through her nostrils. Then, she rolled her eyes and muttered something that might have been "missed you too" before she kissed him again, properly this time.
Their unspent irritation poured into their lips and their hands, turning them fierce. Guerrero pulled himself up to a sitting position and Ames clambered onto the sofa to join him. His blood thrummed with a need he could see reflected in her eyes. She gripped him like he'd turn to vapor if she didn't and he relented at last, weaving apologies into every caress, every sigh, and every clash of tongue.
Afterward she clung to him as best she could while being mindful of his injury and the awkward limitations of the sofa. She ended up sitting with her legs slung over his lap and her weight supported by the cushion. He idly stroked the place where her butt curved into her thigh. There was more give to the skin there than there had been back when they'd first started dating, much to Ames' chagrin. Personally, he liked it, but he knew better than to belabor the point. There were some arguments you just wouldn't win with women.
They were quiet for a while. Ames fingered the lump of the bandage through his shirt. Save for her wriggling out of her underwear, they hadn't even undressed.
"They came close," she said.
He grunted. If he'd had barely enough energy for this argument before, he certainly didn't have any now. "But they didn't."
The air turned static. The hope that she'd let the whole thing go evaporated with every lapsed beat he counted.
"Dude. Do we have to?"
"No," she said. "We could always close our eyes and pretend it isn't happening."
He scrubbed a hand over his good eye. "Ames, please. I've already told you I'm not going to quit."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm just saying that maybe it's time to pick a job in your skill set that's a little less...strenous."
"You're really going to get on my case now about occupational hazards?"
She leaned back to frown at him. "That is not what this is about, and you know it."
"What I know is that you keep throwing stink eyes at me every time I get a scratch."
"I never complained before!"
"So why start now?"
She shook her head. "I'm starting because you're not getting any younger, but the guys you're up against sure are."
He snorted. "They're the same punks I've been fighting since I got into this business."
"Yeah, and you've been in the business a long time."
"So, what? You want me to retire? Spend the next twenty years twiddling my thumbs until it's time to stick me in a box?"
"When did I say that? You could be an information broker, or do hacking full time, or hell, leave the business and start your own bar like Barney did. Just…find something that won't end with you—"
"There's always a risk that—"
"—that's less likely to end with you dead in an alley somewhere where none of us can find you. I know there's always a risk, but…" She rubbed her forehead. Then, brightly, "Look. Chance is retired, and he's doing all right."
He smirked. "You think he's retired?"
"Besides the occasional tryst with danger. Don't think Annie and I don't know about Baton Rouge."
His eyes widened. Neither Ames nor Annie, Chance's wife of four years, had ever uttered a peep about he and Guerrero's latest caper. "How'd you hear about that?"
"I have my ways." Then, with a little smile, "I did learn from the best."
"I'm still the best," he muttered.
She stroked his cheek with her thumb. He hadn't had the chance to shave in days; her touch felt strange, but not unpleasant, through the cover of his beard. "I know you are. And I'd prefer you still being around to remind me."
Some little, nameless worry he refused to acknowledge lightened in his chest, and with it his hackles lowered a fraction. He sighed and tilted his head into her palm. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the tall mirror on the wall. When he frowned, wrinkles formed a broken network of deep furrows from his forehead to his mouth.
"Might as well take me out back and shoot me," he said without rancor.
She snorted. "Now you're just being a drama queen."
He didn't answer. She sobered quickly, realizing the change in his mood, then she leaned over to kiss his chin.
"I'm not the only one who'd miss you, you know," she added quietly.
There were easy answers to that suggestion, but he knew who she really meant. He shook his head and closed his eyes.
"He barely knows me," he said.
"I have a feeling he wants to."
It was a thought that had once seemed so improbable that it wasn't worth consideration. Untimely deaths were a fact of this profession. Someone out there had a bullet with his name on it, and one day, they'd find him. And when they did, his son's grandparents would gratefully brush away the sudden absence of "Uncle Greg" from his life with a brisk lie if his son was even old enough to remember him at all.
But fifty had turned to sixty, then to sixty-five, and he was still kicking. And his son was a man himself now, just starting his sophomore year of college. It had been three months since "Uncle Greg" had received a call asking if "Uncle" was not, in fact, "Father." Seemed the kid had had suspicions for years. He was smart and intuitive, just like his old man.
"Please," said Ames. "Think about it."
They were supposed to meet, he and his newly-confessed son, in a week. If the knife had struck a little higher…but it wouldn't have struck, period, if he'd reacted faster. But his mind and his muscles were at odds these days. Even now, the weariness seeping into his bones felt like it ought to belong to someone else.
He opened his eyes. She looked so damned earnest. He sighed.
"Yeah. Fine. Worst case scenario, I suppose I could always make a weekly trip to terrorize Winston's book club."
She grinned. "Thank you."