If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are
Fragile – Sting
“Christian is coming home.” Elena’s head shot up at Grace’s words and Mia tried to feign indifference. “He says he’s dropping out of Harvard. Carrick is livid.”
“Has he said why he is dropping out?” Mia bristled at Elena’s seemingly innocent question. Elliot had discussed this with her a week ago. The story Christian had told his parents about boredom and frustration at idiot professors who knew nothing of the real business world and the truth of a girl found beaten and unconscious in his apartment, were miles apart. Mia wondered how much Elena actually knew. Grace stared into her cup and sighed with the sadness of a mother who may have failed her son.
“No not really. You know what he’s like. We’ll be months in therapy before we get anything like the truth and even then he’ll be guarded. I just don’t know what to do. When the fighting stopped and he started to do better in school, I really thought we had turned a corner with him and now this.” Not for the first time that week, Mia noticed the lines around her mother’s eyes. The arguments and tension between her parents over Christian’s decision were taking their toll. Mia had been hiding out at Lily’s as much as she could.
“You know Grace, Christian is a very smart young man. Perhaps Harvard isn’t where he needs to be right now.” Mia studied her mother’s best friend for a moment. Something was off but she was struggling to put a finger on it. Her mother was stressed and finding it difficult to think beyond the tension this latest situation had thrown up. Elena, on the other hand, looked…unsurprised. Calculating.
Mia couldn’t take her eyes from Elena’s face as Grace excused herself for a moment leaving them at the table. Elena leveled her with a glare that took Mia’s breath for a moment.
“Are you going to tell me what you know Mia?”
“I don’t know anything.” Mia did her best to project surly teenager to her sometimes aunt. Since she had discovered Elena and Christian had a secret and sordid bond, Mia had backed away from the woman who had been somewhat of a mentor to her.
“You’re lying.” Mia held her ground, not looking away but not willing to say anything to Elena about the girl who had been tied up and all but left for dead next to a heavily drunk and passed out Christian. Elliot had told her not to tell their parents but she wondered for a moment if Elena could possibly help.
“Christian can’t go back. That’s all I know. Daddy will try to make him but he can’t go.” Mia forced a little whimper into her voice. She needn’t have bothered. By the sudden draining of color from Elena’s face, she had already worked out the worst of it. “Please Elena. There must be something that you can do. Daddy will throw him out if he finds out. It will break Mama’s heart.”
Elena maintained a very schooled look but Mia knew that she was considering the options. It wasn’t difficult for Mia to keep the tears at the surface. After all that she knew, about the girl and Elliot’s suspicions that Christian was being framed, she was only just holding her emotions in check. Finally Elena reached out and patted her hand just as Grace came back to the table.
“Grace, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Christian has already sent me a business plan. I have had my accountant look at it and he seems to think it’s a sound investment.” Grace looks shocked. She obviously had no idea that Christian and Elena were even in contact with each other. “Christian needs something more than an ivy league college can give him. The money will be from my compensation fund and if it doesn’t work out then there’s no harm.”
“Elena, you can’t do that. That money is…”
“Tainted.” Elena cut in. “You and Carrick should know that better than anyone. If Christian can make something of it then I might finally feel justice has been served.” Mia glanced from Elena to Grace, not understanding what was happening here. Just when she thought her mother would refuse this offer Grace surprised her.
“Yes, yes. Perhaps it will.”
Chicken shit! I leave her sleeping in the boathouse, the first rays of light kissing her soft skin. When I thought about what I had done, what we had done, I felt sick to my stomach. Mia is my princess, my angel and I treated her like a whore. I had coaxed her into a sexual performance, dominated her body, ordered her to be something she simply had no experience of, should have no experience of. She is beautiful and perfect, a sexual innocent before me and I had tainted her with a sick depravity that I didn’t know was buried inside of me. I hit her. I hit her for fuck’s sake. Now, like the chicken shit that I am, I am running the lake path back to my parents’ house because I simply don’t want to see the look on her face when she wakes up.
I know in the world of BDSM that what we did would barely register. I understand that she may have even enjoyed most of what happened. Her body certainly responded to every word, every touch. However, Mia, who was haunted by lies and secrets from every person who claimed to love her deserves better from me. Especially me. Call it what you will, violence is violence and Mia would be the first to call me on this. She might forgive me but then we will both know that it is there, the something neither of us could ever take back. And the worst part of it all, the part that I am running so hard from now, I liked it. Fucking spineless shit that I am, when she did what I asked, when she obeyed my orders, when I reddened her skin, I wanted more.
At the moment this thought takes hold of my brain, the rest of my body reviles and tries to expel it and I find myself standing over a trash can hurling last night’s meal into it’s depths. Fuck, fuck, fuck. The rational part of my brain understands that there are people all over the world who live perfectly well in relationships where dominance and submission is part of who they are and how they love. I have never made a judgment on anyone who chose this for themselves, not even Christian Grey. I just never would have believed that the act of domination would appeal to me. Fuck Elena Lincoln for being right about me. I hope the bitch rots in hell.
Just then my personal cell rings. The one that only Mia has the number for.
“Babe, where are you?” I try desperately to pull myself together. Let’s just aim for a shade on the happy side of normal.
“Hey, princess. I’m just heading back to Mom’s place. You know, shit, shower, shave time.” Jeez, and the nominees for romantic afterglow are…
“Right. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“That would be a negative.” Fuck! Let’s not do this. “There’s nothing wrong, babe. I just don’t want to get caught by your folks.”
“Too soon?” That little edge of disappointment in her voice is bringing me to my knees. Hell, I don’t know which tub of feelings to dip into. Whatever I do here, I am going to make a fucking mess of it.
“Too soon. Honey, I better get moving. I’ll text you later on, okay?” I go to hang up when she stops me.
“You are going to be at Christian’s birthday tonight, aren’t you?” She sounds like she’s running, probably trying to get up to the main house before her folks come down and see the fucknest in the boathouse.
“Honey, I don’t know. I don’t think that is a good idea. It’s not like Christian even knows me.”
“No. But after last night they will expect you to come as my date.” Well, don’t that just make for a fucking happy family meeting. Hi, in laws, I’m the husband you don’t know about and guess what, I like beating up on your little girl. Oh, and your family is caught in the middle of a major national security threat and you don’t even fucking know it. Happy days.
“Mia, can’t we just do this another time? Your family is getting over the shock of thinking they lost Christian, they don’t need to deal with our relationship too.” Well, that silence is deafening. Eventually the ice maiden surfaces.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you but you better pull it together, Kavanagh. We have to start building this connection, it is part of our agreed cover and you are not going to chicken out just because you’re having an attack of the guilts over marrying me. Be a coward on your own time, tonight is about the investigation and our relationship is time critical. Elena is going to be there and she needs to see us together.”
“Look Mia, this plan of Rory’s is never going to work. You need to be free to go deep and I am not a good risk with this. I am not a dom. I can’t do what she expects.”
“So what was last night? You had me bent over and begging for more. Are you going to tell me that you didn’t want that? That you didn’t enjoy it?”
“It was wrong, Mia. And I don’t mean that in a way that puts your brother down. I mean that it is wrong for me. I don’t treat women that way. I don’t treat you that way.”
“Shut it, Kavanagh. You’re a fucking trained agent. You do whatever needs to be done to get the job done. And so do I.”
“You’re my wife and I don’t do that!” You wanna start crying like the girl you are, Kavanagh?
“You did it! You did it without training and without being deep. You did it because it came naturally. It is part of who you are.” Her voice is raised, condemning me, belittling me. I know the psychology. She wants me to rebel against what is right and do what is needed.
“No! NO! I won’t be that! I CAN’T DO THAT! NOT TO YOU!” I cut the connection and throw the phone full force into the lake. It won’t make much difference, she knows that I am carrying the agency phone as well. “FUCK!”
I take off at a run hoping that the exertion will deal with the horror I am feeling right now. Mia might defend this as our job but eventually she will hate me. It would only be a matter of time before the resentment would eat at her and then where would we be. Whatever trust I had managed to claw back from leaving her in the quad that day would be eroded. Before I can churn this over any more the bile rises once more and I have to stop and deal with the visceral effect.
My other phone vibrates and I regret checking it the moment it is in my hand. A text from Rory saying that he is pulling agency personnel from the search for Christian’s downed chopper. Someone has pulled the plug and given my current mood I am prepared to apply a coat of verbal paint stripper to Rory for allowing this to happen. Mia will want to know if there was any foul play, as do I.
Just as I start to get it together and dial Rory I hear the sound of a skateboard racing along the path toward me. I turn around to see my wife risking life and limb as she scoots herself along at full tilt trying to catch up with me. Since there is nothing to be done about it, I pocket the cell, hold my ground and wait to catch her as she glides up still at full speed. Before I can demo my superhero routine she goes into a 180 degree powerslide as I nearly crap my pants.
“Jesus Christ, Mia, what the fuck was that?” I pull her around roughly by her upper arm and she angrily shakes my hand free. My worst nightmare has arrived in front of me. Full on hostile and severely pissed Mia and she looks set to tear me a new asshole. Well not before I squash this ridiculous plan not to mention letting her feel my wrath over that stupid stunt that she just pulled. I stand still and glare at her.
“You wanna try that again, Catholic boy?” She spits out her question as she takes her helmet off and shoves it into my stomach. Her tone could freeze water. I throw the helmet down on the ground beside us.
“See, this is exactly what I am talking about? I might want to take you over my knee for giving me fucking heart failure right now. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I am trying to talk to you. And if you would stop running from yourself then maybe you’ll stop putting me at risk.” Ever have one of those days when you just want to take your loved ones and lock them away for their own damn good? “Ethan, do you love me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous Mia. This has got nothing to do with loving you.”
“So you don’t love me?” Shit, talk about digging my own grave.
“Of course I love you. And that is why I can’t do this.”
“Why? Because you don’t trust me.”
“No, because you won’t trust me. You will hate me for this. If you had any sense of self preservation you would hate me for last night.”
“Why? Cos you playfully smacked my ass?” Just as she utters these words a middle-aged couple come jogging down the track. They nudge each other and smile at the ground as they run past us.
“Will you keep your voice down?” Once more I grab her arm but this time I pull her hard against my body and she tucks herself into me with a giggle. Damn it I hate it when she distracts me. Holding her closer I feel her arms wrap around my waist, the warmth of her lips on my shoulder and a little moisture. Fuck, now I’ve made her cry.
“I wanted you to smack me. I wanted you to do so much more but you were on such a roll with all that talk that I barely knew which way was up. Most of the time I am so lost in sensation with you that I need you to take over. Tell me what I am supposed to be feeling so I can concentrate on that and not go spinning off into space. I love you owning my body. You try that crap out here in the real world and I will smack you upside the head and kick your ass into the middle of next week. But baby, you’re killing me here. I feel like I did something wrong and you know I don’t like to be wrong.” Tears glisten in her eyes as she struggles to keep them in. Staring into those big brown eyes is like a vacuum on my airways.
“Princess, it isn’t you that was wrong. What you felt was a perfectly normal response.” Her body stiffens and she pulls herself away, shoving at my upper body somewhat ineffectively as she does so. When I don’t lose my balance she slaps me hard across the face.
“Don’t. Don’t give me your psychobabble bullshit Ethan Kavanagh. I swear if you give me any of that you’re-all-clear shrinkage…”
“Shrinkage?” At least she has me laughing, but just a little.
“Yeah, shrinkage. Whenever it suits you, you do this what-you-are- feeling-is-perfectly-normal routine and justify my insanity when quite frankly I like being just a little bit loopy. So don’t you dare cos I am not.”
“Not normal. And neither are you. Even though you want to believe you have the world all neatly boxed up. You’ve pegged Christian as some sort of sexual deviant, Ana has a savior complex, Kate over-analyzes, Elliot’s masking his pain. You do it with everyone and then when you think you have us all labeled and packaged you write your dinky little 12-page reports so that the agency can deal. Well, don’t start that with me. I am unique and complex and I don’t want you to think for a moment that you have me all sewn up cos you know I will take that shit and give it the blender treatment until you don’t know what flavor you’re tasting.”
“Mia, I ….” Have nothing to say. She has nailed it on the head so well that I am wondering which one of us is the trained profiler here.
“I can analyze numbers and formulas and code until the cows come home but I don’t want that from you. I don’t want to be worked out. And you may think you’re not a dom but I happen to adore that dominant, alpha male, this-is-the-way-your-world-will-begin-and-end-with -me dance because it is you. It’s us. Don’t you get that? I might not have a submissive bone in my body with anyone else but I trust you. I trust you enough to take the reigns and make me prance like a fucking dressage pony in the ring and like it.”
“Dressage pony.” I raise my eyebrows at her and she slaps her hand to her forehead in exasperation.
“Yes, a fucking dressage pony. Asshole,” she says, thumping me in the shoulder. Well, if that don’t beat all. “Ethan, I already take orders from you in the field. You know I hate it so I give you shit which means I love it too; respect it, trust it when you stamp your authority on me. That is part of how we operate. Listen to me. You can’t help your protective streak, you watch for the signs constantly to see which way I am going to go, reading my body, my face and my mind. I don’t want it 24/7 but when you are in control, I feel safe, protected, loved. I trust you not to put me in danger.” She steps back into me, lifting her face to mine as her arms stroke down my upper arms. ” . You.”
Trust her to break the tension and make me see what a prat I am. My hands find her waist pulling her in again. “Then woman, you better shut the fuck up and kiss me.”
“Or you will find yourself on the painful end of my palm.” I smile down at her as she feigns defiance. “But then that is what you want isn’t it baby?”
“Yes, but I just want it from you. Please don’t walk out on me again. I don’t want to go in deep and have someone else do this to me. Even if I could do what Isaac described and pretend to go into subspace. If I have to play this role then I would prefer it to be with you.”
My heart is in my throat thinking of her with some other man. A battle is being waged internally between the poison of dominating her and the fury of some other lowlife pawing her. Not about to happen. If I am going to lose her anyway, then I do it on my terms. Not because I’m too much of coward to stand beside her while she puts her body on the line. And that thought becomes the clincher.
“You’re not doing this without me.” But when it is over, when she can no longer stand to be near me and I can’t look at myself in the mirror, then will I be able to let her go? And didn’t that just feel like a heat seeker in the chest. My country could then take a flying fuck at the moon for all I cared because there would be nothing for me here once she was gone.
She leans back and stares into my eyes. Something that she sees there makes her frown even though I am trying hard to paint a dose of happy across my features. It obviously isn’t working but that will have to be worked out later too.
“Now, I am going to have to get my wheels moving. I have a party to organize. You are coming,aren’t you? 7pm – don’t be late.”
With that she launches herself on her wooden plank of death back along the lakeside path. I didn’t even get a chance to check how badly I marked her last night and I start feeling queasy again. I have this awful feeling that we are about to face the til-physical-intimidation-and-injury-do-us-part of our wedding vows that I had no idea existed. It is only as she disappears around the bend and out of sight that I realize I also haven’t shared the text from Rory.
Two hours later I storm the entrance to the safehouse taking Rory and his staff by surprise. Shaking with barely suppressed rage I stand in the middle of the space. Rory is bent over the shoulder of one of his lackeys as they study video footage but he straightens up as he sees me.
“Clear the room.” The two agents, who look like some sort of cross between nerdy slapstick stereotypes and buttoned down frat boys, look from Rory to me with some uncertainty before Rory gives an almost imperceptible nod. They are up out of their seats, shuffling out of the room and disappearing quicker than a twinkie from a weightwatcher’s meeting. The uncertainty in their body language is comical and I expect to see one slap the other upside the head on the way out for not reacting fast enough. However, my eyes haven’t shifted from Rory’s face and to his credit he isn’t flinching much either.
“What do you want, Ethan?” The stillness of my body belies how furious I am. The second the messages started coming in last night I knew that they were about to pull resources but I thought Rory had bigger balls than to let that happen.
“Why have you stopped looking for the helicopter?” Right now Jason Taylor will have got a team out to the wreckage and any chance we had to check it over will be gone. So I know there isn’t going to be a change in plans but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear the prick apart for my own morbid pleasure.
“The order came from above.” I take a step closer going for the chest pump. Any moment now my fist is going to connect with pretty boy’s face and it will be a moment of great satisfaction.
“You didn’t bother to mention this before you pulled the plug? Shit! You really didn’t put up much of a fight with head office did you? You didn’t give a crap about the fact that this is Mia’s brother we are talking about and someone attached to our case might be trying to take him out.”
“Don’t be stupid, Agent Kavanagh. You know that when the order comes you don’t ignore it.”
“Bullshit. You fucking caved.”
“I followed orders and you would have too. But just so you know I fought them for as long as I could. I tried to give our team enough time to get in and out of the area but since it was the middle of the night we had no hope of securing the site. So yeah, I pulled the team just before 4am because someone upstairs has developed a fucking conscience about spying on a US citizen on home soil. So I would suggest that you either throw that punch you are trying to hold back or piss off but stop wasting my fucking time.” He turns back to the screen, a signal that our meeting is over.
“Does that mean that all the surveillance on GEH and Escala is over?”
“You heard me. They want us off Grey. We concentrate on anyone directly moving in the vicinity of the Primary Target and that isn’t him.”
“We weren’t monitoring him because he was a risk, we were monitoring him because he is at risk. Nothing to my knowledge has changed. We still don’t know what that connection is except for the coded data that Mia found almost three months ago and some dodgy ancient personal history. We can’t leave the Grey’s at the mercy of this moron.”
“You’re losing your objectivity, Kavanagh. I would have expected this from Mia which is why I have recommended she be removed as soon as we can get a replacement. Don’t tell me that I have to replace you too.”
The bomb goes off in my head. My need to smack the shit out of someone has overridden the need for a redundant discussion about replacement. The self-preservation filter has disintegrated in my over-wound brain and that fist seems to shoot out from my body of its own volition. The impact is a sickening thump as Rory’s head snaps back and then he has me around the shoulders, upending me onto the floor and pinning my body down. Throwing my hips up I turn the tables and hold my forearm over his neck seriously choking him out before I come to my senses and release him. That is enough of an opening for him to toss my body back against the wall, jumping from his back to his feet and slamming one foot into my chest.
“I am going to forget that you did that, Kavanagh.” He presses in harder just to make his point as I struggle to take a breath. I stare up at him taking in the look of disdain on his face. “You don’t call the shots around here. And just because Mia is a Grey, that doesn’t give you or her the right to commandeer the agency’s resources for your own purposes.”
Well, if that ain’t enough to make a man see red. I grab his foot with both hands and twist, tumbling him at full force onto the ground as I return to my choke hold but with a little more heartfelt intent to do damage.
“We didn’t ask for the Grey family to become targets and the agency has commandeered enough of Mia’s life. I think her country owes her a little something, something. You feel me?”
His eyes don’t leave mine for a full century and a half before he nods and chokes out an agreement. Just to be completely sure that we understand each other I give an extra lean on his neck before letting him up.
“Got that shit out of your system?” Hands on his knees Rory is putting some serious effort into breathing normally. I’m not traveling so light and easy myself and we keep our distance from each other.
“Not in the slightest.” My words are a little ragged as they come out. He simply nods and looks away as he straightens up.
“We have a bigger issue. The feds are closing in again. If they shut this ring down we will lose any opportunity to locate the source.”
“Jesus, can’t someone just step in and negotiate an agreement? How hard can it be to get some cooperation?” Massaging the ache in my chest where Rory’s size 14s left their mark is not relieving the pain. It’ll be fun explaining that bruise to Mia.
“The traffic is increasing. The feds just want to close down the local crime rings and get the residual off shore. We need you two firmly entrenched if there is any chance to get a shot at our target. That trace that Mia managed to get into the server at Sirens has indicated that the right people have been circling waiting for the product. I’m stepping up your training. I don’t want to take longer than six weeks to get you up to speed and through the membership process. Oh, and any doubt that you might have about your ability. Get that shit out of your head now. You don’t have the luxury of carrying that around.”
Giving Rory the satisfaction of watching the walls closing in on me is not going to happen today. This plan might have me shitting bricks but if he thinks for a moment that he is going in as my replacement then he better reevaluate, stat. If we are having the time frame shifted up yet again then I am going to be the one to watch Mia’s back. She is meant to be an analyst not a fucking covert operative but she’ll tear strips off me if I start pushing that angle with the bosses again.
“What’s the plan?”
“The next ship to hit US waters arrives some time in July starting on the East Coast. Mackie has a team signing on as replacement crew in Cabo. We need you and Mia paired up through Orpheus and ticketed asap. That is going to take a few weeks maybe even months of cover work to set up. Once we get you on board you will only have three or four weeks before it cuts across the Bering Sea and crosses the dateline.”
“So the Feds want to shut down the local operation?”
“Yeah, they want proof positive that intelligence is being moved through this channel. They’re claiming human rights takes precedence and both the Directorate and the Presidential office are under pressure to let this one go.”
“I’m not sure they’re wrong.” Everyone involved is aware that the longer this drags on the more victims will be caught up and potentially lost. “What are the Russian’s saying?”
“They’re struggling to keep up with the local organized crime orgs. As far as they are concerned intelligence movement is our problem. Look, the local crime ring is still our best bet but we need them to make a move so that we can keep negotiations open with the bureau. Right now their channels are so fucking squeaky clean you would wonder why we are tracking them.”
“Just tell me one thing. How much is any of this going to taint Christian Grey?”
“Grey is a conduit, not the main game. It might be time to bring him and his connections into play.”
“What about all this shit with Jack Hyde and Leila Williams? Are we any closer to working out that link?” The last thing we need is to be putting Christian and anyone close to him at more risk. Mia’s role in all of this is going to be hard enough without having to watch her parents’ backs. Christian I figure can look after himself. He has enough security since the Williams incident to secure a small nation.
“Williams is a furphy. The psychosis is coming up as genuine. Hyde is a loose cannon. He thinks he’s a player but he’s far removed from the action and the trouble is he’s gone rogue. We still have no idea where he is after those twats lost him the other night. By the way, have you dealt with your sister?”
“Not yet. I’ll be seeing her tonight.” He gives me the kind of look designed to wither but I’ll happily crap on his boots before I back down. “I said I’d deal.”
“Just see you do. Now fuck off. Some of us have work to do.” I turn on my heel and stalk out of the room sending Abbott and Costello back into the room. I hope they’ll all be very happy together. As for me, I just want to get through tonight in one piece, preferably without Mia’s family discovering that their girl has a secret life keeping the shit from descending on Casa Grey.