Angie very nearly made it to the last page of the third-to-last story in the book before the warmth of the fire, the comfort of the overstuffed armchair, and the sheer sensation of relaxation overtook her. It wasn't dark outside yet, but she could tell it had to be late afternoon. She'd been so absorbed she didn't notice the time, didn't notice being hungry. Tyler said he'd bring back something for supper… trout. She felt a little bit sorry she hadn't gone with him; it had been a long time since she'd gone fishing (even though she never caught anything) and she just wanted to be with him. But this had been a more powerful draw. Too sleepy to finish the book, she laid it carefully on the floor next to the chair then went to crawl into the middle of the bed. She was out before her head hit the pillow.
It had been a good day, Tyler decided as he hiked back to the cabin. Along with his tackle he carried a string of five brook trout of respectable size. Heads attached. The thought made him laugh. "Lips that touch fish heads will never touch mine," he snickered to himself. He admitted to himself that even though it would have been nice if Angie had come along he hadn't minded being off on his own. Maybe that was another thing that made him decide to bring her up here, the fact that he was easy in her company, and easy to leave her on her own. He couldn't say that about very many other people he'd known, male or female.
Dropping his gear on the porch he entered more-or-less quietly because it seemed like the natural thing to do. No need to make lots of noise, no reason to announce his presence (or absence). He'd been ready to wave the whole strung-together clutch of fish for Angie's inspection but drew up short when he saw the chair was empty, the book left on the floor. Once again, it took a minute to locate her. This time she was curled up in the middle of the bed, out like a light. Christ, that woman can sleep at the drop of a hat. A recently discovered luxury for her, he remembered. He stuck the fish on a plate and shoved them in the fridge, then washed his hands and sat on the edge of the bed where Angie lay, careful not to wake her. He remembered how startled she'd been earlier when she woke suddenly. She could sleep easier now, but waking could still be driven by past fears and she was getting past it only a step at a time. He watched her for a few minutes, lying on her side with one hand curled under the pillow and the other resting loosely beside it. It had been nice waking up to that this morning; Angie warm and soft and easy against him. Smooth skin, quiet breathing, smelling clean and sweet like that fancy soap and shampoo that Reno had left for her. Another refuge from hell.
Tyler slipped his boots off and stretched out beside Angie, lying on his side to face her. He wanted very badly to touch her, to feel that softness and warmth again, and then he remembered that first night after she'd hooked up with them, when he'd accidentally witnessed her bad dreams. He remembered that touching her head seemed to calm them that time; he'd never questioned why. Maybe it reminded her of someone else. Maybe that married guy she mentioned. It didn't matter, because that guy – David was the name, he remembered – David was dead and she was still alive. He took a chance and opened his hand to lay it lightly against the side of Angie's head and face, wondering too late if in the absence of bad dreams it might have the opposite effect. A small sound escaped her, more questioning than distressed.
"I'm right here, Angel, you're okay," he told her in his quietest voice, with the rough edges smoothed off. The one he'd begun to realize she liked and that was starting to come more naturally on occasion.
Without hesitation Angie moved forward to reach around Tyler's waist and press her face into his neck and shoulder. When he slid his other arm under and around her to press against her back she let out another sound, "mmm," and snuggled closer.
This was something Tyler hadn't experienced since he'd lost his wife. Since then physical contact with a woman consisted of things like self defense, or impersonal sex, or medical attention, or some form of protection. This morning was a rediscovery, waking up with someone who was lying easily against him instead of simply sharing a sleeping surface for convenience sake until one or the other of them could get the hell gone. He rested his chin alongside Angie's head and idly considered this. Though Tyler didn't count it among the things in him that might be "dying for air", it was definitely okay to stay like this for awhile. Quiet and relaxed he could do under the right circumstances (mostly when he came here), but soft and warm was a little beyond him on his own. He shifted slightly toward his back, supporting the back of Angie's head with his hand, and that's when he felt the wetness against his neck. He'd thought she was still asleep, but knew now he was wrong. No change in her breathing betrayed any bad dreams, she was still relaxed in his arms and not holding any tighter. He'd never have known she was crying at all if he couldn't feel the tears on his skin. Now he knew, and he knew why, and there was no way to make the reason go away.
"Don't," he told her. Quiet, no rough edges. Then, "Listen to me… are you listening?" He felt her nod, though she didn't move otherwise. "I know you don't want to go back there. You don't want to go out there. Maybe it was a mistake to bring you here so soon after you woke up to the way things are now. But you need to understand, this isn't a place to stay. It's a place to come to once in a while to get clean. Get it?" She nodded against his shoulder again, no comment, no other movement. "You sure? Because if you're not you need to tell me now."
Angie moved her face a tiny bit so it wasn't pressed into Tyler's neck anymore. "But if you just kept going, you could still come back here." She said "you", not secure enough with what she was thinking or feeling to say "we" as if it made sense yet. All she knew was that it felt good not to be running, he felt good.
Ham tipped her back a bit to look at her and when he did Angie saw the dark chocolate eyes solid and serious. Uncompromising. "If I just kept going nothing here would ever get me clean again. And where is there to go where the world hasn't gone to hell?" She didn't answer; she didn't have to. "Okay then. It is what it is. I'm glad you're here. You help me get clean, Angel, but don't ask me how and don't ask me more because there's nothing else to say about it. So we'll just say you didn't mean that."
"But I did." Honest counts as much as clean.
"Well then we'll pretend you didn't, okay?" His eyebrows were raised, eyes wider, insistent.
He brushed the few remaining tears from her cheek with light fingers. "You shouldn't cry," he told her with one of his patented wry smiles. "It wastes water."
"And stains your custom made shirt." She wasn't smiling but her melancholy mood had passed. Logic had always had too firm a hold on her to allow her to wallow for very long.
Tyler hugged her tight against him for a minute then reared back to kiss the edge of her mouth. She'd noticed he seemed to like to do that sometimes, slightly off-center as if he were missing on purpose. He laughed when he saw Angie licking her lips thoughtfully.
"I guess you did brush your teeth after every one, huh?" she suggested.
"Nah, I just left 'em alone. Wasn't hungry." He let her go and got off the bed, laughing louder as Angie doubled up and exclaimed "Bleahh!" around the fist she'd stuffed in her mouth. She sat up and regarded him in disbelief as he sang to himself in a dark, perversely jolly voice, "Fish heads, fish heads," and pulled a plate from the fridge to show her five trout fanned out with their bug-eyed heads hanging over the edge, "eat them up yum." Absolutely straight-faced.
"I'm gonna puke," she warned. "And where did you get that?" she demanded, meaning the weirdo song.
Tyler snatched the plate away protectively. "Soldier of Fortune Songbook," he deadpanned. "Now get your ass up, we got fish to fry."
Later that night after another disarmingly casual supper, another bottle of fine wine that seemed to appear from nowhere, Angie finished drying the dishes and went out to where Tyler was leaning on the porch railing looking at the night sky. It was warm tonight, no need for a fire; the singing of the peepers was almost deafening.
She pressed up close behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Angie loved the lean, hard feel of him, knowing what softness he was capable of even if he didn't think of it that way. Or maybe he did. It is what it is… when he's right, he's right.
Tyler straightened just enough to lift her a bit. "Who'd believe it would feel so good to have a woman on your back."
"Ha, ha." She tried to give him a shake for emphasis, but couldn't budge him. I never can, can I, except when he wants me to….
Some time later Angie lazed on the floor while Tyler sat in the chair and finished his book. After a while she rolled back to run a hand over his bare foot and up inside the leg of his jeans. He ignored her for a couple of minutes, so she rose up between his knees and poked her head under the book to get in his face, this time running both hands up the insides of his thighs until they rested lightly at the angles of his hips.
Tyler turned the book face down against her back and pegged her with a wide-eyed look.
"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."
Impressed by the film reference, she let the age-reversal thing slide (he was, after all, about ten years her senior as near as she could figure). "Can't get nuthin by you."
"Not much." But he resisted when she tried to draw him down onto the rug.
"Uh-uh, not on the floor." He scooped her up in his arms so abruptly she let out a squeak of surprise. "Exactly… that's where the mice do it." He carried her across the room. "Floors are for animals," he laid her down in the middle of the bed, "beds are for people."
He really is a little old fashioned in some ways, Angie mused as he stretched out to lean over her. Or maybe he's still making up for the past.
"Lemme guess," she asked, "you're not in a rush tonight, either?"
He was already working his way along her collarbone, sloowwwly, one hand clearing the way by pulling aside the neck of her t shirt, as the other hand inched underneath from the bottom.
"I'm never," a warm wet kiss under her ear, "never," an equally warm hand spread along her stomach, pinkie brushing its way along her belly button, "in a rush." After exploring her mouth deeply and languorously Tyler raised his head an inch or so, getting his hands busy elsewhere. "You got a problem with that?" His voice was stern but his expression was keenly attentive, looking for a reaction.
Angie jumped as his left hand slid inside her jeans he'd just worked open, fingers traveling along and under the leg of her panties to dawdle and play in their favorite place (though it was obvious to her by now his "favorite" places changed from moment to moment).
The "Nope," she managed to gasp was swallowed up in another kiss.
"Good," and the growl in his voice almost set her off right then and there, "because I'm tired of reading." Tyler rolled half over her, pressing one hand deeper as the other inched her shirt upwards and meandered (thought not aimlessly, oh no) over her breasts. When Angie gave up a breathy whimper he smiled against her face, "You never disappoint me, Angel."
And he continued, at his great leisure, not to disappoint her.
By the time he had the cabin secured and everything where it should be for Reno to pick up or replace, Tyler saw Angie had her hair tied up under the bandanna and her helmet in hand. He had something folded up in one hand that he'd found tossed carelessly under the bed. "You forgot your pj's. No sense in letting 'em go entirely to waste." He winked as he stuffed them in her rucksack and reattached it to the back of the bike. Angie was staring around them, taking in a last look. Dry-eyed, he noticed.
"No," she answered honestly before jamming her helmet on.
"Me neither. Let's go."
He climbed on the bike and moved up to give her room as she got on behind. When she grabbed on around his middle he offered, "Two pockets still available, no charge." It wasn't much, but it was something.
Angie smiled and slid her hands in, grabbing onto his belt through the lining of the jacket. This time she didn't miss a breath as he kicked the bike into life and they roared off.
"It's 9:30, where's that bomb throwing friend of yours?" Mike Donovan demanded of Chris Farber. The latter barely spared him a look from the gun he was cleaning at the saloon table.
"Morning ain't over yet."
Moments later the rough hum of a motorcycle could be heard approaching from beyond the "motor pool" barn.
"Right on time," Chris drawled, casting a casual eye out the window, then settling it on Donovan. "Not that you had any doubts."
Though there were no more details to review for the raid on his mother's house that evening, a brief meeting had been scheduled for noontime for the participants. Donovan strode out the door, planning to catch Tyler as he came out of the barn, but something caught his eye. Both the huge front doors and the smaller rear ones had been left open for good visibility so the usual watch could be spared, giving everyone a chance to rest up before the night's work. In the light that filled the barn Mike saw Tyler get off the bike then reach an arm out to steady someone else who dismounted after him. The helmets came off, and as the pair stood in profile Donovan recognized Angie even with her hair up under a bandana.
That sonofabitch, "business up country" my ass. He and that computer geek took off for a little freelance recreation, with everything hanging on the edge of "go".
He was about to take a leap off the wooden porch and voice his disapproval for all the camp to hear when a bearish hand caught him by the back of the shirt.
"Bad idea, friend."
Donovan turned to see the normally placid face of Tyler's "associate" hardened into the kind of look you'd imagine would underline the words "Bad idea."
"Well doesn't it bother you that while we've been sweating bullets here for the past two days he's been off getting laid, and who knows what else?" Donovan wanted to know. Farber's look didn't change except to harden a little more.
"What bothers me is you talking about a nice young lady like she's a piece of road meat. Now I think it would be a good idea if you just let it go and have your meeting as scheduled. If we say we're gonna help, that's all you need to know."
"Fine." While Mike felt he was saying that a little too often where Tyler and Farber were concerned, he also figured making trouble at this stage was a very bad idea.
Satisfied that "Gooder" wasn't going to stir things up, Chris went back to cleaning the guns he'd taken out of their inventory, leaving Donovan where he was.
After they'd parked in the barn and Angie had found her land legs again she pulled off her helmet and quipped, "Say goodbye to the biker chick, Tyler."
He undid the knot in the bandana and rearranged her hair. "Something tells me she ain't gone for good. But sounds like I can say goodbye to my first name again."
"Not in every circumstance," Angie smiled up at Ham and impulsively pulled herself closer to press her face into him. She liked that he didn't tower over her, just the right height to put her face just where she wanted it to be, against his neck near that place she couldn't resist. She felt, rather than heard, his quiet laugh and after a moment let him step back.
"Good idea. Hold it in reserve for special occasions." When she laughed appreciatively at that he added, "Don't hold that in reserve though, we're gonna need more of it around here soon." He punctuated by planting a kiss between her eyes. There seemed to be nothing more to explain, or understand.
Donovan had taken another look toward the barn in time to see Ham Tyler, The Fixer, the master bomber/government contract killer/stone cold mercenary, untying the bandana from Angie Harper's head with one hand and smoothing down her hair with the other. A moment later he saw Angie step into Tyler's arms and the two of them stand there still as statues for the next few seconds, until Tyler stepped back and kissed her on the forehead. On the forehead? Mike was still (reluctantly) getting his head around the idea that any woman could find Tyler remotely attractive enough to run away with for an hour, let alone a few days; he was having an even harder time imagining Tyler treating anyone at all with anything resembling tenderness or affection. Oh he knew the man had been married, and believed the loss of his family had burnt out any human feeling he'd ever had… if he'd ever really had it. Then Julie's words from a couple of days ago came back to him, after he'd snorted "What's a computer geeky woman like that doing with him? You think he cares about her? That's not the Ham Tyler I know," and she'd told him maybe that was the Tyler somebody else knew and who was he to judge anyway?
As Tyler and Angie parted and walked toward the front door of the barn Donovan turned quickly to walk back into the saloon muttering to himself, "That is definitely the Ham Tyler somebody else knows."
"So you think we should go out separately or something?" Angie asked Tyler as they walked toward the front door of the barn. She scanned the street, nobody much around. She thought she saw the back of Mike Donovan disappearing into the saloon door.
"Hell yeah, my reputation is already shady enough." He turned a wicked smile to Angie's gathering protest, then stopped and asked her honestly. "You tell me."
She looked around the camp again and thought for a second or two, then shrugged and matched Ham's wicked smile with one of her own. "I say fuck 'em." Tyler's eyes widened a little at that. "Hey, I've always wanted to have a shady reputation, saves time to get it by association. Don't look so shocked, Tyler, I told you I was a quick study."
"Guess I shoulda believed you the first time," he admitted as he followed her out the door.
By this time Donovan was coming out again as casually as he could manage and trying not to stare.
"Hey Gooder!" Angie yelled to him when he was still a distance away. "Willie and I have work to do after you crack your mother's safe. Did you set up some work space like you promised, or have you been lounging around polishing your halo since then?"
Plainly taken aback, Mike assured her with an edge in his voice, "You're set up in the train cars on the other side of camp. We moved some sleeping quarters there too, Ruby moved your stuff yesterday."
"Great!" she replied as she and Tyler met Mike in the middle of the street. "Time someone started learning how to really mess these Visitors up from the inside, instead of just lobbing things at 'em from the outside."
This rendered both Tyler and Donovan speechless as Angie took off at a run.
"You been coaching her, Tyler? That's not the shut-up-tight computer geek that slunk into L.A. behind you and your 'associate'."
Tyler quickly shifted his smile to a smirk for Donovan's benefit. "Just keeping the right company now, Gooder."
As they headed toward the saloon for the final planning meeting Donovan asked with a casual air, "So, now is it safe for me to call her your girlfriend?"
Tyler's narrow squint preceded his cold reply.
"It'd be safer for you to call her Angie."