Control let himself into the cabin quietly. The lights were off; only the dying fire threw faint dancing shadows around the room. No sign of Lily, but her rental car had been parked outside. It was late, she was probably in bed. He decided that he would not wake her. He could sleep on the couch. He'd been planning to anyhow.

A deep sigh, the clink of glass on stone. Control shut the door and locked it before he went around the couch. She was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, slouched against the armchair and hidden in its shadow. The glass she'd been holding now rested on the hearth, empty. Next to it was a bottle of Glen Ord, nearly empty.

Control's body simply froze, while his mind raced. Lily was drinking? Lily was drunk? He'd never seen Lily drunk. Remotely impaired, from time to time, but never actually drunk. What the hell was she thinking? What about the baby?

And he knew. With horrible cold certainty, he knew.

He went around the couch and sat down on the floor next to her, on the deep soft rug where a thousand years ago they had made love for the entire duration of a fall thunderstorm, while the fire wrapped them in warmth - but the fire was dying now. He touched her shoulder, and she shrank back from him. "Lily . . . "

"Food poisoning," she answered sluggishly. "Tillman says . . . maybe bot . . . bot . . . " She couldn't make her tongue get the word out.

"Botulism," Control supplied quietly, remembering the note in the medical summary about food poisoning.

Lily nodded, reaching for the bottle again. Her hand waved in the air six inches short. She tried again, then gave up. "The toxin," she said with remarkable clarity, "has a catastrophically detrimental effect on the developing nervous system of the fetus . . . " She stopped quoting Tillman and reached for the bottle again. She reached it this time, drew it back against her body, but she could not get the top off. "Open this."

"No." Control took the bottle from her and put it behind him.

Lily snarled. "Open the damn thing!"

"You've had enough."

"I've had enough." She laughed bitterly, the laughter very quickly turned to tears. "I've had enough," she repeated. "I've had . . . " her breath caught on a deep sob. "I . . . "

He reached for her again, and this time she bore the touch. "I just wanted him so damn bad!" Lily cried.

Control moved closer, wrapped his arms around her tightly as she sobbed. She cried hard, every breath a wracking sob, as if her soul had been torn out, as if she would never stop. The deep violence of her grief frightened Control; he wondered if he was watching her go insane, again, but this time permanently. How long had she been here, alone with her grief? She smelled of old sweat and old tears and old whiskey . . . all day? Two days?

There was no quieting her. He didn't even try. He just held her, stroked her hair, rocked her against his body. Murmured nothing. There was no other way to comfort her, nothing he could say, nothing that would take her pain away. Her child, who had been for a few weeks her world, was dead. And, Control realized, the child that he had accepted, that he had made his own by killing every man who might have been his true father, his child was gone. But he put that pain carefully away. He would deal with it some other time, when Lily needed him less. Or else he would lock it away and never look at it again . . .

The crying jag showed no sign of abating. If anything, it grew deeper. Control frowned with concern. He had never heard anyone cry like this, not so deeply for so long. And Lily, who was always so reserved, so in control of her emotions . . . of course, he realized, the alcohol had knocked down all her defenses. The woman in his arms was the very essence of Lily Romanov, just as she had been in the hotel when she attacked him. She was without any defenses, without even words.

The alcohol . . .

Easing one arm away from her, Control lifted the bottle and considered. A quart bottle, thirty-two ounces, ninety proof - what was her body weight? How fast had she put away this much liquor? Worse, was there another bottle empty somewhere? Or two? He could not do the math fast enough to decide if she had poisoned herself, if he needed to drag her down the hall and force some of the alcohol back up . . . she'd hate him for that, but maybe she wouldn't remember it . . . he forced his mind back to the math, thirty-two ounces, ninety proof . . .

Before he came close to an answer, the liquor and the sobbing provided their own solution. Her body lurched suddenly upward, then relaxed. Lily stopped sobbing. Then she pushed against him, trying to stand up. Control rolled to his feet, then helped her up and followed as she fled to the bathroom. She staggered against the wall twice, hard, but she managed to keep the liquor down until she was kneeling in front of the toilet.

She made a gesture with her hand - she wanted Control to leave. He ignored her. Instead, he swept her long hair up out of her way and held it behind her back, rubbing her shoulders lightly with his free hand.

Whiskey and bile, nothing else. In impressive quantity.

She held her hand up again. Control realized that she had a ponytail holder looped around her wrist. She'd been at this a while. He took it, tied her hair back. Patted her shoulder again and, as the vomiting finally subsided, retreated as far as the hall.

Lily stayed on the floor a long time, just resting. Then she staggered to her feet, pushed the door shut gently. Control heard the shower start.

He put his chin on his chest and closed his eyes, gathering himself for a moment, deciding what to do. Then he went into the bedroom and got her suitcase. He left it closed, and slipped it past the bathroom door for her, checking that there were also towels there. He went back to the living room and built up the fire. While it was catching, he put away the glass and the bottle. He didn't have to check the trash; the second empty bottle sat on the counter beside the sink. Control shook his head, putting both of them into the trash. She'd been here alone, with nothing but grief, while he was off in Nicaragua on his fool's errand of vengeance . . .

He went back to the living room and considered further. He took off his jacket and tie, and then shoes, put his gun under the armchair. Then he went to the bedroom - noting as he passed that the shower had stopped - and stripped the bed, hauling even the pillows out to the fireplace. He made a little pallet bed on the deep rug, then tended the fire a little further.

The bathroom door opened. Lily came and stood in the doorway. She was thin and bruised and pale, wearing a simple white nightgown that covered her to her wrists and ankles, her hair dark and wet over her shoulders, her face pale and weary. His battered angel. He loved her completely.

He got a dry towel and a hair brush, led her to the pallet and got her to sit down. Her body was completely relaxed, loose, drugged. Compliant. He toweled her hair gently, then brushed it out, letting it drape over his hand to dry in the heat of the fire. She sat absolutely still throughout, her little hands soft in her lap. But when he finally put the brush down, she looked up at him. Her hand came to his face, her fingertips brushing the bright scar on his bottom lip. "I am so sorry," she said, very quietly.

Control shook his head. "Don't be. It's done now."

She smelled better, but her breath was still heavy with alcohol - now mint-tinged - and her eyes were glassy, distant. Control guessed that she was actually in a black out, that she wouldn't remember much of what took place now, except maybe that he'd been there with her.

"How did things go in Nicaragua?"

He smiled indulgently. "I don't know what you're talking about." He took her by the shoulders and turned her, guided her down on the improvised bed. "Lay down here now. Get some sleep."

Lily gazed up at him, her eyes now preternaturally calm and vague. "I need to go back to work."

"When you're better," Control agreed, tucking the blankets around her.

"Soon," she insisted. "Something impossible."

"Something easy," he answered. "Something routine. You've had enough impossible for a while."

"Something impossible," she insisted, her words starting to slur with sleep.

"We'll talk about it in a few days."

The answer took a while to sink in. "We're staying here?"

Control nodded. "For a while. We'll talk about it tomorrow. Get some sleep."

Tears filled her eyes, rolled down each side of her face in silence. "Stay with me," she whispered frantically.

He reached to brush the tears away. "I'm right here, Lily," he assured her. "I'm not going anywhere."

She took his hand, then his wrist, and drew him down beside her. They shifted around until she was comfortable in his arms, her face nestled against his shoulder. He could feel her tears soaking through his shirt, but she made no sound. This silent crying was somehow harder to bear than the wild sobbing had been. At least that had been cleansing. This was just raw grief, cutting deeper still into her wounds.

"Lily," Control began softly, "listen to me." He rubbed her back gently, choosing his words. "I know how much you wanted this child. And I am sorry that he's gone. I truly am." A little shudder ran through her as his words feathered across her grief. "I want to . . . I want you to think about something. In a while, when you've had some time to heal, your body and your heart, if you want a child, if it's this important to you, then you and I will have a child together."

She sniffed, then rolled her head back to look up at him. "What?"

"You and I. A child. Together." The words, now that they were out in the air, fascinated him, as if he could not have said them; certainly he never had before. He wanted to take them back just so he could say them again. He half-smiled, deflecting his own depth of feeling. "We used to have the mechanics down pretty well, I'm sure we could figure it out." He looked into her eyes, into such raw emotion that he could not mask his own. "If you want a child, Lily," he repeated, "then let me give you a child of our love."

He could see her trying to fight her way through the alcohol fog to understand him. "Are you serious?"

"Yes." Control smoothed her hair back from her face, caressed her cheek with his thumb. "Understand, though, what I'm saying. I can't marry you, and I will never be much of a father to this child. I'll be there when I can, but it will never be when you really need me. I will love him, but I'll never be able to acknowledge him, for his safety and for yours. None of that has changed." She nodded her understanding. "What I can do - what I will do, is get you out of the Company, and find you a place to live, and provide for the two of you, financially if not emotionally - and spend as much time as I can with you."

He had gone this far, there was no turning back. "And I will love you, Lily, and I will be faithful to you, for a long as we both live."

Lily's eyes filled with tears all over again, filled with more emotion than she could deal with. She shook her head. "I . . . I can't . . . "

"I know," Control answered soothingly. "I know. Not right now, I know. Just hold that, just keep it. Later, when you can think about it, if it's what you want, it's always there."

She drew close again, hiding against his shoulder, holding him desperately, crying again. It didn't last, she was too exhausted to cry any more. She quieted in a moment, and he thought she'd drifted to sleep. Then she sighed deeply and turned, drawing him with her, so that she was facing the fire with Control at her back, his arms easy around her.

After a long time, she spoke again. "Are you," she asked drowsily, "planning to repeat all that when I'm sober enough to remember it?"

Control chuckled warmly in her ear. "Yes, Lily."

She sighed, drifting into sleep at last. "I love you," she murmured.

Control lay awake for a long time, gazing at the fire, feeling her breathe beneath his arm. He would not for all the world have had things take this path. And he abhorred that cold, logical part of him that was whispering, in the long run it's for the best, you could never have truly accepted this child . . . but he could, he wanted to argue, it was Lily's child, he would have loved Lily's child . . .

He closed his eyes. It was over, it could not be changed, it did not matter. The child was dead. But Lily lived. She was wounded and battered and heartsick to her very soul, but she lived. And while she lived she would heal, and while she lived there was hope. And she was here, safe in his arms at last, albeit in a drunken stupor, she was here with him, and she loved him.

Control opened his eyes and gazed into the fire for a moment. It was burning nicely, would keep them warm the rest of the night. Lily slept, her breathing deep and even now. It could not last, not like this; this perfect moment of connection was too fragile, too precious to last. In the morning she would be sober and they would have to talk, to reason things out, to come to some accommodation by the cold light of day. But for this moment, for this night, she was here in his arms, totally safe and totally his. And he, he realized with a little shock, was entirely hers. For all the pain, for all the healing left to do, he had never known such peace.

"I love you, Lily," he whispered. He stroked her hair, kissed her one more time, drew her closer, and drifted off to sleep.

The End