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14 August 2011 @ 11:59 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Penance - Parts 2 and 3  
Written for numb3rs_novella 2011
Crossposted to numb3rs_notice and numb3rs_fic



Title: Penance - Parts 2 and 3
Series/Universe: Penance/Sin/Vice
Pairing/Characters: See Series Post
Rating: NC17
Spoilers: Seasons 1, 2 and 3
Summary: Just when it looks like love, success and safety are possible in the world of crime Megan's adversaries rise up anew against her (AU)
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ



Thursday, 12/6/07 - Day

"What?" Marshall snapped, not even looking up from his desk. He spent most of his days behind Everett's desk, but there were times when he needed what was at hand in his own office - especially since he was holding down both his and his boss's job simultaneously.

When no immediate response came, Marshall looked up to find his assistant Edgar shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"This is one of those don't shoot the messenger things," he began hesitantly.

"Edgar, you know as well as anyone I don't want to hear any more bad news," Marshall warned.

"Well, we don't know for sure this is bad news," Edgar tried lamely. "It could just be, you know, news. Neutral news."

Marshall rose, came around his desk and loomed over the much smaller man, ignoring the difference in their ages.

"So help me, if you don't spill right now..."

"Ivy's gone!" Edgar blurted out. "I know you wanted us to keep tabs on her from time to time, but when I checked on her at the hospital they said she'd been moved."

"Moved where?" Marshall demanded, nostrils flaring.

"Maybe to one of those nursing homes for people who are out of it for good?" Edgar shrugged. "They said unless I was family they couldn't tell me anything."

Marshall's voice fell into a low warning register. "Find her. Or I will shoot the messenger."

He returned to his desk, but Edgar didn't take the opportunity to leave.

"What's the big deal about her?" he asked, seeming genuinely clueless. "I mean she's a vegetable! She can't do anything anymore."

Marshall glared at him, impatient. "I'm sorry, but in the years you've been working for me when did you find time to get an M.D. on the side? Because if I'm not mistaken even the best doctors can't predict what someone's brain will be like when they come out of a coma. And this brain? Ivy's brain? She has enough in there to take us all down. So find her. We need to be in control in case she does wake up."

Again Edgar hesitated. "If we do find her, what are we supposed to do with her?"

"If you can find her right away, just have her moved to somewhere we can control her. Have documents forged saying someone who works here is her family so we can get control over her."

"And if we can't even find her?"

Marshall gripped his pen; good help was so hard to find.

"Then put a contract out on her. Offer enough money and someone will find her for us and then we won't have to worry about her talking - ever."

+

The courtroom was packed every day of Everett's trial, but Gary had ensured that Megan's representative would have the best seat in the house. He'd installed a tall bar stool at the back of the courtroom, allowing the person seated there to watch the action above the heads of all those in front of them. In addition, a high powered unidirectional microphone picked up the voices of everyone speaking aloud: the judge, the defense, the prosecution and the witnesses.

Sitting in Howard's office, Howard and Sandra watched as Colby's tech Dieter took his place on the bar stool and started his feed for the day's court proceedings. His equipment was built into his clothing and glasses so to anyone else he looked like an average observer, save his privileged seating assignment.

Since it was a criminal case the U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles, Mark Green, was in charge instead of Howard. While Howard had originally argued to be present in person every day, Megan convinced him that watching remotely was not only safer it was less distracting.

"So, what are you and Cinda planning for the rest of Hanukkah?" Sandra asked over her coffee. "Millie and I had originally planned to go back east and visit family, but..." She shrugged. "Duty calls. So we're having a quiet one at home. And we're going to Marco and Terry's Christmas party."

"We're stuck home for all of Hanukkah as well," Howard admitted. "But at least we got away for our anniversary so even if Cinda's a bit put out, she'll get over it." He looked a little sheepish. "I may have dangled a ski trip to the Swiss Alps as a reward for her patience."

Sandra chuckled. "Oh, she's so got you wrapped around her finger."

"Why do you think I'm so reticent to have kids?" Howard joked. "I'm secretly a huge pushover at home. Can't you just see me with a princess daughter, spoiled beyond belief, and still asking for more?"

"Yes! You poor thing. You'd be totally helpless against either of them, but a combined attack and you'd be done making the decisions in that household for good!" She let out a wistful sigh. "There was a time when I thought I might have kids, back when I still thought the only path in life was law school, marriage, kids, supermom, divorce, rinse and repeat... The husband and supermom part, not the law school!" she amended. "God, you couldn't pay me to go back there!"

"Agreed!" Howard said, shuddering. "Though some days I miss the freedom from responsibility I had when I just started clerking."

"Yeah..." Sandra mused. "They worked us ungodly hours, but at least our names aren't on record for posterity for whatever went wrong."

Howard took a sobering breath and turned up the volume on the courtroom feed just as the bailiff announced the judge's entrance.

"Unfortunately now? Too many people are depending on us. If we're wrong and this case fails to convict Tuttle?" He shook his head, his expression grim. "We can't be wrong."

+

Everett wiped his fingers on a napkin then pushed his chair back, surveying the remains of the meal he and Dennis had eaten in the courtroom conference room.

"This is the one upside to court," he muttered. "It gets me out of that damn jail enough to have real food for a change."

"We should get back," Dennis stated, going about cleaning up the table. Once he threw away all the trash his cell phone rang and he answered it just as he knocked on the door to let the guard know they were ready to come out. "Matthews."

As he paused to listen, the guard opened up the door and led both of them out into the hallway. Everett followed, watching Dennis closely.

"What is it?" he asked, impatient.

"Hold on." Dennis handed the phone to Everett. "I think you should hear this first-hand."

"What?" Everett almost barked into the phone. The response on the other end was the unflappable and smug sound of Marshall Penfield, particularly full of himself.

"I just wanted you to know, Sir, that we have a new guest staying with us. I look forward to getting to know her well and, you know, her family."

Everett let a satisfied little chuckle slip out as they entered the courtroom and headed to their table. "Have you notified our friend's asset yet?"

"I was just about to send him a text from a burner phone."

Everett looked around surreptitiously and saw Gary Walker walk into the courtroom with the stream of audience members, looking for a seat.

"Give him two minutes," Everett told him. "Exactly. Then send the message." A wicked smile crossed his face. "I want to watch his reaction."

He snapped the phone shut and handed it over to Dennis, nodding as they settled in for the second half of the day's court proceedings.

A minute and a half later, Everett stopped staring at the second hand on the courtroom wall clock and subtly turned to face his attorney in such a way to allow him to look past and spy on Gary.

Gary seemed settled for the day, in his uniform as always. Then his phone buzzed and Everett watched him take it out and read the message.

Gary paled visibly then looked up and around, suspicious. Everett forced himself to look at Dennis as if he was actually paying attention to what the lawyer was saying, but inside he knew that Gary wouldn't take the kidnapping to the police; he'd try to solve it himself then cave to their demands.

"Are you listening to me?" Dennis asked.

"No," Everett admitted. "I"m watching my future come back to me."

+

"No, Lourdes Walker! Sergeant Lourdes Walker! I need to know if she showed up for duty today!"

Gary gripped his cell phone hard with one hand while the other, clenched on his steering wheel, negotiated LA traffic - siren squealing and lights flashing. He'd only been to his ex-wife's apartment once since they divorced; they normally met in public places to avoid territorial disputes.

Lourdes had asked for the divorce, convinced Gary had cheated on her during a conference. Despite his continued pleas of innocence, she ignored him and went ahead with filing the paperwork. When it became clear she refused to even consider reconciling, Gary had signed the paperwork, sad to have to give up on a relationship he still felt so strongly about.

Six months later the blond bombshell Gary had met for drinks only to discuss organized crime strategies came out as a closeted lesbian with a long-time monogamous girlfriend, exonerating him.

Lourdes had invited him out to dinner as apology; the feminine version of her Mexican machismo making it too hard to come out and say she was wrong. Gary had accepted this wholly insufficient apology on one condition: that she give him another chance.

They'd been dating quietly since then, starting over from scratch it seemed. They'd fallen into marriage from a passionate love affair, but this time they took it slow, spent time talking about their histories, their thoughts, their future plans.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," the voice finally returned after putting him on hold. "She's not here and if Sergeant Walker called in I have no record of it."

Terror gripped Gary's heart, squeezing it like a fist. His denial that the text was just a scare tactic was rapidly evaporating.

He snapped the phone shut without a response and turned off the freeway, making the short turns to get to Lourdes' building.

He pulled up out front, not caring how he parked, and ran up to the front security gate.

"Hold the door!" he yelled to the young woman just leaving.

Startled she let it go, but caught it again and opened it wide for Gary to run through.

Towards the back and up the stairs to 207... Gary pulled both his gun and his lock pick kit. He held his breath in anticipation, hands working as fast as they could, then burst inside - gun at the ready.

The apartment was empty. Everything looked neat and tidy, in its place. The only unusual item was a white envelope in the middle of the breakfast table.

Gary froze when he saw it was addressed to him.

Despite years on the force, LAPD hadn't prepared him for the victim to be someone he cared about.

His hand shook as he reached for the envelope, something in the back of his mind telling him he should use gloves to handle evidence even as another part of his brain knew for certain he wouldn't report this.

The generic white paper had been printed on computer using a standard font.

'Thomas Guardino and Jorge Nacimento

Location to 2759813@anonymail.com'

Safe houses... They wanted him to give up the locations of the witnesses crucial to the Tuttle case.

Gary sank into a chair, defeated.

"Damn it..."

+

Thursday, 12/6/07 - Night

Sitting at her desk in her mansion office, Megan was just starting to have thoughts about dinner when her office phone rang; an internal call.

"Reeves."

"This is the front gate. We have Lieutenant Gary Walker requesting entrance."

"What?" Megan couldn't help her outburst; one rule of their arrangement was that Gary never came to the mansion. "Never mind," she hastened to add, knowing the guard wouldn't have any answers. "Let his car in the driveway, but do not - under any circumstances - let him indoors anywhere, especially the mansion! Do you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'll alert Security before I open the gate to make sure they're ready for him."

"Great." Megan took a breath to steel herself for what couldn't be good news. "Tell him I'll be right out to speak to him."

She hung up the phone and grabbed her suit jacket against the evening cool of December, even if the evening cool in the hills above downtown LA meant sixty-odd degrees.

As she walked out the front door she found it bracketed by four guards - twice as many as normal. Security really was prepared. Another guard was standing by Gary's LAPD sedan door, keeping him from getting out until Megan nodded at him to step away.

Once he did Gary all but leaped out of the car, looking harried and frantic.

"Not here," she said, gesturing him to the side of the house opposite the garages. "Follow me."

She walked briskly, leading the way, figuring Gary - in this state - would appreciate briskness over manners.

She gestured him into an ivy covered gazebo, sheltered from all sightlines by the house and trees on the grounds so they couldn't be easily seen or overheard.

"What's wrong?"

"It's Lourdes, my wife," Gary explained quickly, rubbing his face with his hand anxiously. "Tuttle's had her snatched up. He wants the safe house addresses of the two witnesses in exchange."

Megan flipped open her cell phone, talking as she speed dialed. "I'll take care of it. Terry? Megan. Listen, I need you to take point on an operation for me. Tuttle's got Gary Walker's wife. I need you to liaise with David in Security and Colby in Surveillance - they've been briefed on this possibility so they know what to do - and I need you to contact Ray..." She paused a second. "Yeah, the cleaners. Tell them we want a forensics recovery job though, that's really important, not a clean up. The address is on our secure list already. Finally, bring in Snakedoctor and tell him we need a K&R op. Thanks."

She closed the phone and found Gary staring at her, agape.

"You knew... You knew this might happen..."

"No, but we plan for every contingency," she told him. "And I mean every. So we didn't think Tuttle would take this route, but apparently he's decided for some reason that your ex-wife - she is your ex, isn't she? Anyway, that she's your Achilles heel."

"We were getting back together," Gary admitted. "We hadn't told anyone..."

"But I bet he's had you both under surveillance - maybe even your other ex-wives as well, trying to decide who best to pluck to unnerve you and get you to comply."

"So what do I do?"

"Stall," Megan said firmly. "Don't say you can't or won't do it. Play along. Just make sure they know you need time to access the data without raising a red flag that will get them moved into Federal custody where you can't get to them at all."

"What are you going to do?" Gary asked, wringing his hands.

"Well, first get them moved into Federal custody so you're off the hook," she told him. "Kim Hall might be retired, but she has enough friends left in the FBI to help us make it happen - including her former partner, Dwayne Carter." She leaned forward, intent. "Then I'm going to find your wife, bring her home safely and make sure nothing happens to those witnesses. I don't care how much it costs; I'm going to make it happen."

+

"Carter!" Kaj-Jan Chen waved the thick envelope in his hand as Dwayne looked up to see his partner looking annoyed. "Tell your Bureau bureaucracy I work for Interpol, not you, and I'm not here to deliver your mail."

"So why'd you take it when they gave it to you?" Dwayne asked as Kaj-Jan dropped it on his desk.

"Because you Americans work too slow. I was hoping there would be some sort of lead in there so this Organized Crime Task Force can, you know, start going after some criminals."

"Hate research that much, do you?" Dwayne pulled out his letter opener and slit the couriered envelope open. "It's what gets us convictions so don't knock it."

"It's what gets you indictments while your criminals have fled the country," Kaj-Jan huffed. He cocked his head at the contents of the envelope as Dwayne pulled them out. "Anything we can use in there?"

"I don't know..." Dwayne's forehead furrowed as he skimmed over the first few sheets. "It's all about Eppes Enterprises - saying they're just a front for a criminal organization, they're into prostitution, gambling..."

"Wait, Eppes? Brothers? Don and Charlie? I saw that name around when I first got here. Don't we have a file on them?"

"We do," Dwayne admitted. "But it's pretty empty since they've been cleared multiple times by reliable sources."

"Reliable sources?"

"Such as a highly respected lieutenant at LAPD who works in their Organized Crime division and a former Bureau agent."

"Who's the agent? Can we talk to them?"

"Chen, it's a waste of time. The agent? She was my partner and she didn't just clear the Eppes? She married Don."

"Wow..." Kaj-Jan muttered. "Still, can I take a look at this stuff?"

"Knock yourself out," Dwayne told him. "Just realize that there was this LAPD Vice cop who went nuts trying to take them down - Edgerton - and if as rabid as he was he couldn't make a case against them, there's just not a case to be made. Besides..." He leaned back in his chair, content. "No way Kim Hall leaves the FBI to marry a crook."

+

Tim unlocked the front door and tossed his chauffeur's hat on the side table followed by his keys as he spotted Robin curled up on the sofa surrounded by a coffee table filled with open bridal magazines.

"Hey, babe!" He crossed the room to sit beside her, giving her a kiss. "How goes the dress shopping?"

"Awful," she complained. "The dresses I can afford I can't stand and the ones I love are so far out of my price range it's not even funny."

"How far out?" Tim asked, curling an arm around her shoulder. Robin tucked her body against his and he pressed a kiss to her temple to soothe her.

"Like choose between a dress and a down payment on a house far out?" she bemoaned.

"I know girls grow up dreaming of their weddings," Tim said quietly. "And there are a lot of things to dream about: the dress, the cake, the reception, where it takes place... But there has to be some things you can compromise on and some you need to be perfect to fulfill your dream. So for you? Which are the things you can't live without? The things that need to be perfect?"

"I don't care about the where or the reception or even the cake... But the pictures? I'll have them my whole life. So the dress and the flowers? They have to be perfect. Those are what I'll be looking at forever; those are what I'll be showing off to everyone for decades to come."

"Fair enough." Tim pulled out his cell phone and called Megan's home phone at her apartment; their agreed upon way of reaching her for non-urgent issues. "Hey, Megan! It's Tim! Listen I was going to call Kim, but I thought you might know more about this. I know Kim used to get some pretty kick ass dresses for formal events with Don and I know you deal with a lot of designers for your clothes. I was just wondering if you could help us figure out how to get a good deal on a designer bridal gown for Robin. I know they're crazy expensive, but she really wants a fancy one..." He gazed at her fondly. "And I want to make her dreams come true."

He hung up the phone and Robin drew him into an appreciative kiss.

"My hero, as always." The smile disappeared from her face though. "I just keep wondering though... Is this the right time to plan a wedding? We're in the middle of a war, security lockdown's a fact of life, people are in danger!"

"Hey, hey, hey..." Tim halted her with a finger on her lips. "There's never a perfect time to get married. That's why people do it when they're ready not when the world is ready. It didn't stop Don and Kim, it didn't stop Rodolpho and Bianca and it's not stopping us."

"Oh! I forgot to tell you! Your sister called."

"Is the baby doing okay?"

"Yeah, she's not due for a while now. She just wanted us to know before the word got out that Susan finally said yes to Charlie - so now they're engaged too."

"See? When it's meant to be..." Tim pulled her tight into his arms, reveling in the feel of Robin curling up perfectly beside him. "It's meant to be."

+

It was well after ten at night when Matt pulled up and parked in the circular driveway of his family's own mansion, having spent his day working at Luxe's. His steps up to the front door were heavy, slow. He felt like he was dragging himself inside. A shower sounded good, but sleep sounded even better.

The door opened as he arrived at the top step, a demure maid bowing her head in deference.

"Good evening, Master Li."

"Good evening, Yin-Fei."

As formal as the gilt foyer was - a stark comparison to the white museum walls of the modern Luxe mansion - it still felt like home. Save his years away in college, it was the only home he'd ever known.

He'd been expected to go, get an MBA, and come back and help his brothers run the family business. In truth his mother was the power behind the scenes since their father had passed away, but having three older brothers was more than enough to run the business without him. Going to work for Eppes Enterprises was framed as a way of getting real world experience before coming into the family fold. Matt didn't expect to love it there and never want to leave.

He also didn't expect to fall in love there either.

Yin-Fei had disappeared after his entrance, like good servants do, but as Matt mounted the stairs to head to his suite, his mother's valet Xi-Zhu appeared, bowing as well as he spoke.

"Master Li... Mistress Li desires a word with her son. Will you come?"

Matt let out a long breath out of exhaustion, but turned to follow the valet without malice. He rarely saw his mother anymore as it was between her social schedule and his work hours plus staying over at Kit's apartment didn't help matters.

The valet led Matt into his mother's favorite parlor, the place where she liked to retire alone when all the guests had left for the evening. It was the room most like her in the entire house: soft inviting furniture, minimalist in décor yet filled with subtle beauty, especially the orchids she maintained there.

Yan-Mei Li was arrayed over one of the plush couches. She beckoned to Matt to join her and he promptly obeyed, sitting where she patted her hand beside her.

"Ah, my boy... It's been too long since I've seen you. Come, let me look at you!" Xi-Zhu closed the door as he silently exited and they were alone. Yan-Mei clucked her tongue in disapproval. "You haven't been eating enough, have you?"

"I get busy," Matt responded lamely.

"They don't feed you there?"

"They bring in food all the time. They have a chef on the premises and everything. I guess I just... I don't have much of an appetite," he admitted.

Yan-Mei gave him a knowing look. "In the early days of the Tong warfare, when your brothers were still very small, your father used to remind me that being part of a crime family meant focusing on the family because the crime might take them away from you - or you from them - at any time." She cocked her head at him. "And now you are worried the same... That your organization's war will have casualties."

Matt felt tired, so tired, and just let his head fall back against the sofa.

"I feel like every day I brace myself for the bad news. And every day no one dies I get more convinced that it will happen tomorrow - that we can't escape it no matter what we do. It's just a matter of time."

Yan-Mei placed her warm palm against her son's cheek and Matt couldn't help but turn into it for the comfort it offered.

"You could ask us for help. You know you have the strength of all our families behind you."

Matt shook his head. "I swore I wouldn't put the family in any more danger than they already are."

"My darling boy..." Yan-Mei waited until Matt looked at her. "We are criminals. Your life is our life. You just chose a different playing ground."

Matt took his mother's hand and squeezed it.

"You know, when I came home from college... When I... I sat down Tyler first because he was the easiest to tell. I told him I wasn't going to work for the company because I didn't want to bring shame to the House of Li, to cast a shadow on our father's legacy. But mostly..." He gave his mother a weak smile. "I just didn't want to see those horrid old society ladies shun you. I knew they could make life difficult for those they dislike and I never wanted my decision about how to spend my life, about who to love, to be a problem for you."

"Ai ya!" she exclaimed, almost laughing. "The only problem you bring to me is my own - the wishes of an old woman for grandchildren from each of her sons." She embraced Matt, pressing a kiss to his hair. "This boy at work. You like him very much. I can tell."

"I do," Matt admitted quietly. "But he's not a boy. He's a man. He's had to do a lot of growing up in the last few months and I really admire his strength. Twice he could have been killed, one of those times he was tortured, and yet he remains with the organization. He laughs, he plays, he loves and he forgets all the bad when it's time to come home."

"It sounds like you have much to learn from him," Yan-Mei teased, "coming home so late. Letting yourself become exhausted." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Wars are when warriors need to be their strongest; do not let the other side win by wearing you down before the battle's begun."

"I hear that," Matt said, nodding. "For now, I should get some sleep." He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks."

"Anytime, Xiao jai."

He rose to leave, but paused at the door to the parlor.

"You know, I never said I wasn't going to have kids. But if I do?" Matt smiled to himself. "They'd be smart and strong and probably really love comic books."

+


Saturday, 12/15/07 - Day

"I won't deny we're taking a hit now that the new Aurora Hotel location is fully functional and fully booked." Megan could hear Alex head up to the big screen in her office to bring up the former month's figures on the computer even as her gaze seemed oddly transfixed on the closed folder in front of her. "What with the holidays, the competition from the new clubs... But Code's regular customer base is remaining strong, that is what's left of it after we transferred so many of the regulars to E and Polaris."

"I have to admit, having Ice and Polaris in the Aurora Hotel building is working out amazingly well," Liz interjected. "Crossmarketing is almost not even necessary. The hotel guests want to eat at the restaurant and a good percentage of patrons at Ice are heading to Polaris once they're done with dinner." She nodded her head in approval to Megan. "I have to hand it to you: this idea of boutique hotels with restaurants and clubs is really spot on for our demographic."

"I can't say I'm not thrilled at how Aurora turned out," Megan admitted. "But as much as our future is in this three-fold approach, I don't want our existing properties to suffer from neglect."

"Well, now that Polaris is settled," Liz mused. "I've been thinking about doing a kind of rebrand of Code to keep it going a bit longer."

"Like what?" Terry asked. "The name recognizability is really high. I don't know that changing it will help."

"Not the name," Liz clarified, "but more of its position in the industry."

"Is this related to what we were talking about recently?" Millie asked. "Possibly shutting down Code to the public on weeknights and making it more event space like The Loft has?"

"Yes," Liz told her. "Only it wouldn't just be bookable event space, we'd be hosting some of the events ourselves to draw in business." She turned to Terry. "The Platinum Rail is filled to capacity on playoff nights. Why not install a huge screen at Code and host weeknight sporting events there ourselves?"

"Tuesday through Thursday are our slowest nights," Alex admitted, returning to the conference table to sit with the others. "I was going to say if things don't improve we might want to consider a second dark night a week, but I like this repurposing idea better."

"Plus big screens are certainly popular in clubs," Millie piped up. "We'd want to hire someone really talented to do our visuals for club nights though."

"I know a few people," Liz said, making a note. "We might want to import someone from Europe. They've got the absolute freshest dance graphics there."

"What about existing weekday clients?" Alex piped up. "Do we have to send them away because there's an event on?"

"We could," Terry said, "but I hate jostling those clients about when they were really against moving in the first place when the other clubs opened.''

"Megan?"

Megan had heard everything even if her gaze had been distracted by nothingness. She looked up and down the table at the managers assembled there before speaking.

"We can split the upstairs private rooms," she stated. "We'd need a second, separate entrance to Code that would go right up to the reserved rooms for regulars while the other half of the rooms will be accessed via the main entrance and existing elevator." She turned her attention to Liz. "Write up a proposal and have it to me by the end of January. I want the initial budget to be 150,000, but if you can make a case for spending more when we're not doing a complete overhaul, draw me up a second budget with a maximum of 300,000 dollars."

"How do you feel about going after ethnic markets?" Millie asked.

"Don felt uncomfortable targeting client bases in that manner, however we should talk to Matt about the pros and cons of hitting the Asian market. There's a lot of money there and it's less of a P.R. issue than the wealthy Middle Easterners in LA. Oh, and Terry, check with Antoine about our specialty gambling setups. We might not have enough pai gow and mahjong tables in our inventory for an expansion into Asian gambling."

A text message came into her cell phone and she glanced at it on the table next to her, gaping when she read the completely unexpected news.

"What is it?" she heard Terry ask.

"It's Ivy Kirk... She's out of her coma. She woke up."

+

"Ma'am! Ma'am, please! You need to stop struggling or I'll have to restrain you!"

"You just try it, bitch!" Ivy screamed at the nurse or at least the woman who looked like a nurse. Until she could confirm where she woke up she wasn't trusting anyone. "You get back or I swear I'm going to lay you out on the floor."

The threat held little weight, but Ivy figured the nurse didn't know that. She'd woken up almost entirely unable to move and had spent the darkened hours before dawn pretending to still be asleep while panic adrenaline coursed through her until she could get all four limbs moving again, albeit sluggishly.

"Fine, I'll back off, just calm down..." The nurse fled to a spot near the door and Ivy, still panting, took the time to rest her aching limbs - her razor sharp gaze never leaving the woman.

"Why should I be calm?" she said. "I just woke up somewhere I've never seen before and then you come at me? No way. You're not getting anywhere near me until I get some answers."

"Fine," the nurse huffed. "You're being housed in the secure wing of the 61st Medical Squadron at the Los Angeles Air Force Base."

"Military? What the hell?"

"You were moved here under a court order that claimed you were a witness in a murder trial and your life was in danger."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Ivy let her head fall back on the pillow. "Look, just let me make a phone call. I'll straighten this all out and then you guys can let me go. All right?"

"All right." The nurse picked up the phone off the nearby table and carried it over to Ivy's bed, putting it within reach, but retreating quickly. "There's your phone."

"Some privacy?" Ivy sneered.

"I'll go let the doctor know to come see you," the nurse said, making a hasty exit.

Ivy grimaced with displeasure and pain as it hurt to pick up the phone and pull it closer to her so she could dial. "Damn body," she swore. "You'd better get your act together, and fast." She dialed and got a disconnected message. Figuring she'd misdialled she tried again only to get the same message. "I bet you changed your number again, Marshall," she grumbled, dialing another instead waiting for a many rings until it picked up.

"Edgar here."

"Edgar! You big lug! What's up with Marshall not answering his phone?"

"Uh..." The confusion in his voice was clear. "Who is this?"

"Ivy, you idiot! You forget about me already?"

"Um, kind of. I mean you've been in a coma for like months. They said you weren't going to wake up."

"Well I'm awake and I want out of here. Tell Marshall to come get me."

"Yeah, sure. Where are you?"

"They told me I'm at the 61st Medical Squadron at the Los Angeles Air Force Base."

"Jeez, Ivy! You're at a military base! Can't you just get a taxi or something? I mean, going onto a military base?"

"For crying out loud, I was in a coma! I'm not taking the freaking bus or something! Send a car, send a limo, hell send me anyone! I just want out of here and then I want some answers!"

She slammed down the phone, quivering with anger.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, eyeing how far she had to walk to get to the bathroom to look for her clothes.

One foot then the next touched the cool floor and she pushed off, putting her weight on her legs for the first time in she didn't know how long.

Apparently it was longer than she thought.

Her legs gave way instantly and she slid bonelessly down to the floor, half angry and half scared to death - she had no way of escaping on her own.

+

When David arrived at The Platinum Rail Olivia wordlessly pulled him into her office, but apparently not for a quickie, much to David's relief.

As soon as she closed the door though, he started speaking.

"I came as soon as you called. I was worried about you."

Olivia's smile couldn't' have been more forced.

"You didn't have to. Really. I just wanted to... talk."

David sat in a guest chair, letting her have the superior position of standing and leaning against the desk, secretly hopeful this was the breakup talk he'd been waiting for for months.

"I'm all ears," he said, splaying out his hands in an encouraging gesture.

"Right..." She let out a long breath, hands folded awkwardly in her lap - a highly unusual posture for her. "It's just... I guess it comes down to this. You've made it clear your priority is to get married. I've given it some thought and... Well, it's not mine."

"You're not ready?" David asked, masking the flush of joy inside.

"No, I think I just don't want to get married period. Don't get me wrong, you're a great guy..."

David let out a little huff. "And this is the part where you say you still want to be friends."

"We do work together," Olivia said, shrugging. "It would be a lot easier."

David stood, drawing himself up tall as if gathering himself together. With a bittersweet smile, he cupped Olivia's face in his hand.

"I realize now I tried to change you, making you into something you weren't, that you didn't want to be. And for that, I'm sorry. You are perfect the way you are, Olivia. Don't let any man tell you otherwise. I hope that someday soon you'll meet someone special who loves you for the amazing woman you are and accepts you as you are without question. Because even if you don't want to get married? You deserve someone to love you completely as you are."

He kissed her cheek gently.

"See you around?" she asked, her voice tentative and hopeful.

"Absolutely," he assured her. "Friends from here on out."

"Agreed." She looked genuinely relieved and while David felt bad for the subterfuge, this really was the best way - to let Olivia end things and to help preserve the relationship between their businesses.

"I have to..." David had his cell phone out, gesturing to the message beeping alert going off.

"Go," Olivia said, waving him off. "I know you're busy."

"Take care," David said, lingering briefly at her doorway.

"You too..." Her smile seemed wistful, but David could see the relief behind it.

He headed out to his car, fighting down a happy whistle as he read the text from Megan to get back to him ASAP.

He called her cell as he unlocked his car door.

"Megan, it's David."

"David, I need you."

"I'm there," he responded without hesitation.

"Actually not here - at the hospital. It's Ivy Kirk. She's awake, probably confused and pissed, and needs protection."

"Which means don't let Penfield have her."

"Pretty much," Megan said. "And don't let her disappear on her own either."

"If she's been in a coma that long?" David mused. "She's going to find that a lot harder than she realizes."

+

Ivy woke with a start, uncertain how she even fell back asleep as amped up as she'd been when she woke in the first place.

A quick glance around her hospital room should have revealed it to be empty, but instead a familiar face - mostly from surveillance photos - appeared over a magazine in the corner.

"Good, you're awake," David said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like you give a damn," she huffed.

"I do actually. You're a human being and you went through a really traumatic injury. I can't imagine how that would feel."

"A really traumatic injury sustained while your girl was trying to kill me!" she protested.

"To be fair, weren't you trying to kill her too?" David's expression was patient and annoyingly bemused. "And this just after you shot at me and my guys and killed one of your own with a sniper rifle? Seriously, you put yourself in the position to get hurt." He shrugged. "It's the game. We're all in it. You got one up on Darby before. She got one up on you. That's just the way the dice fell."

"What, and now you want to be buddy buddy?"

"I figure that's not on the table, but Megan told me she wants you protected, so I'm here protecting you."

"No need," Ivy said. "Just call me a cab and I'll be out of your hair."

"And how long do you think you'd last out there?" David put down his magazine and gave her an appraising look. "Can you even walk more than a step or two? Do you have not only a fully stocked safehouse to live in for the months it will take for you to recuperate, do you have enough cash set aside for a full time nurse and physical therapy? Because I'm thinking you don't exactly have full medical and dental like we do."

"I've got someone coming for me already," she bragged. "So just tell me where my damn clothes are and I'll be out of here in no time."

David stood, suddenly on full alert.

"Who did you tell you were here?"

"One of my guys."

David rushed to the door and gestured to a nearby guard.

"We need to have this patient moved ASAP. Her security's been compromised." Reentering the room, he stared at Ivy. "Listen to me: your side? Isn't your side anymore. Tuttle dumped you as soon as he heard you wouldn't wake up again."

"So he gave up on me, who cares? I'm awake now."

David rolled his eyes in exasperation.

"Tuttle's in jail for murder. He can't afford any loose ends right now. Penfield's in charge and you can bet he considers you a loose end."

"No way." Ivy crossed her arms over her chest in defiance, even if it took her a while to complete the motion. "Marshall wouldn't dump me."

"For crying out loud, Ivy!" David exclaimed. "He's got contracts out on you! Ever since we pulled you out of that crappy county hospital to move you somewhere with decent doctors..."

"Wait, he left me in county? That rat trap?"

"They washed their hands of you completely - wrote you off as a lost asset and pretended they never knew you. It was Megan who was sure you'd fight - like Darby - and given some good medical care you'd find your way back."

"But a military hospital?"

"It was the best place to ensure Marshall's men couldn't take you out. We kept your location a secret - until you blabbed it right to them."

"Hey!"

The security officer appeared at the door.

"We're ready for the move."

David turned back to Ivy, looking expectantly.

"So tell me... Do you want to take your chances with the guys trying to kill you or do you want to come with me and live? At least that way you'll have some time to check out what I've told you."

Ivy vacillated only for a few seconds.

"Let's go," she said begrudgingly. "But don't be thinking you've got me in your pocket now."

+

Saturday, 12/15/07 - Night

Everything about the night had been perfect and Megan had only been at the party for fifteen minutes.

"The orchestra should be starting up in a few minutes," James mentioned as they walked arm in arm through the throngs of tuxedos and gowns towards the ballroom dance floor. "Would you gift me with the first dance?"

"Absolutely," Megan said, taking it all in. "I can't believe I'm now on a first name basis with the director of the LA Phil."

"Well, give me some time to find him and I'll introduce you to Jeffrey, the director of the LA Chamber Orchestra. That's who's playing tonight's ball." He gestured as they broke into the open and Megan could see an orchestra of a couple dozen musicians settling into their chairs.

"Wow... I bet they're more at home playing the Hollywood Bowl than parties."

"It helps to know the right people," James said with a chuckle.

"I'll say. Clearly Don held out on me. And here I thought he was well connected..."

"He probably was. It's just that LA is so huge... You just can't know everyone."

Reaching down, she curled her hand in his and give his a tug.

"Thank you for bringing me here. This will definitely be a night to remember."

"Oh really?" A sly smile crossed James' face. "But the evening's barely begun."

"I can tell these things," Megan said dreamily. "I just know."

As James pulled her into his arms Megan's heart raced. "You're a highly intuitive woman, you know that?" he told her. "And I think you're right about tonight."

"Ladies and gentlemen..." Esa-Pekka's distinctive accent came over the speakers nearby as he stood on the stage with a microphone. "I want to thank you all for coming to my little party. While I miss the winters of my home country, here where the only snow is in the distant mountains - I wanted to gift my guests with a winter wonderland for your dancing pleasure." He looked up and gestured to the ceiling above. "Let there be snow!"

"Oh my god!" Megan couldn't believe it, but seemingly from the rafters came tiny flakes of whiteness, dusting James' tuxedo shoulders and arms. "It's really snowing."

"Chemical snow, I've seen it before, but it's a nice effect."

"Maestro, if you please? Eine kleine Nachtmusik!"

With a flourish of introduction, Esa-Pekka introduced the chamber orchestra's conductor and left the stage.

The opening measures slowly lured couples onto the ballroom floor, but Megan stayed where she was, in James arms watching the snow fall all around them.

"It's a beautiful sight..."

"Well, I already had a beautiful sight to see." James locked eyes with her briefly then lowered himself down for a lingering kiss. Megan's arms snaked up around his neck, fingers exploring his thick wavy hair.

She sank into the kiss, knowing this was all she'd been missing and so much more. Everything felt easy with James, effortless yet perfect, as if their romance was written in a storybook.

She ignored that tiny voice in the back of her head that said that nothing had changed - she'd still have to deal with the fact that he didn't know who she really was.

"Ach, James! Megan!" Esa-Pekka gave them both a polite shove, chortling aloud. "Kissing is for midnight! Now is the time for dancing! So go dance!"

Laughter bubbled up inside her as they broke their kiss to Esa-Pekka's good-humored chiding and James gestured his acceptance even as he led Megan the last few steps to where the other couples were slowly filling the ballroom dance floor.

"We will, we will! But Jane needs to save me a dance for later because I promised Megan you'd give her a turn on the dance floor!"

"James!" Megan's eyes went wide. "You did not just say that!"

Esa-Pekka seemed unfazed.

He waved them off with a smile as they fell into the ebb and flow of the dancers swept away by the beautiful music. "I'll save you a Debussy!"

+

"So, it's over? Done?"

David refilled Claudia's wine glass, nodding.

"Over. Done."

It felt comfortable, normal even, to have Claudia at his apartment even if it was her first time there. For all the time's they had spent at her place location almost didn't seem important as much as them being together.

And now nothing stood in the way of that.

Not even his job.

But he wasn't ready to tell Claudia that.

"It just seems strange," she mused. "I mean, I get that your job means you have to schmooze a lot of people, but the idea that you have to keep dating someone you're no longer interested in for the good of the company?"

"It was my decision," David assured her. "Megan didn't make me do anything. I went to her to let her know I was concerned about what might happen to the relationship between our companies if I broke things off with Olivia. I just had no idea it would take so long to make a peaceful break." He clinked their glasses together. "But that's all in the past now. I am one hundred percent all yours, babe."

They both took a sip and then David leaned in to kiss her, lingering over the taste of the red wine on her lips.

"I'm glad," she whispered. "Because I want you all to myself."

"You've got me," David promised, sealing it with another kiss, one Claudia encouraged with a hand clutched in his shirt, keeping him close.

"You know," she breathed into his mouth, "when you gave me the tour earlier I might have been a bit distracted. I'm not sure I could find your bedroom. Do you think you might be able to show me the way there?"

David's smile widened across his face so far it almost hurt.

"Oh, yes. And trust me: you are going to learn your way there and back with your eyes closed in no time."

"Then let me close my eyes," Claudia said as David took his glass and hers and put them aside on the living room coffee table. "Because I want you to sweep me away."

Eyes closed, her face was still turned up to him, expectant.

David took a second to gaze down at her, to enjoy the beauty of her and the fact that nothing more stood between them. He could be hers fully and she? She was already all his.

Slipping his arms beneath her, he lifted her off the couch, carrying her to his bedroom.

Their bedroom, he mentally edited in his head.

Only she didn't know that either yet.

But now the timing was all up to him.

And David was always a man with a plan.

+

Kit's face looked like a kid in an candy store.

"I can't get over the fact that you own this place!"

"Not me," Matt repeated for the third time that night. "My family. This restaurant's just one of a number of family businesses."

"I can't get over the fact that you never brought us here to eat before!" Colby said, helping himself to more of the dishes from the center of the table. "This stuff's amazing!"

"It's really excellent," Gabriel agreed. "The best Chinese food I've had in LA and I've had quite a bit working in the event and catering business."

"Well, think of my family like the Eppes... Don and Charlie didn't advertise to the public at large. They kept to a discreet and trusted clientele."

"Oh, and you didn't trust us with this food?" Colby joshed.

Gabriel looked fondly over at his boyfriend then gestured to his overloaded plate. "They wanted to have some left for themselves!" he said, laughing. He pressed a kiss to Colby's temple. "I like feeding my farmboy."

"D'aw!" Kit teased.

"It's true," Colby said, leaning into Gabriel. "He even taught his Colombian cafe cooks how to make a traditional American Lumberjack breakfast for me." He tilted his head. "Though they're still arguing the pancakes would be better made from cornmeal."

"My idea of a good hearty breakfast is a Sunday morning filled with dim sum carts," Matt mused.

"Oh now that's good stuff!" Kit enthused. "I tell you, Matt had to explain every one of them to me, like twice, but man were they good! I like that... that square white one..." He snapped his fingers, but couldn't seem to recall.

"The turnip cake?"

"Yeah! Forget the turnip part! It's like bacon grease crack in a rectangle!"

"We'll have to plan for a dim sum outing next then," Matt said.

"I'm all for it!" Colby enthused and Gabriel nodded, looking a little pensive.

"So, Matt..." His gaze took in Matt who paused between bites to listen. "What changed so that you were willing to share your family with us? Megan says that's unusual for you, that you rarely even mention them."

"Well..." Matt wiped his mouth on his napkin and smiled. "I had a talk with my mother about a few things and a couple days ago a package arrived - addressed to Kit."

"Oh my god!" Kit lit up. "It had tons of the coolest manga, but Chinese!"

"Mànhuà," Matt explained.

"Yeah! A whole slew of comic books - in both English and Chinese versions: all pristine and all from #1 on!"

"I take it that meant something?" Gabriel asked.

"It did," Matt said, smiling to himself. "It meant the world to me."

+

The night air was pleasantly cool on Megan's skin after an evening of dancing and she twirled spontaneously under the moonlight as James and she walked out to where his limousine was waiting.

"I feel like I'm floating!" she exclaimed. "I feel like I could dance all night!"

"Then I want the name of the designer of those shoes," James teased. "Because if you still feel like dancing after all that I want to buy stock or the company!"

"The shoes can go," Megan admitted. "But they did last me all night so I have no complaints. But I hardly think Manolo's selling his shop - even to the illustrious Major James Grace."

"I don't know," James looked as if he were pondering the idea. "Don't you think Grace sounds so much better than Blahnik?"

"I do," she admitted, "but then I own a lot of Jimmy Choos too."

"Good evening, Major Grace." Megan looked up as James nodded his greeting to his chauffeur, a very tall and thin black man in his twenties.

"Good evening, Abasi." He ushered Megan inside and sat across from her instead of next to her. Once they were settled he gestured to her foot. "You did say they could go."

She laughed and offered him first one foot then the other and he plucked off her high heels and put them aside. The second foot he kept in his lap and started rubbing.

"Oh, you take me dancing and then you rub my feet.... What more could a woman ask for?"

"Breakfast?" James asked slyly. "I asked Basia's if they'd keep a chef there late for us in case we wanted something after the party."

"Seriously?" Megan ran her other foot against his leg. "You're really something else, aren't you?"

"I try," James said, looking a both pleased and a bit smug.

"Breakfast sounds lovely," she said. "But you have to take me home at some point or else I'll turn into a pumpkin."

"Never fear." James made a tiny bow, limited by the car seat. "I am every bit the gentleman on the first date. Whenever you're ready to go home, you will be delivered there safe and sound."

A little part of Megan was disappointed at the idea of not sleeping with James, but another part really liked that he didn't rush into such things. As handsome as he was he had to have had many lovers and many more offers, so the idea that he held back and chose only those women who really meant something to him, meant something to her.

"I like that you're a gentleman," she told him as he switched to rubbing her other foot. "And I would love to have breakfast with you before bed."

"Abasi!" James called through the partially open partition. "Basia's please!" His gaze turned back to Megan and their smiles matched. "The night's not quite over yet."

+

Parts 4, 5 and Epilogue
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on August 16th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
Confession
Please see Part 1 for Confession post.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais